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Police Heritage Museum
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A Museum is Born
From a dream to reality is no small task

From the very founding of Pennsylvania in the 1680's, William Penn endorsed the equal enforcement of laws, regardless of a person's origin or beliefs. Although the language has changed, many modern Pennsylvania laws are direct descendants of early English law, specifically the "Duke of York's Laws." Among these early laws are those establishing the courts, warrants, bail, sheriff, constables and other officers.

Until 1749, York County was a part of Lancaster County, and the responsibility for enforcement of laws fell upon the Lancaster County Sheriff. Because of an undue travel hardship when attending court, residents in the western part of Lancaster County persisted in their petitions to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the establishment of a separate county. York County was formed in 1749, and with it came the first York County law enforcement officers.

As early communities grew, so did their need to maintain peace and order among the citizens. The Sheriff of the county and the high-constable in the towns didn't wear a uniform or display a badge. Early Pennsylvania law provided that the sheriff would be provided with a staff of his office, at least six feet in length and bearing the King's Coat of Arms on the top. It is doubtful these officers carried firearms, except on special occasions.

The Police Heritage Museum grew out of one officer's desire to know more about the history of the York City Police Department. The officer's large personal collection of law enforcement artifacts, and the knowledge he gained during his research, became the impetus for the museum.

Late in 1994 a core group of individuals met to discuss the incorporation of a police museum. It was obvious the museum would provide community enrichment through preservation, education, and presentation of the important role law enforcement has played in community history through the maintenance of peace and order, thus ensuring community growth and prosperity.

For over a year and a half starting late in 1994, a small display area of twenty by twenty feet was maintained on the second floor of the Fire Museum of York County. The Fire Museum well understood the difficulties encountered when making an effort to start a museum, as some twenty years earlier their museum had an equally small beginning. If not for their generosity, kindness and guidance, the dream of this museum may have remained just that!

The core group recruited others from the private and professional sectors that shared an interest in establishing a museum to showcase the history of policing and share this important part of our history with others. In the spring of 1995 incorporation documents were filed and following the receipt of the approval for incorporation, the first meeting was held with officers and the board of directors being elected. The board of directors has a strong diversity in it's members with retired and active police officers, past County Commissioner, a businessman and community leader, certified public accountant, attorney, firefighter, and 911 communications center supervisor. This diversity of directors brings unique levels of experience and perspectives to the present and future operation of the museum.

By design the museum's name was chosen so it did not denote or focus on a single police department or agency. The board of directors did not want to limit horizons, and felt even the smallest of law enforcement agencies had something to offer the museum. The board of directors set an initial goal of finding a place to house the museum, where people would "enter the past, see the present, imagine the future" of law enforcement.

For the board of directors, obtaining a suitable location to house the museum's displays was a primary concern, and contacts with city officials looked promising. Through the City of York's Director of Economic Development and in co-operation with the Redevelopment Authority, a vacant commercial storefront was secured. This was only the beginning of our project, as the building was empty for a number of years, and was in need of serious cosmetic interior renovations. The roof had leaked, an asphalt tile floor had to be removed, and walls had to be refurbished. Additionally, a partition was built, essentially cutting the building in half, with the rear used for construction of displays and storage, while the front is for the display of museum artifacts.

As with any project like this, recruiting of the volunteers becomes the most difficult part of the job. The members of PA Jeeps completed removal of the asphalt tile floor. We then turned to the York County Probation department, as probationers are many times required to complete a certain amount of hours of community service as part of their probation. The people from probation spent two evenings each week for 3 weeks removing thousands of staples that remained after the flooring and sub flooring was removed. Remaining renovations were completed by museum staff along with generous contributions of time, money, and materials from many other individuals and businesses within the community.

Artifacts over a century old have been secured from local and out of state law enforcement agencies. Agencies within York County have already donated pieces of their history. Many artifacts have, and continue to be, secured monthly through private gifts, and private funds. Although artifacts collected are too numerous to list, these include documents, publications, police and prison equipment, and individual officer's equipment, along with badges and patches. A few artifacts date to the 1700's; many more are from the 1880's, and early 1900's to present.

Since officially opening our doors to visitors in 1998, we have hosted thousands of visitors, and have shown ever increasing attendance and tours. The museum will remain a work in progress, with new and expanded displays, continuing search for new and unique artifacts, and an increased involvement with schools, scouts and civic groups through tours.

237 West Market Street
York, Pennsylvania 17401