Morris Abner Barr history of his bottling plant and gem finds

The syndicated newspaper article in regard to Morris A. Barr’s “Acres of Diamonds”, near Valley Forge, on which recent stories in this column have been based, was not the first newspaper notice this unique spot had enjoyed. In the most recent letter your columnist has received from Mr. Barr, now a resident of Royersford, he encloses a copy of an item from the now defunct “Public Ledger”, the headlines of which read, “Foch to Get Star Sapphire Found Near Valley Forge.”

An account of a similar stone sent Marshal Joffre, hero of the Marne, appeared in this column on April 17. Like the gift to Joffre, this “Twinkling star sapphire presented to Marshal Foch, was light blue in color, with four lights, or stars, which make it sparkle continuously.” Although not weighed at the time of the “Ledger” article, it was, up to that date, the largest of a number of such gems found in the bed of a stream which flowed through Mr. Barr’s grounds.

A copy of a clipping from “The Black and White”, the publication of the Kelley School of Philadelphia, gives a brief account of Mr. Barr’s business activities before he purchased the property near Valley Forge, as well as an interesting story of how he happened to discover the springs on this land.

He was by trade a basket-maker, later becoming a builder whose work appears in many of the Main Line homes of that period. His invention, in 1917, of the quick change machine, which was successfully used in the Ardmore National Bank, won for him a “Certificate of Merit” from the National Institution of Inventors.

After his purchase of the acreage near Valley Forge, Mr. Barr’s discovery of the mineral waters on it came about when he found that the tiny tracks of field mice across the snow led to small holes in the ground. When he dug down through the snow he “found water flowing freely from ten little springs.” Later on he had this water piped to the basement of his home, and when Mr. Barr had established a market for his spring water, he located his sterilizing and bottling room adjacent to these basement outlets.

Still another spring was found when the house was being built. This Mr. Barr protected by an eight-inch layer of fireproof clay, while underneath was a natural filter bed of sand and gravel 12 inches thick. This filter overlaps a vertical vein of Potsdam rock through which the water rises from unknown depths at the rate of 500 gallons every 24 hours.” The school paper continues in its account by saying, “chemists, geologists, government inspectors from all over the world have inspected his place and have given Mr. Barr much encouragement. He has, up to the present time, found five different kinds of water, namely plain spring water, iron water, sulphur water, lime water and alkaline water.”

According to Mr. Barr the physical development of his plant finally reached a total cost of about $95,000. At one time he had some seven delivery trucks on the road with personnel averaging 15 men, including distributors.

The strain of this business, along with that of the daily rush of visitors anxious to see his collection of precious stones and minerals finally proved too much for his health. Upon the advice of his doctor, Mr. Barr sold out to Frank Caughey.

Old time residents in the Wayne area recall Mr. Barr personally, as they were regular patrons on his route in the early days of the discovery of the medicinal quality of the water.

The finding of the precious stones and metals by Mr. Barr was quite as accidental as that of the discovery of his many springs. While walking along the little stream which was later to yield so many interesting finds, Mr. Barr picked up some rocks, the “glittering sparks” in which were later pronounced to be gold.

Other discoveries were made when Mr. Barr was putting a pipe line from the springs of mineral water to the basement of his house. This initial find was said to be worth more than $1500, with moonstones, topazes, lapis lazuli, sapphires, jasper, sardonyx and opals among the precious stones in the find. While digging again, Mr. Barr picked up a piece of tourmaline “the size of a fist”, with a value of several hundred dollars placed on it.

It was at this point that Colonel Henry C. Deming, at that time consulting mineralogist, geologist and chemist of the State of Pennsylvania, was called into the picture, as told in our first story. Later Mr. Barr himself, made an extensive study of gems and minerals in order to evaluate his daily findings.

The first published report of his discoveries brought visitors from far and near. Local schools and colleges sent entire classes by bus, the students often remaining to picnic beside the famous little stream where so many interesting and valuable finds had been made.

The Deans of Ursinus and Villanova Colleges were among Mr. Barr’s visitors. Other well-known men from more distant points included Professor Wilkinson from Glasgow University and C.E. Lubenberg, director of diamond mines in Ermelo, South Africa. Dr. Russell Conwell said, in his last radio broadcast, “I wrote the book ’Acres of Diamonds’ and gave the lecture over 5,000 times. It was fiction. I have now found the man who has the true ‘Eleven Acres of Diamonds’, Morris Abner Barr of Valley Forge.’ ”

With a further account of these and other widely known visitors to the famous eleven acres near Valley Forge, this series will close in next week’s column.

(To be concluded)