Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring 2014 E-Newsletter Available

Our newest E-Newsletter is available now!  Check out upcoming events, discover Stony Valley Daily Life Researcher Seth A. Martin's newest project, and find out how Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad Historian Brandy M. Watts Martin's family is connected to Stony Valley in the Spring 2014 issue. 

Remember to Mark Your Calendars for our next event on April 22, 2014 in Palmyra, PA where you can "Step Into History" no matter what the weather may be!  More details in the newsletter.  Old E-Newsletters can found in the E-Newsletter Archives. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Surviving Among The Stones

It’s 1854 in Rausch Gap, Lebanon County.  This coal mining town buried deep in the heart of Stony Valley was once isolated, but now has a new railroad going through town complete with the railroad headquarters, and coal mines located to the north of town.  The population is expanding with each passing day, and will total over 1,000 people by year’s end.

You have just stepped off the train after taking a long trip from Philadelphia, the port at which you arrived from your homeland on the British Isles to start a new life with your young family.  You have a job with the coal mines earning about $0.90 a day as a miner due to your experience in the mines in your homeland.  Now your concern is the three key things for your family's survival: food, shelter and water.  The latter you can get from one of the town's wells, which are found throughout the community.  Shelter is provided by your employer for $4.00 a month for a two-story half house with minimal furnishings like benches and table, a wooden bed frame and either a fireplace or coal stove.  Food is the challenging part.  The town has a company store with a wide variety of food available including flour, sugar, salt and spices, select canned goods, and produce and animal products shipped by train from local farms.  With little income remaining after paying rent, purchasing basic necessities, and supplies for your profession, among other things, you would need to find ways to supplement the store bought food.  Perhaps, on your voyage to the New World you brought some seeds from your homeland, or if you came with just the clothing on your backs like many immigrants, you’d be able to purchase some seeds at the company store.  You notice your neighbors have already found a solution, and like them, you would start to plan a garden to supply your family with food to survive. 

Since I have met my wife, Stony Valley has been a part of our lives.  I never knew about this wonderful wilderness only 20 minutes away from where I was studying history at Penn State Harrisburg.  So my wife, who had studied the area for over a decade, shared with me her passion for Stony Valley, Saint Anthony’s Wilderness, and the Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad.  Hiking around Stony Valley, we explored the towns and found new ruins in the wilderness, and I started to wonder how did people really survive back there?  All you see when hiking is rocks, woods and more rocks!  But among those rocks is a story of how people sought to survive, to make a new life for their family in this New World.  The men would labor for eight, ten, or twelve hours a day for six to seven days a week to make enough money to provide food and shelter for their family, but sometimes that was not enough.  Families took in unmarried men as boarders to help supplement their income, or sent their children as young as five to work.  Still they had difficulties making ends meet with an average of ten people in each half house of Rausch Gap in 1855.  At that time, it became the job of the housewife to make their income enough to survive.  The wife and young children would scavenge for berries and edible plants, fish in the creek, and perhaps the men would hunt, and most importantly, the family would plant a garden in the small space around their half house.

Foundation of a House at Rausch Gap Built Prior to 1854
Here is where my interest lays, in the daily life and foodways of the people in Stony Valley. So for the last six months I have begun researching who these people were.  Where the people come from is an important aspect in determining what types of food people eat.  Culture plays a big role in defining how a new immigrant adapts to the New World.  When people think of the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania they usually think of Eastern Europeans like Slavs, Hungarians and Poles, but Stony Valley is different.  Stony Valley was before the population boom in the Pennsylvania Anthracite Region, and thus had a different immigrant make up.  During the mid-1800s, Stony Valley saw the immigration of Western Europeans mainly from the British Iles (English, Scottish, Welsh and the lowest of the classes, Irish), and the valley would see an influx of some 2,000 people in the 1850s in the five coal mining towns of Rattling Run, Yellow Spring, Rausch Gap, Gold Mine and Mount Eagle.

As part of my research I am creating a garden to mimic, to the best of our ability, one that would have been seen in Rausch Gap in the year 1854.  Why such a specific year you may ask. Well 1854 would be the year of prosperity for the town with the completion of the railroad from Rockville, Dauphin County to Auburn, Schuylkill County, and just months before the coal mines played out north of the town due to the coal’s poor quality.

Over the next seven months, I will be blogging about this garden as we try to mimic an 1854 Stony Valley garden.  We will be using seed varieties of the time period (will be discussed in a future blog post) and using tools and methods available during that time period.  Spring is now here and it’s time to grow some food!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Discover the Former Town of Rausch Gap

Rausch Gap
By Brandy M. Watts Martin
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Richland Community Library, Richland, PA

Join us at the Richland Community Library, 111 East Main St., Richland, PA, to discover Rausch Gap, once the largest community in Stony Valley with over 1,000 residents during its heyday.  The town included workers' housing, public buildings and businesses, along with the only white cemetery in Stony Valley.  This informative 30-minute presentation shows what the ruins of today once were in the bustling mid-nineteenth century Anthracite coal mining and railroading town. 

Find out more about the Presentation.