Little Bits of History

May 25

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 25, 2017

1738: A treaty is signed in London between belligerents – Pennsylvania and Maryland. The fighting portion of Cresap’s War or the Conojocular War came to an end. Conejohela Valley was the area of conflict between the two colonies and fighting first broke out in 1730 over the disputed lands. Pennsylvania’s Charter gave the southern border as a “Circle drawne at twelve miles distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then a straight Line Westward.” Later surveys showed the town of New Castle was 25 miles south of the fortieth parallel. Maryland insisted the line be drawn at the fortieth parallel as stated while Pennsylvania insisted on some convoluted means of calculating the border. This left a 28 mile wide strip of land both colonies claimed.

The area was sparsely populated. In 1726, Quaker minister John Wright and two friends brought their families into the Valley and settled near the Susquehanna River and began farming. They also built two large dugout canoes and tied one to each side of the waterway creating the opportunity for passenger ferrying. Few people needed to cross, but by 1730 business was increasing and Wright applied for a ferry license. Traffic increased, in part because it became known there was ferry service across the Susquehanna. A number of Pennsylvania Dutch moved to the area and Marylander Thomas Cresap wanted to counter this and set up his own ferry system at Blue Rock, about four miles south of Wright’s Ferry.

Because of the royal charter, Pennsylvania settlers did not have clear title to the lands. Marland granted Cresap a title to 500 acres along the west bank of the river. Much of that parcel was already settled. Cresap began to sell off parcels of his land and brought more Pennsylvania Dutch under Maryland law and began to collect Maryland taxes. According to Cresap, in October 1730 he was attacked on a ferry boat by two Pennsylvanians, the first armed confrontation between Pennsylvania and Maryland. He didn’t mention the attack was to take his own workman into custody for some violation in Pennsylvania, probably debt collection. Hostilities increased and the issue remained unresolved.

Both colonial militias were brought to the region to defend their claim to the 28-mile strip of land. Casualties were heavy and the fighting continued for years. Agreements were reached, but ignored on the ground. Finally, after involving King George II, the two sides were compelled to sign a treaty and enforce a cease-fire. While this settled the immediate problem, the issue wasn’t fully resolved until 1767 when the Mason-Dixon line was finally recognized as the dividing line between the two colonies. This assured that Philadelphia was indeed in Pennsylvania while adjusting the rest of the line westward.

When you move a border, suddenly life changes violently. I write about nationality. – Alan Furst

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? – Pablo Casals

Great countries need to secure their border for national security purposes, for economic purposes and for rule of law purposes. – Jeb Bush

As we all know from the Roman empire, big empires go down if the borders are not well-protected. – Mark Rutte


Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 27, 2012

Centralia, Pennsylvania today

May 27, 1962: A fire at a local garbage dump is intentionally set. Centralia, Pennsylvania was a mining town where anthracite coal was mined. The garbage dump was near a cemetery and local authorities hired firemen to set a controlled burn in order to make the upcoming Memorial Day more pleasant. All the trash was set in one corner and the fire lit. It was put out using fire hoses, leaving nothing but some smoldering ashes. This particular year, instead of completely being extinguished, the fire found its way into the coal mines below ground.

The abandoned coal mine had been used for more than 100 years beginning with the 1854 Locust Mountain coal and Iron Company. They set out the streets and lots for development of the town of Centralia, originally called Centreville. Since there was already one town by that name in the county, in 1865 the name was changed. Centralia was incorporated in 1866 with the coal mines the principal employer. That remained true for almost 100 years until the 1960s when most of the companies went out of business. In 1962, the population was 1,435 with more residents in the unincorporated areas.

The fire spread underground. Locals tried to put out the fire and after just a few days knew it was beyond their scope of expertise. Others were brought in and the fire continued to burn regardless of attempts to extinguish it. Residents of the town were being affected by the raging fire below. The byproducts, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, along with lower oxygen levels were making residents ill. By 1979, when checking an underground fuel tank for a local gas station, it was found to be hotter than expected. The fire was spreading. In 1981, Todd Domboski (12) almost fell into a hole four feet in diameter and 150 feet deep which opened up suddenly in his grandmother’s backyard.

In 1984 Congress allocated $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the locals accepted the buyouts and moved away. In 1992, Pennsylvania claimed eminent domain and condemned all the buildings in the area. By 2002, the US Postal Service revoked the zip code for Centralia. The roads are buckling or disintegrating. The fire continues to burn. Most of the region looks like a barren landscape with smoldering vents belching noxious smoke. Pennsylvania Route 61 was repaired several times and then finally abandoned with a detour built in the mid-1990s. In the 2000 census 21 people still called Centralia home. There were only seven still there by 2007, making it the least-populated municipality in Pennsylvania.

This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers. – David DeKok

Walking and/or driving in the immediate area could result in serious injury or death. There are dangerous gases present, and the ground is prone to sudden and unexpected collapse. – sign from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Despite the inferno below them and the gases that seep into their basements, some Centralians do not want to leave their homes and remain convinced that it’s all a plot by coal companies to drive them off valuable land since the borough owns mineral rights to the coal below. – Greg Walter (1981)

Pennsylvania didn’t have enough money in the bank to do the job. If you aren’t going to put it out, what can you do? Move the people. – Steve Jones, a geologist with Pennsylvania Office of Surface Mining

Also on this day:

No More Burnt Toast – In 1919 a toaster with a timer is patented.
St. Pete – In 1703, St. Petersburg, Russia was founded.
Model T & A – In 1927, Ford Motor Co. began the switch from Model T to Model A.

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