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A trip from Fallbrook, California to Fall Brook, Pennsylvania

 

Last updated 6/26/2019 at 10:21am



Wendy Hammarstrom

Special to the Village News

Fall Brook, Pennsylvania, was incorporated in 1864 in the mountains of north-central Pennsylvania, in what is now Tioga County. Fall Brook was known for its semi-bituminous coal, and became a thriving coal town, renowned for its neatness and picturesque charm.

The Fallbrook Railroad delivered coal to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to the south and, to the north, above Corning, New York. But in 1871-72, sadly before the vaccine was available, there was a smallpox epidemic in which many died, the majority of them children.

In 1872 there was a fire in the forest that the townspeople collectively extinguished. But in 1899 Fall Brook miners laid down their tools and the few people remaining had moved on by 1900.

On May 15, 2019, my brother, who lives near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and I drove to Fall Brook. We discovered only one remnant, a basement corner of crumbling stones. I wanted to see what similarities there are between both Fallbrooks because, in 1869, beekeeper Vital Reche named our California town after this Pennsylvania town, and sold his brand of honey from his home which he also named Fall Brook.

The Fall Brook, Pennsylvania elevation is 1,847 feet; the California town is at 682 feet elevation. Fall Brook, Pennsylvania was covered with evergreen trees, but both towns have hills and dales, and a falling brook.

As we left the foundation stones, we flagged down a frack truck and the driver pointed us in the direction of the Fall Brook Cemetery. It was a short hike off a dirt road on a hillside surrounded by forest. Many of the graves had toppled or were partly protruding from the ground, due to moisture and frost-heave, my brother assured me.

Some had daffodils growing, and too many were of children and babies. I had read about the site being haunted, (and many people who talked about this mentioned supernatural experiences at the gate, but there was no gate!). We entered information-gathering mode, going to every grave, my brother cleaning off debris from names and discussing the Swedish, English, and Scottish communities that had lived there. I liked that he was saying their names; it felt like a validation and recognition.

When we left, my brother was intrigued; I was deeply saddened.

Although we had spoken to forest service and frack-industry staff, and had both driven and hiked around, we still had not located the falling brook the town was named after.

We saw turquoise ponds, recently installed limestone-treatment systems for coal's legacy, AMD (acid mine drainage), and several natural gas well pads (each holding multiple 1-2 mile deep gas wells).

I learned of the surrounding town folks’ feelings about the frack trucks frequenting their country roads, and were told there were five main reasons many were not happy about this industry's foothold in this area. I thought about coal being environmentally destructive, and now this.

1. Irregular but ongoing heavy truck traffic hauling 24/7 on narrow and winding county and forest roadways have brought accompanying dust, noise, and light pollution. Periodically roads become impassable for weeks or even months at a time, particularly during the 'Spring Thaw', forcing residents to use longer routes to work or shop.

2. Increased rent (at least doubled just in the first year the industry 'moved in'), giving this rural community its first instances of homelessness (there is now a community-supported homeless shelter).

3. Local businesses lost long-term employees to the higher wages of the gas exploitation industry, especially truck drivers, heavy equipment operators and construction workers. But these new jobs offer little long-term stability, as 'subcontractors' move in and out of the area based on project completions and new contracts.

4. This region is tourism-dependent and in fact was being marketed as the “Pennsylvania Wilds” before the shale gas 'boom'. Many outdoor enthusiasts do not like the heavy truck traffic and the State Forest fragmentation caused by gas-collection pipelines, well pad service roads, etc. Some tourism-related businesses have failed or chosen to move to other regions.

5. While a minority (particularly large land-owners) has benefited financially, many more have seen their quality of life diminished by the aforementioned problems brought to Tioga County by the shale gas industry. This has caused dissension in the community, even within families, as the economic stimulus cannot be denied, but nor can the social costs.

Although I was glad to get this information, I really wanted to find the Fall Brook Creek. Thanks to the bartender at the American Legion center we found our way there. Parking by a natural gas well, we walked over an old stone bridge and came to the upper falls.

Although it was a very steep drop, it seemed strange that there was a protective metal railing, yet no signs on the road. Why wasn’t this a popular picnic and play site? Apparently in 1983 someone fell off the cliff, so it is officially closed. The upper falls is about 10 feet high and 20 feet wide, with very steep cliffs.

As I stood above the falls I felt the sadness for the people who lost their homes, jobs and lives flow away with the fast moving water. Coal, fracking, mining and lumber have made their dent on this land. I reflected on Fallbrook, California and am thankful for the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, Save Our Forest, Mission Conservation Resource District and all other groups and individuals who protect and preserve Fallbrook.

 

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