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Yorktowne Hotel restoration involved moving graves

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The original location of 53 graves on the Zion Lutheran Church plot that were reinterred as a result of the Yorktowne Hotel renovation project.
The original location of 53 graves on the Zion Lutheran Church plot that were reinterred as a result of the Yorktowne Hotel renovation project. - (Photo / )

When Kimberly Hogeman was asked last summer to take a on a special project related to the Yorktowne Hotel renovation, she had no idea it would involve extensive genealogical research and planning a memorial service to reinter 53 graves.

Such activities were not typically in the scope of her job as manager of strategic development at the York County Economic Alliance, but she was ready to take on the balancing act of preserving the old versus creating the new that commonly occurs when revitalizing historic buildings.

In order to add a circular arrival plaza off Duke Street for the hotel, the York County Industrial Development Authority, which owns the hotel, also purchased the lot occupied by Zion Lutheran Church.

However, if authority officials were to use the site as planned, they quickly realized they would have to move 53 graves.

The Yorktowne Hotel project received state and federal historic tax credits to be applied toward the overall cost. But the credits came with strings attached. They could be applied only after project managers complied with a number of stipulations regarding the reinterment and gained approval from the Federal Historic Preservation Commission, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and the York County Orphans’ Court, Hogeman said.

“Without permission from all three, we couldn’t move forward,” she said.

Hogeman said that the minimum requirement was to comply with a statute requiring the authority to publish public notices of the names on the graves that would be moved and reinterred.

However, most of the graves dated back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. While it was a fascinating resource for an amateur genealogist, it made Hogeman’s work more difficult, as several of the names on the tombstones were faded beyond comprehension. Even more challenging was the fact that several of the tombstones contained German writing, as the plot was home to the original Christ Lutheran Church, which was attended by many German immigrants.

Hogeman said that at some point during the 18th century, there was a split between the German and non-German speaking members of the church. The break resulted in Christ Lutheran Church moving outside the city, and the original church changing its name to Zion Lutheran Church.

Still, Hogeman was undaunted. She enlisted the York County History Center, as well as researchers from Prospect Hill Cemetery and Cremation Gardens, to assist with the research.

Since the original statute was created, there have been great advances in genealogical research using social media, Hogeman said.

With improved capabilities at their fingertips, the researchers decided to do more than what the statute required to learn about who was buried in thegraveyard, and give their best effort to find their descendants.

“We decided to go above and beyond,” she said.

Hogeman said that along with advertising in newspapers and the church bulletin, they also used social media to advertise their project, and even used Ancestry.com to track some of the descendants.

After several months of research, 39 of the 53 graves were identified, and six descendants were discovered and contacted.

The next step also wasn’t required, but Hogeman and other participants felt it was the only way to respectfully reinter the remains.

They held a memorial service on Friday, Nov. 30 at the church, with pastors from Christ Lutheran and Zion Lutheran blessing the graves. YCEA President and CEO Kevin Schreiber, York Mayor Michael Helford and Hogeman spoke at the ceremony. A memorial plaque was also unveiled recounting the reason behind the reinternment and the goal of the project.

In the end, Hogeman was pleased that the individuals buried in the old graves were treated respectfully, and that she emerged from the project with a whole new skill set.

“It was definitely a new learning experience to go through,” she said.

The Italian Renaissance-style hotel, which was built in October 1925, was purchased by the YCIDA in December 2015 with plans of modernizing it, utilizing some its space for businesses and adding a restaurant and café.  

The targeted completion date for the hotel has been delayed until spring 2020, according to YCIDA President Jack Kay, as it took longer than expected to demolish a 1957 addition to the hotel, as well as complete the necessary historical research to move forward with the project. The final cost of the project is estimated to be in the upper $30 million or lower $40 million range, he said.

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Maria Yohn Nease

Maria Yohn Nease covers banking, finance and York county. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at mnease@cpbj.com.

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