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A dam good thing

By Lou Bernard

As I write this column, repairs to the Tidlow Dam have begun. I assume they’re still going on even though I write these things well in advance. It’s a governmental operation, and they take forever.

The Tidlow Dam is the one on the east end of Lock Haven, crossing the Susquehanna near Grant Street. You may or may not have noticed it in the past. It does what a dam is supposed to do, hold back water. It does its job and doesn’t really get much attention otherwise.

But, like everything else in Lock Haven, there’s a history there.

Just hearing someone mention the Tidlow Dam, you can tell immediately whom it’s named after: John Moorhead. No, of course I am kidding. It’s named after the man who built it, George Tidlow. Tidlow was born in 1888 to a Flemington family that was involved in construction; his father and brothers built many of the buildings in and around Lock Haven. As Tidlow grew up, he began to build them, too — Presumably his older brothers picked on him until he got into the family business. At least, that’s how it worked in my family.

Tidlow married, and outlived his wife, who passed away and left him with a little daughter. Marguerite Tidlow died on June 22,1925 at age 28, and was buried in Highland Cemetery. George was a good father, taking care of his daughter, Lenore.

Later, he met young Helen Schwoerer while he was working on repairs to a local bank. Attracted to Helen, George offered to take all the bank tellers out to a ball game, but it backfired — Not only did Helen say she was busy, she attempted to set George up with one of her co-workers. Helen was working at the bank to get her career off the ground; she didn’t have time for dating.

But then she met Lenore, and everything changed.

Finding herself caring about this sweet little girl, Helen began to fall for George, too. The two of them married on July 3, 1926, and occupied George’s home at the top of Bellefonte Avenue, where just a few years earlier, Great Island Cemetery had stood. The cemetery had been moved in 1918, and homes built on top of it, in spite of their being about a thousand movies showing why this is a terrible idea.

The Tidlow Dam was an effort to control the river a bit, and prevent future destructive ice floods like the one in 1918. It was begun during the Great Depression as a part of the Works Project Administration, a sort of government-funded improvement plan. George was hired to direct the building, and hired local men to give them work during an otherwise financially terrible time.

So, the dam was essentially a double-good thing: No floods, but more jobs. A win-win.

George and Helen, by all accounts, had a great marriage, the kind of thing Sandra Bullock movies are based on, but there was one small problem: Helen couldn’t cook. Remember, it was the 1920s. These days, that’s not exactly a dealbreaker; I do all the cooking in our household. But back then, it was caused for concern. So, according to “A Peek At The Past” by Rebecca Gross, Helen decided to learn to cook, beginning with a roast.

Which she immediately burned beyond recognition. So she ran downtown to Bob Dickey’s store, and bought a new roast pan, and buried the old one in her backyard. This became a common enough event in the household, Helen burning a roast pan, with Dickey as her partner in crime, keeping her supplied. Eventually, she learned how to be a somewhat better cook.

Much later, George asked Helen if she’d like some landscaping done. And then he dug up a destroyed roast pan in the backyard. He brought it into the house, claiming that he knew the property had been a cemetery, but hadn’t realized it had been a garbage dump, too.

Helen admitted that it was her fault, and warned him that he’d probably find a few more.

George and Helen Tidlow are both buried in Highland Cemetery, way up on the top of the hill. As the dam is repaired, take a moment to think of them, and what George did for the city. Maybe have a roast in their honor.

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