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Homewood Falls and the St. Cloud Hotel

A Photo Journal by

Robert Barron

One of my favorite places to go hiking is an area outside of Koppel, Pennsylvania “officially” known as Homewood Falls. I wanted to take some photographs of the place, and in late winter an unusually warm day permitted me to explore the area further than I had before. At the head of the trail a sign reads:

“For many years, this waterfall was known as Buttermilk Falls. The name was apparently given in 1870 by a group of Civil War veterans and their lady friends who came here on a picnic. As they prepared to leave, one of the party proposed to toast the occasion and the beautiful setting, using the primary beverage of the group: buttermilk. Thereafter, locals referred to this place as Buttermilk Falls.” HF001

Evidence of an old rock quarry at the trail head.©2012 Robert Barron

Buttermilk Falls ©2012 Robert Barron

There was a problem with that according to Go Waterfalling.com:

“Buttermilk Falls is a 35’ plunge on Clark Run in Homewood Pennsylvania. This falls is also known as Homewood Falls, and I was tempted to name it that on this page, as there are at least four other Buttermilk Falls in the state, but there is a big sign on the road saying “Buttermilk Falls Natural Area”, so Buttermilk Falls is the official name.”

I had been here a couple of times before with others but decided to explore the railroad tracks at the top of the waterfall. Some places seem to have a quality that draws one to return and try to understand what that quality is.

“This striking waterfall is the result of geologic activity some 18,000 years ago. Immense glaciers covering this region began melting; sending floodwaters down Clark’s Run. Eventually, the creek cut deeply through the overlying rock and soil until it encountered an especially resistant rock layer geologist[s] named Homewood Sandstone. As the canyon deepened downstream, a ledge formed over which Clark’s Run flowed. Because the layers beneath the Homewood Sandstone are softer, the falling water undercut the ledge above, causing pieces of the harder rock to break away. This created the sharp lip and spectacular drop of the waterfall you see today.” GW001

I found some different trails and climbed to the top of the waterfall. I took several shots of the railroad tracks and signal equipment. There was a small town across the tracks. I took a few more shots and returned to my car. After I developed the shots, I became intrigued by one particular old building. When I did a search on the internet for Homewood Falls I discovered some interesting facts about the town of Homewood. The place had been a boomtown at one time. There was a rock quarry, a hotel and a railroad junction, a foundry and numerous attractions for railroad travelers who came to relax at the waterfall and enjoy the shops.

Buttermilk Falls Gorge ©2012 Robert Barron

Railroad Signals at Homewood Junction ©2012 Robert Barron

 

Railroad tracks through Homewood, Pennsylvania ©2012 Robert Barron

From “The Village of Homewood Junction”

Village History

“The fortunes of Homewood Junction have risen and fallen with the growth and decline of the railroads. Part of South Beaver Township in 1800, and passing into Big Beaver Township in 1802, the tract in which the present village lies was sold by William Grimshaw to Joseph M. Smith in 1831. This area slumbered until the construction of the Ohio and Pennsylvania RR through it in 1852. The junction of the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne and Chicago Railroad with the Erie and Pittsburgh line was eventually located at the present village site. In 1859, Joseph M. Smith laid out the village which reportedly took the name Homewood Junction from one James Wood, who a year earlier had built an iron furnace along the Beaver River, about two miles from where the rail lines would meet. Early settlers in Homewood Junction were David Johnston, William Foster, Adam Garner, John C. Chapman, and Jonathan Grist. At the Junction itself, the Pennsylvania Railroad would at one time employ over 100 men in its maintenance department alone. The Homewood Stone Quarry was also an important local industry, and an ice house located at Homewood Reservoir employed 25 to 30 people. In 1869, a small frame building was built to house the Homewood Methodist Episcopal Church; the Reverend J. W. Claybaugh was the first minister.

During the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s, while railroads served as the nation’s foremost means of transportation, Homewood flourished. It became a Borough on September 10, 1910, with Charles Hunter elected its first burgess. In 1911, a school was opened in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church building. By 1915, a new two story brick school had been built. The Harmony Streetcar Line was built through the new borough in 1914. It carried passengers to Pittsburgh, and, after a transfer in New Castle, to Youngstown, Ohio. (Remains of the streetcar line as well as the old stone quarry may be seen in the area behind present Conley’s Motel on Route 18.) As the fortunes of the railroads declined, local industries - which had served the railroads or had been served by them, closed out. Today, Homewood Junction, rather than a busy railroad junction, is a quiet residential community, whose residents commute to work in other communities. Homewood Junction is included in the Big Beaver Falls Area School District.” HJ001

The St. Cloud Hotel of Homewood, Pennsylvania in it’s heyday. Courtesy of Beaver County Bicentennial Atlas

Image from Beaver County Bicentennial Atlas

I had to make a return trip and get some more shots of the town itself. Some places have stories that are waiting for someone to listen. I found the following information on the ancient dilapidated structure formerly a great retreat for travelers and sightseers of the 1800s.

Homewood Methodist Church ©2012 Robert Barron

“A hotel known as the Johnston House was built in a rural area north of Old Brighton (later Beaver Falls) in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, in about 1852. It was located right alongside the tracks of the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P), which had just recently been laid through the area. With the coming of the railroad the sleepy little area, first settled in 1831 and later christened as Homewood Junction, was about to flourish. The bar of the hotel served as the passenger station for the railroad until a dedicated train station was erected just across the tracks in 1864. The burgeoning village of Homewood Junction was formally laid out in 1859 and employment was plentiful with the railroad, a saw mill, an ice house, and a stone quarry operating in the area. The popular scenic area of Buttermilk Falls was located just a stone’s throw away as well. The Johnston House was the center of activity and a popular stop on the O&P line – which was consolidated under the new Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, & Chicago Railroad Company (PFW&C) in 1856 and was later absorbed into the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) in 1869.

The location became an important railroad junction as tracks branched out south to Pittsburgh, west to Ohio and onto Chicago, and north towards New Castle and beyond to Lake Erie. The Johnston House continued to thrive and at some point in the late 1800’s was renamed as the St. Cloud Hotel. The village of Homewood Junction or simply Homewood, which later achieved borough status in 1910, got its own Post Office in 1862 (called Racine) and a Methodist Church was relocated here in 1869. Years later, during 1914-15, a two-story brick schoolhouse was opened and an extension of the Harmony Short Line interurban streetcar system was built through the area.

The hotel’s history is a bit murky but it served the settlement of Homewood for many decades. Sometime later, most likely in the early 1950’s, it was rebranded as the Valley Inn. You can find advertisements in local newspapers throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s about dances held at the hotel’s lounge/bar on Friday and Saturday nights. It continued to operate as the Valley Inn at least into the late 1980’s when it closed. It has since sat vacant and is currently in a state of serious disrepair. It is one of [the] oldest surviving hotel buildings in the region and of great historic value. The Homewood Volunteer Fire Department, known locally for its civic awareness initiatives, is attempting to raise funds to restore the neglected old structure into a bed & breakfast and general store. Let’s hope their efforts come to fruitful conclusion, otherwise this aging structure would appear to be doomed.” LCM00

I don’t know why so much of our heritage is falling to ruin. Sometimes I wonder if the people living here now are worthy of the legacy of freedom and prosperity they have inherited. I think Howard P. Lovecraft said it best in his short story called “The Street”.

“The air was not quite so pure as before, but the spirit of the place had not changed. The blood and soul of their ancestors had fashioned the Street. Nor did the spirit change when they tore open the earth to lay down strange pipes, or when they set up tall posts bearing weird wires. There was so much ancient lore in that Street, that the past could not easily be forgotten.

Then came days of evil, when many who had known the Street of old knew it no more, and many knew it who had not known it before, and went away, for their accents were coarse and strident, and their mien and faces unpleasing. Their thoughts, too, fought with the wise, just spirit of the Street, so that the Street pined silently as its houses fell into decay, and its trees died one by one, and its rose-gardens grew rank with weeds and waste.” HPL001

 

The Ruins of the St. Cloud Hotel in Homewood©2012 Robert Barron

Gone to seed. The Volunteer Fire Department of Homewood hope to restore the St. Cloud to its former glory. ©2012 by Robert Barron

BIBLIOGRAPHY

HF001 - Homewood Falls County Park Signage - Information obtained from various park signage, sourced from county and state records and historical data.

GW001 - Go Waterfalling.Com

Tourist information website

http://www.gowaterfalling.com/waterfalls/buttermilkhomewood.shtml

HJ001- Homewood Junction.Net - Historical Information Blog

http://homewoodjunction.net/frames.html

LCM001 - Lawrence County Memoirs - Historical Recollections from Lawrence County Pennsylvania & Surrounding Areas

http://www.lawrencecountymemoirs.com/lcmpages/132/johnston-house-st-cloud-hotel-homewood-pa

HPL001 -“The Street” a short story by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Archive.org - Librivox

http://librivox.org/collected-public-domain-works-of-h-p-lovecraft/

Thanks to the Beaver County Bicentennial Atlas for the archival image of the St. Cloud.