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Friday, June 17, 2016

Fort Pomfret

I was asked to speak today to a group of ladies of the Daughters of Union Veterans in Snyder County. We took a short side trip to see Fort Pomfret which is one of the oldest historic sites in the county.
Pomfert Castle or Fort Pomfret was one of several forts that were planned during the winter of 1755-56 as part of the defensive plan west of the Susquehanna River.  It was ordered to be built along the Mahantango Creek and it is assumed that it was named in honor of Thomas Penn’s wife, Lady Juliana Penn, daughter of the Earl of Pomfret. Although it is not documented that this was the site of the fort, an archeological study in 1975 showed that the stone house was built on the foundation of an earlier building.
What can be proven is that Johannes Kroebil (John Graybill, 1735-1806) was the first settler in this valley. In 1774, he bought the land on which this old house stands. He was the first settler in this valley.  The house is approximately 20 x 28 feet and consists of two rooms on the first floor with a loft above and a basement that has a solid ceiling of 28-foot hand-hewn logs and an enclosed never-failing spring. 

There is no well on this farm as the spring provides all the water that is needed for the farm and family. It runs out from under the basement and flows away in a long stream.

The slits in the basement wall may simply have been for ventilation but are often supposed to have been for defense against Indians. John Graybill was a Mennonite and not likely to shoot at Indians. Building a house over a spring was certainly a common practice and a precaution for Indian attacks. The family did not have to leave the house for water if there was danger outside. The basement spring also provided refrigeration for perishable foods and helped cool the house in hot summers.

Amos Winey, who married John Graybill's granddaughter, Barbara, acquired the property in 1829. In 1851, he built the present farmhouse next to the small stone house. The homestead was in the Winey family about 170 years. In 1999, the Winey heirs sold the farm to an unrelated Burkholder family. John Graybill and his descendants had owned the property for more than two centuries, from 1774 to 1999.
The old stone house was falling apart when the Burkholders bought the farm. It needed to either be torn down or repaired. Fortunately, the Burkholders recognized the value of the old building and did not demolish it. The Juniata Mennonite Historical Center financed the restoration of the exterior of the building. The stones were repointed and windows repaired. The interior was not restored but with solid walls and a tight roof, it should stand a long time. 

1 comment:

Robert Allen said...

From Robert A. Lamlein, Toledo, OH Thank you for your story on Pomfret Castle. My great great grandfather Amos Winey once owned the Graybill-Winey homestead. I first visited it in 1975 when they were doing the archaeological work and then again in 2010. I am currently researching Amos's father, Jacob Winey Sr., who was a Philadelphia merchant and major Germanic actor behinds the scenes during the Revolution.