The Hoped for Season

The Hoped for Season
"There's a time between the seasons, when winter is tired, and Spring is a hoped for thing..." ~ from "The Pancake Song" by Joshua Finsel

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mud Run: The Fire and the Fury (Part 1: "The Fire")

"The sky turned as black as midnight," said survivor Charles Gambler.

Things were beginning to feel normal again.
Johanna Kibler survived the "Great
Fire of 1875" when she was just nine.
Her father Reuben Kibler worked or
owned a stave-mill that was lost.
She later married Jacob Heydt and
they had a large family.  She died in 1945.

A group of survivors gathered at the Pine Grove House.  The owner, Jacob Christman, hosted his neighbors for a Thanksgiving feast and day of remembrance of those lost in the “Great Fire” that tore through the Pine Swamp eighteen months earlier.

Many surviving families were represented, owners of the destroyed mills along with stave-mill workers like Reuben Kibler.  Reuben fought in vain to save his mill.  His daughter, young Johanna was there, the little nine-year-old witness who not only saw her school and her whole world burn, but who stoically watched the flames devour her home as well.

Sabylla Getz attended the meal with her widowed father William.  Her mother Elizabeth Getz died in the flames.  Other surviving families that attended Christman’s meal were the Deppe’s, Snyder’s, Silfies’s, Bollinger’s, Moyer’s, and Schelley’s.
Indian Run Lake near Rockport as seen in about 1908.

 Though heavy hearted and gathered in sober testimony to those lost, most eyes were likely to be dry.  As Sam Hoffman, a former member of this community wrote years later, “The people of the Pine Swamp country hardly ever cry when strangers are present, tears may enter their eyes but they try hard not to show their sorrow.” 
News of Carbon's "Great Fire" reached as far as the Pittsburgh Commerical
paper on May 25, 1875.

The forest was thinned, charred hemlocks and diminished browse allowed more light to hit the forest floor.  The huckleberries and winter green were flourishing.

Folks were coming back to the area from the cities of Wilkes-Barre, Allentown and Reading to hike for berries and for trout fishing.  Many would stay at Francis “Franz” Wernet’s “Wernet House.”

Franz was widely known as the “huckleberry king.”  He owned over 4,000 acres of prime huckleberry land which included his large saw mill he rebuilt at the headwaters of Mud Run in Meckesville.

Normal indeed for some friendly competition too.  Wernet’s neighbor, W. H. Rausch, specialized in fly fishing. He harvested four and a half pounds of meat from just three trout he caught on Mud Run. 

Not to be outdone, Wernet drained his sawmill pond on the Mud and took several sixteen each suckers for a meal.

Scorched trees stood as ever salient and constant reminders of the horror of the fire that started in the coal regions, around Beaver Meadow in Schuylkill County in early May 1875. 

The fire jumped the Lehigh River and followed the Mud Run and Hickory Run ravines across northern Carbon County.

It burned through the logging villages of Hickory Run, through Mud Run, through Meckesville and Albrightsville, over Hell’s Kettle and Hell Hollow.  

To great sighs of relief to the residents, it reach the northern extreme of Weissport and Parryville just as an isolated rain shower miraculously appeared and extinguish if shortly before May 28th.  
This account from Lehighton's newspaper, "The Carbon Advocate,"
on May 29, 1875.  It stated that Getz's eldest son is suffering from
typhoid.  It is unknown if it is referring to his eldest son who actually
died the month before or if his current oldest son was also suffering
from the disease.  His wife and son Henry are the only
relatives that can be found on record to have died in 1875.

At that time, save for a few flare ups here and there, the fire was largely out.

The entire village of Mud Run, starting with Frederick Youndt’s sawmill at the mouth of Mud Run was gone except for: the railroad station, blacksmith shop and freight house and one hotel.  And despite losing his sawmill, at least Youndt’s home was spared.

Abel Kelsey lost everything.  Gone were his house, barn, cattle, and his entire lumbering works.  His wife Elenor’s life’s work, intricate wax sculptures, lost. 

Johanna Kibler remembered losing a souvenir from a church function, her prized ostrich feather.

Many saw the parallels to the sufferings of Job in William Getz’s sorrow.
In April, Getz lost his eldest son Henry to typhoid fever.  Another son and his wife were said to still be suffering from the fever’s effects when the fire struck.  He was able to get them out ahead of it and into an open field but it wasn’t enough. 

As the fire encircled them, it gradually burned everything they owned: their home, outbuildings, sawmill, and stock piles of lumber both still in timber and thousands of board feet already planed. 

But the fire took one more thing from William Getz.  He stood helpless to watch his wife of twenty-five years slowly succumb to the smoke.

Elizabeth Cox was eighty when the flames took her.  Her aged husband died the previous June.  She and her husband had buried three grown children from their Hickory Run and Stoddartsville homes.  The last anyone saw her forty-year-old son Miles, he was out doing what he could against the fire.

Of Elizabeth Cox’s death, a boy, who lost all his possessions in the fire reportedly said, “The fire took my all: I lost my box, my pet fox, and dear old lady Cox.”
Gambler's Neighborhood:
This is the only home that survived the fire from the village of Mud Run.
The picture taken in 1964.  The property to the mouth of Mud Run at the Lehigh
River is still owned by the family who owned the Trojan Powder Company.  Over
the years they conducted blasting and dynamite storage on the vast piece of
property.  The sole remaining member of the family still owns it as a private
fishing club.  The house was remodeled and used as the original clubhouse.

Charles Gambler was one of the oldest living survivors.  He was three at the time and lived until 1961.

“The daytime sky had turned as black as midnight,” Gambler had said.  The hemlocks seemed to be able to withstand the fire for a time, but then let loose into a fury flames.

He remembered his father loading him, his mother, and sister into a tiny rowboat.  They rowed into the middle of one of the small sawmill dams on the Mud Run. 

Huddling below the gunwales, he could feel intense heat on his back.
Everyone survived, but like many, they lost everything.

But eventually, life had to return to normal.  Slowly.
John Henry Deppe was a German immigrant
and pioneer lumberman of the Pine Swamp.
His father was an officer in the Prussian Army.
His mother not wanting him to follow his father
into the military life, purchased his voyage to
America in 1848.  He became widely known
for his wooden wheels and was also a
cabinet maker.  He died of pneumonia.

Abel Kelsey had seen enough though.  He and his wife and son picked up and carried westward to the Dakota Territory after the fire.  John Henry Deppe’s son Nelson took his blacksmith shop to Sullivan County.

Two years later, still found John Henry Deppey (sometimes known as Henry John) expanding and rebuilding his father’s grist mill that had been destroyed.

Their livelihoods depended on the stills that made wintergreen oil and applejack.  Three years after their baptism of fire, residents of the Penn Forest and South Kidder proudly received the distinction of casting all “nay’s” to the temperance vote put before them in the November 1878 election.  

The damage was extensive.  Countless homes, farms and businesses were lost.  Papers at the time estimated the losses to exceed an unheard of value of those days, $500,000.

The major players who lost the most were Wilhelm Getz, David Snyder, John Eckert, and Franz Wernet.

Isaac and Susan Gould were pioneers of Hickory Run in the early to mid 1800s.  Their son Stephen lost several million board feet of timber.
The firm of Shortz and Lewis lost over five million feet in logs.

John Eckert’s sawmill, house and lumber were valued at $7,000.  Josiah Kunkle’s mill works: valued at $4,000.  Getz and Searfoss’s operations: $10,000, David Snyder: $12,000.  Franz Wernet lost $12,000 in his house, logs and mill.

Long and Boileau lost 500,000 board feet valued at $4,000.  Jacob Hawk lost 20,000 board feet of sawed wood and 150,000 logs at a cost of $2,500.

Please check back for part two, the “Fury” part of the story.

Some photos from near that age of Rockport which was certainly too effected by the Great Fire of 1875.

Jacob and Caroline Christman's grave at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Albrightsville. ~ "Blessed are the Dead which Die in the Lord." 



~Specific names of those attending the Thanksgiving dinner of Jacob Christman: Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Hawk, G.W. Snyder, J. Monroe George, William H. George, Alice Getz, Sabylla and William Getz, Nelson Deppe (a blacksmith who shortly after moved to Sullivan County), Sarah Kibler, Hester Kibler, H.G. Deppe, Henry J. and Sarah Deppe, George and Mrs Christman, Henry Silfies, Matilda Snyder, Reuben Kibler, J.F. Silfies, Joseph Bollinger, Lydia Moyer, and Uriah Schelley.

~Miles Cox is believed to have been lost just as his mother Elizabeth too died in the flames.  His wife Helen (Swainback) Cox died when she was just twenty-two back in 1856.  

~Francis ‘Franz’ and Catharina Wernett were parents of Edward, Catherine, Frank, and Charles Wernett.  It appears Franz used just one ‘t’ in their surname while the children used two.  Catharina is buried at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Albrightsville, it is presumed Franz is buried with her.  Their son Charles owned and operated the Jamestown Hotel in Lehighton and is buried in Lehighton as well as his brother Frank.  Frank operated the Effort Village Inn. 
The Effort Village Inn as it appeared around 1900.  It was owned by Franz Wernet's
son Frank and his wife Amanda.

After his death in 1921, his wife Amanda and children, Frank “Homer” Wernett and Helen Wernett Kresge, ran it into the 1940s.

~Another “Charles Wernett” was born about nine years after the Charles of the Franz Wernett family and doesn’t appear to be related.  This Charles arrived from Germany in 1884 and eventually ran a hotel in Albrightsville known as the “Wernett Estate Hotel.”  
Pictured here are offspring of the first generation Charles Wernett: Xavier and
Fred as they look over the burnt ruins of their father's Albrightsville
hotel in October 1948.

It burned to the ground in October of 1948, shortly after his death.  His sons Xavier and Fred Wernett were running it at the time.

~Another fire, in 1966, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christman's burns to the ground.  It was completely lost.
Member's Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church around 1910 at "Christmans," Penn Forest, just past where "Skirmish" is today.
Below, three frames of the church as it burned.  It doesn't appear that the fire company was able to arrive before it completely burned to the ground.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Lost Stills of the Pine Swamps of Meckesville -(My 150th Post!)

The “Swampers” or “Ridge Runners” and their contribution to the world (yes, I said world) is largely lost beneath the dust of memories of Carbon County’s mighty role in the Industrial Revolution.

One of the early known distillers of Albrightsville was
Timothy Serfass.  He sold his interest to his brother-in-law
William Getz in the 1870s.

Life on the mountain was as austere as anywhere so remote and wooded.  Families were known to get through a hard winter with nothing but a few bags of summer sausage and a couple of heads of cabbage. 

By late fall, with even butter scarce on the mountain, dinner would routinely center on a simple onion sandwich.  Many relied on nearby streams for washing and for drinking water, water that sometimes froze over in the hard months.  Deer and rabbit season lasted as long as one was hungry.

Though so removed from town life, families could still garner a living on the railroad through the access points  like the ones Mud Run and Stoney Creek provided.  Some set up stores, hotels and inns.  Some held valid liquor licenses and some didn’t bother going through such formalities.
This is the copper pitcher owned by Joyce
Gaumer's grandfather A. W. Smith who
distilled wintergreen in the 1920s and 1930s.

Robert Getz of Albrightsville had one of the largest potato farms in the early 1900s.  He also owned a stave mill, employing as many as twenty-two men.  His brother Emory also had a stave-mill.

In the 1870s, Henry J. Deppey had both a saw and grist mill there as well.

It was from the woods of the Pine Swamp that most made their living.  Many were lumbermen, more than not, who listed their occupations as “laborer in the woods.”

The plentiful hemlocks were sought for tanning hides in the many tanneries (The Lehigh Tannery near White Haven was said to be the largest in the world.)  Cottonwoods were a fast growing tree for crates and staves for barrels. 

The “wintergreen” industry though, is a mostly forgotten part of our area’s contribution to world economics.

It was an intensive process.  Each still held about 35 bushels of wood chips or wintergreen leaves (also known as teaberry) along with two hundred gallons of water.  The mixture was left to steep for up to twelve hours before a fire was lit.

Once lit, the fire was slowly fed from a low heat to one of gradual intensity over three hours.  Once the distillation started, the fire was then brought to a rapid boil for about an additional three hours, for a total cooking time of six to eight hours. 

One batch usually yielded about one quart of the oil which weighed about one and a half pounds.  In 1938, a quart of wintergreen oil sold for about $7.00.  This price stayed fairly constant over the years.

Without any adjustments for inflation, the price per pound in the early 1860s was as high as $16 per pound, dropping sharply to between $7 and $8 by 1870.  By 1920, the price paid to local distillers went as high as $5.25 per pound.  Wholesalers purchased it in 25-pound containers.
A 1918 letter from wintergreen essential oil buying
agent in New York City to Albrightsville distiller
Alexander "Willis" Smith, the grandfather
of current and life-long swamper Joyce Gaumer.

Another figure that held about the same over the years was the price paid to the harvesters of the leaves.  Newspaper accounts of 1870s and 1910s both stated they were paid about one dollar per one hundred pounds of leaves.  

They also reported that experienced pickers were said to gather between 75 to 150 pounds per day. 

It was estimated that the Albrightsville area alone boasted about two hundred wintergreen (‘teaberry’) stills. 

Its scientific name is chimaphila maculate.  “Chimaphila” comes from the Greek meaning ‘to love winter.’  Easy to see how this low growing plant, evergreen through winter, stood out in contrast against the brown and lifeless forest floor of winter.

When wintergreen was out of season, distillers would render the oil of the black birch tree as a substitute.  Its chemical constitution not the same, but as for wintergreen flavorings, it was close enough.

Besides confectioners and apothecaries, compounding pharmacists bought the oil to be used as an analgesic.  The chemical make-up in one fluid ounce is equal to 171 adult aspirins. 

The oil was sold in balms such as Ben-Gay and other remedies for “rheumatism” or any arthritic pain.  It was also touted to cure “baby itch” and in the 1930s was used in experimental cancer research.

These were the early days of “Big Pharma,” and Carbon and Monroe Counties were said to produce 90 percent of the world market wintergreen.

A 1914 account in the Allentown Democrat said 7,000 pounds were distilled world-wide each year.  Of that, 80% was made in Carbon’s woods, while another 10% was made in Monroe County. 

Add in the Pike County totals, according to articles gleamed from around the state at this time, and this section of Pennsylvania accounted for near 100% of the world supply.

Joyce Gaumer, of Albrightsville today, said she and her grandmother would go pick on the days of a church picnic or whenever money was low.

They’d crawl on hands and knees, ever mindful of timber rattlers, raking away debris with their short rakes with two inch dowel tines, to stuff their burlap sacks with the  harvest of the three to five inch plants.

They’d take their harvest to Paury “Purie” Green’s store.  Though he knew and trusted them well, Purie would always sort out any extraneous debris of twigs and stone before he weighed their bags.

“He’d pay a nickel a pound.  I’d make enough in a day to enter the cake walk four or five times.”
Joyce Gaumer in her Penn Forest or
"Christmans"home today
with distilling pitcher, it's capacity equal
to one batch of the still.

And though it was seen only as a more modern problem, as early as 1882, folks were concerned with hiding their income from the government.  

It was said that “internal revenue collectors” would “drop down upon them” to collect a $36 per still tax.

Obviously the headwaters of the Yellow, Mud Run, Drakes, Stoney and other area creeks provided abundant cover for those hiding from the government.  But the cold water of these streams was also a necessary function in the process of the distilleries.

In order for the water and oil to condense, distillers ran their copper coils through a stream to be cooled.  From there it dripped into either a glass jar or a copper pitcher.  The oil was heavier, so the top water was simply poured off.

Joyce Gaumer’s grandfather Alexander “Willis” Smith ran a still.  (He was also superintendent of Penn Forest roads as well).  He had yearly contracts with New York firms.  He typically sent 25 to 50 pounds a season, and got paid at a rate of $5.25 per pound of essential oil.

Read the companion Post "Ode to Spring" - Making Horseradish with Joyce Gaumer by clicking here.

One of the earliest known distillers in Albrightsville was Timothy Serfass (1845-1908).  His sister married another founder of the area William Getz (1824-1910).  August Huseman was another early distiller.
William or Wilhelm Getz was an
early resident and distiller of the
Pine Swamp.

Sometime before the late 1870s, the distillery was handed from Serfass to his brother-in-law Getz and by fall of 1878, it was in the hands of Samuel Moyer. 
This Dreher brother's 1873 drug store ad from
 Stroudsburg boasted to pay the
highest prices to the wintergreen
distillers of Carbon and Monroe Counties.

And as with all new brooms, Moyer wanted to sweep well.  His rate to the pickers went from the 60 to 70 cent per hundred pound rate of Serfass and Getz to a new area high of 75 cents with Moyer.

Going into the First World War, wintergreen production in Pennsylvania was at its height.  Trade though was disrupted due to German U-boats and sharply hurt the local economy.  That was also the time when artificial substitutes first began to appear as well. 

Still, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, many of Carbon’s unemployed did find a salary solace in it.  In 1942, Pennsylvania’s Deputy Secretary of Forests and Waters Charles Baer said given the near 100 year history of the industry in the Carbon area, he saw the beginning of the Second World War as a possible boon for area incomes.

Baer was correct.  By war’s end, with America’s lead in providing analgesic and other supplies to many of our allied hospitals, the wintergreen economy once again surged.

But today, some 70 years later, the days of a still providing a livelihood there are all gone.

Talk to any descendant of the “Ridge” or the “Swamp” and you’ll find a palpable pride that bubbles up from this austere distilling past.

A. W. and Alice Smith from Drake's Creek,
a wintergreen distiller.

The Smith home along Drake's Creek.

Looking at Eugene Albert Meckes’s December 1966 obituary will tell you the same thing. 

It didn’t report that the life-long resident of the Pine Swamp first worked at the White Haven Fish Hatchery, or for a time in a stave-mill, or even how he lived in Bowmanstown working for the Zinc factory or how he retired from the state highway department in the 1950s. 

His obituary proudly listed only one, solitary occupation of his life work as “distiller of wintergreen.”
From the Allentown Democrat November 1915.

AA Fertilizer Ad from Indiana Progress (Indiana, PA) from April 1927 featuring the above testimonial
of Albrightsville native Robert Getz.

August Huseman and his wife Fredericka in Old Albrightsville Cemetery.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Slender Demolition - By Ronald Rabenold

It began as a slender demolition among
A series of radical hesitations,
Almost subliminal,
Ending, as these things often do,
In an unknown submission,
That sprung forth unseen from unknowing
Bearing the weight of a whisker
Upon my current condition.

My mind inspected this damage.
The loose rocks, fissures,
Spaces with water infiltration,
The invisible fault lines
Descended from bowed, sternly bent heads,
Among repetitions of rapidly developed demurs,
Humming with subservient
Stressors amid vibrations of curious pleasures.

Ronald Rabenold - 15 February 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Graver's Ice Factory - Post 4 of 4

Change, not the positive kind, was on the move in Graverville.  The swim contests were becoming a thing of the past.  The rooflines of the sheds that once sheltered and allowed the bricks to dry, sagged now, like the back of a broken down old mare.

Wash-day at Graverville - Facing west: Route 443 as it appeared while under construction in the early 1940s. 

The Lehighton-Tamaqua Highway (what we call Route 443 today) came through here in the early 1940s.  Steel being in short supply after the outbreak of World War II, the completion of the bridge over the Mahoning Creek at Graverville was stalled until 1946.  The roadway split the ice, pool, and skating facilities from the bungalows of the hillside.
Steam-roller work with shale to build up the road-way to meet the new
Route 443, otherwise known as the Lehighton-Tamaqua Highway.  Henry
Graver's brick home is seen at the left.  The bungalow in the center is still
on the corner, though it is largely hidden by a cement barrier at the corner.

The roadway was an achievement for commerce in the area.  It allowed for more avenues for transport, a boon for the local garment industries, spawning the Interstate Dress Carriers trucking terminal, now NEMF.
Henry Graver residence of 105 East Penn Street.  The homes at right with the square roof supports were torn down
in the past few years.
The beginning - The Recluse of Gnaden Hutten/Lewis Graver lands
 Post #1 Alvenia and Adaline Graver
Post #2 Lewis to Henry Graver
Post #3 The Graver Bathing Casino
It also built up Lehighton’s suburban commerce with the Carbon Plaza Mall, Pizza Como, McDonald’s, and eventually Wal-Mart and Lowe’s.

The roadway delivered promise to many, but all such promises seemed to pass the Graver’s right on by.
The entrance to the Graver Ice Plant with their 1940s era pickup truck.

Larry Graver was still in high school when he worked at Graver’s Ice Plant.  In the spring and fall, he’d prepare and work maintenance on the pool as well.  Larry also lived in Graverville with his parents Francis and Ruth (Hallman) Graver.  His father Francis was one of three sons born to Ralph Graver, Henry Graver’s only child to produce off-spring.

Larry’s cousin, Stanley Graver, was living in his great grandfather Henry’s house with his parents Reuben “Rubie” and Iris Graver at 105 East Penn Street.

Francis and Reuben were two of Ralph Graver’s three sons.  The third and youngest was Ralph Jr., otherwise known as “Jack.”
The skating rink as it appeared shortly before it's demolition
in the early 1990s.

There was little left for Larry and Stanley to get involved with in those days.  The building boom of their uncles and grandfathers was over.  Refrigerators replaced the daily need for commercially produced ice.  And people were traveling farther for their entertainment, to points along the Jersey Shore and beyond.

The beginning of the end was the closing of the skating rink in the late 1950s.  At about that same time, the borough of Lehighton had begun to manage the Graver pool in the summer but closed it in 1961.  Lehighton opened a more modern municipal pool at Baer Memorial in 1965.
A local paper article from the late 1950s.

The following description of the plant’s operation comes from a December 2014 interview with Larry Graver:

“The ice plant room was about twenty by forty feet.  There were sixty-four, two foot by two foot squares that could each make 48” by 24” by 10” pieces of ice.
There was copper tubing into each section filled with a brine solution, the high salt content gave the refrigerant a colder than thirty-two degree freezing temperature to speed up the icing process.

The brass or copper tubing went into each section and bubbled air into the water to keep it moving.  This is what gave the ice of this time its signature white color.”

“Pulling Ice” – “We would work the odd rows first, and once finished, we’d repeat the process on the even rows.  This helped keep the ice you were working with as cold as possible.

A rolling crane picked up the form with the ice inside it where it was dipped into a solution of warm water to free it from the form.  The block was tilted and left to slide on a chute to the other side of the ice house for storage.

At no point during this process did the fresh water in the ice mix with the brine solution.  There was a deep, fresh water well on site where the water was drawn.  The ice produced here was potable.

There was a large diesel engine that powered the entire operation.  It was said that you could hear and feel the mighty thump of this engine as you passed in your vehicle on Route 443.

(The ice storage house would be beneath the current pile of the shale parking lot used by truck and trailers along Route 443 across from Pizza Hut.)

This ran a three-phase generator and had up to ten V-belts taken off of the power shaft that ran the compressors.  In order to start such an engine and set the large piston in motion, one had to set the eight-foot flywheel by lining it up a special mark on it with its corresponding marking on the floor. 

The ice plant was run by Henry’s sons Ralph and Stanley.  Stanley was a bit more difficult to work for.  He was known for firing workers at the ice plant and by the time they reached Ralph on the other side of the property, they would be re-hired.

Stanley passed away in 1958 and Ralph followed him in 1965.

So the cousins, who worked the last years of these Graver enterprises, had to look to make their own mark in the business world. 

Larry teamed up with Phil Meyers and created Blue Mountain Machine.  Though he has since retired and sold his interest, Blue Mountain Machine still operates at 725 State Road (Route 248) but got its start inside the old skating rink on the Graver property.

In the late 1960s, Stanley Graver branched out to Route 209 near the Turnpike interchange and built “Stan Graver’s Texaco” which is now operated by his three sons, Ricky, Allen and Kerry as “Graver Brothers.”

The real estate holdings of the Graver family, the numerous bungalows that still dot the hillside, were appraised in April of 1989.  Then, one by one, each was sold to either their current inhabitants or to other private families.

Gone within the last few years, a sign at the traffic light, that told passing motorists of the now bygone hamlet of “Graverville.”  Its name still adorns some maps and now and then this now almost mythical place draws a pilgrim to it.

One such seeker, finding nothing to prove or deny its existence, was resourceful enough to find “Graver Brother’s Garage.”  Once there he found the great, great, great grandsons of Lewis Graver.

Considering that Lewis first timbered the hemlocks of the north facing slope of the former Moravian mission back in 1825, all one hundred fifty plus years before the ice factory's end, I’d say it was a good run, a good run indeed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Graver's Bathing Casino - Lehighton Gravers Post 3 of 4

Chester Mertz of Mertztown, Mahoning Valley still remembers Henry Graver’s deer pen.  “Deer were rare in those days, nearly all gone from around here.”
In memory of Betty Mullen Brey: Weissport native, trained at Graver's Bathing Casino,
 and produced a wonderful family.  This post is a tribute to you and your being a beautiful person.
  Rest in Peace Betty (23 November 1931~21 March 2015.

He remembers being a boy in the 1920s, driving up Gilbert’s Hill and being stopped by the hands of a Dutchman farmer who hissed a calm alert to a stop with, “Hirsch, Hirsch.”
An early picture of one of the "Graver's Bathing Casino" Swim and Dive Competition - Possibly August 11th, 1926 - Picture faces the Mahoning Mountain with Lehighton off frame left.  The remains of this pool basin can be seen today
in the garage area of "Snyder Tire."  (This photo, as well as most of the remaining photos in this post appear
courtesy of Graver family historian and great grandson of Henry Graver, Larry Graver.  This author is much
obliged for the patient help of Larry for this post.)

Here is a picture from the Lehighton Graver's in the 1920s.  Photo from Eckhart History of Carbon County.
Here is an overview of Graverville, complete with change house and pool at right.  The large center building
is the roller rink and the bungalows to the rear on the hillside along with the original brick home of
Henry Graver in the center collectively known for years as "Graverville."
It was the first time he had seen these animals, thinking until then, that they only existed in imagination and myth.  But there they were, graceful beasts, gliding through the field of rye, seeming to be on the fly.

“We’d climb around Henry Graver’s old and empty deer pen, a fence that seemed too high, much higher than any cow pen or horse corral we’d ever seen and we’d sit and wonder what those deer were like.”
~The beginning: The Recluse of Gnaden Hutten/Lewis Graver land
The deer were long gone from the pen by the time Chester saw those first deer in the early 1930s.  And even though people flocked from Delano, Mahanoy City, Hazleton, and the Lehigh Valley to swim in the “Graver’s Bathing Casino,” Chester himself never did.

Chester had only two places to cool off.  They’d swim in the Mahoning near Rehrig’s bungalow, where the Rehrigs kept paddle boats to maneuver the slack water of a small dam there.

“We’d also swim the deep hole on the Mahoning near Rudelitch’s, where the truck (New England Motor Freight) terminal is today.”

It was the Great Depression after all, and dimes for admission were hard to come by.
The chutes at Graver's Casino in the 1930s with the Mahoning Mountain right and the Lehighton 'Heights' left.
One can see how safety regulations have changed since this photo was taken.

The Graver’s were one of those early, enterprising families.  They were artisans, building many things with their hands.  Lewis Graver built canal boats with his brother Andrew.  He also timbered, tanned hides, made bricks, and farmed (click here for Post #2)

Lewis Graver’s twin daughters established themselves in the millinery business in downtown Lehighton (click here for Post #1).  And son Henry continued the brickworks until around 1910. 

Henry Graver continued to farm with livestock as well as keeping his domestic deer stock.  He also expanded his interests into one of the first peach orchards in the state as well as ice harvesting, ice manufacturing and the cold storage businesses.  
Graver's ice houses packed with twelve inch ice -
from 'Lehighton Press' February 1923 just two years
before the opening of the bathing casino.

But it was his twelve or so winters in Florida that led the family into the amusement business.  It was the ‘Roaring Twenties” and Henry was about to take a $15,000 chance.

Henry and his two sons portrayed their new resort as a destination, with plentiful Mahoning Mountain air, a place for city families to come and stay in bungalows among the pines that once were home to the Leni-Lenape hunters. 

The Burd Brothers Well 'Diggers' of Union Hill discovered
the remains of three human skulls along the Mahoning Creek
just below the Graver property.  This helped fuel the Indian
massacre mystique that the Gravers hoped would help to
attract tourists to their resort.  This article appeared in
the 'Lehighton Press' in April of 1915.

The Gravers also promoted the mystique of the Moravian “Gnaden Hutten” settlement and the subsequent massacre that took place there 175 years ago with the hope of drawing tourists and their dollars (click herefor the Gnaden Hutten story).

The centerpiece of course was the large cement pool.  The Graver’s Bathing Casino’s water was at first pumped from the Mahoning Creek.  They used a “Gould’s Centrifugal Pump” that had a 600,000 gallon output over ten hours time.

Later on, the water was filtered by a gravel and sand filter house with chlorine.

Still and all, this was a marked improvement and was a luxury that few people in those days had ever experienced.  Most at that time, like Chester Mertz, only had the local river or ponds or canal for swimming.

It had a shallow end of just inches of water for toddlers on up to nine feet for diving boards and “chutes” for “deep sea” sports.  It also had cement fountains in the shape of flowers the children found entertaining to jump from in the middle of the main wading section.  Some of the fondest memories of those youth was entering the cascading water shouting for the sensation of the sounds caught up in a sound proof barrier of water.

The stairs as they look today.  The set going right led to the
wading end.  The set going right led to the swimming and
diving end.  The wall between them went the width of the
pool to separate the less experienced swimmers from the
deep end.  These stairs and wall can be seen in the
pictures below.

This current day picture shows roughly the same orientation and angle
as the photo above.  Note the stairs along the far wall remain today
behind Snyder Tire.  The double stairs were separated by the wall
seen above that divided the wading end at right here from the
deeper, swimming and diving end at left.  A partition wall
at one time kept the areas separate and safe.

This picture was taken from the roof of the roller rink and looking toward Lehighton.  The old brick building to the left rear on Bridge Street was once the Penn Lace Mill and most recently was Ott's Beverage.  The building has been idle for some years now.  Notice the children standing on the diving wall and the double stairs at each end of the wall
leading to either side of the wall.  These same stairs can be seen in the two modern pictures of Snyder Tire today.
This 1960s photo is practically the same view as the shot above.  Note the dividing wall and newer refreshment stand
which was under construction for the photo below.
Construction of new refreshment stands along East Penn Street at Graver's Lehighton.
It had change houses that were said to rival those at ocean seaside resorts.  Two buildings, one 150 feet long and the other 200 feet, were for changing and locker rooms, complete with “porcelain fixtures and mirrors for the ladies.”  There was no mention of these amenities for the men. 

The roomy 100 by 150 foot pool not only provided a spot to soak away a hot day, but it also became a place to flex one’s natator prowess. 

The Graver’s, as well as other pool facilities, sponsored annual swim meets. Newspaper accounts would boast of up to 3,000 spectators and participants, all at a dime a piece admission.  

Locker rentals were fifteen cents.  The business also relied on the leasing of swimsuits, known then as “togs,” as well as concession sales of ice cream and “doggies.”

There were two rows of bleachers under roof along the west side.  It had a ten foot, chestnut planked boardwalk around the eastern and western sides.  The grounds were large enough to park 2,000 cars.  

The announcement in the paper said the entire operation from the excavation to the swimsuit stock represented a $15,000 investment by the Graver family.

This was to be Henry’s ‘swan song.”  The ‘Graver Brothers’ were the ones set to carry the bath houses into the future.

Henry and Cate (Hoats) Graver had three children: Ralph (born 1892), Stanley (1894), and Bertha (1898).  Henry ventured to Florida with his wooden jalopy: a home-made, early motor-home (See Post #2 for pictures) and soon was making West Palm Beach his winter home. 
Here is Ralph Graver at the Lehighton
pool in the 1950s.  He became
the 'senior' member of the Graver
brothers when his father died in
1926.  Ralph died in 1965.

Eldest son Ralph and his young family also wintered there.  Ralph worked for ten winter seasons at Gus Jordahn’s Swimming Casino where he developed the angles of the business. 

It spawned not just the Lehighton pool that opened in 1925, but a second one, identically built in Lebanon, PA, two years later. 

Ralph would be the “senior” member in charge of base operations and real estate development here in Lehighton while his younger brother, “junior” partner Stanley, oversaw the Lebanon Bathing Casino.
The Lebanon "Graver's Bathing Casino" was a carbon copy of the Lehighton prototype, replete with dives, "chutes" and "flower" fountains.  This picture looks to have been taken from the roof of the change house seen below.
Note the diving stand at the far corner here above, and the same stand in the near corner below.

This picture of the Graver's Lebanon Casino is looking in the opposite direction than the picture above.
Ralph married Pearl Klinger in 1911.  She was the daughter of Francis Klinger, a Lehigh Valley Railroad engineer stationed at Delano.  Ralph and Pearl had three sons: Reuben (born 1912), Francis (1913), and Ralph Junior (1915) more commonly known as “Jack.” 
Ralph and Pearl Graver's children:
Reuben "Rubie" left, Francis,
and Ralph Jr or "Jack" in front.

The Gravers had a knack for promotion, which was necessary, as they did have local competition. 

Lakewood Park, Barnesville:

The Lakewood Park in Barnesville had a full dance hall, a lake, a carousel and as well as a 150-foot cement pool like the Graver’s had.  Their grand opening was in 1917. 

Entertainment there over the years ranged from the Dorsey Brothers and Doris Day.  They also had the longest running ethnic festival: Lithuania Day, which ran from 1914 to 1984.  The Bavarian Beer Festival was also there in its later years.
This picture captures of immensity of Graver's skating rink with the "beach" area of the ice dam in the foreground, the
eastern side change house of the pool is visible on the right.  Notice the cupolas for drawing out stale summer air
as well as the now closed shutters that could be opened on cool summer nights.  The alcove with the Franz Kline
 paintings built for bands was at the far end nearest to East Penn Street.

The Gravers had a large roller rink for nighttime entertainment which they also hoped would carry them through the winter time.  The rink was at the south end of the pool and was equipped with a row of pot-belly stoves every twenty-five feet along the outer wall which paralleled Route 443.
Franz Kline as he appeared
near the end of his short,
but prolific life.  His works
 appear in most of the
major New York art museums.
  Kline had major setbacks in 
his youth: He arrived in 
Lehighton due to the suicide
of his father that sent him to live
at a home for "fatherless boys."
Additionally, he suffered from
childhood illness that removed 
him from school for a couple of 
years. More about his interesting 
life will be available soon in
Finsel's book
'Franz Kline in Coal Country -
Early Works, Life & Letters.'

The rink also had an alcove at the near end for bands to play.   Ralph Graver’s oldest son Reuben was a classmate of Franz Kline.  Kline became an artist of important renown in the 1950s and 60s. 

Sometime in the late 1920s, according to noted local Kline authority Rebecca Rabenold-Finsel, while Kline and Reuben were still attending Lehighton High, Kline painted some whimsical band members onto the wooden wainscoting of the Graver skating rink. 
An early drawing from the artist Franz Kline.  Painted
directly onto the wooden wainscot in the band alcove,
these approximately two foot by two foot band member
paintings were authenticated by Kline biographer
Rebecca Rabenold-Finsel and appear here courtesy
of her
(Look for her forthcoming book co-written with her son Joel Finsel, entitled Franz Kline in Coal Country - Early Works, Life & Letters.)

This 2 inch by 2 inch skating pass has seven
different names and addresses of people
stamped on the back including: Pittsburgh,
Philadelphia; Rockford & Morris, Illinois;
as well as New York and Ohio.
One date on the back is given
as "November 16, 1945" as well as "Herman
Horack of Weissport" dated June 1945 and the
words "No Good" written with it.  This was
purchased by the Graver family from a man
in Seattle, Washington about ten years ago.

One of the earliest swim meets to occur there was held on August 11, 1926.  Carl Hochberg was the lone Lehightonian to place at the 1926 competition.  He was twenty then and took second in the 50-yard swim and third in the two hundred.

The main medal winner, the “merman” as the paper reported, won all three of the men’s events including the diving competition.  Richard Johnson was living here while working on the Stroudsburg-Lehighton highway project (Route 209).  His hometown was Harrisburg.  

(The entire article appears at the end of this post.  It is undated, but based on Hochberg's medals, it appears to be from August 12, 1925.)

Competitors in the boys division were Clarence Kramer, son of a Hazleton police officer was seventeen, nineteen-year-old Harry Whitenight of Tamaqua, and a pair of fourteen year olds from Hazleton, Otto Hill and Elmer Fox.  Fox’s father was a blacksmith while Hill’s father Gottleib died the year before.

Carl Hochberg of Lehighton placed in many swim
in dive events over the years.  Not only did he compete
at his home pool, but he also traveled to Graver
Brothers in Lebanon as well as their competition
pool of Lakewood in Barnesville.  More of his medals
can be found at the bottom of this post.  The
second place medal from August 12, 1925
at right is the one used to date the newspaper
clipping that appears at the end of this post.
There was no separate competition class for young girls, so seventeen year old Irene Skakandy of Nesquehoning swam against the women.  Ninteen year old Virginia Mooney, “Vergie” as her family called her, of Palmerton took the silver in diving.

Also competing was seventeen-year old Isabel Armbruster, from a large railroad family in Packerton, took third in diving.  After recently speaking to Carlos Teets, it was learned that he never knew his mother competed in the water events at Gravers.  

He did know she placed at a beauty contest there once.  She took second, she was told by the judges, because she was chewing gum.  Isabel married Harry “Hack” Teets.

Isabel Armbruster Teets of Packerton -
She took third place is diving in 1925
and took second place in a beauty
contest at Graver's, year unknown.
She is the mother of Carlos Teets
of Lehighton.

One curious contestant with a lot of pluck was Eva Nicholson Fisher Straub.  The daughter of a Franklin blacksmith, Eva married another township native Lovin Fisher when she was twenty-three in 1905 and she was widowed by 1920.  
Here is the vivacious Eva Fisher Straub with her first husband Lovin Fisher.
She later married Oscar Straub of Weissport and entered a Graver Swim and
Dive contest when she was forty-four.

Eva married Oscar J. Straub, who ran “Strauby’s Mill,” the grain elevator in Weissport most recently known as “Sebelin’s Lumber,” sometime after his first wife Catherine died in November of 1925.

Even though she hadn’t placed in any of the water events at Graver’s the forty-four year old made enough of a splash with her note-worthy blue swim suit and her “trite” sayings to deserve her own article in the weekly newspaper’s “Owl Column.” 

This undated article was found with
the same article above announcing
the results of the swim and dive
contests.  It must be sometime after November 1925 as
that is when Oscar's first wife Catherine died.  Eva and Oscar
married sometime after that.

Eva Straub was quoted as saying, “Most women should dive more, so they would be compelled to keep their mouth shut.”  As a footnote here, both she and husband number two were buried with their first spouses on Union Hill.

Civic groups also staged their own festivals on the grounds.  The American Legion held a carnival there the week before, on August 4th 1926 in which Hochberg took first place in the swim event and third in diving.

One young swimmer got her start at Graver’s when she was just three.  Betty Mullen was the youngest and only daughter of Packerton Yardmaster Charles and Evadna Mullen of Weissport.  Her brothers all were athletic and with fewer opportunities for women in those days, Betty found herself an outlet in the water.

And though she belonged to the silver medal USA women’s relay team of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and was a two-time world record holder in the butterfly, Betty first proved adept at diving. 
Weissport native and Olympic team
member, two time world-record holder in
the butterfly, Betty Mullen Brey, from
her "Graver's Bathing Casino" days.
 Betty remains active in the swimming
community and recently re-located to
Florida to be nearer to her son and daughter.

Her father’s role with the railroad led to many important connections.  He procured ice from the Graver family for the dining cars.  This relationship led to the agreement that Betty could have free use of the pool.

“There were Sunday afternoons when Charlie Franks would come home on leave from the Air Force, after the war...He'd practice his dives.  He could do all of them.  When he would leave, I’d imitate what I saw.  I was just fourteen or fifteen then.”

Charlie went on to place fourth in a men's diving competition at the Pan American Games sometime in the 1940s, representing our armed services.  Although strong and athletic, Charlie did not have the highest quality of life after the war.  At some point during his military career, he was accidentally exposed to a large dose of RADAR waves while doing maintenance near a sender.  The jolt knocked him off the scaffold he was working from.
Charlie Franks of Lehighton was Betty's
diving muse after the war.  

Charlie with his
siblings at Graver's Ice Dam with the
Mahoning Mountain in the background.
His sisters Margaret (back) and Virgil, 
his brother Paul with gun and Charlie.

Eventually, her father used his railroad pass for his daughter to attend open swims for women in Allentown on Wednesday afternoons and also into New York City. 
Betty Brey (top) practices tandem dives with high
school friend Delores Claus at Graver's pool.

These tandem dives of Betty Brey and her friend Delores Claus (of Eight
Street Lehighton) at Graver's (Betty is on top in both pictures.)  In this lower
picture you can see the Henry Graver brickhome at 105 East Penn Street which
still stands there unchanged today.  The skating rink is at left.  Photo taken
by future husband of Betty, Paul Brey when they were both about fourteen
in 1946.

Eventually, for her last two years of high school, she took the Black Diamond Express into NYC at 3:15 each Friday when she had weekend meets.  She would stay over night and sometimes babysit for the former New York State diving champ, Hazel (Muller) Barr.  

And when she had practices in the city during the week, she'd return home on the 12:15, arriving at the Lehighton station at 3:15.  Her future husband Paul Brey would sometimes meet her in the middle of the night to drive her home if he could sneak out with his father's car.  Otherwise she'd take a cab.

The late night's meant skipping morning classes her junior and senior year, which didn't make principal and teachers too happy.

She went on to swim at Purdue as well as for the U.S. Army as a physical therapist at Walter Reed.
Betty Brey's Family - Daughter Brenda with her Dad Paul (Son of Paul and
Pauline Brey of Cypress St Lehighton).  Back row, Mike Brey Notre Dame
Men's Basketball coach and Shane who is Assistant Athletic Director at
University of Central Florida.
Betty Brey (maiden name Mullen) sets one of her two world record
times in the butterfly seen here in this August of 1955 clipping 
from "The Bee" paper from Danville, Virginia.  She would marry 
her high school sweetheart
Paul Brey a short time later.

“But I owe my beginnings in the water to Graver’s pool in Lehighton,” Brey said recently.  Her father built a starting stand at Graver’s and that allowed her to practice nearly every day all summer long. 

She also did tandem jumps with another L.H.S. ’49 classmate, Delores Claus Bauchspies, currently of Bloomsburg. 

Betty married classmate Paul Brey who was a standout football player at Lehighton.  Their children have honed their athletic pedigree cultivated in her hometown. 

Their daughter Brenda swam competitively at LSU.  Youngest son Shane was a standout basketball player at Walter Johnson High School and is assistant athletic director at UCF.  Oldest son Mike is the longest tenured men’s head basketball coach at Notre Dame University.  He was also an assistant coach to Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
This metal, two foot long sign, once hung over the doorway at the Casino.

The End of the Casino:
This picture from the Times News shows Francis
Graver (son of Ralph) with hose and his son Larry
at right with broom preparing the pool in 1959.
A favorite teacher and coach from Lehighton, Al Domineco,
stands at center who was a longtime Graver summer employee.
Notice the diving platform in the corner here and in the
other photos.  East Penn Street is parallel to the refreshment
stand seen here.  Route 443 is perpendicular to the left.

The pool ceased operations at about the same time the borough finished it work on the municipal pool at Baer Memorial.  The Graver family was said to have offered their facility to the town at that time, but the borough chose to build the new one instead.

The ice manufacturing was also soon to be a thing of the past at Gravers.  The remaining business pursuits were reduced to the renting of the bungalows on the mountain side collectively known as “Graverville.”

Sometime in the 1990s, these rentals were offered for sale to their owners, calling an end to over 150 years of Graver ownership.  Francis Graver’s son Larry started his “Blue Mountain Machine” business with partner Phil Myers on the site for a time before moving operations over to Route 248 in Parryville. 

Reuben Graver’s son Stanley started “Graver’s Texaco” near the turnpike entrance in the 1960s.  Three of his sons continue to run it as the successful “Graver Brother’s” garage today.

Footnotes: An Early End to three of the “Graver’s Swimmers” –

Carl Hochberg remained in the Lehighton area working as a knitter at one of the local hosiery mills.  He married Helen Ashner sometime after 1930.  They had one son: Carl Junior.  By 1960 however, he developed a tumor on his right leg.  He died in July 1960 at the age of fifty-five.  Son Carl also had a son Carl Hochberg who lives in Lehighton to this day.

Harry Whitenight would later marry Beatrice Reed.  Together they had a son Ferris who graduated from Tamaqua High School in 1946.  Beatrice would die of uterine cancer in January 1939.  Harry was a construction worker in the new Pennyslvania Turnpike tunnel on the Northeast Extension.  On August 9, 1956, while inside the tunnel, Harry was caught unaware by a cement truck that was backing up.  It struck him, crushing his skull.  He was fifty.

Virginia “Vergie” Mooney Proud, daughter of justice of the peace Jacob and Sarah Mooney of Palmerton went onto nursing school in Erie Pennsylvania where she met her husband, Ralph Archer Proud.  They had three children and were living in Painesville, Ohio.  On November 2, 1954 the car she was driving was struck by a train.  She was forty-seven.
Few could argue that perhaps Virginia "Vergie"
Mooney Proud could have won the Graver
Casino beauty pageants.  Seen here in her
senior photo at Palmerton High.  She was killed
at the age of forty-seven in Ohio.

Lebanon Daily News -
April 1934

Lebanon Daily News - December 18

This paper valuables bag measures 8x10 inches.
More of Hochberg's medals, this time
from the competitor's resort:
Lakewood in Barnesville.

These Hochberg medals ate all from Graver's:
On left from August 11, 1926 and
on right from an American Legion
Carnival held there a week earlier.

Lebanon Daily News-
August 4, 1927

Lebanon Daily News - July 1931

Lebanon Daily News - June 1931

This appears to be a flyer/handbill printed by the Graver Brothers to announce their
grand opening.  The text, it says, first appeared in the "Lehighton Press" on May 8, 1925.
The article above is from June 1926 from Lebanon Daily News.  The bathing picture above appears courtesy
of Bob Fatzinger, grandson of Walter Hammel.  This picture also appeared in Ripkey and Ebbert's "Lehighton" book
which is still on sale at Lehighton Hardware and other merchants in town. 
VIrginia "Vergie" Mooney of Palmerton married Ralph Archer Proud.