Two years ago I began the planning of this dive. The planning was done within a week or two, but working out the schedule was another story. My dive buddy Shane Keller is a busy man, as am I. But now, two years later, we got it done. During my planning I searched maps, as usual, for the shortest route to get us to this dam. According to my original post, we would have to hike a little over 3 miles in from Rt. 183. This is a tough hike, even without gear, with gear… miserable, and requiring 2 trips. So I had to find a better way. You will also notice, from that original post, that I really didn’t know a lot about this dam, as it seems from my time online and contacting people, that not too many do. The information is scattered and a seemingly much forgotten part of history, which is sad, because I was amazed at what I found, as well as impressed and proud of the ingenuity of some of the folks in the rural small town area the I grew up in. I grew up in Rehrersburg Pennsylvania, which will figure into this a bit, as you will see. But we will get into the history in a minute. In September of 2011, I hiked into this location from Rt. 183. This is about a 3 mile hike, perhaps 3.4 miles as I have heard, and it is a rough one toward the end. Coming down into this gap, Schubert’s gap, is steep and rocky. The climb back out is grueling if you aren’t up for it. I had already decided that I wanted to dive this pond, but had to get some details. I took my dive computer with me that day, and a length of rope/string. I wanted to get the depth and temperature of the water, so I tied the string to my dive computer, and started hurling it off of the dam to various locations, letting it settle, then reeling it back in, the whole while praying it wouldn’t get hung up on any unseen obstruction. The deepest depth that I found was 12 feet, and the water was a chilly 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Pretty cold, and not very deep. That is the temperature of a quarry that I like to dive at 90 feet, so… wow. I have the wet suit required for this though, so it’s still a go. Now.. to find a shorter route. A few weeks later, I believe we were into early October at this point, I was searching maps on google, and found that my best way in was to try to get into Arrowhead Estates. There are, what appeared to be, dirt roads that would get me close. I had already hiked a trail leading down the mountain directly below the dam, and found a dirt road with a small bridge across the creek that comes from the dam, Schubert’s Creek. There is a curious looking round building that I knew I would be able to spot on aerial maps as a point of reference. So, with maps printed and in hand, with notes marking my proposed route, I made my way back to the mountain, but this time to see how far into Arrowhead Estates I could get. Not far was my answer. This is a gated community. As luck would have it though, on that day, the gate was open. Should I chance it? I could get locked in behind that gate. Never one to let much stop me, I continued, this might be my only shot. I followed my mapped route up the mountain. The road is quite rough, but manageable if you are careful, even with a car, but I sure wish I had one of my previous four wheel drive vehicles back again. Up the road I went, up to the old Shikellamy Scout Camp and it’s lake. Around the lake to the left, then a left into the tree line, then a right, and up we go. The dirt road held, just as it looked it may on the aerial photos. Homes tucked in trees. Not permanent dwellings, but camps if you will, cabins, but not in the truest sense. They mostly look like regular homes. This community, as I was to find out later, is a part time residence for people looking to get away to the mountain on weekends, or whenever schedules permit. I continued up this road and found the curious round building. Now I had a route, but there was a legal issue. I may be trespassing for all I know. I didn’t see any signs, but you don’t have a locked gate across your road without a reason. The Arrowhead sign did say it was a private community though I believe. So after finding my way up, I turned around and made my way back down, taking note of some for sale signs on wooded lots. I sure do wish I had the money, as this is an area that I have spent a lot of time in my life, and would love to have a place up here. Nevertheless, it was time to get out before the gate was closed and locked, if it wasn’t already. Cringe. Back down the hill, past all the homes I wish I could have a home up the road from, around the old scout camp lake, down the rest of the way and….. the gate is still open. Relief. I passed through, and then parked off to the left. There is a community bulletin board that I wanted to look over and see what information I could glean from it. I got out of the car, and started perusing this board, when not a minute later, someone came driving down the dirt road I had just made my own escape on, and didn’t he get out and lock the gate up behind him. Wow, close call. But this was also my chance. Being the honest person I am, I admitted my trespass to him, and continued to tell him what I was looking to do. To dive in that cold pond further up the mountain. He was very friendly, welcoming even, and gave me his phone number, and informed me that he was the President of the Home Owners Association up there, and he would get me in anytime, right up to where I had wanted to launch this little ‘expedition’ from. Of all the luck! Wow. Kismet. Or something. I tend to fall butt backward into luck, I swear. But I am always grateful, and try to never take it for granted. Enjoy everything. Live a life while you have breath in your lungs. I kept this phone number, got a hold of Shane and told him my progress. We had a solid plan, now just the timing. And that’s where we were stuck. Every time it was good for one of us it wasn’t good for the other. As I said before, we are both busy fellas. There was no rush, we could get this done whenever. So as it would happen, 2 years after the initial plans were set, the chance arose. We had a weekend that lined up, just one day really. Sunday, the 18th of August, 2013 I woke around 7 am and began going through gear, sorting out just what I would need, and packing it into my car. I had gone to Hershey to the dive shop there the day before, Saturday, because I wanted to make sure I had a full tank. We would each only be bringing one tank, since the depth was so shallow it was basically a large swimming pool. But I wanted to get all the time I could and my tank was down a few hundred PSI. The dive shop is Diver’s Descent, and John Weaver (scroll to the bottom) was working that day. He took my tank back for a fill, they have 32% Nitrox banked, so it wasn’t a problem to get the fill. I told them it only needed a few hundred and that I would gladly pay for a full fill for their time. When he returned he informed me that it only took about 300 psi, and that he wouldn’t charge me for it. What a great shop!! (that’s why I included the links). I did purchase 10 lbs of weight, and of course promised that I would be back for another tank fill, they are my local shop, where else would I go. I also told him and another fella that showed up what we were up to after I was asked if I was headed to Dutch Springs for the weekend. Not sure if they found my plans interesting or crazy, but either way, I think my plans are both a little crazy and interesting, and that’s what matters. 🙂 So my car is packed, and Shane was already on his way to our meet up spot from Maryland. I met up with Shane around 11:30am, and moved his gear to my car and off we went. I had contacted the fella that I met 2 years ago, in the last few weeks, once I knew that the weather would work in our favor and that plans were still solid. I asked if he remembered me, and he did. Great news. He would also be available that day to get us in the gate. Fantastic. Charlie is a great guy, and when we called him from the gate, he headed down and let us in. He took us to his cabin, invited us inside, and then proceeded to tell us that he will be in and out all day, but he would leave a key for us to get into his place so we could shower, etc. WOW!! Talk about hospitality! He barely knows me, and he has never met Shane before. We talked about that most of the rest of the day on and off. We just couldn’t believe there are still people that kind out in the world. We though, being the sort that we are, I suppose ‘raised right’ would be a term I would use here, were absolutely not going to overstay our welcome in any way. We were so grateful that someone was willing to help us out and get us access to this great little pond. We headed the rest of the way up to, and then across, the little creek, and found a parking spot tucked in the trees. Charlie came up the road a short time later just to make sure we found our way up there, again, what a great guy. We still have an open invitation from him to come up anytime, all we have to do is let him know. I don’t use last names here often, in case you are wondering, because I don’t want people who are kind to me to be pested.
We unpacked gear and began organizing it all onto two dollies I had rented from Uhaul the day before. I wonder if they have ever had dollies rented for quite such a reason. These turned out to be more of a hindrance about 200 feet up the trail, and we abandoned the idea, and just carried all the gear in two trips, but now we were carrying dollies with us too. It didn’t take long though, and now we had all of our gear up at the dive site, almost a quarter mile straight up the mountain from the car. We had done it. All the planning. The waiting. We were here, and it was beautiful.
We did 2 dives, as I just mentioned the first was 62 minutes, the second was 37 minutes. Max depth was just shy of 12 feet, although I did see my dive computer hit 12 once. We did our first part of the first dive following each other, to look around and get an overall feel of what is in here. A few downed trees, a few fish that seemed intent on staying out of sight. It didn’t seem that there was much in there at first pass. Then we started looking a little harder at the bottom, and then it began, the search for the strangest discarded thing we could find. Shane won… hands down. He has some kind of uncanny knack for spotting the out of place that I can’t explain. The fishing pole… whole fishing pole.. was one thing, and not really out of the ordinary. Bottles, including an unopened minute made orange juice from who knows when, CO2 cartridges from BB guns, things like that. The Naval Flare was a curious object he found. But the best, and I wish I had it on film as he pulled it from the muck and we looked at each other laughing and wide eyed, was the 4 quart sauce pan. He pulled it out by the handle, it was just a block shaped thing at the end of a handle, but as he twisted his hand to spin the object, and the muck began to fall away, it revealed itself. What a laugh we had underwater on that one. I want to say that finding that pot is not so odd, but what is odd is that it is a quarter mile from the nearest very private road. It is 3-3.4 miles from the nearest public road with a clear trail to get you there. So the wonder comes from… who carried that here, and then discarded it by chucking it into the middle of this pond? He also found an entire sleeping bag, still rolled up but couldn’t remove it, and then we couldn’t find it again later. Another time perhaps. We piled our collected findings on the dam, perhaps Shane got a picture of it that I can include here, but when the day was over, we packed all of that back down to my car also and discarded in a trash can properly. On the second dive, we mostly split up, but kept an eye on each other. Shane was still on the search for that sleeping bag. I on the other hand, was after fish. There are native brown trout in this pond. Not many, but we would see them jumping occasionally, and we were told by a fella walking his dog as we were packing to head up that they were in here. I would catch glimpses, but they would dart away. I wanted some on film. I eventually located a small school of fingerlings in a few inches to a foot of water, at the upper end where Schubert’s creek enters the pond, and keeps it filled. There is a downed tree there, with all of it’s branches and trunk sections in the water. I had to swim/crawl through this tree, climbing it horizontally if you will, to get close enough for video. I was in perhaps 2-3 feet of water, but the bottom is so thick with muck that standing wasn’t possible, and to mess with the muck only stirred it up badly, so there I am with scuba gear, breathing from the tank, in knee to waist deep water. I felt a little silly, but knew it was also the only way. I would get caught up on branches, snagging my regulator hose or my tank. Back up, get untangled, and try again at a different angle. I finally made it into where they were and got a little video before the swam off. I was happy with that. Quality isn’t the best, but it’s something at least. Then we finished up, got out, changed, and hauled everything back out. And that was that. I called Charlie later that evening to thank him once again and let him know that we had safely done all that we came to do, and had gotten back out of the community. I told him of all we had found, and promised him photos and more information for him to share with his community if they were interested. I will no doubt be calling him tomorrow to get an email address, or let him know that if he wishes he can accept my friend request on FB, and I can get him the link for this page, and anything else that I would like for him to have. Now, for the history of this dam. Upon getting home, I had so many renewed questions. When was it built… why .. was it built. Why was it called the ‘power dam’ as we had called it when we were kids? I believed this to be just a name that was passed on or we had made up, since the dam does resemble something that could have been used at one time for a purpose like Hydro-electricity. Was it part of the Scout camp (Shikellamy) that is now defunct, closed and the land sold, the camp merged with one just on the other side of the mountain? Why would a scout camp want a dam such as this? The list goes on, but after a few days of talking to my uncle Harry, who has been involved in the scouts for decades, and further searches for articles, I found the truth… and I was amazed and excited to say the least. This deserves a separate article which I am linking to here. Read on if you wish to see the history, especially if you grew up in Rehrersburg, Bethel, Straustown, or Schubert PA. Links to videos that I took during the dive. Some are quite awful. My camera work was NOT on par that day, hopefully Shane’s was, but this is what I have for now if you wish to look. Getting Video of some fingerling Brown Trout, squirming through a downed tree, etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMFdAdF63A4 WARNING: Cursing in this one! Dropping into the water, gearing up. I almost fell off the backside. The dam wasn’t level at that spot. All for a dramatic entrance, we walked in after this. 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9nJ_qjzLuo Just another underwater video, I’m not even sure there is anything to see in this one, and the water was getting murky by this point. We had been cleaning up trash on the bottom, stirring the water up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dvnk3eLLEE Just another random video, shoreline at first, then me following Shane and searching the bottom. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuRY-Vy02pA Searching for trash on the bottom, Shane finds a CO2 cartridge near the shoreline. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF4GpiRU3v0 A fella came along with his dog, named Mellow, while we were down. He never asked a single question, just watched the bubbles coming up. Then he threw a stick for Mellow to fetch, Mellow wasn’t real sure of the strange creatures in the water. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMjEspzAoIA The three of us checking out the water right after we arrived, and had hauled all of our gear up. It’s a little glitchy, sorry. I was a little tired from hauling gear, so I let YouTube correct the shakiness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1ny7ve12uQ Just a short video featuring Shane Keller, to show the clarity of the water. I think this was shortly after we got in, we may have made one lap around the pond at this point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehaFLHKphTs And a few more photo’s that I figured I would include.
Thanks for reading, now go find your own adventure while you have air in your lungs. Every day you can take a mini vacation in your own backyard, if you’ll only look. Denny
I have searched far and wide, for a long time, years perhaps, on and off when the mood would strike me, but now I finally have the answers, and if you grew up in this area, you will find it interesting too I believe. Growing up, we use to trek up to this dam all the time, whether on bicycle, or after we could drive. We hiked in here year after year from RT. 183, a 3-3.5 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Not the easiest one either. Pennsylvania’s section of the AT is known to be one of the rockiest. I have always loved this hike though, and after pulling off this Scuba Dive ‘Expedition’, I really wanted to know more about it.
- What did I call this place in my log book?
- What is it’s history so that I could write up the dive report/article/post on this dive for my blog?
- When was it built?
- WHY.. was it built?
- By whom?
I am a curious person by nature, and I need answers to things or I simply can’t put the thought to rest. I contacted my Uncle Harry about it, since he has been involved in scouting for decades in this area. This goes back into his childhood, and he remembered the scout camp below, describing in detail how I probably got up to the dam by car. He mentioned that there were articles to be found, and that one had been written as recently as a few years ago, so off I went on Google with a renewed vigor to find the answers. He had a few details that got me started on this search, so special thanks to him! Here is what I found….
This article announces that on October 18th, a group of men will be forming a charter for a corporation to be known as the Blue Mountain Electric Company. This corporation’s character and object will be to supply light, heat and power, by means of electricity, to the public in Bethel Township, Berks County. The surprising thing, at least for me, is that it goes on to state that the power will be generated by Hydro-Electric generation, and that the water will come from a large dam at the top of the Blue Mountains. Power, heat and light will be supplied to Bethel, Millersburg, Strausstown, and Rehrersburg. It should be noted, that Millersburg is now Bethel as you can see from this map of the area from 1876. I am not sure why they named it twice in this article, perhaps a misprint? Later articles, as we shall get to, name Schubert as the 4th town to be supplied power. It then goes on to name the members of the company, which reads as an almost who’s who of family names, names we are mostly all familiar with. If you grew up in this area, you most likely have known of one, or several, of these last names. This is a short article, just a little announcement. But judging by the next write up I found, it was a huge success! And that is where the pride in our little area of the world comes into play for me.
December 8, 1907. The Reading eagle. Only 11 pages in the Sunday Edition, but it prints nearly a full page article on these 4 men and their accomplishment titled, “Blue Mountain Streams Furnish Cheap Electricity, Light and Power for Enterprising Villages in NorthWestern Berks”
Read this article, because I cannot do it justice. Here is my overall take on it though.
The first paragraph states that OUR little area was “far in advance of the average village in that they are lighted with electricity”. From Hydro-Electric power! Over 100 years ago! Amazing! Four of our towns, fairly wide spread, were all powered from that one little dam. We had green energy when it simply made sense to harness it, not as a statement. They even mention in the article that for years this resource has simply gone to waste. It goes on to say that two years ago it was announced that these men would be building this electric plant, and that basically many scoffed at the idea and “prophesied” that nothing would come of it and that it was all just talk. It was the idea of a teacher in the Electrical Engineering department of Lehigh University. His name was Stanley S. Seifert, of Strausstown Pennsylvania. He shared his plan at a meeting with several other well known names from our history in this small town area, and after a little checking into the feasibility, they agreed to the plan. They started with a capital of $8,000, the company was incorporated, and work commenced. It doesn’t state exactly when the dam itself was physically build, but from what I can gather this was done either in ’06, or ’07, as the preliminary tests were done during the summer of ’07 and it was put into full use by October of that year. My best guess is that it was built in early to mid 1907.
The dam is 120 feet long, and 22 feet high, and extends into the side of the mountain. This, to me, would explain why this dam is still so solid. It shows no signs of giving way anytime soon. It doesn’t appear to even leak. Go to the York haven Dam near York Haven Pa (it backs up the water known as lake Frederic for Three Mile Island) and look at it from the downstream side, it leaks. Now granted, the Susquehanna river does take it’s toll on that dam. The York Haven dam, but the way, was built in 1904. I only mention so as not to leave that detail dangling.
It goes on. From the dam the water is carried in eight inch steel pipes a distance of 3200 feet to the foot of the mountain where it shoots from a nozzle one and one half inches in diameter to spin a pelton water wheel 23 inches in diameter. The drop from the dam to the power station is 372 feet and can generate 75 horsepower.
The power is then distributed a distance of 10 miles to the 4 towns previously mentioned. It states that the electric plant is a success in every way and that the users of the current are loud in their praises of the conveniences they enjoy, because of the enterprise of a few of their neighbors. Some had power put in their homes, and in the local hotels. The streets were lit. The shirt factories we all remember were provided power. At the point this article was written, and remember, it was JUST after they got the service under way, there were 300 lights in Strausstown, 200 in Rehrersburg, 200 in Bethel, and 35 in Schubert (Schubert is a smaller town, little more spread out in it’s set up). It then goes on to list the various businesses, mostly shirt factories, and how many machines are now powered from this new enterprising source.
Of interest is the charges for power, I won’t go into them, read for yourself please, but they charged a flat rate per month by what you were powering. For instance, 1 downstairs 16-candle power light was 50 cents per month. If you had two of them, 40 cents each, and the rates kept dropping as such per additional light.
It concludes that many other local areas were going to watch and see how their venture turned out, and no doubt, launch similar plans. “These will have the advantage of the men who engaged in this undertaking for they will have some precedent to go by.”
I can’t seem to find the links anymore, but the company was said to have run this plant for 10 years before taking it out of operation. I assume it was to move to a more ‘modern’ type of generation such as coal firing. The company was then sold to Met Ed around 1927-1928 as a lot of the smaller companies were doing.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this as interesting as I did. That our little area of the world was on the forefront of a technology that we still dream of harnessing well.