In portraying community life in Curtin, Mary Frances Ward several times describes the people as fiercely independent (Ref 1). She could have been talking specifically about my grandmother, Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963), and she might have added other adjectives, as well.
Rebecca was born in Jersey Shore, PA, but came to Curtin as a child when her father, John Parker (1851-1901), accepted the job as storekeeper and postmaster in the village. My grandfather Jerry Glenn (1874-1936) worked at the store and 'took up with' her. They were married and had their first child when she was 19. Jerry went on to take over as storekeeper and postmaster after John Parker's death.
Jerry and Rebecca lived close to the Curtin Mansion for some years. Exactly when they moved into the house shown in the diagram is unclear to me. Neither is it certain when they moved from the house. Jerry and his brother Charles (who lived in Cleveland) had bought the old Glenn Homestead in Howard Township in 1913, but the 1920 census still shows Jerry and Rebecca in Boggs Township (location of Curtin Village). These are details unimportant to the story. What is clear is that they lived for a long period of time in Curtin and that in 1923, they bought a big house in Mount Eagle and the family moved there.
Life was hard. Grandma was stoic. She had eleven babies the old-fashioned way. Two died in their first year of life and are buried in Eagle Cemetery. Widowed at age 59, Becky lived alone the bulk of the time until she died at age 86. She was buried alongside the babies and her husband. While a widow, she outlived three adult daughters. Two of them died in the span of one month. I was old enough to remember the funerals. I don't remember her shedding a tear.
She never even thought of seeing a doctor or a dentist – evidenced in later years by the absence of both teeth and dentures. Her hearing was impaired to some extent for most of her life due to measles. While I knew her, she could barely hear anything -- you had to yell right in her ear -- but she never used a hearing aid. She just got on with it.
She also never had a driver’s license and didn’t go many places. One evening when she was in her mid-to-late 70s, she rode with my Uncle Jack to visit relatives in Howard. After a couple hours, she indicated to him several times that she wished to go home, but he wasn’t ready to leave. Grandma went missing. My uncle found her about two-thirds of the way home, walking along the dark, sparsely traveled road between Howard and Mount Eagle, a distance of about 3 ½ miles before the dam was built. My uncle got an earful.
There weren't many rules for visiting kids in grandma's house. There was one, though. You weren't to slide down the beautiful, long wooden bannister. I'm not sure if it originated in order to preserve the structure or if someone had been hurt while playing on it, but my parents made sure I knew the rule and admonished me not to be in violation. I never saw anyone get into trouble. I never saw anyone challenge grandma's authority.
Grandma could also be wickedly funny in her own way. There was no running water or water heater in her house. Water for washing dishes was heated on the cook stove in a huge kettle. Every so often, someone would screech and jump a mile in the air after failing to take heed of how hot the water was in the dishpan. Grandma’s response was predictable. She would calmly submerge her whole hand in the steaming water, and without saying a word, look around with a wry smile.
Fiercely independent and tough as nails was she.
1 -- Ward, MF: The Durable People. The Community Life of Curtin Village Workers, 1810-1922. The Roland Curtin Foundation, Howard, PA, 1987
2 -- Layton, CG: Curtin Village and Eagle Iron Works: What Was and What Is. Thesis, Penn State University Scholars Program, University Park, PA., 1993.
A fascinating tidbit from Mary Frances Ward's book, The Durable People (Ref 1), is that the people of Curtin prior to the 1870s thought that tomatoes were poisonous. A few people in Curtin grew them as house plants and called them love apples, but no one would think of eating them. I wondered why.
It turns out that quite a bit has been written about this belief. An informative, readily available source appeared in "Smithsonian Magazine" (Ref 2). K Annabelle Smith follows the tomato from its native South and Central American origins to Europe, carried back home by the Spanish conquistadors. In Europe, an influential Italian botanist classified the plant along with deadly nightshades -- famous as the poison used to execute Socrates, among others -- and mandrakes, spoken of in the Old Testament as love apples. Fear of the plant spread throughout Northern Europe due to a combination of misunderstanding and plagiarism of earlier-printed erroneous information. Aristocrats may have been poisoned due to leaching of lead from pewter by acidic tomatoes, but it seems to me that it would have taken a whole lot of tomato-eating for this to occur. Perhaps more influential was John Gerard's plagiarism in 1597 of an earlier work inaccurately indicating that tomatoes were toxic. For whatever reason, the fallacy persisted and traveled back to America via immigrants from Ireland and other Northern European countries. Infestation of a particularly gnarly worm set back the tomato even further in North America. It may have been the popularization of the pizza around the late 1870s that saved the tomato from perpetual infamy.
In any event, the people of Curtin were not alone in their avoidance of the dreaded tomato prior to 1880. Whether by pizza or by another mechanism, the tomato's reputation was salvaged and it became a staple, both as a fresh vegetable (or fruit, if you're a botanist) and as a food that can be canned for use throughout the winter.
1 -- Ward, MF: The Durable People. The Community Life of Curtin Village Workers, 1810-1922. The Roland Curtin Foundation, Howard, PA, 1987. p33
2 -- Smith KA: Why the tomato was feared in Europe for more than 200 years. Smithsonian Magazine, June 18, 2013
THE CURTIN STORE CIRCA 1895
In the two photos below, notice the similarities in the hat and the way it fits and is worn; the shape and thickness of the eyebrows; the drooping lock of hair above the end of the right eyebrow; the slightly narrowed shape of the right eye compared to the left; the rather prominent nose; the mustache and the skin creases on each side of the nose extending downward to the mustache; the shape of the visible ear; the slight hollow between the right cheek and jaw extending forward and downward toward the narrow rounded chin; the rather slender neck.
THE RAILROAD REACHES CURTIN
Due to its remote location, Curtin had always faced hurdles to move its iron to markets and to import goods impossible to produce at home. Although canals were a major improvement in the transportation system, railroads were the next tidal wave of change.
The Civil War (1861-1865) slowed construction of railroads, but did not stop it. A map of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and its connecting networks in 1857 shows only the Main Line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with a spur from Harrisburg to Baltimore (Ref 1). The Sunbury & Erie Railroad completed laying track from Sunbury to Lock Haven by 1859, and also aimed east from Erie, but then encountered financial difficulties. The company was taken over by the PRR and its project was subsumed into the larger undertaking of connecting Philadelphia to Erie. The PRR had money, and the entire route between the latter two cities was completed in 1865, War or No War.
At the same time as the Philadelphia to Erie Line was being completed, construction had been started by the Tyrone & Lock Haven Railroad. This company also ran into economic barriers and was morphed into the Bald Eagle Valley Railroad, a subsidiary of the PRR. The rail line from Tyrone passed through Curtin and reached Lock Haven in 1865, in time to link to the Philadelphia-Erie Line. A later map of the PRR shows how the railroad connections now afforded easy transport from Curtin to the Great Lakes at Erie; to Harrisburg and points West – Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo (Detroit), Chicago, and onward – as well as points to the East: Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and beyond (Ref 2).
By the time the War had run its course, Curtin had easy, direct transportation routes for freight and passengers to and from major cities, in spite of its geographic isolation.
1 – [Map of] Pennsylvania Rail Road and its Connections. Office of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Philadelphia, Nov 3rd, 1857.
Digital ID http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.15603000
2 – Map of Pennsylvania Railroad and its Connections, 1889:
Digital ID http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3701p.rr005190
CANAL AT EAGLE IRON WORKS
Reliable and affordable transportation of iron to markets was always problematic and was always a key determinant to the success or failure of Roland Curtin’s enterprise (Ref 1). Initially the goods were carried overland on horses and mules or floated on flatboats (arks) via Bald Eagle Creek to the Susquehanna River. Both routes were fraught. Shipments sometimes ended up at the bottom of the river. At least one man drowned.
Canals were a great improvement in transportation prior to the birth of railroads. Development of Pennsylvania’s system of canals started in earnest in 1826, soon after the Erie Canal was completed the previous year (Ref 2).
The West Branch Division of the PA Canal reached Lock Haven in 1835, affording a direct route from there to the mouth of the Susquehanna as it flows into the Chesapeake Bay at Port Deposit, Maryland. Anticipating completion of this project, a group of local entrepreneurs, including Roland Curtin, organized the Bald Eagle & Spring Creek Navigation Company in 1834 (Ref 3). Their purpose was to build a canal linking Bellefonte (and Curtin) to Lock Haven.
Construction of the canal was slow-going and ran into bad economic times. Manual laborers were paid 84 cents a day for 12 hours and accomplished one yard of progress per worker per day (Ref 3). The first parts of the canal, a connector from the West Branch Division Canal to Flemington (built by the State) and the section from Flemington to Howard (built by the private company), were completed in a few years. Then an economic recession hit, and the stretch from Howard to Milesburg was not completed for more than a decade. It wasn’t until 1848 that the Bellefonte spur was ready for business.
When the canal was finally functional along its entire length, 100 pounds of freight could be carried from Bellefonte to Philadelphia for $1.50. The boat made the roundtrip there and back in only 10 weeks.
Alas, flooding destroyed all 28 locks of the canal in 1865. A new day had arrived in any case. The Bald Eagle Valley Railroad was completed in the same year and provided an even better alternative. It took 14 years to build the canal, and it only was functional for 17 years. The shareholders lost big-time, and the Commonwealth felt the larger effects of the collapse of its entire canal system.
1 -- Curtin, Hugh Laird cited in Baum, Jane Curtin: The Roland Curtin Family of Centre County Pennsylvania, 2002, updated 2020.
2 -- Our Documentary Heritage … Pennsylvania Canals – 1846. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Website, 2015.
3 – Brennan, Janet: Centre County Canal. Town & Gown, State College, PA, July, 1979.
4 – The First Report of the President and managers to the Legislature of Pennsylvania and the stock holders. Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Company, 1835
Digital ID: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/chi.087265445
NICKNAMES IN CURTIN VILLAGE
What is it with the nicknames in Curtin Village? It seems like no one who ever lived in Curtin goes by the name given at birth. Just a few examples are Pickle Dukeman [maybe Miles Dukeman, the blacksmith], the beau of Elise, who was the Curtin’s maid; Soup Barger, the Curtin’s handyman; and Beany Bathurst (Ref below).
So it was, also, with the Glenns of Curtin, and later of Mt Eagle. Eleven children there were, born to Jeremiah and Rebecca Parker Glenn over a 21-year span. It is likely that some of the nicknames resulted from the attempts of toddlers to pronounce a sibling’s name. Essic (pronounced Essick), for Esther, and Mars (rhymes with farce), for Martha might fall into that category. A few were probably names of endearment: Walter Furst was Hon, short for Honey; Frances = Pedge, pronounced Pidge, maybe short for Pigeon ??? Then there are a couple of real head scratchers.
It was 1917, and Grandma Rebecca was pregnant for the last time. You would think that names would be chosen before the child was born, being that you had 10 previous children and knew the uncertainty of gender. Wrong. The proud parents of a third son couldn’t decide what to name him.
It so happened that Grandma’s oldest daughter, 21-year-old Helen -- never called Helen; rather, Tutz (spelled correctly) -- was doing a big share of the infant care. Tutz didn’t know what to call the baby, so she told her and her baby brother’s parents that if they didn’t name him soon, she would call him Bill. Another few days passed without a resolution, and so it was, that Paul Richard became my Uncle Bill. I don’t know how Harry Parker Glenn was reconfigured to Jack, but maybe something similar happened at the time of his birth.
The tradition passed to the next generation with my dad (Hon, that is). My brother was named Gilbert Keith, but my father called him Clarence. (It probably came from the comic strip by that name.) My sister Leona Joyce was named in recognition of someone my dad had known and admired, but Leona almost never passed his lips. She was always Amy. I called her that, too, and to my children she was never anything other than Aunt Amy.
Then, alas, there is me. Jerry was a name chosen to honor my dad’s dad. You would think he would have called me Jerry. No, it was Knuck, as derived from Paul Winchell’s puppet, Knucklehead Smiff. Not many are old enough to remember Paul Winchell, but he was a ventriloquist and had his own TV show in the 50’s and 60’s. His two most familiar puppets were Jerry Mahoney and a muddle-headed character named Knucklehead Smiff. My dad, forever the comedian, chose the latter’s name as my moniker.
Reference: Katharine Curtin Hodges, cited in Baum, Jane Curtin: The Roland Curtin Family of Centre County, 2002, updated 2020.
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN CURTIN
A little-known fact is that Eagle Iron Works employed a small number of paid African American workers long before the Civil War. The company’s time book for 1815-1828 records an entry that indicates simply, “Black man started Tuesday, September 10, worked 6 ½ days” (1). A later entry indicates that “J Brown, Negro, worked 23 days in July, 1824” (2). Records of the company store at Curtin Village documents the purchasing of goods by 12 African Americans over a three-year period, 1830-1833 (3).
Slavery did exist Pennsylvania, but was gradually abolished by an act passed in 1780. People born as slaves prior to that date could be held in slavery for their lifetime; children of slaves could be indentured servants until age 28 (4). There is no indication that the African American workers in Curtin were in either of those two categories, however, and it seems very unlikely. Their employment and purchases were recorded in the ledgers alongside other workers’ transactions.
Workers at Eagle Iron Works were given free lodging, either in a boarding house or company-owned houses. Whether or not the African American workers were housed in the same accommodations as Caucasians is not recorded.
1 -- Manuscript Group 155, Curtin Iron Works Records, 1810-1941: Time Book and Miscellaneous Accounts, March 3, 1815 – September 1, 1828, p 44 cited in Hodge, R E : “Guide to African American Resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives”, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 2000.
2 – Ibid p 83
3 – Manuscript Group 155, Curtin Iron Works Records, 1810-1941: Provisions Book, August 9, 1830 – April, 1833, cited in Hodge, R E : “Guide to African American Resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives”, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 2000.
4 – Owens, C: Pennsylvania officially abolished slavery in
1780 … “The Philadelphia Inquirer”, Feb 27, 2019
CURTIN POST OFFICE
A post office was established in 1867 to serve the community at Eagle Iron Works and Curtin Village, and it remained in operation until 1935. The original postal window from that office was presented to the American Philatelic Society in 1973 by my uncle, H. Parker Glenn (1901-1996), at a ceremony also attended by Thomazine Curtin Weinstein (1920-1998).
The postal window was in a storage building at my uncle's home in Mt. Eagle, which had been the family home since 1923. In 1890, my paternal grandmother’s father, John M. Parker, became the postmaster in Roland (Curtin*), and was succeeded by Kathryn J. Parker, my great aunt. In 1902 (or 1905 -- sources vary), Jerry Glenn, my grandfather and John Parker’s son-in-law, took over. H. Laird Curtin officially assumed the title of postmaster in 1921. In 1913 my grandfather and family had moved from Curtin Village to Howard Township, outside the Curtin postal district, and as of that year the postmaster was required to reside within the postal district served by the post office he or she managed. In reality, Jerry Glenn (1874-1936) continued work as the unofficial postmaster until the post office closed in 1935. The post office had been located in the same building as the general store, which was torn down in 1967. It is possible that my uncle salvaged the post office window at the time the building was razed, but it is equally as plausible that it was moved when the post office closed or when the store was remodeled as apartments around the time of WWII.
The Curtin postal window is now on permanent display in the Expertization Section of the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
* The post office was initially called Roland, named after Roland Curtin. The name was changed to Curtin in 1907.
Dowdy's Hole is located on the Bald Eagle Creek a short distance downstream from Eagle Iron Works and Curtin Village. It's a pleasant place to go on a hot summer day. When I was a kid in the 50's and early 60's, my dad would take me there to fish or to take a dip. Hanging from the high limb of a tree, there was a rope for swinging out over the water. My dad was born in Curtin in 1905 and learned to swim in this spot. He always warned me that it could be a treacherous place. After all, legend had it, Dowdy was an unfortunate Native American who had drowned there.
These days, it is not unusual to see folks floating down the Bald Eagle Creek in canoes, kayaks, or inner tubes. It's not a white-water experience. It's more like a pleasant-Sunday-afternoon kind of a place.
It's a beautiful ride and you get to see fascinating geology along the way. You'll see five distinct rock formations from the Devonian Period -- really old rocks -- formed roughly 400 million years ago, give or take 20 or 30 million years, when this region was under a tropical sea. Aaron Bierly’s beautiful photo above and the geological information was taken from Behr, Rose-Anna, 2016. A float through the Devonian -- A river guide to the geology of Bald Eagle Creek from Milesburg to Dowdy's Hole; Pennsylvania Geology Survey, 4th ser., Trail of Geology 16-117, 14 p. Here is the link to copy into your browser:
Before or after your ride, why not take a tour at Eagle Iron Works and Curtin Village ? Take in the history of 19th Century iron-making in Pennsylvania, and enjoy a picnic in the pavilion.
My grandfather, Jerry Glenn, ran the general store at Curtin. I never knew him. He died in 1936 at age 62 . Apparently, he was a “pretty good egg”. His obituary indicates he was highly regarded in the community. Jerry (or Jeri) appears in the names of two of his grandchildren – including me. He must also have been something of a wag.
In the early 2000’s, I met a woman, then in her 80’s, who was born in Curtin and had lived there all her life. Her face lit up and her eyes looked into the past when she learned that I was descended from the Jerry Glenn she knew as a kid. She said, “You know what I remember about your grandfather? He always had this look on his face, like he was up to somethin’.” Funny thing is, my father also fit that description to a T, and I have been told the same thing, so maybe it’s genetic. But I digress from the root beer.
Traditional root beer was made from sassafras or sarsaparilla and was sometimes an alcoholic beverage, made and stored in barrels. In old Curtin, after work the “boys” would sit around the general store and have a few root beers while chewing the fat. One day when this woman was about 8, the story went, she and a girlfriend decided they’d like to try what the fellas were drinking. Somehow, they managed to snitch enough from the barrel to get drunk. My grandfather apparently got such a kick out of it that he couldn’t stop laughing, tears rolling down his cheeks. Today, he would probably have been sued and possibly arrested on criminal charges, but things were different then. Once he recovered his composure sufficiently, he just loaded the little girls into his Model T and delivered the two scamps to their mothers.
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.