VARDEN-When veterinarian Dr. Mead Shaffer went to the Varden Conservation Area (VCA) holiday party, he had no idea that he was about to get a big surprise.
The VCA presented a plaque to Shaffer, dedicating the park's pavilion to him as a thank you for all he's done.
“We wouldn't have it if it wasn't for the Shaffers,” said Maureen McCleary, who is on the board of directors for the VCA. “There wouldn't be a park if it wasn't for Mead.”
The holiday party was also a surprise birthday party for Shaffer, who turned 80 a few days before.
History of Varden
Varden has been home to “eight generations of the Shaffer family” that started with John Shaffer in 1786.
Prior to being called Varden, the area was known as “The Dutch Settlement,” “Shaffer's Town” and even “Shaffer's Hollow.”
In 1886, it was changed to Varden by postmaster William Rufus Shaffer, naming the area for his favorite Charles Dickens character, Dolly Varden.
In 1790 John Shaffer was granted 431 acres of land along Middle Creek. He built a log house not far from the bridge that crosses Middle Creek on SR 296 and later built a permanent home where the large chimney ruins by the Varden Cemetery.
The Varden Chimney is “the only 18th century architectural relic connected to the early settlers of Lake and South Canaan Townships.” The home was one and a half stories with the large stone chimney that contained three fireplaces.
They were in the kitchen, the parlor and in the main bedroom. The chimney also “continued through the next half story” with the loft for the children, before exiting the house in the center of the roof.
It's unknown when the “Chimney house” burnt, but it is believe to have happened between 1872 and 1886, leaving a crumbling ruin that stands today as a “monument to the pioneers of Varden.”
With three streams converging in Varden, there was plenty of water to power various types of mills.
John Shaffer built a grist mill prior to 1790. Soon the area saw a growth of saw and grist mills and tanneries, which were followed by stores and industries like millwork, dairy and egg production.
In 1932, Mead Shaffer Sr. of New Jersey returned to his family roots in Varden. His father, Frank Shaffer, did the same during the Great Depression. They bought “64 acres of property for $700” and tended a herd of milking cows and some horses. Mead Shaffer Sr. continued to take care of the farm and after World War I ended, the dairy cows were replaced with beef cattle.
Varden Conservation Area
In 1840, Cortland Brooks purchased 30 acres of land, known as Brooks Farm today. In time, the farm had 400 acres. The Brooks' owned the property for “better than a century.”
Page 2 of 2 - In 1965, Shaffer purchased a number of adjacent properties, including some that was previously owned by the Brooks family.
After a donation from the Wayne County Sportsmen's Association of 1,000 red pine transplants, the Shaffer family “hand-planted seedlings almost every spring,” many of which originated from the Pennsylvania State Forests Nurseries. Because of their efforts, “100 acres of abandoned fields have been reforested.”
In December of 2001, Mead Shaffer donated his land to the Commonwealth, a total of 430 acres, that became known as the Varden Conservation Area.
The park is currently divided into two areas, VCA East through the Tannery Road Access and VCA West through the Mid Valley Road Access. VCA East is about 242 acres and VCA West is 192 acres.
In 2006 an access road and parking lot were built at VCA West. Most of the trails and roads are established there. It's a “natural wooded area” and has “growths of hand-planted evergreens.”
In 2007 an access road, parking lot, pavilion, rest stops and a bridge over Middle Creek were built at VCA East. It includes trails, farm roads, open fields surrounded by mowed paths and is a “natural woodland which has undergone timber stand improvement” as well as areas with “planted in white spruce and larch.”
The chimney that still stands from John Shaffer's home has been a topic of discussion with the VCA board.
“We were looking to restore it,” said McCleary. “It's a $100,000 cost. Now we're looking into putting something around it. We're not sure what we'll do.”
McCleary, like all the members, feels strongly about the VCA and said it should be more well-known.
“The county should know more about the VCA,” she said. “There's a lot to do there, even in the winter with cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc. A lot goes on. The park area really needs to be known.”
“Environmental education always has been a primary concern of mine,” stated Shaffer. “I trust this land will allow present and future generations to observe and study the diverse ecology found in the Varden Conservation Area.”
McCleary said Mead loves to give tours of the park.
“He's a phenomenal man and he's a fountain of knowledge,” she stated. “Mead is very big with conservation. He's really into the environment and wants everyone to have access to it.”
The VCA property is managed by Promised Land State Park, located in Pike County.
For more information contact Varden Conservation Area, c/o Promised Land State Park, 100 Lower Lake Road, Greentown, PA, 18426-9735; call (570) 676-3428; email email@example.com; or visit www.visitPAparks.com and look up Varden Conservation Area.