The History of Swatara Village

Swatara Village, located near I-81 interchange, Route 443, Pine Grove Township, Schuylkill County, was once an Indian encampment site of the Lenni Lenape (kinfolk of the Shawnee) in the late 1700’s according to historians, and is now a retirement community for senior citizens age fifty-five or older.

The area at one time was part of Berks County until 1911, when the borough of Pine Grove and adjoining Pine Grove Township were annexed into Schuylkill Co. during the term of Gov. Simon Snyder.

Seeking information on the property, historian Barbara Gill, of the Berks Co. Historical Society, Reading, PA, during a history search, found that over the course of 207 years (1793-2000) the property changed ownership 12 times.

Godfreid Roehrer, a lumberjack, sawmill and tavern owner of Rehrersburg, PA purchased the property from the High Sheriff of Berks County in 1793.  A search of title records reveals that beside Roehrer who held the title from 1793 to 1822, this property was also owned by Jacob Roehrer, 1822; Henry Stein, 1825; John H. & Susannah Stine, 1832; Samuel & Elizabeth Bower, 1866; William H. Reinhart, 1894; William L. & Virgie Reinhart, 1924; Edward & Florence Honicker, 1939; Paul C. & Minnie Wilhelm, 1946; Joseph H. & Verna Manbeck, 1959; Manbeck Dredging Co., 1972 and Thomas Feeser and Ronald Gill, 1973.

A log cabin was built around 1793 by Gottfried Roehrer.  It was of rugged construction, built from logs made into 12 x 12 beams notched by hand and joined together by wooden pegs.  Spaces between the logs were filled with clay or mud used as binder.   The cabin featured one room on the ground floor and an upstairs known as a loft.  The roof was covered with shingles, split from logs and shaved straight and flat.  Over the years, various owners adding extra rooms made it into an 8 room dwelling which became known as the Farm House.

Fresh water over the years was obtained from a hand-dug shallow well located on the south side of the cabin.

In 1939 the property was owned by Edward & Florence Honicker, St. Clair, PA, who established a successful dairy enterprise under the management of Luther Luckenbill and his wife, who together with their 4 children, performed all chores in operating the farm/dairy.

A plot of ground now occupied by the Comfort Inn at the entrance to the Village was once a meadow used by Honicker as a cow pasture.  A small stream flowing over a portion of the field provided fresh water for the cattle.

 BIRTH OF A VILLAGE

Thomas Feeser and Ronald Gill, brothers-in-law, both of Schuylkill Haven and former business partners of a dissolved excavation business, purchased the 110 acre property in 1973 from the former owner Manbeck Dredging Company.  Following purchasing the land, the partners decided to use 45 acres of the tract to develop an affordable senior citizens complex, which changed the landscape from grass fields once roamed by Honicker’s cattle into the present thriving Swatara Village Community.

The partners started out with the idea of a modular home concept, later deciding on double-wide mobile homes before switching back to the original idea of one, two or three bedroom modular homes.

Plans were drawn up for the layout of the Village which consisted of three streets: Swatara Drive (the main street), Towpath Lane and Canal Drive; and five loops: Juniper, Laurel, Trestle, Union and Honeysuckle Courts.

(Today, a new name sign at the entrance and a white fence along Swatara Drive welcomes you into the community.)

The next move was the construction of four show model modular homes erected on Juniper Court with one serving as their office.

The Village was in a standstill until 1987 when management installed a sewer system required by the State Department of Resources along with a fresh water well.   Finding the site for the deep well (believe it or not) was done by using a divining rod (dowser) which is a forked branch or stick alleged to reveal hidden water or minerals by dipping downward when water is located.

Gill, using a forked cherry stick branch as a rod, felt it dipping downward, and then handed the device to his partner Feeser who also received the same result.  The spot (in front of Honicker’s barn) was marked and the next day a modern well-drilling apparatus started boring the 6 inch diameter well.

The well was dug to a depth of 155 feet and produced 4,800 gallons per hour or 115,200 gallons per day.   The well has never been threatened by drought conditions although state water restrictions still must be complied with.  The water is tested daily and has ongoing sate mandated testing.

This well is the main and only water source now supplying the Village.  The old hand-dug well used by the former owners has since been filled in and sealed.   The Water Company is now owned by the Pine Grove Township Authority.

A small house located on the property, used as a summer home by former owners, was remodeled in 1991 into a community center; today this building is our club house which houses the SVPOA office and a wonderful library for the community.

The center was dedicated May 5, 1991, with a ribbon cutting ceremony held in front of the building performed by Barbara Gill, wife of Ron Gill and Marilyn Feeser, wife of Tom Feeser, founder of the Village.   Former Pine Grove mayor, Donald Strouphauer, welcomed citizens of the Village on behalf of local government officials.

Ron Gill, president of Swatara Village at the time said, “It was a good time for everyone to meet their new neighbors”.  Following the dedication, a dinner was held.

The original 2-story barn located east of the original homestead being neglected over the years by previous owners became an eyesore and was demolished by management in 1992.   A section of the foundation was salvaged and used as part of the construction of the new 35 x 62 foot community center building, today known as “The Barn”.

A 20 x 20 stone building used as a milk storage house by Honicker’s Dairy (still standing) is presently being used for storage of Village equipment.

The original idea was to use the 8 room house (homestead) as the new office.  Plans were discussed to restore the home (believed to be the first log cabin in this area) to its original condition but following inspection by contractors it was revealed it would be too costly a procedure.

Instead, rooms were partitioned and made into office spaces which included filing and equipment rooms along with a modern bathroom.  After transition in 2012 this building was taken down.

The modular home was delivered on trailer trucks to the premise in two sections, and then placed on the foundation by a traveling mobile crane.  Following completion of placement of the home, the lots are beautifully landscaped.

All utilities, electric, television and telephone service are underground and all streets are illuminated by dusk to dawn lighting.  Today the Village is fully developed with a total of 139 homes.

The first resident of the Village was Lois Crouser.  She arrived in Pine Grove in1990 from Elizabethtown, PA and had her home erected on Towpath Lane.  Mrs. Crouser also served as receptionist of the Village for quite some time.

The Village is made up of folks from as far away as California, Colorado, Florida, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, with the majority from Pennsylvania.

The past residents formed a Property Owners Association who supervised all activities.   The 2013 officers are:  President, James Morgan, Vice-President, John “Tony” Betz, Treasurer, Betty Jeffries and Directors Jerry Kahl,  Sara Mann, Sara Ann “Sandy” Painter  and Mary Kilcher.

The management has adopted a logo based on Indian lore, showing several tepees along a stream, surrounded by pine trees with the sun in the background.

 INDIAN ENCAMPMENT

According to historians, during the late 1700’s when the area was a dense forest and long before white men invaded the area, a small tribe of Lenni Lenape set up an encampment along the banks of Swatara Creek, now property of the Village.   The tribe hunted with bows and arrows, speared fish in the clear water of the stream and trapped beaver and other fur bearing animals for their food and pelts.  Deer, being plentiful, provided many a venison meal for the tribe.

Joseph H. Manbeck, Schuylkill Haven, a former state legislator of District 125, owner of Manbeck’s Auto Agency, Pine Grove and also owner of the farm (1959)  said:  “History shows the Village was a former Indian settlement and while tilling the soil over the years in preparation for planting crops, he found many arrowheads, spear points and other Indian artifacts”.

Bruce Ditzler, a former resident of the Village stated that “in 1950 when he was a boy, he and other youths of the area trapped many beavers along the banks of the creek and sold their pelts to Sears Roebuck and Company for a little spending money”.

 SWATARA CREEK

Swatara Creek, once a pure stream during the habitation of Native Americans, became contaminated following the establishing of area coal collieries that dumped their refuse water into the stream killing all fish life.

With the decline of mining, fish have now returned to the waters.  The first stocking of trout in the stream in recorded history occurred on opening day of trout season April 14, 2000.

Headwaters of the stream begin on the north side of Interstate 81 near the Hegins exit and flows toward Newtown then through the towns of Ravine and Pine Grove.  In Pine Grove it is joined by Little Swatara Creek near the Pine Grove Fish & Game Club.  It passes Swatara Village and flows into the Susquehanna River at Middletown (Dauphin Co)

Not too far from the headwaters a beautiful 30 foot waterfall (Swatara Falls) can be seen (similar to the falls at Watkins Glen).   http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM75BW_SWATARA_FALLS

 UNION CANAL

Over the years the land on which the Village now stands was rich in historical folklore.    During 1830 the Union Canal was established on a portion of the property located just 500 feet south of the old homestead.    The canal was used to transport coal and wood by barge to Philadelphia.  The barges were pulled by a team of mules driven by boys who were paid a salary of $10.00 a month.  The canal was abandoned in 1862.

A lock, one of four between Pine Grove and Suedberg, (a distance of 6 miles) was constructed to regulate the flow of water from Swatara Creek to the canal.  Remains of the lock, built of sandstone eight and a half feet wide and 75 feet in length, was still standing until destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  A part of the structure can still be seen today but can barely be recognized since it is concealed by underbrush.

Following the abandonment of the canal, the right of way was purchased by Philadelphia/Reading Railroad Co., in 1862 which gave the company possession of the railroad bed.  A spur track known as the Swatara-Lebanon branch (which passed over a portion of Swatara property) was established.   The railroad was abandoned in 1924 and the only remains of its existence is a stone “trestle bridge”.

In 1995 management restored part of a nature trail running between two sections of wetlands to the bank of Swatara Creek where it is believed Native Americans built camp fires and performed their rituals.   The former trail, once a narrow path which ran between Swatara Creek and the Lenni Lenape encampment, was used by the tribe to reach the main Indian trail (Tulpehocken) now State Highway 443 and the main street of Pine Grove.

The Tulpehocken trail ran eastward through Pine Grove, north to the Deep Creek Valley, continued to what is now Shamokin, PA and ended at the banks of the Susquehanna River at what is now Sunbury, PA the site of another large Native American encampment.

In November 1993 to keep Indian culture alive, management invited Black Eagle (Edward Karrer) of Schuylkill Haven, a half Cherokee Indian, freelance author and poet of Indian culture to spend a day in the Village.

Karrer dressed in coyote headdress and traditional Indian clothing lectured the residents on Indian culture, customs and displayed many hand crafted artifacts.  One artifact, a “dream catcher” was presented to Marilyn Feeser, activity director of Swatara Village at the time.

The “dream catcher” is a net like item, each with different designs.  Indians believe it catches bad dreams in the net and lets good dreams pass through.

A medicine man would gave the catcher to members of his tribe who suffered from nightmares, believing bad dreams caught in the net were destroyed by the sun’s rays at dawn.

Since the 2012 Transition, the Village is now wholly owned by the homeowner(s) who form the Swatara Village Property Owners Association.   Any new homeowner(s) automatically become(s) one of the owners of this beautiful, serene and peaceful Swatara Village.