In the April 17 issue of “The Suburban”, your columnist told of a story entitled “Eleven Acres of Diamonds.” In looking through the issue of the paper for December 1922, she had run across this fascinating tale of “an 11-acre farm just half a mile beyond Valley Forge”, whose owner had found rocks with “glittering sparks” which a Main Line jeweler had pronounced to be gold and other pieces of mineral which were found to be precious stones.
The owner of this property was Morris A. Barr, described as “a modest and unassuming carpenter”, who at that time lived in “a little frame cottage at the end of the property.” And also, although the original article contained many more details of Mr. Barr’s valuable finds, the farm was not once given a more definite location than that of the original description of “half a mile beyond Valley Forge.” And so your columnist appealed to her readers for any additional information they might have.
Promptly after “The Suburban” had come off the press that week telephone calls began. The first was from Herman P. Lengel, a builder residing on Conestoga road and an old time Wayne-ite. Mr. Lengel remembered Mr. Barr well and knew the exact location of the property he had owned. It was to the west of Valley Forge Park, along a road that branched off to the left from the Phoenixville road, not far from where the Valley Forge Postoffice is located.
According to Mr. Lengel’s recollection It was called “Jugtown”, probably because of the bottling works which Mr. Barr conducted there.
When the telephone rang next, the call was from Mrs. Helen Lienhardt, another old time resident of Wayne, who also remembered Mr. Barr and verified the location of his 11 acre farm as given by Mr. Lengel. She offered to take your columnist out to “Jugtown”, to see what changes had taken place there in the past 30 years.
And then came other calls, among them one from Mrs. Elliston J. Morris of Midland avenue, who recalled a trip to the Barr farm, on which she had taken her Girl Scouts of Wayne Troop 131 some 20 years ago to earn their “rock finder” merit badges. Mrs. Morris, then Miss Myra Paxton, recalled the many “lovely colored stones” that the girls found in the field back of the house, which were colored quartz.
Another call was from Mrs Jean Supplee, of Valley Forge, who gave the interesting information that metal, such as had been found on the Barr place, lay also in much of the surrounding country, even as far as Devault. The quantity in which it had been found however, was not of sufficient extent to make the mining of it profitable.
Still another telephone caller was Dr. E. Lee Porter, of Walnut avenue, now a member of the Troop Committee of Paoli Scout Troop 1, and a one-time scout in that same troop. Dr. Porter recalls vividly the times he wandered over the Barr property when he was a youngster. Several people, including A.M. Ehart, editor of “The Suburban”, remembered buying bottled water from Mr. Barr.
But even before that last of these and other telephone calls had been received, your columnist had had an opportunity to visit Valley Forge Mineral Bottling Works for herself. For on the day on which the story of Mr. Barr’s “Eleven Acres of Diamonds” appeared in this column. Miss Lienhardt and the writer had a pleasant drive and a profitable visit to this spot. It is now owned by Frank Coughrey, who leased the property from Mr. Barr in 1935, and several years later bought it for himself. Mr. Coughrey had worked for Mr. Barr for some years before the latter moved to Royersford, where he still lives.
The business is now a large and prosperous one, with its main office in Norristown, although the bottling of the mineral water is still done on the original premises, Mr. Coughrey keeps six trucks continuously on the road, making deliveries of this now famous water. When he first came to the bottling works, Mr. Coughrey states, there were both iron and sulphur water available there, although there is only alkaline now left.
As to the valuable ores and precious stones which Mr. Barr once found in such profusion, there are none around now. The beautiful little stream, along which many of these stones were picked up by the former owner, still makes its way through the property, its water remarkable clear and sparkling. To what has previously been written in the column. Mr. Coughrey adds the interesting piece of information that a great piece of metal was once dug up on the farm. Some think this may have been a meteor.
The main building on the property contains a large assembly room with an immense fireplace in the center of the outside wall. It is flanked by cabinets in which there are still on display some of the specimens dug up by Mr. Barr. The room also contained, at one time, many Indian relics, which had been found in a large sand hole on the property. During past years the room has been used as headquarters for a nearby Scout Troop. During the height of interest in the specimens, Mr. Barr called this “Valley Forge Museum.”
So much for what your columnist had learned up to Wednesday of last week, in regard to the story she had published almost a month before. Then came a letter of many typewritten pages, postmarked Rogersport, from Mr. Barr himself.
Robert Perry, an old time employee in the Wayne Postoffice, had thoughtfully sent him a copy of “The Suburban” of April 17.
Most of the interesting contents of that letter will have to be reserved for a subsequent column. Suffice it for now to explain the origin of the story which first appeared in “The Suburban” more than 30 years ago – an origin which has puzzled even the editor, whose memory covers many a year.
It seems that Frank Haviland, a reporter living In Phoenixville at the time, wrote the “Eleven Acres of Diamonds” story for a syndicate of newspapers published from coast to coast. These newspapers, numbering some 250, were among the largest in the country. Mr. Haviland also took several pictures in connection with his story and these were used by United Features Syndicate of New York.
“That was possibly where your Wayne paper got the story as so many other local papers did”, writes Mr. Barr who adds, “However, I knew nothing at the time of what I would have to face later because of that wide circulation. For it brought more than 20,000 people to my house and plant by the side of the road, among them representatives from 29 foreign nations.”
(To be continued)