Buttermilk Falls: Home to Fred McFeely’s Estate

Earlier this month, February 19, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. This anniversary got me thinking about Indiana County’s connection to Mr. Fred Rogers, with Buttermilk Falls. The falls are located a short distance off Route 22 at 570 Valley Brook Road, New Florence, PA. The site not only offers a 48-acre natural area, but it also has a unique history behind the grounds which relate directly to Fred Rogers.

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The grounds were donated to the Indiana County Parks in 1995 by the Keystone-Conemaugh Group, who are the owners of the nearby Conemaugh Generating Station. The park features an impressive 45-foot waterfall. More interesting is the history behind the site, it was once home to Fred McFeely’s, Fred Roger’s grandfather, summer estate. Fred McFeely owned the property from 1930 to 1956. The grounds once featured a large house, horse stables, a three-car garage, outbuildings and a swimming area in the creek above the falls. Although the buildings are no longer in existence, stone foundations and dams are still in existence, and with a little use of your imagination you can imagine what the grounds would have looked like to a young Mr. Rogers.

As a child, Fred Rogers, would visit his grandfather’s farm, and walk the grounds with Fred McFeely, after Sunday dinners and during summer vacations. Mr. Rogers conceived many of his ideas for his television program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” while visiting Buttermilk Falls. Even as an adult Mr. Rogers fondly remembered his time at Buttermilk Falls. In a 1996 Indiana Gazette interview, Mr. Rogers remembered climbing on the stone walls at the site and crawling behind the falls to look through the cascading water

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If you’re looking a springtime day trip, Buttermilk Falls is an excellent place to get away. Enjoy the beauty of this natural wonder, but also do not forget to look for the remnants of the estate that once stood at the site, and picture what it must have looked like to a young Fred Rogers.

Jim Cheney, Pennsylvania Waterfalls: Visiting Buttermilk Falls in Indiana County. https://uncoveringpa.com/buttermilk-falls-indiana-county
Buttermilk Falls Natural Area Brochure

Frances Strong Helman: The Society’s Founder

It started in 1928, when Frances Strong Helman traced her ancestry to Indiana County pioneer John Lydick. Ten years later, in 1938, in her living room, Helman and five others founded the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County. She loved finding and telling stories – ranging from genealogical to historical to folklore – and she gave generously of her time and talent to the Society’s needs.

The Indiana Evening Gazette reported on April 1, 1939 that the Society had been formed with twenty-six members. The request to move their materials to the Indiana Free Library had been granted. The holdings by the Society included: fourteen books, pamphlets, and tombstone inscriptions from local cemeteries.

By 1940, members reached one hundred thirty-four members and the Society was officially incorporated. The Society was invited to Wilson Hall, on the IUP campus, by Dr. Leroy King, where they shared a room on the first floor and the newspaper files were stored in the basement.

Fast forward a decade to the winter of 1951, when the Society moved into the Clark House, known at the time as Memorial Hall. The story behind the move from Wilson Hall to the Clark House is an interesting one. AS it was the winter, the books from the library were piled onto a sled and then pulled to a parking lot and loaded into a car. This process was repeated once they arrived to the Clark House. At the time, the library collection did not fill the bookshelves in the study of Justice Silas M. Clark. As time went on, the name of the home changed to the History House and then to the Clark House; along with the name change the library also grew, holding over two thousand surname files by the 1960s.

Mrs. Helman was instrumental in the growth of the Society. She used her storytelling ability to add to the library. This began between 1939 and 1941, when she wrote several articles for The Indiana Countian along with serving as genealogical editor. From 1948-66, she published Your Family Tree, which was a quarterly genealogical magazine. Mrs. Helman also traveled across the country doing research and as a professional genealogist. She was a member of the National Genealogical Society as well as serving as the president of the Pennsylvania Historical and Genealogical Association.

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There were many articles written about the history of Indiana County, many of which were published but many more that were typed and deposited to the collection in the library. In 1953, Indiana County celebrated its sesquicentennial and Helman wrote a noteworthy article, “History of Indiana County.”

The Society was one of her main activities; she served five terms as president and became an honorary life member in 1955, but she also was active in many other historical activities as well. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and held office in that organization, and she helped organize and held office in the James Letort Chapter, Daughters of the American Colonists (DAC) and the Ann Letort Chapter, Children of the American Colonists. As general chairman of a five-county committee, she helped plan the 1956 bicentennial of the Armstrong Expedition and the Armstrong Kittanning Trail Society. She also helped organize the Indiana County Tourist Bureau.

On January 1, 1976, Frances Helman was officially honored by the County Commissioners by naming her Indiana County Historian. Also that year the Society did its first reprint, it was of the 1880 History of Indiana County by Caldwell. A reprint of the 1871 Beers Atlas of Indiana County and then a publication came with Clarence Stephenson’s Indiana County – 175th Anniversary History.

Mrs. Helman loved folklore, sometimes to the point of embellishment. Sometimes these embellishments, like those oral stories passed from generation to generation, came to life; however, these embellishments made the truth more difficult to decipher.

Mrs. Helman passed away in 1980, but she did not forget the Society, as she donated her entire collection of historical and genealogical material. In 1982, Attorney and Mrs. Don Miller donated their extensive collection. These materials were combined with the materials already in the Society’s collections, formed the foundation of the current library.

The library outgrew the Clark House. The Society bought the Armory Building and began renovations, and by the early 2000s it was time once again for the Society to move. Thankfully this time, the material only had to move across the parking lot, but it was still a major undertaking. Shelving units, hundreds of volumes, dozens of filing cabinets full of surname and subject folders, and the Helman Collection were rolled across the parking on flat carts and dollies.

Thanks to her love of genealogy, and hard work, the Society has the library and resources to serve the people researching the history of their family who trace their roots to Indiana County, PA. In honor of this marvelous lady the library is known as the FRances Strong Helman Library. We hope to see you at the library to do your research…who knows what neat and interesting stories you may discover.

“The clues you need are somewhere, just waiting to be found.”

The Pioneer Log House

People are fascinated by the way of life from days gone by, and museums love to show how people lived during different periods of time. It has been nearly thirty-five years ago since an old log house graced the landscape at the historical society. It was an extensive project to undertake for the society and played a significant role in the history and growth of the Society during the early years.

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It was reported in the Society’s April 1961 newsletter that, “Our biggest project in many a year, the reconstruction of a Pioneer Log House as part of our forthcoming Museum, is under construction and the walls are rising fast. The project developed rather rapidly after the public sale of the former Rankin home in Shelocta several weeks ago. After numerous meetings and a unanimous vote to go ahead with the project at the April meeting, the Executive Committee contracted with the new owner of the house, Mr. Walter Roof of Clymer, to have it torn down, moved to Indiana, and re-erected as a permanent memorial to our pioneer forefathers and their way of life. This part of our heritage will attract visitors from far away in the years ahead. We hope you realize the scope of this project and the financial risks involved.”

Originally standing near the bridge on Route 156 near Crooked Creek had long been a landmark of Shelocta.  It had once been the home of Abner Kelly, son of pioneer James Kelly. It is believed the structure dated back to 1883; that is the year Kelly purchased the land on which it stood from Benjamin Walker. Amazingly the logs remained in excellent condition, mainly because at some earlier point, the structure was covered over with siding. Indiana County Commissioners at the time, Frank Barkley, J.W. Everett, and Dee Miller, granted permission to reconstruct the building on county property – the Wayne Avenue side of Memorial Hall north of the National Guard Armory – what is now the parking lot of the Historical Society.

The log house was a two-story, four room house that measured 18 by 32 feet. On the ground floor were the kitchen and living room, each with a fireplace. When it was rebuilt, it was done so as nearly as possible to its original state; although, the upstairs was left without a center wall to provide a larger space in order to accommodate group meetings. The final cost of restoration came to $2,250. The Executive Committee knew they did not have sufficient funds in the treasury to finance this endeavor. A letter was sent to members following the April meeting, about $1,000 had already been collected toward the goal by the end of May.

The timing of this project corresponded with the opening of the Historical Society Museum that summer. Society members were already hard at work preparing two large rooms that would house museum displays, a periodical and newspaper reading room, and a storage area – all housed in the basement of Memorial Hall (the Clark House). The log house was going to serve as an adjunct to the Museum. People around the county were prompted to contribute pieces of antique furniture to help furnish the house.

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An informal open house was held October 12, 1961, at which time the public was invited to view the various museum displays as well as the pioneer log house. The log house was furnished with articles typical of the early 1800s: a crane, tongs and andirons for the kitchen fireplace; a drop-leaf table; a hutch table and chairs and iron-stone china. The hope with this was that county residents would donate items of historical value to the area. Our collections today indicate that the county residents did just that.

The Pioneer Log House served to educate students, and adults, about how their ancestors lived in the 1800s, for over fifteen years. A report of the Society’s activities for 1966 noted a count of 786 persons visiting the log house. Sadly, the structure began to deteriorate through the years and it was eventually deemed unsafe. In April of 1979, the director of the county parks supervised its removal. The logs were stored at one of the county park sites until some determination of their disposition could be made.

Unique Industries: Indiana Macaroni Company

Indiana County has been home to many different industries ranging from breweries to foundries, although one of the more unique and perhaps most forgotten is the Indiana Macaroni Company. The company began production on October 6, 1914, with John Rezzola and Carlo Marino as co-partners. The 34×175 foot two-story brick building with a basement was located on the south side of Maple Street near the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh (BR&P) railroad line. There were at least four homes built on Maple Street for the occupancy of employees. Eighteen barrels of flour we converted into macaroni every day; with 23 different styles of macaroni being produced. Two forming machines were capable of turning out 230 pounds of macaroni in eight minutes. Products were shipped all over the United States including Florida, Maine, Texas, and Michigan. By 1919, there were 25 workers, and the Indiana Macaroni Company was the largest manufacturer of food products within Indiana County at the time.

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In the beginning, ads were marketed toward women, as homemakers were beginning to expand their interests beyond their residence and were seeking quick meals, so they did not have to compromise their new activities. Further, families were searching for ways to save money, and macaroni products were affordable and noted as “one of the best backgrounds for a vitamin imaginable.”  Indiana Macaroni Company equated their product as providing a level of satisfaction similar to bread. The Company even went to the extreme and referred to their macaroni as an excellent meat substitute and a food that aids sufferers of diabetes and gout in their recovery.

As the United States entered World War II, many areas in Pennsylvania and across the United States entered into war industries, but not Indiana County. As a result, the population of Indiana County as of March 1, 1943 was 17,649 less than on April 1, 1940.

Because of the move toward war industries and those serving in the armed forces, many existing industries were forced to close or encountered unexpected problems. On August 7, 1945, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sued Indiana Macaroni Company in Federal Court, asking that it be restrained from doing business until unsanitary conditions were rectified. The Company had previously acquired an army contract for 60,000 pounds of pasta products but was warned on April 11 not to ship in interstate commerce.

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Many of the manufacturing industries during the 1917-1945 period did not survive into the post-war period. In 1948, employees of the Indiana Macaroni Company were on strike for approximately a month while the president of Local No. 58, Bakers and Confectionary Workers Union, tried to reach a deal for a 25 cent per hour increase in pay. The company was in some financial difficulties, but an hourly increase of 15 cents was finally negotiated. In 1951, Indiana Macaroni Company closed its doors. The enterprise was briefly revived in 1952 as Indiana Noodle Co., owned by Mehotti Perfetti. Perfetti was an employee at the Indiana Macaroni Company for 22 years. He purchased new equipment for his endeavor, with the company being located in a building on South Twelfth Street but closed its doors permanently in 1952 after Perfetti passed away. And so ended an era of pasta manufacturing in Indiana County.

Sources: Indiana County 175th Anniversary History by Clarence D. Stephenson; Various articles from Indiana Gazette; Americanized Macaroni Products, published by the National Macaroni Institute