MANSFIELD — The wind blew through the Lambs Creek boat launch area Saturday morning as people sat in cars, waiting. A pickup truck hauling a red trailer loaded with hay bales pulled in, turned around and stopped.
Slowly, the cars occupants left their vehicles and gathered around the wagon. The gate clanked onto the asphalt and they began loading.
They all knew one another, having at one time been neighbors in Lambs Creek. A combination of flooding from Hurricane Agnes, Route 15 construction and development of the Tioga-Hammond Lakes wrote the end to the hamlet in the 1970s.
But they remembered their homes, their friends, going to school, playing and hunting, church events at the community building, and finally moving away. Later that day they would gather for the reunion, but this morning was a special tour on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property.
Deb Clark had asked for and received permission to open the gate and allow vehicles to once again travel the road that once led through the center of town.
Jean Doud, 80, and her husband Vern were on the ride. Doud is a descendent of one of the first settlers, Alfred Warters. She had created a map of the village, with strips of paper taped on to show where families had lived. She planned to take it to the reunion that afternoon.
For the trip, she and her nephew, Dick Frank, brought photos, which were passed eagerly from one person to another of the 20 or so people on the tour.
The reunion picnic began in 2006, first held at the Doud home.
“Mary Jane was visiting me and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to get everyone together,’” recalled Doud. “In two days, we had 12 people at our house for a picnic. We had a wonderful time.”
When attendance grew to more than the household could handle, it moved to the Lambs Creek picnic area. Three years ago, it moved to Cathy Barnes home on Upper Lambs Creek.
As the wagon traveled to the gate, Frank pointed out the pond along the road. Clark’s Pond, he said, was where all the kids went to ice skate.
“All the kids for generations skated there,” he said looking at the pond now filled with cattails and water lilies.
Doud pointed out where Ed Hendrix had his gas station, where her grandfather Alfred Warters, aka Mr. Lambs Creek, lived. The hollow tree stood in front of the schoolhouse, the first two-room schoolhouse in the county. When it closed, students attended Mansfield schools. The building then served as a community center, hosting wedding receptions, parties and church events.
“Everybody who lived in this little village thought it was the best little village in the world,” said Frank.
Names float over the conversation as wagon riders point out former home sites: Summersons, Goodriches, Moshers and Franks. The houses are gone; the open fields remain on one side of the road, but are overgrown with grapevines, thistles, Japanese knotweed and sumac.
“We have to look at the trees. They’re the only landmarks we have left,” she said.
Some still remain. The green bridge which connected the hamlet remains. Now decorated in garish graffiti, Frank remembers how the older boys had a “club” beneath the bridge, marked by their handprints slapped against the steel. He recalls watching buildings carried on the 1972 flood waters crash into the bridge and dissolve.
He and other boys, he said, would use the steel pins as footholds to climb to the top of the trusses to cross across the creek.
The tour continued around the corner. The former wood bridge, which alerted residents of anyone arriving in town, is gone, replaced by a concrete and steel culvert. Downstream from the bridge, Frank and his friends found a live hog that had been swept away. They drove it back to the owner, the Mosher family.
Another farmer had cows in the barn. They all lived, floating up in the stanchion when floodwaters rose, then back down again as water receded.
The train depot building still exists, slowly falling into the forest were it now sits. Frank tried to get it dismantled and rebuilt on the Corps property. It never happened.
It’s all gone now. Doud moved her house to Pickle Hill, having to build a road on what was “nothing but a cowpath.”
Her mother-in-law moved in the fall of 1973. Others moved their houses, but most were bulldozed away.
The cheese factory is a memory, as are the pallet factory and two motels, Valley View and Peter Pan. That’s what remains, memories, which Doud and Frank were sharing with several children on the tour.
“Do you remember?” Frank asked his aunt at one point.
“Oh yeah. I remember it all,” answered Doud, staring across the fields.