Here are the images I showed during the Tunnels of Enola Group Hike with links for additional reading. Also, never miss future Uncharted Lancaster posts or future hikes when you subscribe to my email list.
Local lore hangs heavy in the river hills along the Susquehanna. It likely lies heaviest at Shenks Ferry. Inside its rolling hills and hidden hollows is an area of vibrant history dating back thousands of years.
Around 1775, Captain Joseph Reed, who served with the 3rd Company, 6th Battalion of York County’s Revolutionary War militia, purchased the river rights over the Susquehanna River and built a ferry with a York County terminal near the Chanceford/Lower Chanceford Township line.
1851 Map of Shenks Ferry
By 1832, Henry Shenks was living in this area and operating a ferry. It was customary to refer to a ferry by its owner’s name. Shad fishing was an important local industry around this time as well.
Between 1864 and 1875, local iron baron Curtis Grubb 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 old rail line. You can see the railroad route, which ran along the bank of the stream that takes his name, Grubb Run. The depression between the hills here also bore his name and is today known as Grubb Hollow.
1864 Map of Shenks Ferry
1864 Map of Shenks Ferry with satellite image overlay
1875 Map of Shenks Ferry
1899 Map of Shenks Ferry
After changing hands several times over the next five decades, the “Shenks Ferry House” was purchased by John Pearthree on March 29, 1890. A photo of the hotel can be seen below. Two years later, on March 17, 1892, the Shenks Ferry post office was established with Pearthree as postmaster.
As the dawn of the 20th century approached, Shenks Ferry transformed into a bustling community boasting both a hotel and a school.
1912 Map of Shenks Ferry
Shenks Ferry Hotel and ferry boat
Coal dredging operation at Shenks Ferry in 1922
A new industry came to Shenks Ferry in the 1920s—coal dredging. After decades of coal mining in northeastern Pennsylvania, millions of tons of waste anthracite had washed downriver, settling along the banks of the Lower Susquehanna.
There was such a quantity that it eventually became profitable to salvage it. So much coal was sucked out of the river that Holtwood Dam burned it as part of its electrical generation.
The industry thrived on the Susquehanna until 1972 when Tropical Storm Agnes made significant changes to the Susquehanna’s sediment load and ended the practice. Click here to read more about Coal Dredging on the Susquehanna.
Mysterious Petroglyphs of Safe Harbor
Did you know that one of the most significant archaeological locations in the entire Commonwealth is right here in Lancaster County? Hidden in plain sight in the middle of the Susquehanna River a half-mile below Safe Harbor dam are the millennium-old petroglyphs of Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock. Not only do these two boulders represent one of the two largest remaining concentrations of rock art in the northeast United States (the other site being the Machias Bay Petroglyphs along the northeast coast of Maine), but Little Indian Rock has arguable the best panels of petroglyphs east of the Mississippi.
Donald Cadzow in his landmark book on the Lower Susquehanna petroglyphs says, “They are not idle scrawls made to gratify a passing whim. In their day many of them played an important part in the social organization of the tribes.”
Safe Harbor Christmas Train Accident Wreckage
What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?
Conrail engineer, William Neway, found out first-hand in 1981 when his freight train collided with a 3-ton boulder below Safe Habor?
It was December 23, 1981, and despite being only a few minutes past 5 o’clock, the sun had already been below the horizon for 15 minutes.
The 82-car laden Conrail-owned train was en route to Morrisville in Bucks County, carrying a heavy load of paper, sand, and petroleum byproducts.
What the engineer didn’t know was earlier that day, a 3-ton boulder had broken free from the sheer cliffs along the Susquehanna and landed squarely upon the tracks blocking both lanes. Neway would later estimate that the rock was “as long as the engine and three feet high.”
When the 27-year-old engineer, finally did see the giant monolith after rounding a curve, the train was only 30 yards away. Neway immediately applied the emergency brakes, but a train of this mass needs at least 100 yards to stop.
Seeing that a collision was imminent, the four-man crew ran for the rear of the cab to jump out. Only three made it out. At approximately 5:11 pm, locomotives CR 6267 and CR 6253 collided with a chunk of the mountain going 30 mph.
The impact folded the two engines and the next 13 cars like an accordion made of paper. Click here to read more about the train accident.
Enola Low Grade
Shenks Ferry is no stranger to horrific tragedy. In 1903, H. S. Kerbaugh Company built a dynamite factory in nearby Bausman’s Hollow to produce explosives for the construction of the nearby Enola Low Grade.
This massive three-year Pennsylvania Railroad project cost over half a billion dollars in today’s money and claimed the lives of 200 men. Many of whom were workers were recently arrived immigrants. You can read more about the building of the Enola Low Grade and how it claimed the lives of 200 men here.
The Haunting of the Shenks Ferry tunnel
With so much history and death, it should come as no surprise that Shenks Ferry would also have its fair share of ghost stories. All center on the ominous tunnel that marks the entrance to the wildflower preserve and typically involves the ghost of a woman dressed in white.
Stories vary, but most center around a young woman wearing white. In one version, a murderer brutally ends her life there in the tunnel, and now her spirit remains forever trapped in the dark, foreboding space. Some believe it was her husband that killed her.
Others assert that it was the woman’s beloved who met a tragic end in the tunnel—perhaps murdered himself— and her spirit has lurked in the tunnel for decades, mourning the spot of his death.
However, the most popular version of the story is that a heartbroken and pregnant bride hung herself at the tunnel’s entrance after being left at the altar earlier in the day. Click here to read the full tale of the ‘White Angel’ of Shenks Ferry’s haunted tunnel.
The True Story?
However, according to Jack Niess, a retired Conrail locomotive engineer, this is what really happened. In 1974, a woman of about 18 was struck and killed by an eastbound freight train directly above the underpass on the A&S Branch.
She was apparently clad in just a white sheet and Indian moccasin boots. No one could explain her odd attire, nor did she carry identification. Eventually, it was determined by Penn Central and State Police that she had wandered off from a mental institution in Maryland several days before.
Whether this had been a suicide or accidental death, no one could verify because the engineer and brakeman of the freight train never saw her. The accident was reported by the conductor of the train who just happened to be standing on the rear platform of the caboose as they passed.
After that, the ghost rumors abounded, and crews on the Port Road started reporting a strange entity dancing about on the tracks in front of them clad in something white. Crews called her the “White Angel.”
The event was never reported to the mainstream media.
However, one curious story involving the tunnel does not include a woman dressed in white. Here’s how the person told the chilling encounter.
When I was a student at Millersville University, I liked to explore the surrounding area. One night my roommate and I decided to go to Shenks Ferry.
We were sitting in the middle of the tunnel with the lights off, having done everything you are supposed to do there. Ten minutes or so passed when suddenly, on one side of the tunnel, I saw a black figure crawl into the light. This thing looked like Gollum but with longer arms and legs. When it got to the middle of the tunnel, it turned its head and looked directly at the car. Then it crawled very quickly to the other side of the tunnel.
“Go!” I yelled.
I barely got the word out of my mouth before my roommate started his car driving as fast as possible out of there. We both clearly saw something. No one said anything until we were back on the main road. Then my roommate said, “Did you ever see The Lord of the Rings?” Then he began to describe the same thing I saw.
I’m usually skeptical of this kind of stuff, thinking the mind plays tricks on you, but knowing we both saw the same thing makes me believe.
Petroglyphs of Safe Harbor
Less than a mile away from the Shenks Ferry tunnel are the petroglyphs of Safe Harbor.
Here in Grubb Hollow inside of Shenks Ferry, evidence of a Native American longhouse was found in the early 1900s. It belonged to an unknown group of indigenous people we today refer to as the Shenks Ferry people. Archeological evidence suggests they lived in the Susquehanna Valley as long ago as 4,000 years before disappearing about 1300 AD.
It was these same Native Americans who are believed to have carved the nearby petroglyphs of Little Indian Rock and Big Indian Rock. These 1,000-year-old stone carvings represent the two oldest man-made artifacts in the region.
Much is still unknown about these mysterious pictograms, including their exact meaning and why they are there. However, even with our modern eyes, we can easily identify most of the carvings.
However, Big Indian Rock has two unique carvings that are difficult to explain. Within close proximity to each other are two humanoid-looking figures that appear almost alien. But they aren’t.
Some believe they represent two wendigos.
This is where things get interesting. These two college students obviously did not see Gollum. Instead, they saw something far more sinister and, according to Native American folklore, real. Algonquin legends speak of a gaunt and foul-smelling monster known as a wendigo. It haunts the northern forests of the United States and Canada in search of human flesh to consume.
People who encounter the wendigo report smelling it before seeing it, saying it gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition.
It is often depicted as a humanoid figure with pale corpse-like skin and eyes pushed deep into its sockets. It is sometimes described as having antlers. Perhaps this differentiates between male and female wendigos.
We speak often speak of ancient wisdom. What did these indigenous people know that we don’t? Perhaps everyone should heed Lancaster Conservancy’s warning to leave their preserves before dark.