Dark Culverts. Decimated dynamite factory. Explore the forgotten mysteries of Bausman’s Hollow in Shenks Ferry

If you are ready to start the Bausman’s Hollow Adventureclick here. Otherwise, read on for more history on this fascinating and forgotten 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.

1919 road map of Lancaster County highlighting Shenks Ferry.

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, and the grounds of an exploded dynamite factory that claimed the lives of 11 men. 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).

Tunnel marking the entrance to Shenks Ferry.

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.

Picture of the Shenks Ferry Hotel taken 1919 with a train visible on the Enola Low-Grade above.

The Shenk’s Ferry Hotel burned to the ground at some point after 1919. It was never rebuilt.

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This 1864 map superimposed on a satellite image shows both of Shenks’ hotels, as well as his gristmill, on the map’s left along the Susquehanna River.

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.

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This 1875 map superimposed on a satellite image shows the location of Grubb’s iron ore mine, his flour mill, and short railroad.

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.

Stone abutments that once supported an old railroad spur that transported iron ore.

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.

Looking from the stone foundation the pillar is visible in the middle of Grubb Run.

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.

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An 1899 map superimposed over a satellite photo shows a more “developed” Shenks Ferry.

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 longhouses 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, freshwater, and trading opportunities until the mid-1700s. 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, it was 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.

The dynamite plant shortly before the tragic accident. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.
The dynamite factory the day following the explosion.

A few moments later a second 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.

Picture of dynamite factory workers taken a month before the explosion. Four of these men later died in the accident.

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, Bullis Mills, Wayne County, aged 21 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.

Windows inside this three-mile red circle were broken by the shockwave created by the explosion.
This 30-mile diameter circle centered on the dynamite factory show how far away people were who reported hearing the explosion.  

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.

Hidden Treasure

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.

Before You Go

For the most up-to-date information about parking and accessing Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve, be sure to visit their website by clicking here.

Hunting is prohibited on the rail trail where the bulk of this adventure takes place, but much of the surrounding area, including Shenks Ferry, allows it. Consider wearing orange during those times. Here’s a link to Pennsylvania hunting seasons. Deer and turkey are the big two.


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