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Historic York County, Pennsylvania: Factory Tour Capital of the World

Fall is a great time for a road trip, especially one that combines foliage and farm-fresh food with American heritage and a chance to see how products are still made in the USA. So many manufacturers open their doors to the public are in York County, Pennsylvania that it is known as the Factory Tour Capital of the World.

Historic York

Did you know it is also the place where the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given?

York has come a long way since the days when William Penn sent surveyor Thomas Cookson here to lay out a new town in what was then the frontier. Cookson, an Englishman from Yorkshire, named one of the main streets after his king, George, and the town after the Duchy of York. Yorktown, as it was called in the from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries, became known as The White Rose City for the symbol of the House of York.

In 1777 the Continental Congress fled the British troops in Philadelphia and settled in York, which considers itself the first Capitol of the United States. It was here that the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution, were adopted.

York, Pennsylvania, site of the Articles of Confederation
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York, Pennsylvania, site of the Articles of Confederation

Nearly a century later, in 1863, York made history as the largest northern city to be occupied by Confederate forces. These troops were headed for Gettysburg and the decisive battle of the Civil War.

York, Pennsylvania, the largest northern city to be occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War
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York, Pennsylvania, the largest northern city to be occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War

The Factory Tour Capital of the World

People now come to York County for its factory tours. Most already know about the pretzels from places like Utz Quality Foods and Snyder’s of Hanover, but many are surprised to discover the wide range of products made in York County and the stories behind them.

The chocolate candy you bought from a fundraiser may have come from Wolfgang Candy Company, one of the oldest family-owned candy companies in the USA. The owner says he was born in a candy factory because his birth preceded his home’s conversion to confection production plant.

Wolfgang Candy truck, York, Pennsylvania
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Wolfgang Candy truck, York, Pennsylvania

Their candy was first used as a fund raiser when First Lutheran Church wanted to raise money to buy a bell. Now, about half the candy produced is packaged for groups raising funds.

Tours start with a clack and a bang as products are printed with the date and batch number and shrink wrapped in plastic. Machines choose the perfectly shaped candy for wrapping.

In a scene reminiscent of the classic I Love Lucy episode, a “Welcome Lucy and Ethel” sign hovers over a machine that scans for perfectly shaped candy.Employees sort the rest and seconds are sent to be sold in the gift shop. Photos are not allowed during the tour.

Harley-Davidson, York, Pennsylvania
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Harley-Davidson, York, Pennsylvania

York’s Harley-Davidson’s Vaughn L. Beals Tour Center has exhibits on the manufacturing and assembly processes of the factory established there in 1973. Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations assembles the Touring, Softail®, CVO™ and Trike models and makes parts like frames, fuel tanks, and fenders.

Harley-Davidson, York, Pennsylvania
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Harley-Davidson, York, Pennsylvania

Visitors can sit on current production motorcycles and visit the gift shop for Harley-themed souvenirs. Free one-hour tours (Monday-Friday 9am-2 pm) offer a limited view of the assembly line and designated machining areas.

Harley-Davidson, York, Pennsylvania
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Harley-Davidson, York, Pennsylvania

The two-hour Harley-Davidson Steel Toe Tour (Monday-Thursday at 9:30 am and 12 noon) takes small groups behind the scenes past the various models, through the manufacturing areas of fuel tanks, frames, and fenders, and to otherwise ‘employee only’ areas. The required safety vest, safety glasses, and steel toe protection are provided. No open shoes are allowed. Harley-Davidson Museum members $30, non-members $35These tours sell out quickly. Call 877-883-1450 or go online for reservations.

Reserve ahead to meet the master luthier of exquisite musical instruments, many custom made for celebrities like Mark O’Connor and Ricky Skaggs, at Bluett Bros. Violins. Mark Bluett said he tried to make a guitar when he was 12, threw it in the fireplace and nearly burned the house down. He persevered, studying under a violin maker who taught him, step by step, then went on to revise and refine his technique.

Bluett instruments, York, Pennsylvania
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Bluett instruments, York, Pennsylvania

These exquisite creations of Italian spruce are formed in finely-crafted molds and worked with tools, many of which he has created for exactness. Mr. Bluett does all the elaborate exotic wood inlay and carving by hand, creating impressive one-of-a-kind instruments. Violins sell for about $6000.

Bluett’s instruments have been in competitions in places like the prestigious Peabody School of Music and won against the finest 300 year old competitors. Bluett, who clearly loves his craft, also rehairs bows using the tail hair of Mongolian horses bred for bows. Tours are available by appointment, $5 per person.http://www.bluettbros-violins.com

York County is an area with fertile farmland, the source of fresh produce and meat for York Central Market, built in 1888 by architect John Dempwolf.

Its red brick Romanesque Revival building was named to the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. It is downtown amid shops like the Sunrise Soap Company’s organic soaps and restaurants like the Blue Moon Cafe, with eclectic menus. Central Market is a great place to find unique items or to enjoy breakfast or lunch. There’s plenty of seating and free wifi.

The market is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 6AM to 2 PM.

Many of the local farmers and producers, like the architect, are of German descent, and you’ll find some of their best specialties like red beet eggs, sauerkraut and sand tarts here. You can put together a gourmet picnic by browsing the stalls or find edible souvenirs for friends and family to enjoy later.

The selection is wide-ranging–locally produced cheeses and breads, chowchow, and apple butter and deep fried pickles. The pot pie is a comfort-food noodle concoction, and the chicken corn soup is a local favorite. Try the burritos and toppings at Roburritos, pasta at Mezzogiorno, Aladdin’s gyros, a cup or bowl at Simply Soup, or a Hawaiian smoothie at Brunner’s Exotic Fruits. The sweet or savory selections at The Pie Shop are a local favorite, and there’s a hearty breakfast at Kolt’s Hawg House Saturdays 8-1.

Take home croissants or chocolate ganache cake from The Copper Crust Bakery Café, top-selling apple harvest scones or focaccia from the School of Culinary Arts’ Bake Shop, Plain Jane granola, or Cheesy Bacon Oaties from Two Pups Pastries for your favorite canine. Top it off with a pint at Mudhook Brewing Company or a bottle of Harmony wine.

To round out the day, stroll the historic downtown area to see some of the 23 murals depicting the city’s history. Inspiration for the murals came from a member of York’s Chamber of Commerce’s visit to Vancouver Island.

Downtown York celebrates First Friday from 5-9 pm each month, with extended hours, special events or live entertainment, refreshments, promotions, and discounts in its shops and restaurants.

For a first-rate dinner of seasonal American cuisine, make a reservation at Blue Moon Café on West Market Street. The ambience is lively yet intimate, with indirect lighting, a tin ceiling, and cozy booths. Walls are decorated with local art that is avaiable for purchase.

York is surrounded by beautiful countryside. A two-day itinerary known as Pop Your Cork in York includes vineyards, suggested restaurants, tea rooms, a distillery, and an orchard and farm market. It’s part of the and the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail, a group of twenty-three vineyards. In November, there’s a variety of celebrations, including Wine Just Off the Vine, a celebration with behind-the-scenes tastings of newly-pressed wines.

We visited York County’s oldest winery, Naylor Wine Cellars, begun by Dick Naylor in 1975, as son-in-law Ted Potter said, “as a way to make money or have fun.” It’s just 15 miles outside York.

Ted met his wife through a Christmas card she sent went he was in the military. A romance blossomed and before long he became involved in the wine-production.

The family’s 35 acres of grapes produces 20,000 gallons of wine. Their cryo-extracted wine, similar to an ice wine, but with grapes picked at prime and frozen in the ice house–topped renowned Canadian wines in competitions.

They hold wine dinners, Big Band Dances on Saturday evenings June through September ($15), a Harvest Music and Wine Festival in October, and Wine, Women, and Chocolate in November ($15-20). There are special dinners during the winter.

Visitors can enjoy a free tasting of two varieties. To tour the winery, just stop by at least thirty minutes before closing. Vineyard tours are available during festivals or by appointment (1-800-292-3370). Bring a picnic assembled from Central Market, buy some wine at Naylor’s, and stay to enjoy the beautiful setting. www.naylorwine.com

Foliage, factory tours, and farm-fresh food. Who could ask for more?

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