William C Goodridge Freedom Center’s Festival of Trees

The William C. Goodridge Freedom Center and Museum explore the dichotomy of a man whose public success built a five-story commercial building right in the center of York, but whose most important legacy was built in the shadows.

The Freedom Center is worth visiting to learn Goodridge’s story: born into enslavement in Baltimore in 1806, he eventually claimed his freedom, and became an established successful business owner in York, PA. He then  leveraged his wealth and social position to help other enslaved individuals pass into freedom.

Goodridge was just five or six years old when he was sold to Reverend Michael Dunn, who operated a tannery in York. Dunn went bankrupt in 1822, and thus Goodridge received his freedom. With a natural flair for entrepreneurship, in 1824 Goodridge opened his own barber shop, but soon added selling candy, cosmetics, jewelry, and toys. He eventually began making and marketing “Oil of Celsus,” his own treatment for baldness (although there’s no evidence it worked), which he sold to barbers in more than a dozen cities, including Philadelphia.

By 1842, Goodridge owned an employment agency, was investing in commercial and residential real estate, and had opened his own local freight service on the railroad line between York and Philadelphia. His businesses kept growing, and in 1847 he built Centre Hall, a five-story commercial property in the center of York. All this he risked repeatedly, as his home on South George Street was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

A view down into the basement, hand dug after the house was built, where
Goodridge hid those fleeing enslavement on the Underground Rail Road.

With the varied businesses, the freight line, the properties, he was able to hide and shield those fleeing enslavement.

During the holiday season, the Goodridge Freedom Center and Underground Railroad Museum also hosts an annual Festival of Trees.

This year’s theme was “Images”; the theme varies from year to year. As do the trees themselves! The Festival of Trees honors Evalina Goodridge, who decorated the family’s Christmas trees so beautifully that they opened their home up to the public, charging admission so everyone could see it.

Turn, Turn, Turn, decorated by Marsha Todd; this rotating tree is
decorated in silver and red. As it turns, it reflects images of change and
why we should look at things from all anglesto see the entire picture.
Image of Evalina, decorated by Mark and Debbie DeBowes. Mrs. Goodridge enjoyed
Christmas and decorated a tree in this room that was so beautiful, the family charged
admission for teh public to come and see it. How appropriate that this festive and
sophisticated dress form tree represents her.
Images of Freedom, decorated by Deb Eberly. Red, white, blue, Uncle Sam, dove at peace…
these symbols (and symbolic colors) all remind us of the value of freedom.
An Image of Christmas, decorated by Deb Eberly of d.w. designs. Special
photos or keepsakes are often framed. Designed to be an interactive tree by using
the antique black frame beside the tree. Just stand back and holding the frame up
to the tree, frame the items on the tree that represent the holiday season to you.
Images of Eternity, decorated by Carol Kauffman. Angels and
songs about them remind us of the value of people who have gone before us,
people in our lives now, and ones who will shape our future.
An Image of Generosity, decorated by Stephany Sechrist and Kelly Summerford.
Santa Claus: rewarding good, delivering gifts, creating joy. What a joy freedom is:
signified by the box a runaway used as his ticket to freedom.
The Eyes Have It, decorated by Beth Gross and Stephany Sechrist;
eyes are the mirrors to the soul. Vision is important to
perception and understanding the images we see.
Bling is the Thing, decorated by Marsha Todd. My favorite tree! What a joy color is —
it enhances our imagination and perception of the world around us.
Images of Tranquility, decorated by Sue Wyar; There are a
variety of images that promote peace and tranquility in our lives.

Getting there: 613 South George Street, York, PA

Hours: First Friday of the month, 4 – 8 p.m. and tours by appointment.

Website: https://www.goodridgefreedomcenter.org/

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