Sunday, July 17, 2011

Free Range Folk Hits the Opera House

Sara Ruch (washboard and saw), Amber Breiner (bass), Shawn McCarty (mandolin),
Josh Finsel (banjo), and Kevin Ruch (guitar)
Free Range Folk made another appearance at the Mauch Chunk Opera House on Friday night. This area’s own 5-piece folk and bluegrass band opened for Greensky Bluegrass with a 6 song set, 5 original with one cover.  Their combination of authenticity and laid-back pickin is a welcomed summertime treat.

Their lyrics, from Ruch’s honest and heartfelt vocals, sink in deep like a day soaking in sunshine. They warm seeds of thought that erupt in an unshakeable smile while Sara Ruch’s skillfully wicked musical saw leaves you mesmerized.

Songs come from their collective experiences of as living as close to the earth as any in these parts. Their lyrics reflect the things they’ve absorbed from the earth while McCarty’s mandolin holds it all together.

Song one, “Hitchhiker” by Ruch makes you wait for that sunshine, hopeful for that ride, and hopeful that we can all be so gracious in the end. Breiner’s bass play adds the natural flow of a step by step journey we all take while Finsel’s banjo provides the rhythm.

“Polypore Joe” by Finsel celebrates the simple life of mountain man Joe, who passed on his contentment in the arts of mushrooming and winemaking. Ruch’s “Bubblin’” stays on that theme, seeing life through the cycle of springtime dandelion to the labors of summer, and letting the wine warm you while expectant of another spring and another chance at making some wine. (Which by the way there was plenty of home-made wine on hand from the Fourteen Acre Farm, which could be considered Free Range Folk’s home farm.)

Song four was Finsel’s “The Bottom of the Hill,” which they also played at the public showing of “Gasland” earlier this spring. The slow ballad “Hill” reminds us how our society tends to ignore the environmental price tag we pay for energy.

Song five, “Lehigh,” a local sentimental favorite, gained a new twist, as Finsel added the line “Married my girl by the Lehigh,” precisely what he did several years back, above the “Turnhole” of the Lehigh at Glen Onoko, marrying bassist Amber Breiner.

They wrapped up the set with Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls.” Folk’s rendition does a good job staying true to the same feel as the original while making it their own and all the while pulling everyone into memories of their own summertime love. 

From “Bubblin’”:

"When the cold comes we'll be drinking by the fire...
Dreamin of a summer with no end
Warming our souls with our labor
and when the spring comes we'll do it all again."

Many left hopeful to hear another chance to let them do it all over again.

You can catch them this friday at the Lehigh Valley Folk Festival at 5 and 9 pm. (See ).

You can check out the band at their website and hear 11 of their songs at and their website

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Hoppes Grist Mill at St. Peters Church, Mantzville, Mahoning Valley

(Photo courtesy of Abby Beerman)
UPDATE: The Hoppes Grist Mill has been dismantled and was moved to Ohio. 

The mill was taken apart piece by piece down to the foundation in November 2017.

Sunlight on the works: These pictures from Fall 2017 from the dismantling.  


The Original Story of the Hoppes Grist Mill:
Little about walking into the mill today gives the impression that it has sat idle for some 60 years. Entering it feels as though the owner momentarily stepped out the back door. The C. J. Homm’s “BB Feeds” sign, that lists prices of turkey starter and ground oyster shells, looks as vibrant today as any modern sign. The workings sit and wait as though their master will soon return to once again make them rumble.

April 2020 Edit - I'd like to add here a quick note.  I'm hardly knowledgeable at all about mills.  But doing some reading today I came across this sketch by Oliver Evans (1755-1819) from 1790.  And from what I know and remember about the Hoppes mill, I'd say it ran exactly according to the same principles arranged in Evans's plan here.  If you look carefully at the sketch you can even see the hollow wooden chambers that housed the canvas straps that held the cups that circulated in the wooden chambers to move grain upward.  All grain moved upward and then used gravity to arrive at the correct location in the mill.  I realized instantly that this drawing would greatly improve someone's understanding of how the Hoppes mill operated.
Oliver Evans Grist Mill Plan from 1790 - Essentially how the Hoppes mill operated, right down to the man on the wagon
dumping his bag of grain into the chute.  Much of this is identical and seemed as efficient as anything so primitive.

Whenever Berlyn Miller (left) and Chester Mertz of the
Mahoning Valley get together, it always begins with
"Wie bist du?," Pennsylvania Dutch for "How are you?"
One can imagine all the Dutch conversations that
occurred in this mill, back when people came to
"mill about,"sharing gossip and news.

The mill was built by John Hoppes in 1845. And his great, great grandson, Berlyn Hoppes, has lived across the mill race his whole life. According to Hoppes, it passed down to his son David Hoppes who ran it up to the Great Depression. Then a partnership, formed by two men of Coombe and Shimer, ran it until Calvin J. Homm became the last operator, mainly as a cleaning mill. Then it went to Fred Johnson and he continued the Christmas Trees.  He also owned several companies including a medical equipment manufacturer.  (See the 1800s era birthing chair equipped with stirrups further down this post.)

Karl Jens, current owner of the Hoppes Mill near St. Peter’s Church, is a gracious, soft-spoken gentleman. He recently opened his home and mill property to a joint visit of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society and the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center.
Karl Jens shows how the grain could be diverted from one
chute to another.  The grain is first elevated to the top floor
and dispersed to the various mills or storage.   Chutes and
elevators run throughout the building.

The group was fortunate to have Jens’s hospitality and his detailed tour augmented by Hoppes’s color commentary. Near the steps leading into the first level, within the stone foundation, are two chutes with metal covers. In the working days, hoppers would be attached for farmers to pour their corn or grain into the funneled receptacle below the floor for the main elevator to pick up.
The group inspects the main elevator and grain hopper
at the immediate entrance to the Hoppes Mill.

Elevator cups mounted on belts: These elevator belts hang
in storage and appear to be the slightly smaller size.  (The main
elevator belt and cups were a bit bigger.)  Belts like
these run through wooden tubes in the mill to deliver the grain
upward to the 4th level, whereupon it can then be diverted
by gravity in any number of wooden chutes.
The main elevator, as well as all the subsequent lesser elevators within the mill, consists of a cup-studded belt that scoops the grain, cup after cup, directly to the 4th level of the mill. From there, the grain could be diverted to any number of locations in the mill depending on what needed to be done to it, by way of rudimentary yet efficient square-wooden tubes or chutes.

A brush cleaner.
Grains could be stored in large bins on the 3rd level or sent directly to one of the roller mills or sent to be cleaned of chaff and have fungicide applied to it (“Saracen-M” according to Hoppes) and returned to the farmer who would store it for seed for the following spring.

The jaw dropper of the mill of course is the 26-foot steel Fitz water-wheel. Though the race is long gone, with just a few pulls, the giant wheel once again awakens to life. Once started, it can spin and spin like a fly-wheel with little sustaining effort. Imagine the water shooting from the race over the top of the wheel, catching the tread-like sections that run across the 4-foot width all around the outside wheel, each one big enough to catch about two gallons of the falling water each.

Paul Borits of Packerton remembers assisting Johnson to convert the water wheel into a hydroelectric power generator.  However Johnson passed away before he could see the idea through.

The steel Fitz 26-foot overshoot wheel that
replaced the original wooden wheel in 1920 will still
turn with enough elbow grease.  The wheel
housing is inside the mill to the left as you walk in.
Another view of the spokes.  The housing
plank only has room for two people and is
difficult to get pictures.
On the second level of the mill, above the wheel housing is a 35-foot lever on a suspended fulcrum. A rope, now missing, would have been attached to the end of the lever and run through a hole in the floor. The operator could start or stop the flow of water from his control center from the 1st level. The inside edge of the wheel is lined with teeth. From this same location on the 1st level, the operator could engage a smaller toothed wheel to the water wheel to engage the power train of the mill.

This is the ceiling of the 1st level, just outside the wheel
housing.  The main drive shaft and belts power everything
throughout the mill.  The "spit" sign is visible on the beam,
a closeup shot of which can be found below.
Though the dam, 1,200 feet to the rear, is today filled with dirt and the race long gone, at one time held enough water for a day’s operation. Hoppes recalls that during the dry months, the dam only recharged enough each evening to give the mill 5 or 6 hours of operation.

Following the workings of this grist mill is an exercise in the Zen of efficiency. Everything from the bag-filler, to all the “mills,” to the giant wooden spool in the 4th level for hoisting out the top bay, was powered by the water.
Originally the mill was a grist mill that used grist stones. Two stones with a diameter of about 3-4 feet sat flatly on top of the other. The top stone did the turning, driven at the center with an 8-inch square axle. Some of these stones were solid with domed tops while others were made up of pieced together stones held together with a steel band.

Berlyn describes to Chester how the channels had
to be re-chiseled.  One millstone on the property
was specially designed to channel buckwheat, which
technically wasn't a grain.
Occasional maintenance was needed to re-chisel worn grooves. Jens has many millstones from the mill on display in his yard.  Some of which are European in origin, as millers knew the stones used as ballasts of ships made good millstones. A few millstones remain inside the mill. One rests on the 4th level of all places, undoubtedly hoisted there with the hope of some future use. A round shroud that encased the grinding stone was also found there.

But what the group was able to see, still in their place of operation, were various roller and cleaning mills. One all-wood flour mill, complete with wooden auger, was made in Chambersburg Pennsylvania by August Wolfe and Co. Mill Works. Inside, the silk filters remain largely intact.

The wooden auger of one of the flour mills.

The August Wolfe Mill from Chambersburg PA.

Having all wooden parts is an important feature in a mill to avoid sparks. Dust created in the milling of grains can be highly explosive. (Recall the mini-explosion created when your 5th grade science teacher added a spark to a puff of flour.)

Hoppes recalled the days of the mill’s operation and how the window panes in his house across the stream would rattle.

In fact, vibration in a mill was a problem. We were told that the mounting of the mill stones was done in such a way to keep them independent of the structure of the mill to minimize this ear-numbing, teeth-jarring rattle and grinding.

The sign posted by C. J. Homm on the main beam reads, “If you spit on the floor at home, spit on the floor here, because we want you to feel at home.” Coincidentally, a similar, albeit more concise version of this sentiment, was found on a website picture of the “American Midget Marvel Flour Mill,” of the same type housed here at the Hoppes mill (see pictures).
Pictured here is an "American Midget Marvel" from another mill that
coincidentally has a similar warning about spitting in the mill. 
("Don't spit on the floor.")

The Hoppes Mill’s “American Midget Marvel Flour Milll” is on the 2nd level. Perhaps not the most politically correct of all names by today’s standards, the “Midget Marvel” was built by the Anglo-American Mill Company in Owensboro, Kentucky. The “Midget Marvel Mill” was invented by an English milling engineer, A. B. Tattersall, of London, England. Mr. Tattersall had written a number of books advertising his mills, such as "The Story of a Wonderful Mill."

The header beam in the gable end of the 4th level
shows a rope burn from years of hoisting. 

This is the wooden spool in the peak of the mill with belt drive power from 3 levels down.  The rope went out the
gable end and used to hoist things from level to level
if needed.  (See previous picture of rope burn and outside
of the mill up and the peak to see the hoisting hatch.)

Homm's advise.

Mills were dusty places and dust in a mill
held the potential for explosions.  This vintage
air filtering machine was removed from its
working location.

Remains from millstone days: A millstone shroud.
Another device in this mill, perhaps not seen in many mills, is an air-filtering machine that looked like something from the Willy-Wonka factory or from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. It was a drum-like machine studded with piston heads draped in a silk covering. The pistons pumped dirty air from the mill to filter out the explosive dust. (I hope you were awake for that science lesson.) There were two wooden-chambered ducts leading out a window on both the 2nd and 3rd levels.
Karl explains the American Midget Marvel roller mill and the corresponding
wooden chutes that direct the grains throughout the mill as Bill Lampert
and Mason Rabenold stand by.  Wooden chutes frame the shot.

Karl explains how to adjust the scales on the
sack packer to Steve Hlavka.

Hoppes also had some stories about Homm’s use of a Buick engine to drive the works in later years. Later, he used a V-8 Ford engine equipped with a working radiator for cooling. Other modern improvements were added including an electric-motor-driven conveyor to lift grain bags to the window on the 1st level.
Ruminating over the stones: Members of the Mauch Chunk
Historical Society and Museum Boards
review what they've discovered.

Attending the tour were: John Drury, Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center director and founder, Steve Hlavka, Mauch Chunk Historical Society president, Board members of both the MCMCC and the MCHS, Jack Sterling, Ron Rabenold and intern Abby Beerman, Lifelong Mahoning Valley resident and a Baldwin Steam Engine employee Chester Mertz, Pennsylvania Canal Society Vice-President Bill Lampert, as well as Kim, Rick, Lisa, and Mason Rabenold.

The Karl Jens Story:

Karl enjoys sharing the workings of his mill with others.  The silk screens
in this flour mill are still intact.  (Photo courtesy of Abby Beerman.)

When Karl and his wife Candy purchased the mill, they fell in love with the property not knowing that the mill went along with it. Ever since, the Jens’ have devoted themselves to its history.

Karl was born in Germany. Arriving in the states as a young man, he worked for 6 months in a tropical greenhouse on Long Island until Uncle Sam sensed his presence.  He was promptly drafted and sent back to Germany. It did not matter that he wasn’t yet a citizen. It did not matter that he knew little English, they only tested his proficiency in German and deemed him worthy of the job of interrogator for Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

He then ran a successful nursery in New Jersey before retiring to this beautiful section of the Mahoning Valley. The impeccably kept property is located along St. Peter’s Church Road and is replete with a greenhouse of some vintage and exotic plants. He was also so kind to show us his Lehigh Valley Railroad train display.

The Hoppes Mill is far left and the Karl and Candy Jens
property as it looked in the Cal Homm days.

That's Cal Homm in the back left discussing Christmas tree
practices with the Penn State Cooperative agent below right
along with other Mahoning Valley tree growers.

Just previous to Jens’ purchase, the land was used by the Terry Graver family for growing of Christmas trees, which evolved from Calvin Homm to Fred Johnson.  When Fred passed away, Terry Graver continued to take care of the property and the trees until the estate was settled.  Much of the original farmland is serparately deeded today.

Cal Homm was a tinkering genius and is said to have several patents to his name.  Berlyn says he invented an early 3-wheeled hydraulic tractor that self-leveled itself when cutting between rows on a hillside. (Cal's homestead is the brick home at the "T" of Golf Club Road and St. Peter's Chruch.)
The birthing chair:
A leftover from Johnson who
dabbled in medical supplies.

The Berlyn Hoppes Ancestry:

The following is a cursory stab at the Hoppes history.  (It sounded correct when I discussed it with Berlyn.) The most reliable piece is the 1860 Census record showing John Hoppes (born circa 1805) married to Elizabeth (b. c. 1813). John was listed as a “miller and farmer.” They would be Berlyn’s great, great grandparents.

Their children and their ages in 1860 were: David 18, Mary 14, Solomon 10, Margaret 22, Sally 6, Rebecca 4, and Catherine 1. According to Berlyn, the Jens/Hoppes/Homm mill was built by his great, great grandfather John who would have been about 40 in 1845 the year the mill was built. The mill then passed on to John’s son David who ran it up to the Great Depression.

According to the “History of Schuylkill County (1881), the “Hopples” built a mill in this vicinity of the Mahoning Valley in 1831 and another in 1835. Whether these mills existed at this site and whether these were indeed predecessors of the John Hoppes family is pure speculation.

Talking to Berlyn and Karl, both pointed to another grist mill on Golf Club Road, just about a mile further west in the Mahoning Valley.  Both Berlyn and his wife felt that could have been the mill started by Solomon Hoppes.  In that mill, the residence and mill were all contained in the same building.  I couldn't imgaine living in a place of constant daytime vibrating rumblings if you were feeling under the weather and had no other place to go.
Solomon Hoppes lived in West Penn and was born on July 3, 1809 (died December 11, 1860).  By age comparison, he could have been a brother to John Hoppes (b. 1805). Some accounts claim he was a miller and his son Elias (c. b. 1844) was a miller who later relocated to Heidelberg Township.

In 1880, Elias and Anna Maria were still listed in the Mahoning Valley, Carbon County. He was as a “miller” and she a “milliner.” (Whether indeed she sewed clothing and hats or the census worker erroneously assumed a miller’s wife was a “milliner” is not known, but the word play is interesting to think about.)

Elias was 35 and Anna was 29. Their children were Minnie 7, Albert 6, and Odilen 3. Not unusual for that time, a 19-year-old servant named Ellen Arner and a miller’s apprentice named Moses Snyder, age 23, were living with them. But there were 3 other non-relatives living with them.

Curiously, they had two “scholars” and a “professor” living with them. Scholars Emma Kistler 18 and Frank Klingaman 21 were taught by William H. Raush age 23. Where this mill was and whether it had a relationship to Berlyn Hoppes’ family is only speculative.

Author and historian Wilma Dykeman wrote the following poem about a mill in Tennessee:

"The Blowing Cave Mill"

"Nature determined the rhythm of life at that place. Stones had been a long time forming, trees had been a long time growing, water had been a long time flowing, before they came together shaped into a wall, into grinding stones, into siding and shingles and a great wheel fed by a long, tight trough gathering the streams clear flow to turn the creaking wheel outside, and inside the heavy stone grinding corn into meal, wheat into flour. Food. They came with their bulging sacks from summer's harvest and waited their turn for the miller's time. Nothing could be hurried. The water flowed, the wheel turned, the millstone ground, flour and meal gathered in the bin. Patiently the farmer's talk gathered:

An early picture from the Cal Homm farm.

Berlyn Hoppes' home is far left from the mill.
neighbor's news, twice-told jokes, political denunciations, all grist for this welcome fellowship. Like progress of the seasons or procession of the constellations life in that place turned at its own rhythm."

Looking out from the past of the 3rd level: A reminder that these
historic places need constant attention or they will
fade away from us.  (Photo courtesy of Abby Beerman.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stubbornness Sat Smugly on the Curve of a Hillside

Stubbornness sat smugly on the curve of a hillside

Beneath coy breaths of clouds, hanging heavy as Chinese rocket smoke in chill night air.
Its cellar had high arches of hefty brown stone, the kind the mason cut as coarsely as he could
To find the tenant still unhappy.
Between the colonnades were pearled agate tiles in copper and gray,
Though carefully placed many were peeling, as if by design, in a most inconvenient pattern.
They couldn’t agree on something as simple as the lettering on a temporary sign.
It wasn’t the spacing or the merits of its catchy syntax or edgy euphoniousness.
They couldn’t agree on the timing. It made the rest feel so upstaged.
Making those feel justified to rail on about the one about to run off to South Carolina
With the woman he went to summer camp with so long ago.
Stubbornness can hit you like that, like a crowded field of windmills.
It can be written in black marker on the fender of a rusted out ’55 Chevy,
Whose days as a dog coop are numbered,
Written to a father in his son’s own hand, “This is what happens when we can’t agree.”

Copyright -  Ronald Rabenold – July 1, 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Essential Historic Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe) Virtual Tour – In 12 Easy Stops

The following tour is adapted from the spring tours I give my 5th grade students and their families. This past May, over 100 students and family members attended. Here are the highlights and important dates discussed.

If you enjoy this taste of a tour, you can schedule a tour of your own through the Mauch Chunk Historical Society either through the Website or tour coordinator Bill Allison. If you wish, you can request me to be your guide.  (Click Here for more Tour details and to contact Bill.)

If you have any questions for me, feel free to contact through this site or on Facebook.

Josiah White Park:
Students and their families wait for the 6 pm hike to begin.

STOP #1 – Josiah White Park and the Jersey Central Train Station

It all started with coal and Josiah White. Well it was Josiah who first successfully and painstakingly developed the infrastructure to move the coal from mine to market. It was first discovered by Philip Ginter (or Ginder) in Summit Hill. This “mine” was actually a quarry, as the folded over “Mammoth Vein” was a total of 60 feet thick and laid exposed on top of the hill.

Early attempts that included the help of Jacob Weiss and Jacob Cist had failed. Josiah White comes to town in 1818 and begins to tame the wilderness. He gets backing through the establishment of two companies: “The Lehigh Coal Company” and the “Lehigh Navigation Company.” These separate companies were needed as some investors saw opportunity in the coal fields but were leery of the transportation end of the business. The other company was formed for investors who saw the opposite as true.

Eventually the two merged as the “Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company” and many men achieved great wealth from it, though as a corporation it had years of financial difficulties including in the present day as it just filed for bankruptcy in recent months.

A devout Quaker and industrious man, he lived 2 years on a work scow on the Lehigh River with anywhere from 50 to 100 men, depending on the season of the year. The peak work pool occurring in the summer months though the “Stone Turnpike” was surveyed and cleared during the winter of 1818-19. The cart loads traveled the 9-mile steady declination from mine to river but White saw the future need for a more efficient system. Once to the river, coal was shipped on barges down the Lehigh River. The river was made more navigable through White’s ingenious “Bear-Trap” lock invention.

About 12 of these lock and dams were built from Mauch Chunk to Allentown. They created slack water and allowed the flat bottomed barges of coal to flow over the rocks. When the train of 10-14 boats reached a dam, a wicket was turned, taking away the water pressure that held the lock closed. Once released, the boats were shot through in the sluice. Once the boats cleared the last dam, the worker would retrace on foot, resetting the locks to recharge the dams with water for the next day’s shipment. This method was used until the Lehigh Canal became operational in 1829.

White also tried to bring the supply closer to the river by driving the Hacklebernie coal mine tunnel on top of Mount Pisgah in 1824. This was the first underground mine tunnel in North America but it did not at first yield a profitable supply. By 1827, the Stone Turnpike was replaced by the Gravity Railroad, the first leg of what would become the famous “Switchback Railroad,” the first railroad in Pennsylvania, the 2nd in North America, but it was the first of any significance. The rails were wooden with early iron straps capping the top. Cars carried about 1.5 tons and were sent down in trains of about 15, with men on board operating a rudimentary braking system.

Coal drifted by gravity during the day, with mules aboard a specially designed car. At night, the mules would tow the empty cars back to the mine. By 1845, the “Back Track” was completed. A steam engine house sat on top of Mount Pisgah and pulled the empty cars over 2,250 feet of inclined plane, rising 664 feet of elevation. Inside the engine house was a 27 foot wheel that wound up steel bands connected to “barney cars.” The barney cars pushed the cars up the hill in the same manner as modern rollercoaster. In fact, the first coasters were named “switchbacks” because this railroad was the world’s first rollercoaster.

At the top, the cars rolled the 9-miles to the base of Mt. Jefferson, where another steam engine pulled the empty cars up a 2070 foot plane and up 464 feet of elevation. At the top, cars were filled with coal from the quarry field and sent by gravity to the present day hillside location of approximately 200 feet up the hillside between the bridge and the Harry Packer Mansion (See Stop #4).

Once emptied down the “chutes” to the awaiting canal boats (and later railroad cars), the cars drifted to the bottom of Mt Pisgah and the process was repeated. From 1845 to 1872, coal was hauled during the day and dare-devil tourists rode at night with speeds that could exceed 60 miles per hour. In 1855 Asa Packer’s “Lehigh Valley Railroad” was completed. This line ran from Easton to Mauch Chunk and eventually serviced Sayre, PA and Buffalo, New York. It ran on the east side of the river. It is the line operated today by Norfolk-Southern. In 1872 the “Hauto Tunnel” was driven, allowing rail service directly to the mines which marginalized the Switchback as a coal hauler. From 1872 until its demise in the Great Depression, the Switchback was the second most visited tourist site in the nation (Niagra Falls was #1.).

It is said that President Grant and Thomas Edison were once passengers. In 1887, the Jersey Central built the train station we have here today. The Lehigh Valley Railroad station was in the approximate location of today’s sewage treatment plant. It had a carriage bridge across the river to allow arriving passengers access to the Mansion House Hotel. The “Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company”

Other Hikes on this Site:
Upper Switchback Railroad Hike to Mt. Pisgah
Students Explore the Fort Allen Historical Site 

STOP #2 – The Mexican and Civil War Soldiers’ Monument:

Discussion of Floods, Fire and Plague:


July 4th, 1831 – the Mauch Chunk Creek inundates Broadway causing substantial damage and consternation for this fledgling town.

June 9th, 1841 – The Mansion House bridge is swept away. Adam Beers and his wife and children, among others, are never seen again.

June 4-5th, 1862 – 5’ 1” of water in the bank lobby; 17” recorded in the Mansion House parlor; Dams of the Upper Grand section of the Lehigh Canal above Mauch Chunk are breached, sending tidal surges down the river. LC & N Company superintendent John Leisenring estimates 200 people are lost.
Upper West Broadway from 1933 flood.  Note the "Three Towers" School rooftops near pole at right as well
as sign on that pole stating "School Slow Down."  The damming of the Mauch Chunk Creek that created Mauch Chunk
Lake in the early 1970s has done much to eliminate this threat.

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.
The dam on the Lehigh just about where the Mauch Chunk Creek entered the river created enough slack water
to make a deep harbor for boats to navigate on, to load up with coal and which provided an entry onto
the Lehigh Canal.  In the picture below, taken by my grandmother Mary Strauch Rabenold in about 1903 shows
the dam has been breached  possibly after the 1901 flooding.  

Note the caption in the picture above for more details.  Also note the loaded coal cars around "Sleeping Bear"


July 15, 1849 - Started at the alley by a careless act of placing still hot coals from the cook stove beneath the wooden porch. It raced down Broadway to Susquehanna Street by a “violent” wind, crossed Broadway and burned the other side up to present day “Treasure Shop.” Every prominent business owner lost something: Packer and Leisenring lost stores; the Post Office, 2 newspapers, the jail. 23 buildings all told. Mr. Ebert fell from the 3rd floor of Conner’s Hotel (today’s Inn at Jim Thorpe.) Three released from the jail were caught looting homes and had $250 in jewelry on them and were taken to the nearest prison in Allentown. The only paper to run a story is one in Allentown on July 19th.


The summer of 1854 saw a major world-wide cholera outbreak. Hundreds died in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and London. Anywhere from 20-50 died locally, though Mauch Chunk was considered a safe haven from it, thought to be “above the cholera line.” The disease is spread through bacteria in the water and was thought to have been introduced to town by travelers, canal boatmen, or workers on Packer’s Lehigh Valley Railroad. An August 17th, 1854 account: “Some cases have been reported among the boatmen on the canal in this vicinity; but we have not heard the particulars or the result…Sickness and death: Since our last some 10-15 persons have died in this vicinity of Cholera and Cholera Morbus. Among them Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Weiss, Mrs. Leonard Blakeslee, and Mr. Joseph Hunter, Catherine Keen and child…Many more remain sick, two or our most skillful physicians among the number. Mr. West died Tuesday night and Mrs. West on Wednesday morning, leaving a large family of orphan children. We have not time to dwell further upon the mournful subject this week. Every precaution has been taken to prevent the spread of the disease.” Dr. Thompson died August 19th and Dr. Righter on October 11th.

Susquehanna Street, sometimes referred to as the “Golden Way” was the main business street. The Hotel Switzerland at one time was the center of three hotels; built in 1827, it is perhaps the oldest remaining building in Mauch Chunk.

Succession of Homes on the County Annex Parking Lot: 1829, Josiah White builds “Parkhurst.” This home served as the home for three LC & N superintendents: White, Andrew Douglas, and John Leisenring. Sometime around 1886, when Dr. and Mrs Wentz built their Victorian mansion here, “Parkhurst” was taken, piece by piece across the river and sits as a three-unit row home at the bottom of Center Street. The lower unit is a B & B named “Whitehurst” in Josiah’s honor. The mansion became a Moose Lodge and fell into disrepair. It was acquired by the County for back taxes and razed for the current parking lot.

Packer Death Succession:

1. Lucy – 1872 (41 with 3 kids; the only Packer to have children; she married Dr. Garrett Linderman who came to Mauch Chunk during the Cholera epidemic.)

2. Asa – 1879 (74)

3. Sarah Blakeslee Packer – 1882

4. Robert Sayre Packer - 1883 (40; no kids)

5. Harry Eldred Packer - 1884 (33; no kids; Mary Augusta adopted Hazel after his death.)

6. Mary Packer Cummins – 1912 (73; no kids)

Succession of Court Houses:

o 1843 -Converted LC & N stone warehouse –(When county split from Northampton)

o 1854 – Columned classical style (too small; razed)

o 1893 – Current; cut from red Devonian stone from Rockport.

STOP #3– Harry Packer Mansion:

• Used as a model for Disney’s haunted mansion;

• James Exel house built 1890; Leases Hotel Wahnetah 1895;

STOP #4 – Carriage Road -

• Top location of the “Coal Chutes” – a complex of 5 “chutes”;

• Tore down when Hauto Tunnel was built after 1872; Kemmerer married _Annie?_ Leisenring and built his home; Carriage house is all that remains; home fell in disrepair when the K’s went to Wyoming (Kemmerer WY is in Carbon County.)

• Kemmerer’s “Carriage Road” comes out at the upper edge of the Subway parking lot;

• You can begin to see why area became known as the “Switzerland of America.”

STOP #5 – Switchback Placard –

• After the Chutes, empty cars returned to the bottom of Mt. Pisgah

• Show picture of Hotel and Station; note what could be a SBRR or chute car that sits behind the home.

• Point out the lower section of the walled cemetery that is privately maintained by the Leisenring family. The Packer plot is the bottom portion of section 1 of the public section of the cemetery.  Standing on the Switchback Trail, you can see be above the rooftop of the Packer Mansion, yet be below the level where the Packers are buried, all 200 feet above Broadway.

STOP #6 – Far End of Cemetery –

• Benjamin Barge – Area educator, philanthropist and a nephew of Daniel Bertsch.  At the time of Mr. Barge's death, Harry Bobst was choir director of St. Mark's Church who modeled for the Binder Brothers who made the statue.  It weighs 100 tons and stands 80’ high.  It was brought down the Mansion House hill on horse and wagon and hoisted with horses and ropes.  Each Halloween, someone places a Jack-o-Lantern on top of his head.  It is also said that the pages of the book he is holding change from time to time, indicating that he continues to read.

• The Binder Brothers were from the bottom of River St and made many of the monuments including the Angel.

STOP #7 – Looking Down on Castle -

• Dr. Bertine S. Erwin – Friend and Physician of the Packers.

STOP #8 – Dirt Parking Lot at Top of Opera House Hill –

(This is much easier to see in Fall to Spring)

• Point out top of Mt Pisgah; Point to the Trail; encourage exploring biking out to the Lake;

STOP #9 – Behind The Old Jail –

The notice on the left is said to have been used as evidence in the Carbon County trial against the Mollie Maguires
in 1877.  These were said to be given to those who were deemed a nuisance by the Mollies, giving them notice
to change their ways before this coffin becomes "your hous."

• The Mollie Maguires were known to deliver "Coffin Notices" to people who displeased them.  These notes were threats against them for various reasons such as an unusually cruel mine boss or simply someone who spoke out against them.  The name "Coffin Notice" arrived from the threat that a coffin would soon be your house if the offender didn't change his or her ways.  It's been said the Mollies had cut the tongues out of people who spoke out against them.

  •  “Day of the Rope” – June 21, 1877: (Honoring Jefferson’s ideals?: “…All men created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” near our nation’s 101th Birthday.

o Michael Doyle, Edward Kelly & Alexander Campbell (handprint?) – Morgan Powell

o John “Yellow Jack” Donahue – Morgan Powell

o Frank Gowen: Pres. of Phila & Reading RR; P. & R. Iron Co; Schuylkill County DA: “The name Molly Maguire attached to a man’s name is sufficient to hang him.”

o Judge Lavelle: “The Molly Maguire trails were a surrender of state sovereignty. A private corporation initiated the investigation through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested the alleged defenders, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows.”

• Big Martin Leskowski – First convicted 2/16/1904 – Murder of Boardinghouse operator Mary Yanesick of Lansford; First Escape: Tricks Sheriff Rothermel’s daughter to give him some lamp oil; grabs her keys; 2nd Capture: Butte City, MT with a wife and children; Sentenced to be hanged 2/27/1909; 2nd Escape: Left water run in cell while he hack-sawed bars; Lehighton Press (2/9/17): “Mr. Leskowski is a powerfully built man, and speaks the English language rather fluently, but is also able to speak several others. He is well read, and is highly intelligent.” 3rd Capture: Tucson, AZ 2/1917 – Returned to Carbon; Execution set for July 19th, 1917 – “Gallows erected and poised;” Had he been executed, he would have been the last man in US to be hanged; all states passed laws against hanging, but his original sentence called for it; Atty James M. Breslin “won a stay;” then commuted the sentence, and was eventually pardoned and released.

• William O. Williams – 1980s; Didn’t bath or eat for weeks; lathered up; squeezed through window; hung by his head out second story.

STOP #10 – Dr. Erwin’s Castle

• A local physician and friend of Mary Packer. A bit eccentric, the house fell into disrepair while the aging doctor still lived in it. Currently, a woman of local roots owns the site and is trying to build a vacation home while keeping as much of the remaining structure as possible.

STOP #11 – At Water at Opera House

• This is the area where Josiah White experimented on the “Bear Trap” Locks – so called to keep curious on-lookers from asking questions.

• Continues across and under “Race” St – thus known as it was originally a “Mill Race;” Grist Mill, Lumber/Planing Mill and other water powered industries;

• 1882 – Harry Packer gave $1,500; others donated $1,000 to $500; “schooner”/beer mug/ship; Quaker Hutton; Vaudeville WC Fields and Mae West; Tower tore down in 1930s; Closed as a movie house in 1959; MCHS saved it in 1973; re-opened in 1982 for its 100th birthday;

• The Marion Hose Company building was constructed in 1885 with most of the financial backing coming from Mary Packer Cummings.

• The First Presbyterian Church was constructed in part from the kindness of the “Recluse of Gnaden Hutten,” (See related story here.)

END #12 – Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center

• The tour ends at the Museum where you can see models of Bear Trap Locks and a complete rendition of the 18-mile Switchback Railroad. There are many historical artifacts and informational displays on the history of Carbon County including a 20-minute video of the county’s history. The MCMCC is a non-profit organization. (See their site here.)

TOTAL TIME= 2 hours


Most of our Spring hikes were quite hot and humid.  This unauthorized stop may be the most needed, as the Rainbow's End Ice Cream and candy shop is owned by the grandparents of one of my students who took the tour two of the three nights, getting a much longed for cool and refreshing ice cream from within...