Township History

A Brief History of Middle Smithfield Township

All through the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and the American Revolution (1775-1783), the area now known as Middle Smithfield was Native American frontier and the site of the majority of attacks on white settlements in Eastern Pennsylvania. Middle Smithfield Township was established in the year 1794 having been a part of Smithfield or Upper Smithfield Township as it was called, while being in Northampton County.  Several county divisions later, Middle Smithfield became part of Pike County, named for Zebulon Montgomery Pike, discoverer of Pike’s Peak.  In 1814, Pike County included the Townships of Middle Smithfield, Delaware, Upper Smithfield, Lackawaxen and Palmyra. By the Act of April 1, 1836, a portion of Pike County was cut off to form part of Monroe County, named for President James Monroe. Since that date forward,  Middle Smithfield Township has been located in Monroe County.

A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker for Fort Hyndshaw can be found along Route 209 south west of Bushkill.  The marker reads “FORT HYNDSHAW  Built in 1756 by order of the Providence of Pennsylvania.  Northernmost of a line of defenses erected during the French and Indian War.”

One of the earliest families in the Bushkill area was that of Manuel Gunsaules, a Spaniard with a wife and ten children.  They occupied lands on both sides of the Bushkill Creek.  One of his daughters, Elizabeth, was captured by Native Americans at the age of seven years while she and her father were hunting for horses on the Delaware flats near the Bushkill Church.  The attackers started in pursuit of them and Mr. Gunsaules escaped by jumping into a washout, where he remained concealed, but little Elizabeth ran in a different direction and was overtaken. That night in camp they talked of killing her, but an older man among them objected saying that she was a smart girl and he would take care of her.  She accompanied them to Canada where she married a Chief, bore two children and lived for thirty-two years.   After the death of her husband, “Lizzie” was located by her birth family and persuaded to return to Pennsylvania.

A major Native American path leading from the Philadelphia area to Kingston, New York, almost identically followed the route that U.S. Route 209 now takes through Middle Smithfield.  This provided a means of travel and communication between the lower Delaware River to the south and the Hudson River to the North.  It was called the Minsi Path and went through Minisink (“at the place where stones are gathered together”), the principle Munsee village.  Daniel Brodhead and Nicholas Depui used this trail to take their farm products to Esopus on the Hudson River.  Today Route 209 is a major thoroughfare in our township.

Ferry service was often used to cross the Delaware River between Pahaquarry Township, NJ and Middle Smithfield Township.  The Dimmick/Shoemaker Ferry ran from the early 1800’s until about 1940 and used an underwater cable in low water and an overhead cable in high water.  The DeWitt Ferry was operated by three generations of the DeWitt family.  The Zimmerman Ferry was used by many summer guests on their way to summer camps in Middle Smithfield Township.  This ferry service ended in 1927 when the Pennsylvania Power and Light purchased it along with the Zimmerman farm.  The Decker/Grube Ferry was the oldest public ferry on this section of the Delaware River, traveling between Walpack Township, NJ and Middle Smithfield.  Philip Rosencrans purchased theferry and in 1898 moved it about 3/4 mile upstream to Bushkill, PA.  As Rosencrans Ferry, the service lasted until 1945 when a plane accidentally cut the cable.

John Turn Farm Kiln

Farmers in the 19th century widely adopted the habit of applying lime to their fields to “sweeten” the soil.  Actually, it was neutralizing the acidity and increasing fertility.  The industry grew and lime-kilns sprung up across the countryside.  Farmers in this region obtained lime by burning limestone or by purchasing the lime from a “lime burner” who operated a commercial kiln.  Middle Smithfield Township is the site of the John Turn Farm and its well-preserved lime kiln.  The kiln is located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on River Road  near the parking area for the John Turn Trailhead of the McDade Trail.   Traveling south on River Road, the parking area is 1.1 miles south of the park headquarters, on the left (east) side of River Road.   At the parking area there is also an outdoor (wayside) exhibit explaining the history of the land that was once the John Turn Farm. In late fall and winter you can see the kiln easily, facing you at the edge of the woods across on the west side of the road. (Watch for traffic!)  From spring until the leaves fall, it is more difficult to pick out. You can walk up the access road to the top of the kiln.   The John Turn Farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church 1851-1971

Standing on Churchill Road just off of River Road, The Zion Church is located 4.3 miles north of the Shawnee-on-Delaware crossroads. The church was built on land donated by George Michael, who also donated land for the adjoining Zion’s Lutheran Cemetery. The cemetery sits on the hillside overlooking the church. This location was chosen because of its proximity to Moses Shoemaker’s Ferry, later known as Dimmick’s Ferry. The production of the bricks used to build the church is a testament to the great workmanship of it’s congregation. As a cost saving measure, it was decided to use natural clay from the nearby farm of Samuel Michael to make bricks to be used for the church. A Frenchman was brought in to oversee the building of the kilns, tree cutting, preparation of firewood and countless other details that went into the process. The foundation was made of stone, the floors all tongue-and-grooved and the beams and rafters made of well seasoned lumber. The end result was a structure built in 1851 that had needed very little repair for 123 years and whose roof did not sag one inch!  In 1974, man made destruction by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers partially dismantled the church preparing for it demolition, but the Commonwealth gave orders to cease due to the Engineer’s lack of following due process. After much restoration work, the National Park Service rededicated this Greek Revival style church in 1993. Today the church houses the Office of Preservation and Design of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

John and Edith Michael Farm

The Michaels owned 97.83 acres of farm land on both sides of River Road, 4.3 miles north of the Shawnee intersection.  Potatoes were their cash crop and gained much attention throughout the state for their large yield per acre.   Above Church Hill Road were corn fields and their dairy cattle grazed on the grassy hillside pastures.   John was a Church Trustee and Superintendent of the Sunday School at Zion Lutheran Church while Edith played the organ and was active with annual bazaars.  John Michael built rental cabins along the river bank at the northeastern corner of the property to help with additional income.  He later died while fighting a fire in his woodland.  This farm was taken along with countless others in preparation for the Tocks Island Dam.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Middle Smithfield Presbyterian Church

A small group of faithful followers began meeting in John Coolbaugh’s barn in 1814.  For many years following, that group met in homes and barns until 1833 when the Middle Smithfield Presbyterian Church was built.  The church was also know as Coolbaugh Presbyterian Church.  The first minutes of the church are dated November 1, 1832, listing 26 members.  Some familiar names listed include John Turn, Elsy Gunsaules, Martha Place, John Fish, John Eilenberger, Jacob Shoemaker and John Coolbaugh.  The first addition to the original church was completed in 1955 adding an auditorium-social hall, kitchen, classrooms and rest rooms.   In 1989, an expansion was completed that added a new library, fellowship hall, nursery, office and choir rooms.  The most recent addition was a new sanctuary and educational facilities dedicated in 1998.  The church is a beautiful building inside and out filled with warmth and many wonderful photos.   This church is on the list of National Register of Historic Places since 1987.

Resica Falls at The Resica Falls Scout Reservation

The Bushkill Creek has been a popular fishing water from the earliest of times.  Native Americans would camp at the base of Resica Falls in the spring to net shad and trout.  Fishing and other outdoor activities are still enjoyed in our township’s creeks and parks.

The first grist mill in the township was built by Rudolphus Schoonover and was used to grind grains into flour.  In 1824, Benjamin Schoonover, a blacksmith, constructed the first foundry between the Lehigh River and Newburgh on the Hudson River.  He made plows and sold them for $8 to $10.  John M. Heller operated a wagon shop in Bushkill and opened the first Bushkill tavern.  Adam Overpeck built the first tannery in the township.  Over the years, new businesses in our township included tourist homes, resorts, golf courses, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, a very popular flea market and an Indian Museum.

The first school located in Middle Smithfield was on top of Hogback Hill, with Jack Robinson as its teacher.  Today two elementary schools, which are in the East Stroudsburg Area School District are located in our township: Resica Elementary School on Gravel Ridge Road and Middle Smithfield Elementary School on Route 209.   Construction began in 2008 to enlarge the Middle Smithfield Elementary School.

The Schoonover House

Located on Community Drive, the Schoonover House was constructed around 1860 on property that had long been held by the Schoonover family.   This family farm not only provided foods for their own use but also produced meats, dairy products and vegetables used to barter for other needed goods, as well as for sale to local grocery stores.  As this area became more popular for vacationers, the home was expanded to seventeen bedrooms in order to accommodate large numbers of guests.   Summer seasons and growing numbers of boarders helped boost the family income.  Sterling R. Schoonover and his wife Susie were the last owners of this homestead.  Sterling was a very well liked man and had presided as Middle Smithfield Township Secretary and Treasurer for 60 years.   From 1934 to 1974, the Township Supervisor meetings were held around the pot belly stove at the Schoonover home and many times featured homemade treats prepared by Suzie.  His handwritten minutes of township meetings can be found at the township municipal center, which was dedicated in his honor in 1988.  In 1974 the Federal Government acquired the Schoonover Property to make way for the Tocks Island Dam project.   For 27 years, this site housed the Bushkill Community Outreach program providing food, clothing and household goods to many families.  The farm property was listed in the National Register of Historical Places in 1979.

Delaware Valley Train behind the Winona Falls Lodge 1910

Starting in 1901, The Delaware Valley Railroad serviced a spur line to small hamlets from East Stroudsburg to Bushkill.  17 miles in length, stops included Bushkill, Dingmans Ferry, Forest Park, Marshalls Creek, Craig’s Meadow, Frutchey’s, Coolbaugh, Echo Lake and Shoemaker’s.  Passenger service continued until 1929 while freight serve ran until 1938.  Students would often ride the train to school in East Stroudsburg.

1953 Advertisement of Pocono Area Resorts

This Roxy Theater, Inc of NY, NY mailer dated September 17, 1953 features advertisements from many Pocono Area Resorts.  Included are Echo Valley Lodges and Cottages, Fernwood and Sunnybrook (now Lake of the Pines).  A short paragraph also gives details of The Fernwood and Sunnybrook resorts.

Safety has always been a priority in our township.  In 1951, Mr. Ernest Booth organized a Civilian Defense team consisting of wardens, ambulance corps and auxiliary police.  Individuals and resorts furnished vehicles to be used as ambulances.  This photo submitted in 1954 is from a drill held in East Stroudsburg and shows a portion of the ambulance crew.

In the summer of 1955, Middle Smithfield suffered its first major disaster-the flooding of the Bushkill Creek.  Two days of heavy rains from Hurricanes Connie and Diane caused flooding which washed out roads and swept away homes.  At that time, damage in our township was estimated at nearly $400,000.  74 people in Monroe County died as a result of the flooding.

Disaster struck again on June 26, 1964.  At 4:08 am firemen were awakened to respond to a tractor-trailer fire involving a truck parked along Route 209.  The site is at the intersection of Hollow Road and Route 209. The truck was not placarded to warn the fireman of the dynamite it carried inside.  It exploded leaving a deep crater and killing six, including three Marshalls Creek Firemen.  Dozens of snakes and animals also escaped from the Pocono Snake and Animal Farm located on the site.  This explosion started a chain of events that led to the creation of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook. This book has changed the way emergency personnel respond to incidents involving hazardous material.

The Village of Shoemaker’s

Formerly named Sandhill, the Village of Shoemaker’s was founded by captain Jacob Shoemaker in 1810.  It was named for Andrew J. Shoemaker who was the first postmaster there and later served as a local state representative in Harrisburg.  The Shoemaker’s Post Office was discontinued in 1865, then re-established in 1868.  It was discontinued for a final time in 1908 with the introduction of Rural Free Delivery across the country.  Thanks to the efforts of local resident Alvin DeWitt Sr., the Village of Shoemaker’s has appeared on highway signs and the Pennsylvania Official Road Map since 1969.  Today the DeWitt family continues to advocate for this tiny village, carrying on the efforts of Alvin Sr. into the 21st century.

Mastodon Skeleton

In 1968, John Leap, former resident and owner of Lakeside Peat and Hummus Company made a discovery in his peat bog that he surely never expected.  While mining peat, his drag bucket became snagged on what he thought was a stump.  Upon a closer examination, he and fellow worker Paul Strausser found the object to be bone and not wood as they expected. It was a very large animal’s skull.  Fortunately for all, Mr. Leap quickly contacted a museum in Harrisburg who in turn sent out staff to see just what was found.  After two weeks of retrieval, Mr. Leap, Mr. Strausser and a team from the museum had found the remains of an Ice Age Mammal-A Mastodon!  The remains had been preserved in the darkness beneath the surface of the peat bog for about 12,000 years.  Once the bones were cleaned and transported, it took 18 months to reconstruct the adult Mastodon’s skeleton.  90% of the skeleton had been found-to date-the most complete Mastodon found in all of Pennsylvania.  The Marshalls Creek Mastodon Skeleton is now on display at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.  Thank you Mr. Leap and Mr. Strausser.

The non-profit Friends of the State Museum is launching the Buy-A-Bone campaign to raise funds to reconstruct the Marshalls Creek Mastodon and to build the massive creature a new home at the museum.

“Werry’s Sunnybrook” Resort now known as Lake of the Pines  

Being located on the western bank of the Delaware River, Middle Smithfield Township has long been identified with the rugged, natural beauty of the Poconos. Residents and visitors alike have been drawn to the area for decades, but development in the region did not begin to spike until the 1970s when population swelled and vacation/second homes became increasingly popular.

Whitetail deer crossing Saw Creek

More recently, this area has transitioned into a bedroom community accommodating more and more year round residents attracted by the local scenery, relatively affordable cost of living and easy access to strong economies in New York and New Jersey. As of July 2007, our population was estimated at 14,551 and continues to grow with a diverse and rich ethnic and cultural heritage.

Feel free to visit the Schoonover Municipal Center on Municipal Drive to find out more about our township. The Center is open Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 4:00pm.

Many thanks to the citizens of Middle Smithfield Township for contributing photographs and memorabilia at our annual Memory Maker luncheons. Please watch the Event listings for this year’s date. A very special thank you to long time resident and advocate Nancy Michael Shukaitis and her book, Lasting Legacies of the Lower Minisink (© 2007 ISBN 978-1-57027-193-9).

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Monroe County Historical Society
Pike County Historical Society
Pocono Mountains Chamber of Commerce
Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau  
Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm
The Nationals Park Service