by Frances X. Scully

  For a distance of nine miles, probably less than five feet underground, thousands of gold and silver coins are waiting to be found. Rings, lockets, bracelets, earrings and other personal jewelry valued at $5,000 are all, scattered throughout the flatlands. At least a dozen safes, some stuffed with valuables, are lost somewhere in a valley only twice as wide as a superhighway.

  The mighty flood that scattered these treasures also devastated man’s larger creations–a copper transformer weighing several tons is lost. Copper is becoming increasingly valuable, should you uncover this treasure. Lead pipes, scrap iron and other relics are all found in abundance. You can hunt these relics and treasures while enjoying some of the best trout fishing in the East.

  These missing items were lost in Potter County in northern Pennsylvania. This area is so beautiful that it inspired songwriter Dale Miller to write a song entitled "Potter County, U.S.A." which sold 100,000 copies. There is a little village named Austin in Freeman Valley, in southern Potter County. Just below Austin is the tiny ghost hamlet of Costello. Between these two settlements and downstream toward Wharton is where the historic treasure may be found.

  Until 1911, Austin was one of the most prosperous lumbering towns in the East, with a population of 2,900. Its Goodyear sawmill, supposedly the world’s largest, turned out 225,000 board feet of lumber daily. Twice a day long trains heaped with logs rolled into the mill yard. Elevated ramps holding 30-foot stacks of lumber extended two miles down the valley. The village businesses—stores, hotels and bordellos—flourished.

  At the opposite end of the narrow valley was Austin’s twin settlement, Costello. It boasted the largest tannery in the world, devoted chiefly to producing sole leather. The tannery operated around the clock. Few other small town could boast of more prosperity than these two valley communities.

  The Bayless Company of Binghamton, New York, foresaw the decline of the lumbering industry as early as 1900. They built a large paper mill at the end of Freeman Run two miles north of Austin. The plant would furnish pulpwood for decades to come, said factory officials. One of the necessities of manufacturing paper was an ample supply of water to wash the pulp. A small earthen dam constructed north of the plant proved inadequate from the start. So, in 1909 plans were drafted for constructing a great concrete dam which would supply sufficient water to Austin for all time to come.

  T. Chalkley Hatton of Wilmington, Delaware, was chosen to be the designing and consulting engineer.
Construction started in the summer of 1909. Labor contractors hired large numbers of men from Calabria, Italy, to work on the dam. The Italians worked like beavers, but insisted on being paid only in gold. This created problems for the merchants and bankers, but work progressed steadily. When completed, the imposing structure stretched 534 feet across the floor of the valley and was 43 feet high and 37 feet wide at the toe. The dam was thought to be utterly impregnable.

   The dam created a narrow lake over a mile long which soon became a choice spot for Sunday picnickers. Visitors from surrounding towns flocked to see the imposing white bulwark with its attractive spillway and waterfall..

  In January, 1910, after a sudden thaw, water and ice poured over the top of the dam, creating apprehension among the town’s more timid citizens. Many fled to higher ground and lived with friends or relatives during the crisis. Those who remained scoffed at the apprehensive behavior of those who left, although a few did move upstairs.

  After a sudden freeze ended that threat, observers noted that the dam had bowed out both at the top and bottom. Many residents felt uneasy now. However, they were told that the dam had bowed because the lake behind it had filled before the concrete was fully dried and set. Now that the concrete had aged, there was no danger, it was said. Even if the dam did break, the huge stacks of pulpwood in the paper mill yard would hold the water back. Local residents might get wet feet, but there was no danger of anything worse.

  If those responsible really believed their own explanations, why had they found it necessary to blast out a 15 foot section of the west wall to relieve the pressure on the center of the structure? The dam was then only six months old.

  September 30, 1911, was primary election day in Austin and the town was crowded with voters and shoppers. Lumberjacks from nearby camps swarmed into Austin to spend their pay. On the hillsides, the forests were ablaze with red and gold, and the steep slopes above the man-made lake were covered with wild asters and redvine. The lake had never looked so blue as it did that Indian Summer day six decades ago. In the pastures above the bustling town, cowbells tinkled as placid cattle chewed their cud. Freeman Valley was indeed beautiful.

  As folks moved around town, the most common topics of conversation were the election and the upcoming World Series between Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s and John McGraw’s New York Giants. Christy Mathewson was pitching against Chief Bender in the first game. Now there was a pair of winners. How about that "Home Run" Baker of the A’s? Thirteen homers in one season!

   The Austin Telephone Company was repairing its lines all morning and had twice flashed false signals to the paper mill, which in turn blew its fire whistle—the signal for distress or fire in Austin. People had poured into the street twice, only to be told it was a false alarm. The telephone linemen apologized profusely, but the citizens were not placated.

  Meanwhile, a boarder peering from the window of a lodging house above the dam saw a cork-like piece of concrete pop from the center of the barricade. A stream of water shot out at least 30 feet. Then he watched with horror as the great dam quivered from top to bottom, and from end to end. In the center, a great section suddenly moved out like a garage door. With a roar that shook the entire valley, the whole structure began to topple. The boarder promptly called the telephone operator, who in turn called the paper mill.

  At about 2:45 in the afternoon the mill whistle blew again, loud and clear.

  Five hundred million gallons of water poured through the opening and immediately whisked away three little children playing in a sandpile below the dam. With a roar like Niagara Falls, the flood swept down on the paper mill and the mountainous stacks of wood piled in the yard. Instead of being checked by the wood, as many had predicted, the flood picked up the logs and hurled them toward Austin like a giant battering ram. Everything in its path was crushed like a matchbox.

  Many people from the upper end of Austin ran down Turner Street dodging rearing and screaming horses, hoping to climb the west bank and reach safety on the heights above town. Alas, 10 foot high fences had been erected earlier to keep cattle and deer from straying off the slopes into town. The fences served as a cruelly effective barrier now. Youngsters and old people found it impossible to scale the fence at the end of Turner Street, and at least 40 people perished right there, less than a foot from safety. Courageous citizens thought little of their own safety, tossed youngsters over the fence just before they were swept to eternity under the crushing logs.

  From the heights above the village, chalk-faced citizens watched with horror the complete destruction of their prosperous town. The entire valley seemed to be moving southward, with not a drop of water visible other than the spray above the logs. Pulpwood and debris covered the surface of the water.

   Momentarily checked at the north side of Main Street, the mass seemed to pause for breath, then it burst out on each end. With an earth shaking roar, it pounced on the Goodyear Mill like a hawk on a mouse and crushed it flat.

   Suddenly, from a third story window of the Goodyear Hotel, a well dressed man emerged almost like a feature performer at a circus. With the ease and grace of a matador, he raced across the top of the spinning logs, leaping from The flatlands below Austin undoubtedly hold countless numbers of artifacts from Austin’s destroyed homes and businesses. Many are merely relics from the past, while others could be worth plenty to modern treasure hunters.

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