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Ancient Fortification

Near the bank of Wolf Run, 100 rods or more north of Muncy Creek, and not far from the river, is the location of the Ancient Fortification, which has been the subject of much speculation. Meginness, in his History of the West Branch Valley, quotes a description of it, which represents that: "The shape of the fortification was semi-circular and was built parallel with the direction of the cliff, which extends almost due north and south."

The accompanying sketch map is the same that Meginness has on page 68 of his history, to show "its form and location." But the description is not correct. When his valuable revised work appeared I told him that he had been misled as to its form and location, and, if he were living, he would be glad to have the error corrected. The embankment did not extend "almost due north and south"; it was not parrallel "with the direction of the cliff"; but it extended almost due west and east, at right angle with the cliff, and as close as the high ground would permit to the site of the railroad bridge that now spans Wolf Run. The railroad does not pass "east" of the fortification, but passes right straight through it – or through where it was. There was, as stated, "probably more than an acre in the inclosure."

When the deep cut near Wolf Run was made for the railroad two parallel lines of the fortification running nearly west and east were crossed. They were a number of rods apart, and the north line was close to where the "level plane" abruptly slopes down to the run bottom, at the end next to the cliff. When the cut was fresh the "deep ditch" that had been filled tup could easily be traced. The late Capt. Daniel B. Dykins was the "boss" in charge of the work, and immediately called my attention to the discovery. He brought me a number of relics found in what was once the "deep ditch," – one being a piece of Indian pottery 10 inches long, the largest fragment in my collection. The tooth of time, in the form of rain and frost, the plow and harrow – the ground on which it stood has probably been under cultivation for more than one hundred years – has long since obliterated all surface vestiges of the structure. When about sixty years ago I first visited the site, in company with older persons, traces of the embankments could then still be seen, which were in the form of a parallelogram, agreeing with the discovery of Captain Dykins. The main part lies east of the railroad. Examination of the ground would suggest this, as the space between the cut and the cliff at this point is too small for a "large fortification."

Meginness quotes the following interesting account from the Moravian records:

"March 21, 1737, Conrad Weiser, an educated German, passed up the West Branch, and during the forenoon reached the large stream known as Canusarago, now called Muncy Creek. The stream was much swollen, and was crossed with much difficulty and great danger, in canoes. The same day Mr. Weiser passed a place where, in former times, a large fortification< had stood. It was built on a height surrounded by a deep ditch. The earth was thrown up nine or ten feet high, and as many wide. In Weiser's own words: "It is now in decay as, from appearances, it has been deserted beyond the memory of man."

Note the words in italics. To make the fortification a complete defence, a palisade must have been erected on the broad crown of the earthwork. A few rods east of the railroad, within the inclosure, and distinctly remembered, there was a hole partly filled up with stone, that all imagined must have been a cellar under some building. Years before the John Shoemaker boys, – who were grandsons of Mary Scudder, and lived but a short distance from the works, – when digging in this hole unearthed a badly rusted gun barrel. According to Weiser this was an "ancient fortification" 172 years ago, or 33 years before the advent of John Scudder. The many relics found on the plain around it, and the objects covered up in the ditch, indicate that this was an Indian camping ground for generations after the work was deserted.

Alderman A. H. Stead, of Williamsport, was raised on the farm on which the fortification stood. In a letter recently received from him he says: "I distinctly remember the old earthwork about which you ask, as it was still easily traceable when I was a boy. It ran back eastward from the cliff, and the north side or line of embankment was close to where the high ground suddenly drops down to the Wolf Run bottom. I plowed the Old Fort Field, as it was called, several times, and was very familiar with the ground. I always took pleasure in going over it, to show it to friends who visited with us. also remember the pit within the enclosure, which was thought to have been a cellar."

Another important fact: Heavy filling was necessary to raise the roadbed on the Wolf Run bottom to the proper grade, and as the cut did not furnish enough material, the earth from a strip on the bottom beside the track was removed to the depth of several feet, from the plain on which the fort stood to the run. Here on a straight line a number of stone heaps were uncovered, having the unmistakable appearance of having been fireplaces, as the stones plainly showed the action of fire, and traces of ashes and charcoal were found in the heaps. The workmen noticed this, and kept the heaps intact as near as they could. Who made these ancient fireplaces? What does their antiquity and immediate proximity to the fort mean? Was there a gate in the palisade facing them? It is much easier to ask such questions than it is to answer them.

But, surely, the mound marked 3 on Meginness' sketch map of this interesting relic of Muncy Valley was neither the plan nor the site of the ancient fortification. It did not extend north and south, and the railroad does not pass around it. In his first edition of Otzinachson (1856) Meginness was much nearer the truth when he said (page 30), "It was square, and consisted of embankments thrown up in regular order."

  • Gernerd, J. M. M., The Muncy Valley: Snap-Shots of Scenery, Geology and History, 1909, Press of the Gazette and Bulletin, Williamsport PA
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