Sunday, January 23, 2011

Packerton's Roots: Dolansburg, Burlington and the Road Through it

This is the original home located on the property of Paul Borits Senior back when Packerton was known as Dolansburg.
"Dolansburg" is on the left, the river below, the old "Big Chief" and the now closed "Mountainside Family Restaurant" is in the middle as the road curves around and readies to descend the "Mansion House Hill."

The Packerton Yards after the 1862 flood that wiped out "Burlington."
(NOTE: Much of the research for this article was provided by Lamont "Mike" Ebbert. Thanks Mike!)
Burlington was a village that existed along the Lehigh River in the area where the Packerton Yards were built.  Back then, the road from Lehighton to Mauch Chunk ran along the river, far below where the road is today, through Burlington. 

Above the river, where Route 209 is today, was known as "Dolansburg."  It was named for the Dolan family that owned much of the land.   Today, these two old communities together from Jamestown to the old "Big Chief" restaurant, are known as "Packerton."  The log cabin pictured above is from the "Big Chief" in 1908.

Burlington was wiped off the map by the June 6th 1862 flood.  Nineteen people and almost all the houses, barns and out-buildings were washed away.  The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company superintendent at that time, John Leisenring Jr., estimated that a total of 200 people lost their lives from White Haven on down.  Burlington would not be rebuilt.  The Lehigh Valley Railroad took possession of its 47 acres in 1863.  The railroad gained its main repair yard while Carbon County lost its road through it.

A December of 1863 newspaper passage reads: “Another victim of the Freshet Found – On last Monday, while John Schmidt was leveling some earth near the head of the Island, he alighted upon the remains of another victim of that terrible disaster. They were those apparently of a boy about ten years of age; the skeleton was divested of all flesh, and but a small quantity of hair adhered to the skull. Possibly the hair and the teeth which were perfect might serve to identify the individual. The remains were decently interred near where they were found.” The “Island” I imagine to be the strip the land between the river and the canal just above Packerton.

In 1867 the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad destroyed the old road between Mauch Chunk and Lehighton. There was a temporary road on the east bank of the Lehigh, but a flood in October of 1869 knocked out the upper and lower suspension bridges. Officials decided it was time for a road higher up the mountain away from future floods.

This map shows the road through Packerton as it existed prior to 1869. 
"Res. Geo Dolan" marks the location of the Packerton High School. 
Along with LVRR repair shops and other buildings, one can also see Asa
Packer's game preserve labeled "Deer Park."

In 1869, the county hired Hiram Hontz of East Mauch Chunk to build a wagon road wide enough to allow two wagons to pass.  Today, the old 1930s stone guide rail remains. It swerves in and out as the followed the natural contour of the mountain. You can still see how the stonewall juts out further than needed where "Prospect Rock" was removed in another renovation in 1941.

Spring Street still runs in front of the lone "Burlington" home.  This is the
house Paul Borits Sr. lived in as a boy.  They were the first renters of it from
Nelson Walck of Lehighton.  They "rented to own" for 20 years at $12 per month.
Before the 1937 project, travelers heading up hill with the Mary Packer Memorial High School on your left, would turn hard left and travel about 150 yards west to an extreme hairpin.  Travelers then turned back along the top of the 65 foot embankment above "Burlington."  In 1928, C.H. Buckius, District Engineer for the State Highway Department said in his report, "There is a curve in Packerton where you meet yourself coming back." 

In August of 1933 the ravine was filled with rock for a 30-foot roadway.  Some rocks in the mountain side needed blasting.  Then in the 1941 project and the 1970s, this turn was "straightened" even further.

Spring Street went through the center of the hairpin, down the embankment to the houses in  the flat of "Burlington."  In fact, the address of the lone green house at the bottom of the embankment today is "Spring Street."

Essentially, they filled in the crevasse in the mountain which was known as  Packerton Hollow.  There were many homes along Spring Street from the Packerton ball field down through the notch in the hollow to the flat of the former "Burlington." Before the road project of 1937, residents used this space for their garbage, known as "Dolan's Dump."  Remnants of this configuration are still visible when driving through here today.

Frank Deutsch of Packerton bought the "hole" in the curve and was said to have designs to put a service station there in the 1970s.  In the 1930s to the 1950s, Paul Borits remembers about 35 kids living in Packerton Hollow and were known as the "Hollow Kids."

This road project plus the one in 1941 also eliminated the walk way that lead down from the Packerton High School.  The stairs still visible today were built for the students who walked to school from Jamestown.  That is why the stairs seem to lead to no where. 

The filling and reconfiguration brought the roadway closer to the top of the last remaining house in "Burlington."  It's roof is visible to those who look over the edge on the inside of the curve.

That home below the curve is where Paul Boritis Senior was born. His father was a railroader who worked on the "wreck crew" dispatched when trains derailed. That is the last house that remains from the old village of Burlington, however it was built during the days of the Packerton Yards.  Today, he lives at the property where the 1908 cabin sat in the picture above.

Try to imagine the old 1818 wagon road through here as it ran roughly along the current railroad right-of-way.

Mary Packerton donated the funds and the George Dolan family donated the lands
for the Packerton High School.  This picture from the Packerton Yards.  The
white car in the distance sits in front of the notch of the house in the curve below
Route 209 when entering Packerton.

Here is the abandoned railroad cut of the Jersey Central line
through Burlington.  This is roughly where the original wagon road ran.

Another view from "Sleeping Bear" Mountain, taken from above Lock #4
toward Jim Thorpe.  The dipped mountain in the distance is Mount Pisgah,
to the right is where the Switchback Railroad ascended.  The dip in the
middle is where the trestle spanned the two peaks. 

As can be seen from these modern pictures from across the gorge, the original roadway would have been at the mercy of the mountain and the river.  In 1818, a traveler to this region stated that the road through "the Narrows" from Burlington to Mauch Chunk was so narrow that only one wagon could travel at a time.  Some teamsters would send word ahead with walkers and single horsemen that their wagon was coming so that oncoming ones would wait at the other end. 

It was rugged too.  The traveler also quoted, "I considered it quite a relief when my wheel of my carriage struck a stump instead of a stone."  Another writer said of the road, "The road lay on the margin of the river; it was broken and rough beyond any I had traveled; the mountains appear to have been cloven asunder.  The impetuous Lehigh pitching in a torrent along their base; huge fragments of broken mountain overhung our path, and seemed to threaten our destruction." 


George Dolan donated the property for the building of this school and Mary Packer Cummings donated all the construction and furnishing costs.

Since the school was only a "Junior High," the highest grade level was Tenth Grade. The "seniors" were assigned to "safety patrol," wearing badges and stopping traffic as needed for students, before the days of door to door bus service. Students wishing to complete their high school studies needed to transfer to Lehighton High School on Third Street for their last two years.

And as evidenced by this photograph and report card from the 1930s, there were many families with kids in this area.  Most of their fathers working for the Lehigh Valley Railroad.  And at least in the early 1930s, the school covered the primary grades as well.  Below you will find the First Grade report card of Paul L Miller of Packerton from 1933-34.  His mother was Isabel Freyman, daughter of David and Mary Freyman of Douglas Street in Packerton.  David was at first a "blacksmith" for the LVRR and later a "trainman."

Here is a picture of my grandfather Zach Rabenold and his brother George and the men of the "Roundhouse" at the
Packerton Yards.  Many were German immigrants.  Also, some fought for better working conditions and pay and resorted
to terror tactics such as dynamiting lines, an attempt to blow up the Packerton Dam, which the yards used as their water source. 
This picture was probably taken in the 1920s.  Zach was born in February 1885 and died in October 1950.

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