I used to be under the impression that people weren't really reading my writing. When I wrote these articles, I assumed I was writing into a vacuum, and nobody would ever read it. Apparently, I didn't think it through; I get a lot of responses to these articles. It's gotten so people flag me down at the grocery store to comment on my writing. I've started to have some sympathy for Lady Gaga.
Which brings me to a phone call I received from Margaret Hamm, of Lock Haven. She called me at the museum to say how much she enjoys my articles, and gave me a list of suggestions for more. Among the topics, she brought up the old Tangascootac mining towns. Mrs. Hamm commented that she rarely sees articles on those.
Well, guess what, Mrs. Hamm? You're about to read an article on the Tangascootac mining towns.
John Reaville was a tough, hard-working sort of man. He came from England in the 1800s to seek his fortune, and fell in with a coal company in Schuylkill County. They had a legal problem. If I gave all the details, you'd be reading this all day, but it amounted to this: If left unattended, the mine could be claimed by someone else. Reaville was ordered to hold the mine, make sure it was guarded, and never leave it unattended. He accomplished this by living in the mouth of the mine for eight months, having other people bring him food and supplies, never leaving. This worked--He ended up saving the mine, and consequently saving the company millions of dollars.
As a reward for this stunt, the coal company gave Reaville his own set of towns, right here in Clinton County. If you drive up the Renovo Road about seven miles, and then turn left on Eagleton Road into Sproul State Forest, you'll eventually reach an area where there are ruins - Old foundations, a couple of wells, and an old iron furnace. These are what remains of the Tangascootac mining towns. Revelton, Eagleton, Peacock, Rock Cabin ... all of these were once big, busy communities, all under the command of John Reaville.
Reaville supervised the whole operation from his mansion in the center of it all. A chest of drawers from that mansion remains, currently, in the adult bedroom of the Heisey Museum. John Reaville was described as a legendary Paul Bunyan sort of guy, in spite of the fact that he was about five feet tall, pudgy, and going bald. There were stories of him being able to pound spikes into the ground with only his fists, out-drink everyone, out-fight everyone, and generally be the toughest guy around.
Reaville would often invite guests to dinner at his mansion, and then place a stuffed bear or bobcat that he'd shot on the porch. As they approached, the guests would often be startled to see a wild animal, apparently about to attack. Reaville thought this was an amusing hobby.
Revelton was named after John Reaville himself. Peacock was named for the color of the coal, which had a brightly colored sheen to it. Rock Cabin got its name for obvious reasons, and Eagleton after the Bald Eagle area. It was in Eagleton that the first coal mine strike in Pennsylvania occurred, and John Reaville was the man who handled it.
In 1856, the operation was at the height of profit, and the men banded together to demand more money and better treatment. They went on strike, carrying weapons and threatening to become violent--Or at least problematic, in an early sort of "Occupy Eagleton" effort. John Reaville sent a trusted employee into Lock Haven to bring back Sheriff John W. Smith, who returned with a group of twenty armed men. Smith calmed things down and worked out the demands in about three days.
On tours, I get asked what ever happened to John Reaville. As he was buried in Highland Cemetery in 1876, it's pretty safe to say he's dead. His wife was buried next to him a year later, when she died. After their deaths, the rumor began that Reaville had buried bags of money in the basement of his mansion, under the dirt floor. There is a tale of a man breaking into the mansion and attempting to find it, but no details on how successful he was. So possibly, out in the forest somewhere, the lost treasure of John Reaville remains.
People have tried to find it. And, yes, that includes me, and no, I haven't found it yet. One of the problems is that nobody can be sure exactly which of those old foundations was Reaville's mansion. A metal detector wouldn't be likely to help. The nature of the treasure has always been unspecified--It could be paper money, coins, or gold. I'm willing to stipulate that there may be metal in the treasure. However, because of the iron furnace, the ground is littered with metal out there; remains of the iron produced. Getting a signal with a metal detector would be no problem--I defy you to find a three-foot space that doesn't set off a metal detector.
I enjoy the story of John Reaville. Practical jokes involving bears, old ruins, and a buried treasure. Don't anyone try to tell me this isn't a great place to live.
Lou Bernard is curator at the Clinton County Historical Society.