Saint Anthony’s Wilderness: A Land of Long Forgotten Hope, Industry, and Prosperity

Updated on October 30, 2018
David Halk profile image

David has a lifelong fascination with the past and local history, as well as the sciences and nature.

Cold Spring House of Tannersville, NY is a typical example of cold spring resorts which were popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Cold Spring House of Tannersville, NY is a typical example of cold spring resorts which were popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Welcome to the Wilderness

Spread across the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania is a vast stretch of forest, wild lands, ridges and streams called Stony Valley. Long ago it was known as Saint Anthony’s Wilderness. To anyone walking through the valley and its mountains, the area seems to be completely owned by Nature. The forest is thick with oak trees, hickory and shrubs. Boulders lay strewn across the slopes, carpeting the valley through which a stream runs its course. The only sounds to be heard is the twitter of birds, the scrambling of squirrels, and the wind blowing through the trees. Without knowing where to look and having a keen eye, a person is likely to miss the few remaining signs that this was once home to many diverse people with great and varying endeavors, from missionaries evangelizing Amerindians, to poor laborers working in the mines, to the rich vacationing in a lush lakeside resort. Today it is hard to imagine that all these things took place in an area that looks as wild as the day it was named “Saint Anthony’s Wilderness” over two and a half centuries ago.

The mountains of Stony Valley, formerly known as Saint Anthony's Wilderness.
The mountains of Stony Valley, formerly known as Saint Anthony's Wilderness.
The portion of country between Blue Mountain and Peters Mountain was known at an early period by the name of St. Anthony’s Wilderness as designated on a 1749 Lewis Evans map.
The portion of country between Blue Mountain and Peters Mountain was known at an early period by the name of St. Anthony’s Wilderness as designated on a 1749 Lewis Evans map.
Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania (highlighted).
Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania (highlighted).

The Moravians

The earliest known white settlement in Saint Anthony’s Wilderness - and those who gave the area its name - were the Moravians.

The Moravian Church had arisen in 1457 in what is today the Czech Republic, notable for its early opposition to the Catholic Church’s practices of its clergy and hierarchy, preceding even Martin Luther’s reformation by sixty years. The Moravians suffered much persecution for this opposition. By 1722 many followers fled execution from Bohemia and Moravia to find sanctuary at the estate of Count Nicholas Zinzendorf, the leading patron of the Moravians during his time.

The Moravians believed in living according to the direct teaching of Christ, eschewing divergent doctrine and personal beliefs to “be guided only by the gospel and example of our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy apostles in gentleness, humility, patience, and love for our enemies,” according to the founder, Gregory the Patriarch. Zinzendorf charged his followers with delivering this gospel of his church to others around the world and in 1741 they settled in Pennsylvania, establishing the towns of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Lititz and Hope. Their mission was to spread the gospel to the Native Americans.

In 1742, at the request of Conrad Weiser, Officer of Indian Affairs in Pennsylvania, Zinzendorf set off with his followers to settle peace with the local Indian tribes of Blue Mountain, a long mountain ridge in central Pennsylvania. Upon arriving at Blue Mountain, Zinzendorf was in awe at the sight of the steep, narrow valley rimmed by the mountains, and he named it Saint Anthony’s Wilderness in honor of his friend. In what may have been the first European settlement in that vast wild tract of land, the Moravian missionaries set up a community there, the base from which they would negotiate peace with the tribes and spread the word of their gospel to them. Their mission was short-lived, however, and within a few decades the missionaries abandoned their settlement in Saint Anthony’s Wilderness due to the extreme isolation, being bounded by the long mountain ranges that flank Stony Creek and the thick forests that separated them from civilization.

Aerial View of the Stony Valley region (yellow highlight)
Aerial View of the Stony Valley region (yellow highlight)
A typical coal mine in 1800's Pennsylvania.
A typical coal mine in 1800's Pennsylvania. | Source

Coal Ushers In New Growth to the Wilderness

In 1824, coal was discovered in Stony Valley, which by then is what Saint Anthony’s Wilderness was called. Five towns sprouted up along the mountain ridge to accommodate the subsequent mining interests. The towns of Ellendale, Yellow Springs, Rausch Gap, Gold Mine, and Rattling Run were all bustling communities in their time. The population of the Stony Valley area reached over 2,000 people at its peak. The resort town of Cold Spring was also established nearby after 1850.

The Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad was built between 1849 and 1854 primarily to carry coal to the canals, but also to bring in affluent tourists who visited a resort for the healing mineral waters of Cold Springs. The railroad ran from the Susquehanna River at the west end of Stony Valley to the Schuylkill River some distance beyond the eastern boundary of the area.

In addition to the coal mines there were also lumbering operations, quarrying, a water bottling plant, and ice harvesting industries. The cold mineral water of Cold Spring was thought to hold healing powers, and after the resort closed the water was bottled and distributed as spring water. The lumbering operations must have been quite extensive, at least in some areas, as can be witnessed in an illustration of the resort at Cold Spring c. 1850-1899: the entire ridge behind the hotel is nearly bare of trees with only a few sparse oaks dotting the slope, a slim remainder of the great forest that had stood there before and that would once again grow to cover the mountainside. Ice harvesting was the process of removing surface ice from lakes and rivers, which was then stored in ice houses and sold for cooling purposes. It was a rather common practice in the days before air conditioning.

Stone wall ruins at Rausch Gap
Stone wall ruins at Rausch Gap
The three remaining gravestones at Rausch Gap.
The three remaining gravestones at Rausch Gap.

Rausch Gap

In 1823, a coal mine was started by Dr. Kugler on Sharp Mountain in what is today Cold Spring Township. In 1828 the Dauphin and Susquehanna Coal Company built the town of Rausch Run in Stony Valley. By the time the railroad was built through the area in 1851, the town consisted of about 25 houses built of wood and stone. The railroad’s headquarters were located in the town, but when the headquarters moved to Pine Grove in 1872, the population of Rausch Gap began to decline. The combination of this, the poor quality of coal in the area, and the occurrence of the Civil War, Rausch Gap had become deserted by 1900. Today, the stone foundations of houses and the shallow outline of an abandoned well mark where the town once stood.

The remaining railroad tracks were removed in 1944. As much of the tracks as possible were salvaged and reused for other purposes, such as for other railroads and the war effort for World War II. The rails, tie plates and spikes were of most use, but the ties were torn out from the ground and thrown into piles stretching several hundred yards along an abandoned wagon road where they remain lying to this day.

During that same time period in the 1940’s, Fort Indiantown Gap, a National Guard Training facility, used Rausch Gap and neighboring Cold Spring as training grounds for their personnel. During the fifties, the Pennsylvania State Game Commission purchased the land and designated it as State Game Lands 211.

A cemetery still resides in the remains of Rausch Gap, where the citizens of the vanished town had been lain to rest. It had held more than a hundred gravestones when the town was still inhabited, but now only a few remain standing. The others have vanished, lost either to the elements or to vandalism.

A closer look at the gravestones.
A closer look at the gravestones.

Inscriptions of the Rausch Gap Gravestones

Andrew Allen

In memory of the late Andrew Allen, a native of England who met his death by accident at Gold Mine Gap, June 9, 1854 Aged 30 years 2 months and 27 days.

Here lies beneath this humble sod, the noble work of nature’s God. A heart once warm with gratitude, with strength and courage was endured. – A. Allen

Few hearts like this with virtue warmed, few hearts with knowledge so informed. If there’s another world he lives in bliss. If there is none, he made the best of this. – B. Burns

Catherine Blackwood

Catherine, daughter of John and Elizabeth Blackwood. Died June 16, 1854. Aged 1 year, 1 mo., & 7 days.

John Proud

In memory of John Proud. Born in Durham, England and died May 18, 1854 Aged 52 years and 16 days.

Affliction sore long time I bore, all human skill was vain. Till God did please to give me care, and free me from my pain.

Stony Valley and Rausch Gap Through Drone Cam

A typical view of the forest in Stony Valley. Ruins of long-gone dwellings often lay hidden among the growth, easily missed when walking by.
A typical view of the forest in Stony Valley. Ruins of long-gone dwellings often lay hidden among the growth, easily missed when walking by.

Rattling Run

Rattling Run, its name inherited from Rattling Run Creek which runs through the area, was another coal mining town in Stony Valley situated toward the western end of the region. The town hosted a stagecoach stop for the stagecoach trail that once ran from the town of Dauphin on the Susquehanna River to Pottsville in the east. The ruins of Rattling Run are strewn across the mountainside, still visible among the undergrowth of the forest.

Ruins at Yellow Springs
Ruins at Yellow Springs | Source

Yellow Springs

The town of Yellow Springs had stood in Stony Valley about four miles east of Rattling Run. Yellow Springs was also a coal mining town served by the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad. The town prospered for a time on the coal it mined, but since the coal was of an inferior grade, eventually the mining became unprofitable. Stony Valley, being covered with rocks and boulders over much of its area, was nearly impossible for farming. Once the timbering operations had removed all the trees, the railroad could no longer conduct business in the region and they closed the line, removing the lifeline of the small towns connected to it throughout the valley. Like the other mining towns, Yellow Springs declined through the early years of the twentieth century and was abandoned by the 1930’s. During the thirties, the mines saw one last bit of action as bootleggers mined them, using trucks to haul out coal over old railroad grades.

Cold Spring Hotel of Stony Valley, PA, c. 1850-1899
Cold Spring Hotel of Stony Valley, PA, c. 1850-1899

Cold Spring and the Resort

The small town of Cold Spring at the eastern end of Stony Valley began as a tavern house in the early 1800’s. When the Dauphin and Susquehanna Railroad came through Stony Valley in 1850-1851, it soon became a resort town. The waters of Cold Spring were dammed up, creating a small lake in the valley. One hotel was built alongside the lake and was used as a summer resort. In the 1880’s a second hotel was constructed, as well as many improvements to the property such as a bowling alley, bath house, dancing pavilion, and a bar. The two hotels stood side-by-side as three-story buildings of Greek architecture. The porches and balconies were fitted with ornate columns. A long lane was cut through the forest leading up to the hotel where ladies and gentlemen strolled along, dressed in the high fashion of the day.

The hotel attracted the rich as its patrons, many of whom travelled from Philadelphia as well as Harrisburg and Pottsville to visit the lush resort in the middle of the wild forests and mountains of Stony Valley. The visitors lounging at the Cold Spring Hotel must have been quite a contrast to the poor, hard-working laborers at the nearby mines and lumbering operation of Rausch Gap and Yellow Spring. One can only wonder at the meeting of the two if workers from the mountains descended into the grounds of the luxurious resort, or vice versa; if the patrons of the resort braved a hike into the mountains rising above their lake.

Several factors led to the downfall of the Cold Spring Hotel at the end of the nineteenth century. The arrival of the automobile meant that people were much more mobile and could travel much farther and more easily than they had previously. The rich in nearby cities began visiting other vacation areas. Also in the 1890’s, the modern amusement park became prolific. In 1893 Chicago’s Columbian Exposition introduced the midway, an enclosed area that was permanent in location, rather than traveling, and filled with games and rides. The midway format soon became popular and amusement parks grew in size and spread out across the nation. The amusement parks were so enticing for rich and middle class alike that they stole away the allure of the Cold Spring Hotel and from other cold spring resorts like it. Nearly all these resorts became abandoned by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Cold Spring Hotel had a dramatic loss of visitors the last few years of the 1890’s and in September of 1900 a fire broke out and the two hotel buildings burned to the ground. Sources describe the fire as “mysterious”. It may have been accidental, or possibly started by purposeful means as it was very good timing to get out of the resort business at that point.

Ten years later, in 1910, a bottling company set up operations on the former site of the hotel. The cold spring water which had formerly flowed into the resort’s bath house was diverted and bottled for shipment as spring water. A few years later, the bottling industry left the area and Cold Spring became a summer camp for boys of the Y.M.C.A. When mortars from nearby Fort Indian Town Gap Military Reservation landed too close to the camp, the camp was shut down and the land became part of the military reservation for operations in the Cold War. In 1956 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took ownership of the area and it became part of State Game Lands 211, which it remains today.

The Cold Spring Resort in its heyday. What was then a cleared-out mountain side with a lake now looks much different as the buildings and lake are gone, and the slopes and valley are once again covered with thick forest.
The Cold Spring Resort in its heyday. What was then a cleared-out mountain side with a lake now looks much different as the buildings and lake are gone, and the slopes and valley are once again covered with thick forest.

Exploring the Abandoned Village of Cold Springs

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A Land Lost to History

To most of those who now venture into that part of the valley, the last remains of the resort would appear to be only an old shallow stone wall, easy to miss among the trees and thick undergrowth. It is hard to imagine that it was actually the foundation of a grand hotel that once stood there, the site reclaimed by the forest that has grown over it for the past 100 years.

The present-day township of Cold Spring is located in the nearby area. It is a small town, harboring only 52 residents as of the 2010 census. Almost all of the township is part of State Game Lands 211, and is composed of twelve houses at the base of the mountain. There are no local municipal taxes, no water, sewage, or road departments, no municipal building, and no public officials. It is a modern-day town in Stony Valley whose citizens live with some measure of the freedom and self-reliance as the Moravian settlers who lived there long ago, when people called it Saint Anthony’s Wilderness.

Questions & Answers


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      • David Halk profile imageAUTHOR

        David Halk 

        5 days ago from Pennsylvania

        You're welcome, Scott! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. It is a very fascinating history, and amazing how easily overlooked it can be. I never knew about it until I started doing some research on metal detecting a few years ago and some forum members mentioned this place. Yes, you can certainly cite my page on your video. And if you wouldn't mind, you can leave a message here or send me an email when you're video is done with a link, I'd like to check it out.

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        5 days ago

        Thanks for this. I have hiked and hunted extensively in the area and find the history fascinating. I might be doing a youtube video on the area and its history. Can I cite your page as a source?


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