• York County Family Devastated by Smallpox Outbreak

    A few months ago we received an inquiry about a photograph from our vast artifact collection. The morbid image apparently showed several deceased family members lying together on a bed. Those shown apparently succumbed to an influenza outbreak and were residents of the Pigeon Hills. Unexpectedly, the photo of the Riley family was located and more accurate details of the story have been uncovered. As it turns out, smallpox was the culprit.

    For those shocked when learning about early post-mortem photographs (from History.com):

    In the 1800s, taking a photo of a dead body wasn’t creepy—it was comforting. In an era when photos were expensive and many people didn’t have any pictures of themselves when they were alive, post-mortem photography was a way for families to remember their deceased loved ones. This was especially true for children, whose mortality rate was much higher than it is now.

    The information shared here was compiled from 1902 York-area newspapers and other online resources. All of the newspaper articles listed the family surname spelled “Reilly”, while the photograph and cemetery records we found show the spelling as “Riley”. For this story, we’ll use what was shown in newspaper accounts. Some information was not entirely clear or contradicted details that were located.

    The William and Jane Reilly Family

    Headline proclaims lonely funeral of smallpox victimSamuel C. Reilly: The first family member diagnosed with smallpox was Samuel Reilly, who lived at 117 North Penn Street in York. His illness was detailed in the February 11, 1902 issue of The York Dispatch. Samuel owned a confectionary store in the city where students of the nearby Garfield School would frequent. His wife had recently visited the Zone family on Vander Avenue and carried smallpox home which caused his infection. Samuel died at 11:40 PM on February 16, 1902. His wife and children were unaffected and eventually released from quarantine.


    Jane Reilly (Mrs. William Reilly): The next family member who contracted smallpox was Jane Reilly, who was the mother of Samuel. She was also listed as the mother of Mrs. Zone (mentioned above), but in some sources was listed as her sister. Prior to having smallpox, Jane was suffering from pneumonia, certainly causing added complications. She was born in 1843 and died at around 4:00 PM from smallpox on February 16, 1902. This was just hours before her son Samuel would pass away.

    Days after the death of Jane Reilly and her son Samuel, more unfortunate news came to the Spring Grove area. The February 22, 1902 issue of The Gazette shows George, Emanuel, and Annie Reilly infected with smallpox. The three siblings are children of William Reilly and had just lost their mother (Jane) and brother (Samuel) with the illness.

    George Reilly: George’s case seems to have developed rapidly and he passed away on February 22, 1902. His symptoms only presented themselves the day before. He died just as the doctor arrived to examine him. He was 22 or 23 at the time of his death.

    Emanuel Reilly: This Reilly family had already lost three members, but the death of Emanuel on March 6, 1902 would raise that number to four. According to The York Dispatch on the following day, smallpox had apparently weakened his heart and he died peacefully in his sleep.

    Anna Rebecca Reily: After so much tragedy in one family, Anna’s recovery from smallpox was a blessing. The 18-year-old teen would go on to marry Irvin Franklin Schauer and they had a son in 1907, Eugene. Anna died at age 38 on October 16, 1927. She was buried at Mount Rose Cemetery in York.

    Smallpox Ravages The John and Amanda Reilly Family

    Mamie Reilly: On March 4, 1902, The Gazette reported yet another case of smallpox in the Spring Grove area. Mamie Reilly of Jackson Township had recently stayed with her cousins, the family of William and Jane Reilly. At that time the family’s illness had yet to appear. On March 11, 1902, she passed away from complications of illnesses aggravated by smallpox.

    Jackson Township family ravaged by smallpoxLess than a week after the death of Mamie, the entire Jackson Township family of John and Amanda Reilly is stricken. John Lawrence Reilly was vaccinated 15 years earlier. It was hoped that his condition would not be as severe. Amanda (Wildasin) Reilly, his wife, was vaccinated 24 years earlier so her case would likely be more severe.

    Shortly before her death, Mamie was vaccinated but it was far too late. Following her death, the doctor wanted to vaccinate the entire family but the parents refused. In their moment of grief, they feared the vaccine caused Mamie to pass away.

    York County family suffering from smallpox
    The family of John and Amanda Reilly who are all affected by smallpox. Although a guess, based on ages the names may be: Mable, Freddie, Dora, Harvey, John Sr., Amanda, Emory, Luther, John

    With the entire family suffering the effects of smallpox and John not able to work, the family situation was dire. Financial donations were sought out to aid the family during their struggles. The community responded, but not enough for a caregiver to be hired. It was nearly impossible for one to be found at a reasonable cost.

    William Reilly was asked to assume the role since he had already recovered from smallpox. Despite being John’s uncle, William wanted $300 for the job. Local physician Dr. Shue, paid $150 for similar duties, had requested $400 to care for the Reilly family.

    The sick family eventually recovered, with no more deaths occurring because of their smallpox infection. The affected family members and ages at the time:

    John Lawrence Reilly: Age 42, Amanda (Wildasin) Reilly: Age 38, Emory Reilly: Age 3, Luther Reilly: Age 5, Freddie Reilly: Age 6, Mable Reilly: Age 7, Dora Reilly: Age 9, John Reilly: Age 15, Harvey Reilly: Age 16

    It’s safe to say that the Reilly family suffered more in a few short months than anyone should in a lifetime. If you have additional details about this family, we’d love to hear from you.

  • Important Changes Coming to the SGAHPS Community

    The Spring Grove Area Historical Preservation Society began serving the community in 1987. Thousands of community members have joined our organization over the years. Those people not only showed their support for our organization but also for the preservation of our heritage. We’ve had countless people step up to serve as an Officer, Director, Committee Member, or even a volunteer. Our Society has been located at a number of locations, but we’ve always stayed true to our mission:

    We resolve to provide a historical legacy for this
    and future generations of Spring Grove Area residents.

    Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

    We were recently notified by the Borough of Spring Grove that a buyer has been found for the Community Center building. We’ve been located there since 2000, and have made many friends and memories. The property has been on the market for quite some time. The new owner, Predix Property Management, will take possession on December 1, 2020.

    The time has arrived for us to leave the location that we’ve called home. Based on the terms of our lease agreement, we will be vacating our current location by December 1, 2020. We will release additional details in the near future.

    Shows the School Room featuring artifacts from the entire Spring Grove area and community.
    School Room featuring artifacts from the entire Spring Grove area and community.

    Over the past several weeks, our leadership team has been discussing a number of factors concerning our reopening. At the forefront of these discussions are two key elements. First, the move of our museum which is a major undertaking. Second, the Covid-19 pandemic and guidelines that businesses need to follow in order to operate.

    Our leadership team has made the decision that our current museum location will not be reopening to the public. This was not an easy decision and not taken lightly. The Covid-19 guidelines we needed to follow were obviously one aspect of the decision. The most significant factor in making this decision was the time and effort it will take us to prepare our artifact collection for its upcoming relocation.

    Change Is Inevitable

    Please take note of the following:

    • While our physical SGAHPS Museum will not be open to the public, our Society will continue with its mission. We will be ramping up our online presence and are looking at ways to keep a physical presence within the community as we go through this transition.
    • Members will continue to receive “The Historical Ripplet”, our bimonthly newsletter.
    • As many people know, we needed to cancel several events in an effort to help keep the community safe due to the Covid-19 situation. We are excited to announce that events will begin in September and will be announced soon.
    • Those with business requiring in-person contact can reach us at 717-225-0732 or by completing our contact form. If we are unable to assist through those methods, we will schedule an appointment at the museum. If an in-person appointment is needed you will be required to wear a mask while in our facility.
    • While we greatly appreciate the artifact donations we receive, we will no longer be accepting unexpected artifact donations at the museum. If you have an artifact you would like us to consider for donation, please contact Blake Stough, our Curator at 717-487-1371, or send us a message through our contact form.

    The leadership team of the Spring Grove Area Historical Society would like to express our sincere regret over the difficult decisions we had to make over the past few weeks and months. The challenges we met with Covid-19 and the news of our building being sold were unexpected obstacles.

    The Best Time For New Beginnings Is Now

    A unique way of looking at our situation is to compare it to the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

    It begins with a tiny egg, which is similar to the original idea of the SGAHPS being formed. When the egg hatches, the caterpillar (larva) emerges and begins its journey in this world. This stage can be compared to the period when the SGAHPS was created, and over time grew and expanded. Eventually, the caterpillar nestles itself into a chrysalis where a major transformation takes place. Our Historical Society entering that stage, as we pack up our artifact collection and plan for our future home at a new location. During this stage, there isn’t much to see from the outside, but inside there’s a great deal of action taking place behind the scenes. When the time is right, the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and extends its colorful wings as people are in awe of its beauty. In terms of the SGAHPS, that phase will take place as we cut the ribbon of our new location and the community is in awe of OUR beauty.

    We can’t wait until that day arrives.

    On behalf of the Spring Grove Area Historical Preservation Society, we thank you. Our community has supported us since day one, and we are forever grateful.