York County, Pennsylvania has been home to many photography-related businesses over the years, including several that operated in the City of York. One of those was Sweigart’s Photo Service Shop, which was “the largest and most modern store of its kind in the community”.
Advertising ashtray found at a York County antique store.
Benjamin Erving Sweigart was born to William and Katie on September 8, 1887 in Slackwater, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. According to the 1900 United States Federal Census, the family was living in Drumore Township, also in Lancaster County, where Benjamin’s father was a hotel keeper.
At some point following this census, Benjamin left the area and is found in the 1910 census in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, just south or Milwaukee. At that time he was working as a core maker where he formed sand molds for the production of metal castings. He was living in the household of Warren Smoot, who was a photographer and probably taught him the business before he returned to York County.
From R.L. Polk & Co.’s 1917 York Directory
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
On August 10, 1912 Benjamin opened a wholesale photo finishing service in West York at the corner of King Street and Highland Avenue. After operating there for two years, the business was moved to 286 West Market Street where retail service was also offered.
As World War I raged on, Benjamin enlisted in the Army Aerial Photographic Service in 1917. After serving two years he was honorably discharged and reopened the store at its previous location. As demand for his services increased, the store was moved to 278 West Market Street. After returning from his military service, Benjamin was single and living with his brother and his family in West York. In 1925 he married Ruth F. Gotwalt and started his family.
From Polk’s York (York County, Pennsylvania) City Directory: 1935-1936
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
By 1935, the business needed to expand once again, and the adjoining property at 280 West Market Street was utilized, doubling the size of the shop. In addition to the expansion, the store was modernized and had an up-to-date finishing plant installed.
According to “The Story Of A Dynamic Community”, which was published in 1946, Sweigart’s Photo Service Shop “handles a fine selection of photographic supplies, accessories and equipment. Its modern finishing plant produces quality photographic printing, enlarging, copying and many other types of finishing.”
I was unable to determine when the business closed its doors, but it certainly was a success for several decades. Benjamin died in 1969, and it’s possible he is related to Sweigart’s in the area who also operate photography businesses.
If you can offer any additional details about the shop, or have photographs or postcards they were processed there, I’d love to hear from you.
- I recommend the book ”York Area Photographers, 1840-1997″, written by Eric D. Buttorff, which can be purchased from the South Central Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.