Marvin Gehring was heartbroken last week as he was preparing to leave the homestead that his great-grandfather settled in the 1870s, a farm that had remained in his family until a little over 40 years ago when it was taken by the state of Pennsylvania under eminent domain to create Mauch Chunk Lake, the surrounding watershed, and Mauch Chunk Lake Park.
The state acquired properties directly to be submerged by Mauch Chunk Lake, properties in the surrounding watershed that would become part of Mauch Chunk Lake Park, and properties downstream of the dam that could be inundated with water in the event of a dam failure.
About 1970, the state of Pennsylvania contacted the land owners and told them that their property was being taken by eminent domain and they were required to sell their property to the state at the price offered, or face eviction without compensation.
The Gehring homestead, 623 Lentz Trail, was founded by Marvin Gehring's great-grandfather, Frederick Bolle, and his wife, Wilhelmina Gehring. They had left Germany to settle on what is now Lentz Trail, between Jim Thorpe and Summit Hill. The farm eventually passed to Marvin Gehring's father, Carl, his uncle, August, and his grandmother, Helene. At the time, August and Helene lived on the farm, while Carl and Marvin lived in Summit Hill.
According to Carbon County commissioner Bill O'Gurek, while the other landowners accepted the terms, the Gehring sued, and in an out of court settlement, the property was acquired by the state, and turned over to Carbon County, and in return, Carl, August and Helene were given the right to use the farm until their passing.
For over 30 years, Marvin Gehring has been paying taxes and insurance on the property as well as mowing the lawn and maintaining the late 1800s buildings built on a site that had been the right-of-way of the Switchback Gravity Railroad before the tracks were realigned in 1843.
He feels a belonging to his family's heritage but recognizes that he has no rights to the property. The state acquired the property before he had a right to inheritance. He understands that the property is not his but is saddened to give up his opportunity to maintain it and to keep it's heritage alive.
"The farm is all about self reliance," said family friend Brad Konstas. The Gehrings had a blacksmith shop, a welding shop, and a machine shop. "They lived by their means and recycled everything. Everything was used; nothing was thrown away."
During the 1940s, the Gehrings had a bootleg mine in Summit Hill and a small breaker on the farm property. A rusted set iron screens is all that remains.
Several weeks ago, most of the original equipment in the blacksmith and machine shops was still intact. Gehring was notified to vacate the property by the end of August, and to do so, he is disposing of many historic items.
One side story is that Gehring's grandfather worked in the Nesquehoning mines. To go around the mountain was a long trip each day, so he built a set of stone steps to the top of Mount Pisgah. Most people call them the "Indian Steps" not knowing who built them. "They went up the steps and then they had a rope ladder because there was a sheer drop on the other side," Gehring explained.
The aquisition came to a head after Gehring's father passed away in 2004. When the new commissioners came into office, they were advised that they needed to take possession of the property.
According to Bill O'Gurek, the commissioners have no plans for the property but they recognize that it has a historic story to tell. He said that the commissioners would entertain working with a historic group who was interested in preserving the property and using it for an educational purpose.
John Drury of the Mauch Chunk Museum and the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation toured the farm and felt that it had historic value. It has the opportunity to tell both the story of the Switchback and that of a pioneering Carbon County family. He indicated that he would be interested in working with the Carbon County commissioners to preserve the historic property and use it to tell the story of life in Carbon County in the 1800s.