Sandy Hollow comes ‘alive’ for the public again

During a tour of Sandy Hollow, Jerry Harness showed visitors paintings of the area as it might have looked 100 years ago.

A little over a hundred years ago, Sandy Hollow was the place to be on a hot summer day. Its location in a bend of the Conococheague Creek just west of town, across the five-arch stone bridge and past a stone farmhouse, made it the favorite swimming and picnicking spot for generations. In 1902, the first Old Home Week, then called the Old Boys' Reunion, featured a group picture of the revelers taken at that long-ago  picnic spot. That picture became the theme for the 2010 Old Home Week.  On Tuesday and Saturday of this Old Home Week, celebrants returned to Sandy Hollow, now owned by Jerry Harness.

Harness welcomed guests to the site by displaying two photos by local artist Mark Twain Noe. One shows the original five-arch stone bridge that led out of town and across the creek.  Route 16 was later rerouted slightly north and a new bridge was built on the other side of the stone farmhouse now belonging to Joe and Donna Thornton. Harness explained that the bridge, although then no longer in use, was still standing intact when he bought the property in 1971.

In the winter of 1971-1972, Harness said, two of the arches collapsed.  However, when Hurricane Agnes swept through in the summer of 1972, the bridge escaped any further significant injury. That is, until PennDOT decided to use it for fill. According to Harness, the state Department of Transportation actually brought in heavy machinery and dismantled the bridge, hauling the stones away to use for other projects. Harness emphasized  that local accounts that the bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes are incorrect, maintaining that PennDOT, not the weather, destroyed the historic span.

Early in the 20th century, Harness said, a man named Ambrose Myers bought the property and it came for a time to be known as Myers' Meadow.

Pointing to the other Noe picture, Harness explained that it shows Sandy Hollow as Noe believed it would have appeared around 1900. The picture shows picnickers in turn-of-the-century dress strolling along a serene creek bank lined with open meadow and trees. In the foreground, a man sitting against a tree, Harness pointed out, is probably a self-portrait of Noe, who likes to paint himself into his pictures.

Today, Sandy Hollow remains a serene scene, the sparkling creek  lined with ancient maples and sycamores and bounded on the south by a nearly sheer cliff that rises perhaps 100 feet. Harness said he once spooked a deer in the meadow and it ran across the creek and part way up the cliff, only to fall backwards to its death.

Other visitors to Sandy Hollow Saturday told of a purported gambling party held long ago at the farm at the top of the cliff. When lawmen arrived, one of the gamblers ran out the back way — and fell over the cliff.

But all was peaceable there Saturday afternoon, as townspeople gathered for another picture taken on the same location. Venture Crew 287 Scouts served baskets of ham, chicken and Elizabeth Thornton's fresh-baked rolls so townspeople could once again spread tablecloths beside the stream and enjoy an authentic turn- of-the-century picnic. Out in the creek, swimmers in inner tubes floated slowly downstream, some dangling fishing poles.

Harness strolled about, showing visitors around and pointing out the location of a mill that stood near the stream in the early 1800s. “The miller's name was Stouffer, and he was also a Lutheran minister instrumental in starting Lutheran churches throughout the valley,” Harness noted. He went on, “One Sunday morning as he was preaching, the church door burst open and someone called, 'Pastor Stouffer,  your mill is on fire!' 'Let it burn, ' the pastor replied. 'God's work is more important.'”

Although the property is no longer used as a picnic ground today, Harness said he was glad to be able to share a corner of the community's history with his neighbors during Old Home Week. He said he feels a sense of the site's importance whenever he strolls along the creek bank. Pointing upward at the massive overhanging trees, he said quietly, “You know, I've always thought it looks a little bit like a cathedral.”