Mohnton’s ‘Navy Yard’

Excerpt from THE PASSING SCENE - Vol. 1, copyright 1982, by George M. Meiser, IX
used with permission

On the last Sunday of each month the magazine section of the Eagle contains a page entitled “75 Years Ago in the Eagle.” Here we find news highlights of the upcoming month — as they occurred three-quarters of a century ago.

In the edition of Sept. 30 (1979) were excerpts of salient events of October 1904. An entry for Oct. 18, of that year, was as follows:

“J. S. Hornberger, clothier and gents’ furnisher, at 642 Penn, who is the owner of a large farm lying along the Reading & Southwestern Railroad at Mohnsville, proposes to erect a summer resort there. Operations for the construction of the lake, to be known as Lake Valmont, will be commenced in several weeks. It will cover about 7 1/2  acres and will be perfectly square.

This excerpt, short as it was, came as a fascinating and highly informative tidbit. Clearly, it was a reference to the “Mohnton Navy Yard,” an entity often referred to in jest by those who pretend to know more than actually they do.

Relatively few can speak with authority on the subject, as that body of water has been gone nearly 60 years and virtually no mention of it appears in books — even those emanating from the Mohnton area.

Eager to learn more, yours truly headed straightway to the Eagle archives to see what else Mohnsville’s rural correspondent had to report about Hornberger’s project. Here is the remainder:

“The lake will lie 800 feet along the trolley tracks and will be surrounded by a terrace. A shaded hill that rises almost perpendicular is on the left side of the lake; Mohnton is on the right. It will be stocked with fish.

Row boats, steam launches, shoot-the-chutes, bathing houses, etc. will be provided. A beautiful ‘‘coo-coo’s nest’’ or fisherman’s haven and fountain will be placed (on an island) in the center of the lake.

“The rest of the farm, consisting of about 50 acres, will be filled with shade trees and amusements. To the left of the lake are five springs, clear as crystal, which will be cemented and beautified. Among these, numerous small fountains will be erected.

“A fish basket or pool, about 30 by 40 feet, will be constructed on a bluff 100 feet west of the lake where all kinds of fancy and rare fish will be placed. Byron Griffith’s new hotel will be located on the edge of the lake. Later, Mr. Hornberger will put up a large resort building for the accommodation of summer boarders.”

The final four paragraphs of the news release are fascinating in that they give an idea what Hornberger had envisioned. Actuality, however, fell far short of intention.

Basically what existed was a large man-made lake, quite deep at places and not quite seven acres in size, that accommodated boating — and even a steamer about 20 or more feet in length, surmounted by a striped canvas canopy.

Examination of a photo in the Howard Blankenbiller collection plainly indicates that this craft, once a popular attraction at Mohnton during the summer months, was almost identical to the one that operated on Carsonia Park’s Crystal Lake years ago. Both had modestly-sized boilers situated near the front of the boat.

Some Mohntonites contend the steamer was destroyed by fire after only two seasons of service and was replaced by a one-or two-cylinder naptha launch, which was a forerunner of the modern motorboat.

In addition to boating in the summer, there was fishing and swimming. As intended, several bath houses were erected for the convenience of the public. During the winter months skating flourished.

Considerable quantities of ice were harvested which were stored in a large icehouse.

Hornberger erected a unique dwelling by the edge of the water, located now at the corner of Front and Lake streets. “Lakeside,” which still stands, is unusual in two respects: it has colored glass set into the walls for decoration and has doors on every side, so that entrance can be made from any given direction.

Mohnton’s “navy yard” — more correctly Lake Valmont — ceased to exist in mid-August 1920. Particularly heavy rains caused six or more dams in the upper reaches to swell beyond capacity and rupture. The onslaught of raging water gravitating to the lake was too much for even the mammoth Valmont to contain and it, in turn, gave way.

The extent of the damage was such the lake was never reconstructed, as was the case with a number of mill dams in the vicinity. While “Hornberger’s Loch” is long gone and the basin filled in here and there, some vestiges of its former location are still discernable at a number of points.

Some comment should be made concerning the interchangeable use of Mohnton and Mohnsville in the previous portion of this article.

The town was first called “Mohns Store” (not unlike Landis Store and Hummel’s Store located elsewhere in the county), named for the general merchandising establishment begun by Samuel K. Mohn, focal point of the settlement thereabouts.

Within a few years after the post office was established in 1857, the village came to be known as Mohnsville, even though the official postal designation remained Mohn’s Store until 1906.

The general public’s indifference to (and ignorance of) the distinction between the two names resulted in much mail being addressed as Mohnsville. That would have been tolerable had errors in handling and poor penmanship not caused mail between this place and Mohrsville to become confused far too often.

In 1907, when incorporation of the borough took place, the town officially became Mohnton by court decree. As might be expected, though, old-timers and outsiders clung to Mohnsville for quite some time, much as some s-t-i-l-l call St. Lawrence "Esterly” and Oley Village “Friedensburg.”

It’s interesting to note that before the name Mohnton was finally chosen after much urging by Miss Margaret Mohn, a teacher and granddaughter of the town’s founder “Valmont” was also in contention.

Incidentally, Valmont stems from Mohnton’s location, in a VALley nestled between two MOuNTains.

Wed., Dec. 5, 1979


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