Small and isolated in the Westfall Township hills overlooking the Delaware River, the tiny community of Mill Rift is preserving its rich history with a museum set up in its community hall.
WESTFALL TWP. - Small and isolated in the Westfall Township hills overlooking the Delaware River, the tiny community of Mill Rift is preserving its rich history with a museum set up in its community hall.
This summer, the museum collection received a boost from a project arranged with the National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, to help Mill Rift Community Association preserve what they have.
Mill Rift, located a few miles north of Matamoras, Pike County, Pa., has a long history related to lumbering, quarrying bluestone and as a vacation resort for fresh air seekers arriving on the railroad.
The Mill Rift Community Association holds their meetings at the community hall, a wooden structure built in 1905 and once the place for dances, church services and live plays, said Jim Davis, who is the Association Secretary.
The community hall has been a repository for Mill Rift’s artifacts for many years.
It all started when a community-minded Mill Rift citizen, Thomas Hanney, couldn’t bear to see history of his beloved village lost forever when the longtime general store was being cleaned out by the estate of the storekeeper, James F. Moloney.
A collector of carriages and sundry other things, Hanney diverted the truck that was on its way to the dump and had the driver bring the store’s contents to his own home, Davis said.
His neighbors started to add to Hanney’s treasure trove of nostalgia, and eventually it made its way to the community hall.
Much admired, the storekeeper- who also was postmaster, schoolmaster, Erie ticket agent, milkman, etc.-, died in 1940, and has been remembered with his name on a monument set up in a shady spot known as Molony Park.
“Tom Hanney did a lot for the community,” Davis said. “… He was a philanthropist; he did a lot of good.” Hanney also helped organize the Catholic church at Mill Rift. He was an oil delivery entrepreneur. Hanney died in 1997 at the age of 86.
Jim and his wife, Leslie Morlock- the vice-president of the Association- showed off the heart of the museum, the recreation of Molony’s general store. Set up on the stage, there one can see the glass display case, the candy jars, bottles, an old telephone, desk and typewriter, Mill Rift post office boxes, the pot-bellied stove and assorted merchandise.
Lining the walls are framed displays of precious photographs of Mill Rift’s yesteryears; scale models of the old Mill Rift Inn which burned in 2007 and the general store; scrapbooks of newspaper columns and stories; items or pictures concerning Glenwood Resort, the Mill Rift school, the 1955 flood, the 1978 train wreck; documents; harnesses from the days when horses were the way to go; a door from the inn scrawled with names and notes; a large 45 star American flag- and so on.
The models were constructed by Douglas A. Wilkie in 1946, when he was 14. This summer, Wilkie came back to Mill Rift and attended the Civic Association’s annual open house. He had a thrill seeing the models after all these years, Davis said.
The Park Service supplied an intern, Elizabeth Nicholson, to help at the Mill Rift Museum. She was supervised by Lauren Hauptman, Museum Technician at the Park Service’s Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen.
The internship came about when Leslie Morlock contacted Hauptman over a year ago. Morlock, who works at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, said she had the idea that perhaps a partnership could be created to assist the Civic Association with its museum assets.
Hauptman said that that their intern developed an inventory list so that the Association can know what they have and where; artifacts were cleaned and better arranged for display. The Association was also given pointers about how to maintain the collection in an environmentally safe way. Pictures were taken of each item.
The Association funded the supplies and a stipend for the intern. Among the supplies was archival-quality material to make storage boxes to store documents and photos, to protect them from sunlight and air conditions.
A temperature reader was installed so that they can keep track of the conditions.
A few discoveries
Davis said that in the process, they also discovered artifacts that didn’t know they had. This included a stash of documents and paper records found under the stage.
Among the papers are voting records for Westfall Township and even a list of dog owners who paid for their licenses, from 1890.
Davis said they need to decide what to do with certain things that were found that are not specific to Mil Rift.
The Civic Association has made efforts before to try and protect what they have. Morlock said that the sun-blocking shades were installed on windows about two years ago, to stop papers from fading.
Nicholson, who lives in Barryville, is a senior at SUNY New Paltz. Nicholson said that following her undergraduate studies, she intends to pursue a masters in Museum Studies before going on to work in the field of public history. The internship was arranged specific for the Mill Rift project but she also spent time helping at Zane Grey.
In addition, Nicholson also had an internship this summer at the Wayne County Historical Society. She worked at a variety of things, as a docent, helping to prepare a WWII exhibit and to get the Farm Museum ready for the Wayne County Fair.
Carol Dunn, Executive Director at WCHS, commented, "Elizabeth is a remarkable young woman destined to have a meaningful and important career in public history/museum science."
Nicholson worked three days a week at Mill Rift, from mid-May to the end of July.
Hauptman said that they jumped at the opportunity to help when Morlock approached the Park Service to lend a hand. Hauptman said that this was the first time the local Park Service unit has had a chance to assist with another organization’s museum, a partnership she said could happen again in the future, should the opportunity arise.
Mill Rift is within the Upper Delaware Corridor, right at the very southern end.
“It was a really neat collection to get to know and explore,” Hauptman said. She added that one of her favorites was a letter from the late 1800s which the Mill Rift Literary Society had sent around the world, with multiple postmarks to show it.
“It was a joy to work with them,” Hauptman said. The project was beneficial both for the intern, she noted, and was useful for the Mill Rift Civic Association.
Elizabeth Nicholson commented, “Working at the Mill Rift Museum this summer was a hugely enriching experience. It gave me great insight into the local history of the Upper Delaware River Valley which I have lived in for much of my life. It was wonderful getting to know, and work with members of the Mill Rift community.”
She also expressed high regard for the Wayne County Historical Society and the experiences she gained there for two summers.
Off the grid
“Mill Rift is pretty well off the grid,” Davis noted. A native of Mill Rift, Davis, who is 47, has lived most of his life here. He went away for a time, but he said he missed it, especially the river. His parents once owned the Mill Rift Inn.
The Mill Rift Community Association, which numbers around 50 to 60 members, has its own private river access.
As a village far off the beaten path, they have a strong sense of community, although he said the loss of the inn- a landmark- took away what was a gathering place.
“Life is changing,” Davis observed. Speaking of his community and its heritage, he added, “It’s important to preserve the place.”
“This is a unique little spot,” Morlock said. Her husband added that geography has contributed to the feeling of community. “There’s not too any places like this anymore in Pike County,” Davis stated.
Doug Hay is the Mill Rift historian, Davis said, although the museum has no official curator. “It’s whoever has the time,” he added.
The Mill Rift Museum does not have regular hours, since it is overseen by volunteers. The Association has an open house in the summer and other events. Davis advised that if anyone is really interested in the history of Mill Rift and would like an appointment to see the museum, to contact the Association through their Facebook page.