The Lost Town of Pandamonia, PA

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The Lost Town of Pandamonia, PA

Postby Rick F. » Sat May 29, 2010 6:37 pm

pan•de•mo•ni•um

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: modern Latin (denoting the place of all demons, in Milton's Paradise Lost

Well. How could any self-respecting explorer not try to find a place like that? Having read about Pandamonia in Pennsylvania Ghost Towns by Susan Hutchinson Tassin, I knew I had to find it. And find it I did—but, as always, getting there is half the fun.

I got an early start on Saturday, May 22, and before long was going through Manchester, MD and Pleasant Hill, PA before arriving at West Manheim Township—which featured this apparent one-room schoolhouse:
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A little further on was Hanover, PA, an inexhaustible source of wonderful and quaint old houses for those who enjoy walking or driving around and looking at such places. This was one of my favorites, on Broadway Street:
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Abbottstown has always been one of my preferred little towns in Pennsylvania and was founded in 1753 by (naturally) John Abbott. This day, however, I was horrified to see that someone had bulldozed the main square in town and replaced it with a traffic circle! Sacrilege! At least some of the great old buildings were spared, including the one shown below. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out any information about it, other than it appeared to be a private residence. The year 1884 and the initials WHA are built into the fireplace towers.
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Conewago Creek, on the outskirts of East Berlin, featured this upstream dam…
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…this rickety bridge…
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…and these fleeing ducks. ("Never look back—something might be gaining on you!")
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As I continued to head north, I passed a sign for Williams Grove. Now, any true motorhead knows that Williams Grove is home to the famous Williams Grove Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval that first opened its doors in 1939 and regularly offers outstanding sprint car racing. Needless to say, I had to go find the track and see what it looked like "in the clay." I found it easily enough, and there wasn't anyone around to chase me off.
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I was tempted to do a few laps in the Z4, until I got a look at the track surface. After the morning's rain, it was a mess. I could picture myself, explaining to the local constabulary just how I'd mistaken the entrance to the track for Interstate 81 and then gotten stuck in the mud… This picture, incidentally, shows the exit of Turn 2, leading onto the backstraight. I expect the spectators who sit in these grandstands get a shower of dirt and mud pretty regularly!
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Boiling Springs, PA is named for its chief landmark. The spring bubbled up vigorously from underground and has been carefully preserved in a park-like setting. But the water temperature was only about 50º—the bubbling effect occurs because water runs off of South Mountain, at a considerably higher elevation, and through a long cavern before the pressure forces it up through an aquifer and into the open. The Springs empties 22 million gallons of water a day!
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This church in Carlisle was quite a sight. The photo also demonstrates the dangers of HDR photography: The first of my three bracketed shots was clear of traffic, but then an annoying Chrysler 300M hove into view in the -2 stop photo and out of view in the +2 one. Fortunately, I have no shame, and I'm using the picture anyway. Traveling through Carlisle, the home of Dickinson College, it was apparent that it was graduation weekend. The seniors were all dressed up, and, I must say, all the guys were devilishly handsome and all the gals were gloriously beautiful. Oh to be 22 again!
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Leaving Carlisle on Route 74, I took a slight detour on Old Gap Road just to get a sense for what the original route through Waggoner's Gap looked like. I found that it looked old and falling apart, mostly—but scenic.
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The beautiful little crossroads town of Bridgeport appeared, although it's tough to find it on any map. I had to stop and take a look anyway. It's on the banks of Sherman Creek, which is apparently home to any number of Northern Water Snakes such as this one:
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It's always a thrill to cross over Kittatinny Ridge (or Blue Mountain) via Waggoner's Gap and Route 74—a great twisty road with switchback corners and roughly 1,500 feet of elevation gain. This time, I stopped for a picture (and to let Granny's 1970 Ford get a good head start). (I still caught up with her on the downhill side, dang it!) This mountain is one of the best hawk-watching sites in the U.S., and I saw several flying along, suddenly folding their wings, and swooping down on some unsuspecting prey. (Fortunately for Granny, her Ford was a hardtop.)
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These guys and gals might have been a little large for a hawk to fly off with.
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The stately (and isolated) St. Peter's Church was quite a sight in the distance. After a couple of tries, I found an unmarked dirt road that led to the church and its scenic graveyard.
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The lost town of Pandamonia was reputed to be near Landisburg, PA. I'd been through Landisburg on the R1200GS a couple of years ago and had fallen in love with its quaint old houses. At the time, they weren't in the greatest shape—and I'm afraid that nothing much has changed since then. Some of the most spectacular, such as this one, are slowly starting to fall apart.
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Outside of Landisburg, out of the corner of my eye I spotted an old log home tucked away behind a number of large trees. When I stopped for a picture, I was soon accosted by the old fellow who lived next door. (In fairness, he was probably about my age…) Once he realized my intentions were honorable, he told me that the place had been built in about 1870, and that his uncle had lived there for a great many years before passing away in 1985. The house has been going downhill since then, much to the sorrow of my new acquaintance, who had spent large amounts of time there himself. But it was in far better shape than anything in Pandamonia, as I was soon to learn.
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I found Laurel Run Road without difficulty, although my not-so-faithful Garmin Zumo GPS was resorting to its trick of losing satellite reception whenever I needed it most. After a short distance of paved surface, the road looked more like this:
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Pandamonia is located in Henry's Valley, which was granted to Christian Henry, one of the earliest settlers. The town first took form in the 1790s and grew to be a significant lumbering and tanning village with over 100 homes. According to an account by an unknown author, "The people who came into the valley were the Hardiest kind. They were mountaineers who built their houses, stables and sheds of logs, which were cut dubbed and hewn in the immediate area. There were no stores in the valley and no mail or telephone closer than 8 miles. In order to have these luxuries they could walk or go on horse back across Kittatinny or Blue mountain to Newville or across Bower mountain to Blain or down shaffer's valley to Landisburg."

Thanks to a helpful wooden sign, it was easy to find where the schoolhouse had been—but there was scant evidence of the school itself or the many houses built on the hillside surrounding it. The stones are all that's left of the foundation for the school. According to the account, "My brother Mark Taught in the valley during the school term of 1904-05 for the large amount of 28$ per month. He roomed and boarded with old Muzzy
Bitner for 7$ a month. He had 24 pupils enrolled…" Seven years later, the number of students had dwindled to just four, as the inhabitants moved away.
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Hiking around the area, I soon realized why part of it was called "Nettle Bottom." The long-stemmed plants were everywhere, each with dozens (or hundreds) of incredibly sharp thorns. Getting anywhere soon became an exercise in determination, pain management, and foolishness. For my trouble, however, I was rewarded with this Important Artifact of Pandamonia. Yeah, I know: It's only a hinge of some sort. And it was about all that's left of the town.
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Following the old road that used to run between Blain and Newville, I soon found the area where the tannery had been. Getting there required crossing this slightly dilapidated wooden bridge over Laurel Run. (It was probably sturdier than it looked, Tina!)
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Pennsylvania Ghost Towns had carefully warned about the "numerous springs bubbling up around the foundations" and suggested wearing "sturdy, water-resistant boots" accordingly. I didn't see any foundations initially, so I set off through a field of ferns. On my 20th or so step, my right foot sank completely into the ground, at least 6 inches above my ankle! Well, the author had warned me. Fortunately, my foot (and shoe) came right back out okay, and I walked more carefully after that. It may be that "the home of all demons" was anxious to capture another victim.

After a short ways, I saw parts of what had been the foundation for the steam tannery—which must have been a large building, indeed. I.J. McFarland (a relative of yours, Clare?) built the tannery in 1840, a short ways down the mountain from the schoolhouse and on the banks of Laurel Run River. It operated until about 1890.
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There being far fewer nettles in this area, I hiked up and around where the tannery had been. In the process I stumbled across this little remnant of civilization. But what caused the blurred flash of light in the upper righthand corner of the photo? Demons? Ghosts? The last remaining Force Field of the anonymous author's schoolmaster brother??
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As with the schoolhouse, there really was very little left of the tannery and other businesses that had once prospered in these remote woods. The last residents left in 1912, and Pandamonia has been reverting to nature ever since. But it was plenty scenic.
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My last stop in the ghost town was to the Patriot Cemetery. Here, against all odds, someone has been taking care of the cemetery and gravestones ever since the town became deserted. None of the sources I checked could explain who it was or, for that matter, why. It's a nice thought, however, that the town is not disappearing entirely.
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The anonymous essay on Pandamonia (which is available at Account) described a number of interesting stories of the town. Some were somber indeed. From the account: "The story has been told many times by an old citizen of the valley, that a black girl who was escaping from the south by way of the underground railroad, was treed by several dogs during the night and mistakenly shot down by hunters [who thought the dogs were after a bear, according to another account]. She is supposed to have been buried outside the cemetery, near the big white oak tree which stands close to the northeast corner of the cemetery." A large stone is now evident in that area, just outside the cemetery fence. Could it mark the poor African-American's burial site? Someone has been tending it, and recently.
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Having exhausted the known areas of Pandamonia, I began my journey back to civilization. Along the way, I noticed a pickup truck approaching from the other direction—one of only a couple of vehicles I'd seen on Laurel Run Road all afternoon. Since the road is quite narrow, I focused on a good place to pull to the side to allow enough room for both cars to pass. As the truck approached, I realized that the bright yellow windblocker on top of the cab was not, in fact, a windblocker at all—it was the rain jacket of a teenager (a boy, of course…) who was lying flat on the roof and hanging on for dear life as his buddy drove along at a brisk pace! Well, long live the spirit of adventure. The kid was having a great time, and I trust that the driver had enough sense not to step on the brakes too hard.

Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of the roof-mounted kid until it was too late to get a picture. Instead I had to settle for a shot of lovely Laurel Run.
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By now I was famished. I followed the signs in Newville to a barbecue fundraiser on behalf of the area's Little League teams—and found at least three or four games going on. With hot dog, french fries, and diet Pepsi in hand, I enjoyed a few innings of the Tigers versus the Yankees. Most of the parents there had to root for both teams; it's not a very big town, and everyone appeared to know everyone else.
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With my primary objective located and explored, I was heading back to Catonsville. I had one other goal in mind, however, namely the dramatic "Building No. 2" from what used to be the South Mountain Sanatorium. On a previous trip in the Z4, I'd encountered this incredible building, which served as a sanitorium and later as a children's "preventorium" starting in 1938 (see The Heart of Pennsylvania). Sanitoriums were for the treatment of tuberculosis, before antibiotics had been discovered. A preventorium was a building for housing patients who had tuberculosis that had not yet progressed to an active stage. Building No. 2 was abandoned in 1985, after being used as a home for mentally challenged women and, later, geriatric patients. This is the back of the building, which is all I'd seen on my first time by.
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I was anxious to see the other side, since my subsequent research from a year ago had informed me that the front side was much more elaborate. As it turns out, there's no "bad side" to this building. Here's the front one-half; my widest-angle lens wasn't enough to let me capture the whole works. The vintage aerial shot shows almost all of it—no kidding, this place is massive. (Vintage photo courtesy of the South Mountain Restoration Center website.)
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And yes, that is my Z4 parked proudly right in front of the building, at the end of the long circular drive. I kept waiting for someone to arrive and shoo me away, but no one did. (Always remember: "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission.")
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I'll let you folks figure out what's going on in this picture. I'll give you a hint: It's Yr Fthfl Srvnt in action. But whether it's a "window into my soul" or not, you'll have to judge for yourself.
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From the entrance to Building No. 2, you can gaze out over the front lawn to the still-operating Building No. 1. It's now the South Mountain Restoration Center, a nursing home and (elsewhere on the campus) home for juvenile repeat offenders. Sounds like an ill-advised combination, right? Well, it seems to work (and the nursing home gets high ratings).
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Here's the front of Building No. 1. Both buildings went up at the same time, but it's not clear why one is thriving and the other is barren and deteriorating.
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Just a couple of other shots from my trip back home, first of a stately church belfry and last of a stately stone mansion. As the expression goes, you can't swing a dead cat around this area without finding natural or man-made beauty.
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I made a quick stop at the Rebecca Pearl art gallery in Emmittsburg, but my high school friend was not in that afternoon. I admired her paintings at some length and then motored on back home. By recent standards, this was a fairly short trip at about 230 miles. But regardless of length, there's nothing better than to ride or drive on out into the hinterlands and find something new, old, different, scenic, or just weird. Pandamonia managed to be most of these things simultaneously.

Rick F.

PS: Sources vary as to whether the town's name was "Pandamonia," as I've used, or "Pandemonium." As legend goes, the townspeople named their town after a particularly heated discussion of whether prayer services should be conducted in English or German.
Last edited by Rick F. on Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Lost Town of Pandamonia, PA

Postby Flash! » Sun May 30, 2010 7:46 am

I LOVE your old house and cemetery pictures, Rick! And the whimsical chickens and self-portrait. And all the history. John will enjoy the track when he sees it as well. You really should publish all your explorations one day--they're well worth it.

Are most of these done in HDR? The colors and depth are fantastic.

Let's have no more of that bad-mouthing "grannies" talk,though!

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Re: The Lost Town of Pandamonia, PA

Postby Rick F. » Sun May 30, 2010 11:40 am

Flash! wrote:I LOVE your old house and cemetery pictures, Rick! And the whimsical chickens and self-portrait. And all the history. John will enjoy the track when he sees it as well. You really should publish all your explorations one day--they're well worth it.

Are most of these done in HDR? The colors and depth are fantastic.

Let's have no more of that bad-mouthing "grannies" talk,though!

Jody

Jody,

Yes, the chickens were whimsical, all right, as was the (unintentional) self-portrait—I was just trying to get a picture of the inside of the old sanitorium, and double-paned glass and the reflections did the rest.

Most of the photos are HDR. If the sky looks washed out in some, those are the non-HDR ones.

Sorry about the granny diss (although she really was quite slow). Next time I'll try to get stuck behind a member of some other demographic group!

Rick F.
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Re: The Lost Town of Pandamonia, PA

Postby Unity » Sun May 30, 2010 11:18 pm

Another worthy venture, Rick. They name places weirdly in PA. I'll bet the upkeep on Bldg. No. 2 would be considerable. When and where I was a kid, they still had a sanatorium and an orphanage. They were on the same two-block-long property as the hospital. You brought back memories of the 1/4- and 1/2-mile track at the county fairgrounds where the various open-wheeled cars -- with their welded-locked rear-ends -- would throw up great barrages of clods, especially after the track had been watered. The grandstands were pretty safe, it was mainly the area outside the short ends of the track that was lethal.

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Re: The Lost Town of Pandamonia, PA

Postby Rick F. » Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:18 am

Unity wrote:Another worthy venture, Rick. They name places weirdly in PA. I'll bet the upkeep on Bldg. No. 2 would be considerable. When and where I was a kid, they still had a sanatorium and an orphanage. They were on the same two-block-long property as the hospital. You brought back memories of the 1/4- and 1/2-mile track at the county fairgrounds where the various open-wheeled cars -- with their welded-locked rear-ends -- would throw up great barrages of clods, especially after the track had been watered. The grandstands were pretty safe, it was mainly the area outside the short ends of the track that was lethal.

--John
(Williams Grove Speedway is a new one to me, but then, I grew up in the Midwest.)

John,

Not all that many of the old dirt tracks have survived. I managed to see one race at Dorsey Speedway in Maryland before it was lost to developers. Williams Grove seems to be hanging on okay, although you can easily hear the engines on race night several miles away in Mechanicsburg. Perhaps I better get up there and watch the sprint cars before their days are numbered.

Rick F.
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