Publishing the Past Pt 4


Here are a few more of the stories from my father in laws childhood collection from the 1930s. They were written when he was sixty-five. He is now eighty-nine and suffering from Alzheimer’s, I have transcribed them so they could be passed on to my grandchildren and beyond. He grew up near Ephrata, Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was four and his father remarried two years later.


11.Playing in Grandpa Snavely’s Mill

Grandpa Hurst was a miller before I knew him. Grandpa White was a train conductor, but I never knew him. Grandpa Snavely was a miller also. I never really learned to know him because he never talked to his grandchildren. He was sort of a loner and did not converse much with anyone. He owned a large stone gristmill along the Hammer Creek.  Hammer Creek was so named because a hundred years ago or more there was a forge upstream from the mill.

First, let me tell you about the old mill along the Brunnerville-Clay Road. It still stands today (1992), but when I was a boy in 1935 it was already closed up and the machinery removed. The mill was three or four stories high and had wide expanses of hardwood flooring. The windows were all intact so it was well preserved. It was later converted into apartments.

Across the road is an old farm where my stepmother was born and where she spent her childhood, until her family moved upstream about a mile to the better mill.

The farmstead had a whitewashed two and a half story stone house that was rather small for such a family. Attached was a large, never painted, wash house summer kitchen.

Nearby was an old bank barn which was never painted and looked sort of black, especially when it rained. Uncle Charles Hollinger and Aunt Katie lived there with their family. When we visited Russel and Pearl and Jean and David, I sometimes went into the old mill or walked along the bank of the creek, but not often.

I learned to know about the Snavely Mill when my father married my stepmother in 1934. It was a prosperous place and was in operation for a very long time. The mill had a reputation for manufacturing very fine flour.

They also had two portable hammer mills mounted on trucks and four men went from farm to farm grinding cowfeed or “chop” for the farmer’s cattle.

The four and a half story stone building was very attractive and in complete repair. Behind it was a metal-clad granary about four stories high.

The Snavely family often came together for Sunday Dinner or just to visit. I think that may have happened because aunts: Nora, Jenny, and Anna still lived at home. With them lived a cousin Warren Snavely and a worker Lloyd Wideman.

When we went to visit them, there were many cousins and many interesting things to do. We could take walks along the dam or go swimming in the race. In the winter we went sledding down the road at a really high speed. Now I think it was very dangerous, but we grandchildren had such good times.

Many times after our big Sunday dinner, my cousins and I would play hide and seek in the mill. It is surprising that none of us ever got hurt. I think we all realized there were dangers there to avoid.

Grandpa Snavely also had a player piano. That seemed like a modern thing. They had many player rolls which could be loaded into the piano to make it play different songs.

A special time each summer was when everyone came home for “Snapper Soup!” Snapping turtles lived in the dam and if you put a stick in the water and teased them they would bite the stick and hang on. Only the uncles did that!

Another yearly event was when we went to see the night cactus bloom. It only bloomed once a year and did its blooming at night.

Beside their house were three unusual trees. They were persimmon trees, which were not very common in Pennsylvania. We tried tasting them once, but never again!!

Boat Rides on the Mill Pond
Grandpa Snavely’s gristmill was picturesque and so was the mill pond we called “the dam.” The mill was a four and a half story limestone building of good size, with a slate roof. I wish I could remember which year it was built, but it was old and had hardwood floors throughout.
The dam was wide and tapered down to twenty feet wide at the narrow end. It reached up and around the curve to the floodgates which could divert high water when a flood came.
In the winter we grandchildren sometimes went skating, but not very often. Perhaps once each summer or every other summer the grandchildren wanted to ride in Grandpa’s old wide bottom red and white boat which was always docked under the chicken house, which extended about ten feet over the water. There was always supposed to be a responsible adult along.
On a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon, about ten or twelve children climbed into the boat and we rowed up from the dam. I was about eleven at the time. I sat on the edge, the gunwale. The smaller children sat on the bench boards in the middle. No one had life jackets. Maybe they weren’t invented yet?
We were going slowly along the bank and the person up front, who was supposed to guide it, let it bump a lump of ground. The boat stopped immediately, and I rolled off into the water! I was scared and flailed about until someone grabbed my arm and pulled me up into the boat.
They said I was yelling, “Help me! Help me!!”
I climbed onto the bank all dripping wet and walked back around the pond to the house. I was embarrassed about it and just a little disgusted at whoever was supposed to be guiding the boat.

The Swimming Hole

In the old days there were no swimming pools. Even towns didn’t have them. When they did get one, we “Christians” wouldn’t think of going there. There were various swimming holes or dams where people could splash around in the muddy water and feel refreshed.

There was such a fun place about two miles from our home on Middle Creek, across from the Ivan Stauffer’s farm. A small dam about three feet high made it a nice place to swim. I only ever saw men and boys there. A rope hung from a high tree branch and there was a kids’ diving board from which we jumped into the three feet of water. One could hardly swim in this place, but it was special when Father took us there, perhaps three times a summer. Maybe that is why I never learned to swim as a boy.


Photo of Dayton Mill: Dwight L. Roth


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