Big Creek Valley before Beltzville Lake
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS When the Big Creek Valley was flooded to create Beltzville Lake, residents asked the Army Corps of Engineers to save Buck's Covered Bridge. In 1970, it was moved to its current location near Beltzville State Park's main parking lot.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on the village of Big Creek Valley, whose hundreds of villagers were displaced to create Beltzville Lake.)
There is not much remaining from the village of Big Creek Valley, except something old has given birth to something new. Driving along Route 443 in Lehighton, some days you can see a wooden building on a trailer with the sign "Big Creek Bar-B-Que".
Asked if the food vendor had any relation to Big Creek Valley, Daniel Graver, said, "My grandparents used to own property there, where Wild Creek and the Pohopoco Creek came together."
Now, nearly 50 years since Big Creek Valley was buried under up to 126 feet of Beltzville Lake, those displaced by the flooding are reaching out to share their memories.
Faye Strohl Mertz, daughter of William and Myrtle Strohl, grew up on a Big Creek Valley farm, on land that survived the flooding and is largely still visible alongside the breast of the Beltzville Dam. She married Robert Mertz and they moved about a mile further upstream at the former site of Buck's Covered Bridge.
Today, Buck's Covered Bridge spans a small depression near the main parking lot at Beltzville State Park. It remains one of the few remembrances of Big Creek Valley. Faye's daughter, Cindy Mertz Lafaw, remembers growing up near the covered bridge.
"We lived over at Buck's Covered Bridge," Lafaw said. "Jacob Buck built this bridge over the Pohopoco Creek in 1841. Buck's Covered Bridge was made of all wood construction with a kingpost truss structural design. Siding covered only the lower half of each side to allow daylight to enter the dark interior.
When automobiles began to use it in the early 1900s, their wheels began to clatter and wear the planks, so a narrow lengthwise row of planks was added to prevent the tires from damaging the bridge's surface. The planks did not go fully across the width of the bridge, so drivers had to be very careful to keep their vehicle's wheels on the planks or the tires would slide off the planks.
"Many times a car would stray from the planks and jackknife into the sides of the bridge, and wedge between the walls," Cindy said. "The bridge would be closed for several days until they got the car off the bridge."
Lafaw and her friends swam beneath the covered bridge, often "Tarzaning" on a rope swing into the river.
"As children, we crawled onto the bridge supports to sit and watch the water flow down the Pohopoco Creek," she said. "Once, my sister's doll fell into the water, and she was crying. So, we walked down to a shallow part of the creek where it was safe to wade and I retrieved her doll. She said I was the best sister in the world.
"One Halloween, when my my brother was in seventh grade, he hung a dummy on a pulley from the bridge's rafter," Lafaw said. "He sat on a bridge support, and when a car came across he let loose the rope and the dummy fell in front of the car. The car stopped and the driver chased my brother across the bridge."
As the dam neared completion, "the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to demolish the bridge," Lafaw said. "But residents of the Big Creek Valley asked them to save it by relocating it somewhere in the park. They agreed."
"When the dam filled to the level of the bottom of the bridge, the Army Corps planned to float the bridge down the creek to its new location," Big Creek historian William Kemmerer said. "But there was a big flood and debris blocked the gates of the dam. The valley, the homes in the valley, and the covered bridge were underwater."
"After that, the bridge was in bad shape. They had a redo the whole thing." In 1970, Buck's Bridge was moved to its current location near Beltzville State Park's main parking lot.
(Continued next Saturday)