History of the Glen Rock Carolers Association Inc.
Based on a recording by James Kroh, the Carolers Historian, in 1984, and other accounts


Christmas morning in Glen Rock as photographed by Charles Ehrman
A small village in southern York County was producing a fine woolen fiber and juke rope, the year was 1848. A decade earlier this railroad stop was known as Heathcote’s Station. William Heathcote, who was the prime mover in the development of this village, suggested a new name for this settlement - Glen Rock. He had built a large brick structure, sent word to several of his brothers in England that he was going into the woolen business and needed their help. Mark Heathcoate and James Heathcote arrived in 1839 with needed machinery to operate the mill.

Sometime in 1848 two nephews of the founder arrived in Glen Rock. One of them was Mark Radcliff and the other was Charles Heathcoate. They were accompanied by George Shaw. Radcliff and Shaw had learned the trade of rope making in England and planned to follow it in Glen Rock. Their first facility, called the rope walk, was situated along the Codorus Creek at a strategic spot known as the meadows, 59 Water Street, where Glen Rock EMS is now located.

 
All of these men came from the area near Micklehurst, England, and the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire. These men would become the first members of what is now known as the Glen Rock Carolers Association.
 
What would make these men journey out into the darkness of Christmas morning to begin this singing ritual? Well, historians suggest that these men may have been homesick for their English Christmas traditions of serenading their neighbors , bringing 19-year-old George Shaw, 21-year-old Mark Radcliff, 28-year-old Charles Heathcote, 52-year-old Mark Heathcote and 61-year-old James Heathcote out into the streets to serenade the residents of Glen Rock.
Four songs were brought from England: “Christmas Hymn”, “Hark Hark”, “While Shepherds”, and “Hosanna”. “Ye Faithful” was added at a very early date. In the 1890’s four more songs made their appearance. According to his writings, Arthur H. Bamford, one who began singing in 1891 and sang uninterrupted for 59 years said, “The new carols were accepted at the rate of about one per year, first singing them when we stopped in homes and later were used on the streets.”. These new songs were: “Glory to God”, “Christmas Tree”, “O Jesus Star of the Morning”, and “Softly Sweetly.” These were all American songs. The Austrian carol “Silent Night” was added in about 1935. Since that time other carols have been added, arranged by director Darryl J. Engler. “When Christ was Born” was added in 1986, “Raise Christians, Raise” in 2003 to commemorate the 2002 trip to Sheffield England’s Festival of Village Carols, and “Awake, Arise Good Christians” in 2013 following the 2012 return trip to the Festival.

The carolers begin their trek through the Borough of Glen Rock at the stroke of midnight and continue for approximately six to eight hours, ending with the singing of the “Doxology” at the community Christmas tree and Carolers Monument. On December 25, 2021, this trek was repeated for the 174th time. This tradition has been continued in all weather conditions, and even during times of war. During the pandemic of 2020, the entire town was covered in 2¾ hours by using two groups of Carolers. → See: 2020 Route Description.

The group is composed of 50 Caped Members, a number of Life Members who have sung 50 years or more, and the Associate Members (often referred to as the “Waiting List”). Persons seeking membership in the group are required to apprentice as Associate Members and are made full Caped Members when a position has opened by the death or resignation of one of the members, or when a Caped Member has sung 50 years, thereby becoming a Life Member. → See:  Members
The singing is distinctive in that it is done in three-part harmony.  The melody is sung by the Soprano or Lead, with high Tenor above and Bass below. The parts are currently accompanied by two trumpets and two trombones.

Throughout the years the carolers have experimented with various types of instruments.  Woodwinds like the bassoon, flute, and saxophone have been used along with brass instruments like the cornet, trombone, and baritone, and stringed instruments like the violin and cello.  In 1938 and 1939 the carolers even used a glockenspiel. See: Instruments

Filling out the ranks are the Director, Peanut Man, Photographer, and Lantern Crew.
 
In 1934 the group decided to acquire uniforms to give the group some identification. During this time an orange and black slip-over cap was worn along with a white cane. In 1948 a navy gabardine cape with red satin lining was added along with a red and black ski style cap and a white cane. In 1950 a black high hat replaced the cap. A few years later a gray high hat was introduced and is still used today. Since 1972 a greatcoat made of different colored imported woolen tweed with gray hat, gray gloves, black cane and a woolen scarf of varied colors is the identifying uniform. A waterproof black cape and Fedora-style rain hat are available for use in inclement weather, such as 2020.

The 125th anniversary was celebrated in 1972 with the publication of Salute This Happy Morn: A History of The Glen Rock Carol Singers. Dr. Charles Glatfelter was proclaimed the first honorary member of the Glen Rock Carolers for writing the book.

For the 150th Anniversary in 1997, the Carolers produced a video entitled Softly Sweetly Through the Air: The Story of the Glen Rock Carol Singers. This hour-long production skillfully presented in sight and sound glimpses the custom as it was actually practiced in 1996, with some reference to earlier years and brief interviews with five or six veteran carolers. The script was written by Don Swartz of Glen Rock who was elected an honorary caroler for his work.
 
The 150th Anniversary in the Bortner Building, began with a re-creation of the sound of the original Carolers.

Listen as Darryl and Glenn Engler, Bob Nicklow, and Tony Schuchart sang “While Shepherds” while Richard Shue played the Bassoon.  This was followed by a re-creation of the 1912 Carolers:  twenty-one Carolers who were members for at least twenty-five years (1972-1997) sang “Hark Hark” accompanied by Michael Engler on the tenor sax and Paul Ward on the cello → Listen.

Both of these recordings as well as the remainder of the full concert and speeches and proclaimations by Deb Dominick - Glen Rock Borough Council President, Donna Krebs - Glen Rock Jaycees, David Seitz - York County Treasurer, Congressman William F. Goodling, Dr. Charles H. Glatfelter, and Carolers’ President Karl Steger, can be found on the Carolers’ CD, VOICES of CHRISTMAS.

The 160th anniversary in 2007 was highlighted by the release of the second edition of Salute This Happy Morn: A History of The Glen Rock Carol Singers. Included in the book of 256 pages is a reprint of the 1972 book, followed by an update of the next 35 years history, including the trip to England.  This anniversary book can be ordered:  HERE

The 2016 CD “Hark! Hark! The Glen Rock Carolers Break Forth in Song” can be ordered:  HERE
 
Completing the circle, the Glen Rock Carolers returned to our roots in England in 2002 and 2012 to sing on the Festival of Village Carols in Sheffield. → See: UK1 and UK2.
On each occasion, we brought back a new song as a remembrance of the trip. → See: Songs

The English Carolers were welcomed to Glen Rock in 2014 as we hosted the first Festival of English Village Carols. → See: Festival