Steam Into History picking up speed in southern York County
It started with a love of Civil War history and the desire to build a new attraction for York County visitors.
The next stop was the creation in 2006 of Steam Into History Inc., which led to construction of a Civil War-era steam engine and rail cars, and train rides along a nearly 11-mile route in southern York County.
Two years after officially opening the railroad — fittingly on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg — New Freedom-based Steam Into History has attracted more than 46,000 visitors and an estimated $9 million in economic impact.
“I think we really kicked it off pretty well opening it up that year,” Debi Beshore, manager of sales and administration, said of the connection to the anniversary. The battle's sesquicentennial attracted visitors from around the world, including many wearing period attire.
Steam Into History has drawn visitors from about 30 states and 26 countries. The goal now is to sustain the momentum.
“We feel like we're better situated to know where we are (now), where we've been and how to get to where we want to be,” Beshore said, calling the partial opening year and first full year last year a learning process. “No one really starts up a railroad.”
The nonprofit has done well marketing the attraction to motorcoach groups across the Northeast. Being on the Maryland border has yielded strong turnout from the Baltimore area.
And it is constantly looking for ways to modify and expand programming, giving visitors reasons to come back.
“We want to make our weekend a little different but on the same theme,” Beshore said. “If they saw General Grant, maybe they want to return for General Lee or President Lincoln. Every weekend is a little different than the last weekend.”
Packaging the railroad with nearby restaurants such as Paesano's Italian Restaurant and Glen Rock Mill Inn, and promoting other sites in York County is another key. Nearby attractions include the Markets at Shrewsbury.
“We all need to work together,” Beshore said. “(Visitors) don't want to just ride the train. It only takes two-and-a-half hours.”
'Good fuel into the engine'
Extra foot traffic in the area hasn't led to much additional business development in the New Freedom and Glen Rock area, at least not directly related to the railroad.
One exception would be D.E. Gettle Hobby LLC, a model railroad repair and hobby shop that opened in New Freedom last fall.
“It definitely has an impact,” owner Dave Gettle said of the railroad. “When the train is running, I'm much busier.”
Gettle, who is working with Steam Into History on model railroads in its gift shop, also noted the increased foot traffic in museums in New Freedom and the Hanover area.
“They are on the right track,” said Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, adding that the railroad attraction is the perfect opportunity for the bureau to grow local motorcoach travel.
Steam Into History has participated in bureau sales missions targeting tour operators who travel to the midstate, she said. The nonprofit also has partnered with the bureau on York County familiarization tours for those outside tour operators, which should lead to new business in the near future.
“They've got to keep putting good fuel into the engine,” Druck said, citing the attraction's investment in re-enactors, which brings visitors back. “I think they are doing the right things. They just need to keep doing them.”
An expansion of the county's hotel tax, which could get the go-ahead in the current legislative session, is expected to help leverage a new grant program for the bureau.
Steam Into History could benefit from that and grow its reach, Druck added.