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A Visit to Clark's Valley


Old Minsker Farm Clark's Valley The Old Minsker Farm in Clark's Valley (click on picture to view larger size)
Around 1749-50, soon after he stepped off the boat from Germany, Ludwig Mäintzger settled his young family on a farm near the lower end of Clark's Valley, Pennsylvania. Clark's Valley is a long narrow valley in the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania, and contains a small creek, or "run", that empties into the Susquehanna River just upstream from Harrisburg, the capital.

Ludwig lived on the farm for many years, until he died in the service of his adopted country during the Revolutionary War. His descendants lived on the land up until at least the early part of the 20th century, but at this point they seem to have all left the valley.

In September 2005 I had the opportunity between two back-to-back weekend events in Washington DC to take a drive up to Philadelphia to visit Birck Cox, an old friend from high school (see bookstore).

A quick look at the map showed that Harrisburg and Clark's Valley was a fairly short drive from Philadelphia, so I decided to buzz out that way and see what I could find.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the fast road west, so I took it, despite the fact that I generally like to travel the "blue highways" and actually see the small towns and villages and farms along the way. But I was in a hurry to get to Clark's Valley.

The roads out of Harrisburg were a little confusing (see map -- the Clark's Valley road is the one that starts just north of Dauphin and goes up to the northeast and off the map), but I finally found the right road and started up the valley, driving steadily uphill past houses and farms set in scenes of bucolic splendor. The valley is fairly narrow, situated as it is between two Allegheny ridges, unimaginatively known as Third Mountain and Fourth Mountain, so there is just the single highway leading up it. I knew I had to be driving right past the old family farm, but how to find it?

I drove up the valley a few miles but quickly decided that I had gone way too far. The farms and buildings thinned out until they vanished, and I was driving on state-owned timberland. I knew the pioneers of 1749 wouldn't have settled so far up the valley, so I turned around and headed back down until I saw a guy about my age sitting on a tractor in a field next to the road.

After pulling the car partially off onto the narrow grassy shoulder I got out and approached him. I thought he would be eying me suspiciously, what with me being a flatlander in an out-of-state car, but he didn't. He was, like everyone I met in the valley, very open and friendly.

I told him what I was looking for, but he said he was a newcomer, having been in the valley "only" 25 years, but that I should drive up the road about a quarter of a mile and talk to the Wolfe family, who had been there longer.

So I thanked him and drove up to the Wolfe farm. Mr Wolfe wasn't there, but his wife was, a very nice little old lady who could barely walk. In the friendly way of the valley she invited me in and sat me down to listen to my story. Then she said she had been in the valley for only about 35 years and didn't know the Minsker story, but she knew someone who probably would. She hobbled into the other room to get the phone, made a couple of telephone calls until she got hold of Pat Meyers, who lived down the valley and had been there for over 50 years, and sure enough, she knew exactly where the old Minsker place had been.

I drove back down the valley and met Pat, who was parked in a driveway. There really isn't any place to park on the highway, so I followed her in my own car down the valley for a hundred yards or so and she turned off to the left and into a primitive-looking driveway. It turned out that this driveway split right after it crossed the stream, and part of it paralleled the road for a ways. And along this part of the driveway was a beautiful meadow. This is it, Pat indicated, waving and pointing out her car window. I got out and took some pictures (which I later stitched together in the panorama photo at the top of this page), and then we turned around and went back to the split, and then we drove on up the driveway to the old Conrad Richter house. On the way she pointed out the approximate location of the hiding place of the chest where Ludwig had, accordig to legend, hid his family during the Indian raids (see Ludwig, the Chest and the Indian, and also Richter's 1963 story, Valley from the Past).

It's now owned by the daughter of the army general who bought it from Richter when he left the valley, so the house has been in the same hands since 1927 or so.

I didn't get a chance to see the old cemetery, since it is on land owned by someone who doesn't take kindly to strangers tromping around on his property. "He's a little squirrelly," I was told.

So then it got late and I had to go on to rural Virginia and the rest of my trip. But I will never forget my own trip to the Valley from the Past.

Clark's Valley Photographs -- Click on a picture to see a larger view.

Gap in the Appalachain Mountains at Dauphin, cut by the Susquehanna River. Clark's Valley starts just to the left of the picture.

Grove of trees on the Old Minsker Place. The meadow (see panoramic photo above) is to the right.

The cornfield below the Richter place

The Conrad Richter house, situated on a "bench" between John Minsker's place and the old Minsker cemetery.

The front of the Richter house, which faces the valley.

Another view of the Richter house.

Dinner bell to call in the field workers.

Clark's Fork, looking downstream from the Minsker/Richter bridge.

Clark's Fork, looking upstream from the Minsker/Richter bridge.