The Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern is a place where visitors experience history and the agricultural heritage of a small farming community at the crossroads of America’s transition from colonies to a new nation. Through programs, history focused events, and hands-on demonstrations that engage the senses, visitors will connect with the grit, ingenuity, and determination of the families that used their new freedoms to achieve the American Dream.
In today’s America, history has been relegated to a few pages in a book or a few words on a roadside historical marker. The past is pushed aside in the hustle and bustle, multi-tasking of modern life. Cultural heritage and traditional skills of making things is being lost. Yet, an echo of the past remains alive in a few places. One such place is the Dills Tavern site owned by the non-profit Northern York County Historical and Preservation Society (NYCHAPS). NYCHAPS not only preserves the past but promotes an understanding and an experience of daily life in a small town in early America through touching, seeing, hearing, and smelling.
NYCHAPS is embarking on its most ambitious project ever as they re-create the tastes of distilled spirits at the Eichelberger Distillery. Distilled spirits played a significant role in the story of Pennsylvania. The state led the nation in distilled spirits production as the 18th century ended and the 19th century began. Dillsburg’s own development centered around production and transportation of whiskey to Baltimore. The Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern will tell the story of whiskey and freedom at Pennsylvania’s first distillery of Historic Significance. The Eichelberger Distillery is being constructed based on documented plans of an early Pennsylvania distillery featuring a stone exterior, a central fireplace, and wood-fired stills encased in a masonry envelope. Additionally, the historically – evidenced mash bill and distilling techniques will accurately produce spirits that would taste familiar to your ancestors. Through tastings and historic foodways offerings, visitors will experience the past in a sip of whiskey, libations re-created from the 1800’s ledger, or the smell of a loaf of fresh baked bread. The distillery coupled with NYCHAPS existing historic structures such as the 1794 tavern, wheelwright shop, and log barn creates a holistic vision of life for early settlers in a colonial frontier town. The distillery completes the long term Land Development Plan and will provide for NYCHAPS’ future sustainability. The Farmer’s Market, tavern, and distillery on the same site create a unique venue offering authentic experiences unavailable at other sites in the region. There are other Farmer’s Markets but none with a distillery. There are other distilleries but none with an original tap room in a tavern of Scots-Irish design where meals and libations from a 1800’s ledger can be enjoyed while listening to music! Our story focuses as much on history as the spirits produced. Our story is one of early entrepreneurs who overcame obstacles, seized opportunities, and built a better future for their families and community. Much as the early settlers of Dillsburg flocked to the tavern and distillery two centuries ago, it is the hope of NYCHAPS that the Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern will continue to be at the heart of this vibrant community.
What is the cost of preserving history? What price would you pay to see a young student’s pride as she forms the perfect twist in a glowing steel blacksmith project or the smile brought about by the anticipation of putting a perfectly risen loaf of bread in the bake oven? What is the cost of seeing people with little interest in history suddenly engaged because they tasted a libation that was first served at the tavern in 1801 when Jefferson became President? Preserving buildings and building historically accurate structures is expensive, but being a community with no roots, no sense of place, no connection to the past to help with decisions about the future can be even more costly. NYCHAPS has been good stewards of donor contributions. From the initial 2003 purchase of the property for $175,000 NYCHAPS has committed 1.5 million dollars. Over the last two decades $250,000 was spent recreating the 18th century interior of the tavern, $100,000 on a modern kitchen and rest rooms, bake oven, smoke house and woodshed. $135,000 was used to build the Wheelwright Shop housing the blacksmith and carpentry stations and the demonstration distillery. A 1798 log barn was moved to the site and reconstructed for $400,000. In 2018 a $35,000 brick walkway was constructed, meeting ADA requirements and facilitating access to all building for all people. In 2015 NYCHAPS purchased an additional 1.14 acres of adjoining commercial property for $350,000 allowing construction of a parking lot which reduces on-street parking during Farmer’s Market and tavern events and provides handicapped parking. The parking lot included $95,000 in site development and borough approval expenses as well as $150,000 in construction expenses. Why go to all this expense? Pre-COVID, attendance at NYCHAPS events totaled over 7000 visitors annually, with a geographic reach of the Carolinas to Maine. The York County Tourism Board estimates that the average leisure visitor to the county spends $241 per day. Approximately 30,000 vehicles pass by Dills Tavern on Route 15 per day on weekends. The Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern, with a Farmer’s Market and 1794 Tavern gives those vehicles one more reason to stop in to one of the many events conducted by NYCHAPS and spend money in Dillsburg.
NYCHAPS’ goal is to raise $500,000 by May of 2023. The money will be budgeted as depicted in Appendix 1. The $500,000 raised through donations, in addition to the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant of $500,000 will finance the cost of the Eichelberger Distillery at Dills Tavern. The RCAP grant allows up to 2 years to complete project.
We have never been closer to achieving the goal of sharing the complete story of the Dill and Eichelberger families and their thriving enterprise at the crossroads of two routes critical to the commerce of a new nation. They achieved the American Dream by seizing opportunities, overcoming obstacles, and not giving up. The same grit, ingenuity and determination is now on display by the members of NYCHAPS. Won’t you help us tell this incredible story of freedom and the pursuit of the American Dream.