Roger Steck the prankster must have thought the village of Toland was woefully behind the times.
A former reporter and city editor with The Sentinel, Steck once shared a memory from his youth with Jim Bradley of Harrisburg who then passed it on to the Cumberland County Historical Society.
“In the hot months of summer, he and his teenage friends would hitchhike to Hunters Run and then walk up the road to Laurel Lake or Pine Grove Furnace for a cool swim,” Bradley wrote. Along the way, the boys passed a row of homes and a small wooden church in Dickinson Township.
“The boys would gather in front of the row homes, form a line and yell at the top of their lungs … Hey! Lincoln’s been shot,” wrote Bradley calling it a harmless prank to arouse the curiosity of locals.
Historian Randy Watts mentioned Toland in his book “The Clay, Brick and Sand Industries in the Mountain Creek Valley of Cumberland County.” He wrote how the Philadelphia Clay Company had built a town for its workers and named it after Edward Toland, a financier and director of the company.
The 10 duplex homes housed about 20 families and cost mining company $20,000 to build, according to information on file at the Cumberland County Historical Society. It was said that Saturday nights in Toland were wild and wooly. A local bootlegger came into the settlement every payday to peddle alcohol made by a mountain still.
This was tempered by the presence of a non-denominational church that was built in 1826 on land leased from the state. It was said no collection plate was passed around during services. Instead it was left in the back of the church which was maintained by members of the congregation.
The book “Your Guide to the Geology of the Kings Gap Area” has a chapter on clay mining at the Toland pits. From 1890 to 1910, at least five companies mined white clay deposits in the Mount Holly Springs area. The Philadelphia Clay Company owned the most extensive clay deposit.
“At its peak the company employed 125 workers and operated 24 hours a day,” Watts wrote. “Little is known of the work hours or working conditions.” Watts does cite a published account where two workers were seriously injured after a large mass of clay at the far end of the mine collapsed without warning.