Three centuries of digging into Pequea Silver Mine

Ken Hoak is shown with Pequea Townshipquilts in new exhibit. (Andrew P. Blackburn / New Era)

This is the tricentennial of the first workings of the Pequea Silver Mine.

The Pequea Indians did the original digging in 1709, according to historians.

The Indians weren't looking for silver.

They were hunting quartz. They used quartz to make weapons for hunting animals.

You can learn much more about early and later mining on the site of the current Silver Mine Park in Pequea Township by attending "Pequea Proud," the new exhibit at the Conestoga Area Historical Society. The show opens Saturday.

The exhibit includes a sizable hunk of quartz and galena taken from the mine. Minute amounts of silver, lead, silica and sulfur lie within the rock.

After early European settlers dispatched all the Indians who were mining quartz, Revolutionary soldiers began mining lead to make musket balls. Miners removed more lead to make ammunition during the Civil War.

Miners then began taking silver.

The Lancaster Evening Express of June 7, 1860, said various assays had found the silver in that area "to be richer than the famous ores of Washos (Nevada) and Arizona."

But silver mining didn't pan out quite the way its promoters had anticipated. Too much work to extract too little silver.

In the mid-20th century, the Silver Mine Campground opened and began attracting more than overnight nature lovers.

Concerts there featured big-time performers such as "Box Car" Willie, Arlo Guthrie and the Great Wallenda. The exhibit includes pictures of some of these characters.

In the 1990s, the township took over and turned the area into a park. The original site plan for the park hangs on a museum wall.

Scores of other exhibits from various Pequea Township locales distinguish the latest show of one of the most ambitious local historical societies in Lancaster County.

"This is what I was able to put together," explains an overly modest Ken Hoak, historical society director, "and as soon as it opens people will come in and say, 'I have this' or 'I have that.' You can never track down everything."

But Hoak and guest curators J. Kenneth Mellinger, the Rev. Michael W. Sigman and James L. Stokes have found plenty.

Here's a neat stone scale model of Boehm Chapel made by Christian Harnish, of Willow Street.

Over there are three quilts, the oldest stitched in 1848.

And over here's the large wood chest George Holzhauer hauled to the area when he left Germany in 1854.

"Immigrants brought these chests by the thousands," comments Hoak. "Most broke them up for firewood or other purposes. Very few have survived."

The exhibit also includes a stunning watercolor scene by Wilson V. Chambers, a pew and kitchenware from the original Pequea Brethren in Christ Church, and Jacob F. Lefever's old Central Market sign and lard can.

Brown newspaper clippings detail the trial and hangings of the Aston brothers for the murder of Pequea Township farmer Alfred Hallman in 1909.

That murder trial provoked more than a little excitement.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that at the close of the trial in the Lancaster County Courthouse, "the crush was so tremendous that the plate glass doors to the main auditorium were broken and several women fainted."

The exhibit is open Saturdays and Sundays, from 1-4 p.m., from this weekend through Dec. 13. The society's museum and other buildings are located at 51 Kendig Road in Conestoga.

Jack Brubaker can be reached at jbrubaker@LNPnews.com or 291-8781. The Scribbler column appears Tuesdays and Fridays.