Historians seek stories, photos to help repair Shamokin Creek
SHAMOKIN - As a project develops to restore the stone channel of Shamokin Creek in the city's downtown, historians are working to piece together its history - and they're seeking the public's help.
Tom Grbenick and Tom Deans have been pouring over the city archives in the basement of City Hall, paging through decades-old minutes of city council meetings, resolutions and maps. Local newspaper archives at Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library were also scrutinized.
For a blue collar town whose residents mostly worked in factories, mills and mines, Grbenick was struck by the dignity and beauty and society-atmosphere that existed in Shamokin in the 1930s.
"This was a proud place, I think," he said. "I would think it would be inspirational to a whole new generation of people if they can get past (how) they view (Shamokin) today."
Grbenick and Deans have taken to the online state and national archives as well, but for all their time spent, they've come up with little in the way of a complete history.
They know the project began in 1935, one of several of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and that it carried on into the early 1940s. Anywhere from 200 to 500 people were working on WPA projects - sidewalk repairs, firehouse construction, sewing projects - throughout the Shamokin area at the time, they say.
The creek bed project started with the removal of a buildup of culm in the dirt-bottom stretch of creek throughout the city, they surmise.
"All of this led to the idea of putting stone walls in the creek," Grbenick said, with Deans adding, "And the floor."
Key to the project is information about the stones and where they were quarried, but the holy grail for their quest would be finding the original design specs or blueprints, if they still exist.
Harry Reinhardt was Shamokin's engineer at the time, and likely in charge to some degree. A few cold calls placed to people sharing that same spelling of his last name listed in a local phone book turned up nothing.
Grbenick and Deans hope a relative or perhaps an engineer or architect who may have somehow inherited Reinhardt's files, or that of WPA projects in the city, is alive and well and able to fill in some gaps about the Shamokin Creek channel.
Shamokin Creek's stone channel is one of the fewest examples of rock-lined stream channels in the state, and it's significant in terms of quality of work and, at 1.2 miles in the city, its size, they say.
"The intent here is to restore the stone masonry construction," said Deans, who had been project coordinator for the Sunbury Riverfront project.
The original plans would be very helpful to the current engineers, said Grbenick, director of SEDA-COG.
The channel was badly damaged during the September 2011 flooding, and the city received nearly $1.8 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs.
An engineering survey in September drove up the estimated construction costs from nearly $1.2 million to nearly $2.7 million, and the city has asked for an additional $1 million.
Grbenick said the latest survey is more accurate. The original estimates came when water levels were higher. September's survey was performed when the levels were lower, allowing discovery of a expanded scope of repairs including some that were not observed previously.
Putting together the history of the channel is critical because the restoration plans must be reviewed by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; the city's downtown has been identified as a potential nationally registered historic district.
Anytime a federal project is approved within a historic district - even one deemed a potential historic district - historic preservation rules must be followed, Grbenick said.
Steve Bartos, city clerk, hopes the project could kickstart economic revitalization in the downtown, and by perhaps being added to the National Register of Historic Places, create leverage for public and private grant funding sources.
The revised project estimates and additional funding request are under FEMA review. Agency officials visited Shamokin Oct. 19 and were presented the project update. Recommendations from the officials were added to the revised plan and final approval is expected by year's end.
"Once we get final approval, we can start the work," Bartos said, referencing opening the bidding for the project and beginning construction.
There are 18 project areas - two more than the first estimate - that contain 50 items targeted for repair.
The majority are in the Shamokin Creek channel between Franklin and Mulberry streets in the city's southern end to an area behind Claude Kehler Community Park. Damage has also been identified and marked for repair in the stone channel of Carbon Run between near Sixth and Willow streets north to near Chestnut and Fourth streets.
Repairs for wall washouts and damage, base scouring and replacement and debris removal make up a majority of the work.
Basic flood prevention will be the focus on the project's northern and southern ends.
Particular detail to historic preservation and restoration - fixing the stone and returning it to its previous state - will be paid to the city's downtown district, between where Shamokin Creek and Coal Run meet near Washington and Water streets and the Independence Fire Association on Market Street.
Landscaping and walking trails along the creek channel in the downtown will be focused on as well.
Finding the original specs is a long shot, Grbenick and Deans admit. What should be easier to come by are memories.
Anyone who may have been alive and old enough to have a memory of the WPA project - even as simple as observations while they walked past the creek channel during construction - is asked to contact Grbenick and Deans.
Tales from descendants of those employed by WPA would also be helpful.
Photos of the work or of the Shamokin Creek area during construction, no matter how old or faded, would be useful.
The duo are working on a tight deadline, with a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.
Anyone wishing to share information or photos should call Grbenick at 522-7214 or Bartos at 644-0876.