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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.


Wind Cave

The main entrance, there are a few, you can find the rest. :-)

The main entrance, there are a few, you can find the rest. 🙂

It’s about time I get around to this, it’s been nearly a year since I was there for the first time. I have noticed a lot of people searching for ‘wind cave’ and ‘wind cave map’, and coming across this blog, so I will do what would only be decent, and post a map of this fantastic and fairly safe cave.

It was February 19th of 2011 when I went in search of this cave…well, actually it was February 18th, but I started too late in the day and didn’t make it down here in time, so I went back the following day to locate it. I have made one subsequent trip since, on June 9th, with my friend Tom. Like a gleeful little boy, I proudly introduced my my old pal Tom to this wonderful dark earthen place. I would call it a sanctuary, but since the ‘kids’ find, litter, and paint the walls, …..yea…not so much the sanctuary as I would like. I don’t understand it for the life of me. I have never felt the need to spray paint walls, not even in my youth. It just looks hideous. But then hey….perhaps I have a bit of sense. Or my parents raised me correctly, not sure which.

At any rate, this is still a great trip underground into a ‘wild’ cave. And as far as I am concerned, quite safe also. There really isn’t any place to get yourself turned around and lost in here. The whole of it is basically shaped like an upper case ‘I’. There are, however, over a thousand feet of passages, and something for everyone in here. In fact, there may be more undiscovered cave in there that we have yet to find, at least as far as the General Geology Report from 1974 goes. I have seen portions that I haven’t attempted yet, that are not yet mapped, so it just may be possible, and at one time a fella blasted open a section (prior to the Geology report mentioned) and found more cave, so who knows what is out there for the CAREFUL explorer! I stress CAREFUL! If you do not know what you are doing, stick to the simple routes that everyone follows and just be happy you are there to experience it. A good many caves in Pennsylvania have been blown shut, or gated due to people getting lost or hurt. Do not ruin this for the rest of us. Know your abilities and stick to them until you are better prepared. End of lecture son. 🙂

As you walk into this cave, you don’t even need to stoop. So if you have someone in your party who is a little leery, but still curious, this person will feel comfortable for at least the first 50 feet or so. If you don’t mind climbing, there is a bit of that as you head straight in, and past the right hand connection to the rest of the cave. In fact, this section, straight into the cave, winds up around to your right, then you can come back to your starting point by following around and under the passage you took in. Pretty neat.

Venturing off to the right at the previously mentioned connection, will take you down a fairly long section that forces you to stoop a bit, but still no crawling needed. At the end of this section is some breakdown (caver speak for chunks of rock or dirt that have fallen from above) that you will need to climb over. This will lose some of your party also if they are not fully into this, but again, they had an experience in the ‘wild’ without risking their safety or comfort level. For the rest of us….well.

Climb over this boulder, and drop down to the lower portion of the upper case ‘I’. In here you will find the best parts of the cave I believe, and the parts that all of my pics are from with the exception of the entrance and the map itself. There are very tall areas, as seen in my pictures, and some very low ones, that will require crawling. There are some sections that haven’t been surveyed, possibly because they cannot be gotten into, but I don’t know that for sure as I haven’t tried to get into them either. One is a slide that sort of disappears to God knows where. I would love to get a better look into this drop off, but not without ropes.

Directions to the hike. Oh, I didn’t mention? This is a pretty steep hike, so be in decent shape, or simply take your time.

Get yourself to approximately 618 Bridge Valley Road, Pequea PA. If you google search this, and zoom in on the map to street level, you will see a black car and a white pickup truck parked on the other side of the road on a small pull off spot. Park responsibly, as these two did. You should be able to get three cars in this location at least, and they left room for the third. You can also see them walking the direction you want to travel to the hike, which I will bet is where they were headed.

Once parked, there is a trailhead with an orange diagonal double blaze. Follow this trail across a creek and down a access road to the rail road. Watch carefully for the trail leading up the hill on the left. Follow the trail up the hill and check out the amazing views of the river. At the end of the trail you will arrive at the Wind Cave.

Now, since you may have no cave experience at all, here is the absolute basic of basics that you MUST do if you are to go in here. Take at least 3 sources of light. If one goes out, or you drop them in water, you need backup or you are alone in the dark for who knows how long. There are other things to take that are a good idea (like a helmet) but at least take more than one light source. Absolute minimum. And don’t go alone (says the guy who goes alone quite often on everything he does).

Have fun, but be careful, as always, use your head.


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.



Some links to other stories about this section of creek, and the hike.