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Letort Historical Project

Interviews Conducted

Ed Shenk has lived in Carlisle for 79 years and was one of the founding members of the Letort Authority. Herb Weigle has lived here since 1986, and he had contact with the stream for several years prior to moving to Carlisle. He was a member of the Tri-county planning commission for a while. Richard Darr has lived in Carlisle for most of his life. As a young boy he fished along the Letort. His involvement with the stream waned while he was attending college and later serving in the military. However, in his 20s he became more involved with the stream again. He currently serves on the Letort Regional Authority and has made significant contributions to their work including proposing the idea of the Mully Grub restoration. Finally, Pete Selan from the municipal sewage treatment plant was interviewed about when the sewage treatment plant on the Letort closed.


James Le Tort

The first settler in the county was James Le Tort, an Indian interpreter and trader who occasionally served as a government agent. He was French-Swiss, with the French coming from his father’s side. He was paid 12 pounds annually by the government for his services, and is said to have had an excellent reputation. However, in 1709 he was in jail for sundry offenses. He built his cabins at the headwaters of the Letort at a place known as Beaver Pound or Great Beaver Pond. It is believed that this is where the watercress beds are now located. See the section entitled Le Tort’s Cabin for more about the search for his cabin. Le Tort had been given a large tract of land from William Penn. He apparently established his cabins at Beaver Pond because there was a Native American village there that he wanted to trade with and it was the intersection of several major trading trails. He settled sometime just before 1920. However, the Native Americans, supposedly they were Shawnees, accused Le Tort of price gouging and were offended by Ann’s, Le Tort’s racist wife, persistent claims that the land belonged to her and her husband and her physical attacks with a broomstick when she felt that the Native Americans were loitering too much at the trading post. After Ann’s livestock began destroying the Native Americans crops, they burned Le Tort’s cabins down in 1720. However, Le Tort rebuilt his cabins, only to be pushed out of the area by the wave of Irish settlers and squatters who quickly moved into the area.
Sources: History of Cumberland and Adams Counties (Dickinson College); Carlisle History and Lore (Bosler Library). 200 Years in Cumberland County (Dickinson Library); History of Cumberland and Adams Counties Pennsylvania (Dickinson Library); Carlisle Old and New (Dickinson Library); History of Cumberland County with Illustrations (Dickinson College). These were the main sources, however, the same basic story about James Le Tort being the first settler can be found in almost any local history book. More sources which discussed Le Tort can be found in the following section.


Le Tort’s Cabins

Both Mr. Shenk and Mr. Weigle agreed that Beaver Pond (Great Beaver Pond) was probably where the watercress farms are now located. Mr. Weigle had never heard of a Beaver Pond, but the name sounded familiar to Mr. Shenk. Mr. Weigle does remember hearing from what he referred to “a person who knew what they were talking about that” that no archeological evidence or other traces has ever been found of Le Tort’s cabin. The men hypothesized that this was probably because the remains were located under the watercress beds, which the owners of the watercress farms had flooded the meadow with. They also stated that there used to be a meadow around the watercress farms, which would have made this area a more desirable place for Le Tort to build. The farms are located where several springs, which are the headwaters of the Letort, are located. Mr. Darr as well placed the location of Beaver Pond at the watercress farms. When asked if he knew the location of Le Torts cabin he said that he did not but that he would guess that it was were the two branches of the stream come together in Bonny Brook. The cabin has been described variously as being at Great Beaver Pond, Beaver Pond, Bonny Brook, and at the headwaters of the Letort. Apparently he established his cabin there because it was the location of a Shawnee village and the intersection of several major trading trails.

Recommendation: While LeTort’s cabin apparently was not located along the current hiking trail, a marker about who LeTort was located somewhere along the trail might provide interesting information for passerbys.

Sources: Interview with Richard Darr, Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle, Carlisle History and Lore (Bosler Library); Cumberland County Geography (Dickinson Library); The history and topography of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford, Adams, and Perry counties : containing a brief history of the first settlers, notices of the leading events, incidents and interesting facts, both general and local in the history of these counties, general & statistical descriptions of all the principal boroughs, towns, villages, &c., with an appendix (Dickinson Library); This is Carlisle (Bosler Library); Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier (Dickinson Library). There are many additional books which mentioned LeTorts cabin, however, none of them differed from the sources listed here in the information which they provide.


The South Mountain Railroad

The South Mountain Railroad ran along the bank of the Letort and the current hiking trial follows its old bed. Mr. Darr recalls that, when he was a boy, the railroad tracks where still there, however, they were removed sometime in the 50s or 60s. Construction began in 1869 and was completed in 1870. The route began at Pine Grove Furnace and passed through Laurel Forge, Mt. Holly, Mt. Holly Springs, across the Yellow Breeches, then to Bonny Brook and the Letort then finally into Carlisle where it joined the Cumberland Valley Railroad. It was used mostly to transport ore from Pine Grove to Harrisburg and beyond.

Recommendation: Since the hiking trail now runs along its former bed, a marker about the railroad would be, in my opinion, a good idea. There are some pictures available of it in the Bosler library in the book Historic South Middleton Township.

Sources: Historic South Middleton Township (Bosler Library); Interview with Richard Dar.


Civil War

Confederate troops under Road bivouacked along Letort Springs at Bonny Brook on Saturday the 27 of June, 1863. Roads brigade consisted of the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 12th and 26th Alabama regiments. He left the night of the 29th by way of Mt. Holly Springs. On Wednesday the 1 of July General William (Baldy) Smith watered his horse along the Letort somewhere in Middlesex. He then stationed his troops along the banks of the Letort.

Recommendation: This would be an ok idea for a marker. If it is to be made into a marker, I would suggest consulting one of the many experts about Carlisle during the Civil War for more in depth information. There are several Dickinson Professors who are working on The House Divided project, one of which is Professor Pinsker, and they may be able to help

Sources: In Old Bellaire (Dickinson Library); 200 Years in Cumberland County (Dickinson Library); Civil War: Cumberland County (Dickinson Library).







The Bonny Brook Railroad Station

The Bonny Brook Railroad Station did not have a building and was just a platform, a few posts, and a sign. The train would only stop if someone was standing on the platform or if a passenger rang the bell. Mr. Shenk, however, said that as far back as he remembers the train had only been used for shipping fright. The location is pinpointed by Mr. Shenk on the attached map, and is also displayed on a map from the historical society.

Sources: 1872 Cumberland County Atlas; Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle.



Famous Fishermen

Ed Shenk- In Mr. Darr’s opinion he was the best fly fisherman along the Letort. He has been interviewed for this project. He authored several books on fly-fishing, including Fly Rod Trouting.

Charlie Fox- Deceased, wrote several books. Worked for a publishing company and his children still own his land along the Letort. The property is located a couple of yards upstream from Letort Park and on the other side of the river from the trail. He joined with other fishermen to establish the first fishing regulations for the stream in 1961.

Vince Marinaro- wrote several books on the Letort and was a lawyer by trade. Fished about the same time as Charlie Fox.

Albert Thomas

Norman Lightner

Ed Pinkston

Erny Schievert- deceased

Tom Boltz

Professor Fink from Dickinson college

James K. Reed- Lawyer went to Dickinson law

Joe Brooks- a nationally famous fisherman who visited the Letort sometime in the 50s or 60s. He was not successful in his effort to fish the Letort.

Robert Conrad- famous actor who fished the Letort.
Recommendation: Charlie Fox’s children still own his land and it is located right along the Letort along the part which the hiking trail. Thus, a marker commemorating him would be a good idea.

Sources: Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle; Interview with Richard Darr.


Sewage Treatment Plant

From 1921 until January 1982 the Carlisle sewage treatment plant was located on the Letort, downstream from the Army War College. This caused a lot of damage to the stream until it was removed. This is why, at that time, the better part of the stream and the part that Fox, Marinaro, and other authors wrote about was the upper Letort. Weigle also discussed other industrial pollutants, like dyes, being dumped into the stream.

Sources: Water Pollution in the Letort Creek and its Effects on the Conodoquinet (ALLARM Library), Interview with Pete Selan; Interview with Herb Wiegle and Ed Shenk; Letort.org.



Stream Conditions

Currently the downstream area is doing better than the upstream area because the upstream area has excessive amounts of silt, mostly from farms located around the source of the Letort and also around the Bonny Brook area. The downstream area also has more grasslands around its banks. The part written about by Fox and Marinaro, the upper part of the Letort, used to be more meadow like, similar to the lower part of the Letort is now, however, now the open spaces are being crowded by invasive shrubs. Mr. Weigle stated that there used to be a strip of grass that ran along between the bank of the stream and the edge of the trees. He stated that this open space has been taken over by invasive foliage that is extremely thick. Mr. Darr recalled how the stream used to be much deeper and how in one place, horseshoe hole, it was over his head even when he was six feet tall. The Letort used to be nationally known and was ranked as one of the top 10 streams in the Eastern US for fly fishing. However, due to its deteriorated condition the Letort has fallen to being only in the top 50.

Pollution along the Letort is not a new phenomena. During the 1790s the stream was so fouled up by the mills and tanneries along it that the citizens of Carlisle thought that it was responsible for an epidemic called March Miasmata which had been going around and attacked the tan yards and mills destroying several dams.

In 1779 a petition for a bridge over the Letort described the banks as being so worn by traffic that it was difficult for wagons to pass through. This letter is at the Historical Society.

Sources: The history and topography of Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, Bedford, Adams, and Perry counties : containing a brief history of the first settlers, notices of the leading events, incidents and interesting facts, both general and local in the history of these counties, general & statistical descriptions of all the principal boroughs, towns, villages, &c., with an appendix; Interview with Richard Darr; Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle; Letter at Cumberland County Historical Society.


Biggest Fish Ever Caught

The biggest fish on record was caught by a young man by the name of Terry Ward. The fish was twenty nine and a half inches long and weighed 10 pounds 4 ounces. The second biggest fish was caught by Rodney Glass, and this fish was just a little over 10 pounds.

Sources: Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle



Spring House

The Lindseys received their land grant from William Penn himself. The land has been passed down through the family, although the woman who currently owns the land is named Rice. However, the original springhouse, which the family made butter in to trade to the Native Americans, still stands. It is a small stone building. There is a picture available of it at the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Sources: Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle; Architectural Survey Forms (Cumberland County Historical Society).


Civilian Conservation Corpse

Mr. Darr stated that the walls which hold in the Letort in some places were built during the Great Depression by the CCC. He stated that these walls are now crumbling in places and were breached during the of 1972. Some of these walls have been removed.

Sources: Interview with Richard Darr


The Bonny Brook Tavern

Mr. Darr had particularly found memories of this old stone tavern. While it is no longer a tavern, the building is still standing. The home is located off to the left side of the road just past the railroad bridge. When he was a boy, Mr. Darr and his family would ride their bicycles down to the tavern because gasoline was rationed in WWII. He remembered that there was a pond between the tavern and the Letort which had trout in it and how he liked to lay on his stomach and watch the fish. Mr. Shenk and Mr. Weigle remembered this tavern too and stated that it was called the Bonny Brook Tavern. Mr. Shenk mentioned the tavern on his own when asked about historic buildings, so it was apparently quite well known. The owner used to be Pearl Lyter. There is also supposed to be a water wheel near the property that is currently taken down for restoration. This could be an interesting place for a sign too.

The building was originally a residential home built around 1852. the style is Vernacular Greek Revival, and it is constructed of brick. The house was constructed by Daniel Spotts.

Recommendation: This would be a nice place for a marker. The building is still in beautiful condition and is visible from the trailhead. The fishpond which Mr. Darr remembers is even still there.

Sources: Architectural Survey Forms (Cumberland County Historical Society); Interview with Richard Darr; Interview with Herb Weigle. 1872 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society); 1858 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society).



The Charles McClure House

The farmhouse was constructed some time prior to 1798. The first owner of the property was Adam Hoops who acquired the land from Penn in 1765. A man by the names of Charles McClure purchased the property in 1772 and built the existing house. The land then passed to C.W. Ahl by the 1850s. The house is built of limestone in a Georgian style. There are historic pictures of it available at the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Recommendations: Although it is on the other side of the stream, the house is located right along the trail. In addition, there are ample pictures of it available. Thus, it would be a good candidate for a marker.

Sources: Architectural Survey Forms (Cumberland County Historical Society); 1858 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society); 1872 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society).



The Andrew Holmes House

The farmhouse was constructed around 1820 by Andrew Holmes. In 1855 it was sold to two men by the names Glass and Thudium. By 1862, the home was owned by James T. Stuart. It is constructed of limestone in the Folk style. Pictures are available at the Cumberland County Historical Society.

Recommendation: This would be another good candidate for an historical marker.

Sources: Architectural Survey Forms (Cumberland County Historical Society); 1858 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society); 1872 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society).



Other Taverns, Tanneries, Breweries and Mills

The Sign of the Commodore Perry was located on the corner of High and East street. It was listed in the 1872 atlas as the Letort House. Other Taverns which were located along the Letort were the Eagle and the Harp and the Letort Inn. The 1872 atlas shows numerous mills and tanneries along the Letort through downtown Carlisle. Mr. Darr recalls hearing that there were 4 to 5 distilleries along the Letort in the 1700s. In addition, there are references to several mills, tanneries, and distilleries being located in Bonny Brook and along the Mt. Holly Springs Pike (Route 34).

Mr. Shenk and Mr. Weigle had several guesses about the locations of some of the mills. First, they recall that there is a little water wheel downstream from the concrete bridge at Bonny Brook. However, this wheel is currently being restored and so is not in place. However, it is supposed to be very old.

There are remains of other old mills as well. A mill channel runs all the way down from Marinaro’s meadow, which is now owned by trout unlimited, to a big house which Weigle and Shenk believe used to be a mill. This building is located immediately upstream from Letort Park about 50 ft from the railroad bridge. The previous owner was Wayne Borges and the property is referred to as the Rumburger farm. There is also believed to be an old house that used to be a mill above Rocky Stump’s place. A third mill was located down stream of the Post Maintenance building, which at one time was called the commissary.

Another description of the town in 1850 stated that “4 tanneries stood along the banks of the Letort, at the eastern end of the alley that runs behind the jail were Jacob Schrom’s on the left and Joseph Schrom’s on the right. A little further south near the railroad bridge, was Robert Irvine’s, with the entrance on high street.” (Carlisle History and Lore, Hoch, pg 49) Hoch also states that there was another tannery on the corner of East and Pomfret Street owned by Michael Minnich and that across the street stood a brewery.

Recommendation: some of the mills which stood along the modern hiking trail would be good spots for markers, however, am not sure how much information about these mills is still in existence. In addition, further work is needed to determine the mills exact locations. As for the tanneries and taverns, few of them actually stood along the part of the Letort that is the trail because they were located closer to downtown Carlisle. One tannery did stand at the edge of Letort Park, where a glass shop now stands.

Sources: Cumberland County Taverns (Bosler Library); Carlisle History and Lore (Bosler Library); 1858 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society); 1872 Cumberland County Atlas (Cumberland County Historical Society).



Stream Flow

One place which it was suggested I look for further information about floods and flow levels was the stream gauge at Middlesex, which has been operating for 10 to 20 years as far as either Mr. Shenk or Mr. Weigle can remember. Mr. Shenk says that by his estimate the stream’s flow has dropped by 40% in the last 50 years or so, though he heard recently that someone had done a study on the subject and had determined that the flow dropped by about 50%.

Sources: Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Wiegle.




The Quarry

Mr. Shenk recalls that the Quarry has been there for as long as he can remember. He states that it has been there since at least the 30s, but back then it was privately owned. It was run by old man Sours and his son. The quarry actually has been operational since at least 1858.

Recommendation: Since it is such an eye sore along the trail, putting up a marker about the quarry could be a way to make lemons into lemonade. The quarry appears to be quite old and there is probably some interesting history behind it.

Source: Water Pollution in the Letort Creek and its effects on the Conodoquinet Creek (ALLARM Library). Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle




Water Cress Farms

The watercress farms have caused major damage to the stream. The single biggest change and devastating event to the stream which Mr. Weigle could remember was when the watercress farms released herbicides into the stream and killed all the bugs, plants, and fish in it. They also stated that this spill was not an isolated incident and that many other spills from the watercress farms had contaminated the stream as well. Mr. Darr remembered the fish kill as well and claims that it took over 10 years for the stream to fully recover.

Sources: Interview with Ed Shenk and Herb Weigle; Interview with Richard Darr; Letort.org.



Bridges

The first bridge in Cumberland County was a stone bridge erected over the Letort on East Main Street in 1780. The banks where being worn away because Carlisle was on the shipping route for the anthracite coal industry and the heavy wagons used to ship the coal where causing erosion along the banks. This bridge was replaced by a stone bridge in 1795. The petitions for these are located in the Historical Society. There was also a railroad bridge over the Letort that was burned during the civil war. I believe that this bridge was on High Street and there were some pictures of another bridge, which I believe was in the same place, in the Historical Society.

Source: Cumberland County Geography (Dickinson Library); This is Carlisle (Bosler Library); 200 Years in Cumberland County (Dickinson Library).



What Carlisle Owes the Letort

When Governor James Hamilton picked the county seat, he only picked this area because of the Letort. He stated that the Letort would “admit a proper supply of good water” for the new town. At the time, Shippensburg was one of the most prosperous towns in Cumberland County and had successfully convinced the commission assembled to decide where to put that county seat that they were the right place. However, Governor Hamilton had the final, arbitrary say and he overruled the commission to, instead, take the suggestion of surveyor Thomas Cook to place the town on the Letort springs. At the time Carlisle was not even called Carlisle and had only somewhere around five houses. The name Carlisle came from a town in England and had been reserved for the county seat. So it could be said that Carlisle owes its name and practically its existence to that, as Thomas Cook described it “fine stream of water”, the Letort.

Sources: History of Cumberland County with Illustrations (Dickinson Library); Carlisle Old and New (Dickinson Library).



Up and Down Stream

There are, additionally, many historical buildings located upstream from the head of the trail and around the watercress farms. These include an old springhouse used to make butter to trade with the Native Americans and the Michael Klepper farmhouse. There were a distillery and several other buildings shown upstream in the Bonny Brook vicinity on the 1858 and the 1872 Cumberland County Atlases at the Historical Society. Downstream of Letort Park there were many mills, distilleries, tanneries and inns located through town. There were many buildings located on the grounds of the US Army War College as well. The barracks themselves have an extensive history which started during the Revolutionary War as a depot for ammunition commissioned by George Washington. Then, in the late 1800s it became the Carlisle Indian School. Both of these areas, while they would require further study, have many potential historical sites.