SEITZLAND — In this day and age, it is peculiar to see a long-forgotten town being completely rebuilt and not bulldozed in favor of a new shopping center.
And yet, in a little corridor off of Route 616, in a petite section of York County, a pair of Shrewsbury residents are in the middle of rebuilding the lost rail town of Seitzland Village.
The whole idea came from David Keller’s affinity for a single building: The former site of the Seitzland Store, which was built in 1848. It’s a building his partner, Ellen Darby, used to call “the butt ugly building at the corner of the road.”
“I’ve always done restoration (work). And when you’re local you usually miss the obvious. And I saw this one little stand-alone thing with no interference,” said Keller. “You’re not adding to it. You’re using what is here and bringing it back to life.”
During the height of railroad commerce in the 19th century, Seitzland would see over 72 trains within a 24-hour span, approximately one every 18 minutes. However, as the use of commercial trains declined and other means of transportation became available, the town began deteriorating. In 1972, the Seitzland railroad was decommissioned and the town — like many rail towns before it — shared a similar fate.
It was a dilapidated building. The history left behind would ultimately spawn a revolution and put in motion a chain of events that have since made Keller and Darby rethink their original plans.
“Initially, the idea was we were going to live here, and I was going to have a gallery and a workshop,” said Keller. “But then they gave us all these uses and the wheels get spinning.”
Prior to purchasing the property in 2011, the former Seitlzland Store building was in a state of decay and was being used as a multiple unit residency, according to Keller.
In 2012, a public sewer system was built and opened a new pathway for commercial zoning. The couple worked with Shrewsbury Township and obtained a zoning ordinance for a Historic Village Overlay District, which allows for adaptive reuse and renovation for historic buildings within the zone. Considering the close proximity of each structure within the Seitzland Village site, Keller and Darby began to realize that this could be a lot more than just a personal residence and gallery.
Turning an ‘eyesore into an asset’
Now, eight years later, Keller and Darby are beginning to see there’s a lot more they can do outside of rehabilitating a single building. The two have decided to embark on rebuilding Seitzland Village and restoring the heritage to an area of the county that’s been lost for decades.
Keller is no stranger to preservation work. He helped restore the Haines Shoe House in the 1980s and built the Shrewsbury Antique Center out of a repurposed chicken house. Keller owned and operated Shrewsbury Antique Center for 28 years before it was sold in 2015.
The duo has purchased two buildings thus far, the old Seitzland Store at 12027 Baltimore St., and a stone building that used to house mill workers at 12024 Baltimore St. The pair are also negotiating for the potential purchase of two more properties, including the former Seitzland Hotel. In total, they are hoping to own and renovate six buildings within the historic village.
Since taking ownership, Keller has built geothermal wells near the building, removed over 110 tons of concrete and dirt from the basement and built a heated porch around the store for a place where visitors can congregate.
“Before Ellen and Dave took over the property it was an eyesore. There was sewage and trash on the property,” said York County Parks Director Tammy Klunk. “They’ve transformed it from an eyesore into an asset.”
‘The area needs something’
The aim is to create a sustainable community of services along a portion of the Heritage Rail Trail that both Keller and Derby believe hasn’t received the same level of attention as northern counterparts.
“This area needs something, especially with the bike trail,” said Keller. “There are hardly any services on the bike trail from here to York.”
Keller and Darby are hoping to complete the rehabilitation of both buildings within two years. The goal is to have a brewery or restaurant inside the Seitzland Store. The couple is undecided on what new life awaits the stone building adjacent to the store. But they believe it could be used as an additional dining hall, residential units or a co-working space. In addition, they are planning to build a 21-vehicle parking lot for visitors who frequent the nearby Heritage Rail Trail.
“We don’t really have deep pockets, but this is something visual — given our expertise — we can give back to the community. We’re not really doing it for any reason,” said Keller. “The reasoning has come about in time. It is not why we originally did it.”
Seitzland’s potential as a destination visit
The proximity to the railroad provided something unique — access to the Steam Into History line.
Keller and Darby reached out to former Steam Into History President Sharon Dorn and explained the specs of the Seitzland project. “I was so impressed with their tenacity and expertise to restoring an old building,” recalled Dorn. “They are hard-working people who are committed.” A Seitzland stop on the Steam Into History line was added in 2017.
While still largely a seasonal attraction, the historic train begins at the New Freedom station and runs to Hanover Junction. With a stop at Seitzland, the potential to become a destination visit is exactly what Keller and Darby are hoping for.
Robert Machovac, who owns and operates Machovac Metal Works in Glen Rock, donated a 5-foot tall cat statue made of up-cycled farming equipment for the site. He believes this project will help reignite a passion for the town’s history and culture.
“It is a blessing for this area,” said Machovac. “People are starving for this kind of thing. To bring these two buildings back to life from being dead — it is poetry.”
“My goal in life was to have a workshop,” said Keller. “Usually whatever building I’m working on is where my tools are at.”
Right now, it appears that workshop is in the heart of Seitzland.