Sunday, March 22, 2015

Albrightsville: The Fire and the Fury (Part 1: "The Fire")

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

(Part #2 of this post "the Fury" can be seen by clicking here...)

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.  Known to be a hermit, some say he lived in caves from time to time along the Mud Run.  He never owned a car and could often be seen walking along the roads around Hickory Run.  He died in 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." 
This is one of the major fires of note subsequent to
the Great Fire, reported 9 May 1930.



~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.  


  1. Great article. The Wernett's were my mom's family. Heard stories over the years, but never saw pictures. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Ammon. I see you are using two 't's' you know which branch you come from?...Any stories to add here? Love to hear anything you got!

  3. Great article Ron. When I lived in the gatehouse at Graystones (former Trojan Powder property), the owners spoke of a Charlie Gamble or Gambler as a "recluse who came with the property" whom they knew when they were kids in the 1950's. He went to town once a year for a bath and a haircut. Almost certainly the same survivor-witness to the great Mud Run fire that you describe!

    1. That is a nice colorful detail; really helps me to understand him better...thank you!!

  4. Hello Ronald, I'm so glad I found your blog. I am the great-great granddaughter of Francis (Franz) Wernet. I grew up in the Effort area (Monroe County). My father is Frank Jay, son of Franklin Homer, son of Franklin A. (Effort Hotel), who was the son of Francis. I would love to communicate more if you're interested! I currently live in GA and would love to have a local contact to help me with some of my research, etc. since my parents currently live near State College. My email is tvandongen25
    Tammy (Wernet) van Dongen

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I see Hell Hollow and Hell's Kettle mentioned. I know where Hell Hollow is, but am clueless as to Hell's Kettle.

    I also find it interesting that my area around Jonas was very intertwined with northern Carbon County, back then. Today it is very much a Monroe County area. Residents look toward Brodheadsville and Stroudsburg rather than toward Albrightsville and Jim Thorpe.