Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome to Swatara Creek

There is a Swatara Creek, but no town of that name in Pennsylvania. The Swatara Creek of which I write is solely the invention of this author, though it is representative of many of the older Susquehanna River towns that have become bedroom communities for the more metropolitan areas of the Commonwealth.

The Swatara Creek of which I write is the fictional home of Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick, retired police chief of the community and now unofficial consultant to his less experienced successor, Aaron Brubaker.

The town sits on a promontory in a bend of the stream for which it is named. What follows is from Something In Common, first in the Hetrick mystery series:

“The town owes it existence to the descendants of one Jacob Koontz who acquired the land circa 1754 after immigrating from Germany. Tradition said the rise had been the site of an Indian village at some time before the coming of Koontz and there’s evidence to support the legend since it’s still possible to find an occasional flint arrowhead if one looks hard enough down on the flats along the creek after a hard spring rain. It was said Koontz went through two wives and produced a dozen children before he decided the land was not suited to farming; the soil being too shallow and brittle with shale to produce much more than the broom grass that already covered the land when he arrived.

“So old Koontz turned his attention to providing his neighbors in that misbegotten wilderness with what was missing, and what he felt was most needed in their empty lives. He opened the first tavern in the county in a large limestone building which stands yet today on the square, though it now serves as the village municipal building, police station and library. Koontz’s enterprise flourished and led, naturally, to the distilling of whiskey.

“Thus from a simple pot still behind the tavern came the industry that gave birth to the village, which was known for generations afterward as Koontztown. His descendants grew rich and fat and complacent and Koontz Rye Whiskey became a favored brand in that area of the state and was even shipped as far away as Connecticut. By the 1800s, the distillery now located down on the flat provided employment for some two hundred men who resided with their families in the town, and the railroad even built a spur line up along the creek to service the plant. If things had continued as they were, the place might still be Koontztown. But after Prohibition closed down the distillery, the town was in danger of dying and would have had it not been for the arrival of LeRoy Finkbine who purchased the empty distillery and established his shoe factory, which provided employment for those who remained in the moribund community.”

(Next time, Aaron Brubaker)

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