Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Famous Non-Residents of Black's Cemetery

Last year I was in the Gettysburg area visiting friends when I stumbled upon Black's Cemetery. The cemetery, located on Belmont Road (just off of Mummasburg Road), was the original site of the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church. The church is long gone but the sign at the front of the cemetery states it was built on site in 1740. This cemetery is one of the oldest in Adams County - the oldest burial I could find was 1749; further research shows that there are a couple burials from that year though I could only find one marker for that year.

I arrived at the cemetery and was immediately impressed with the overall condition of the area. As I walked the rows of old stones, I was impressed with the overall condition of the cemetery and the stones still standing. Many of the stones showed weathering, but most of them were still legible. It does appear that a number of stones are missing due to the gaps between the stones.

Wandering the grounds I found veterans of the American Revolution and a veteran of the War of 1812. The most famous people buried in this old cemetery, however, are the two who are no longer buried here. Yes, the most famous people who have been buried here are no longer buried here.

You might have heard of them. Their names are Samuel and Isabella. What? Never heard of them? They had a son, James, who you might have heard of once or twice? No, haven't heard of him either?

On August 14, 1759, James was born to Samuel and Isabella. In 1785, Samuel was forced to sell the farm in a sheriff's sale. James bought 116 acres of his father's farm. He immediately divided the 116 acres into 210 lots and on January 10, 1786, he started selling them. His desire was to have his newly laid out town become the county seat of a new county that was being proposed, so he donated land for a jail and helped raise money to offset the cost of building public buildings. The town he laid out would become infamous during the summer of 1863 when the Union and Confederacy met there.

Have you figured it out yet? The county would become Adams County and the county seat became Gettysburg, named after its founder James Gettys.

James Gettys was a veteran of the American Revolution and was a very active member of society, always looking for ways to improve and expand. He served as Brigadier General of the local militia, as sheriff for the county, and as a state legislator, just to name a few of the positions he held during his lifetime. He married Mary Todd, ancestor of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Lincoln.

In 1815, James, his wife Mary, and mother Isabella all died within a week due to "the fever." In 1865, James, Jr. returned to the area to have his ancestor's remains moved from Black's Cemetery to Evergreen Cemetery, where they still reside to this day. Evergreen Cemetery is located beside the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, along Baltimore Street.

As I wandered about the cemetery that day, the history of the area came alive. While many are drawn every year to Gettysburg to tour the battlefield and learn about the military history of the region, here in this small, backwoods cemetery I found the true history of the area. The people who settled here; the people who forged out a place in the wilderness; the people who had a vision of the future. True, they could never realize at that point what would happen when two armies collided here years later, but these settlers paved a way for generations to come.

I left the cemetery as I found it, alone on a hillside, filled with history waiting to be explored by others.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pennsylvania's First Game Refuge

Along Route 144, just south of Renovo, near the overlook of the Fish Dam Run and the area where the tornadoes touched down on May 31, 1985, is a stone marker just off the west side of the road. In the years of traveling up and down Route 144 I knew that the marker was there, but due to one reason or another I never stopped to see what the marker was all about.

Last year, while on a trip up to Kettle Creek State Park, I decided to stop and investigate the marker. The plaque on the tablet reads: "Site of First State Game Refuge 1906-1946."

The remoteness of this stretch of Route 144 would be an ideal location for a game refuge. I've often seen deer, bear, and turkey among countless other animals in this area, but I had never heard anybody talk about a game refuge ever being here.

A history of the Pennsylvania Game Commission reveals a bit about the history of the game refuges that existed within our state. On May 11, 1905, Governor Pennypacker authorized the Game Commission to establish game preserves for the protection of wildlife. While we often are graced by the fact we can see deer, turkey, and other forms of wildlife everyday, in 1905 this was not the case. Due to over hunting and the failure to conserve nature's resources, big game was rare within the state. According to many accounts only a handful of deer existed in the state due to that over hunting. Residents of the state had already wiped out the wolf and elk populations in previous years and now were on the verge of wiping out the deer, turkey and bear living within the borders of the state.

However, the cost of establishing a refuge came with a price. Once the land was selected, it was cleared of all predators; weasels, foxes, bobcats, and any other predators in the area were killed through trapping, shooting, and poison. Once the predators were exterminated then big game animals were stocked onto the game refuge.

Each refuge was roughly two to three thousand acres in size and was located on State Forest lands in hopes that the animals living in the refuges would disperse out onto public lands. Each refuge was surrounded by a 25 foot wide fire lane with a single strand of wire running the entire border of the game refuge. No one was allowed to hunt these lands and they were patrolled to make sure nobody hunted on them.

In 1919, Governor Sproul signed the bill that allowed lands to be bought to become a game refuge. By 1946, the game refuge system had allowed wildlife within the area to successfully thrive and was no longer needed. The lands were opened and hunting allowed on them.

Those refuges brought back the animal populations to our state that were gone or rapidly disappearing. These days we take the wildlife around us too often for granted, but without these early steps, we would not be able to enjoy the wildlife that abounds in the state today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Aquila Henning

I was introduced to the grave of Aquila Henning in the summer of 2009 while on a geocaching trek across Eastern Pennsylvania. While the nearby cache was on my list, a number of fellow geocachers told me that I had to visit the grave. "I've never seen anything like it before," one friend wrote, "You'll definitely be interested in seeing it."

Parking at the cemetery is almost nonexistant, I pulled off the edge of it as far as I could; my attention was immediately drawn to the largest stone standing in the middle of the Old Albrightsville Cemetery. The side facing the road had the names and dates chiseled into it and was relatively plain, but the backside of the monument told one version of the death of Aquila Henning for the world to see. Standing in the foreground is Aquila Henning with his rifle and hidden in the bushes are those men who attacked him.

As I viewed the stone, I noticed that the death date doesn't state death: it states "Shot Nov. 24, 1932." Also noted is the fact that the man in the center of the laurel, holding a pistol, is a one-armed man. In front of the one-armed man in another man kneeling, while seven faces appear to be viewing the scene from the laurel. At the bottom of the memorial are chiseled the words "An Innocent Man Sent To Eternity." Who was Aquila Henning and what happened to him? What was this story carved here for the world to see?

Yes, Aquila is the man in the foreground carrying a hunting rifle. The one-armed man actually existed: his name was Harry Wilkinson, a local school teacher who had a feud going on with Aquila Henning and his kin. Supposedly the feud started when Harry caused Aquila Jr. to be arrested for illegal hunting. Words were exchanged between Aquila, Sr. and Harry; the feelings of hostility boiled between the two and it would only be a matter of time before it would turn violent.

On Thanksgiving Day 1932, the feud would turn bloody. Aquila and his son had spent the morning hunting; fate would cause them to run into Harry Wilkinson. With Harry was his brother Robert (who was a game warden) and seven other friends who were also spending the day hunting.

Here's where things get interesting.

According to testimony given in court, Aquila's son had shot and wounded one of the Wilkinson dogs. While Harry Wilkinson knelt to examine it, Aquila Sr. stepped out of laurel, stood up on a stump and took aim at Harry. Aquila fired, missing Harry. Robert, who was nearby, saw this, drew his gun and fired upon Aquila; the bullet went through his kidneys. Aquila would make it to Palmerton Hospital before passing away from his injuries. Aquila gave a statement before passing away that he did not shoot the dog or shoot at Harry.

In January of 1933, the case against Robert Wilkinson went to trial and after a week of testimony, the case went to the jury. They were gone only a short before returning with a verdict of "Not Guilty." They did not deny that Robert shot and killed Aquila; they thought the shooting was justified in order for Robert to save Harry's life.

The Wenz Memorial Company provided a stone for the grave. The picture on the stone portrays a different version of the story with Harry and his friends ambushing Aquila. The version chiseled in the stone shows Harry preparing to shoot Aquila from ambush. This version is the story that Aquila's widow believed happened according to the testimony of her late husband.

After the erection of the monument, Harry Wilkinson sued the Wenz Memorial Company for damages, claiming that the version on the stone was all a lie to make him look bad. He lost the case.

Only three people will ever known exactly what happened that fateful day. One died soon after due to his wounds, one claimed he was protecting his brother's life, and one claimed he was hiding after being shot at and didn't see the actual shooting. What exactly happened that day will remain a mystery.

The cemetery Aquila and his family are buried in was originally a family cemetery, but has since been taken care of by St. Paul's Lutheran Church.

To visit Aquila's grave, take Route 115 south from Interstate 80 (Long Pond/Blakeslee exit). Approximately two miles southward, Route 903 branches off to the right. Take this for just shy of five miles. You'll go through the "town" of Albrightsville. Turn right onto Old Stage Road (also called Henning Road); the road turns to the right and the cemetery is straight ahead (less than one hundred yards from the intersection with North Stage Road.) There is no parking in the cemetery, so to visit, you'll want to pull your vehicle as far off the road as possible. Thankfully, there's not a lot of traffic on this backroad. Like all other cemeteries, please use respect when visiting.