Northern York County’s story begins as one of wilderness and Indians as it was the favorite hunting grounds for many tribes. Records from the early 1600’s estimate that there were between 5,000 and 7,000 Susquehannock in this area but a mere century later their numbers had dwindled to 300. Other tribes moved in and through the area over time, but it became predominately inhabited by the Lenape or Delaware.
In 1733, John Harris was granted a license to operate a ferry across the Susquehanna River at what is today, the Commonwealth’s capital of Harrisburg. In 1736 the boundaries of Lancaster County were expanded to reach across the Susquehanna. With the expansion of available land and the operational ferry, the Susquehanna River was now less of a barrier and the lands west of the river beckoned those with a drive to tame the wilderness. A collection of Scots-Irish immigrated into what would eventually be Northern York County and became known as the Monaghan Settlement.
Matthew Dill, a Scots-Irish immigrant from County Donegal, arrived in the area in 1742 and set about making a new life for his family. In 1749, the lands west of the river were granted the right to create a separate county thus, out of Lancaster County arose York County, named after the Duke of York. Subsequent generations of Dills continued improving the land. The stone tavern they built in 1794 is part of the structure that still stands today.
Matthew was influential in the community becoming a Justice of the Peace and, later, a captain in the volunteer Associator Regiment (created by Benjamin Franklin to hold off Indian attacks.) Matthew’s property was well situated along two main paths and he wisely created a way station, presumably of wood, for travelers. These paths ran roughly along the routes of today’s PA-74 and US-15.
From 1753 to 1763, the French and Indian War waged on in the western and central parts of PA bringing devastation and the massacre of many inhabitants. It is not clear if local residents fled their homes due to actual attacks or due to the fear of an impending attack. Either way, official tax records show that some area residents were not taxed because they had fled and did not inhabit their land.
It is believed that the Dill’s tavern continued operation throughout the Revolutionary War, and it is speculated that the tavern may have even served as a recruitment station during the War as Matthew’s sons, John and Matthew (the younger), both served in the Continental Army.
As the country grew and flourished, it moved the nation’s capital from Philadelphia, PA to Washington, DC. in 1800. Our small part of Northern York County was also transitioning as the Tavern was sold to Leonard Eichelberger that same year.
Michael Mumper, another prominent settler in the Dillsburg area, purchased 790 acres adjoining the Dill property about the same time as Matthew Dill. Michael was a registered “distiller” and he, along with the Dills and many others, predominately German and Scots-Irish, successfully farmed the area. Descendants of Michael Mumper built Maple Shade Farm, dwelling, barn, and tenement, in 1857.
Maple Shade Farm, along with Dillsburg and the surrounding countryside, was drawn into the Civil War when soldiers from both sides of the conflict ended up at the Maple Shade farmhouse. Annie (Mumper) Clark, who was 8 at the time, recalls the story. In short, two sick Union soldiers, part of an advance party, were recovering at the house when Confederate soldiers showed up demanding ‘good eggs, ham and coffee … and no substitute [meaning real coffee and not Chicory root].’ The Union soldiers were hidden in the garret and covered with a feather bed, remaining undiscovered, while the residents fed the hungry Confederates. Annie notes that during the three days of fighting in Gettysburg, 20 miles away, the sound of the cannon fire could be heard in the little town of Dillsburg.
More stories abound of life in Northern York County in our Archives and Collections.