A Jersey Shore tour is coming up

Last year, I gave a tour of Jersey Shore. Working with the Jersey Shore Historical Society, I gave a walking tour of the community, and it was wonderful. I had a great experience. There was only one negative moment — previous to the tour, someone told me, “No, I’m not going. I’ll just google the history of Jersey Shore.”

What I said was a cheerful, “There’s going to be stuff on the tour that you can’t find online!” What I thought was, “Don’t make me bite you. That makes me so furious I can’t see straight.”

Think it over: How would you like it if someone suggested your entire career could be replaced with a 10-second Google search? It’s insulting. I make every effort to include a lot of things that aren’t commonly known, and the Jersey Shore Historical Society was way ahead of me on that. Between us, we found out a lot of cool stuff that Google doesn’t cover.

But 109 people came to the tour and had a great time, which is a personal record for me. A hundred and nine is bigger than any tour I’d ever given before, and it was also the first tour I’d ever given outside of Clinton County. It was a great time, and at the time, I said that I’d be happy to do it again.

I’m about to do that. Come and join me.

On Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m., I’ll be giving a bus tour of the Jersey Shore area for the historical society, with the bus leaving from a site across from the Moss House. I’m looking forward to it, and I’d love to see a packed bus. In an effort to accomplish that, let me give you a free sample.

The community was created as Waynesburg in 1805, named after Mad Anthony Wayne, the Revolutionary War general who is said to haunt half the state. Early settlers were from New Jersey, and the phrase “Jersey Shore” was used to refer to the community as a joke. It caught on, however, and became the official name of the place, thus confusing travelers without maps for generations to come.

When I give these tours, I love talking about the people and associated weirdos who lived in an area. Thomas Martin, for instance, who owned a farm in what is now the center of Jersey Shore. He had what the 1892 History of Lycoming County refers to as “very peculiar views,” such as the idea that a price needed to be permanently fixed for his merchandise. He would charge 30 cents for potatoes, for instance, and never vary from that, no matter what. Market goes down? Thirty cents. It goes up; he could make more money? Too bad. Thirty cents.

He also had a habit of going down to the river and bathing in it about once a week. You wouldn’t think this to be all that weird, except he’d wait for winter to do it. He would cut a hole in the ice and take a cold bath. Which sounds terrifying to me, but nobody denied that his health was good.

Living in his household was an ex-slave named Jack, worthy of his own mention. Jack was blind, and had been freed when Pennsylvania outlawed slavery. Martin lived with him and cared for him until Jack passed away.

Another neat story from the borough is from February 1832, when Joseph Bailey got an unintentional boat ride. Bailey was living on the island in the Susquehanna, and he had a boat, because what else are you going to have on an island? With the ice breaking up, Bailey was trying to secure the boat better when the rope broke, cutting him loose in the river. He had no way to get to shore, or do anything else other than let the current carry him. His brother Robert rode along the shore on a horse, shouting encouraging things, but Bailey was unable to reach shore the rest of the day.

At night, he passed Williamsport, where crowds of people were gathered to shout encouragement, which was about all they could do. The boat passed through Loyalsock and Milton, finally getting to the bridge at Muncy, where hundreds of people were watching. Entertainment was hard to come by in those days.

From the bridge, they threw him a rope, and he grabbed it. They pulled him up, and his ride was over, after 20 hours.

The bus ride with me won’t be as dangerous or long, but it will be entertaining. Come along and join me.

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Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at ross13@rosslibrary.org or 570-748-3321.

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