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The largest farm taken for Beltzville State Park

  • The 460 acre Christman farm was last and largest of the Big Creek Valley properties acquired as part of the Beltzville Dam, and later, Beltzville State Park project.
    The 460 acre Christman farm was last and largest of the Big Creek Valley properties acquired as part of the Beltzville Dam, and later, Beltzville State Park project.
Published May 18. 2013 09:05AM

On May 23, 1966, Elwood Christman learned that the family farm that he shared with his brothers Marvin and Leon, and had been in the family since Elwood's grandfather, Hiram, settled it in 1883, was to be taken by the U.S. Army Engineer District, Philadelphia. It was to be the last and largest of the Big Creek Valley properties acquired as part of the Beltzville Dam, and later, Beltzville State Park project.

The letter read, "The property to be acquired from you has been designated Tract No. 703, Beltzville Reservoir, Pennsylvania, and comprises 436.51 acres of land."

From over 460 acres, only about 29 acres remained. All their property south of the Big Creek Pike, since renamed Pohopoco Drive, was taken by eminent domain and is now part of Beltzville State Park.

Roy Christman grew up on that farm, and since retiring has returned to live there with his wife Linda. When the land was taken, he was already out of the house, studying for his doctorate at Penn State. "It was hard for me personally, but it was nothing compared to my parents and uncles and aunts and my grandfather," He said. "It pulled their life apart."

"They went from running a successful farm, one of the largest in Carbon County, to scrambling around and getting jobs where they could. That was hard."

Although he lives in the farmhouse, and sees the surrounding property every day, in his dreams, he still sees the farm the way it was. "I still dream about the farm, I dream about it when I was a teenager. I dream about the buildings and I can visualize how it was. I can picture everything. I can walk down the lane, and I think here was the fence; here was the steer gate."

At 70 years old, Christman is no longer nostalgic for the lost 436 acres he finds it difficult enough to tend his small garden.

Christman, a retired political science professor, sees the Beltzville Dam as one of the last of its kind. "In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a major period of dam building. The Corps originally had plans for another small dam on Strohls Valley Road, and there was going to be a big project that would have flooded Little Gap.

After a national uproar in opposition to the Glen Canyon Dam, and locally, the Tocks Island Dam on the Delaware, both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were opposed to further dam construction. "That pretty much ended it because the environmental movement is strong enough now that dam building is over," Christman said. "This was the last gasps of dam building."

The Corps offered $200 an acre to the Christmans. Most of the other farmers were too small to fight the acquisition, but because the Christmans had the most to lose, they hired attorney (later judge) John P. Lavelle and sued in federal court. A jury returned a settlement for $800 an acre.

"We are all sorry to see this beautiful property taken, especially since it is such a part of our family," Elwood Christman said. "But I suppose this is progress and we won't stand in its way. We certainly hope the entire county and the state and nation will benefit by the program, since it meant a considerable sacrifice for many families in this area."

Ultimately, only about 50 acres of the Christman property were flooded by construction of Beltzville Lake. The rest of the taken property was set aside for campgrounds that were never built. "What bothered my dad, and what bothers me yet is that they took the fields and within five years were renting them out to other farmers. If they were going to do that, why didn't they let my dad keep farming?"

By then, it was already too late for the Christmans to return to farming. On May 11, 1968, they auctioned off their farm equipment. "My father had a hard time getting a job. He was a plumber's helper, he worked on a chicken farm, and wound up as a janitor at Lehighton Area High School which he loved. He couldn't believe that when you left work, you were done for the day."

Still, Roy Christman has accepted that most of his family's farm it is now part of Beltzville State Park. He feels that he would've put the plans into a public trust anyway. He is disappointed however, that the cutbacks in state funding have understaffed the park so there is less maintenance and environmental education.

The land that was once his family's farm remains across the street from the farmhouse where Christman lives, and he almost thinks of it as his park. At least there is one remembrance that the property once belonged to his family the hiking trail across from the farmhouse is called Christman's Trail.

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