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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

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Tucquan Glen Hike

Located in the absolutely beautiful area of Pequea and Holtwood are several gorges with swift flowing streams making their way to the Susquehanna river. Tucquan Creek is one of these. Located on a Nature preserve named after the creek itself are several trails leading from River Rd down the gorge to the River. On this particular trip, I chose to take the a yellow blaze, river right, down to the Susquehanna. I then took the blue blaze, river left, back up to where I had started at the parking area.

This is considered a difficult hike, children can handle the beginning portions, but it does get a little dicey after perhaps half a mile to three quarters of a mile. For very young children (mine are 5 and 6 yrs old) I would choose the blue blaze. Both trails skirt the creek, generally along it’s bank as close as possible without falling into the creek itself. I generally prefer hikes that stay close to water, and chose them purposely.

I parked at the large parking lot located at River Rd, and Tuquan Glen Rd. Directly in front of the parking area, is a very large rock that I believe is called Tuquan rock. That spelling is correct, if I have the correct rock. The spelling was found in the now out of print book “Caves of Southeastern Pennsylvania”.

When I parked and looked up at this ‘rock’, realizing it is 3 to 4 stories high, I was compelled to climb it first thing. To my incredible surprise, I found multiple small caves, or shelters, littering this massive boulder on multiple levels as I made my way up it. At the very top is a peculiar arch carved at the top that one can walk through, crouched slightly. I was excited to find this, as I had just come from Mount Joy in search of a cave called ‘Donegal Cave’ and suffered a near miss in locating it, but did gain permission to search the property, and was informed that it does reside on this particular property. When I returned home and consulted the book that I just mentioned, I found a listing that matches what I found, with the clincher being the stone arch found at the very top. This, if I am correct, is know in collection as Erb’s Mill Shelter Caves. You cannot see them from the ground, it is only by climbing and exploring the rock that you begin to find them.

I continued on to the hike after about an hour exploring the large rock and caves. I headed downstream, as mentioned previously, on the yellow blaze, river right. I followed the trail most of the way, but when it began to ascend well above the creek to the top of the gorge I decided to go off trail and skirt the creek for photos. I do NOT recommend doing this. It was mid January, and the water would have been incredibly cold if I had fallen into it. There isn’t a stream bank in this area, just steep, sometimes vertical walls of solid rock, with some break down that you can hop your way down stream on. At times it was strictly rock climbing, shimmying my way down stream clinging to the walls.

There are many falls on your way downstream. It is incredibly serene and beautiful. The hike down to the river was just over two miles, but again, I had gone off trail and explored quite a bit. If you followed the trail strictly, I would have to guess that the trip is approximately 1.5 or slightly more miles. Toward the bottom of the gorge, meaning as I got close to where it dumped it’s contents into the Susquehanna, I was out in the middle of the creek on large boulders, hopping around and taking pictures and video.

I took the blue blaze trail back. Much easier than my trip down stream. I recommend this trail wholeheartedly. I believe the scenery was every bit as good as from the yellow blaze, and much easier going. There is even a wooden bridge that get’s the hiker over the one section that has a sheer wall on that side of the creek. Again, this trail skirts right up against the creek the entire way, even more so than the Pequea creek hike does.

This is a wonderful trail system that I recommend to anyone looking for a good hike. There are so many areas to explore in this region, and they deserve much more exploration as this year wears on. Expect to hear more.

Pequea Creek Hike/scouting

I discovered the Pequea area of PA, while searching for a cave. Wind Cave. It’s not a tough one to find. Kids find it all the time and party there. It’s fairly large, and fairly safe, so I chose it for my first official foray into the underground world. While traveling to Pequea to find this cave, I traveled 324, which skirts the Pequea creek for a bit as you get closer to it’s confluence with the Susquehanna river, and it’s beautiful. The creek as well as the countryside. The whole of the area. The total distance of the creek is fairly long, 40 plus miles, but this portion, the last 4 miles or so, is the portion I have fallen in love with. The beginning of this section is set in a gorge. It’s when the drop in elevation begins in earnest to make it’s way down into the Susquehanna. Michelle, Rob, and I kayaked the last mile or so up creek from the Susquehanna, and I knew I had to find a way to run this creek.

I did some research online, I’ll include some of that at the end for anyone interested in getting more details. The hike alone is worth it. One of the best in this area that I have seen. Beautiful is the only word I have. The hike, the trail itself, skirts the creek the whole way, even if it is only 1.2 miles. Here is a map showing the start and end points.

The green flag is your starting point.

Near the green flag is a parking area. Just a short way up the road, just past the ruins of an old hotel foundation, you will see trash cans and the trail head. These trash cans, by the way, were installed and paid for by a local fella who has sort of adopted the trail, and walks it regularly picking up trash that people leave behind.

Do us all a favor and pack out what you pack in.

You will hear, and see the creek a bit, off to your right. Within a few hundred feet you will be next to the creek, and there the rest of the trip. Be aware, that PPL owns the land. They cannot own a creek because it is a navigable waterway, but they can, and do, own the land beside it. If you cross this land to go down creekside and get caught, you can be fined. I do this myself, but just wanted you to be aware also. You really cannot miss the signs though, posted every 50 feet or so on trees. Unsightly. But that’s what happens when people cannot use sound judgement and ruin things for the rest of us.

My original trip here was a quick one. I basically ran the trail, so that I could get in to see the whitewater section. To gauge if I was comfortable running it. It’s a little tricky, but not too bad, so as far as I am concerned this is a go. I went back however, because not only did I really want to see the area again and take a little more leisurely pace, but I wanted to take my boys to see it too, it’s a fairly simple hike. We walked the trail, took pictures, and admired the beauty of the place. It’s like being in a church. Simple peace. We walked the entire section, down to where it ends by a covered bridge that crosses the creek. Then we hiked back up to our starting point. Along the way back, we stopped so that I could get a feel for where the take out should be for anyone who may go with on a kayak run, to see where to portage their kayak should they not want to run a difficult section. It’s short, but it looks as though the center of it could be demanding if you don’t have a really good feel for how your boat will react in currents. I found a great spot…as it happens…right where the sign is posted on a tree warning you of rapids and that you should consider a portage. There is a nice sand bar on river left. So the plan, as it stands now, is to portage anyone uncomfortable with it, around the drops, and then go back and run this with whomever else is on the trip that does want to run it.

At any rate, this is a wonderful hike. It’s great for kids also, even fairly young. My boys are all of 4 and 6, and I plan to take them on this hike again. Not demanding at all, just a nice flat walk through the trees by a creek. There are also two nice side creeks that feed this along the way that deserve some exploration by young kids. When I say creek here, I mean a trickle.

This makes a nice relaxing evening hike after work if you live close enough. I am an hour away, and I still made the trek after work. Well worth it.

Enjoy,

Denny

Some links to other stories about this section of creek, and the hike.
http://www.bluemountainoutfitters.net/Rvrtales/pat_55.html
http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/204245_Where-is-Suzy-s-Hole--You-think-you-know--Well--think-again.html