Ruins of the past

So it’s kind of funny, you know, the kind of thing that you notice while you’re going about your day. At least it is for me. History often doesn’t go away entirely – It leaves traces, remains of the past that are noticeable in the present if you know what to look for. And if you know where to look, you can decipher these traces and figure out what was once in a location.

Like the parking lot of Weis Market, on Bald Eagle Street. I realize I’m the only person in the world who would notice something like this, but after it rains, we get a deep puddle about halfway across the lot, right by the sidewalk along Bald Eagle. A deep, L-shaped, geometric puddle that didn’t happen by accident. I noticed it a while ago, and clearly, under that section of the lot, there is the foundation of an L-shaped house that is sinking a little bit.

So I looked, with a little help from my assistant, Breanna Englert. Breanna was kind of amazed that I could just pull out a map and find this stuff. I showed her the Sanborn Maps in the Pennsylvania Room at the Ross Library, where I picked out the exact L-shaped house that stood in that location. Then I went to the city directories, which are sort of like a reverse phone book, listing the addresses and the people who lived there. And I found out that the place was once 333 W. Bald Eagle St., the home of Jason E. Hennessey, who lived there in the 1920s.

That absolutely blew Breanna’s mind.

For quite a while now, I’ve been noticing ruins of the old railroad buildings. And it’s not like you have to be exactly Indiana Jones to get to them. Along Liberty Street, across from the ambulance building, there’s the remains of something. You could drive right past it daily and not notice it. It’s essentially a concrete floor with a few remaining metal girders sticking up out of it.

Another one is somewhat bigger, and more dramatic looking. Right along Fourth Street, on the east side along the railroad tracks, is a huge set of metal girders that’s all overgrown. Clearly, this thing hasn’t been used in decades, but it was definitely was something once.

So I finally cracked, and decided to figure out what these things were. I looked at the Sanborn Maps. The Sanborn Maps are great – They’re old insurance maps that detailed every structure in Lock Haven. They listed the function of most of the buildings in town. So they’re a good way to explore the past.

I found out that the big one, along Fourth Street, was an engine repair shop. It was built sometime before 1925, because that’s when it appeared on the map. It was right beside the railroad tracks, a large building to pull the train cars into when they needed some work. In fact, if you look closely, I think you can still see the rollers that opened and closed the doors to this place. Aside from the metal framework, it was constructed entirely of brick, probably locally made brick. There was also a baseball field right next to it that no longer exists, if anyone’s interested.

The other one, along Liberty Street, is listed as being “machine storage.” This probably means a place to put larger items used on the railroad cars. According to the Sanborn Maps, it was built between 1914 and 1925, and was a one-story building with a porch on the east side. It was made from wood, with the iron girders holding it in place.

I do realize that not everyone would notice these remains of the past, and even if they noticed, not everyone would care. My daughters tend to roll their eyes a little. (“Daaad, you told us that.”) Paul Matthew, at 15 months old, still thinks it’s pretty cool. But he also thinks that plastic tastes awesome, so don’t make too much of that.

But I like this. Being able to find these things out. The past is not dead. It’s still here. It surrounds us, blends in with the present. It’s right beside us. It’s under our feet.

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.