Rain and snow have bypassed the
East Branch Valley this year, dropping a man-made lake 55 feet and
exposing the skeletal remains of two towns sacrificed for flood
Now former residents are coming back to reminisce.
Instanter and Straight were razed and submerged 39 years ago when
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built East Branch Clarion Lake.
Now the water’s retreat has revealed Instanter, 5 1/2 miles
upstream from the lake’s earthen dam, marked by mud-caked
remnants of old concrete foundations, some rusting nails, scattered
bricks and crumbling bits of rotten lumber. There’s no longer
enough remainder of a road left to easily get to Straight.
“It made me sick when I’d seen it.” Said Nita
Eaton, who spent the first 18 of her 83 years in Instanter, but
could find no sign of her old home, school, or church.
In spite of her reaction, the old town site, an Atlantis of the
Alleghenies, has become a new tourist attraction.
“This is a rare opportunity for old residents to come back
and show their children and grandchildren where they grew up and
where they used to play,” said John Kolodziejski, park ranger
at East Branch.
Weekends bring out people by the carload and cars line the boat
ramp. There’s still about 100 feet of water in the lower end
of the six-mile-long reservoir, but the boat ramp’s concrete
slab ends 50 feet form the nearest water and once-floating wooden
piers sit on the mud.
Outsiders can only imagine how Instanter’s old foundations
once supported a tannery, boarding house, homes, and a bridge.
“There was the hotel, a pool room, and where they used to
cut hair,” said George Powley, who visited Intanter in early
November. “There was a company store, a boarding house and
a big barn where they kept their horses.”
“You always want to know what’s under the lake, but
unless you’re a scuba diver, you never know,” Mr. Kolodziejski
said. “Now everybody knows.”
Instanter was established in 1889 when a pair of settlers built
a tannery at the confluence of the East Branch and Seven Mile Creek.
Its slow death began four days before Christmas 1926 when the tannery
“The tannery was going out so everybody was going out,”
Mrs. Eaton said.
Straight, a smaller community, supported two chemical works that
shut down about the same time as the tannery.
After a flood on the Clarion River damaged Johnsonburg and Ridgway
in July 1942, the Corps began considering a flood-control dam somewhere
upstream from East Branch. The dam just above Glen Hazel was completed
Mr. Powley, 74, has visited the site before, but to fish.
“I went back quite a few times. I put a boat on there the
first year they filled it with water,” said Mr. Powley, 74.
“I never thought I’d see it again.”
The lake abuts the west side of the eastern Continental Divide,
which in northern Pennsylvania is a range of hills that separates
basins draining into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
In winter, storms off Lake Erie usually run into these hills and
dump copious amounts of snow. In the summer, storms laden with moisture
from the Gulf of Mexico usually drop rain on the 72-square-mile
watershed above the dam.
That hasn’t happened this year.
But through high water and low water, the number of visitors drawn
to the lake each year by water or curiosity has remained a constant
300,000, Mr. Kolodziejski said.
“Our bread and butter is the normal year, when families can
come out and boat and ski,” Mr. Kolodziejski said.