• Nathan Lesh

Villages in the Valley: History of Reward, Donnally Mills, Little Pfoutz Valley, and an Odd Pastime

With much attention being granted to the larger more industrious towns of Perry County, small historical villages may be overlooked. These tiny hamlets dot the countryside and seem to be an extension of the land itself, nestled into the hills and valleys of the Perry County mountain land. Whereas work was ever proceeding in the busy life of the towns, work and life moved a little slower in the villages. The countryside afforded many the opportunity to shelter even more in an already sheltered place. Popular misconceptions about this agrarian lifestyle of folks of this era would suggest they were nothing more than scrappy farmers living in a small podunk of a town. This can’t be further from the truth. Farmers had their hands in many intricate social circles. As their landholdings grew, so did their power. This article will examine the farming social circles, village lifestyle, the businesses involved with this lifestyle, and of course, the history behind it all.

History of Reward

Driving down the windy roads in the backcountry of Millerstown, an early settler would stumble upon the quaint and picturesque village of Reward, originally named Liberty Hall. With its old church and small homes intermixed among this bucolic setting, one can surmise it has had quite a storied past. Reward’s creation can be traced back to 1847 when John Reifsnyder planned for Liberty Hall’s development. Reifsnyder was contracted by Samuel Grubb, who laid claim to the land. In 1850, a church was built, which doubled as the local school. Liberty Hall Sabbath School, the church’s name, was built across from the present Methodist church. The church is now gone, originally sitting where the Methodist cemetery is presently. As of 1982, the original church’s sheepskin deed's whereabouts were known and its condition was decent. The church changed its name in 1885 when the town was renamed Reward, becoming the Union Sunday School of Reward. The schoolhouse was shut down in ‘54. Students were then brought into Millerstown for schooling.

That church was eventually abandoned with the coming of a new church in the United Brethren Charge of Liverpool. In 1893, land owned by Cyrus Douty was set forth for the construction of a church across the road from the existing one (the present Reward church). The church was renamed again in 1946, becoming the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Another final reconfiguration of the church granted it its current name in 1968. It became a Methodist church, being aptly named the Reward United Methodist Church.

Mrs. C. A. Long ran a general store in the town that was opened in 1882. The store is pictured in the image to the right. In 1883, a post office was needed for the bustling hamlet; it opened in Long’s store. The small town never grew to considerable size, most likely due to its rather remote location for the average horse-riding traveler. Though many in the town, in its early years, would refer to landmarks such as the church alley, referencing the original planning map, for which a church alley was mentioned and planned for. The small store closed in the 1940s, with Orlando Markel being its last clerk.


Another small, yet equally historical village is Centerville. The small hamlet is hugged by Perry Valley Road and three other roads intersect at the village. Bargers Run snakes through much of the small area. The most distinct building that remains, from the early period of the town, is the general store with its large front porch. It is situated next to the road, rightly placed to have a commanding view of the hollow in which it is in. The Centerville General Store is a log frame building that originally had wood siding wrapping the . The store ran for many years with townsfolk like John Markel, John Nearhood, and the wife of Charles Burkhart running the store. Mrs. Burkhart closed the store in 1962. A country school was situated down the road from the store and at no time did the village ever exceed 10 homes.

Turkey Roasts

In early Perry County life, especially in the valleys of Millerstown, a peculiar tradition took hold amongst the societal leaders of the classes. These societal leaders were the who’s who of the settlers and had their grasp on all walks of life in the area. The folks of this type congregated in the winter periods to discuss matters of importance facing the county and town. These meetings would be centered around a turkey roast. The wintertime afforded travelers going to the roast the opportunity to use their sleighs, which altogether made for a delightful occasion. These parties allowed the upper classes of the farming community to mingle, especially among the younger generations. Occasionally, relatives ended up marrying within their family (which at the time was considered to be a more normal course of action), though many teens found relationships outside the family lines through these parties. Parents advocated for their children to marry suitors or ladies from their own social circle.

Business and Life in Little Pfoutz Valley

The construction of Shrenk’s Dam allowed businesses to prosper in Little Pfoutz Valley. A fulling mill was constructed, run by waterpower. The mill had a series of hammers pounding a felt-like-material over-and-over again until the material shrunk to achieve a more stiff and weather-proof material. The material would be soaked in a trough of hot water before it was hammered by the wooden mallets. The finished material would be used to make a variety of garments. A feed mill, sawmill, and ice houses popped up around the area of the water barrier. Huge blocks of ice were stored in long dark buildings, being insulated with straw. Some farms in the valley had an ice house to avoid the costs of purchasing from the big ice house businesses. The Thompsontown Creamery was a reliable customer to the ice houses of the valley. When the ice was cut in the winter months, mules would be used to drag the blocks off the frozen water and hauled to the ice house. Occasionally a mule went under the ice. This would require the workers on the ice to pull the animal out with the ropes it was already attached with, dried, and made to run back and forth to work up heat. For simple tenant farmers in the valley, life was simple and social occasions were seldom thrown. Church was the center of life in the valley. Work was plentiful and tiring; ten-hour days were common, with most workers being paid the reasonable sum of $0.50 an hour in 1890.

History of Donnally Mills

As mentioned in a previous article, Michael Donnally is the namesake for Donnally Mills. Donnally Mills used to be a very prosperous town, full of commerce. Many townsfolk were able to work at the many local businesses like sawmills, a general store, and a mill. The Jay Jones General store stood right on the corner of the village. After Jones built the store, he married Margaret Donnally. A home was built directly beside the store, which still stands today. The store was passed through the family until it was sold to a John Meyer. Morrie and Carol Nemser ran the store for Meyer. It then changed hands again to Robert Polz. Edith Jones, a family member who ran the store when the Jones family still owned it, built a small tea room onto the building. A dip of ice cream could be bought at the store for $0.05. A meeting room was opened in the second story of the building for any local affairs that needed to be discussed.

Picket fences were built around many of the homes in Donnally Mills to keep hungry cows away from gardens. A wandering cow in the town was not a rare sight, and for some people, this statement may still hold true. A wagon wheel and blacksmith’s shop could have been found in the town as well.

A prominent local business was the J.F. Kerr Planing Mill in Donnally Mills. J.F. Kerr got his start in carpentry and his first client was Logan Bratton, who paid the $450 barn construction bill in gold. The milling operation was passed down the family for many years, with the original sawmill burning to the ground in 1931.

These small and unique villages in Perry County offer a glimpse of what life in the early years of this community was like. The many business pioneers brought civility to the untamed and raw land and worked to cement these hidden gems in history for generations to come. While these towns may never see the same bustling commerce they once saw, they will always possess a deep-rooted sense of history that not only connects one with the area, but inspires someone to discover its surprising past. was

Works Cited

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

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

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

  4. Long, Theodore K. Tales of the Cocolamus. Carson Long Institute, 1936. Penn State University Libraries, digital.libraries.psu.edu/digital/collection/digitalbks4/id/1261.

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