In the summer of 1863, a small town not far west of York County became the site of the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil.

This year, Gettysburg celebrated the 150th anniversary of those three days in July that forever tied it to the Civil War.

Anniversary events draw tourists and history buffs to Gettysburg every year, but the sesquicentennial commemorations were arguably the biggest ever.

Two groups hosted re-enactments, drawing thousands to the fields surrounding the town. A July 3 march to commemorate Pickett's Charge attracted between 35,000 and 40,000 people.

Todd Platts, left, and Pam Gay at York Township’s  Infinito’s for post election day get-together.
Todd Platts, left, and Pam Gay at York Township's Infinito's for post election day get-together. (YORK DISPATCH FILE PHOTO)

The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the 150th anniversary attracted about 235,000 people to Gettysburg over several weeks. The events and the tourists spilled over into York County as well, making the 150th anniversary of the battle one of the biggest stories of 2013.

Hundreds turned out in June to mark the 150th anniversary of the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge. In late June of 1863, residents burned the bridge connecting the two towns to stop the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania.

About the same time, in the southwestern corner of York County, Union and Confederate cavalry tussled in Hanover's streets. The Battle of Hanover delayed Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's reunion with Gen. Robert E. Lee's army in Gettysburg.

Horsemen and history buffs recreated that event in early July on a farm near the Adams County line.

The year also marked the 150th anniversary of York's role in the Civil War, when Confederate soldiers marched into the city and demanded ransom money in exchange for a peaceful occupation.

A second sesquicentennial event thrust Gettysburg into the national spotlight again in November. It was 150 years ago that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery.

Issak Wolfe presents the board of the Red Lion School District with a petition supporting his position during a meeting at the Red Lion Area Education
Issak Wolfe presents the board of the Red Lion School District with a petition supporting his position during a meeting at the Red Lion Area Education Center on May 16. The transgender Red Lion High School student is opposing his school's refusal to recognize his male identity. (York Dispatch file photo)

Here's a look at the other top stories of 2013. A recap of the local economy in 2013 appeared in Monday's edition of The York Dispatch.

The debate over New Hope

The second half of 2013 turned into an emotional roller coaster ride for the students and staff at the New Hope Academy Charter School in York City.

In October, the state charter school appeals board voted unanimously to close New Hope and later issued a 52-page report explaining that decision. The document is a castigation of charter violations, academic failures and unethical financial practices at New Hope first alleged by the York City School District and then upheld by the state.

An artist’s rendition of the entrance to York Hospital’s new emergency department. Keith Noll, president of York Hospital/WellSpan, announced
An artist's rendition of the entrance to York Hospital's new emergency department. Keith Noll, president of York Hospital/WellSpan, announced plans for the department during a press conference in November. The 46,000-square foot project is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. (SUBMITTED)

The board ordered New Hope closed by Jan. 15, sparking concern about students' switching schools mid-year and seniors' having to finish their high-school careers elsewhere.

Then, in November, the appeals board amended its order to allow New Hope to stay open until the end of the academic year.

Still, the school's supporters are fighting for its survival. Parents have filed a lawsuit. Students marched in protest to a district school board meeting. And New Hope's attorneys filed an appeal asking a state-level judge to overturn the board's order and renew New Hope's charter.

Unless the court intervenes, New Hope will cease to exist when classes end in June.

A death penalty case

A Windsor Township man made national news when police in Delaware County accused him of murdering his then-girlfriend's 7-month-old son.

Ummad Rushdi, 31, of 979 Castle Pond Drive, is charged with first-, second- and third-degree murder, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse and other offenses for the apparent Aug. 4 death of baby Hamza Ali, whose body was never found.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Hamza and his mother, Zainab Gaal, lived with Rushdi. At the time of the baby's disappearance, all three were visiting Rushdi's parents in Upper Darby Township, Delaware County, police said.

Rushdi confessed to a family member that he fatally shook Hamza because the baby wouldn't stop crying, then drove the body to the Columbia area and buried it, according to police.

Numerous searches in York and Lancaster counties on foot, in the air, by boat and with search dogs and a dive team have failed to locate Hamza's remains.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood said he suspects Rushdi beat Hamza to death and doesn't want the child's bruised body found.

"He despised that child," Chitwood has said. "I believe it was a horrible death."

Delaware County prosecutors have said they believe they can win a murder conviction even if Hamza's body is never found.

Fire chief dies in the line of duty

The death of a local fire chief attracted thousands of firefighters to York County earlier this year.

About 2,500 guests and more than 100 fire vehicles arrived at the funeral of fallen Loganville Fire Chief Rodney Miller.

Miller answered his last fire call on Saturday, April 27. The 45-year-old chief was directing traffic at the scene of an accident on Interstate 83 near the Glen Rock exit when he was struck and killed by a motorist, who was charged with homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence and other violations.

Nearly a week later, firefighters across the country showed up to direct traffic at Miller's funeral, where a standing-room-only crowd mourned the loss of the husband, son, brother, uncle and friend who volunteered for the local fire company for 29 years.

Miller joined the Loganville Fire Co. as a junior volunteer when he was 16 years old. He was elected chief in 2001.

A self-employed general carpenter and mason, he was a tool and die maker by trade.

He is buried in St. Peter's Yellow Church Cemetery in Seven Valleys.

Plotting future for city schools

The York City School District embarked on an ambitious plan this year to improve student achievement, overhaul its public image and save itself from financial collapse.

Known as the internal transformation model, the state-mandated recovery plan seeks to right the district's financial ship through a strategy developed by the district's own teachers and administrators. After a summer spent recruiting charter-school students, the district has steadily implemented new methods of behavior and academic intervention, communication with parents and improved security.

However, the success of the recovery plan -- financial at its core -- depends on salary and benefit concessions from the teachers' union.

Negotiations are ongoing, but the union has not yet approved a new contract.

Unless and until that is done, the district could be partially or completely converted to charter schools as early as September.

Year of change at WellSpan

The past year brought a number of high-profile changes to WellSpan Health.

The regional health system hired a new CEO, pulled out of emergency medical services in York County and announced plans to build a $50 million emergency department in York Hospital.

When Bruce Bartels retired after 25 years as WellSpan's CEO, Kevin Mosser became WellSpan's first physician to serve in the position.

And after 30 years in the EMS business, WellSpan chose to discontinue the provision of Advanced Life Support services and the leasing of paramedics and emergency medical technicians. The change prompted some local ambulance companies to seek out new subcontractors and begin to regionalize.

York Hospital will also fully renovate its emergency department with the goal of creating a no-wait facility. Construction on the 46,000-square-foot project will begin next summer, and it is expected to be finished by fall 2017.

Congressman becomes a judge

Former congressman Todd Platts stunned York County when he announced he was leaving that seat to honor a self-imposed 12-year term limit, and he surprised Yorkers again in February 2013, when he announced his intention to pursue a transition from U.S. congressman to judge on the York County Court of Common Pleas.

While the final campaign finance reports have yet to be filed, political insiders have said the ensuing election was the most expensive judge campaign ever in York County.

That's not because of Platts' huge grassroots network of supporters.

The former congressman's campaign was at one point outspent more than two-to-one by opponent and incumbent Judge Michael Flannelly, who had been appointed to the bench after the 2011 death of Judge Chuck Patterson.

Flannelly's early and enthusiastic support from a deep-pocketed donor appeared to give him an advantage, but Platts kept his campaign characteristically low-budget and local.

Despite the spending gap and Platts' lackluster experience rating from the county's Bar Association, the moderate Republican handily won the Republican nomination in the primary. He went on to soundly defeat Flannelly, who appeared on the Democratic ticket, in the November general election.

The county's newest judge, Platts will be sworn in Jan. 6.

Red Lion student, district clash

Red Lion graduate Issak Wolfe clashed with the school district in the spring when he said he wanted to be listed on the voting ballot for prom king, and to have his name read at graduation as he prefers it.

Wolfe, a transgender male, wanted to be recognized as the gender he identifies with, but the school district listed him instead in the prom queen category by his legal name, Sierra Stambaugh.

The ACLU contacted the school district and asked for an apology and requested that Wolfe's preferred name be read at graduation.

The school district allowed Wolfe to take his girlfriend to prom only after much debate and allowed him to wear the gown appropriate for male graduates. But Wolfe's legal name was read at the ceremony.

ACLU representatives said Wolfe's goal was to prevent similar situations happening for other transgender students.

In September, Wolfe was honored by the ACLU with the Peter J. Shellem Award for his contribution to civil rights and liberty.

$47M makeover for mall

One of the biggest economic development announcements of 2013 was a $47 million project to revive the 32-year-old West Manchester Mall.

Work could begin in March to transform the shopping hub at 1800 Loucks Road from an enclosed mall to an outdoor plaza similar to Hunt Valley Towne Centre in Maryland.

The mall's anchors -- Kohl's, Macy's, Regal Cinemas and Walmart -- will remain open during construction. Many other shops inside the mall are still in negotiations about their future at the new retail center.

York County commissioners and the West York school board recently approved a tax incentive financing plan that will allow the mall to be revamped while receiving a limited tax break on the improved property, which will be home to new retailers and restaurants.

West Manchester Township supervisors will take up the matter at a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 23.

If the supervisors approve the plan, mall owners will finalize leases and prepare permits and land-use plans for approval, said Tony Ruggeri, co-founder of Dallas-based M&R Investors, which owns the mall.

The majority of construction will probably last six months, and the revamped mall is expected to open before the end of 2014, he said.

The mall's new name and retailers have not been announced.