The house that moved
A while ago, I wrote a column about thunderbirds. It seemed popular, for the most part — Thunderbirds are said to be in remote forests, sometimes in Pennsylvania, and are described as giant birds that are occasionally seen. I wrote about them because I’ve been taking part in a documentary about thunderbirds, and I was hoping that a witness might come forward.
Most people seemed to like the column. Not everyone did; every time I write about the paranormal, there are a few people who take exception. One man even wrote a letter to the editor mocking me, which strikes me as excessive. However, the column did what I wanted it to do, which is to bring a witness forward.
While I was heading home from work one afternoon, I stopped and had a discussion with Joe Sohmer of Lock Haven. Sohmer is a nice man who says he enjoys my writing, and he saw a thunderbird when he was young.
Sohmer was around 11 years old when he saw a thunderbird at his family’s cabin along the Susquehanna River. He describes it as a big bird, much bigger than average. “It wasn’t an eagle,” he said reasonably. “I mean, I’ve seen eagles, and this was bigger. You can tell.”
He also corrected a mistake I made in my column a while ago, to his credit. I’ve written about the Lock Haven Post Office, which was built on the site of a couple of homes in 1919. Now, when I wrote about it, I wrote that the homes were torn down. According to Sohmer, this was a mistake — at least one of them was moved.
I checked, and it’s true. (Not that I doubted Sohmer, who comes across as a very reliable guy. But it’s nice to have documentation on these things.) It turns out that, yes, a house at 25 East Main Street — the site of the post office — was moved to 214 West Church Street.
First I checked the Sanborn Maps. I cannot state enough how much I adore the Sanborn Maps. These maps have the outline of every building in Lock Haven, which is great for research like this. I looked at the East Main Street in 1914, before the move, and West Church Street after, in 1925. And, yep, the outline of the house looks exactly the same. The building was moved.
Intrigued, I check the city directories to see who lived in the place before and after. And it’s the same guy: a grocer named Israel Boyer.
Israel Boyer was a prominent local man who had a grocery store on Bellefonte Avenue. He was living in the house at 25 East Main Street in the early 1900s, and shows up in the 1915 city directory there (I also love the city directories. They’re a little like reverse phone books, making them wonderfully useful for learning who lived where). He is also listed in 1924 as living in the Church Street house, and that’s no coincidence.
A piece on the Clinton County Times in August of 1919 mentions that he purchased the property on Church Street. This is fitting, as his house was already on it. The federal government bought the property sometime around 1918, the house was moved, and then Boyer purchased the new place in 1919, and moved back into his own house, which has to be something of an odd experience.
Boyer was still in the house when he passed away of a stroke on Oct. 25, 1926. The Times reported, “He was found dead in his bed about 7:30 o’clock. Dr. W.E. Welliver, who was summoned, expressed the belief that he had been dead for an hour.” Normally I’d include where he was buried, but his obituary notes that his body was sent to Tamaqua for burial for some reason.
Every time I go by that house now, I’m going to think of it — the house that was moved several blocks, the same guy living in it the whole time. It’s a neat story, and another bit of Lock Haven history that I have learned. Thanks, Mr. Sohmer — feel free to stop and tell me these things anytime.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-660-4463.