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.
So…Tom brings up the subject the other day of an overnight kayak trip. I ask if he and Mitch want to try the Swatara creek, lower section, possibly the weekend of the 17th and 18th of September. Right now the creek is headed for some pretty bad flooding with hurricane Lee hanging over us. It looks to let up in the next few days, leaving only isolated and scattered rains until the Tuesday before that weekend. This creek is only around 60 miles long, so that should leave enough time for it to drain it’s area and go back to a more normal flow before the weekend we want to run it. I would really like to finish this creek before the year is out. That leads me to the first two attempts in June.
I had spent weeks planning this trip out. The entire creek from Pine Grove, PA to Middletown, PA where it empties into the Susquehanna River was what I mapped out. This is almost 60 miles in length, and the rate that I paddle this is doable. The first time I tried it, we had heavy rains that morning, almost 6 inches I believe in just a few hours. Undeterred, I had decided to continue with the plan. I packed my gear, and headed out when my ride showed up. I would need assistance with dropping my vehicle and shuttling me up to Pine Grove from Middletown. I was going this alone. Tom had shown interest, but I really wanted to do this by myself. I tend to do that too much I believe, and am trying to break that habit.
My shuttle service was provided by my mom. Yes, my mommy drove me. You can always count on mommy. She was not really thrilled when she saw the creek, which I knew from checking the river gauge levels that morning was now a half a foot above flood stage. It was running, according to the gauge at Pine Grove, at 9.5 feet, where it was merely 3 feet or so before the rains. This had risen 6.5 feet in just a matter of a few hours. I packed my gear into my kayak and was off.
I’m not going to go into the full story, because it is a long one, I’ll just hit some highlights.
- Just minutes after entering and heading downstream, an entire tree came down behind me 4 seconds or so after I passed beneath it. Then it followed me for a bit.
- There were downed trees that completely bridged the creek. I was lucking in that I could get over, or under, all that I had encountered.
- I watched the creek slam off of an embankment that I was coming up on, and bring down a wall of dirt and shrubs; this was in the beginning of tight S turn that I had to try to navigate, with a partial tree down covering half of the creek on the last turn of the S turn. That was the most frightening maneuver I had to make.
- I covered 10 miles in just 2 hours, and this was including all the back paddling I had to do to find lines through debris and some of the turns.
- I found an eddy about 1-2 miles from where I planned to ditch the trip and get out before this creek killed me. Had to hike through a marsh that was maybe 200 feet or so wide to get to the trail, thorns tearing my legs up, all with around 100 pounds of kayak and gear on my shoulder.
- I lost my water shoes in that marsh, and had to go bare foot from there.
- Then had to walk the trail a mile or more downstream to where my mommy was going to pick me up.
The second trip attempt went much better. This was two weeks after the first attempt. The creek levels were normal. This was a very pleasant run without the heart pounding adrenaline of the first one. I like adrenaline, but that was a bit much for a guy new to kayaking. It was a dumb thing to attempt….I am aware. So for this second attempt I decided to simply continue from where I had pulled out the first time. I also had decided that I would quit smoking on this trip. And there in lay the mistake.
The trip was uneventful. Very relaxing minus the fact that I have a need to cover ground quickly, and if I am just floating I am bored, so I am always paddling. I went 9 hours the first day, covering 24 miles, with a few pit stops to eat, or check out things that I came across. Somewhere along the way though, I had discovered my car keys in my swim suit pocket, and wanted to put them into a dry bag. I was dumping the water out of my kayak at the moment and instead of stopping what I was doing and putting the keys into a dry bag, I set them on a rock……where they were left. I was in a fog from the lack of nicotine at this point and simply not thinking straight. I did not discover the keys were missing until the following morning, while packing up my gear to finish the trek. I once again called my shuttle service…..mommy….to come and get me.
I could go into much more detail, but that’s enough. It’s in the past and I don’t care to elaborate much. That’s why I am keeping this blog, so that while things are fresh in my head and I am still excited about them I can get them down.
I know that Mitch and Tom don’t want to go at my pace, so I am thinking of chopping the trip to a reasonable 30 miles or so total. That leaves a comfortable 15 to cover per day, and it will give me an excuse to take it easier for once.
Sounds like fun, I cannot wait!
Kayaking trip on the Swatty update:
Well, we didn’t end up running an overnight trip on this creek, which was probably for the best. It was a bit cold, and most of the islands we passed as well as the stream banks were wrecked from Hurricane Lee and the flood that ensued. The creek hit 26 feet! That was a full 10 feet above the previous record. Homes were completely destroyed to the point of being washed away. The power of the water flow in this storm left entire islands uprooted. Yes….I said Islands! We found the entire roof of a house left stranded on top of a bridge, part of a house in the middle of the creek itself, a canoe that was unregistered left hanging 8 feet up in a tree, full blown chemical spills…complete with people in hazmat suits in the process of cleaning up, and so much more. But what a day of fun it was.
Tom, Mitch, and I put in near RT 39 in the Hershey park area. We dropped our kayaks, then Mitch waited with them while Tom and I ran my truck to Middletown where the Swattara creek ends by spilling it’s contents into the Susquehanna River. This would be a 17 mile trip. This was when we saw the Hazmat suited people in the water at the boat launch ramp. We asked a fella that was standing around in the parking lot what was going on. He told us that up creek there was a chemical storage facility that was flooded. Some of the totes containing different caustic materials broke through the chain link fence that surrounds the property and many of these totes were washed away. The men at the dock were pulling some of these out of the water. Surely many of these washed all the way into the Susquehanna, and hopefully they never made it past the York Haven damn, since passing over this damn would lead to a boulder filled area below that would surely split these containers open if they had survived the trip that far, as well as down the 23 foot dam.
<insert the totes pics>
We did the car drop and were back in Hershey and in the water by 11:30AM. We were only in a few minutes when I spotted a canoe up in a tree. Tom started yelling to ‘get it’ and paddling like a wild man for shore, and of course I followed. I somehow reached the bank and was out first, and up the small hill to where the canoe was. It was a good 8 feet off the ground, just hanging in the limbs of the tree. All in all, I would say it was a good 12 to 17 feet off the water, which was still running around 2-3 feet above normal. As Tom was coming up the embankment to help, I yanked at the canoe, which came crashing down with ….I swear…half a tree behind it. There was a HUGE limb hung up above it. Tom went careening back the direction he had come screaming obscenities at me and laughing. Good stuff. We got the canoe in the water, all laughing like little kids at our luck. We had lost the canoe that I found weeks ago and here was another, seemingly almost identical to the first one, and in perfect condition. We floated it behind me for a little….perhaps a mile, and I knew this was going to make the trip a pain in the ass. We had a long way to go yet with unknown obstacles. We all decided that we would stash the canoe at the next bridge we came across and come back later for it. It ended up being the Pennsy Supply bridge, which we didn’t know was somewhat private property. I got out, and dragged the canoe all the way up to the bridge and shoved it up to where no one would see it. Then we continued on, spotting canoe’s left and right and joking about grabbing all of them, taking them later to the pub, laying them out in the parking lot, and telling everyone we know to ‘pick one’.
<insert a canoe pic>
We continued on. I don’t remember exact order of events, which would make for too long a story anyway, so I’ll just hit highlights.
- This was Mitch’s first time in a kayak, and he loved it. He totally gets why Tom and I do this when we can. He did really well too. My first few times out were in currentless lakes, and we thrust him into a still slightly swollen creek. Really funny watching his reaction to strange currents that shoved him into tree branches. He has been after me to mountain bike with him. Since he was such a good sport about getting a kayak and finally coming out with us, I decided to give in. I jumped on his bike one day after work and just putzed around in the alley by his house for a few minutes, but I was hooked. I had forgotten that childhood feeling of being on a bike.
- Tom going up a side creek, wondering where it leads. We kept going down the Swatty. We encountered a current around a slight bend that almost shoved me into downed tree branches. I had enough experience to see it coming and paddled hard to avoid it, Mitch did not, and ended up in the branches. Then Tom caught back up and ended up in the branches too. Too funny.
- Mitch attempted to sneak up on a ‘duck…..or….whatever it is’ (his words not mine). It was a Heron, white one. I don’t think he had ever seen one before. I said they are like the sparrow of the waterways. They are everywhere around here, both white and blue. I believe the blue are or at least were protected at one time because they were going extinct, but they are fine now. He of course didn’t get anywhere close to getting one, which I knew he wouldn’t, but him trying was an awesome laugh.
- We found a cave, and of course went in it. It’s just down creek from Indian Echo Caverns. I knew it was there because it was on the map I had, and had been talking about it most of the way. After we passed Indian Echo, Tom started yelling about this cave, where is it….you promised….I’m gonna kick your ass….how much further?!!? Too funny. Then we spotted it, couldn’t believe we found it. We got to shore, three little boys freaking out over our adventurous fortune. Tom and I were out in no time, pulling our boats ashore, getting ourselves together to go up to the cave, and I noticed Mitch was still in his kayak trying to get himself beached enough to be stable and get out. At this point he was struggling and it just got funny. I started in on him “dude, we’re getting out here”…..”Mitch get out of your kayak” … then Tom started chiming in. “Seriously dude….get out”…..me again “Mitch, get the fuck out of your kayak!”…..he’s laughing at this point, still struggling to not flip it and get out…Tom “Get out of the kayak or I’m gonna kick your fucking ass!” ……me again “What the fuck are you doing…..get out dick!”. He eventually did.
- The cave was really cool, small, but cool. None of us had ever been in a cave that you didn’t pay to go to. The inside of the first room was pretty big, with a tall ceiling, then there were a few openings that went away from the main room. One of them was a narrow slit that just kept getting more narrow. Two of them were up high, 15 feet or so off the floor, with ropes hanging. One had a thin rope that started pretty high, and we didn’t really trust. The other I managed to get up after I talked myself into it. Didn’t want to fall in here and get hurt, not really dressed for this sort of thing, had flashlights but they were handheld, etc. I got up in as far as I could go in that on, then we eventually got back on the water and continued to the end, which wasn’t much further. Maybe 5 more miles or so.
UPDATE: This dive has now been planned and executed. Successfully I might add.
So here is what I know of this location:
I hiked there a lot as a child with friends. We would come in from Route 183 I believe, along the Appalachian trail, to the dam, located just below the AT trail. I personally can do this hike from 183 in 45 minutes, but that’s at my pace. At a comfortable clip, this is almost a two hour hike. The water is clear….crystal clear….and cold. As kids we hiked up creek from the dam to the rock pile above, and could hear, but not see, the spring that feeds this dam. It popped in my head a few days ago, that I have never swam in this dam/pond as a child because it was just too cold. I have a wet suit now though, and am curious just what may be in there. In addition, I am doubtful anyone has ever dove this location, and if others have, it is but a handful I am sure…because who else would hike into this, uphill from the closest access (dirt road) for 1300+feet…straight up the mountain…with full gear….including a 7 mil wet suit? Who??
Me, that’s who. And if I can talk Shane into it….it’s on.
We used to call it the ‘power dam’ as kids. We didn’t know what it was, where it came from, or what it was for. It is only recently that I looked it up to find out it’s history. I found that it was apparently built for the Scout camp back in the 1900’s at some point. As kids we tried to fish there, but I don’t remember ever catching anything, and am sure I have never seen any fish. How would they get in there? What I am saying is there may be nothing to see. Nothing at all. But we won’t know until we have tried, and hey, let’s face it, who else will have this in their log books? This makes me happy.
I’ll add more information later, but for now this is what I have, along with some maps I pulled just a few minutes ago. Stay tuned….if you wish.