Area History, Introduction, by Beverley Bittner [guest post]

From Beverley Bittner:


From 1977 to 1979, I co-edited and wrote for the Reminiscence magazine, a popular 12-page publication of local history. I also wrote on history for Steppin’ Out magazine and newspapers.

I found a box of clippings from these writings recently in an unused closet. What fun I had reading those old narratives! I went to bed with visions of brave pioneer women like Harriet Blakeslee and Hannah Wilson. I think I dreamed of Michael Hare, his nimble fingers weaving an intricate bag for grain, telling tales of his war adventures to awestruck boys. I could almost see Colonel William Crawford tied to a stake while fires were ignited around him. I saw in my mind the almost impenetrable forests surveyor George Burges described at Fort LeBouf as “a great wilderness … with Indians hooping and halloing and begging for whisky.”

History is about the people who lived it. These wonderful old stories must be told to every generation. Most of the articles in this book appeared under my by-line in the 1970s. In some instances, I have added information not available to me then.

Dear reader, history isn’t only about the people who live it, after all. It’s about buildings, newspapers, books, well-traveled roads, hard work, dreams – and memories. Enjoy these glimpses back in time. Then put the book aside for your children and grandchildren. History is – timeless.

Beverley Bittner
Corry, PA, 1999

Editor’s Note:

The history from Beverley’s book pertains to the northwest section of Pennsylvania, commonly called “the chimney” by local schoolchildren.

About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Sinkholes In My Stories [location development]

My fictional Myers Ridge has sinkholes. Oh my.

Pennsylvania sinkholes
Lower shaded areas are where most PA sinkholes happen.


A western PA sinkhole
A western PA sinkhole and house destruction.

Since childhood, I have been fascinated with sinkholes, the idea of bottomless pits, and traveling in time. My stories touch on these fascinations, along with lightning strikes, the wonders of electricity, the mysteries of crystal rocks, and the uncharted powers of the human mind.

My stories take place in northwestern Pennsylvania, based on the topography of Erie, Crawford and Warren counties. I live in Erie County (shaded blue on the attached Pennsylvania map above), lived in Crawford County as a child, and travel throughout Warren County often, so I know the topography of these areas well.

Although PA is a high-risk state for sinkholes (also called swallow holes), none of the aforementioned counties has any that compare to the ones in the riskiest areas in PA: the limestone valleys through central PA—around State College and from the Maryland line up through Harrisburg and east to Allentown and Lancaster.

Still, sinkholes happen in the northwest part of the state when empty oil beds and coalmines collapse, and when acidic rainwater and groundwater dissolves the carbonate rocks beneath us. And that is the threat I give to my fictional Myers Ridge.

Timaru, Pareora, New Zealand
Arial photo, west of Timaru, Pareora, New Zealand. Photographer G. R. ‘Dick’ Roberts © Natural Sciences Image Library.


Winslow, Arizona
Arial photo of several sinkholes located Southwest of Winslow, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Louis J. Maher, Jr.

The land there us based on land composition not far from my backyard and is karst topography, albeit small in area. As you can see in the two photos above, karst topography can have many sinkhole depressions sculpted in the landscape. Since the bedrock in karst areas is typically soluble limestone or dolostone, chemical weathering has already occurred over thousands of years to produce large voids, known as cavities or caves. From these large voids come subsidence sinkholes and collapsing sinkholes.

With subsidence sinkholes, the fractures in the bedrock grow with time from the rainwater’s chemical reaction with the rocks. As the voids grow, groundwater flow increases, dissolving continues, and land slowly drops as the bedrock dissolves away.

Collapsing sinkholes happen when void spaces become well developed, the arch becomes too large to support the overlying soils, and an abrupt collapse occurs. Factors usually include the water table dropping which results in soils becoming very saturated and dense. Eventually the cavern’s roof cannot support the weight of the overlying material and the cavity collapses instantaneously. Yes, instantaneously. The formation and release of collapsing sinkholes can happen in a matter of seconds. They can destroy entire houses and swallow portions of roads or anything else that sits above the unstable ceiling.

A sinkhole in the Karst topography of northeast Iowa funnels ...
A sinkhole in the karst topography of northeast Iowa. Photo by Tim McCabe, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Picher sinkhole in Oklahoma
This photo of the Picher sinkhole in Oklahoma is a popular image on the Internet. Years of mining for lead and zinc has left the town full of sinkholes like this one.

Despite the dangers of sinkholes swallowing people, places, and things, my stories wouldn’t be mine if it didn’t include some science fiction and fantasy elements. Time travel is a major theme because it is so fun to imagine and write about. Of course, time travel comes with repercussions, which adds greatly to the stories.

So, enough about sinkholes. It’s time to get back to work. The climax and denouement of falling in a sinkhole await my characters.