Extreme Sledding on Dinah’s Hill

Jim Gerhart, January 2020

“The narrow, icy path in the middle of the long and very steep grade was as smooth as glass and the sleds dashed down the icy incline at a speed which nearly took one’s breath.” (January 1892) 

Coasting, or sledding as many of us know it today, was once a major form of entertainment during winters in Lancaster, drawing both hundreds of participants as well as thousands of spectators. It was mostly done in the evening, using a variety of sled types, on all the hilliest streets in the city. The steepest and most dangerous coasting spot, and therefore the most popular among Lancaster’s more adventurous young people, was Dinah’s Hill on West Vine Street, on the northeast edge of Cabbage Hill. 

Dinah’s Hill, named for Dinah McIntire, an old African-American fortune teller who lived there, is the northernmost of Cabbage Hill’s two hills, with its highest point along West Strawberry Street between Lafayette and West Vine Streets. West Vine drops steeply from West Strawberry to South Water, at a grade of about 12%, which makes it an ideal street for fast coasting, especially when the snow gets packed down and becomes like ice. It’s no wonder that Dinah’s Hill was the hill of choice for Lancaster’s young coasters, and for the many spectators who came to watch them risk their lives and limbs. 

Coasting down West Vine was a dangerous sport. Lancaster’s newspapers carried numerous stories of injured coasters every winter from the early 1870s to the late 1920s. The injuries ranged from bruises to deep cuts to concussions to broken bones. More than once, particularly violent accidents left young coasters unconscious and word would spread that they had been killed. One young coaster actually did die from his injuries in 1875. Doctors in the vicinity of Dinah’s Hill were kept busy on the evenings following snowfalls and ice storms. 

The dangers of coasting on Dinah’s Hill were several. The most serious risk came at the intersections of streets that crossed West Vine, such as Arch, Water, and Prince. Wagons and carriages, and later cars and trucks, crossing West Vine often were the cause of coasting accidents. Pedestrians crossing West Vine also were hit by coasters. But the most serious crossing risk was at Water Street, where trains of the Quarryville Railroad would rumble across West Vine. Other obstacles were lampposts, telegraph poles, trees, and other coasters. Following a spill, the riders strewn across the street were at risk of being run over by the next sled coming down. 

A wide variety of sleds were used. Many coasters used small one- or two-person bent-wood sleds with iron rails, but they were sometimes outnumbered by larger sleds such as toboggans and bobsleds. These longer sleds often carried six, and as many as 12-15, riders. One particularly large toboggan-like sled reportedly used in the southeast part of the city was 22 feet long and carried 30 riders. A popular form of the longer sleds used in Lancaster was the “modoc”, which could carry as many as a dozen riders. 

On evenings with favorable coasting weather, more than 500 spectators would line West Vine between Strawberry and Prince. On at least one occasion, a crowd of 2,000 onlookers was reported. On evenings like these, coasting was especially dangerous due to the number of people who might be standing and walking along and on the street. Pedestrian involvement in accidents was not uncommon. 

Young people being young people, there was usually some competition to see who could go the fastest, and races would be staged, adding to the risk on a narrow street. The slight rise in Water Street where the railroad tracks were located provided a chance for a sudden bump and jump for the most daring coasters. At times, coasters would turn around after reaching Queen and start coasting back down to Water, against the flow of sled traffic, but the danger of head-on collisions was too high and the police would usually prohibit this practice. 

There was a constant struggle between coasters and city authorities to maintain some sort of balance between entertainment and safety. Several times, after particularly close calls or serious injuries, the mayor would impose a curfew, have ashes spread on the icy roads, or temporarily close down coasting altogether. But each year the coasters would be back and the struggle would be renewed. It was difficult to police hundreds of young people on numerous hills throughout the city over several hours each evening. Residents who were affected by the coasting, as well as businesses and the railroad, complained each year until the mayor had to get involved once again. 

The newspapers seem to have covered the coasting scene with a bit of a sensationalistic approach. The accidents were usually the reason for the articles, and the headlines were almost always about the injuries. One can picture eager reporters near the bottom of the hill rushing out into the street to accident scenes to record the names of the injured and their injuries. And the language used in the newspaper articles was typically breathless, if not sometimes downright lurid. 

Here are a few snippets from newspapers that provide a flavor of the coasting phenomenon on Dinah’s Hill in its heyday from the 1870s to the 1920s, starting with the earliest newspaper story I could find: 

“From time immemorial, ‘Dinah’s Hill’, located in the Southern part of this city, has been quite a resort, in sledding seasons, for juveniles. Its length and gradual declivity gives it preponderance, and hence the rush. Last evening the hill was crowded with smiling urchins, male and female.” (January 1871) 

on some nights the number of persons who came to ‘Dinah’s Hill’ merely to look on, ran into the thousands! It was one of the “sights of the town” and afforded more thrills per minute to onlookers or participants in the fun than any boxing match(April 1929) 

“A collision was then inevitable, and the sled struck the team (of horses) with terrific force. Both boys were hurled to the ground, and by many believed to be killed. Both were unconscious and lay bleeding in the street.” (December 1902) 

”A very painful accident occurred last night to a young man of about twenty years of age, named Martin Metzroth, while coasting down Dinah’s Hill. By some means the sled ran against a tree, striking the young man’s knee with great force against the latter, and knocking the knee-cap off.” (January 1873) 

four boys on a sled shooting down ‘Dinah’s Hill’ almost ran into a Quarryville engine. They escaped by throwing themselves off. The driving wheel hit their sled and broke it.” (January 1903) 

“John Kane, aged 12 years, and son of Patrick Kane, residing on West Vine Street, met with a serious accident on Tuesday evening. While coasting on Dinah’s Hill, he was run into by a sleigh and his heel was struck and badly bruised. Dr. A.J. Herr dressed the wound, but the boy may be permanently crippled.” (December 1880) 

“We have heard of many strange accidents. We know of cases of boys, who, in coasting on Dinah’s Hill, have gone under railroad trains without injury. Others have hit automobiles, or, in avoiding them, they have struck trees and pedestrians.” (January 1925) 

Mrs. R. Frank.stepped directly into the path of a bob-sled speeding down Dinah’s Hill with over a dozen boys and girls aboard. The woman was knocked down and sustained lacerations of the forehead and chin.” (January 1925) 

one of the coasters, Francis Suter, who, in coming down Dinah’s Hill at a fearful rate of speed, ran his sled and his head against a lamp-post with so much force, that it is feared he will lose one of his eyes.” (February 1872) 

a badly-frightened motorist reported to police that he had narrowly escaped colliding with a big bob-sled that had streaked across South Prince Street right in front of his car. After the close shave, he said, he stopped the car and was immediately surrounded by a group of angry sledders, who claimed he hadn’t sounded his horn.” (February 1924) 

several yards before the crossing, the locomotive hove into view. The youths desperately rolled off the sled, tumbling over and over and picking up a variety of ice burns as their vehicle slammed into the wheels of the train and was ground to bits.” (January 1903) 

“While Oscar Erb, aged ten years, was coasting on Dinah’s Hill on Thursday evening, he fell off his sled and the sleigh following him, struck the lad. His head was cut open, and he was otherwise bruised about the body.” (February 1914) 

“Yesterday afternoon about 5 o’clock as three boys were descending Dinah’s Hill on a sled, they came in collision with a six-horse team that was coming up Prince Street. The sled struck the lead horse and frightened him, rendering him for a moment unmanageable. The boys fell headlong under the horse’s feet, and were in imminent danger of being trampled to death by their hoofs, or crushed beneath the wheels of the heavy wagon. Luckily they escaped unhurt, but the sled was smashed all to pieces.” (February 1873) 

“John Kress, the young man who had his leg shattered several weeks ago while coasting on Dinah’s Hill, and who has suffered terribly ever since the accident, died of lock-jaw about 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon.” (February 1875) 

After the 1920s, the increasing number of cars driving on the streets and parked along the curbs, as well as more and more safety precautions on the part of city officials, put a gradual end to the glory days of street coasting in Lancaster. Today, coasting doesn’t seem to be as popular, and most of those who do go coasting do so at parks and other open areas, rather than on city streets. For many years, though, the youth of Lancaster had their fun, and risked their lives, coasting down the best hill in the city—West Vine Street on Dinah’s Hill. 

The Early Years of St. Joseph Catholic Church

Jim Gerhart, December 2019

St. Joseph Catholic Church was founded in 1849, when a group of German parishioners from St. Mary’s Catholic Church convinced the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that a second Catholic church was needed in Lancaster to serve the growing German population on Cabbage Hill. The new church quickly became the spiritual, cultural, and social hub of the Hill, roles that it continues to fill today. Here, in honor of the church’s 170th anniversary, are nine factoids about the church’s early years, some of which may be familiar and others which may not.

Lot purchase: The lot on which St. Joseph Church was built was purchased for $260 from Casper Hauck on January 8, 1850, by Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick of the Diocese of Philadelphia, on behalf of “the German Catholics of the City of Lancaster”. The lot, which was on the southeast slope of Dinah’s Hill, was 137 feet wide and 191 feet long, and had no buildings on it. In fact, at the time the lot was purchased, there were no buildings at all on the first two blocks of the streets that would soon become West Vine, St. Joseph, Poplar, and Fremont. The lot and the land surrounding it were pastures.

Church and street names: The original St. Joseph Church, the first ethnic Catholic church in the U.S., was built in 1850. Although it was St. Joseph Church from day one, it was commonly known around Lancaster as the “German Catholic Church” for its first few years. Also, when the church was built in 1850, the street on which it fronted was known as Union Street (not to be confused with today’s Union Street, which didn’t yet exist in 1850). Then, for a brief time, the street appears to have been known as West Washington Street. Finally, by the mid-1850s, at about the time the church became commonly known as St. Joseph Church, the street became St. Joseph Street.

First building: The original church was 50 feet wide and 105 feet deep, and it seated about 350 people. Its cornerstone was laid in May 1850, it went under roof in the fall of 1850, and it was consecrated in December 1850. It was made of brick, had a slate roof, and had five tall windows on each long side. There was a basement for the school and society meetings, and a small tower at the front entrance. By 1852, the tower had been built taller and a wooden spire had been added. By 1854, the finishing touches were completed—adding pews, finishing the basement, installing an organ, adding the altar, installing bells in the tower, and adding a clock with four faces in the tower.

Pastor conflict: St. Joseph’s had five pastors in its first five years. The third pastor was John Dudas, a young Hungarian priest who turned out to be a controversial choice. He had only served about five months when his pastoral assignment was revoked by the Diocese of Philadelphia because he had taken sides in political matters and had consorted a little too freely with Lutherans. In March 1852, he was asked to vacate the rectory next to the church, but refused to do so until the church paid him some money he was owed. Dudas then refused to open the church for a funeral, and when he left the locked church and went downtown for breakfast, a group of church founders broke into the building and threw his belongings out on the street. Dudas pressed charges against the offending parishioners but a verdict of not guilty was delivered. He quickly left his post at St. Joseph’s, and within a few years he had become a pastor of a Christian congregation in Constantinople, Turkey.

Cemetery: The lot purchased in 1850 did not include the cemetery that is now southwest of the church. Early burials took place in a narrow strip along the northeast side of the church where the driveway to the left of the church is today. The current cemetery lot next to the rectory seems to have been acquired by the late 1850s. The early graves on the northeast side of the church were moved to the larger cemetery on the southwest side in 1881 to make room for a new school building.

Political dispute: The German immigrants on the Hill had always been staunch Democrats, and were not shy about voicing their views on political matters. In early July 1863, just days after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln, a Republican, declared a new military draft to replenish the Union troops. Many members of St. Joseph Church, including a small group of about a dozen vociferous German women, disagreed with the draft and a large demonstration took place at the Courthouse on July 16, as draftees were about to start signing up. The demonstration was led by the German women, and a major riot was just barely averted. In his sermon the following Sunday, Pastor Schwartz of St. Joseph’s admonished his parishioners, especially the women who were “a disgrace to their womanhood”, making it known that good citizens of this country must obey its laws whether they agree with them or not.

Unique construction approach: By the early to mid-1880s, the growing number of St. Joseph’s parishioners necessitated a larger church. To avoid missing any Masses, a clever approach was taken to replace the old smaller church with a new larger one. The new church was to be 15 wider, 54 feet longer, and significantly taller than the old one. The church leaders decided to build the new church around the old one, enabling the congregation to continue to have Mass in the old church while the new one was being built. When the external structure of the new church was completed, the basement of the old church was set up for Mass, and the congregation then worshipped in the basement while the old church was dismantled and taken out from inside the new one. When the old church had been removed, Mass was held in the new church while the finishing touches were completed on the interior. Even the extensive painting and frescoing in the upper reaches inside the new church did not prevent the use of the church for Mass. Scaffolding that would have interfered with Mass was not required, as the artisans doing the high decorative work did so from scaffolds hung from ropes through holes in the roof. When the new church was completed in 1885, the only vestige of the old church that remained was the tower and spire, and even that had been modified a bit to harmonize better with the taller roof.

The builders: The new 1885 St. Joseph Church building, which seated more than 1,100 people, was designed by William Shickel, New York City. The principal contractor for the construction of the building and the finishing of the interior was Dionysius Rapp. John Mentzer and William Westman supplied the stone. The stone-cutting was done by Zeltman & Cron. Krieg & Streiner did the stone steps. Henry Drachbar laid the bricks and the lumber was provided by Sener & Sons and Baumgardner, Eberman, and Co. William Wohlsen provided the millwork. The plumbing was done by L.H. Bachler, and George M. Steinman & Co. provided the hardware. Jerome Dosch & Son did the plastering and Leonard Yeager did the painting.

German craftsmen: Tradition has it that the craftsmen and artisans who built the larger St. Joseph Church in the mid-1880s were German immigrants who lived on the Hill. This is mostly true. Indeed, nearly all of the principal contractors and companies were of German heritage, and about half of them had been born in Germany. Dionysius Rapp, Krieg & Streiner, Jerome Dosch & Son, and Leonard Yeager had their businesses on the Hill, while the remaining contractors were from other parts of Lancaster City. Most of the laborers on the contractors’ crews were no doubt Germans from the Hill. The gravestone of superintendent Dionysius Rapp and his wife Rosina still stands near Poplar Street in Old St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

There is much more to the story of this venerable old church on the Hill. Another 135 years of history has happened since the mid-1880s when the present-day church was built. The gravestones of the Old St. Joseph Cemetery adjacent to the church represent many interesting stories of the church’s founders, some of which may be explored in future posts on this site.

As many of you know, St. Joseph Church has willingly allowed SoWe to occupy office space in one of its buildings, and to hold monthly Board meetings in another of its buildings. Happy 170th anniversary from SoWe to the centerpiece of Cabbage Hill!

The George Moser Family of Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, November 2019

We are all familiar with stories of immigrants who arrived in America with nothing and ended up being very successful. In fact, Cabbage Hill has had its share of German immigrants who were very successful through some combination of talent, ambition, hard work, perseverance, and luck. But no less important to the progress of the Hill were the many hundreds of German immigrants who struggled for years just to get by.

The great majority of German immigrants to the Hill in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were only able to achieve modest success, and for many, the fruits of their struggles only accrued to their children or grandchildren, who often succeeded because of the foundation laid by their parents’ and grandparents’ struggles. The small successes of these struggling immigrants, in aggregate, helped build a strong, resilient neighborhood. Their stories, as painful as some of them are, are an important part of the history of Cabbage Hill.

One such story is that of Georg Friedrich Mosser (George Moser), who arrived in New York City from Bavaria, Germany, on May 8, 1906. He was a single, 23-year-old laborer with $25 in his pocket. He was quickly processed through Ellis Island and got on a train to Lancaster, where he came to meet up with his friend Frank Bernauer on St. Joseph Street. George got a job as a laborer at a brewery, and started what he hoped would be a successful life in America.

Back in Bavaria, George had fathered two children (Theresa and Alphonse) with Rosa Reitberger, a woman five years his senior, who also had relatives and friends who had immigrated to Lancaster. A year later, in 1907, Rosa followed George to Lancaster, leaving her two young children with her widowed mother in Bavaria. On November 19, 1907, George Moser and Rosa Reitberger were married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

In 1909, as they were getting settled in their new life on the Hill, George and Rosa brought daughter Theresa and son Alphonse to Lancaster from Germany, along with Rosa’s mother, Anna. One month after Anna, Theresa, and Alphonse arrived in 1909, George and Rosa bought a two-story frame house at 662 Poplar Street for $1,050. George and Rosa had two more children (Mary and George Henry) in 1908 and 1910. The Moser family unit had been established. Things were going according to plan.

George became an American citizen in 1912, and for the next eight years, he worked in various capacities at breweries in Lancaster, including laborer, brewer, and delivery wagon driver. He was arrested but found not guilty of assaulting a strikebreaker at Sprenger Brewery. He was elected vice-president of the Brewery Workers labor organization. By 1920, he was working at Empire Brewery on Locust Street.

Although George was having some success in the brewery business, he and Rosa had to borrow money several times in the 1910s, and each time they were unable to keep up with payments on the resulting debts. They were sued by their creditors and were just barely keeping up with the required payback plans handed down by judges in civil court.

Then, Prohibition took effect in January 1920, and it became illegal to make, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages. The Empire Brewery closed and George’s income from the brewery industry was suddenly gone. Out of necessity, George started his own business—peddling ice. He had a wagon and two horses (Jim and Dick) to pull it, and he and his 16-year-old son Alphonse began selling blocks of ice around Lancaster. His was one of eighteen ice-peddling operations delivering ice from the Lancaster Ice Manufacturing Company at Engleside. He ran his ice business out of the rear of the Moser house at 662 Poplar. To augment the family income, daughter Theresa worked as a weaver at the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills on South Prince Street.

The ice business must have seemed promising. In 1921, George and Rosa purchased another two-story frame house and three lots at 615 Fremont Street for $1,500. They likely had to borrow money to make the purchase, but they must have thought the investment would pay off in the long run. When their daughter Theresa married Charles Kirchner in 1922, the new couple moved into the house on Fremont. George and Rosa continued to live with the rest of their family at 662 Poplar, and George and his son Alphonse continued to peddle ice. Soon, the youngest son, George Henry, was old enough to help in the ice business as well. Alphonse also worked for a while at the Conestoga Steam Cotton Mills, and daughter Mary took a job at the Follmer-Clogg silk mill on Manor Street to help out.

Despite all the hard work, the Mosers still struggled financially. Several times between 1920 and 1925, they were again unable to pay back various loans, and they were taken to civil court and ordered to pay off the loans, which they seem to have somehow done. Then, in 1924, their son Alphonse left Lancaster, and George lost a key pair of hands to help in the ice business. Again, out of financial necessity, George and Rosa decided to start a second new business—a café.

By 1927, they had established a café in the first floor of their house at 615 Fremont, and sold “light lunch and tobaccos”, as their sign on the front door stated. Daughter Theresa and her husband Charles continued living upstairs, and an extra room was rented to boarders. George brought on Philip Kirchner, a cousin of son-in-law Charles, to run the day-to-day café business. When Theresa and Charles moved out of the upstairs living quarters, George and Rosa rented out their rooms as well and the café became known as a hotel. George continued to peddle ice, with his son George Henry’s help, and daughter Mary continued to work at the silk mill. It seemed that George and Rosa and their family were finally going to be able to make ends meet, but things were about to take a turn for the worse.

George had purchased a touring car and in April 1927, he had a serious accident on Lincoln Highway East near Bridgeport. His car was demolished and he was taken to the hospital with what was feared to be a fractured skull, a broken jaw, and broken ribs. Fortunately, his injuries turned out to be only severe cuts and bruises. In October 1927, he had another accident in which his car was broadsided and overturned at the intersection of Manor and Filbert Streets. Again, he was not badly injured. Adding to the family’s problems, George, who had been a drinker for a long time, began to drink too much. Prohibition was in full effect, but George seemed to be able to acquire illegal beverages. In the same year, 1927, that he had his two car accidents, he was cited for being “drunk and running a car”.

Then, in December 1928, the police raided the café/hotel on Fremont and confiscated three cases of “high-powered beer”. It seems the Moser establishment had become one of the numerous speak-easies in Lancaster, and that George was manufacturing illegal beer for sale to his café customers. As a result of the raid, George was charged with violating the Prohibition liquor law, a crime that often carried a large fine and substantial jail time. A mid-January trial date was set, and George was released on $500 bail put up by his close friend and neighbor on Poplar, Albert Scheuchenzuber. But just two weeks before the case made it to trial, George suddenly died on January 3, 1929, at the young age of 45. The doctor attending him attributed his death to chronic alcoholism complicated by influenza.

Following George’s death, Rosa tried to make a go of the café and hotel business, but within a few years, the business had closed. Their son Alphonse, who had come back to Lancaster after his father’s death, teamed up with his younger brother George Henry to keep the ice business going, moving it from 662 Poplar to where Alphonse was living at 615 Fremont. This last of the Moser family’s two business enterprises lasted until the early 1940s.

In the less than 25 years since George Moser had immigrated to Lancaster, he had accomplished a lot. He had gotten married, bought two houses, raised four children, worked in the brewing industry, and started two businesses of his own. On the other hand, he had failed to repay loans, violated the liquor laws, and become addicted to alcohol. Although George’s immigrant experience was certainly not an unqualified success, he had accomplished enough to allow his four children to succeed. All four of the children of George and Rosa Moser got married and all four owned their own houses on the Hill by the 1940s.

George Moser’s story, with different details, has been repeated many hundreds of times over the years on Cabbage Hill, and the true history of the Hill cannot be told without those stories. Today, new immigrant families are creating their own stories of struggling to succeed on the Hill. A much more diverse group of immigrants are now calling the Hill their first American home, but their language, housing, and employment struggles are not all that different from those of German immigrants more than 100 years ago. SoWe is helping today’s new immigrants overcome their struggles, by trying to create a neighborhood that is safe, clean, and welcoming, and by providing services that facilitate their transition into their new community on the Hill.

Postscript: This story of George Moser and his family was prompted by correspondence with Robert Moser, Ph.D., former Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego. Bob, who was raised on Manor Street , contacted me after reading a history piece on the SoWe website, and expressed an interest in learning more about his grandfather George Moser’s business enterprises on the Hill. I thank him for allowing me to present this story of his grandfather’s immigrant experience. Appropriately enough, Bob’s position with the Diocese of San Diego involved helping immigrants—in this case refugees—start new lives in California.

The Run That Ran Through Cabbage Hill

Jim Gerhart, September 2019

The title of the 1992 film, “A River Runs Through It”, once applied to Cabbage Hill. Up until the early 1880s, a stream flowed where New Dorwart Street is today. It was a tributary to a larger stream that drained a watershed that covered about two-thirds of Lancaster City. The entire stream system has long since been buried in sewers that run under some of the major streets of the city.

When Lancaster was founded in 1729, James Hamilton named one of its north-south streets Water Street, and with good reason. A stream ran from near the intersection of West Walnut and North Arch in northwest Lancaster, southward down most of Water to Engleside, where it emptied into the Conestoga River. The stream was called Roaring Brook in the mid-1700s; Bethel’s Run from the late 1700s to early 1800s; Hoffman’s Run from the early 1800s to late 1800s; and finally Gas House Run around the turn of the 20th century, before it completely vanished.

There were several tributaries to the larger stream that flowed down Water, including one along West King between Christ Lutheran Church and Water; one along West Vine between what is now the Convention Center and South Water; and one from Union through Brandon Park to South Water. But the largest tributary was the one in Cabbage Hill that used to flow where New Dorwart is now, which was sometimes referred to as simply “the Run”.

The Run began at several springs and seeps northwest of Manor between Dorwart and Caroline. From there, it flowed southeast a little more than a half mile before it reached the larger stream on South Water. The area of the Run’s watershed was about 250 acres, covering most of Cabbage Hill. The bedrock beneath the Run was limestone, like under the rest of the city, and the stream banks were lined with trees and wetland vegetation.

Comparing the Run to same-sized streams in similar settings in Lancaster County today, it is possible to estimate its flow characteristics. The Run was likely only a few feet wide and less than a foot deep most of the time, but probably reached more than twenty feet wide and several feet deep during heavy rains. Between storms, the flow rate was probably only a couple hundred gallons per minute, but during storms, the rate would have reached several thousand gallons per minute, enough to flood adjoining streets and basements. High flows would have made it difficult to cross the Run by foot, horse, or wagon, without a bridge.

In the early days of development on the Hill, the building lots containing or adjacent to the Run were among the most desirable lots to own. The Run provided not only water for drinking, cooking, washing, and conducting business, but also a conduit for carrying away the wastes generated by residents and businesses. The first house built in the central part of the Hill—Catharine Yeates’ summer home, known as Green Cottage, now 613 Fremont—was built fronting the floodplain of the Run, taking advantage of the benefits of being located near flowing water (see 1850 map). However, when Lancaster’s public water supply became available in the mid-1800s, the problems of flooding, insects, rodents, odors, and pollution associated with the Run soon outweighed the benefits.

In 1878, the city developed a plan for the addition and extension of numerous streets. On the Hill, the plan included many street improvements, including the opening of Fremont and Union and the extension or widening of Filbert, Laurel, Hazel, and Wabank. The plan also included the opening of a new street, soon to be called New Dorwart, which was to be built from Manor to Union, where the Run and its floodplain were located. In 1880, a trench was started down the middle of the street to contain the stream. In 1883, the construction of a six-foot-high brick sewer was started in the trench. By the late 1880s, the sewer had been completed from Manor to Poplar, the new street had been built over it, and new houses had begun to spring up on both sides.  By the early 1890s, the sewer had been completed all the way to Union. The Run had disappeared from view, a casualty of development.

But, before it was diverted underground, the Run had a major impact on the establishment of the streets on the Hill. Manor Street, which had existed in the early 1700s as the road to Blue Rock on the Susquehanna River, had long required a bridge over the Run (see 1850 map). High Street, on the other hand, did not extend beyond the Run in 1850, being truncated by the difficulty of crossing the Run during high flows. The newly constructed Poplar Street also was truncated by the Run in 1850.

As the Hill developed rapidly from the late 1860s to the mid 1870s, additional streets were extended to the Run and required bridges. By 1874, in addition to a bridge having been built to carry High over the Run, Lafayette and St. Joseph had bridges over the Run as well (see 1874 map). But the recently proposed West Vine and the fledgling Poplar and Fremont did not have bridges. Instead, they had to be forded when the flow was low enough to safely do so.

Prior to being buried in a sewer, the Run also affected the geometry of the design for New Dorwart.  Due to the slightly northeast-bending shape of the Run east of Manor, and the resulting widening of the floodplain northeastward, New Dorwart was offset from the first to the second block, and again from the second to third block. The resulting stair-step pattern along the northeast edge of the first two blocks of the street remains today. Also, the wider floodplain where the Run curved to the northeast is probably the reason that New Dorwart between Lafayette and High is about twenty feet wider than elsewhere.

Another way that the Run affected early development was that the northwest side of Manor between Caroline and Dorwart was the last stretch of Manor to be developed (see 1874 map). The wetlands associated with the springs and seeps at the head of the Run made that area perpetually wet and difficult to build on. Even as late as 1897, almost two decades after the Run had been diverted underground, this stretch of Manor was still not heavily developed due to wet ground.

The Run that once ran through Cabbage Hill last saw the light of day almost 140 years ago. But it clearly had a significant impact on the development of the Hill, an impact that can still be seen if one takes the time to look for it on historical maps and in today’s arrangements of streets and houses. And, although its time on the land surface has long since passed, the Run still trickles along in the large brick sewer beneath New Dorwart, albeit a mere subterranean shadow of its former self. Now…”a river runs under it”.

Dinah McIntire and Her Hill

Jim Gerhart, August 2019

Dinah McIntire died 200 years ago in Lancaster, in May 1819, at the reported age of 113. She was well known around Lancaster in the early years of the nineteenth century as the fortuneteller who worked at the White Swan Tavern in the square. Her death warranted a rare obituary in the Lancaster Journal, something usually reserved only for prominent male citizens, as well as a note in Reverend Joseph Clarkson’s journal about her burial in the St. James Episcopal Church cemetery, despite the fact that he was in Philadelphia at the time.

Dinah was one of the few women of her time who owned property; she had a small house near the intersection of West Strawberry and West Vine Streets. The site of her house was said to be near the highest point in that part of Lancaster, at the angle between West Strawberry and West Vine, and her notoriety was such that the hill on which she lived became known as Dinah’s Hill (see photo). By all accounts, she lived a remarkable life—all the more remarkable because she was African American and a slave for most of her life, including here in Lancaster.

Photograph of the intersection of West Strawberry and West Vine Streets,
looking east down the hill on West Vine. Dinah McIntire lived in a small
frame house at this intersection, which is near the highest point in this part
of Cabbage Hill, which was called “Dinah’s Hill” throughout most of the 1800s.

According to several sources, Dinah McIntire was born into slavery in the town of Princess Anne, Somerset County, Maryland, about 1706. She spent the first half of her long life in Maryland, and raised four children there. She was already in her fifties when Matthias Slough, a prominent early citizen of Lancaster, bought her and brought her north to work at his White Swan Tavern.

When Dinah died in 1819, she owned two, and possibly three, lots of land on the northeast edge of Cabbage Hill. She owned two of the lots as early as 1798, when the lots were taxed as part of the 1798 federal Direct Tax. The tax was based on the amount of land owned and the number of windows and the total number of panes in the windows. One of Dinah’s lots was 62 x 242 feet and contained an 18 x 22 foot house and a 15 x 20 foot stable. The house was a one-story log and brick house with two windows of six panes each, and the stable was made of logs. The other lot she owned in 1798 was larger and apparently not built on; it measured 137 x 191 feet, adjoining the first lot.

In 1816, three years before her death, Dinah McIntire, having long outlived her four children, prepared a will in which she left all of her property and belongings to Jacob Getz, a young Lancaster silversmith. Like Dinah, Getz attended St. James Church in 1815, when he and his wife Martha had their first child baptized there. By 1816, when Dinah wrote her will, Getz had apparently befriended her to such an extent that she named him as her executor and sole heir.

Map showing the two lots that Dinah McIntire owned from at least 1798 to 1819 when she died. The lots are near the intersection of West Strawberry and West Vine, where Dinah is supposed to have lived. (The map is from 1875, so the features shown are not the same as they were when Dinah was living there. The map is modified from Everts & Stewart, Lancaster County Atlas, 1875.)

When Dinah died in 1819, Getz became the owner of Dinah’s property. Ground-rent records for Bethelstown, laid out by Samuel Bethel, Jr., in 1762, show that Jacob Getz became the owner of Bethelstown lot 45 after Dinah’s death. Lot 45 was 62 feet wide and 242 feet deep, and was bounded on its long dimension by West Strawberry between High and West Vine. This was clearly one of the two lots left to Getz by Dinah McIntire, and an examination of deeds shows that the other lot, which was a little larger, was immediately adjacent to the southeast across what is now the extension of West Vine southwest of West Strawberry (see map).

However, there is still some uncertainty surrounding exactly where Dinah McIntire actually lived. One obvious possibility is the 18 x 22 log and brick house on Bethelstown lot 45. But the most likely place for a house to have been built on that lot was on the High Street end of the lot. At the time Bethelstown was laid out, the other end of the lot did not front a street (the extension of West Vine Street didn’t occur until much later). And if Dinah had lived on the High Street end of lot 45, she would not have been at the angle of West Strawberry and West Vine, and she would not have had a direct view down the hill on West Vine, as numerous writers have claimed for her.

An article in The News Journal of Lancaster on June 9, 1898, provides an alternative, and I think more likely, location where Dinah may have lived. The article discusses how “another old landmark of the city” was about to be removed. The landmark had been condemned  because it was too close to the street and had become an eyesore. That landmark was a small frame cabin on the corner of West Vine and West Strawberry, and the article states that it was reputed to have been the house where Dinah had lived almost a century before.

An examination of an old fire-insurance map of the city from 1897 shows that a small one-and-a-half-story frame house, then being used as a tin shop, did indeed stick out into the street at the angle where West Strawberry and West Vine meet. A 1912 fire-insurance map shows that the small frame house was no longer there, which is consistent with the claim of the newspaper article that the house was about to be removed in 1898 (see side-by-side maps). I believe it is likely that this small house is where Dinah McIntire lived, and that this small piece of land was the third lot that some writers have attributed to her. The exact site of Dinah’s little house was where the flagpole is today in front of the memorial to fallen soldiers.

Dinah McIntire probably lived in the small house shown in the 1897 map as a tin shop (green)
jutting out into the street. An 1898 newspaper article stated that Dinah’s old house was about
to be removed. The 1912 map shows that Dinah’s old house was removed as planned. Maps
modified from Sanborn Insurance Maps of 1897 and 1912.

Now, to complete the story of Dinah McIntire, we are compelled to circle back to the potentially problematic life of Matthias Slough, Dinah’s Lancaster slave master. Slough was as prominent a citizen as there was in Lancaster in the late 1700s. During the Revolutionary War, he served as the Colonel of the Seventh Battalion of the Pennsylvania Militia, and saw action at the Battle of Long Island. He also served at various times as assistant burgess, county coroner, county treasurer, and member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly and General Assembly, all while he was running the very popular White Swan Tavern.

Certainly, this is a fine list of accomplishments worthy of our respect. However, just like numerous other prominent Lancaster citizens in the eighteenth century, Slough’s legacy is compromised by the fact that he was a slave owner. From 1770 to 1800, Slough owned at least three to four slaves at a time. In fact, a registry of Lancaster slaves indicates he owned eleven slaves in 1780.

Curiously, Dinah McIntire is not one of the eleven listed slaves in 1780. Did Slough free her before 1780? We know she was freed at least by 1798, because she owned property then. It is possible she was freed before 1780, because it was common for slave owners to free slaves when they reached old age and Dinah was already in her seventies in 1780. Whether he freed Dinah before 1780 or closer to 1798, it is reasonable to think that the wealthy Slough may have rewarded her for her years of servitude, and that her ownership of land may have been a result of that reward.

Whether we should temper our respect for Matthias Slough because he was so thoroughly invested in the “peculiar institution” of slavery is a question for individual conscience and professional historians. It seems fitting, though, that Dinah McIntire outlived her former slave master Slough, and that her newspaper obituary was almost as long as his obituary. On top of that, Dinah was the only one of the two for whom a hill was named.

Who’s Who on the Hill: Vicente Ramos

A: I have been involved in this neighborhood since 2001 when we purchased a home on West Strawberry Street for my mother. Before that she lived with my wife and I. We found out about the house through some friends.

by Melissa Hess

Questions and photographs are from an interview Melissa Hess conducted with Vicente Ramos, SoWe Resident and Board Member in 2016

Q: How long have you lived in the neighborhood and why did you decide to move here?

A: I have been involved in this neighborhood since 2001 when we purchased a home on West Strawberry Street for my mother. Before that she lived with my wife and I. We found out about the house through some friends. I learned that even though two women can love each other, they don’t always fit in one kitchen. My mother raised 12 children and she always loved to cook so she was thrilled to have her own place and her own kitchen. A few years later we purchased the house across the street which has a side lot where we plant all kinds of flowers and vegetables.  Just a couple years ago we bought a third house on West Strawberry Street which I manage and rent out. We work with Water Street Rescue Mission to provide a transitional living community for people coming out of homelessness.

Q: What do you “do” (profession, hobby, etc)?

A: I work in the financial services industry and and at a property management company. I am also chairperson of a non-profit organization called Care Force. Right now I am selling a variety of flowers and vegetables at my home to raise money for a service trip to Honduras through Care Force. Every year I take a group of volunteers overseas with the organization. On the service trips we provide medical services to people in need and also bring children’s clothing and other basic hygiene supplies to give away. All of the flowers that I sell to fundraise for the service trip are donated from Esbenshade’s Garden Center. Soon I will have pumpkins and mums for sale which are also donated from a farm in the area.

Q: What is a favorite memory or moment you recall from living on The Hill?

A: My favorite memory is when we bought the house for my mom and I saw how she was so happy to have her own place that she could call home.

Q: If you could change or improve something about the neighborhood, what would it be?

A: I would encourage people to keep the streets and sidewalks clean. I feel that we are making a difference in the neighborhood by making the outside of our home look beautiful. People tell me that they slow down when they pass by to check out all the plants and flowers in front of our house. I hear comments like “we love your place and the way it looks.”

Who’s Who on the Hill

I’m Melissa Hess, a photographer and stay-at-home mom who has been living with my family on the 600 block of Saint Joseph Street for the past 7 years.

A few years ago I started forming an idea about how to tell the visual stories of the people and places in Cabbage Hill, a historic neighborhood in South West Lancaster City where my husband and I bought our first home in the spring of 2012. Supposedly the name comes from the large German immigrant population that grew cabbage on their land here in the early 1900’s. Though today there are not many original “Hillians” left, the narrow one way streets lined with brick row homes and angular intersections still remain a part of this unique neighborhood.

My main motivation for this personal photography project is to give a face to the diverse population of people who live here and bring a positive light to the good things I see happening in our neighborhood. Despite being pictured in several LNP articles as one of the city’s “aging and increasingly distressed neighborhoods”, I think there are a lot of treasures to be found in this historic part of town.

First, it is probably one of the most culturally diverse areas of the city. My neighbors are a mix of people; blacks, Latinos, “Hillians” who have lived here their whole lives, urban Mennonites and recently resettled refugees from Somalia, Iraq and Nepal to name a few.

Soon after we moved here my husband and I started the Cabbage Hill Supper Club in order to get to know more folks in the neighborhood through potlucks hosted in neighbors’ homes. It has been a great way to build community.

There are non-profits such as the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP), Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity who are doing great work in our neighborhood. There is also the newly formed SoWe neighborhood organization that has various committees that residents can become involved in from housing to parks and recreation to education. LHOP and local partners have refurbished and sold several formerly blight houses to first-time home buyers and with a grant from Wells Fargo they plan to continue this work. Since we moved here, I know of more than a dozen families who have purchased their first home in Cabbage Hill.

There are churches who are invested in the neighborhood, hosting block parties, teaching ESL classes to refugees, and providing a space to hold community meetings. There are businesses who contribute to the neighborhood such as Two Dudes Painting Company who have beautified the area with several murals over the years. Most recently Two Dudes organized a mini mural project where a dozen or more artists (including myself) designed and painted murals around the neighborhood.

In the coming months and beyond, I plan to create a series of blog posts called “Who’s Who on the Hill” featuring photo essays of local residents and businesses who are making a difference in the community. To kick off this project, I’ve decided to share some images that I’ve taken around the neighborhood over the years. I wanted to capture the images of Cabbage Hill that stand out to me as unique and beautiful, whether it be interesting architecture or the way light falls through the colorful autumn trees. Stay tuned for the first “Who’s Who on the Hill” post. If you live in the neighborhood, feel free to nominate someone to feature in this series or send me your ideas. I want to spread the SoWe pride! You can email me at: melissa.engle@gmail.com

SoWe Block Liaison Program

Have you heard about the SoWe Block Liaison Program? This program is a simple, low-key method in which active community members can become a resource for their blocks. Recently, SoWe assigned its first two Block Liaisons, Rosalind Dickinson and Jill Roach.

Rosalind, a 10-year resident of the 600 block of Poplar St., chose to become a block liaison because of her love of the uniqueness of her neighborhood and the closeness of the community. She is eager to do the work of bringing people together and connecting people to resources and information to build an even better SoWe. Rosalind also was recently honored as the recipient of Lancaster’s Neighbor of the Month award for January 2019!

Jill has many of the same motivations as Rosalind; she loves the cooperative spirit of many of her neighbors and really wants to find new and creative ways to bring people together. She loves the diversity of the SoWe neighborhood. Jill has been living in the neighborhood on the 700 block of Saint Joseph St. for 7 years.

Hopefully the fact that the first two Block Liaisons share common motivations is a good clue as to what we’re hoping to find from other potential block liaisons – we’re looking for individuals who love the neighborhood and want to be good neighbors. If you’re interested in serving in this meaningful way and becoming a Block Liaison, contact Jake Thorsen at jthorsen@lhop.org.