T   he headline in Thursday's York Dispatch was clear as glass: "York County wants piece of Gettysburg action."

I chuckled.

Then the subhead: "Officials are highlighting the area's presence in the Civil War."

I laughed out loud.

What a difference 20 years make. Because I can recall clearly my efforts back in 1994 to write a column focused on the Confederate Army's invasion of York County on June 28, 1863.

It was like I was writing fiction.

No one -- no political figure, no mover and shaker, no business owner in York County -- wanted to hear about it. The Revolutionary War? Sure, we'll talk about that as much as you want. The invasion of York during the Civil War? Mum's the word.

York's conduct during the Civil War, when it became the only northern city of any size to be occupied by and surrender to the Confederate Army, was an embarrassment to York's movers and shakers even 130 years after the fact.

They thought it made our community's forefathers look like a bunch of cowards for turning what amounted to the keys to the city over to Confederate Gen. Jubal Early.

They didn't want to talk about it.

And they certainly didn't want to promote it.

Truth is, except for the historical writings of George R. Prowell in 1907 -- "History of York County, Pennsylvania" -- and Jubal Early's autobiographical sketch, it was difficult to find mention of York's role in the Civil War anywhere.

It was almost as though it never happened, when clearly it had. It was obvious to me that writers of Civil War history just didn't think the invasion of York was important enough to mention.

And York countians were just as happy to keep it swept under the rug.

My reason for writing the original column on the subject of the Rebel invasion and occupation of York City for less than two days (just before the Battle of Gettysburg) was to suggest it was one of many events in York's history that could be used to attract tourists to York County throughout the year.

The writing and adoption of the Articles of Confederation in York was another.

And the invention of the first iron steam boat and first coal-burning locomotive were others.

At the time, however, York's tourism industry seemed content to focus on weightlifting guru Bob Hoffman, York Barbell and slow-pitch softball to entice people to York.

I thought we could do better than that.

We have history in York, and we should make people aware of it.

But Yorkers were lukewarm on the idea.

That's changed in the last few years.

And the closer we got to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the faster it changed.

To the point where now, two days before the 150th anniversary of the invasion of York, people are actually trying to embrace it.

As usual, money is the primary motivator. It's all about the tourism dollar.

Not that that's a bad thing -- it's not.

It's just that I'm amused by how accepting this community became once it recognized there were a few million dollars waiting to be had.

Now, we want people to know about York's connection -- before the fact -- with the Battle of Gettysburg and the Confederate Army.

Twenty years ago, no way. It was York's best-kept secret.

Today, you betcha.

The York County Convention and Visitors Bureau is doing its job -- it's promoting York's Civil War history with vigor, encouraging people from hither and yon to take advantage of York's many commemorative and educational events related to the Rebel invasion of our town.

And while tourists and history buffs are here, we hope they'll spend their last dimes in York's many hotels, motels, restaurants and assorted tourist traps. We're certainly not too proud to welcome to York all those people who get squeezed out of Gettysburg this week and next. Come one, come all.

The economic impact on York County? Who knows? But tourism officials have been planning for it for years.

They're keeping their fingers crossed.

York's Civil War history hasn't changed in 150 years.

But this community's recognition of it certainly has.

Like I said, what a difference 20 years make.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.