PA-Clearfield-1895_500px

It is nice to run across stories about life during the times when the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was in operation, and I hope to eventually collect a series of articles for the archives about small town life during late 19th and early 20th century.

Recently, Bonnie Gearhart Hubert sent a photo of the Joseph Gearhart house as well as an interior photo of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. I hope to publish these shortly, pending some more fact-finding. Bonnie is the granddaughter of Leonard Alfred Gearhart (1874-1963). Leonard was one of Joseph’s three sons, and like Joseph’s other two sons John and Emory, he too had a position within the company. The facts concerning Leonard and John are a bit sketchy so far, since most of the personal information in the archive deals with Emory, my grandfather.

Bonnie put together the following story for the archives about life back during Leonard’s time, when things were much closer to the natural order than they are today. Thank you very much Bonnie.

The Leonard Alfred Gearhart, Sr. home is located in the section of Clearfield called “Paradise”. Leonard, Sr. and Rilla lived there from around 1930-1965. When my dad, Leonard, Jr. was growing up, fishing in the nearby creeks (pronounced “cricks”) and exploring the woods were favorite pastimes. For the perfect lunch, you clean, gut, and cut off the head of a native brook trout, then fry it in bacon fat in a cast iron skillet. Leonard, Jr. attended 1st through 8th grade at Paradise School. Playing marbles was popular in the 1930s. He served as a radioman during WWII and married Eva Jene Mohney in Hagerstown, MD, after the war. They bought a house in Clearfield on South Fifth Street for $4,000 dollars and lived there until 1998. He was a furrier for Clearfield Furs for 52 years.

My mother says she has never seen any pictures of Leonard and Rilla and the kids when they were growing up. During the 1950s, we often went to Granny’s and Granddaddy’s (Leonard’s and Rilla’s) on Sunday evenings, sometimes for supper. The house and yards were lovely. Granny had a beautiful rock garden on the hillside, with trailing arbutus and teaberries. In the front yard, Granddaddy had built a roomy, chunky, wooden merry-go-round. My cousins and I had a grand time getting dizzy. Granny’s enclosed sun porch was filled with African violets. We sat at her cane desk and looked at pictures through the view-master. Granddaddy, then in his seventies, sat on the front porch and smoked his pipe. He smiled as I passed by. In 1963, I looked out the window of my sixth grade classroom to see Granddaddy’s funeral procession on the way to Hillcrest Cemetery.

In the breakfast room, there was a built-in oak icebox that took up most of one wall. The ice for it was delivered. Out back, to the left, built into the bank, was an aboveground, stone, covered well. A tin long-handled ladle hung on the right. It was the sweetest, tastiest, coolest water on God’s green earth! Moss grew on the rocks on the inside and on a hot, humid summer day you would lean in to scoop up your water and feel nature’s air-conditioning.

Tasty water abounded in the Clearfield area at that time. There was a hollowed-out log at Leitzinger Spring where motorists would stop for a drink on their way to Elliot Park or Parker Dam, or after a drive down the Four Mile Road to admire the mountain laurel. Lucky folks who walked a bit would discover the occasional honeysuckle and appreciate its intoxicating fragrance.

The sweet water is gone forever. My dad said sorrowfully that his dream of fishing during his retirement years was ruined by timbering, mining, and road building. When the diverse forest was harvested, scrub oak grew back. Oak leaves then fell into the creeks, discoloring and polluting them with tannic acid. Bituminous coal stripping draglines operated day and night, including the area above the Gearhart property. Mining ravaged the landscape, leaving mountains of shale and strip ponds of bad water. Pennsylvanians in the 21st century see a green Pennsylvania, but can’t experience the bio-diversity of the temperate rainforest that Leonard Gearhart and his ancestors fondly called “the woods”. The colorful amphibians and fabulous fungus living in the primordial under story were the inspiration for Leonard’s daughter’s Margaret and Mary’s artwork.

The environment slowly collapsed, but industry thrived. Clearfield was named an “All-American City” in 1955. All the men grew beards for the occasion. That was a testament to the small industries like Harbison-Walker Refractory and Caterpillar that came along after the cottage industry factories like the Gearhart Knitting Machine Factory of the early 1900s.

— Bonnie Gearhart Hubert

Advertisements