Tucked away on one of the last pages of a York County, Pennsylvania scrapbook is a newspaper article written about a crypt-like vault discovered in the late 1960s. The photographs resemble European catacombs, but they were actually taken in the City of York.
Youths, Cameraman Explore Old Underground
As detailed in the April 4, 1968 edition of The York Dispatch, members of the York Wrecking Company found the forgotten room while razing properties near the 400 block of East Market Street. The demolition effort was to make way for “Frey’s avenue public housing project”, which is likely known today as Broad Park Manor on the corner of East King and Broad Street.
Found behind the Nicolene Oil Company and about 18 feet under one of the houses being razed was a forgotten vault, sealed off for an undetermined amount of time. The underground structure was made of brick and stone, a remnant of a former bottling plant once located at the site.
In the above photograph, John Kennedy and Ken Koons from Spring Grove use a flashlight to examine the underground room they’re exploring. The photographs from the article give us an amazing view of this hidden treasure. You can see vaulted ceilings with long, narrow stalactites slowing descending from the ceiling, while scattered on the floor are bricks and other debris. The sides of the room contain narrow openings – possible used for ventilation – that the men who entered used to lower themselves into the room. A partially-blocked entrance to another room is also visible, which was said to extend towards East Market Street.
Above, Terry Brillhart from Shiloh shines a light on a narrow passageway he and his friends used to lower themselves into the room with a rope.
Found in the vault were bottles containing the names of many local businesses, including J.C. Helb, White Rose Bottling, H.A. Bortner, A.P.B. Co. in York, York Brewing Company, and Coca Cola. A jug was also found showing the name William Foust Whiskey, Glen Rock.
Terry Brillhart examines bottles found in the underground vault in the scanned photograph above.
These underground rooms were once part of a bottling company owned by Julius C. Helb, who was born in the town of Railroad in 1862. He was educated in Baltimore and entered the tannery trade with his father. Over the years, he worked as a mariner, spent time employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, operated a tannery, and even built F. Helb & Sons furniture factory in Railroad.
Julius entered the bottling business after he purchased the wholesale bottling works of Schmidt & Wagner in Hanover. He ran the business there for five years, went back to Railroad, and eventually established the bottling company along East Market Street. The factory utilized the most up-to-date methods, and was known to be one of the best equipped in the United States.
It’s interesting to note that just a few blocks away on the corner of South Queen and East King Street was Helb’s Brewery, owned by the brother of Julius. This building was razed in 1952.
What ever happened to the mysterious underground room?
It’s not know if this underground room was left intact or demolished like the house that stood over it. I would guess it was filled in due to safety concerns, but one never knows.
- Further research showed Bill Schintz as the photographer who took the original photographs.