The Cinder Buggy - part 4 - Danville, Pennsylvania; the real New Damascus; Geisinger Health System; Coxey's Army
Click here for parts 1, 2 and 3 of The Cinder Buggy review.
I pause from reviewing the text of the book to visit the location of the story. There is a real New Damascus, even though it does not go by that name.
Nestled in the mountain ridges of the Appalachian range in east/central Pennsylvania sits the town of Danville, along the Susquehanna River, among streets named "Mill," "Iron" and "Factory." The town contains modern businesses selling motorcycles, books or pizza with "Iron" or "Old Forge" in their names.
Garrett describes New Damascus as "the most important point of trade between Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre. . . " (p. 11). Garrett also referenced a geographic similarity with the original Damascus in Syria - "a plain bounded on one side by a river and on the other three by mountains . . . " (p. 11).
Danville is not exactly between Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia, but the geographic description is very similar. But that is not what makes Danville the model for New Damascus. The similarity comes from the iron industry:
The Iron Age, 1829 thru 1950 and Danville, PA are truly synonymous. In 1829, the first Iron foundry was established in Danville to manufacture wagon boxes, plowshares, andirons [sic] sadiron and griddles. In 1839-1840 Iron Ore started to be mined locally and in 1840 the first Anthracite furnace to efficiently produce iron was opened in Danville. On Oct 8, 1845, the first T-rail in America was rolled out at the Montour Iron Works, the largest iron manufacturing plant in the United States. The T-rail made it possible for Pennsylvania and America to become the leader in the industrial revolution.H/T ironheritagefestival.net
More specifically, Danville was the site of very specific achievements that Garrett would later attribute to his fictional New Damascus:
On October 8, 1845, the first T-rail rolled with iron ore, smelted with anthracite coal was produced at this mill [Montour Iron Works].
The Montour Iron Works was the largest mid-nineteenth century rail mill in the country.
In the 1850s, there were more rails produced at this iron mill than any other in the United States.
The North Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal was located near the mill and brought thousands of tons of anthracite coal, one of the ingredients necessary to produce anthracite iron, from the northeast fields to their wharves.
The Montour Iron Works, after many changes of managers and ownership, became the property of the Pennsylvania Iron Company in 1861. At that time, Thomas Beaver, one of the stockholders, became the resident overseer of the company, a position he held until 1876. It was at the beginning of their ownership that they built a grist mill to supply flour and feed to their Company Store. The Iron Mill had its most financial [sic] successful period during the Civil War, operating at full capacity, manufacturing railroad iron.
Thomas Beaver, later a generous benefactor to the town of Danville, sold his interest in the Penna. Iron Company in 1876, reserving by purchase the Mansion on the Hill.
Garrett specifically referenced the "first American rails" (p. 4) and the "canal" (p. 12) in describing New Damascus' history in Cinder Buggy. I cannot yet identify an equivalent for the real Thomas Beaver, but I am sure one exists. Beaver's "Mansion on the Hill" sounds like Garrett's "Woolwine mansion on the east hill" and the "Gib mansion on the west hill" (p. 2) and "[t]hem mansions on the hill..." that owed their existence to "that mill." (p. 7). I expect to learn more about Woolwine and Gib as Cinder Buggy goes on.
That New Damascus was eventually left with only a wrought iron industry finds a parallel with Danville's real history:
The Danville Foundry and Machine Company was founded [in 1906] on a portion of the National Iron Company Area. They manufactured fire escapes, building fronts, bank grilles and similar wrought iron products.H/T ironheritagefestival.net/history
Garrett states that New Damascus ("this place") was founded in 1879 (p. 11), by which he must mean 1779 (or 1789) or the rest of the story (especially page 14) makes no sense. The real Danville was founded in 1792.
I found the only library copy of any Garet Garrett novel I have ever seen when I visited the Pennsylvania room of the Milton, PA public library (about 15 miles away from Danville). In that room, an original edition of Cinder Buggy sits virtually unnoticed among other Pennsylvania related books that are prohibited from circulating due to their age and historical importance. I believe another copy exists at nearby Bucknell University, in Lewisburg Pennsylvania.
On the inside front cover of my copy, there exists a handwritten note dated April 3, 1927:
Today we walked about Danville to pick out the places mentioned in the story - the old mill where the first iron rail was rolled - and the same roller is still there. The two mansions which are both now Catholic Convents. The history of the industry and the towns' rise and fall is true. The love story more or less fiction. [unintelligible] the daughter in the Bennett Mansion (Gib in the book) was kept a prisoner and was only seen when riding her bicycle about the grounds. The tobacco shop mentioned in the 1st or 2nd chapter is now just as it was and the same man running it. The "Lycoming House" where the funeral was really held is the Montour House where I spent my first two days
The note is addressed "To Harry F. Astrander" and is signed "A.L.H."
I do not know who those people are/were or any more about them than appears in that note.
The tobacco shop that A.L.H referenced is described on page 3. The mansions/"Catholic Convents" mentioned by A.L.H. are noted by Garrett on page 2 as a "nunnery" and a "monastery."
Danville continues to celebrate its iron history with a festival every year in July.
Danville is known today primarily for Geisinger Medical Center, which opened in 1915 from the proceeds of the iron business of George Geisinger. Geisinger is today one of the premier health systems in all of Pennsylvania.
Another interesting parallel arises because Jacob Coxey once lived and worked in Danville. Coxey is now obscure to all but a few Garrett readers who remember his role in Chapter I of The Driver. Is it possible that in researching Coxey's Army for The Driver, Garrett discovered the history of Danville? Or did Garrett discover Coxey's Army by researching for The Cinder Buggy? Were both stories originally intended to be combined into the same book?
Another explanation is that both Coxey's Army and the history of Danville/iron were well known to our ancestors in the 1920's such that a common link between them would not seem unusual to a writer from that period. Maybe it is only our government educated minds in the 21st century that find such subjects obscure and the connections between them coincidental or surprising.
One of my motivations for writing this blog and promoting Garrett's works is the hope that one day such historical knowledge will be common instead of being rare.
Civil War buffs have always had physical locations in which to enjoy their hobby. Gettysburg and other battlefields are crowded with many, many visitors every year. The same is true for devotees of other historic events. JFK conspiracy theorists spend much of their lives trapsing around Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Even movie fans can visit the sets or locations of some of their favorite films. But until I discovered the Danville/Cinder Buggy connection, I knew of no physical location related to the study of free market economics/history/literature.
Ayn Rand inspires as much of a loyal following as do Civil War literature and documentaries. But her stories take place in generic settings in New York City, Colorado, Leningrad, etc. Her books provide no "Gettysburg" for her fans to visit. Garrett's Driver provided something close with its walking tour of Wall Street, but that location is too common for Garrett/Rand fans to claim ownership. Danville is now the closest thing that free market historians, Randians and other followers of economic literature have to a "battlefield" that we can visit and trace the events that we have studied (depending on the outcome and quality of the story, of course). The study of Garet Garrett and free market literature as a whole just became a lot more interesting.
Click here for part 5.