Perkasie News Herald > News

Local residents tell story of life and land before Lake Nockamixon

Saturday, November 6, 2010

By Erin DuBois
Associate Editor

Somewhere near the center of Nockamixon State Park, daffodils burst up through a split rock in springtime, among the sole survivors of a civilization now extinct.

Vibrant as the memories of that forgotten place, the daffodils grow along the dirt road where Marjorie Goldthorp Fulp grew up, now a paved walking trail to the boat rental and marina.

The family’s stone spring house, graced with her mother’s curtains, was leveled; but the water trough that refreshed neighbor’s horses and children still sits beside the path, a haunting reminder of the price of progress.

In “Our Lost Tohickon Valley,” Fulp, of Perkasie, and Pamela Feist Varkony, of Allentown, pay tribute to the families who were displaced to make room for the park in the late 1960s. The book was published in August by the Haycock Historical Society.

The Goldthorps and Feists were among at least 240 families to lose their homes when Maurice Goddard, Director of the Department of Forests and Waters under Gov. George Leader, vowed to bring a park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvania resident.

Eight hundred residents turned up at the local high school to protest Goddard’s plan, which included damming Tohickon Creek to form the 1,450 acre Lake Nockamixon.

Pondering the irony of Goddard’s last name, Fulp said that the park director told residents, “It’s unfortunate that you’re in a reservoir, but it is God’s will.”

Centuries old stone farmhouses, owned by the same family for generations; exquisite flower gardens; iron bridges; a cave with Indian artifacts – all succumbed to the rising flood.

Varkony’s family thought they had escaped, since their house was not in the original park designation. But two years after the first discussion about property seizures, the Feists received a letter notifying them that the park’s boundaries were being redrawn.

Varkony’s father, Clyde Feist, did not surrender his 100-acre farm with its 1779 stone house without a fight. Along with the house, Feist lost his business, the Tohickon Stone Quarry, which is now at the bottom of Lake Nockamixon.

Feist fought the state for six years, and his family was one of the last to leave the valley. The compensation offered by the state was not fair, Varkony said, but her father was not fighting for more money.

“He was fighting the ability of the government to remove him from his home.”

Although the state seized the Feists’ home, they did not destroy it; instead, they moved another family into the house.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Varkony said. “I’m so grateful that the house is still standing, but it’s very difficult that they would move us out so that they could move people in.”

Fulp’s parents traded their 17th century home for a ranch house in West Rockhill.

“My mother kept wanting to go upstairs,” Fulp said. “She would say that she wanted to punch a hole in the ceiling.”

Despite tremendous loss, the story of the Tohickon Valley is not solely tragedy. The photos in “Our Lost Tohickon Valley” document the family gatherings, beloved pets, one-room schoolhouses, and massive snowfalls that together created what Varkony called “a very simple, gentle time.”

No one locked their doors, and children could safely walk to any place they wished.

 “It was a lovely little isolated place – my own personal Brigadoon,” Varkony said.

That idyllic charm may be one reason why the book has been so successful. Varkony initially thought that the book would only attract people who were directly impacted by the park, but the historical society recently ordered a second printing of 300 volumes.

“We’re in the middle of a prolonged recession, and most people are so weary,” Varkony said. “All you have to do is open this book and you are transported to a time when we didn’t have these worries and problems.”

Working on the book for three years, painstakingly scanning photos and recording neighbors’ stories, Fulp reconnected with people she hadn’t seen in decades. While she was working on the book, her cousin Kathryn Bauer Klein discovered their relation to William Bryan, one of the original Haycock settlers in the 1700s.

Varkony, a full-time freelance writer, commentator and speaker, worked on the book for a year. Varkony wrote about several other families before tackling her own family’s story. She started and stopped four times, tears streaming down her face each time she tried to write her story.

Varkony was a young wife and mother living in another town by the time her family had to leave their home.

“I’m not sure I ever fully dealt with the anger and loss and grief until I went to write this book,” Varkony said.

The effort to preserve memories extends beyond the book’s covers.

Last fall, Fulp’s husband, Charles, cleared brush away from the water trough and in the process discovered the original pipe that led to the site of the razed spring house. Charles unclogged the pipe so that the trough could once again fill from the spring that supplied it nearly one hundred years ago.

The Fulps recently discovered the stepping stone that used to stand near the Goldthorps’ house. Margie showed the stone, along with photos of her former home, to a park maintenance staff person.

“He started to appreciate what was there before,” Margie said.

Varkony agreed that the park staff today had nothing to do with what happened 40 years ago.

“The current park administration has been so wonderful and generous,” Varkony said. “They’ve taken me inside the [former Feist] house so I can see it.”

Many people that Varkony and Fulp speak to assume that Lake Nockamixon is a natural lake.

“Because we lived it, we didn’t appreciate what a shocking, interesting story it is to those on the outside,” Varkony said.

“Our Lost Tohickon Valley” can be purchased at the following locations: Clair’s Flower Shop, Perkasie; The Treasure Trove, Perkasie; Sines 5 & 10 Cent Store, Quakertown; and Wegman’s, Allentown. To order the book by mail, visit www.haycockhistoricalsociety.org.