Historic York: The South’s White Rose City

This article was written by Dr. Edward Lee and first appeared inside the front cover of the 1996 Walking Tour Book.


Walking through Rose Hill Cemetery one spots tombstones of people who died in combat while defending liberty. Casualties from all wars are there at Rose Hill; a monument honoring “Confederate War Dead” towers above the graves. Other tombstones bear the names of citizens who, after nearly a century on this earth, succumbed to the ravages of old age. Rose Hill Cemetery pays tribute to the victims of the Spanish Flu of 1918–1919, an unusual epidemic which struck down men and women in their prime. And automobile accidents, the plague of the twentieth century, filled their share of Rose Hill’s tombs.

The markers of Rose Hill Cemetery, the joyful sounds flowing from the stage of McCelvey Center, the chatter on Jefferson Elementary School’s playground, the announcement of yet another successful peach crop, the excited faces of children awaiting Santa Claus’s arrival, the cheers at York-Clover athletic contests, the boisterous crowds lining the streets for SUMMERFEST, the tears at Wright’s Funeral Home, the beauty of a vibrant downtown, and the wedding announcements in the Enquirer provide us with snapshots of what Southern writer Eudora Welty calls “a sense of place.”

York is a Southern city, a White Rose City, inhabited by gifted individuals of all colors. Jefferson Davis fled down Congress Street in May 1865 as the Confederacy collapsed around him. Our citizens cheered the South’s president as he rode by—some cheered the fugitive out of respect, some out of anticipation of the pending arrival of long-awaited freedom. York’s citizens have posed for John Schorb’s camera. We have traveled on trains to Gastonia, Chester, and Charlotte, and by plane we have circled the globe. We have shared successes, failures, “lost causes,” and sins. We have worshipped beside one another in thousands of pews in scores of churches. We have survived the Spanish Flu, natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo, broken hearts, shattered dreams, the pain of the Great Depression, the great crusade of D-Day, internment in prisoner of war camps, and the uncertainty of the first day of school. We are descendants of African-American slaves and Scots-Irish slave owners; our streets honor presidents named “Washington,” “Jefferson,” “Lincoln,” and “Roosevelt,” and states from “California” to “Oklahoma.”

York’s people know “a sense of place” because we are a Southern community blessed with good industrious people, hard workers who kept the fields plowed and textile looms humming, brilliant minds who educated our children at schools like Yorkville Female Academy, politicians who saw the wisdom and justice in integration, defenders of freedom who fought atop Kings Mountain and on Omaha Beach, breathtaking natural beauty resting on a bed of Piedmont clay, champion athletes in every sport, and over 200 years of shared history—all of which began two centuries ago in the wagon ruts of Fergus Crossroads, at the intersection of Congress and Liberty Streets.