There are no lepers on Leper Farm Road. The legend of the hairy hand at Fuller Lake is just a tale. And there was a time when a state official thought it would be a great idea to flood the eastern end of the park to create a giant lake.
These were some of the stories presented by Andre Weltman, president of Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, at an event Saturday recalling the unknown stories of Pine Grove Furnance.
The event was one in a series of events sponsored by the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau to mark 100 years since the state took ownership of the former iron industry lands that later became the state park and most of the northern half of Michaux State Forest.
The public, especially owners of the cabins scattered throughout the park, was invited to tell their own stories. Some recalled family events and cabins while others remembered stories of deer hunting, ice skating and walking across the old dam at Laurel Lake.
“This was a lot of fun for me to hear their family stories,” Weltman said.
Weltman said the cabins are themselves an interesting point of history. In 1913, the same year Pine Grove became a state park, the state passed a law allowing state lands to be leased. Cabin owners lease the land but own the structure. The program proved to be popular and was discontinued in 1970.
Margy Schmidt, who lives in the area and was the first manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum, told the story of the Daniel Leeper farm, one of three or four tenant farms in the area. Schmidt said somewhere along the line as the property was transferred from owner to owner through the years, a clerk in a county office dropped an “e” from Leeper’s name so it’s known as the Leper farm at the county.
But, when Schimidt confirmed the address, she found the post office referred to it as the Leaper farm. All three spellings have appeared on the road sign through the years.
As to the hairy hand, Weltman put a damper on the story of a worker who drowned in what is now Fuller Lake back when it was a quarry and whose hand allegedly rises out of the water. In his research, Weltman couldn’t find evidence anyone had drowned when the lake was being used in industry.
The dam at Laurel Lake has its own devastating history. It was built from wood and rock in the 1800s to provide water power to the forge. It failed in 1847, but was rebuilt the exact same way, Weltman said.
It failed again in 1889 in the same storm system that caused the Johnstown flood and was rebuilt in the same way. That pattern of failure and rebuilding continued until 1967 when the state built a concrete dam.
It could have been bigger. Weltman said Maurice Goddard, the secretary of forests and waters in 1961, proposed a dam that would create a lake encompassing both Fuller and Laurel lakes. In November of that year, he issued a press release abandoning the plan which, he wrote, “will no doubt be well received by the many families who occupy cottages constructed on State-owned land in the Park area.”
Sharing stories like these and the history is a way to save the memory, lives and honor of those who have come before, Weltman said.
“It’s living history that’s still living,” he said.