“LAND SWAP” WILL REMOVE DIRECT PUBLIC ACCESS TO ALVIRA CEMETERIES
Since first being made aware in early June of the potential land swap described below, we have not yet been successful in establishing a meeting between the Union County Historical Society, the Montgomery Area Historical Society, and county government representatives with the US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). The aim has been to discuss alternatives to their current and potentially devastating land swap proposal. We are now seeking to direct communication with the BOP and PGC by the larger community in an attempt to intervene in a constructive manner— to MAINTAIN DIRECT PUBLIC ACCESS — to Alvira’s cemeteries for those whose loved ones are interred there. Your active support, Your voice and Your informed communication with individuals on the contact list provided below is needed Now.
Please read on, and should you be so moved, please help us by communicating your thoughts to those who have the potential to impact the land swap as currently envisioned by the BOP and the PGC. They have had no local input on their plans.
First, some background . . .
In 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the local village of Alvira, deep in the beautiful White Deer Valley, was quietly and efficiently destroyed by the United States War Department. Under a cloak of secrecy, the wartime operation seized the village and its surrounding farms. What little information was leaked to the public confirmed that on this region’s once-fertile soil would be built a massive 8400-acre TNT plant known as the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works. In all, over 400 people, 163 dwellings, farms and 43 other properties . . . including the entire village of Alvira . . . were seized, then razed. The government’s promise then was that the land taken would be returned to its owners after it was no longer needed for the “war effort.”
In the months and years that followed, promises and lives were broken. Eleven months after the $50 million Pennsylvania Ordinance Works began operations, it was shut down.
Despite the government’s promise in March 1942, the vast majority of original landowners were never given an opportunity to reclaim their property, let alone rebuild their schools, homes, and small businesses.
Four cemeteries remained intact, but, for all practical purposes, “lost.” For more than seven decades, the sacrifices made by the citizens of the bordering townships of Lycoming and Union Counties were largely forgotten.
After the closing of the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works and the Susquehanna Ordnance Depot, the federal government retained ownership of the 8,400 acres taken in 1942. Slowly, land parcels within that acreage were dispersed.
In 1957, 3,018 acres of the former ordnance works property were given to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to establish State Game Lands 252. A larger portion of the acreage was retained by the federal government for use by the United States Bureau of Prisons.
Under the stewardship of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the public regained access to the land where the former village stood, and to the cemeteries where their ancestors were laid to rest. Presently the village location itself, as well as Washington Presbyterian, Pine Knot and Alvira cemeteries are easily accessible to the public along the Game Commission’s portion of Alvira Road.
NOW… Recently, interest in the Alvira story has grown among local historians and those who are simply curious about this heartbreaking story that unfolded in the White Deer Valley as an outgrowth of WWII.
The Montgomery Area Historical Society developed a guide and map to educate visitors about Alvira and has held several public tours to share the story; so has the Linn Conservancy. The Union County Historical Society last year sponsored a program at the former Alvira site, and hundreds of participants were able to see village building foundations and enjoy guided tours of the three cemeteries along the Game Commission’s portion of Alvira Road.
Part of the renewed interest in the Alvira story can also be attributed to the documentary film Surrender! The Sudden Death of Alvira. After premiering last September at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport to the largest film audience in the Arts Center’s history, the film was shown twice by the Union County Historical Society at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg: both screenings were sold out. People throughout the region have become familiar with this piece of local history, and have been moved by it.
It is time to transform emotion and concern into action.
A movement is now underway to effect a “land swap” between two governmental entities, the US Bureau of Prisons and the Pennsylvania Game Commission in the Alvira area. The proposal would “swap” a plot of land within each agency’s current jurisdiction.
However, the 360 acres the Game Commission would surrender to the Bureau of Prisons in this “swap” includes all three of the remaining Alvira area cemeteries. This swap would effectively put these cemeteries behind prison fencing, and remove direct public access as it now exists under Game Commission control.
This is an extraordinarily important issue, one whose magnitude is better understood by those whose families’ lives were torn asunder seven decades ago than by those within a bureaucratic infrastructure. Now, the same land…their land, really…lies at issue once again.
“For many folks across Union and Lycoming Counties, news of this land swap will be a ‘déjà vu’ moment wherein the heavy hand of government is once again barring its citizens from access to what is rightfully theirs,” noted the Huddys, UCHS members who created the Surrender! film. “Keeping easy public access to the former village and the three cemeteries is of profound importance, and a public trust we hope will be kept by people of integrity.”
The irony here is that this does not have to be a case of “Here the government goes again!” The needs of both government agencies, as well as public access to the cemeteries, can be fulfilled by compromise, and there are options available right now.
Please review below an alternative plan, the “Corridor Proposal,” which would maintain direct public access to at least two of the three cemeteries.
If you’ve been to Alvira, attended a historical society program, read the history, seen the film, or simply care about preserving a special part of our local history, please don’t sit this one out and think, “Others will respond, so I don’t need to.” Your voice is the one that may make the difference.
Note: the property to be “swapped” by the US Bureau of Prisons to the Game Commission (not shown on this map) is a 500+ acre plot adjoining the White Deer Golf Course in Lycoming County, to be used as an avian habitat.
We cannot sit by while yet another vestige of our region’s past is seized, and the memories of generations are again lost behind a chain-link fence.
MPORTANT INDIVIDUALS TO CONTACT REGARDING THIS ISSUE
Addresses supplied by the UC Planning Commission
Matt Hough, Executive Director
Pennsylvania Game Commission
2001 Elmerton Avenue
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797
Barry Zaffuto, Director
PA Game Commission
Northcentral Region Office
P.O. Box 5038
Jersey Shore, PA 17740-5038
Robert W. Schlemmer, President
PA Game Commission
Board of Directors
118 Deer Ridge Road
Export, PA 15632
(or send to PGC Harrisburg Office)
Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director
Federal Bureau of Prison
320 First St., NW
Washington, DC 20534
Joe Norwood, Director
Northeast Regional Office
Federal Bureau of Prisons
US Customs House, 7th Floor
200 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Donna Zickenfoose, Warden
P.O. Box 3500
White Deer, PA 17887
PA Representative Fred Keller (Technically out of his District but his constituents have an interest)
Mifflinburg Government Center
343 Chestnut Street, Suite 1
Mifflinburg, PA 17844
PA Representative Garth Everett
Penn Hills Plaza Halls Station
21 Kristi Road, Suite 1
Muncy, PA 17756
PA Senator Gene Yaw
330 Pine Street, Suite 204
Williamsport, PA 17701
David Masser, Chairman
Gregg Township Board of Supervisors
18084 Russell Road
Allenwood, PA 17810
Thomas Snoddy, Chairman
Gregg Township Planning Commission
616 South Creek Road
Allenwood, PA 17810
Preston Boop, Chairman
Union County Board of Commissioners
Union County Government Center
155 N. 15th Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837
US Representative Tom Marino Representative Tom Marino
1020 Commerce Park Drive, Suite 1A 410 Cannon House Office Building
Williamsport, PA 17701 Washington, DC 20515
(570) 322-3961 (202) 225-3731
US Senator Robert Casey Senator Robert Casey
Central PA Office or 393 Russell Senate Office Building
817 E. Bishop Street Washington, DC 20510
Bellefonte, PA 16823 (202) 224-6324
US Senator Pat Toomey Senator Pat Toomey
Harrisburg Office or 248 Russell Senate Office Building
United States Federal Building Washington, D.C. 20510
228 Walnut Street, Suite 1104 (202) 224-4254
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Respectfully submitted for your consideration,
Jeannette Lasansky, President, Union County Historical Society
Gary Parks, Director, Lycoming County Historical Society
Bill Poulton, President, Muncy Historical Society
David Morehart, President, Montgomery Area Historical Society
Larry Stout, Ph.D., M.B.A., Board Member, Montgomery Area Historical Society
Stephen and Martha Huddy, UCHS members and producers of the film Surrender!