Instanter Revisited - Jones Township

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Instanter Revisited

Instanter Revisited

During  the summer of 1991 this area of Pennsylvania suffered a severe drought, the worst some say in 60 years. These drought conditions  lifted parts of the ghost town of Instanter from it's underwater grave.  The remains of this once vibrant community are usually 29-30 feet below water at this time of year.  For the first time in 43 years, visitors are able to once again see building foundations and other remains of what was known as "a lively little town". According to local scuba divers, a large section of the town, which once housed over 500 residents, still remained underwater. Pieces of leather most likely from the old tannery that once existed, broken bottles, and china could be found at the site.

John Zolodziejsek, park ranger at the Army Corp Lake, indicated that the summer pool over the area is usually around 50-feet of water.  He also indicated that the area has been extremely busy with visitors from all over coming to see this former community. "It is certainly a tourist attraction" he indicated.

Also while the water levels were low, it allowed the state to cap off and plug some older gas well that still existed in the area.

Foundations of the local tannery just below the boat ramp / parking area.

Above, photos show the ruins of the town of Instanter, including a bridge.  Below, is an article that appeared in the New York Times chronicling this event.
Instanter Journal; What Water Hid, Drought Reveals


Published: January 28, 1992

Frank J. Nitsche sat on the stump of an apple tree, which 66 years ago had shaded his family's home here in what is now a ghost town 100 miles southeast of Erie.

Mr. Nitsche, a retired state highway worker who now lives in nearby Wilcox, recalled living with 500 other residents of Instanter, which became an outpost for hunters when its main employer, a tannery, closed in 1926.

He told how the picturesque village, nestled in a valley of the Allegheny Mountains, had been sacrificed to the needs of regional flood control in 1952. The Army Corps of Engineers built a dam downstream and submerged Instanter (pronounced in-STANT-er) and another, smaller hamlet called Straight under a lake 55 feet deep.

But now the state's worst drought in 50 years has dried up the 1,200-acre lake, called the East Branch Clarion River Lake, leaving a moonscape of cracked earth. In the center of this canyon, a couple of hundred yards off a boat launching ramp, sits Instanter. All that remains are some old broken bottles, scattered foundations of buildings and bridges, and cement vats where hides were tanned.

Tens of thousands of tourists have walked around Instanter since the lake's spectacular dehydration last fall, making it a popular tourist attraction in Northwestern Pennsylvania, said John J. Kolodziejski, a park ranger with the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the lake and its recreational uses.

"It's nothing like Pompeii," Mr. Kolodziejski said of the dry lake about 30 miles north of Interstate 80. "There are no fabulous ruins here. But Instanter has attracted a lot of local history buffs, and many people, who usually come here to go boating or fishing, are coming to see what the bottom of the lake looks like."

Former Instanter residents like Mr. Nitsche, 84 years old, come to conjure up childhood memories, knowing well that a winter and spring of normal snow and rain will fill the lake again, and that the waters are not likely to part again during their lifetimes.

"You know," Mr. Nitsche said as he perched on the tree stump, "I never thought in my lifetime that I would see the place of my birth again."

Mr. Nitsche and George Powley, another former Instanter resident, gave a visitor an imaginary tour of Instanter, briefly rebuilding the houses, stores and churches with words and old sepia photographs. That trickle of water over there, Mr. Nitsche said, was Instanter Run, where as boys he and Mr. Powley, a retired mechanic, fished for trout. There, over by a boulder, was the white clapboard schoolhouse, with Margaret Peterson inside teaching the first, second and third grades.

To the east was a dirt road, with buggies lined up in front of the Smith Brothers' General Store, where a person could buy almost anything from a Sears, Roebuck catalogue. The store was also a place to warm your feet by the stove and your ears with the hot news of a rake named Philip Strong and his pursuit of a certain Gladys, a married woman. That was the shocker about 1925.

Past Instanter's only gas-lit intersection, Mr. Nitsche said, was Dewy's Confectionery, where he had a good job washing bottles for bootleg whisky during Prohibition. "At night, there were always doings over at Charlie Hawes' Hotel," Mr. Nitsche recalled. The doings, mostly, meant playing pool, but the Ancient Order of Gobblers, a fraternal organization, also sponsored some lively dances.

Almost everybody, including Mr. Nitsche's father, worked at the Elk Tannery, where it took two months to transform a hide with putrid animal flesh on it into fine leather for shoes. The tannery, which used hemlock bark in the tanning process, had settled the hamlet in 1890 because of the enormous hemlock forest nearby. It closed in 1926, when it had used up all of the easily accessible hemlock.

"The plant shut around Christmas, and my dad was the last to leave," Mr. Nitsche said. As for Instanter, he said, "It was a good place to grow up."

Hearing a hint of sentiment in his own voice, Mr. Nitsche raised himself off the stump and recalled, "The apples on this tree weren't any good to eat."

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