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Nearly forgotten history of the Power Dam in Schubert’s Gap

The 'Power Dam', in Schubert's Gap Pennsylvania.

The ‘Power Dam’, in Schubert’s Gap Pennsylvania.

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….

September 24th, 1906. The Reading Eagle prints a small article titled “Electric Light and Power Bethel”

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 andprophesied” 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.

Denny