Music from the MountainOct 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Linda Roller
Local legend tells of a group of miners who lived and worked up on the top of a ridge overlooking Lycoming Creek. They played their musical instruments on a cliff, overlooking the valley—it’s called Band Rock Vista. Although the mine, the village, and the musicians have been gone for well over 100 years, all left their imprint, and their names, on the land. In honor of that legacy, Cindi McCarty, of McCarty Mercantile in Hillsgrove, is bringing the music back to Band Rock Vista, in McIntyre Township, starting at noon on October 8.
The village was McIntyre, in Lycoming County, and was just to the east of the village of Ralston. The township is named for that village, which had been, in turn, named for Archibald McIntyre, one of the founders of the Williamsport and Elmira railroad. The overlook is still called Band Rock Vista, and it is in Loyalsock State Forest. But beyond the names hinting at what was once here, there is little information. The proof, what there was, was not in Lycoming County, but with the mining company itself. McIntyre, the mining town, had a short life. It was a company town, more specifically a J. Langdon & Company town. Jervis Langdon, the president of the company, was a nineteenth-century coal baron, a friend of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and, oh yeah, Mark Twain’s father-in-law. Though Jervis died the year the McIntyre operation started, the company, including Olivia, Twain’s wife, continued to develop this mine and small town from its offices in Elmira, New York.
According to Dr. Thomas Registad, this ridge-top mine was a bit of a distance from the Pennsylvania Railroad line that traveled the narrow valley from Williamsport to Elmira. To get that coal to the rail, the company built “a steep (45-degree angle), long (2,300 feet) inclined plane to transport the coal from the mine to the waiting railroad cars. For eight years, the McIntyre mine supplied 200,000 tons of coal per year for consumption as fuel coal in New York and Canada.” The mine was busy, productive, and closer to Elmira than the great coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania. Filled with miners and families in a remote village, they made their own entertainment, and used the overlook to the valley as a natural amplifier for the music they enjoyed.
But the coal, the village, and the music did not last long. Founded in 1870, the mine played out in 1886, and the J. Langdon coal company, already working a new field of soft coal in western Pennsylvania, simply closed up shop. By 1900, the last of the people of McIntyre were gone, and the forest began to take over again. Today, hikers in the McIntyre Wild Area can find the cemetery, some sections of rail, and old foundations. The rest of the hamlet, once the home to 300 people, was erased. But the memory of the music persisted.
It was this musical memory that fired Cindi’s imagination. She is no stranger to the music of these hills and valleys. McCarty Mercantile has become a local music institution, providing a home for many local bands. The Saturday night concerts in Hillsgrove are free, starting with a home-cooked meal Cindi prepares, and then the music. But the story of the miners and the music had stirred her soul. She wanted to hear the local musicians the same way that it was done in McIntyre, all those years ago.
“It’s time for the hills to ring with music,” she says.
It’s taken a bit of work, as the area is now a wildlife preserve. But Cindi was stubborn enough to keep calling and making things happen—this particular happening is on a Sunday, which, historically, was the only day available for miners to rest from their back-breaking labor and have a bit of fun at the overlook.
One of the bands that regularly plays at McCarty Mercantile will be featured on the vista. Owl Hollow Ramblers began a few years ago as nothing more than friends who enjoyed playing music together.
“We came together in north central Pennsylvania in 2019 and found our groove mostly in songs from times long past. We are determined to not let these songs be forgotten,” says guitarist Jim Leta. With Linda Wagner, Chloie Hollenbach, and Kaylee Corter on fiddle, Jason “Biff” Wagner on guitar, and Kirk Kriner on the clawhammer banjo, the songs and style will please any ghosts of the musical miners on this land, local folks, and all lovers of traditional tunes.
The best place to hear the concert will be in Ralston itself, as the valley makes a perfect amphitheater. The bands playing in the valley will include the McCarty Mercantile House Band and the Sully Sock Pickers, Onion Wine from Dushore, Cornflower Jam, and the Grey Fox Band.
There’s a fall antique machinery show all weekend in Ralston, as well. Travis Brooks, president of the Loyalsock Valley Antique Machinery Association, says the Central Pennsylvania Museum of Agriculture and Industry, located in the former Brooks Lumber Company building on Route 14 in Ralston, will host the show, along with food vendors and a flea market October 6, 7, and 8.
The way to the vista is treacherous and requires a vehicle designed for off-road that can handle deep ruts and mud holes. Head into the McIntyre Wild Area of Loyalsock State Forest from Route 14 in Ralston on Thompson Street. Half a mile after crossing Lycoming Creek, you’ll come to a fork in the road. Take the fork to the left and start heading uphill. It’s between four and five miles up to the end. There are paths and small pull-offs on the way up, but it’s the only road. About 100 yards from the overlook, there is a small parking area.
There's no reason to brave the drive because there's music planned in the valley on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, the music floats down from Band Rock Vista, as it did a century ago.