Stop 2: Arch Spring farm (And Lunch)

Leaders:  Christopher D. Laughrey, Pennsylvania Geological Survey

Dave and Linda Morrow, Arch Spring Farm

Because of the limitations of space, we will divide the group into two.  Half will stay at Arch Spring Farm to eat while the other half walks with Chris Laughrey to Arch Spring, a few hundred feet from the farm houses.  Then the two groups will switch.

Arch Spring Farm:   A Short History

By Dave and Linda Morrow

Jacob Isett came to Sinking Valley in l785.  He had been a shoemaker as well as a gristmill operator in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania.  When he arrived in Sinking Valley he lived in an abandoned building at Ft. Roberdeau and earned his living making shoes which he traded for grain.  He amassed a lot of wheat in a year before crop failure so he was able to sell the grain for enough money to buy the land at Arch Spring in 1788. 

Jacob Isett first built the small stone structure that is now behind the main house. The ground floor would have been used as kitchen/living room and the upstairs as sleeping quarters.  The second floor is interesting as it has 4 slits for windows which are wider on the inside than the outside.  This design permitted a rifle to be aimed at attacking Indians or other intruders.  The British had enlisted Indians to help them in the Revolutionary War, so there may have still been unfriendly natives around when the “fort” was built.  Between each set of windows are indentations of the same design we saw in Fort Michilimackinac, another Revolutionary War fort in upper Michigan.  We were told the indentations were to hold ammunition.

Jacob Isett built a saw mill and a very large wooden grist mill next to the stone building we now call the Mill House.  He diverted some of the stream from the spring into a mill run.  The beginning of the mill chase can be seen from the road bridge.  The wooden mill was dismantled in 1942 but the scale house still stands.  Wagons were weighed empty and again with grain to determine the weight of the grain milled or sold.  The “works” for the balance scale can still be seen.  A blacksmith and wagon shop, a shoemaker’s shop and a cider press were once part of the village named Arch Spring in 1854.  Remains of the foundations of small homes can be seen on the other side of the foot bridge. 

We would like to think that the Mill House was built in 1799 because of a threshold stone carved “ISETT 1799” in the building.  However, the location of the stone, facing outward, on the threshold of the granary door 3 stories above the ground, may indicate that the stone was recycled from an earlier location.  A Penn State historical geographer estimated the Mill House was built in the 1830’s.  At any rate, we assume it was built to house an office, general store and post office on the first floor and for grain storage on the second floor.  There is no indication of an early chimney so we assume it was not built for a habitation. 

The plaque just under the gable at the north end of the largest stone building that we call the “Manor House” indicates the building was completed in 1805 for Jacob and Eleanor Isett.  We have seen stone houses of very similar design and trim in the Olny Valley of SE PA so we assume the builder came from there and probably brought mill work and other building materials with him.  The original home had no insulation, just plaster and wall paper and chair rail over the inside of the stone walls.  It was probably the early 1900’s when electricity was put in that the perimeter walls were studded and plaster was applied over lathe.  In the 1920’s there was a major fire in the living room which apparently destroyed the original woodwork there.  Very ugly 1920’s woodwork was taken out in the 1996 restoration. The built-in cabinets in the dining room are believed to be original to the house.  When indoor plumbing was installed, a bathroom was added at the front of the upstairs hall.  There were originally 5 bedrooms on the second floor with the 5th bedroom accessible only by the former back stairwell or through another bedroom.  In 1996 we converted the 5th bedroom into 2 more bathrooms and an upstairs laundry.  The Manor House now has a geo-thermal furnace and hot water heater.  The pipes run under the field to the north of the house.

We bought Arch Spring Farm in 1983.  We restored the Mill House in 1986 and the Manor House ten years later.  We use both as a B&B through Rest & Repast reservation service.  For more information on availability or for reservations, contact Rest & Repast B&B reservation service of central Pennsylvania at:

Rest & Repast
P.O. Box 179
Boalsburg, PA 16827
Ph.  800-BNB-2655 or 814-238-1484

The website of the reservation service is  Office hours are 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM Monday through Friday.  The answering machine will take a message when no one is in the office.

Arch Spring and Related Karst Features

by Christopher D. Laughrey

Arch Spring (Figure 32), with an average discharge of 8000 gallons per minute, is the eighth largest spring in Pennsylvania. The discharge ranges from 2000 to 30,000 gallons per minute. This is the resurgence of Sinking Run, which disappears into a sump in Tytoona Cave (Figure 33), about 1.6 km (1 mi) southwest of Arch Spring.  The entrance to Tytoona Cave is in a large collapsed sinkhole in the Hatter Formation. About 305 m (1,000 ft) of easily navigable passage extends from the entrance to the sump (Figure 33). Cave diving beyond the sump reveals additional dry passage, and some of the most beautiful flowstones, stalagmites, and stalactites in the state (Figure 34). The latter include spectacular soda straw stalactites (Figure 35), which are the second longest known in the world. Preservation and conservation of this resource are assured by the current ownership and stewardship of the National Speleological Society (NSS). The sump blocks the casual visitor, and cave diving operations, permitted for research only, are strictly managed by the NSS.

Dye tracing and surveying by cave divers have linked Tytoona Cave with Arch Spring. Several additional sumps and dry passages in Tytoona Cave lead northeast to a terminal sump with depths of about 24 m (79 ft). Breakdown there has prevented further underwater penetration to date. Diving operations at Arch Spring have revealed an additional dry passage and more sumps that lead to a large submerged room. This last underwater room descends to a tight, narrow passage at a depth of 32 m (105 ft) and then ascends to about 21 m (70 ft) where further penetration is impeded by breakdown. This is about 0.4 km (0.25 mi) from Arch Spring. Some explorers suspect this is the same breakdown encountered when swimming northeast from Tytoona Cave. This is very speculative, however, and surveying has not yet physically linked the passages. Surveying efforts in the 1980s ended in tragedy with the death of Roberta Swicegood, an accomplished and capable cave diver, at Arch Spring. Underwater surveying has only recently resumed here. Dye tracing, chemistry, and analyses of suspended sediment load suggest that Tytoona Cave is the master conduit for the water resurging at Arch Spring (William B. White and Ellen K. Herman, per. Comm., 2003). 

The arch here at Arch Spring (Figure 36) resembles the renowned Natural Bridge in Virginia, but is much smaller.  The arch is approximately 15 m (49 ft) high, and its opening is about 6 m (19.7 ft) in diameter. Sinking Run flows through it. Upstream from the arch is a small spring basin in a large, steep-sided sinkhole. The latter is 30.5 m (100 ft) long, 15 m (49.2 ft) wide, and about 10 m (33 ft) deep. The actual spring opening is only about 1.2 m (4 ft) in diameter. The basin and sinkhole are the remnant of a large cave room that collapsed thousands of years ago.

The karst geology and hydrogeology of Sinking Valley are fascinating subjects.  Interested readers should refer to White (1976) and White and White (1999) for further information.

As an interesting aside for field trip participants, there is a very small and obscure cave entrance in the Snyder Formation at the outcrop we will visit after lunch at Stop 3 (Figure 37). Dr. William B. White, Pennsylvania State University, kindly shared his copy of the cave survey done there (Figure 38).

Reboard the bus and return to the PA 453.