Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Beautiful Forgotten Place: The Reber Home of Franklin Township

The last Reber to live here died nearly 50 years ago, yet the forsythia and ivy survives.
The home is beyond repair and most likely will be but a memory soon.
CLICK HERE for a YouTube video shot in the former gardens of Ivy & Forsythia.
CLICK HERE for a YouTube video of the Interior.
CLICK HERE for a YouTube video of the Cold Cellar that at one time reached the house cellar under the road.

(Unfortunately, there is nothing left of the Reber home.  It was razed several months after this post appeared.)
The Reber homestead of Franklin Township has been an alluring mystery. My wife grew up near it. It has reminded her of Boo Radley’s house from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” full of mystery and danger. For me, it was a rundown but still a beautiful, forgotten place. It was a destination of our youth, waiting for the right night to explore it with flashlights. But what was it like to live there? What’s the story of this family and what led this to be the way it is today?

In fron of the Reber property today, one can find the
old cold cellar archway that is said to have
run under the road into the cellar.  The roadway
from Harrity to Main Road is known today as Reber Street.
Much help and guidance for this article came from Jim Thorpe historian Jack Sterling.

Much of "Harrity's" existance is due to the early iron works that developed there.  It was first settled by a Jacob Houseknecht in 1791. It was located on the Reber land (across Reber Street) out at the Pohopoco/Big Creek.  Jacob’s son, Martin, sold 86 acres to David Heimbach Sr. in 1826. In 1827 he built the “New Hampton Furnace" there. In 1834, David Sr. died in Allentown. Upon returning from their father’s funeral, David and John Heimbach died one day apart of Typhoid Fever that November.

In 1836, the New Hampton Furnace was purchased by William Martin and he changed the name to “Maria Furnace” in honor of his wife. His son Paul managed it.  Later he ran it along with a partner named John V. R. Hunter.

Thomas M. Smith and Thomas S. Richards, ironmasters from Philadelphia, acquired the furnace and purchased another 2,428 acres in the vicinity. (Could this be the beginning of the Parryville Ironworks?)  In March of 1841 Stephen Caldwell of Philadelphia acquired Richards’ interest and continued iron making under the name 'Smith and Caldwell.'  By 1845 it was enlarged with a company store and ten dwelling houses. Then the business was leased and managed by Samuel Balliet and Samuel B. Lewis until the end of 1858.  Here is when Edward Reber and Joseph Anthony became owners of this land. (The above information was paraphrased from Thomas D. Eckart’s “History of Carbon County,” Volume I.)

According to one source, the area of Harrity, from the Turnpike area near Big Creek and on to P. J. Whelihan’s (formerly Platz’s) on to the Reber homestead itself was named by Frank Reber.  The same source said he was sheriff of Carbon County at one time and named this village in honor William F. Harrity, formerly of Philadelphia.  I am skeptical about this information at this time as there was Franklin Reber who was a grandson of Edward.  Also, I cannot find a "Frank Reber" listed as sheriff.  Edward Reber is the earliest known Reber I can find who inhabited Harrity.  Edward Reber's son, William H. Reber, was county sheriff from 1917 to 1920.  Perhaps Edward's father was Frank but I cannot say that, as I am partly inclined to say that this information may be jumbled.  Further investigation in this area is needed.

In 1870, Edward and Mary Reber (41 and 43 years old) were listed on the census as “Raber” and listed themselves as "farmers" in Weissport. Their children were John 19, William H., 16, Molly 14, Almira 12, Franklin 11, Emma 8, Esther/Hester 6, Edward 4, Harry 2, and Martha 1. They had 2 domestic servants living with them. In 1869, he had been one of Carbon County's commissioners. 

In 1880 they were listed as “Rabert” of Franklin Township and were operating a hotel, most likely Getz’s Hotel (Platz’s) which he is said to have built. However he did own or operate the Franklin House as well from about 1884 to 1887, which today is a barren grassy hill below the Bunker Hill Cemetery on Main Road in East Weissport. The room rate was $1.00 per night.  His 1897 obituary also mentioned that he ran the Centennial Hotel in Lehighton "many years ago."  Edward and Mary’s children at home in 1880 were: Frank, 21, a school teacher, Emma 18, Hester 16, and Harry 13.
Unfortunately, it was only within the last 10 years that
saw the last of the Franklin House as it stood here
at the beginning of Main Road, despite preservation
efforts of Rod Mann and others.

In May of 1886, Edward Reber opened a post office at Harrity and was at that time living in the well-built river stone home.

Also in Harrity, where Marzen’s Feed and Hardware is today, was the gristmill operated by Amandus Anthony and John Reber. Anthony sold his interest to Reber in 1877.  John and Henrietta had a son William E. Reber (1872-1946) and a daughter Mary (b. 1855).

Coincidentally, Edward and Mary Reber’s daughter, Hester, married Washington Atlee Miner, who was the son of John Miner who moved to Weissport from Mauch Chunk who was involved in iron making there. Another daughter, Emma Reber, married John Oscar Weiss, a grandson of Thomas Weiss.

Edward Reber died in 1897 and his services were conducted in his Harrity home. This may be the time when William H. Reber takes possession of the homestead. Speaking to a descendent of a funeral director who worked with the Mayes Funeral home, he remembers his father also performing a funeral from that home, possibly Lottie Reber, daughter of William H.

A close inspection shows a hand-laid stone wall about 15 feet in.
William H. Reber and Sarah C. Reber (born December 10, 1852) were married in 1879 and by 1900 were living at their ‘Harrity’ homestead. Harrity was quite the self-sufficient enclave of the day. William listed his occupation as “hotel owner,” (Later "Getz's" and most recently "Platz's.)  Lillian M., 21, Charlotte (“Lottie”) 19, and Ella, 16, all lived at home. Lillie stayed home a kept house her entire life while Ella worked as a second grade teacher on West Broadway, Mauch Chunk. Lottie taught piano from both home and in people’s homes.  Keith Bellhorn's grandmother got lessons from her.
A view of the 60-acres looking toward Big Creek and
the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

By 1910 William and Sarah’s family was living at 94 Broadway in Mauch Chunk near Trap Alley. William listed his occupation as agent in the machine trade, living among the Lentz’s and Blakeslee’s.

In 1917, William Reber was sheriff of Carbon County. He could have lived at the county prison on West Broadway, Mauch Chunk but the former sheriff's family suffered the escape of "Big Martin" Leskowski, and Reber possibly kept his family away from this by also managing the Mansion House Hotel and keeping his family there.
You see, Big Martin had killed boarding house operator Mary Yanachek (also reported as Yanesick) in cold blood in 1905 and had been sentenced to die by the noose. But he escaped when he fooled the sheriff’s daughter out of her keys. Once he was extradited back to Carbon Prison from Butte Montana, where he lived for a number of years and had even started a family, he set out to escape again.

This time, in Sheriff Reber’s custody, he obtained a hacksaw, leaving the water run in his cell’s sink as a cover for the noise, and cut himself free. He was caught again but eventually secured a full pardon. (There will be more on the Big Martin story on a future post.)

William H. Reber was a one term sheriff.
According to tradition at that time, the
sheriff and his family lived in the jail.  However
with Big Martin's escape prior to Reber's tenure, perhaps he thought better of
his daughters living there. 

In front of the former Mauch Chunk Junior Senior High - 1941:
(The Elementary teachers taught at the Mauch Chunk School on West Broadway.)
First Row: Miss B. R. Bailey (Art, French), Miss A. M. Zanders (Nurse), Miss W. P. Maehrer (Commercial subjects), Mr. T. O. Mitman (Principal/Sociology), Miss M. F. Bevan (Acting Princ/History), Mrs. H. McCullion (History, English, Librarian), Mr. R. F. Dubs (Math/Speaking), Miss H. M. Johnson (English).
Second Row: Miss H. G. Wharen (6th Gr.), Miss L. A. Cresci (1st Gr.), Miss V. Law (Offc Clerk), Mr. F. B. Myers (Science), Miss M. M. Ross (Geography, Health, English), Miss M. M. Gabert (4th Gr.), Miss M. C. Carey (3rd Gr.).
Third Row: Mrs. C. E. Barry (Music), Mr. O. H. Maehrer (Phys Ed, Health), Miss L. S. Smith (5th Gr.), Mr. C. W. Keeler (Latin), Miss L. C. Horn (Home Ec, Hygiene), and Miss E. M. Reber (2nd Gr.)
No longer sheriff in 1920, William and Sarah were living at 154 Susquehanna Street (the “Golden Way”) in Mauch Chunk where he was most likely still managing the Mansion House Hotel, which was known to be one of the largest hotels in the world at one time.  However, he listed his employment as “overseer on a farm” for the census taker.  Lottie was a music teacher and Ella still teaching in public schools.

Union Hill Cemetery
It was common practice at the time for women teachers who wanted to
remain in their job to remain unmarried.  The last three ladies in row two
and Ella Reber in the the back row never married.  Some kept their marriages
a secret.   Miss Cresci was actually Mrs. Benny Freed.  He was the
manager of the American Hotel (today's Inn at Jim Thorpe) which explained
why Miss Cresci spent so much time there.  Her parents emigrated to Mauch
Chunk from New York City and owned a candy store across from the Dimmick
In August of 1920 and October of 1923, W.H.’s brother John and sister-in-law Henrietta died. By 1930, W.H., Sarah, and Lillie were back in Franklin Township on the farm. Lottie and Ella stayed in Mauch Chunk at around 45 ½ Broadway, renting their apartment for $20 a month. They became members of the First Presbyterian Church on West Broadway.

Sarah was the first of W.H.’s family to pass away. She died on October 23, 1937, followed by William’s death July 17, 1942, leaving the three unmarried daughters alone in the family homestead. In 1955, the sisters called Robert and Fern Miller, of Fairyland Farms, down for a visit on the eve of their wedding to give them a silver cake knife but did not attend the ceremony. Around that time, the Reber sisters offered to sell Robert’s family the back 60 acres of their property for $25,000. At the time, they felt the price was too steep for farm land and didn’t take the deal.

From the rear of the Reber home, looking toward Fairyland Farms.
Their complex of barns and store are just out of view below the crest of
rising landscape.

On Christmas Eve 1958, Lillie M. Reber passed away. Shortly after, Willie Kemmerer of Harrity started working for the sisters, washing windows and sweeping floors. In earlier days, his mother Elsie (Goldberg) Kemmerer did farm chores like milking the cows back in the 1930s and 40s. Willie remembers the house to be “like a mansion.” Deep window sills, statues, a floor to ceiling ornate mirror, corner cabinets, a baby grand piano, grandfather clocks, and marble top tables. The front room, where Lillie, “the cook” stayed, had a plain brass bed. But Lottie and Ella had canopy beds and marble topped dressers.

He remembers Ella, the public school teacher, to be strict and stern. He recalled being given long-over-due permission to replace the stub of a corn-broom with a new one. One day, while sweeping the porch, Willie remembers the scolding Ella gave him. She told him the new broom was for inside, the stubby broom would have to do for the outside. He remembers cleaning the windows and how careful he needed to hold the glass for fear of pushing them out of their frames.

Willie regrets not knowing more about the Reber history. Lottie, well-built, tall and stocky, was the more affable of the sisters. Whenever she would reminisce to him about former days, Ella would get suspicious and stern, cutting off her sister’s stories. He remembers how a spring through the cellar was used to keep the milk refrigerated. According to Willie, the cold cellar near the chestnut tree beneath the road in the front property ran as a tunnel all the way under the road and into the cellar. He remembers seeing where the outline of the tunnel could be seen in the cellar where it was sealed off. A look into the cold cellar at the road today reveals hand laid stone in the tunnel about 15 feet in.
Jim Thorpe Times News -
October 1, 1963

It was a Sunday evening in 1963, September 29th in the Reber home, when Ella died. Twenty-five days later, on October 23rd, Lottie Reber died in the Gnaden Hutten Hospital. She was the last surviving member of the Rebers. She, along with her two sisters and parents are buried on Union Hill Cemetery.

Willie remembers some relatives from Philadelphia arrived to claim much of the treasures and antiques from the home. One he remembers to be a “colonel.” Since William’s daughters hadn’t had any children, these descendents could have come from John’s only child to have children, Mary Reber, who according to the records looks to have married a Philadelphia attorney. The lineage is a bit tenuous to prove however.

In around 1964, the property went up for public sale and the home and 60 acres sold to the attorney couple Jim and Maryann Lavelle for $39,000. Jim Lavelle later became judge in Carbon County, who has since retired and Maryann still practices. The home initially had a few tenants but has been uninhabited for the last forty years. At one point about 20 years ago, someone broke inside and started a fire which has hastened the deterioration of the slate roof. Today, the floors are nearly all but collapsed and it will not be long when it will no longer stand.

POST NOTE On the HOME: Unfortunately, the home no longer stands.  A few months after this post first appeared, the owners had this liability razed, no longer the oldest structure of Franklin Township.
The last of William and Sarah's descendants.

POST NOTE On the REBERS: William Reber’s brother John and his wife Henrietta farmed in Towamensing Township in 1910. By 1920, they owned and operated their own mill. They had a son William E. Reber born in 1872 and a daughter Mary born in March of 1877. Mary was still with her parents in 1900 at the age of 23 and disappears from the records. But in 1920, the census lists a sister Mary aged 64 is living with John and Henrietta. Whether this truly was a sister or a daughter is unclear. The 1920 census also lists a “John M. Reber, 77,” living with William H. Miller, 50, and Mary I Miller, 43, in Philadelphia. William was listed as a lawyer and listed John as his father-in-law.

William and Sarah's nephew lived in institutions
his entire life and was buried alone.

Sadly, they also had a son who is buried with them in the Union Hill Cemetery who is not listed in any census with his parents and was most likely born with a significant mental or physical impairment. William E. Reber was born in 1872. He was a “patient” at the Danville State Hospital for the Insane in 1900 but the label “inmate” was applied in 1910.

By 1920, he was closer to his parents, transferring to the State Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane in Hanover Township, Allentown (Allentown State Hospital). By 1930, he was living at the Wernersville State Hospital. A search of these institutions will quickly show how large they were, having hundreds of employees from doctors to attendants to druggists to firemen to musicians. They had upwards of 1,200 “inmates.” He outlived his parents by twenty plus years, passing away in 1946. Someone survived, possibly his sister Mary, to take care of his arrangements.
Allentown State Hospital with its many wings.

William E. Reber's last years were here.

Danville State Hospital for the Insane.

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