Making Meadowcroft: The Reclamation

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This is part four in a series about the making of Meadowcroft. Read part one, part two, and part three.

“Looking back, it looks like an act of Divine Providence that things happened the way they did because now thousands of people are enjoying Meadowcroft and untold thousands of people in the future will enjoy what was done in the restoration of this land.”

– Albert Miller, July 25, 1976 (Miller, HSTMV, 6)

The land on which Camp Meadowcroft developed into Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village has its own fascinating history. Albert and Delvin’s grandfather T.A. Miller sold about 350 acres of the southeastern corner of the Bancroft farm and its mineral contents to the Jefferson Coal Company around 1920. The property then saw its landscape change as the coal was first deep mined and then stripped and abandoned by the close of World War II. Since the Meadowcroft strip-mining was completed before the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act of 1945, the property was left looking like a moonscape. Albert passed by this “strip and sit” parcel of land regularly. Reflecting on his restoration work in 1993 he wrote, “I wanted to cover the scars on any land I could see from any road to and from our home going to Avella and northeast going to Eldersville” (The Dream Before Meadowcroft, 3).

The reclamation work began before the Miller brothers re-purchased the Meadowcroft property. Delvin learned from Loren Brown, District Forester from Ligonier, that the commonwealth was planting large blocks of trees on coal-stripped lands and asked him to consider the Avella area the next time seedlings were available. As soon as the brothers learned from Mr. Brown that Bancroft had been chosen by the state, Albert mediated an agreement between the state forestry service, the Jefferson Coal Company, and other local landowners to plant 300,000 trees in the area over several years. Albert later reckoned that about 200,000 seedlings were planted by the state on his land holdings in 1953. (Albert and Delvin wouldn’t purchase the land from Jefferson Coal Co. until about 1956.) Albert lists the species planted that first year: white pine, red pine, Norway spruce, white spruce, bank pine, pitch pine, Virginia pine, Mugho pine, red oak, sugar maple, Chinese elm, Green ash, tulip poplar, red maple, sycamore, and basswood.

Albert took this image of the 5-year old Scotch Pine plantings. Albert Miller Papers and Photographs, MSS 1095, Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village. During the early years of the project, aspen and white pines performed the best. White pines like these grew three feet per year. Albert Miller Papers and Photographs, MSS 1095, Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village.

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