The Dam Show

Late in the afternoon on Saturday we wandered over to the town of Austin for The Dam Show.  As stated in a previous post, The Dam Show is normally held at Austin Dam Memorial Park.  In an effort to get the town of Austin more involved, the organizers decided to hold it in the Austin town square.  Admission (normally around $10, I believe) was free.

The musical act we wanted to see (Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues Band) was not scheduled to perform until 7:30.  We went early to scope things out, including the vendors.

We walked around the town square for a little while.  There wasn’t too much going on so we decided to check out the museum which had extended hours that day.

The E. O. Austin Home (located on the Austin town square) is a museum with exhibits related to the history of Austin, including quite a bit about the dam disaster.  The folks running the place are knowledgeable about the exhibits, friendly, and more than willing to answer any questions you might have.

(Old and new.)

I enjoyed our visit to the museum.  It is small and the smallness as well as the arrangement gives it a personal feel that I don’t often get in museums.

I love that typewriter.  I had one similar to it when I was a teen, having acquired it for a mere $5 at a yard sale.  I don’t know what happened to it.  During the years that I had it I fantasized about becoming a writer and typing my novel on it.  I would have had strong fingers if I’d kept typing away on that thing.  The keys were not easy to press.

There are exhibits on the first and second floors, categorized by type.  For instance, all of the post office artifacts are in a section labeled (appropriately enough) “Post Office.”

After poking around in the museum for a while (and enjoying the air conditioning), we decided to cross the street and have a beer at the Cock-Eyed Cricket.  There were no beer (or alcohol) vendors at The Dam Show.

To accommodate the show, Austin Borough will temporarily repeal its ‘open container’ ordinance from noon until midnight Saturday.  Showgoers who are of-age will be permitted to consume alcoholic beverages only in the block surrounding town square.  Boundaries will be clearly marked.

(From the Austin Dam News, Summer 2010, Volume 2 Issue 2)

(The Cock-Eyed Cricket.)

Pennsylvania has some odd blue laws and laws pertaining to the sale of alcohol.   Wine and spirits can be sold only in state run Wine and Spirits stores.  All prices are the same throughout the state.  To buy beer you can go to a beer distributor.  However, buying from a distributor means buying in bulk (kegs or cases) as they are not allowed to sell beer in smaller amounts (6- or 12-packs, for instance).  Six and twelve packs, along with singles, must be purchased at a bar or a restaurant.  You can purchase no more than 192 ounces in this manner.  You can take your 192 ounces out to your car, go back in, and purchase more, but no more than another 192 ounces.  You are welcome to keep going back and forth like this but if you want that much beer, you might as well go to a distributor and buy in bulk.

They have a new thing going on involving wine kiosks and breath sensors in grocery stores.  You have to breathe into the breathalyzer before purchasing your wine.  If you’ve been drinking, no wine for you.

The Cock-Eyed Cricket is one of a couple of bars in and near Austin.  Being right across the street from the town square made it convenient for those of us who were thinking we might like to have a beer later in the evening while listening to some blues.

In case you’re wondering what a cock-eyed cricket looks like, here he is:

They have a cute stained glass window with the Cock-Eyed Cricket on it.  I was unable to get a decent shot of it because there were too many people in front of it.

We moseyed up to the bar and had our drinks (a total of $6 for three beers and a glass of wine — which just goes to show you how cheap this stuff really is — a price way below what you’d find in a more upscale bar/restaurant).  Then we decided to head back to the cabin for a little while.  It was a good thing we left when we did.  The rain started just after we got to the cabin and continued for a couple of hours.  There was lightning and thunder and lots of wind.  What we didn’t know (because we had no means of finding out — no radio, no tv, no internet) was that there had been a tornado watch.  We found out about it later that night when we went back to The Dam Show (where the acts had been delayed due to the storm).

(Heavy rain showers in the woods.)

Once the storms cleared out, we went back to Austin and enjoyed an evening of blues.  Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues Band put on a great show and had most everyone dancing by the end.

That pretty much wraps up our weekend away.  I’m glad to get to the end of it.  Or almost to the end of it.  I have a few photos I’d like to post that I couldn’t quite fit in.  I’ll post those tomorrow.

Judging by the blog stats, I’m boring people with all this weekend-away blogging.  Regular blogging will resume soon (although why people find my everyday life more interesting is beyond me).


The Austin Dam

(Morning glory in the meadow.)

Saturday morning M and I took a walk through the woods and meadow, exploring the area around the cabin for a little while.  When we got back to the cabin, L and J were preparing breakfast.  L had made a lentils and dill biscuits dish that she served with sauteéd asparagus and scrambled eggs.  Great stuff!

(The Austin Dam ruins as seen from an overlook.)

After breakfast we all piled in one of the cars and took a short trip up the road to explore the ruins of the Austin Dam.  One of the things that brought us to the area was The Dam Show, usually held at the Austin Dam.

Austin Flood Disaster

On Sept. 30, 1911, the Bayless Pulp and Paper Co. dam broke here.  This concrete dam, built in 1909, was nearly fifty feet high; 534 feet long.  Its failure sent torrents of water and debris down Freeman Run into Austin and Costello, causing great destruction and killing at least 78 people.  This second worst single-dam disaster in Pennsylvania inspired legislation (1913) to regulate the construction of dams in the state.

(From the historical marker at the dam site.)

The dam was commissioned and paid for by the Bayless Pulp & Paper Co.  George Bayless, the owner of the company, chose to ignore the civil engineer’s design recommendations, wanting to find a cheaper method.  The purpose of the dam was to hold 275 million gallons of water in which to soak the wood to remove the bark before sending it on to be made into pulp and paper.  During seasonal dry spells there was not enough water in Freeman Run for soaking the wood so the dam was built in 1909 to solve the problem.

Most of the damage from the dam break, so we were told when we paid a visit to the museum in the town of Austin, was caused by the logs being swept through the towns on that torrent of water.

(Jackson Pond)

Signs such as the one above were posted all around the dam site.  We could be wrong but we decided the names are those of the victims of the flood who died and/or were missing afterwards.

(Freeman Run)

Next year marks the centennial of the September 30th flood.  The Austin Dam Memorial Association (ADMA) has big plans for the park and the remains of the papermill.  It will be interesting to go back someday and see what they’ve done with it.

When we finished wandering around the dam area we drove over to the papermill site, or what we could see of the papermill site from the road.  The plan was for M and I to go back on Sunday so I could take some photos but you already know what happened on Sunday.  It poured!  Since we weren’t sure we could get back there and since the weather wasn’t cooperating, it didn’t seem worth the time or the drive that was not on our way home.

(The tower and some of the papermill ruins.)

As I understand it, ADMA’s plan is to get rid of the papermill ruins.  I’m not sure if they will leave the tower up or not.  I’m guessing not as it probably isn’t stable or safe.  A gentleman at the museum in Austin said the tower was built after the flood of 1911 and that no one has been able to identify the purpose of the tower.  He jokingly said it was to house the CEO of the company so he’d be safe from the next flood.

I’m sorry we didn’t take the time to try to find our way back there that day.  It would have been cool to wander around and take some photos of the place.  It’s unlikely I would have gone inside (doesn’t look too terribly safe) but I would have liked to get a little closer.

This was my “in a nutshell” version of the story of the dam disaster.  For more information, please visit:

One of the aspects of it that interested me is Cora Brooks, the woman who first sounded the alarm when the dam broke.  She was Austin’s town “madam,” running a “house of ill-repute” on the hill opposite the dam.  Cora had some problems with the law a few times, being charged with operating a house of prostitution, as well as making and selling alcohol.  A researcher in the area, Margaret Crosby (married to a descendant of Cora’s), is seeking a pardon from the state for Cora given her heroism and help she provided after the flood when she opened her home to those who needed food and shelter.