Seek and Ye Shall Find (A BMW/Z4 Tour of Lancaster County, PA)


Have you noticed how addictive your BMW is? With a beautiful day in store, I couldn’t resist the temptation to jump in my 2006 Z4 3.0i roadster and seek out new and interesting roads, scenic areas, and historical sites. With the expression “seek and ye shall find” running through mind, I set off for Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I managed to find all of the above.

There are approximately one dozen towns or cities in the U.S. named Marietta, and many of them are named after the unfortunate Marie Antoinette. Marietta, PA, however, was apparently named after the two co-founders’ wives: Mary and Henrietta. For a long time, it was informally called “Bungletown,” because founders James Anderson and David Cook hadn’t planned very carefully when they decided to join up their separate villages to the west and east. To this day, West and East Market Streets do not come close to aligning with each other. Neither do Prospect, Hazel, and the others.

As it happened, I was just passing through Marietta on my way to look for what was left of the huge iron furnaces and plants that comprised the Chickies historic district, starting as long ago as 1760. The ruined foundations of the furnaces are there (with the furnaces themselves long since washed away by floods), and there are several intact ironmasters’ mansions. Otherwise, little remains of the massive industrial complex that operated here and helped provide much of the iron needed to support the Industrial Revolution. In 1930, the last of the furnaces was shut down, rendered obsolete by more modern systems and the greater demand for steel.

This is an old postcard of “Chickies Furnace No. 1,” which was operated by Samuel S. Haldeman.

The Haldemans were one of several prominent families that established furnaces. Samuel went on to become a respected naturalist, professor of science and engineering, and author of over 200 books and scientific articles. He also led several archaeological teams researching the Native American villages that once predominated on the shores of the Susquehanna. The name “Chickies,” incidentally, came from the Indian name “Chiquesalanda” for the nearby creek that empties into the Susquehanna. It means “place of the crayfish,” in case you’re not fluent in Lenape.

Samuel Haldeman’s brother Christian built the Oakland grist mill in 1837. Although Christian died just a few years later, the mill operated for many years before being converted to a residence.

A number of old farmhouses can be seen in this area. This one is part of Chickies Creek Park. Prof. Haldeman’s self-designed mansion was only a quarter mile away, but it fell into disrepair following his death and was razed in 1909. (I’m told you can still find the foundation and some steps—so I’ve got to go back!)

Although most of the old structures in this area have either (i) disappeared altogether or (ii) been maintained in good shape, a few are somewhere in-between, including this old barn.

This is Little Chickies Creek. If you look closely, you’ll see what’s left of a bridge abutment. There were several others about, which makes me think that a railroad line used to run through this area.

It was a pretty day at the start of May and a very pretty area. Days like this one, and the terrific roads throughout Lancaster County, made me long for another R1200GS.

This old stone house also falls in-between categories (i) and (ii) above, and it now appears to serve primarily as a planter.

You don’t see “barn art” very often around here, but this example must have been pretty striking in its time.

I found the Forry’s Mill Covered Bridge without difficulty. It crosses Chickies Creek and was built in 1869 by Elias McMellen—one of Pennsylvania’s most notable bridge builders. He began constructing bridges in 1859 at age 20, using wood, iron, and stone. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War and as a Captain helped lead the final Union charge of the war against Confederate forces; Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces later that day. The Forry’s Mill bridge has been repaired from time to time over the years, but it is largely original.

The 1865 Siegrist’s Mill Covered Bridge crosses the same creek only a mile away—or at least it used to. Although the bridge survived Hurricane Agnes in 1972 with only minor damage, the effects of Tropical Storm Lee on September 8, 2011 were devastating. As shown in this dramatic video, the flood waters swept the bridge right off its foundations. The abutments are currently undergoing repair, and the bridge will be reconstructed using as many of its original materials as possible. (Before & after bridge photos courtesy of Lancaster Online.)

This stately old house was (and maybe still is) the Chrisken Inn, near Mount Joy, PA.

And it looks over this tiny gristmill on Chickies Creek.

This eye-catching tower in Columbia, PA turned out to be a landmark for the National Watch and Clock Museum. Although I was quite tempted to go in for a tour, I, uh, didn’t have time…

I followed the Susquehanna River south of Columbia, in search of the Frey-Haverstick and other Native American archaeological sites. American Indians lived here as long ago as 3500 BC. Many artifacts have been found at the Frey-Haverstick site during excavations in the 1870s, 1930s, and 1970s. The ill-fated Susquehannock Tribe lived here at least as far back as the late 1500s, with villages that extended from New York to Maryland. During the 1600s, however, the Susquehannock population plummeted as a result of European-borne diseases and wars with colonial militias and neighboring Iroquois, Delaware, and other Indian tribes to the north and west. Today, the area is home to a farm and the Manor Township Post Office.

It is also home to the Conrail railroad tracks, which, on this day, were relatively scenic in their own right.

The Susquehanna River dates back to the Mesozoic Era, making it one of the oldest rivers in the world. It starts at the exit of Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, New York, and eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay (in the process providing about one-half of the bay’s total in-flow from freshwater sources).

Ah, ain’t they cute?

During the settlement of Pennsylvania, Gov. William Penn encouraged the immigration of Quakers and other people from England, France, Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere who were oppressed for their religious practices. In 1717, three Mennonite brothers left Germany and came to the area outside of Lancaster. The youngest, Jacob Brubaker, purchased land here, and his descendants built a large farmstead in the late 1700s. Today, the farm is still active, although I had to negotiate a substantial housing development and the World’s Largest Yard Sale to find it. It was a pretty setting, although the visual clash between the historic farm and the surrounding development must take some getting used to.

James Buchanan, the country’s 15th President, was born in Pennsylvania—in a log cabin, naturally—and lived in Lancaster from 1812 to his death in 1868 (excluding periods of public service). He desperately wanted to keep the northern and southern states united during the period leading up to the Civil War. However, he believed that “The South has no right to secede, but I have no power to prevent them.” As his own obituary states, “Temporizing in this pitiful manner with the gravest crisis that ever fell upon a nation, he did nothing to prevent the accomplishment of secession…” As a result of his ineffective efforts, most historians consider him to be one of the worst President’s in the country’s history.

Nonetheless, you can visit Wheatland, his home in Lancaster… The Federal-style mansion was built in 1828 and purchased by Buchanan in 1848. I didn’t have time to wait for the next guided tour on the day of my visit, but I’ll definitely be back.

Wheatland wasn’t the only stately building in Lancaster. Without even trying, I encountered Roslyn, an 1896 mansion. This beautiful home was listed for sale in 2009 with an asking price of $3,750,000. Sadly, its contents were auctioned off in 2012, and the mansion itself recently sold for less than $850,000, which seems like a remarkable bargain. (Interior photo courtesy of WGAL TV, Lancaster.)

A little further on in Lancaster, I found the former Hamilton Watch Complex, once the headquarters and factory for the Hamilton Company (and its predecessors) and now converted to luxury condominiums, office space for an insurance company, and a Montessori school. This view shows only one of the pair of 90-foot towers. Hamilton watches and clocks earned a reputation for outstanding accuracy. Referring to the marine chronometers produced for World Wars I and II, the Navy characterized them as “the world’s most accurate portable timepiece.” As one might hope, the clocks in the towers keep impeccable time.

Franklin & Marshall College has operated in Lancaster since 1853. “Old Main” was the first of its buildings; it’s flanked by Goethean Hall and Diagnothian Hall, which came a few years later.

The college is named for Benjamin Franklin and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall. Their statues grace the quadrangle in front of Old Main, with John Marshall shown here on the left with Diagnothian Hall in the background. It’s a beautiful campus and a highly regarded college. Along with Bridgewater, Davis & Elkins, and the College of Wooster, it was one of my top choices back in 1967. (Wooster eventually won out.)

Not to be outdone by the beautiful buildings for privileged college students, the Lancaster County Prison is almost equally imposing. The first county prison was built in 1737. This one, which is still in active use, dates back to 1851. As indicated in the historical photo, courtesy of Franklin & Marshall College, the octagonal tower in the interior used to be much taller—110 feet, to be specific. Most of it was torn down in 1886.

The Conestoga River runs just east of Lancaster and winds its way to the Susquehanna at Safe Harbor. It was named for the Conestoga Indians, which is what the Susquehannocks were called by English settlers in Pennsylvania. William Henry successfully piloted a steamboat on the Conestoga in 1763—although his then-12-year-old neighbor, Robert Fulton, is generally given credit for designing the first commercial steamboat in 1807. Truth be told, John Fitch properly gets the credit for designing, building, and operating the first commercial steamboat in the U.S., in 1787.

I mention John Fitch in large part because he was the direct forebear of my late acquaintance, John Cooper Fitch, who was one of America’s best racing drivers in the 1950s. After reading his autobiography Adventure on Wheels in my early teens, I became a lifelong fan of sports cars and road racing—and I was very fortunate to get to know John in the early 1980s. Among many other accomplishments, John was the only American to drive on the famous Mercedes-Benz racing team, and he finished first in class and fifth overall in the 1955 Mille Miglia, driving a completely stock Mercedes 300SL “gullwing” coupe. He designed Lime Rock Raceway and was also quite an inventor; in the interest of racetrack and highway safety, he invented the ubiquitous yellow sand- or water-filled barrels that you see so often along roads and work sites. John passed away last October at the age of 95. He sent me Christmas cards right up until the end. If any of this has piqued your interest, you will enjoy reading more about John Fitch in this Wikipedia article. (Photo of Fitch and 300SL courtesy of Road & Track magazine; photo of Fitch and Stirling Moss, after co-driving to win the 1955 Tourist Trophy at Dunrod in Ireland, courtesy of Autoweek magazine.)

The town of Conestoga, PA is little-known today but was once a center of production for the unique type of covered wagons known as “Conestoga” wagons. This old building may or may not have been a wagon factory—but it at least had wagon wheels out front. The area around the Conestoga River was also famous for its cigar makers. In fact, the nickname “stogie” came from the cigars produced here.

The river joins the Susquehanna at “Safe Harbor,” so named because of its sheltered and calm waters. The area between the two rivers was once known as “Conestoga Indian Town.” It was established through a treaty in 1701 with William Penn, and these Native Americans had lived here peacefully ever since, farming, hunting, and attending Christian church services. As noted previously, a great many of the original Conestoga Indians had died from disease and violence inflicted by other Native American tribes. Others moved west as the fur trade petered out in this area. By December 14, 1763, out of an original village of over 2,000, only 20 Conestoga Indians remained in the town—7 men, 5 women, and 8 children. This is what the area looks like today—peaceful, calm, and beautiful.

On the morning of December 14, 1763, however, the infamous vigilante group known as the “Paxton Boys” rode into the village, seeking revenge for the attacks against settlers in western Pennsylvania by Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)—attacks that in no way involved the peaceful Conestoga Indians. Many villagers were away, pursuing their various activities. The 6 who were there were shot and hacked to death by the Paxton Boys, scalped, and left inside their burning dwellings.

Following this vicious attack, the remaining 14 villagers were moved into the “work house” in downtown Lancaster, where they could be protected against further attacks. Tragically, it was not to be. Less than 2 weeks later, the Paxton Boys broke into the work house and attacked the remaining Indians with tomahawks, killing and scalping all of them. A detailed account of the tragic events is available in Benjamin Franklin’s “Narrative of the Late Massacres.” Benjamin Franklin later prevented further attacks on other Indian populations by the Paxton Boys, but none of the vigilantes was ever brought to justice.

In 1826, the Conestoga Canal was built alongside the river for 18 miles, connecting Lancaster and Safe Harbor. The rapid expansion of the railroads made this canal obsolete within 15 years. Today, Lock No. 6 is the only remaining evidence that there was ever a canal here at all.

Time continued on, and many places along the Susquehanna became popular spots for recreation. These happy bathers are clearly enjoying the river, sometime in the early 1900s.

In 1902, the Pennsylvania Railroad was troubled by the steep grades of its tracks in this area. To address the issue, it constructed a new “low grade” railroad line. As the building went on, the existing stone bridge over the Conestoga River was completely knocked over by a flood in 1904. Its replacement was an unusual two-level bridge, with the upper level towering 92 feet above the river and contributing to the lower grade for heavy freight trains. The lower level continued the earlier service, at 55 feet above the water. According to historian Frederic H. Abendschein, construction of the new railroad line and bridges “consumed over three and a half years, $19.5 million, and reportedly more than 200 lives.” (Small wonder that labor unions proliferated during this period…) The upper trestle was taken out of service in 1990 and is now part of a hiking trail. If you look carefully, you can see a small tree growing on the upper deck.

Slightly upstream from the Conestoga River, the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Station occupies about one-fourth of the width of the Susquehanna. (In the photo, it appears to cross the entire river, but that’s an island on the far left, not the opposite shore.) It was built during 1930-1931 and expanded in 1981, and together with the full dam is nearly 1 mile in length. It produces 417.5 megawatts of power, some at 25 Hz for railroad use and the rest at the usual 60 Hz for homes and businesses. The power plant is an impressive if somewhat ugly sight, but the dam has helped prevent the devastating floods that routinely occurred prior to its construction.

Just downstream of the dam are two rocks in the middle of the Susquehanna, known as Big and Little Indian Rocks, respectively, that are covered in Native American petroglyphs—i.e., carvings of birds, animals, human figures, astrological symbols, and about anything else you can imagine. Their exact location seems to be a carefully guarded secret. In any case, there was no way for even an adventurous tourist to get out there to look for them. Maybe with an R1200GS… 🙂

In looking for the historic semi-ghost town of Safe Harbor, what I accidentally found was Safe Harbor Village. It was built in 1930 primarily to house employees for the power company. I got to see the various houses and apartments, but I missed the 1800’s iron furnace, ironmaster’s house, old school, and other features of the original town. (Nuts.)

Did I mention what a pretty day it was?

My planned route would have taken me along Pequea Creek Road to a bridge over the creek and onto North Loop Road. Sometimes the best laid plans…

I wandered onto the bridge by foot, just to get a photo of the stream. I couldn’t help noticing gaping holes through the road surface, so maybe it was a good thing to have to detour around it.

Moreover, my detour led me to a scenic Amish farm…

…and to Horse Hollow Road, where I spotted the massive 4 1/2-story Sickman’s Mill. It was built in 1862 to replace an earlier, 3-story stone mill that dated back to before 1765 and burned in 1861. A major storm in 1996 destroyed the dam across the Pequea that had provided a steady water supply to the mill.

Next up was Baumgardener’s Mill Covered Bridge, originally built in 1860 and renovated in 1987 after serious flood damage. Note the interesting, mill-like building on the other side of the bridge. (How scenic can you get?) Turns out to be Baumgardener’s Mill, which, in retrospect, shouldn’t have been too surprising. It was built in 1806 and expanded with an additional half story in 1836. If you’d like to visit the covered bridge, better do so soon. According to Wikipedia, it is slated to be dismantled and replaced with a regular ol’ concrete bridge as a result of structural weaknesses.

The mill may be long defunct, but the adjacent farm still appears to be active.

My next-to-last stop for the day was the Coleman Covered Bridge, again on Pequea Creek. It was built in 1856, rebuilt in 1938, and rebuilt again in 1992—this time, four feet higher than before, in an effort to stave off future flood damage. It’s one of Lancaster County’s longest single-span covered bridges.

Looking down from the bridge, I spotted this fisherman hauling his boat into deeper water, presumably in preparation for finding the next great fishing hole.

Fox Hollow Road, which runs south from Coleman Bridge, was quite a treat. It twisted and turned almost continuously, and, as is usually the case in Pennsylvania, it was well-paved. It dead-ended at Bridge Valley Road, which led to West View, Delta, and River Roads, all of which continued the fun established by Fox Hollow. With good visibility and limited traffic, it was exciting to give the roadster some exercise and enjoy its responsive engine and great handling. And excellent brakes, which readily saved the day for an errant chipmunk.

After crossing the Susquehanna on Holtwood Road, I managed to arrive at the Indian Steps Museum a full hour before closing time. I’d been here twice previously, both times during the off-season when the museum was closed. On this day, I was warmly welcomed in by the museum manager and her son and given the grand tour.

The museum was built in 1908-1912 by a local attorney named John E. Vandersloot. He was an enthusiastic admirer of local Indian culture and had amassed a huge collection of arrowheads, spear points, pottery fragments, and other artifacts—many of which he had cemented into the structure of his home for display! It is one of the oldest (and possibly the oldest) museums in the country devoted exclusively to the display and preservation of Native American culture and artifacts.

The house is built around this circular “kiva,” or meeting room. The table in the middle was built from a solid slab of sandstone and weighs 2,500 pounds (about the same as a Mazda Miata). The stone was quarried in Ohio and floated across the Susquehanna River, presumably on something very large and buoyant.

A stone stairwell leads from the first floor to the second, the attic, and eventually to an observation room in the tower. The latter was open to the public on the day of my visit. It offered a very nice view of the grounds and the river (along with several lethargic horseflies and an irritated wasp). There are a number of beautiful stained-glass windows in the museum, and numerous paintings, drawings, and prints. (The print shown here depicts the marriage of Pocohantas to John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia in 1614.)

The upstairs rooms were originally guest bedrooms and such, but they now display “Judge” Vandersloot’s collection of artifacts—including, much to my delight, a detailed model of Little Indian Rock, petroglyphs and all. Following Vandersloot’s death in 1936, the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company purchased the property. Three years later, the Company sold Indian Steps to the Conservation Society of York County for exactly $1.00 and the promise that the Society would annually send a fresh sprig of holly from the massive 350-year-old tree on the property—a practice that has been faithfully honored for the last 74 years!

The Indian artifacts on display were wonderful to look at and read about. The most unusual exhibit, however, caused me to do three classic “double-takes” in a row before I realized that I was, indeed, looking at a two-headed calf. “Carol” was born in the early 1930s. Sadly, neither of her two mouths was connected to her single (four-chambered) stomach, and she did not live long.

With a final look at the Susquehanna and Bair’s Island from the Indian Steps grounds, it was time to motor back to Catonsville.

It was a shorter trip than average, but one that I actually managed to complete for a change. If you’d like a .gpx file of the route, just let me know.



Written by Rick

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