About York County rainmakers & lakes

Lake Marburg

2600 Smith Station Road, Hanover

The situation

It was during the most severe of droughts that York Mayor John L. Snyder dug into his own pocket for $350 to bring John A. Miller, a reputed rainmaker complete with a wooden box call “climate changer.”

Drought conditions in the mid-1960s in York and York County made the low lake levels this year look like oceans.

Miller’s visit in 1966 proved to be one York County’s most embarrassing 20th-century moments, a regression to, oh, the Middle Ages.

But that drought about 60 years ago spawned the creation of two reservoirs – impoundments that gained a lot of attention for their low levels in 2023 – Lake Redman and Lake Marburg.

The York visit of Miller, the Oklahoma rainmaker, is summarized in the book “Never to be Forgotten:

“The rainmaker comes equipped with a 30-by-14-inch plywood box that he said emits “16,000 electronic waves into the atmosphere.” The day before the rainmaker arrived, the county was deluged with rain. “His machine buffed the clouds so much they poured it out before he got here,” Snyder said of the rainmaker. Miller leaves in a huff, angered by a newspaper article stating that he failed to bring rain to San Angelo, Texas, as he had claimed. Years later, a York Water Company official recalled that it rained after Miller left.”

The Gazette and Daily’s front page story in September 1966 about the rainmaker’s visit to York.

The final report shows that it rained before, during and after the rainmaker came to York. He later took credit for the precipitation – his rainmaking box was leaking in his travel here and return trip.

We’ll move away from this almost comic medieval moment to make a serious point: This provides more insight about why York City leaders failed to address calls from the Black community to remedy long-time issues of discrimination and racism in the 1960s. At the top, York residents elected a mayor who first governed in the 1940s, but here he was calling for a rainmaker in the complicated 1960s while acting as if he was living in the 1460s. That decade ended with the York Race Riots, an uprising in the Black community that the mayor helped catalyze. The community needed a savvy, sensitive mayor to address besetting community issues involving equitable employment, affordable housing and accessible health care. Its citizens chose to elect – two times – the type of leader who would call in a rainmaker with a black box to mitigate a drought.

That is the story of this sad state of affairs. Fortunately, there were those who were applying science to the problem of drought – or at least preparing for wetter times – by increasing water supplies.

For more about the rainmaker: York Pa. mayor solution to drought in 1960s? Call the rainmaker. (ydr.com).

The witness

Redman and Marburg, those two impoundments and both private/public partnerships, addressed water shortages for individual water customers and a key industry and provided recreation options for thousands of people each year.

York Water Company Chairman William H. Kain poses near the York County park sign that bears his name.

Lake Redman: John Redman, York Water Company general manager, was the official who declined the rainmaker’s services. He also spearheaded the digging of a second impoundment that later took his name. Lake Redman was completed in 1967. The lake was created upstream of Lake Williams and gave a water reserve of 2.3 billion gallons in both lakes.

It is noteworthy that the York Water Company added another water supply in the 2000s. It built a line from the Susquehanna to Lake Redman – a backup that was deployed in the dry summer of 2023.

William H. Kain was president of the York Water Co. when he proposed a partnership with York County parks to lease land adjoining Lake Williams (220 acres) and Lake Redman (290 acres.)

So, the county parks system attached William H. Kain’s name to the 1,637-acre park

More: Lake Redman & Lake Williams, Pennsylvania, USA Vacation Info: LakeLubbers

Low water in Lake Marburg in 2020. The sign warns boaters that an osprey nest is nearby.

Lake Marburg: The mid-1960s drought caused state officials to look for solutions. It was a prime time to get funding and the blessing of eminent domain to building lakes.

In southwestern York County, this plan went into play: P.H. Glatfelter, the paper so dependent on a consistent water source, built the dam – the P.H. Glatfelter Dam – and pumping facilities. The state constructed Codorus State Park and its recreational facilities.

Glatfelter would maintain the dam and pumps. In return, it would be allowed to use water from the reservoir for manufacturing. So you could say that Lake Marburg is a one big mill pond.

The result? The 3,500-acre Codorus State Park and the 1,275-acre Lake Marburg with 26 miles of shoreline.

More: Private, public interests built Lake Marburg for manufacturing, recreation (ydr.com) and Old Hanover (PA) construction pictures of Lake Marburg.

Hometown History’s focus on the Penn Street corridor in this 2023 episode provides a reminder that the South Penn Street neighborhood was the center of the York Race Riots. Mayor John L. Snyder’s acts and statements helped catalyze two summers of unrest in 1968-69.

The questions

While we refer to Lake Redman using just the last name of the York Water Company general manager John Redman, local vernacular leaned toward William Kain’s first and last name. Why? Does anyone have an explanation for our county’s split from the conventional lexicon? It’s just interesting how we develop ways of referring to our local landmarks.

Related links and sources: Eleanor Boggs Shoemaker’s Parks, People, Preservation and Public Policy; Mark Lipper’s “Paper, People and Progress”; “The Spring Grove Years”; YDR files. Top and bottom photo by York Daily Record; Middle photo, Eleanor Shoemaker’s book.


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