Uncharted Lancaster: Bausman’s Hollow Adventure
Distance: 4.1 miles on mostly level terrain.
What to bring: Appropriate footwear (your feet might get wet), an internet-connected device with GPS, digital camera, paper, and something to write with.
If you are ready to start this adventure, click here. But read on for more history on this fascinating area of Lancaster County.
The forests along the banks of the Susquehanna River hold many secret and forgotten places. One such place is Bausman’s Hollow along the western edge of Conestoga Township inside what is now called Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve.
Inside of Bausman’s Hollow along the banks of Grubb Run can be found the ruins of various long-abandoned stone foundations, dark tunnels, long culverts, the grounds of an exploded dynamite factory that claimed the lives of 11 men and the nearly 300-year-old Benedict Eshleman Cemetery. All these places are almost forgotten pieces of Lancaster history and worthy of rediscovery.
Brief History of Shenks Ferry
If you visit the Preserve, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been a forest. In fact, there was once a community here containing homes, hotels, gristmill, charcoal briquette plant, iron ore mine, dynamite factory, and even a railroad (one that predated the Enola Low Grade by at least 25 years).
European colonists first began to inhabit the region in the early 1800s. The area is named after Henry Shenks who operated a ferry across the Susquehanna River to and from Lower Chanceford in York County during this time. He also owned two hotels and a gristmill. In the following 1864 map of Conestoga Township superimposed with a satellite photo, you can see the location of the hotels and gristmill. One of the hotels, Shenk’s Ferry Hotel, burned to the ground around the turn of the twentieth century. It was never rebuilt.
At some point before 1875, C.B. Grubb (the spelling of his last name varies) built a short narrow-gauge railroad track to transport iron ore from a nearby mine to an iron furnace. The hiking trail through Shenks Ferry follows the former rail line. You can see the route of the railroad which ran along the bank of the stream that takes his name, Grubb Run.
Remains of the railroad are still visible today. If you hike the Shenks Ferry trail you will eventually come upon the remains of two stone abutments. It’s impossible to miss. The trail practically curves around them. Nearby in the middle of Grubb Run, there is a 12-foot tall support stone pillar.
In addition to being the support for a railroad bridge, this structure may have also cradled a 6-inch diameter cast iron pipe that transported oil or natural gas all the way to Baltimore prior to 1900. If you peer closely at the top of the pillar you will notice a cutout area that would have supported the pipe. On the side opposite the trail, the end of the cast iron pipe is visible (depending on vegetation) from the bank about 12 feet above the water. The pipe’s opening lines up with the top of the stone pillar, which carried the line across the stream. Segments of the pipeline have also been found farther south in the river hills.
The area might be most famous for the dynamite factory that exploded on June 9, 1906, killing 11 men and leveling all of the buildings and surrounding woods. More on that later. By the 1940s all of this had faded, and most of Shenks Ferry was being used for agriculture. In the 1970s reforestation efforts began and the Shenks Ferry we recognize today began to develop.
Of course, European settlers were not the first to inhabit the area. Native Americans lived in villages scattered throughout Lancaster County in the 1300s and 1400s. Shenks Ferry was no different. It harbored a community of three or four lodges who used the area for hunting, gathering wild fruits and nuts, and farming corn, beans, and squash along the rich floodplains. Due to the proximity of the Susquehanna River, early Native American tribes accessed the river for fishing, fresh water, and trading opportunities until the mid-1700. The ravine within Shenks Ferry also provided protection from extreme weather and the neighboring tribes.
But before the Susquehannock, Shenks Ferry was home to another pre-historic group that wasn’t discovered until the 1930s. Known as the “Shenk Ferry People,” these Native Americans might date back thousands of years before Christ or as recently as 1300 AD. Experts disagree on this point. Regardless long before any Europeans arrived in the region. More about the Shenks Ferry People in an upcoming Uncharted Lancaster adventure.
Dynamite Factory Explosion
At exactly 12:42 pm on June 9, 1906, “the most horrible accident that has ever occurred in Lancaster County” according to the Lancaster New Era happened in the heart of Bausman’s Hollow. It was at that moment that 2,500 pounds of dynamite accidentally detonated. The explosion obliterated the building containing the explosive and tore the 11 men inside to pieces so small that ten were utterly unidentifiable. The blast also flattened many of the trees on the surrounding hillsides.
A few moments later a secondary explosion occurred at the nitro-glycerine house, but luckily no one was killed. In addition to the 11 men killed, another nine men were injured.
Those who died included:
- Phares Shoff of Colemanville, aged 18 years.
- Benjamin Rineer of Colemanville, aged 23 years.
- Joseph Rineer of Colemanville, aged 19 years.
- William Funk of Colemanville, aged 18 years.
- W. Collins Parker of York Furnace, aged 16 years.
- Fred Rice, residing near Colemanville, aged 25 years.
- John Boatman of Pequea, aged 17 years.
- J. Curtis Myers of York, aged 38 years.
- Ernest Turner, Boyd Mills, Wayne County, aged 35 years.
- George Hathaway of Emporium, Pa. aged 19 years.
- Edward Holmes of Buffalo, N.Y., aged 27 years.
The dynamite plant was the property of the G. R. McAbee Powder and Oil Company of Pittsburg. For several years the plant had been producing dynamite for the completion of the Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade (referred to as the Enola Low Grade today), which was constructed between 1903 and 1906 by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
At the time of the explosion, the plant was filling a large order for the Holtwood Dam. Despite the A&S Branch being only a few weeks from dedication and no longer requiring the services of the dynamite plant, it was unable to escape association with the event.
Historical documents indicate that the explosion broke windows 1.5 miles away and could be heard as far away as 15 miles.
At the time it was common to build a new dynamite factory ever one to two years as the explosive dust settles between floorboards and cracks in the walls making the building prone for disaster. Allegedly the workers had requested a new building as it had been over two years. It is unknown if the request was ignored or just had not yet been acted upon. Regardless, the plant was not rebuilt.
Benedict Eshleman Cemetery
The Benedict Eshleman Cemetery, also known as the Eshleman Family graveyard, is one of the oldest in Lancaster County. Historical documents provide directions, but over time, they read more like a map with no names and no clear starting point.
“Up a mountain, through a stream, across a railroad bed, until the cemetery appears in a small forested rise.”
— Actual directions given by LNP
The only recognizable landmarks that exist today indicate the graveyard is located somewhere south of the Enola Low Grade Trail near the Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve. As a point of reference, Shenks Ferry is 85 acres in size. Without something more precise that could become miles of bushwhacking before stumbling across it. Trust me. That’s more or less how we located it.
The cemetery takes its name from Benedict Eshleman who was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1709 and later immigrated to Lancaster in the 1720s.
Then on June 5, 1727, Eshleman at around the age of 18 purchased 600 acres inside what would later become Conestoga Township. It is interesting to note that this 1727 date predates the founding of Lancaster City—the nation’s oldest inland city—by two years.
Not much is known about Eshleman beyond the distinction of having built the first dwelling in Conestoga Township. Unfortunately, the ravages of time have consumed that structure. Eshleman died on August 5, 1780, at 70 or 71 years of age. He also has the oldest recognizable tombstone in the cemetery. Can you find it? He is joined by his wife, Anna, who died a few years later in 1787.
There are 27 marked graves from the Steman, Eshleman, Lingerfelter, Schenck, and Warfel families. Many of these headstones are written in German.
It may be difficult to know how many people are buried in this graveyard. Several tombstones are so degraded they are nearly impossible to read. Still, others are just headstones of plain rock to mark the passage of their (perhaps more youthful) inhabitants. For this reason, plus shorter life expectancies, and the higher mortality death rate of young children during this period I would argue that the some of the graves are older than 1780 and probably closer to the 1727 land purchase date. If this is true, the cemetery is closer to 300 years old rather than 240.
If you have what it takes to complete this Uncharted Lancaster adventure solving each checkpoint’s puzzle, then there is a hidden treasure souvenir waiting as your reward!
Uncharted Lancaster: Bausman’s Hollow Adventure
But that’s enough history. If you are ready to start this adventure, click here.
- Left behind in Lancaster County: Rust and Ruins
- Find A Grave: Benedict Eshleman Graveyard Memorials
- A strange abandoned German Graveyard outside Lancaster Pennsylvanian
- The Scribbler: Revisiting the 1906 dynamite disaster in Bausman’s Hollow
- The Conestoga Area Historical Society
- Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve
- History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: With Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men
- Michael Froio Photography
- THE SCRIBBLER: An old pipeline threads through Shenk’s Ferry preserve?
- Great Natural Areas in Eastern Pennsylvania