Highmount & Pine Swamp, the Once-thriving Metropolis

Eastern York Neighborhoods Series

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Picture of the Fairmount United Methodist Church

A time not too long ago, these people were doing their own butchering, wrapping a deeply wounded hand with cobwebs, encountering Native Americans in the woods, “roughing it” with no electricity (until 1947), tending the family hog and hens, euthanizing the neighbor’s dog in the kitchen by bullet, and volunteering 75% of their men to fight in World War II. Some of these things were commonplace while others are anecdotal. In any event, these were the people of Highmount & Pine Swamp.

In late 2012, my wife and I settled on our first home in the Highmount area. I didn’t know much about Highmount. I knew records indicated my house was built in 1890, but the previous owner, Anna Wetzel, believed it may have been built closer to 1870. Older homes have always charmed me, and this neighborhood appeared to have a lot of history.

I reached out to a few contacts who I knew to have lived in the Highmount area for some time. The first person I spoke with was Larry Keener. Larry technically is not in Highmount, but he may be a good candidate for honorary citizenship. Larry lives just beyond Highmount and was a good source of information for the Accomac area as well, but that’s for another time. Larry described Highmount as a “farm community,” where many families of Highmount farmed, participated in organized neighborhood events, attended church, and the kids attended the local school. While it may not be what it once was, the Highmount community strikes me as unique in retaining many of these qualities. Highmount’s church, Fairmount United Methodist Church has a drive-your-tractor-to-church day. There is still an annual Highmount Picnic. Many residents are from a string of descendants who resided in Highmount or the surrounding area.

Larry was a gateway to much more information through many other contacts. I would come to find out that the history is so deep that a blog post doesn’t do it justice. Most of my newfound knowledge would come from Kerry White and Paul Fahringer.

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“Homestead of Jacob Fahringer (Pine Swamp)

Kerry White, or Whitie as many know him, gave me a call on the phone and started telling me about the origins of the area. Germans settled in the valley north of Highmount and this area was known as “Pine Swamp,” which rang a bell as the cemetery off of Deer Forest Road is called “Pine Swamp Cemetery.” There were many natural springs in the area that attracted these earlier settlers. Naturally, they would spread into what is now known as the Highmount area.

Whitie has a good personal history in the area. His grandparents lived in Highmount and Pine Swamp areas, and he grew up in Highmount and still lives just beyond the assumed boundary. Whitie told of what used to be of the area– what he proudly called a “once-thriving metropolis!” There was Elmer Lindsay’s sawmill where Sheila McLain now resides, and TWO grocery/general stores: Holtzinger’s and Fisher’s. He said they carried everything: ice cream, horse collars, shoes. There was also a one room school house.

Then Whitie shared with me that he had written a fictional story capturing the history of Highmount. Whitie would stop by a few days later and loan me this book, and this is worth reading for anyone interested in know greater detail about the area. The Fairmount United Methodist Church has a copy of the book within their 150th Anniversary publication and it can be found in their library. Whitie had some great resources for that book, one of which was Paul Fahringer.

Paul Fahringer and I connected, and Paul offered to give me a tour of the area. I took him up on this. He took me in his car and we took a slow drive through the area as he told me stories as each house or space offered him a cue. And that busy “highway” of Furnace Road we were on– it was an unpaved road until the 1940s according to Paul.

We started at the current picnic grounds. The original picnic grounds was across the street. He said that 700-800 people would attend this all-day affair of the Highmount picnic. They had games, fresh chicken corn soup (that took 13 big black kettles), and music. The chicken for the picnic were raised from the people in the community. And the lumber used to construct the bandstand was from Elmer Lindsay’s sawmill of course. Highmount depended on Highmount.

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Old Schoolhouse?

Now, where the current picnic grounds is, there was the Highmount school that went from September through April to accommodate the farming lifestyle of the community. There was mention of two memorable teachers who had taught: Margaret White and Mary Fisher. The school was heated with a coal stove. As punishment, Paul recalls having to stand by the coal stove. Paul also recalls an annual Christmas performance by the school children that was performed at night by the light of kerosene lighters brought by each household in attendance.

Up the road one will find a cemetery and a house across from it. The area’s best Realtor now lives here (me :-P). Vic McLane used to live here and he would dig the cemetery and maintained it all by hand. Al Parrish, the current groundskeeper, spends a lot of time here, so I can only imagine how full was Vic’s plate. And then, believe it or not, next to the cemetery was a restaurant adjacent to where there is now a residence. Whitie’s book reveals that the restaurant’s specialty was fried eel and bologna sandwiches. I can’t say I’ve ever seen this on a menu! Who’s bringing this back?

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“Fisher’s Store in the 1940s.”

Paul showed me what Whitie had referenced as Holtzinger’s Store (5795 Furnace Road) and revealed that it had been a hardware store originally on the first floor, and cigars were made on the second floor. Eventually they carried “everything.” There was even a gas pump. Of course the competition down the road at Fisher’s Store also had a gas pump, and as Paul fondly recalls, ice cream cone for a nickel! It used to be the case that the shopper would hand the clerk their list and come back to pick it up later. This no doubt has inspired Weis Market’s “Weis2Go” service now many years later (kidding). Each of the two stores had their niche in the community: Fisher’s was the place for the farmers to hang out, and Holtzinger’s was a place for the young men and women to hang out.

It was evident that Paul was particularly proud of the community for their service in World War II. As mentioned, 75% of their eligible men volunteered to fight. He shared a poem written by a young woman from Highmount entitled, “York County Hills” which longs for the return of “the boys.” “The baseball diamond, it too looks forlorn…” reads the poem, the second account I’ve read regarding an apparently formidable baseball team in the day as recounted in Whitie’s story.

What an experience it must have been to have lived in this time of such deep traditions and super-local identity! We are fortunate to have such rich histories around us in the Eastern York area to remind us of values that once were, particularly this sense of community. I’d love to be more of a neighbor to my neighbors. I have found this sense of community in my church and even with my former classmates, but there is more of this to be had!

I see my business to be more like the Highmounts of this recounted era. In my annual letter to my clients, I wrote, “We believe in doing business with a sense of community and belonging. We believe we are always “your agents,” versus just some agents who helped you in a blip of time. We believe that we can continue to help you and, in return, you can continue to help us.” We want a relationship. The way I am picturing it, factual or not, the people of Highmount knew one another and depended on one another. They didn’t have to go to the big box stores or supermarkets. They either provided what they needed or knew the face on the other end of what was being provided for them.

I want to thank Larry Keener, Faye & Art Fahringer, Kerry White, and Paul Fahringer for making yourself available to me and sharing your knowledge. I’m sorry for taking so long to create and publish your stories, although I doubt that you were highly anticipating my unworthy telling of your accounts. For those reading who would like to share more, or who need to correct me on my likely mistakes, please contribute!

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