Benny Green died suddenly last February while working at his salvage business on Welsh Mountain. His “junk yard,” which remains intact atop the mountain, represents one of the last vestiges of the old-time mountain culture.
For most of his 72 years, Charles Benjamin Green catered to the residents of the mountain and nearby New Holland, where he lived. He bought miscellaneous parts for cars, appliances — practically anything anyone needed — and resold them from his salvage yard across Route 897 from the Welsh Mountain Home.
He operated among the old board shacks that dominated the mountain until the final years of the 20th century. He continued to salvage and sell parts as new people moved in, dug wells, installed indoor plumbing, turned the oak and hickory woods into a suburban paradise.
The changeover now is nearly complete, with Amish families also building large, comfortable homes (and barns) with a view. What six decades ago was termed the county’s “worst rural slum area'” has become a destination for residents with a desire for upscale rural living.
“We see all over the mountain the results of gentrification,” observes Don Horning, a retired New Holland auto dealer and New Holland Area Historical Society member who recently took the Scribbler on a mountain tour. “It’s totally changed. Look at the view out there.”
Welsh Mountain towers over the farmland that surrounds it. The Mennonites and Amish who own much of that farmland aren’t going anywhere. Money Rocks County Park and the Lancaster Conservancy’s Nature Preserve adjoin the mountain on the north. So the view is not likely to change.
Fifteen miles northeast of Lancaster city, Welsh Mountain straddles East Earl and Salisbury townships. The early Welsh settlers who worked in nearby iron mines said the mountain reminded them of their homeland.
The mines closed, and by the end of the 19th century, the mountain became a refuge for impoverished people — formerly enslaved Blacks, some whites and American Indians— who took advantage of what Horning terms “flexible property rights.”
Good people lived on the mountain, but so did bad. From about 1880 to 1925, the Buzzard brothers’ gang hid out here while they terrorized the eastern end of the county. Later in the century, illegal drugs further stressed a population beset by poor education, malnutrition and lack of medical care.
Outsiders avoided the mountain as its reputation spiraled down.
In 1963, a social worker was murdered on the mountain. Subsequent press coverage spotlighted unsavory living conditions and led to the building of the Welsh Mountain Medical Center in 1969. Charles Martin developed the first upscale housing in the late 1960s and ’70s. After that, change accelerated.
Today, if you did not know the mountain’s history, you could drive along Route 897 and believe the place was always as bucolic as the surrounding flatlands.
There’s a flip side to gentrification, of course. Horning says development displaced most earlier residents, many of whom did not own their properties.
“How many people were hurt or enriched economically to get to this place we are today?'' he wonders.
Benny Green’s salvage business, almost alone, has survived gentrification. Salisbury Township has zoned that area “open space,” which means the land could accommodate, among other uses, one-acre single-family detached residences. Commercial building is not permitted.
Whatever happens, for the time being that property is a rusting monument to a culture that has disappeared.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP |LancasterOnline staff, writes “The Scribbler'' column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at email@example.com.