Keating, PA

Little Town Has Intriguing Past, Quiet Present
By Wendy Stiver, Express Staff Writer
Lock Haven Express, 8 February 1989

KEATING -- The small community of Keating, upriver from Lock Haven and Renovo, doesn't look like much at first glance, but it is rich in memories.
If you ask the right people, you will be directed to the site where the railroad depot and the Keating Hotel stood.

You can see the house which may be the oldest in Clinton County, the spring many believe was a favorite of the Indians, and the shallow spot in the river where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers thought to build a dam in the 1930s.

Today, the famous Keating Hotel is gone. Many of the farming families are doing something else somewhere else. The fire tower was dismantled about a decade ago. Strip mining and the tornado of May 1985 have taken their toll on the wildlife and woodlands.

The Susquehanna River is still there. So is the wooded, sparsely-populated watershed that the Corps first studied half a century ago as a potential dam site. Today, the dam is still just a study.

You can take a ride in the "back country" to see trees still twisted from the tornado and distant strip mining. On the way up, you can stop for a scenic view of the proposed dam site. On top, you can see empty fields that once were farms.

Keating Township was created in 1844 and settled earlier than that. Only a small portion of the township is suitable for farming, and most of the original settlers made their living by hunting and fishing.

The population is estimated to be considerably less today than when the township was divided into East and West Keating in 1875.

Pat Wykoff and his son Rich of Lock Haven remember a community on the mountaintop.

There were so many families on the mountaintop at one time that the Cryder Schoolhouse was hauled up from Moccasin Run to serve the areaís children. Built about 100 years ago, the building is empty now but still standing.

The Wykoffs like to talk about the people of Keating who had intriguing first names like "Poker" and "One-Arm."

Their family stories include sever about Alexander "Boonie" Myers, the last of the mountain men. He mysteriously knew the exact spot where a man was buried without a trace, and was eccentric enough to refuse any pain killer after accidentally shooting off the end of his finger with his muzzle loader.

Pat Wykoff, who is retired from the Bureau of Forestry, has collected Keating stories he likes to share in his educational programs on logging.

Local historians probably know the Indian silver mine legend which, Wykoff said, came from Keating. The legend tells of a group of Indians, coming from Moccasin Run and carrying heavy packs, who asked to spend the night on a white manís place. One of their packs split open and lumps of silver ore fell out. Indian stories also spoke of a silver mine in the region. The legendary mine has never been found.

Other stories tell of settler Seth Nelson who once threw a mountain lion out of his cabin. A tiny cemetery is all that is left of the small settlement of Nelsonville. Across the road is the site of the boarding house that used to welcome lumber jacks.

Not far away is one of the Rhone places, the scene of the mystery: The Man who Was Either Burned or Buried in a Cow.

The story says that in the late 1800s, Dolf Rhoneís wife ran off with Dr. Nevlis from Karthaus. At the same time she left Rhoneville, the old, unused boiler was fired up and a cow was butchered. Dolf, so the story goes, was never seen again.

One version has bloodhounds tracking the missing manís trail to the spot where the cow was killed, although his remains were never unearthed. Another one favors the boiler. A less grisly version has Dolf turning up alive, well and probably embarrassed by his wife, in another Pennsylvania community.

Keating Mountain was also known as Grove Hill and Hickory Hill. Oral history says the Underground Railroad ran through here. One spot on the mountaintop had the nickname "Nigger Hill." According to a 1914 account in The Express, a few Blacks lived on the mountain ever before the Civil War era. The old nickname could have also referred to the Indian population and the mixed heritage of some of the bygone families.

The mountain also has numerous legends about the Prohibition era. Today, stories circulate widely about illegal dumping of hazardous waste.
Forney Winner, one of the current owners of mountaintop land, also knows Keating stories.

He said his land was first farmed in 1840. Evidently, the farmers were "sold a package of goods by the Keatings," he said. "The whole thing went to tax sales in the 1900s."
The Wykoffs say their families were farming on the mountaintop before 1840, and agriculture was alive and well in their little community until the Depression forced them and other farmers to sell and move elsewhere.

Winner said, "The really incredible story is about Mike Donnelly and his oil well."
The story says Donnelly, then the owner of the Keating Hotel and still a township supervisor, and Homer Scrimshaw, who worked for the railroad, became oil partners in 1952. Scrimshaw got the idea of oil, so the story goes, from seeing the black gold flow out of the Sinnamahoning Creek where it joined the river during flood times.
During the Leidy gas boom, a well was reportedly sunk 3,000 feet. "They hit oil, but thereís no oil around with 150 miles," Winner said. "Everybody thought they were pulling a joke."After Donnelly got out of it, Winner said he and others took up the search for the mysterious oil. He said, "In the last 10 to 15 years, half a million dollars has been spent on that field. Twelve wells were drilled but they never found the reservoir. Itís the lost Keating oil."

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