Tombstone Tuesday–McEwensville Cemetery

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Wednesday, March 29, 1911: Nothing of importance, not one thing. Ruth gave me a piece of her mind tonight. She wants me to keep my mouth shut, not that I say too much, for I am rather bashful, but I’m to breathe though my mouth instead of through my–Darn it, I don’t mean that, I mean vice versa.

McEwensville Cemetery with old McEwensville High School building in background

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

My son and I visited McEwensville over the week-end. We stopped by the abandoned building that once housed McEwensville High School. Now—just as it did a hundred years ago—the school sits next to a cemetery that is filled with the stories of the past. Each marker has its own story to tell . . .


Tombstone of Helen(a) Muffly Swartz and Raymond Swartz

Earlier in the diary I mentioned that Grandma lived her entire life within a 5 mile radius of the farm her family lived on when she kept this diary. The same probably could be said for her sister Ruth.  I find it even more amazing how close together they are buried.

Grandma and Ruth are buried within 50 feet of each other in  McEwensville Cemetery–and within a few hundred yards of the school they attended when they were young. Both sisters married men who also attended McEwensville High school (and who are also buried in the same cemetery).

Tombstone of Ruth (Muffly) Gauger

Over the years there were times when Grandma and Ruth were close confidants and other times when they were less close; there were “spats” and reconciliations—but for perpetuity in McEwensville Cemetery they will remain close.

Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad

15-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, February 27, 1911: The roads were so muddy that I went up the railroad to school and came home that way. Besse was out this afternoon. Wish I had all of my lessons out for tomorrow especially my latin.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

It’s hard to picture how bad the mud must have been in the era before paved roads. Railroad tracks for the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad (S.B. & B. R.R.) crossed the Muffly farm.The route went from Watsontown to McEwensville and Turbotville and then continued east to Washingtonville, Bloomsburg, and Berwick.

My father says that Grandma always called the railroad the Sweet Bye and Bye.

According to an essay by the Columbia County Historical and Genealogical Society the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad (S.B. & B.R.R.) was often called the ‘Sweet Bye and Bye’ because traffic was intermittent, and trains traveled at a slow speed and stopped at every hamlet and feed mill along the route. Sweet Bye and Bye is also the name of an old-time hymn.

There were flag stops at two feed mills between Watsontown and McEwensville (a distance of only 4 or 5 miles). One was at a hamlet called Pioneer–it’s just a group of 4 or 5 houses today–and the other was at Truckenmiller’s Mill which was located next to the Muffly farm.

The railroad was also sometimes called the Weak and Weary railroad. It was a financial failure because there were no major industries along the route.

The S.B. & B.R.R. no longer exists, but the track is still used by trains transporting coal to the Pennsylvania Power and Light (PP & L) power plant at Strawberry Ridge near Washingtonville.

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society

15-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, February 21, 1911: The same old routine, I hope it will soon be broken. I was busily making errands today, they didn’t concern me so very much. I got a ride home from school with Oakes, and it was a little bit windy. The wind blew my cap off of my head, and I had to get out, and go back after it. Too bad, wasn’t it?

 Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

Ah, the ennui of  the dog days of winter. I know the feeling—the holidays were long past and an almost forgotten memory, the cold seemed like it would never end,  and spring seemed impossibly far away  (though the wind suggests there is a bit of a spring feel and that blustery March was on the horizon).  And, probably NOTHING was happening in McEwensville. A few years before Grandma’s time, McEwensville was a wild and crazy place. . .

The large white building has had many names over the years. In the era of the Horse Protective Society it was called the Washington Tavern.

The Old Turbot Horse Protective Society was the center of the social scene in McEwensville in the late 1800s–though it probably no longer existed in 1911 when Grandma began her diary. The farmers near McEwensville had had a lot of problems with horse thieves, and organized the society to recover the horses.

Each year at an annual meeting thirty men were selected to be part of the posse for the following year. According to  C.V. Clark in an address to the Northumberland County Historical Society, “The yearly meetings were held on the last Saturday of the year and this was a gala day in McEwensville. With a membership which at one time numbered 290, the town was filled.”  

The annual meetings of the Horse Protective Society were held at the Washington Tavern, but according to Clark the society’s by-laws indicated that “members should not introduce or bring any spirituous liquors of any kind into the room where the yearly meeting was being held, nor smoke tobacco while on business. Members misbehaving at the yearly meeting were to pay a fine ‘not exceeding ten cents.’ ”

Hmm–the meetings were held at a tavern, it was a gala event on the last Saturday of the year–yet no alcohol was allowed. I wonder what percentage of the members were fined in a typical year? . . . I guess the town has become more sedate over the years.

Which church did Grandma attend?

15-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, February 5, 1911: Went to Sunday school this morning. Went to church this evening with Ruth. It was rather quiet today. Everything seemed so quiet.

 Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

There are so many pieces to the jig-saw puzzle that make up our ancestors’  lives. Questions like, “Which church did Grandma attend?” probably aren’t very important in the bigger scheme of things—but I’m curious. I asked my father. I searched for member records in church histories and other supplemental documents. However, the available data were inconclusive, and I still don’t definitively know the answer.

Based on a scan of the diary I can’t find any place where Grandma said which church she attended—though the diary entries indicate that she faithfully attended Sunday school. There were two or three churches in McEwensville one hundred years ago: St. John’s Reformed Church, Messiah Lutheran— and maybe a Baptist Church.

In the diary Grandma mentions the Lutheran and Reformed churches by name when she visits them—but she provides no church name when she attended her regular church. This suggests that she didn’t attend either of those churches–but  rather that she went to the Baptist one. However, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that conclusion since I know that the Baptist church closed early in the 20th century. Agnes Beard wrote in 1939 in her History of McEwensville

“The Baptist Church, a brick edifice, has fallen into ruins, there being no members in or near the place to keep it in repair.”

Agnes Beard (1939)

Prior to reading Grandma’s diary I never thought about her religious beliefs. After she married Raymond Swartz she attended Messiah Lutheran Church. I don’t remember Grandma ever discussing religion—and was somewhat surprised that she probably was raised in a somewhat more conservative tradition than what she practiced as an adult.

Recent photo of building that once housed Messiah Lutheran Church.

As an older woman Grandma enjoyed visiting with friends in the “old ladies Sunday School class” at Messiah Lutheran.  Both Grandma and Helen “Tweet” Wesner were in that class. Tweet never married and lived her entire life in McEwensville. It’s kind of cool how life-long friendships and relationships developed in this small community.


15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Tuesday, January 24, 1911. It’s getting so terrible muddy. Wish it would snow. I love to take sleigh rides. Don’t get many though. I feel rather sleepy just now. Will soon be asleep.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I tend to think that winter weather was historically very harsh in central Pennsylvania.  But the diary entries indicate that many days were above freezing during January 1911. In more recent years the temperature typically is below freezing at night but above freezing during the daylight hours. And, there are almost constant freezing and thawing cycles. I suppose the weather patterns were similar  in 1911.

 Mud was a huge problem a hundred years ago. The roads both in McEwensville, as well as in the outlying rural areas, were not yet paved in 1911. According to George Wesner in his History of McEwensville , there was even a boardwalk that went from McEwensville  across Warrior Run Creek to a train station which was about half a mile north of town.

 The route was muddy at times and dusty at times . . .To alleviate the situation an elevated boardwalk was built from the station to the old bridge (which crossed the creek at right angles not diagonally) and from there parallel with the highway to the borough line.

George Wesner

The McEwensville railroad station is long gone, but this photo was taken near the location of the old station and looks toward town. It's difficult to envision where the boardwalk once was.

McEwensville Has Made the New York Times — Twice!

Saturday, January 7, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

Since there is again no diary entry today, I thought that it might be fun to see if McEwensville was ever mentioned in the New York Times. I searched the paper’s data base and found two news articles with a McEwensville connection.

Recent photo of the McEwensville United Church of Christ (Reformed Church)

According to the September 11, 1885, New York Times:


The Rev. J. K. Millett, of McEwensville, was drowned in the river at Watsontown yesterday. He was out in a boat with a young girl named Culp, and by some means the boat was upset. Miss Culp succeeded in saving her life by clinging to the boat, but Mr. Millet, although a good swimmer, went under. He was about 46 years old.

 McEwensville was again  mentioned in the New York Times on May 2, 1942:


 Edward Burrowes Jr., 21, star Princeton University middle distance runner, was in a satisfactory condition at the university infirmary tonight after physicians found he had punctured a lung in a dressing room accident at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, last Saturday following the Penn Relays.  . . Burrowes entered the infirmary last night complaining of a slight pain in his chest. He said he had slipped on the wet floor of the Franklin Field dressing room and had fallen on a sharp-handled comb. Burrowes is a member of the junior class and lives in McEwensville, Pennsylvania. He holds the I.C. 4-A half-mile championship and university records in the 440-year and half-mile runs.

Grandma grew up on a farm outside of McEwensville. She kept her diary between 1911 and 1914—about midway between McEwensville’s two moments of fame in the New York Times.

McEwensville High School

Friday, January 6, 1911:  Missing entry: Diary resumes on January 12

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

Since there is no diary entry again today, I’ll tell you a little  about the high school that Grandma attended.

Grandma attended McEwensville High School.  The school building is next to the cemetery at the edge of McEwensville. She generally walked the mile and a half or so from her home to school.

Recent photo of the building that once housed McEwensville High School.

 The high school contained only one classroom and it was located on the second floor of the school building—the elementary class was on the first floor. It was a three-year classical high school where students learned Latin, poetry, literature, history, and arithmetic.

In 1911 Rachel Oakes—a friend of Grandma and her sister Ruth—was the elementary teacher.

After they graduated from McEwensville High School some students continued their education by taking a fourth year of high school at Milton or Watsontown. For example, my grandfather went to Milton High School after he graduated from McEwensville.

Milton had a more comprehensive curriculum than McEwensville—and included business courses and other classes that would more directly prepare students for a career.

The last high school class to graduate from McEwensville High School was in 1921. The high school closed because it had few students since most students in the area wanted to attend a comprehensive high school for all four years.  

Twenty or so years after my grandmother wrote her diary, my father attended the school. At that time it was an elementary school. One teacher taught grades 1-4 in the room on the first floor. Another teacher taught grades 4-8 in a classroom on the second floor. 

After the school completely closed in the late 1950s, the building was converted into a fire station. But the fire station is now gone, and in recent years the building has sat vacant and abandoned.

My friends have expressed surprise that my grandmother attended high school. In the early 1900s about half of the children in the United States ended their school careers with an 8th grade education or less.   

However, according to Benjamin Andrews in a 1911 book he wrote about girls’ education, there were more female high school graduates in the early 1900s than male because men could easily get jobs without a degree. A key role of high schools at that time was to prepare students to become teachers.

I don’t know why Grandma’s parents decided to send her to high school. I don’t think that she ever became a teacher.



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