A Childhood Beside Poffenberger’s Well

“Mother, mother, where’s your daughter?/ Oh, my laws, she’s gone for water/ Three times daily I must yell her to and from the well….”

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Once, more than 150 years ago, Myersville’s de facto town well likely stood beyond that white picket fence. The well had almost been forgotten when this postcard photo was taken circa 1911. Author’s Collection.

In December 1951, Rev. Horace Ehrman Zimmerman wrote of his childhood in Frederick County, Maryland, for the Middletown Valley Register, which printed the story on the 28th of that month. “Of all the memories of [my] boyhood days in Myersville, none are more vivid to the writer than the old Enoch Poffinberger home well, across the street from the Lutheran Church. While not called a ‘village well,’ it virtually amounted to that for that part of the village in which our home was located. There were several other neighboring wells nearby, but none gave forth the clear, cold water that this well produced,” Zimmerman noted.

In small Maryland towns, the public well was not just a source of clean, drinkable water, but was also a social anchor point. “From its platform political speeches were often made; the village wiseacres … whittled and discussed the country’s problems; women gathered about it to gossip … [and] auctioneers cried public sales,” Zimmerman wrote of the common scenes of his childhood during the decade after the Civil War.

img-4 (1)At the time he composed his article, Zimmerman lived in Kansas City, Missouri. He was twice married and once widowed—the father of a son whom he let his father adopt and raise after the childbed death of the mother, and a daughter born of a new marriage that lasted 55 years. A lengthy ministerial career saw him serve the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and further afield. He also served a six-month stint in prison for, of all things, soliciting the sending of pornography through the U.S. mail.

His parents were Dr. Luther Melancthon Zimmerman (1840-1911) and Louisa Achsia Saltzgiver (1845-1923). Dr. Zimmerman, Horace’s father, was from Woodsboro, educated at both Gettysburg College and the University of Maryland. He also served a six-month post at the Union Hospital in New Orleans during the Civil War.

For some 30 years during the second half of the 19th Century, Dr. Zimmerman was Myersville’s town doctor, superintendent of the St. Paul’s Lutheran Sunday School, and also, for a period of time, town postmaster. In 1898, because of declining health, Dr. Zimmerman relocated some 15 miles west to Hagerstown, Washington County, where he continued to practice medicine as well as operate a drug store.

Horace was born 20 April, 1867, probably in Johnsville, Frederick County, but according to the 1870 Census, by age three he lived in Myersville. Horace was the Zimmermans’ eldest child and first son. He had seven siblings, three of whom died in infancy. One of these was little Charlie. In late September 1881, Charlie was playing in the yard of their Main Street home when the hatchet of a workman on the roof broke in midswing. The blade flew through the air and struck the toddler directly in the head. He lingered a few days before dying on 26 September, aged one year, seven months, and two days.

Horace Zimmerman spent his formative years in the bosom of his religious family and may have felt a call to the ministry at a young age, although he also may have considered a career as a writer. Exceptionally well educated, Horace attended the Middletown Academy under the direction of respected Professor William L. Avis (1845-1918) in preparation for attendance at Roanoke and Gettysburg colleges. He graduated from the Gettysburg Theological Seminary in 1892.

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Before it was sold to the Browning family, Dr. Luther Zimmerman’s family lived in this Main Street abode. Horace Zimmerman’s little brother, Charlie, was fatally injured in the yard.

In his later years, Zimmerman was a frequent contributor to religious publications such as The Christian Century and The War Cry. A book of his contributions, Religious Remarkables, was published by the Religious News Service of New York. From 1925, he was also editor of The Kablegram, a chatty and wide-ranging publication of Kable Brothers Publishing.

It is unknown whether the Valley Register article was solicited or the by-product of an old man’s ruminations. Looking at examples of the newspaper from the 1950s, the Middletown Valley’s history does not seem to be a topic then frequently addressed by the publication, so the second possibility may be more likely.

Rev. Zimmerman died on 23 August, 1955, in Kansas City, Missouri. He is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery.

♦♦♦♦

The Poffenberger family had been in the Myersville area for decades when Horace Zimmerman was a lad. It is likely that the earliest Poffenberger in what is now the Jackson District was Daniel (aft. 1751-1845), a second-generation colonist born in 1750 in Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Daniel’s father, Johann Christian Poffenberger, was born in 1722 in Ulmet, Kusel, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. He may have been an infant when he sailed for the Colonies in the company of his parents Johann Georg (1691-1765) and Ann Martha Shuck (1695-1767) Poffenberger.

On 22 April, 1783, Daniel Poffenberger married Catherine Nagel (1760-1831) in Tulpehocken. After the death of his father in 1784, Daniel, Catherine, and his widowed mother Gertrud Stupp Poffenberger (1730-1812) moved south, arriving in the proto-Myersville vicinity by 31 October, 1784, when their son Jacob was born.

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Saint John’s Cemetery at Church Hill where Daniel, Catherine Nagel, and Gertrude Stupp Poffenberger are buried, along with other early area Lutherans.

Daniel established a farm in what became the hamlet of Ellerton. For the first few years, the family would have walked a fair distance for worship at the log church at Jerusalem, then shared between the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. In 1790, the former group, of which the Poffenbergers were part, moved to a new log building at Church Hill. The current church, St. John’s, replaced that log structure in 1830. Members of the first three generations of Maryland Poffenbergers are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

One such Poffenberger was Daniel and Catherine’s son John (1788-1830), who married Mary Ann Bognor (1778-1873) on 20 June, 1807. Mary Ann was both the granddaughter and daughter of Revolutionary War soldiers. After his military service, her father Jacob Bognor (1754-1854) went south to Frederick County to learn the blacksmith trade. Whilst in Maryland, Jacob married into the Poffenberger family, as did other Bognors later on.

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John Franklin Poffenberger (1847-1930), son of Enoch and Elizabeth Gladhill Poffenberger.

John Poffenberger and Mary Ann Bognor had ten children, including Isaac (1814-1889) and Enoch—also frequently called Enos (1816-1884).

In the late 1830s, the brothers—blacksmiths like their father—came of age. Myersville, at that time, was a scattering of farms and a tavern built in the 1790s. The first mercantile establishment arrived with Joseph Brown in the early 1840s. During the same decade, the Poffenbergers built a smithy at what is today 405 Main Street on land that belonged to Capt. Daniel Main (1812-1894). Town growth continued at pace. By the enumeration of the 1850 Census, Myersville boasted a shoemaker, a saddler, a carpenter, schoolteachers, a tailor, and a wheelwright, and more.

On 20 December, 1842, Enoch Poffenberger married Elizabeth Gladhill (b. 1824). It was probably then that Enoch either constructed or took up residence in an existing log home at what is now 401 Main Street, located at the intersection of Wolfsville Road. (Land deeds indicate that Daniel Main did not formally sell the property to Enoch Poffenberger until June 1857.)

Elizabeth gave Enoch five children before dying in November 1852, aged 38. In February 1854, he married his late wife’s 19-year-old sister, Sarah Ann (b. 1835), who became his children’s stepmother as well as their aunt. Sarah Ann provided Enoch another five children before dying on 2 March, 1863, aged 27. The majority of these births and deaths would have occurred in the log home near the busy well.

♦♦♦♦

“Mr. Poffinberger lived where Edgar Bittle’s [401 Main Street] home now is,” wrote Rev. Zimmerman in his 1951 article. “The property extended north to include the blacksmith shop in which [Poffenberger] plied his trade and which was subsequently converted into a dwelling house by John Poffenberger, his son.”

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The probable location of Poffenberger’s Well.

“Between these two buildings, by the side of another small brick building, was the pump. Close by was an old nondescript seek-no-further apple tree. I never knew this well to fail, which explained why so many of the neighbors used it with confidence, even in the dryest spell,” Zimmerman noted.

“There were two types of ‘village wells.’ The more primitive were open, with windlass, chain, and bucket; the other covered with a floor, down through which was a pump. The Myersville well had a pump made from a large log of oak wood with a six-inch hole bored through it. It had a curved iron handle,” he wrote.

“Such a pump was composed of two or three sections of logs, one resting on the other, all of which were bored through the center, the bore varying in diameter. A plunger, generally called a sucker, was attached to the lower end of a long iron rod and lowered into this opening until it reached the bottom of the well. This worked piston-style, moving up and down within the pump. A longitudinal opening was made through it, over which a piece of leather acted as a sort of hinge. When the pump handle was raised, the plunger descended into the water, the upward rise of which forced the hinge open. When the handle descended, the plunger would ascend, bringing up with it the column of water that had come through. When the water reached the projecting spout, it gushed forth into whatever receptacle was suspended from it.”

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The Poffenberger well may have looked similar to the “Old Pump” at Purdue University (Indiana) built in the 1860s.

Zimmerman continued, “Wells varied in depth from 30 to 75 feet, and were lined with a stone wall held together with mortar. When it became necessary to descend into the well, the man on his way down carefully examined the wall to assure himself that there was no loose stone to fall in on him. The expense for cleaning a well was divided among those who used it.

“Now and then a toad got under the flooring and fell in, as a consequence of which patrons soon began to smell a foul odor in the water. The result was, it became necessary to get a well-cleaner … to come and clean it out. Was it any wonder typhoid fever was so prevalent in those days?”

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A late 19th Century photo of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which sat across the road from Enoch Poffenberger’s house and well. Courtesy Myersville-Wolfsville Historical Society.

“On Sunday mornings, this well was commonplace to repair for a drink on the way to and from Sunday school and church…. Close to the well, on a nail, hung a rusty cup used by all drinkers alike. We were not so squeamish about germs in those days as now!” he recalled.

“When mealtime arrived, a water bucket was handed to some member of the family, in which to bring the necessary fresh water for the meal…. It was a common sight to see half a dozen carriers on their way to well.”

Many years later, as Myersville did not have a piped-in water supply for decades to come, town postman and poet John M. Grossnickle (1876-1942) quipped in verse: “Mother, mother, where’s your daughter?/ Oh, my laws, she’s gone for water/Three times daily I must yell her to and from the well….” Apparently, the girls lingered at the pump, hoping for exchanges with local boys, until their mothers bellowed loudly enough to bring them home.

♦♦♦♦

On 22 April, 1872, the carriage factory of John T. Hildebrand, located across the street from the Poffenberger smithy, caught fire. The blaze quickly spread, consuming the carriage shop, two homes, and the forge. The fire marked a decline in Enoch Poffenberger’s fortune from which he did not recover.

While townsfolk and travelers enjoyed the clear, cold water that his well provided, the 56-year-old, twice-widowed blacksmith may have begun suffering from health issues common to the trade such as joint injuries, hearing loss, lung damage, or Fume Fever from inhaling zinc, aluminum, and magnesium particles.

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Laura Maria Poffenberger Moser, Enoch Poffenberger’s daughter.

By the enumeration of the 1880 Census, Enoch lived with Laura Maria (1855-1911), one of his three daughters by his second wife, who had married George W. Moser (1853-1932) in 1876. Enoch died four years later, on 7 July, 1884. He rests in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery close to the church on the northern side.

In March 1886, George W. Wachtel, who had been appointed trustee by the Maryland Circuit Court, Court of Equity, to sell Enoch Poffenberger’s real estate, “duly caused said real estate to be advertised in the Valley Register of Middletown… and did offer and expose it at public sale in Myersville.” Lloyd M. Koogle was the highest bidder for the old log home at 401 Main Street. He paid $600.75. At some point, Poffenberger’s well was capped and its exact location lost to memory. An era was at its end.

According to 1971’s The History of Myersville, it was proposed in 1929 that local stream Grind Stone Run be tapped for public water, but this came to nothing. It took the Great Depression to bring a proper water and sewage system into the town. “In 1935, newly elected Burgess John W. Eldridge asked for WPA and PWA funds for a water system using the springs that belonged to the Doub brothers above Pleasant Walk, near Myersville, and the springs owned by A. D. Flook, Robert J. Ridgley, and Mead Smith…. By 1936, there was a three-inch water main down the west side of Main Street and a six-inch on the east side of Main,” the History notes.

Poet John Grossnickle was impressed. “So now we have it gushing in/ Flowing like a fountain/ from the beautiful springs/ At the foot of Black Rock Mountain.” His poem went on to mark another change: “Now may I ask ‘Where’s your daughter?’/ Upstairs in a tub of water/ washing gently, I can say/ At least two or three times a day.” All the better by which to impress Myersville’s boys. Ω

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The site where the Poffenberger house stood is now occupied by this circa 1919 home, which happens to be the author’s own. The old well would have been somewhere to the left.

Author: Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Writer, journalist, editor, historian.

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