• Nathan Lesh

Happenings in the Valley: History of Millerstown Businesses and Buildings Continued

Millerstown has had such a vast array of historic and important businesses that it would be near impossible to encapsulate them into one publication. Therefore consider this a continuation of the previously written article. This article will once again analyze some of the defining businesses that helped to grow Millerstown all the while taking a closer look at some of the important structures as well. While not only examining their importance, but their history, how they came to be, and their eventual fall into memory.

The Old Bridge

The old Millerstown bridge was not necessarily a building but was certainly a memorable structure that once graced Millerstown. Throughout the rapid growth of Millerstown during the Antebellum period, a bridge was needed to span the lengths of the Juniata. In 1838, the Millerstown Bridge Company was chartered with many well-known names becoming shareholders. Those names included the families of Ickes, Cochran, Rinehart, and Rice. Many more subscribed to this company and to the notion that a bridge across the Juniata was a must. The first bridge to be built was a wooden covered bridge, which required a toll to cross. It was supported by three large stone pillars in the center of the river. Sadly, in 1902, the bridge was destroyed and engulfed in flames in only 35 minutes, most likely due to a wrongfully placed kerosene lamp.

An iron bridge was constructed next, to replace the covered one some four years later. This bridge remained an icon in Millerstown until 1964 when it was decided a new modern concrete structure should be put in its place.

In order to accomplish this feat of engineering, the old iron bridge was moved up-river in order for cars to still travel across the Juniata while the new concrete bridge was built. Once the concrete bridge was in place, the old iron one was dismantled.

Another important bridge was the Stone Twin Arch bridge near the mouth of the Cocolamus into the Juniata. It was close to the former Everhart’s Mill, but the old structure was sadly demolished to make way for the highway.

Illegal Business

Much like the famed television show “Moonshiners” in Appalachia, there were many moonshine and whiskey distilling operations amongst the mountains of Millerstown and Perry County. A majority of these lucrative operations were done during the prohibition period (1920-33). Distilling would be done in secret locations known only by a select few, most likely near a fresh water source on a mountain or in a heavily wooded area. One distiller's children were rumored to deliver the product and would wear long oversized coats. They would deliver the beverage in the dead of night using bags to hide the bottles near a back door. Moonshiners would throw away their “mash,” a slurry by-product made of corn, sugar, yeast, and water, by hiding the mixture in the woodland pine needles. One man, John Shiffer Sr., followed the same disposal process which led to pheasants finding the mash and gobbling it up. The birds grew plump and were rumored to taste like rye whiskey or yeast due to the fermentation of the mash during the distilling process. This made Shiffer stop public pheasant hunting on his land so he would be the only one enjoying his accidental culinary creation. The same man, surprisingly, later went on to be an undercover FBI agent when working construction at a Naval depot during World War II, obviously after prohibition had ended.

Hopple’s Service Station

The automotive industry was not immune to the economic boom during the 20s. To meet the needs of automobile owners, service stations started springing up all over including one in Millerstown. The building now operated by Mastracchio’s used to be a service station. Robert Hopple bought land to construct a place to tend to vehicles. In 1927, land was secured to construct his service station. The land, being on the west end of town, was a former slate dump. An ore mine was on the property which is now on the Charles H. Burns property. The service station included gas pumps, an oil change pit, and a small retail shop for other automotive needs.

Business receipts can be seen in the picture provided and are a part of the author’s collection. Directly behind the garage were “tourist cabins” for overnight travelers. Robert bequeathed the business to his daughter upon his death who later turned the business into just a restaurant while maintaining the cabins. It was later sold to Terry and Linda Flickinger, being run as “Flick’s Place.” That business has since ceased operations.

Millerstown Hospital

The home on the southeast corner of Millerstown, now a private residence, has had a long history in public service, more specifically the medical field. In 1876, Mary Everhart purchased the land the house now resides on. A square home was constructed on the lot. The seven-room home was later sold to Dr. J. C. Hall in 1892. A rear extension was later added, presumably sometime in the early 1900s. The extension had an elevator shaft built-in, but no elevator was ever installed. The extension was to become Hall’s own medical practice for the community. The home, plus the hospital wing, were wired for lights, becoming the first house in Millerstown to be so. Sadly, Hall died in 1903, taking his dream of a hospital with him. Later on, Dr. Roy Gelnett bought the building after a multitude of owners. In 1941, it was acquired by Gelnett who became Millerstown’s first full-time dentist. The west side became offices for his practice that began in September of the following year.

Deadstock Plant

In recorded history, Thomas Owens appears to be the first owner listed of a Deadstock operation near Millerstown. Owens later sold the business to Robert and Raymond Daugenbaugh. The business sat adjacent to the Juniata and was near the old Breyers Ice Cream property. For those not aware, a deadstock plant manufactured fertilizers out of the remains of dead animals. Employees scoured roadways and asked around looking for corpses to render down. The Daugenbaughs sold the operation when it was then moved to Pfoutz Valley. The business moved again in 1930 to Little Pfoutz Valley along the Cocoalamous before its eventual closure in 1938.

The Mill at Donnally Mills

Donnally Mills, a quaint village situated in Racoon Valley has had quite a storied past. The town for which the person was named was Michael Donnally. Being an important family, they owned a large farm in the area with one relative eventually serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Lewis E. Donnally. Lewis graduated from Millerstown High School, was a teacher for two years, a miller, and a politician for two years. The family home in which Lewis was raised was built in 1812 on land originally deeded to a Henry Bull in 1763. The town used to be an industrious place with a mill, blacksmith shop, bakery, wagon works, and sawmill. Though sadly none of these businesses remain. One of the most well-known businesses of Donnally Mills was of course the mill of the Donnallys. Though the mill was actually built by William Rice for the Bull family mentioned above, eventually the Donally family acquired the mill and mill house. The Donallys grew the mill into a major economic player in the local area. They were even able to afford an International Harvester truck during the 1920s, a very rare and expensive vehicle for the time and place. Thus, being the first one brought to the Millerstown area. The truck is shown in the picture provided.

During the early 1800s, Tuscarora Native Americans frequented the land surrounding the mill on their travels. The natives would stay temporarily near the mill under a hickory tree behind the works in a clearing. There, the Natives could be seen making pottery and chiseling arrowheads, prompting early settlers to watch from the mill. Holes in the mill's stone walls allowed the settlers to watch the natives from a safe distance. There were known conflicts between these two groups for some time.

Read more on Donnally Mills, the village of Reward, and other historical anecdotes of the county in the next publication.

Through years of growth and prosperity, Millerstown and the surrounding area have grown to quite a historically significant footnote in our state's history. There were so many early businesses that worked to grow and care for the early forefathers of this area. Thus, more publications of this nature will be written in the hopes of shedding light on these long-forgotten Perry County symbols, in the hope that the legacy of the businesses and buildings will live on.

Works Cited

  1. Millerstown and Area, 200 Years along the Juniata. Millerstown Bicentennial Committee, 1980.

  2. Taylor, Janet. African Americans in Perry County: 1820-1925. Huggins Printing Co., 2011.

  3. Gilmore, Linda Martin. Celebrating 200 Years of History in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Linda Martin Gilmore, 2019.

  4. Wright, Silas. History of Perry County, in Pennsylvania From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. Lancaster, PA, Wylie and Griest, Printers, 1873.

  5. “LEWIS E. DONNALLY.” The Official Website for the Pennsylvania General Assembly., www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/BiosHistory/MemBio.cfm?ID=3013&body=H. Accessed 17 Feb. 2022.

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