Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Giants of Seville


The likeness of Anna stands over
Her and Martin's graves
Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville, Ohio
The sun was barely over the eastern horizon as I pulled through the gates of Mound Hill Cemetery on the outskirts of Seville, Ohio. I immediately turned left inside the gate and parked in the roadway. I noted that the grounds crew was busy trimming trees and mowing the grass as I flipped through my notes about the famous couple buried within the borders of the cemetery.

I stepped out of the vehicle and took in my surroundings. As I was scanning the cemetery grounds one of the men walked over to where I stood.

“They’re buried over there,” he said as he pointed towards a large monument in the midst of the field of stone. I merely stared at him unsure what to say. “You are searching for the graves of Martin and Anna Bates, aren’t you?”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “How’d you know?”

“I noticed your license plate,” he spoke. “I see you’re from out of state and most out-of-staters are looking for the Bates grave.”

Walking towards the large monument I noticed that the statue of a lady stood guard atop the marble column. The statue is a likeness of Anna Bates, one of the two giants buried here. She, along with her husband Martin, and their two children rest within the borders of the Mound Hill Cemetery.

The likeness of Anna
On top the Bates Family Stone
Martin Bates, who was known as “The Kentucky Giant,” was born November 9, 1837, in Letcher County, Kentucky, the last of twelve children. His growth spurt began when he was six or seven years old and by the age of fourteen he stood over seven feet tall.

Martin served as a school teacher who joined the Fifth Kentucky Infantry at the start of the Civil War.  I want to add a little: There seems to be a debate about Martin’s rank in the Civil War. Most sources list that he rose to the rank of Captain, but other sources state that the title Captain was an informal title. I have not been able to determine which of these is correct, but most sources do state he obtained the rank of Captain..

At the end of the Civil War, Martin returned to Kentucky. Finding that his home state was in turmoil with Union and Confederate supporters still fighting, Martin sold his property and left. He moved to Cincinnati and soon joined a circus. While the circus was in Halifax, Canada, he met Anna Swan who was visiting the circus.

A simple stone marks Martin's resting place in the shadow
Of the monument
Anna Swan Bates was born August 6, 1846 in Mill Brook, New Annan (Nova Scotia), Canada. Unlike Martin, who was of “normal” baby size when he was born, Anna weighed sixteen pounds at birth. She was the third child of thirteen and all of the others were of average height and weight. From the moment of her birth Anna grew quickly. By her fifth birthday she was four and a half feet tall and by her fifteenth birthday she was six feet tall. Anna would eventually reach the height of seven and a half feet.

Anna had a passion for literature and music and was extremely intelligent. She was noted for her singing and her ability to play the piano.

After meeting Martin, Anna began touring with the circus and the two eventually fell in love. They married June 18, 1871, while the circus was in London, England. The spectacle of their wedding drew thousands of curious Londoners who wanted to witness the ceremony. Anna would tire of traveling and would often appear at P.T. Barnum’s museum or in the homes of notable people to have tea parties.

In 1872, Martin purchased one hundred and thirty acres near the community of Seville, Ohio, where they became active members of the community. There they had a a house constructed with fourteen foot tall ceilings and doors that were eight and a half feet high. The back portion of the house had normal sized rooms for their servants and guests.

Though Anna's likeness may stand on top the memorial
Her actual resting place is a simple marker
The giant couple would have no heirs, though Anna conceived twice. The first was a stillborn girl on May 19, 1872, while they were in England. The second child was a baby boy born January 15, 1879, but sadly survived only eleven hours. The large child was twenty-three pounds, seven ounces and was shy of thirty inches long, with feet that were six inches long. His stone merely states “Babe,” on it.

To deal with their tragedy, the Bates returned to touring. They would tour for two more years before permanently retiring from the circus to the farm they owned near Seville. The two were often seen riding around town on their large carriage that was drawn by Clydesdales.

Anna would die unexpectedly in her sleep on August 5, 1888, the day before her birthday. Martin had a life-sized statue of Anna created and placed on top her grave..

He would eventually remarry in 1897 to Annette Weatherby, who was "normal" sized. Martin would pass in 1919 of nephritis (an inflammation of the kidneys) and was buried with his wife and children in Mound Hill Cemetery.

Bates Family Historical Marker
Stanhope Park, Seville
I finished paying my respects to Martin and Anna and waved my thanks to the groundskeeper as I returned to my vehicle. Exiting the cemetery, I headed towards the opposite side of town for a brief stop at Stanhope Park. Located on the western edge of town, at the intersection of West Main and Pleasant Streets, the park is what one would expect to see in small town America with some playground equipment and a pavilion. At the corner of the intersection stands an Ohio State Historical Marker that provided insight about the giant couple. After reading the information on the marker I headed out of town, leaving Martin, Anna, and family resting in the quiet of the early morning.

Finding the Bates’ grave is very easy. Enter Mound Hill Cemetery through the eastern entrance on East Main Street (this is the second entrance when coming from town). Drive straight ahead and their grave is on the left. If you choose to visit, please do so with respect.

Martin and Anna Bates
Picture from the historical marker in Seville
A note about Martin and Anna’s daughter: I do not want to sound insensitive or morbid about the subject of children dying, but there was a lot of information I searched through for facts about the Bates family. I discovered that, while the information about the son of Martin and Anna is the same in all sources, information about their first born varies.

The version that I believe to be correct is that their daughter was born May 19, 1872, in England and passed on shortly after birth. She weighed more than eighteen pounds and was a little over twenty-seven inches long.

However, there is a lot of misinformation that has been reported time and time again to be the truth. Their daughter died at birth, not months or years later. Their daughter was not a "normal" sized baby like numerous accounts have reported.

While many sources maintain that their daughter was buried in the Mound Hill Cemetery, I’m not one hundred percent sure this is correct, though a stone stating “Sister” does exist in the family plot. Some sources state she was buried in England, while others state that she was brought back to America and buried in Seville. Yet another source states that her body was donated to a museum in London. Even the Ohio Historical Marker fails to mention their daughter, instead stating that Martin, Anna, and their son are buried in Mound Hill Cemetery, so the stone may be a cenotaph.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Christy Mathewson: The Gentleman Hurler

The simple stone for Christy Mathewson
Notes his military career, but not his baseball one
Pulling onto the sacred grounds of Lewisburg Cemetery, I was instantly relieved I had directions for the grave I sought. Searching for one grave among the thousands of tombstones would be searching for that proverbial needle in the haystack. Following the directions I had with me I passed slowly through the cemetery in search of a famous, though often forgotten, son of Pennsylvania. Driving along the cemetery’s paved roadway I passed the grassy lanes that separated the sections of the cemetery and turned right onto the first paved one.

Even before I finished the turn I spotted the family plot of the gentleman I was searching for. Located almost immediately on the left side of the roadway (once I made the turn) was the family monument that marked the resting place of the Mathewson family. Parking in front of the Mathewson plot, I stepped out to see which grave site was the one I sought. I found the grave quickly and I was amazed that the stone, like the family stone, was plain and held no hint of the importance of the man who was buried there. In researching his life story, I don’t think Christy would have wanted a fancy marker and would have be pleased with the simplicity of the stone.

Resting here with his wife and son is one of the greatest baseball players of all time: Christopher “Christy” Mathewson. See the note at the end for mre information about Christy's family.

Christy was known by a number of nicknames: “Matty," “Big Six," “The Gentleman’s Hurler” and “The Christian Gentleman,” which derived from his Christian beliefs that included not pitching on Sundays. Mathewson's beliefs brought respect to the game of baseball. In a time when baseball players were known for being rough and rowdy, Christy was known for his soft-spoken ways, for his intelligence, and for avoiding cursing. even when things went sour. Christy also was known to take care of his body, avoiding the things his teammates loved: alcohol, tobacco, and fighting. 

The blond haired, blue-eyed Christy was born August 12, 1880, in the community of Factoryville in Wyoming County. After graduating high school he enrolled at Bucknell University, majoring in forestry. Christy played on the school’s football team as a fullback and punter, the basketball team as a center, and baseball team as a pitcher. In addition to school sports, Christy also played semi-pro baseball.

Christy Mathewson
Card part of author's personal collection
In 1899, he signed his first professional baseball contract with the New York Giants. The following year Christy was traded to the Cincinnati Reds and then back to the Giants the same year.

Known for his extreme control of the baseball, the right-handed Christy threw an above average fastball and a “fadeaway” pitch, which in now referred to as a screwball. In his first professional season (1901), Christy won twenty games. From 1903 to 1905 he would win at least thirty games a year. During the 1905 World Series, Christy pitched three shutout games in his three starts — an accomplishment that has never been repeated.

From 1903 to 1908, Christy led the National League in strikeouts and in 1908 he had one of the best seasons ever: he pitched thirty-four complete games (out of forty-four starts) and won thirty-seven of those games, in addition to leading the National League in strikeouts. Over a fourteen year span starting in 1903, Mathewson won twenty-three games or more each season.

In 1916, Christy was traded back to the Cincinnati Reds and ended his baseball career on September 4 of that year. In the seventeen seasons he played, Christy finished with 373 wins, 188 losses, and 2,504 strike-outs.

Interestingly, Mathewson also had a professional football career, though it was very short one. In 1902 he played fullback for the Pittsburg Stars, a position that he played for the Bucknell Bisons. Christy would only play half the season before disappearing from the team roster. The exact reason he left the team is not clear, but it is believed that he left because the Giants received word that their star pitcher was playing football and demanded he stop. More information about the Pittsburg Stars, please see the note below.

In 1918, Christy enlisted in the United States Army and would become a Captain in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson was joined in this unit by two more baseball players: Branch Rickey and Ty Cobb. The Chemical Warfare Service was to use deadly gases against the enemy to bring the war to an end, but the plan never saw action due to World War One ending Novemeber 11, 1918.

While serving in France during the war, Christy was accidentally gassed during a training exercise. Christy would spend the rest of his life fighting infections and on October 7, 1925 died of tuberculosis. Exactly when he contracted tuberculosis has been debated. Most sources claim that he contracted it as a result of the accidental gassing. However some sources, and I tend to agree with them, believe that he contracted it from his brother who died from it and the gassing only made it worse.

Christy Mathewson had the honor of being one of the first five players elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. The other four of that first class were: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner (a fellow Pennsylvanian).

Christy's grave is very easy to find. Enter into Lewisburg Cemetery and drive stright back the paved road. Turn right on the first paved roadway and his grave is next to the road almost immediately on the left side. If you choose to visit Christy Mathewson’s final resting place, please do so with respect.

Christy Mathewson
Card part of author's personal collection
A note about Chrisy's family: Christy met his future wife, Jane Stoughton while attending Bucknell.. The couple only had one son, Christopher Jr. 

Christopher attended Bucknell like his father before him, and then joined the United States Army Air Corps. On January 8, 1933, he survived a horrific crash that killed his bride, the former Miss Margaret Phillips, when the plane he was piloting slammed into a muddy field near Shanghai shortly after takeoff. Her remains were brought to Frackville, Pennsylvania, and buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

The accident cost him a leg and he had to struggle to regain the use of his arms, but he eventually recovered and remarried. This marriage ended in divorce and he took Lola Finch as his third wife. On August 16, 1950, Christopher was installing an electircal dishwasher in the basement when a spark set off a gas explosion. He managed to crawl out of the basement, but would die later that day from his burns. The disaster claimed most of the memorabila he had that belonged to his father. His wife was away at the time of the explosion.

Christy's brother, Henry also played baseball, but his is a story for another day.

Christy Mathewson
Card part of author's personal collection
A note about the Pittsburg Stars: When the team was formed in 1901, during the time frame that Pittsburgh was spelled without the “H” at the end of the name (1891 to 1911), but most modern references mistakenly call the team the Pittsburgh Stars.

The team was a part of the National Football League (not the NFL of today) and consisted of three teams: the Philadelphia Athletics, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburg Stars. The league was created by the baseball teams with the players also being members of the football teams. The Phillies and the Athletics were both sponsored by the baseball teams of the same name and it is believed that the Pirates had sponsored the Stars, but there seems to be some debate if this is true or not.

The Stars played their games at North Shore Coliseum, while the Philadelphia teams used their respective baseball stadiums. Each team played each other twice and when they weren’t facing off against each other they would play against colleges and athletic clubs around Pennsylvania and southern New York.

The championship of the league was played Thanksgiving Day between the Athletics and the Stars. The two teams played to a scoreless tie. It was decided that there would be a second game the following Saturday and the Stars won 11-0. The following week, the Athletics would beat the Phillies to secure a second place win and the city championship.

The Stars' members didn’t take much notice of their championship: they would spend the next couple of months suing to get their promised pay for playing on Thanksgiving.



Sunday, January 22, 2017

Beyond Gettysburg: The Bedford County Entrenchments

Pennsylvania Historical Marker
Located at the Civil War Entrenchments
Following the winding Route 1005, known as Snake Spring Road and Church View Road, I drove northward towards Loysburg, having left historic Route 30 in my rear view window. Armed with only GPS coordinates, I kept a watchful eye for one of the familiar Pennsylvania State Historical Markers for a piece of Civil War history that I had only recently stumbled upon.

I finally spotted the marker along the winding back road and a parking spot next to a gated camp road. I walked over to the blue historical marker and read the sign that marked the location of some Civil War entrenchments. This piece of Civil War history is one that is unknown to most people; to be honest if it wasn’t for the historical marker I would not have known exactly what I was looking at.

In 1863, the fear of a Confederate invasion was running rampant across the state of Pennsylvania. Although General Lee had attempted an invasion northward once before, nothing was done to protect the state if Lee attempted another invasion. It was not until June 9, 1863, that President Lincoln called for 100,000 volunteers to help repel any invasion of Lee’s forces.

 In an attempt to organize the volunteers, two departments within the Department of War were created: The Department of the Susquehanna and the Department of the Monongahela. These two departments were created to protect the industries within the borders of Pennsylvania, especially the areas of Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

More information about the Department of the Susquehanna and the defense of Harrisburg can be found here: Fort Couch.

One issue that neither of the two departments addressed involved the area between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh was not defended. The area now called the Laurel Highlands was technically under the responsibility of the Department of the Monongahela. The area between the Laurel Highlands eastward was under the supervision of General Couch’s Department of the Susquehanna.

The truth of the matter is that neither of the two departments did much to protect the rural areas. If General Lee had decided to move the army into Central Pennsylvania, there was nothing to stop the invasion.

If the area was to be defended, it was up to locals to defend themselves and prepare for any Confederates that may head their direction.

In early June, 1863, rumors began to circulate that a regiment of Confederate cavalry had been spotted in the Morrison Cove area. On June 14, 1863, the citizens of the region decided to take matters into their own hands.

Colonel Jacob Higgins was selected to command the volunteers. Having heard the rumors that Confederates had been spotted locally, he knew he had to take action. Colonel Higgins was worried about the defense of Altoona which was a hub of railroad activity; all trains moving east and west had to pass through the area and the Pennsylvania Railroad had their shops located there. If the Rebels decided to attack, there was nothing to stop their advance and the possible destruction of the railroad yards.

View of the entrenchments
He immediately began to call for residents to help defend the region. Under his direction, three units were formed from the men of Blair County and another unit came out of neighboring Cambria County.

The group of defenders consisted of men from the region who were too old or too young, had some sort of family responsibilities, or had some sort of physical handicapped that kept them from serving. However the threat of Confederate forces made them cast aside their responsibilities to defend their homes.

Though the group was never mustered into military they were willing to risk their lives to defend the region. While the group did not have an official title, they were referred to as the Pennsylvania Emergency Men and locally known as the Pennsylvania Minute Men.

Due to the fact the men who dug the entrenchments were untrained and poorly equipped they resorted to living off whatever they could find, including stealing food from locals. Locals referred to the group of defenders not as Minute Men, but as “The Chicken Raiders,” because of the number of chickens they stole for food.

The first place that the defenders fortified was McKee’s Gap. The gap was viewed as the most logical way for the invaders to cross into the Altoona region. Once Higgins and his men took control of the gap, they set about defending it. With their own picks and shovels, they built entrenchments and placed obstructions in the roadway. The defenders quickly had the gap defended as they prepared themselves for the Southern invaders..

A note about the entrenchments: According to a handful of sources, there was a cannon or two staged on platforms on top of Dunnings and Short Mountains to guard the road through the gap.  There appears to have been a request for four to six cannons, but they were never delivered. Local histories claim that at least one cannon was present to help defend the gap, but I cannot say for sure that they did or did not exist..

On June 24, one of the detachments was moved to Loy’s Gap to erected defenses. The gap had some entrenchments built within the gap, but they have been destroyed over the years.

A note about Loy’s Gap: For some reason many of the histories of the region state that the defenders moved south from the gap and into Loy’s Gap. Looking at maps of the region, Loy's Gap is slightly to the northeast of McKee’s Gap, not south of it, unless there was another gap to the south that was also called Loy’s Gap, which is a possibility.

The following day, June 25, another of the detachments was ordered to move to St. Clairsville, west of Loysburg. On June 26, yet another detachment, this one led by Colonel Higgins, was ordered to move southward to Bloody Run (present-day Everett).


a view from the entrenchemtns
On July 1, the Pennsylvania Minute Men were asked to be mustered into service for a period of six months. The majority of the men making up this emergency regiment could not agree to the terms, so the group was disbanded and the men returned home.

Local histories report that the Pennsylvania Minute Men did see some action. The detachment that moved to Bloody Run had a shoot-out with a detachment of General Jenkins’ cavalry. After a brief fire fight, both sides retreated.

I returned to my surroundings, standing on top of an embankment. These entrenchments disappeared back into the woods, headed westward. On the east side of the road I could see what appeared to be more entrenchments, but due to the thick undergrowth I was not able to determine how far they went into the woods in that direction.

The walls of the entrenchments were roughly six feet tall and they appeared to go a couple hundred yards into the woods. They are still in excellent condition and as I stood there I could imagine the defenders lying in wait for forces that would never arrive this deep into the heart of Pennsylvania.

If you choose to visit the location, the entrenchments are very close to the top of the mountain pass. There is a blind hill that is near the entrenchments, but parking is available in the same side as the entrenchments, so crossing the road is not an issue. Cars crested the hill faster than anybody should drive on this road, so please be careful when visiting.

Please be respectful of the grounds not only due to the historical importance, but because I am not sure if the entrenchments are on private or public property. I did not venture too far into the woods, because the line of defense can be seen clearly away from the road. Again, please be respectful if you choose to visit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fort Couch



Monument for Fort Couch, Lemoyne
In the distance, there was a storm brewing, both figuratively and literally. Standing on the breastworks overlooking Harrisburg, Camp Hill, Lemoyne, and Mechanicsburg, I could see the storm in the distance. The storm that brought me here was an approaching battle as the Confederate army advanced northward into Pennsylvania.

However another storm, a physical one, was on the horizon.

"So much for a nice day," I muttered knowing that the black clouds would be upon me very soon. But the weather was not about to stop me from exploring this historic piece of land. Nestled among the residences of Lemoyne, the remnants of Fort Couch stand preserved on the hill overlooking the Cumberland Valley and Harrisburg itself.

A handful of markers scattered around the area explained the importance of this piece of land. I will be the first to admit the mound of dirt that stretched across the park did nothing at first to capture my attention. Without reading the signs to discover what I was looking at, I would not have had a clue of the importance of this place.

Existing entrenchments that were
A part of Fort Couch
I first stumbled upon Fort Couch while researching the Harrisburg region. Finding a reference to a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker for Fort Couch, I knew I had to discover more about the fort that defended the capitol during the Civil War.

As I looked into the history of the Civil War fortification, I discovered that the actions that happened in the countryside surrounding Harrisburg have often been overlooked. I, like most people, hear the words "Pennsylvania" and "Civil War" and instantly think only of Gettysburg. Other events that happened within the borders of the state are often forgotten. Some histories in the past have mentioned Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, the famous Bucktail regiment, and the bombardment of Carlisle, along with the burning of Chambersburg, but it has only been recently that historians and authors have focused attention on the events in Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg, and the surroundings communities.

Fort Couch was a part of a series of forts and breastworks that were hastily erected in the June of 1863 as a means of defending Harrisburg. By late spring/early summer of 1863, reports of the approaching Confederate Army had Harrisburg in a panic. General Lee had once before attempted to take the war into the northern states, but had failed with his defeat at Antietam. Lee was now moving his army northward and Pennsylvania was not prepared for an invasion.

The Federal Government responded to the northward movement of Lee's army by creating two new departments within the Department of War: the Department of the Susquehanna and the Department of the Monongahela. On June 9, 1863, these were created to protect the industries within the borders of Pennsylvania.

On top of the breastwork of Fort Couch
The Department of the Monongahela was headed by General William T.H. Brooks. This department was to oversee fortifications in Western Pennsylvania and portions of Ohio and Virginia. General Brooks made his headquarters in Pittsburgh, which he made sure was fortified. After Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, the forts around Pittsburgh were abandoned and the volunteers were sent home.

The Department of the Susquehanna was to protect the lands between Johnstown and Harrisburg and eastward into Philadelphia. Its primary goal was to protect the city of Harrisburg and keep the Confederate Army from crossing the Susquehanna River at any cost.

General Darius Couch was placed in command of the newly created Department of the Susquehanna. Couch had commanded the II Corps under General Hooker’s leadership of the Army of the Potomac. After the disastrous Chancellorsville campaign, when Hooker decided to retreat rather than push towards victory, General Couch requested a transfer which was quickly granted.

Upon his arrival in Harrisburg, General Couch discovered there was a lot work had to be done in order to protect the state capital. While the city was in a panic, the residents had done very little to protect themselves from the threat of the approaching Confederate Army. In reality, saying they did little is an over-statement: it seems they did nothing but complain that nothing was being done.

Between June 14 and 19 of 1863 a hastily erected fort was built on the western bank of the Susquehanna River to protect the railroad and toll bridges that crossed the river. If the Confederate invaders captured this piece of high ground, Harrisburg would be at the mercy of the Confederate Army.

The first fort was named Fort Washington. It covered sixty acres and had twenty-five cannons to defend it. However, the fort had one weakness: a higher hill, roughly half a mile away, that if captured, would allow Confederate artillery to bombard Fort Washington. Fort Washington was located in the area of Cumberland Street in Lemoyne.

Fort Couch
General Couch immediately set out to erect another set of breastworks on the higher grounds to the southwest. Using African American railroad workers and volunteers, the breastworks were erected to defend the fort that was built to defend Harrisburg. General Couch would name this fort after himself.

After the completion of Fort Couch, it was decided that more breastworks were needed to be built to help defend Harrisburg. These breastworks were located on Haldeman's Hill to the southwest of Fort Couch.

Both Forts Washington and Couch and the connecting breastworks were manned by volunteers from Pennsylvania and New York. From the beginning there were major issues between the volunteers and the citizens of Harrisburg. The New York volunteers thought that the residents of Harrisburg were lazy and had no motivation to defend themselves. And, they did have a valid point: only a handful of volunteers came out of Harrisburg to help erect the forts and breastworks. Most of the citizens claimed they would help build defenses for their city only if they were paid. Thanks to the African American community and the Pennsylvania Railroad the breastworks were erected.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker
For Fort Coouch
As more soldiers arrived in the city, the tensions between the residents and volunteers increased. The New Yorkers already had an opinion of Harrisburg's citizens. Meanwhile, the citizens of Harrisburg thought that the New York Volunteers believed they were better than others. Residents began accusing the New Yorkers of helping themselves to chickens, eggs, and crops; of looting houses; and of destroying fences and outbuildings for firewood.

The New York Volunteers blamed the thefts on the Pennsylvania Volunteers. The Pennsylvanians denied the thefts and blamed the New Yorkers. Despite the volunteers fighting among themselves, they were united by their hatred of the citizens of Harrisburg.

The fears of the approaching Confederate Army were not unfounded, though they did not arrive as quickly as concerned, citizens feared they would arrive in the city. The army would advance as close as Mechanicsburg. Here on June 30, two Confederate Calvary units under the command of General Albert Jenkins clashed with New York militia forces and members of Landis's Philadelphia Battery at the Battle of Sporting Hill. The skirmish left sixteen dead and thirty to forty soldiers injured on both sides.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Sporting Hill, General Jenkins pulled his forces back to Carlisle. Never again would Confederate forces get this far north. In a little over a week the Confederate Army would pull completely out of Pennsylvania, retreating back into the Shenandoah Valley.

Though the forts were there as a means of defense, thankfully the hastily erected breastworks never had to be fully tested by the main force of the Confederate Army. The height of the breastworks made it almost impossible for the cannons to be effective; once the invaders got close the Union were not able to maneuver the cannons to fire down the slope.

Standing on top the breastworks, I could not help but be taken in by my surroundings. The view from the top of this hill was amazing though most has been blocked over the years by developments. At places one can still see quite a distance. I could only imagine the view from the area in June 1863.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Fort Couch
The dark clouds had finally arrived and a cold rain started to fall as I made my own retreat back to the vehicle, bringing an end to my day's journey. The Battle of Sporting Hill would have to wait another day as the cold rain turned to a mix with some snow.

Sadly as I looked into the history of Fort Couch, I discovered that these breastworks are the only thing remaining from the defense of Harrisburg. All the other forts and camps built in the Harrisburg area are gone - victims of progress as the capitol region expanded.

The remains of Fort Couch are on public grounds along Indiana Avenue and can easily be visited. Parking can be found on any of the streets bordering the remnants of Fort Couch. I would ask that you remember to treat the area with the respect it deserves as a part of our state's Civil War history.

A note about the location of Fort Washington: The fort was located in the area of Cumberland Road. Nothing remains of the fort and the area where it existed is all privately owned.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Powell Squib Factory Disaster

Memorial for  the victims of the
Powell Squib Factory Disaster
Shawnee Cemetery, Plymouth
Resting on the hills overlooking Plymouth and the Wyoming Valley is the Shawnee Cemetery. Named in honor of the Shawnee Indians who once lived on the flats along the Susquehanna River, this sacred spot is the final resting place of many of the town’s residents.

Founded in 1870, Shawnee Cemetery has veterans from the Revolution to Vietnam resting on its thirteen and a half acres. Among those resting here is US Congressman Stanley Davenport and some of the victims of one of the most infamous mining disasters in Pennsylvania’s history: the Avondale Mine Collapse — a disaster that had a death toll of 110 miners; four of the deceased are buried here. I imagine if I searched through the cemetery records I would find more victims of mining accidents and disasters; after all, Plymouth grew from the mining of anthracite coal. But today I was seeking a memorial to another disaster.

After navigating the maze of streets I finally arrived at the Shawnee Cemetery located on the western edge of Plymouth. For years the cemetery had been forgotten and neglected but thankfully in recent years volunteers have cleaned up the grounds returning the cemetery to its former glory.

Parking near the Civil War plot I could see the large marker I was searching for standing a couple yards away. I walked down the roadway to the small plot of land marked by a memorial of white bronze. I paused at the opening in the iron fence that surrounded the memorial to pay my respects to the ten people buried here before stepping onto this sacred piece of land. The monument was in memory of a mining-related disaster that rocked the community of Plymouth.

Walking around the memorial, I quietly whispered each of the names listed on three of the four sides of the memorial. The victims, most of whom were young girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two, worked at the Powell Squib Factory. On February 25, 1889, they would become victims of a massive explosion that rattled dishes and knocked pictures off the walls of the community.

The factory was owned by John Powell and it produced squibs, which are paper straws filled with black powder with fuses at each end (in many cases, squibs are mistakenly referred to as fuses). Squibs were used in helping to break up coal. Holes were drilled into the wall of coal and squibs would be placed in these holes and lit. The resulting small explosions would break up the coal.

One side of the memorial
Mary, Esther, Ruth, and Maggie
The job of producing the squibs was a dangerous one and sadly it was a job that was often done by teenage girls as a means of providing family income. Creating squibs meant that the girls were working among kegs of black powder and boxes of prepared squibs. These items were often stored in the basement of the factory with the girls working on the floor above.

Normally the kegs of black powder were stored in a magazine located about one hundred yards away from the main factory. It is believed that on the day of the disaster, due to the size of the explosion, there were more kegs than normal being stored in the basement of the factory.

A second danger in making squibs was working near an open flame. In order to provide heat for the workers, there were fires burning within the factory. The Powell Squib Factory had three stoves burning to provide heat for the girls.

These two hazards were bad enough, but the means of disposing squibs that did not meet the standard (or faulty ones) usually was done by tossing them into one of the fires. Often workers would humor themselves by tossing the faulty squibs into the fire so they could witness the small explosions.

The Powell Squib Factory had been erected near the mouth of the Gaylord Mine. (The Gaylord Mine would suffer its own disaster in 1894. On February 13, the roof collapsed, claiming the lives of thirteen miners, six of whom are buried in Shawnee Cemetery.)

The Powell Squib Factory normally had eighty to ninety girls working but on the fateful day of February 25 only eleven girls, plus the foreman, were present. There were two factors that kept the death total from being greater than it was. First, many of the girls had been furloughed because one of the machines used to produce squibs was broken. At the time of the disaster the factory only had forty girls employed.

A second factor that saved a lot of the girls who were still working was the disaster occurred at lunchtime. It was common for the majority of the girls to return home and eat lunch with their family. Had the explosion happened ten or fifteen minutes later, the disaster would have claimed more lives.

One side of the memorial
Mary, Kate, Jane, and Hettie
On February 25, 1889, shortly before one in the afternoon, the town of Plymouth would be shaken by a deafening explosion. The blast blew the roof off of the Powell Squib Factory (reports state it lifted five feet into the air before it came crashing down) and fire enveloped the remains of the building. Within ten minutes of the initial explosion the building had vanished into a pile of ash.

In the moments after the explosion, miners rushed out of the Gaylord Mine Shaft in an attempt to rescue those within the factory, but were driven back by the flames. Firemen arrived within minutes but stood helpless because the hoses could not reach the nearest water source.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the bodies of ten girls were discovered. Only one, Margaret “Maggie” Lynch, was able to be identified and that was only due to the clothing she was wearing. Maggie was not buried with the other victims in the in Shawnee Cemetery. Her family took her remains to Larksville and had her buried in St. Vincent’s Cemetery. The memorial in Shawnee Cemetery makes no mention of Maggie.

Only one person would briefly survive the disaster. George Reese, who was the foreman on duty, was thrown out of the building by the blast. Reese would initially blame the disaster on a box of squibs that spontaneously combusted. He would quickly change his story blaming Katie Jones for the disaster. Reese claimed that Jones and another girl had been examining the squibs and were tossing the defective ones into the fire. In the process of sorting through the squibs she had accidentally tossed a live one into the stove and the resulting spark set the nearby lot of squibs on fire. This caused a series of explosions leading up to the blast that destroyed the factory.

Shortly before his death, Reese changed his story and confessed that he had been smoking in the basement. A spark from his pipe ignited the kegs of black powder stored there causing the massive explosion. His body would join the other victims buried in the plot in Shawnee Cemetery.

I shuddered as I stood there. So many young lives lost in the violent explosion. I quietly whispered each name before I left them resting overlooking the town they once called home, in the peace and silence of the cemetery.

A list of the victims of the Powell Squib Factory disaster
Maggie Lynch (age 21)
Katie Jones (age 20)
Hettie Jones (age 16)
Gladys Reese (age 15)
Mary Walters (age 17)
Maggie Richards (age 17)
Mary A. Lake (age 17)
Ruth Powell (age 19)
Ester Powell (age 22)
Jane Ann Thomas (age 16)
Charlotte Humphries (age 18)
George Reese (age 41)

Finding the memorial is easier than finding the cemetery, which is located on West Mountain Road. Entering into the cemetery, the Civil War plot is immediately in front of you. The memorial for the victims of the disaster is just to the left of the Civil War plot. As with all cemeteries, please be respectful if you choose to visit.


One side of the memorial
Gladys and George
A note about the deceased: I have found a number of lists that include a Ruth Walters as a victim. While initial reports have her name listed, she disappears out of the newspaper articles almost immediately. I believe that either she was found alive or the name was a misprint for Ruth Powell.

Ruth and Ester Powell were sisters. They were the nieces of the factory owner, John Powell.

Gladys Reese was the daughter of foreman George Reese.

There seems to be a debate about the final resting place of Charlotte Humphries, which is also spelled Humphreys in some of the newspaper articles. All the early newspaper articles list Charlotte as a victim of the disaster. Reading the names listed on the memorial, she (like Maggie Lynch) is not listed on the memorial. The question arises of her burial location. Some accounts have her listed as being buried with the other girls, but most accounts state she was not buried in Shawnee Cemetery. I have not read any place that her remains had been identified and buried in a family plot.  I would like to think she was buried with the other victims, but her final resting place remains a mystery to me at this time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Along the Way: Billy Cox

The simple grave of William R. "Billy" Cox
Newport Cemetery, Newport
“So who are we looking for this time?” my father asked as I drove slowly along the roadway that meandered through the Newport Cemetery.

“Billy Cox,” I responded. “He was a baseball player.”

“You know where he’s buried at in here?”

“I’m not really sure,” I replied. To be honest while I knew I was looking for Billy Cox, the stop at the cemetery was a spur of the moment decision. I had not really done the amount of research I needed to do in order to locate his grave.

“There are two guys over there,” dad observed as he pointed to a shed at the edge of the cemetery. I parked and walked over to ask them if they knew the location of Billy Cox’s grave.

Th older gentlemen responded. “Go back over to the Memorial Park section. Go halfway down the hill and he’s on the right side of the road.” Following his instructions I parked and dad and I started our search for him with no luck. While his vague directions narrowed the search area down,, dad and I spent almost thirty minutes scanning the stones in search of Billy’s grave with no luck. I was about ready to give up when I finally discovered the resting place of Billy Cox.

The simple stone bears no markings that would hint at Billy’s career. Nothing would suggest that here lies a professional baseball player who played third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Baltimore Orioles.

Billy Cox: Baltimore Orioles
Baseball card part of author's personal collection
William Richard “Billy” Cox was born in Newport on August 28, 1919. His father played semi-pro baseball and the love of the game was passed on to Billy, who was an outstanding athlete in high school.

In 1940 Billy, who batted and threw right-handed, signed to play shortstop for the Harrisburg Senators in the Interstate League. That season he batted .288 with 24 doubles, 5 triples, and 8 home runs. The following year he led the league in batting, hits, doubles, and total bases. In September of 1941 he was called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates. On September 20, Billy played the first of ten games with them, batting a .270.

The following year he, like many of the baseball players of the time, entered military service. On February 9, 1942, he entered into service with the 814th Signal Corps. During World War Two Billy would see action around the world including Guadalcanal, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany.

In late 1945 Billy returned home and on November 19 he was discharged from service at the Fort Indiantown Gap Separation Center. Billy immediately returned to Newport and on November 26 married his long-time sweetheart Annie Radle.

On February 1, 1946, Billy once again signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would play one season with them before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He would play eight seasons with Brooklyn, helping them win three pennants, before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1955. He played one season with that team, having his worst batting average (.211) in the eleven years he played professional ball.


Billy Cox: Brooklyn Dodgers
Baseball card a part of the
Author's personal collection
On June 11 1955, at the trading deadline, Billy was traded to the Cleveland Indians, but would not report to his new team. He did meet with Al Lopez, the manager of the Cleveland Indians (who were the reigning American League champions), and resolved to retire due to his legs being all bruised and swollen. On June 17, Billy Cox’s professional baseball career came to an end. Billy returned home and checked himself into the hospital to be treated for a hernia. He would continue residing in Newport until his death on March 30, 1978 at the age of fifty-eight.

During his professional career Billy had a .262 batting average, with 66 home runs and 351 runs batted in.

The baseball fields at the Veterans Community Park in Newport are named in his honor.

Finding Billy’s grave can be a little bit of a challenge. Enter into the Newport Cemetery and go to the Memorial Park portion, which is in the rear left portion of the cemetery. Turning onto the roadway that leads into it (it is the only roadway) go about fifty yards and park. Billy’s grave is on the right only a couple stones off of the roadway.

And as always, if you choose to visit, please be respectful of your surroundings. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Simeon Pfoutz: Lord of the Kettle Creek Valley

Memorial to Simeon and Susannah Pfoutz
The wind whipped around me as I stepped out of the vehicle at the overlook at the Alvin Bush Dam. From the overlook along State Route 4001, I had a view of the dam and the southern end of the Kettle Creek Reservoir, one that was breath-taking and absolutely beautiful.

Standing there, my attention was drawn to a monument. The plaque on it was in memory of early settlers Simeon and Susannah Pfoutz. Simeon was the first white man to settle in the Kettle Creek Valley.

Simeon being the first white man to settle in the Kettle Creek Valley is a technicality. He was actually not the first settler on Kettle Creek. Richard Gilmore had originally staked a claim of land at the mouth of Kettle Creek. I can’t find any histories that state Gilmore actually lived on the land. However there was a James Caldwell who settled near the mouth of the creek in 1796. Caldwell was a Revolutionary War soldier who moved into the area that is present-day Westport, at the mouth of Kettle Creek. While Caldwell might have settled along Kettle Creek, Simeon was technically the first to lay down roots within the boundaries of the valley.

Simeon, though not the first in the region, is listed as the first settler of Leidy Township. The township was formed in 1847 and Simeon’s homestead was within the borders of the newly formed township, making him the first settler in Leidy Township.

Plaque on the memorial
Simeon was described as being physically strong with a sense of reckless danger that often took him on some wild adventures.

This sense of adventure is what first brought him into the region. His ancestors had settled in Perry County in the valley that still bears the family name: Pfoutz Valley. While exploring the region north of Renovo, he discovered a wilderness valley that also bears his name in the Tamarack region near the headwaters of Paddy Run.

While the valley he discovered bears his name, Simeon would settle in the Kettle Creek Valley in 1813. The piece of land he had selected as his homestead was located roughly eight miles upstream from the mouth of Kettle Creek. He spent that summer clearing the land for a farm and building a home. In the autumn of 1813 he returned to Perry County where he spent the winter with his wife and young son. The following spring he packed up and returned to Kettle Creek with his family and friend Paul Shade.

Arriving at the mouth of Kettle Creek, they unloaded their supplies onto a large canoe and proceeded up the stream. When they arrived at the location Pfoutz had selected, the two men began improving upon the initial work Simeon had done the year before.

Simeon’s adventures in the wilderness are still talked about in the region. On one of his hunting expeditions about a mile downstream from his home, Simeon discovered three panther cubs and gathering them up he headed for home. A short distance from his house he heard the terrifying scream of the mother panther. It was a race for the house with the large panther closing in on him. He barely made it to the house, dropped the cubs and grabbed his rifle, shooting the panther in mid-leap. The dead panther landed at his feet. On another hunting trip Simeon killed four panthers in one day.

In the spring of 1815 Simeon and Susannah welcomed a baby daughter, Martha (known to her friends and family as Mattie), the first white child born in the Kettle Creek Valley. In all, the Pfoutz’s would have nine children.. There does seem to be some debate on the year Mattie was born: some sources state 1815, while others state 1816. Whichever date is correct, she was still the first white child born in the Kettle Creek Valley. The first wedding that took place in the Kettle Creek Valley was Mattie to Isaac Summerson.
Kettle Creek Reservoir from the memorial location
Simeon’s family would live through the the horrific events of 1816. The year 1816 has been referred to as “The Year Without a Summer” and also “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death,” due to much lower than normal temperatures. North central Pennsylvania had snowfalls of close to twelve inches on April 30 and again on May 10 and in many places the snow remained on the ground until late June. July and August of that year had killing frosts which destroyed any crops that were planted and managed to start growing.

See note at the end of the article for more information about “The Year Without a Summer.”

While I cannot verify this to be true, I want to share a story about Simeon, who believed he was lord of the Kettle Creek Valley due to being the first white man to settle there. He believed that everybody who settled in the valley after he did owed him a portion of their crops and harvest.  It seemed that many of the early inhabitants of the Kettle Creek Valley did not object to (or if they did, they did so silently) Simeon taking a portion of their crops.

However he met his match with Jacob “Old Jake” Hammersley who settled at the mouth of the stream that bears his name along with Archie Stewart. In 1824, Hammersley settled on the east bank and Stewart built a dwelling on the west bank.
Another view of the reservoir from the lookout

Pfoutz, believing that Jake owed him, traveled the twelve miles upstream to help himself to Hammersley’s crops. Pfoutz had gathered over half of Hammersley’s cabbage crop when Jake approached him to find out what was going on. Though Simeon was larger and stronger, Old Jake was much quicker. The fight ended with Simeon knocked down, unable to rise, and the cabbage crop completely destroyed. Jake managed to get Simeon back in the canoe and pushed it off, allowing it to drift downstream.
Simeon would continue to gather crops from the early settlers, despite their protests. Only Jake Hammersley’s crops were avoided. This would continue until Isaac “Iky” Corns arrived in the Kettle Creek Valley. Words were exchanged and Isaac beat Simeon badly in a fist fight, compelling Simeon to limit his crop gathering to his own backyard.

A side note: When he passed away Isaac Corns was buried in the Minnie Calhoun Cemetery. His body was removed to the New Maple Grove Cemetery with the flooding of the Kettle Creek Valley.

One of Simeon’s habits was picking up rattlesnakes and playing with them. He had done this countless times without incident but on August 26, Simeon's luck ran out. Simeon was demonstrating the harmless nature of the venomous snake when it sunk its fangs into him. "The Lord of the Kettle Creek Valley" would die from the snake's strike.

I reread the brief mention of the history of Simeon and Sussanah Pfoutz on the plaque before enjoying the view from the overlook. The location of the Pfoutz homestead was near the location of the memorial. The family cemetery was located on the north shore of the Kettle Creek just north of the memorial. When Kettle Creek was dammed, the family cemetery (called the Pfoutz-Wertz Cemetery) was moved out of the valley to North Bend Cemetery.

If you decide to take a  trip up the Kettle Creek Valley and stop at this monument, the overlook it is located at is on a blind curve on a narrow road. Please be cautious pulling in and out of the parking lot.

More information about the flooding of the Kettle Creek Valley can be found here: The Kettle Creek Project.

Grave of Simeon Pfoutz
North Bend Cemetery
Grave of Susannah Pfoutz
North Bend Cemetery

Some notes about 1816: The Year Without a Summer

What exactly caused the bizarre weather of 1816 has been debated over the years. It is now believed that the cause of the strange weather of 1816 was the result of volcanic activity. From 1812 to 1814 there were four volcanic eruptions that had put a large amount of ash and dust into the air and had already caused below average temperatures around the world. The explosion of Mount Tambora in 1815 was one of the most powerful explosions in history and placed even more dust into the atmosphere. This dust reflected solar heat resulting in cooler weather than normal.

Snow in June had drifts of eighteen inches high in Philadelphia. In the New England states, July and August had temperatures as low as forty degrees. The cold was bad enough that the frozen birds were falling from the sky onto the streets of Montreal and any animals left outside too long froze to death. On August 20 a snow storm moved through the New England states killing what little crops had managed to survive through the strange weather, and snow on September 26 froze what remained of the apple crop. Food crops were so scarce that prices were double and triple the normal price.

One thing that names like “The Year Without a Summer” and “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death” fail to reveal is the weather was not consistently cold. Temperatures would rise to almost normal, and slightly higher than normal is some cases, before rapidly plunging back to freezing temperatures.