Thursday, May 29, 2008
Snookered to Philipsburg
For most of my adult life, I have endured my siblings’ romantic tales about our ancestors who settled in Philipsburg, a quaint little town in Central Pennsylvania.
Our great-grandfather James Beveridge arrived in the small metropolis following the Civil War, having relocated from Scotland to work in the surrounding coalfields and join his many relatives who had earlier settled there. He married, raised two sons and returned upon his death to be buried in his beloved Philipsburg. It was a story of romance, and then tragedy, when his young bride, Mary Canning, died while her children were still small. I usually rolled my eyes when my brothers went on about the struggles of our immigrant ancestors, as I have little, if any, interest in genealogy and Philipsburg in particular. Truth be told, we don’t even know the exact location of the family graves.
But a few weeks ago, while in State College for a conference and less than 20 miles from our homeland, I decided it was finally time to see the place where so many Beveridges once called home. There are well-kept Victorian homes on tidy tree-lined streets making up the lovely town.
There is a well-preserved Old Mud Church built with logs in 1820 surrounded on three sides by a cemetery containing a prominent plot of graves marked with the names of members of the Philips family. Indeed, this must have been a town founded by proud people, I thought.
And then I picked up the story of the town’s founding only to learn that the Philipses were a bunch of charlatans.
The cagy Mr. Henry Philips and his brothers purchased 350,000 acres in the area, beginning in 1775, and quickly set out to lure followers. They accomplish that “by the means of less than honest and down right unscrupulous advertising,” according to the story.
The brothers boasted of a town fully developed beside a navigable river. But the first 12 followers found themselves standing in total wilderness inhabited by wild animals when they arrived. All but one of them turned around and settled in other neighborhoods. Even the railroad bypassed this godforsaken place for many years. And today, the rural areas surrounding the town are dotted with crumbling and decaying farmhouses.
Take this as a warning about what you might find when you go about snooping into the past.