The story of Indian Steps Cabin begins over ten thousand years ago. The area gets its name from the “steps” carved in the nearby Susquehanna River’s rocks by early people of the region who used the footholds while gathering food along the river. The arrows, spear heads, stone axes and other relics embedded in the building were the belongings of the first residents of York County.
At the beginning of the twentieth century John Edward Vandersloot, a York, PA attorney enjoyed hunting, fishing and discovering ancient artifacts along the Susquehanna River area locally known as Indian Steps. Attorney Vandersloot acquired the property and developed it as a personal retreat. As John enjoyed the natural wonders of Indian Steps his collection of Native American artifacts continued to grow. As Vandersloot’s collection increased in size he began to have difficulty housing all of the artifacts. In 1907 John then decided that the best way to preserve his collection was to construct a building to display his antiquities. The Indian Steps Cabin was completed in 1912.
The Indian Steps Cabin celebrates local Native American culture and well as the civilization of early people from all over North America. The artifact-pictographs embedded throughout the structure reflect John Vandersloot’s extensive research.
The inscription over the door, “’I entreat all those who pass this way to safely guard and preserve these former possessions of and monuments to an ancient Indian people…” is evidence that John Vandersloot meant for the building to be preserved.
Indian Steps Museum is primarily a memorial to the Native Americans who lived along the Susquehanna River. The original inhabitants of the area surrounding Indian Steps were the Algonquians, later succeeded by the Susquehannocks. The Susquehannocks remained in the vicinity of Indian Steps from around 1605-1680. The last Native American tribe who settled along the river was the Shawnee who departed to the west in 1765.
In recent years many exhibits have been placed in the museum that house Native American artifacts of this region dating from 10,000 BC up to the modern era. The Indian Steps Cabin is an architectural gem built in the Arts and Crafts style. Original stained glass windows, a massive sandstone table and exquisite stone work are a few of the unique details.
The Indian Steps Museum has operated as a public museum since the 1940’s. It is possibly the first Native American museum in the United States. Indian Steps was first owned by PPL and is currently owned by the Conservation Society of York County. The Indian Steps Cabin was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The Conservation Society of York County does not receive state or federal funding to operate the Museum. It continues to accept donations and fees for tours, programs and educational opportunities. The gift shop revenues also support the operation of the Museum.
The grounds of Indian Steps Museum and the adjacent Ulmer-Root-Haines Memorial Trail are a wildlife sanctuary operated by the Conservation Society. The grounds contain an abundance of native flora and fauna.
Among them is a 350 year old holly tree that is believed to be the largest American holly tree in this latitude. The tree is 65 feet tall and its branches spread 65 feet as well. The circumference of the trunk, two feet above the ground, is 76 inches.
The outer building was originally a two sided open fire pit with a large chimney in the center used for ceremonial purposes. Large stones repurposed from the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal are utilized as lintels, along with massive timber beams inside the building. At present, the building is an archaeology lab, where the Indian Steps Archaeology Team house artifacts for processing and education.