Entrepreneur would be first person of color with statue in York

Motorists and pedestrians heading east on West Market Street are greeted by 19th-century entrepreneur William C. Goodridge. The William C. Goodridge Freedom Center and Underground Railroad Museum, located at 123 E. Philadelphia St., is working to raise funds for a statue of Goodridge that will stand in front of the museum. - (Photo / Submitted)

A statue to commemorate the life of William C. Goodridge, a prominent 19th-century York entrepreneur who helped free slaves through the Underground Railroad, is being planned for downtown York.

The life-size bronze statue would be the first statue of a person of color in the city. It would be located in front of the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center and Underground Railroad Museum, located at 123 E. Philadelphia St.

The museum – the former Goodridge family home – currently blends in with the block, explained Carol Kauffman, community development and housing director of Crispus Attucks, which manages the museum.

A statue of Goodridge would not only attract the attention of people coming into the city, but also commemorate the life of someone who did so much for York, she said.

To help make the museum’s dream a reality, Kauffman has established a GoFundMe fundraising page to assist in raising $60,000.

Goodridge was born in Maryland to a slave mother and white father, according to records at the museum. Maryland law at the time stated that Goodridge could not be sold as a slave, but could be indentured. As a result, he was apprenticed at the age of 6 oldto Rev. Michael Dunn, a tanner in York. After the business failed, Goodridge was set free at 16. It’s believed that Goodridge moved to Marietta around that time to learn the barber trade, said Kauffman.

At 18, he returned to York, bought a building and opened his own barbershop. The business served as the starting point for a number of other ventures in York, including sales of homemade candies, wooden toys and masks. He also sold a baldness treatment, called “Oil of Celsus and Balm of Minerva,” and ran a bathhouse in the same building as his barbershop.

Goodridge is also credited with introducing the sale of daily newspapers in York.

While he continued to build his empire, he married Evalina (Emily) Wallace in 1827. The couple had seven children.

In 1842, he began operating railroad lines like the Reliance Line of Burthen Cars and offered service between York and Philadelphia. The rail cars also assisted an unidentified number of freedom-seekers on the Underground Railroad.

“He risked his life, his family’s and his fortune to help people get to freedom,” said Kauffman.

Goodridge is also credited with building York’s five-story Centre Hall building and owning more than 20 commercial and residential properties.

Though she grew up in York and graduated from Central York High School, Kauffman said she didn’t learn anything about Goodridge until 15 to 20 years ago when she came on board with Crispus Attucks.

“It astounded me that someone that did so much for the area – and is by any standard one of York’s wealthiest and most successful residents – wasn’t mentioned once,” she said. “And it made me wonder: Who else was pushed under the rug?”

Moving forward, Kauffman said, she hopes to be able to continue to share the history of Goodridge in classrooms throughout the county and beyond.

Currently, research scholars from York College are working with the museum to identify history related to Goodridge. Because assisting with the Underground Railroad was illegal, there were no real records kept. There is, however, a hideaway located under a former kitchen in the museum where freedom-seekers must have stayed during their journeys north. 

Other information has come from a memoir by Osborne Perry Anderson, one of five African-American men who accompanied John Brown in a failed attempt in 1859 to capture a U.S. armory at Harper’s Ferry, which was then in Virginia. The town is now in West Virginia.

Researchers discovered that in his memoirs, Anderson notes having stayed in York and with Goodridge. 

Anderson’s first-person account helped the museum become one of the first National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom sites designated by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark.

Emily Thurlow
​Emily Thurlow covers York County​ for the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a tip? Drop her a line at ethurlow@cpbj.com.

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