Wednesday, June 22, 2011

30 Year Anniversary of Heath McLaughlin's Death - Be Careful Kids...Please

It seems that each generation's youth finds challenge in exploring the natural world about us.

It was a hot summer day when Heath and Mikey decided to go for a swim in the Lehigh Canal.  Heath couldn't swim very well and the two of them hatched together a raft of logs.  It unraveled. 

The grief his mother must have felt, struck me unexpectedly when his stone confronted me the other afternoon.  Beside the fact of seeing his mother's name, was reading the inscription across the bottom: "God is our refuge & strength...A very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1). 

I wasn't particularly close to Heath.  But Mikey, Rim and Hoatsie and I spent many afternoons together exploring around the canal: on our bikes, with our poles, along the tracks daring a fire-breathing locomotive to come along and push us off.  But I can't help but think what I would have done or could have done if we were all together that day.  Heath's "present help" wasn't enough on that day.  I remember all of us boys gathered around the fire house as the responders returned.  We knew the answer, but I had to ask.  The one man, with his flat back, barrel chest and pus-gut making a perfect "D"-shape, answered my query with "well he certainly isnt smiling anymore."
(CLICK here for Lehigh River death and Heath.)

After posting this link on Facebook, I got a number of people say that they too remember that day.  Damian Walck and David Pasternak were biking up the tow path when they encountered Heath's frantic friend (Mikey Strohl) who was pedaling down to them in a real panic.  He was screaming, "My friend is drowning."

So Damian and David pedaled as hard as they could and went to Drumbore's Garage and Auto Parts, just up from the Boatyard near the start of Fairyland Road before Motola's.  When he called it into the police, they didn't believe him but sent the rescue call anyway.

Damian said, "We met up with the reporter when we rode back to the canal...that's where he asked us what happened...It was a actually my first experience of that nature...I was only 11." 
Heath McLaughlin

Four years prior to Heath's death, our community lost a talented athlete in Mark Krieger.  He fell to his death during a day of "hooky" from school with his friends at Glen Onoko.  Just this week 2 hikers and a first responder were injured at the Glen.  The first hiker fell from the second falls.
(CLICK here for the Times News Article.)

These are the lessons my generation grew up with.  As I write this, my son Jon and his recently graduated friends J.T. and Matt are heading off to Wild Creek.  So kids, be careful out there, please.  Think of Heath's smile, and the many more he could have had, had he lived all these 30 years since.

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.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Day of Seven Rat Snakes and Swallowtails along the Black Creek Gorge

Watch this Black Racer get off the wall while a Swallowtail
flutters by.  (Click here for YouTube video.)
It was a day of Rat Snakes (I at first posted these snakes as Black Racers.  However on subsequent encounters with them since, their behavior is more like a Rat Snake, as this type freeze when approached, while Racers do just that.)   and Swallowtails. Seven snakes all told. I haven’t seen a rattler yet this year, unusual. The first I saw scaling the railroad tie retaining wall of the Reading and Northern Railroad bed along the Lehigh Gorge State Park trail between the Buckeye Pipeline and the Black Creek. It is fun to watch the gravity-defying journeys from ledge to crevice, seeking out the Five-lined Skinks that frequent the same terrain.

I found two sets of congregating snakes like this and three solitary ones.  (Watch them of YouTube as well as a passing train of the Reading and Northern's Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.)

But it was a big day for the Eastern Swallowtail too. Casually watching a butterfly, one would think the random flutters were at the mercy of the winds. The care-free looking wanderings are impressive. I found myself a comfortable rock and followed them along the canopy of the cottonwoods and black birches. Occasionally two would meet, I think both males, defending their territory, or they could have been breeding, which I learned they do about three times per season.

I’ve also experienced a behavior called ‘puddling’ where as many as 25-30 of them circled around a puddle of mud near Rockport. I’m told males search out sodium and other nutrients in liquids like urine, which very well could have been the case as the area is frequented by many bikers and rafters.

I like to take a 3-4 hour trek once per weekend. My wife asks me if I’m bored peddling that long. It is this tedium that helps me unwind and clear my mind for the coming week, simply spinning. It's what I like to do on my constitutional day of rest.

What I enjoy best on these days is to give myself the permission to lose my sense of time. Today, along the Black Creek, sitting among the bare rocks, imagining the high water of spring, evidenced by high debris caught in branches five feet above the bed, I let go. It was a moment I felt as free as the frolicking swallowtails about my head. And then, time just stopped.

The Black (or AKA Hazle Creek) has water that mesmerizes me. It is as crystal clear as any water you’ll ever see. It has been denuded of most aquatic life from the acidic discharges from the Quakake and Stockton Tunnels found upstream, not to mention the former beryllium plant that once polluted these waters that a $17 million cleanup in the 1990s supposedly took care of.  But part of me can see the beauty in the aquamarine clear color, splashing white on clean rock.

I thought about Professor Terry Clark’s post about his visit with his Uncle Mike, the last of his father’s family. At 89 and in a home, Mike’s advice to Terry was simple, “Enjoy everyday you live.” (Professor Clark's "Coffee with Clark" Blog Post 'Ghosts and Legends') 
Professor Clark's Dad and Uncles.  Uncle Mike on right.

Simple advice. We hear it, we know it’s true. But like the gnat that flies in our face, most of us shoo advice like this away with excuses of why we can’t enjoy things as they are now. We say, “Maybe when I get those vacation days…maybe when I’m not so busy, then, I will heed those words.”

I snap out of my free moment of nothingness, my thoughts returning to the stories I’m working on, the bills that need my attention (my son's $50,000 a year tuition) and the supper time that is beginning to call from my stomach. I tell myself, as my school term winds down, "I will take those days and fill them with moments like these." Those are the easy days.  Easy to say, hard to do.
The Black Creek Gorge as it flows from
Weatherly to the Lehigh River at Penn
Haven Junction.
It takes true zen to take the days of swooping gnats at your eyes and turn them to days of swallowtail butterflies.  Moments like today remind me I do have my moments of mastery, no matter how fleeting.  I am thankful for these lessons.  Namaste.