The first annual TOGA-Xpedition began in earnest on Friday, July 26th at about noon, when TOGA Members and cousins, Bev Crowe from Illinois, Kenneth O'Neal from Pennsylvania and my wife, Dorothy & I, from Ohio met in a small restaurant behind the Melody Motor Lodge on Route 119 in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. By the time we finished our lunch we all felt as if we had known each other for a lifetime. In typical O'Neal fashion, the stories and tall tales were flying and comments were being made about the need for hip boots.
After lunch we talked Bev
into leaving her Taurus at the motel. Then Ken & I topped off the tanks
in our 4x4's and off into the wilderness we headed. Our first stop was
Emanuel O'Neal's Homestead. We snaked our way through the narrow, twisting
roads of South Connellsville, past the Glass Factory, and soon enough saw
the little gravel lane that leads to Emanuel's house looming in our windshields.
The gravel road was not quite as nice as I remember it a few years ago,
so I dropped Ole' Bessy into 4x4 mode and advised Dorothy to "Hold on!"
As we proceeded down the lane, I could feel the tires slipping as they climbed over huge rocks in the road, then sliding down into good sized ruts. At one point we had to cross a stream and the water level was up over the bumper. I, for one, was really enjoying the ride!
Soon enough we arrived at Emanuel's and began unloading our gear. And, boy, what gear we had. Bev brought her metal detectors and trusty machete. We had digital cameras, 35mm cameras, video cameras, mini recorders, hats, gloves, jackets, bug spray and too much more to mention it all. We carried the gear to the front entrance of the house and heaped it into a pile and began to unpack.....
The area where the house once stood is located on a small plateau on a hillside. To the north is the old springhouse. (For more information on the springhouse see <http://www.onealwebsite.com/eman.htm>) To the north & East of the springhouse is the area where Emanuel and his family planted their crops. It's hard to imagine now, since the entire area has been reclaimed by the encroaching forest surrounding the area. To the east of the house is what's left of the yard. It's mostly wooded now, as well, and there is about a hundred year old tree growing right up out of the middle of the yard. To the south of the house is a small orchard. Someone has purchased the property to the south west of the house and built a hunting lodge. And to complete the picture, there is a beautiful lake to the west, which Ken says was not there in Emanuel's day, but is a recent addition.
The area where the house used to stand is filled with sumac's, which are about 6 feet tall. Using Bev's trusty machete we cut away some of them. Soon we had cleared an area large enough to be able to see inside the foundation. We could see the fallen timbers inside, which exist as a result of the house burning down many years ago. As a result of the ravages of time and decay we were able to discern how the foundation was formed. Fieldstones were stacked horizontally atop one another to make the supporting wall. Then more stones were placed in a vertical position on the inside and outside of the horizontally placed fieldstones. Some sort of mortar or concrete was then mixed and poured over top of these stones, thus sealing them to the elements, varmints, insects, etc. The fact that the foundation is still standing is a testament to it's builders. It's survived 140 years, a fire, and being exposed to the elements for about the last hundred years.
were all excited when Bev began firing up the metal detectors. We were
hoping to find a pot of gold, perhaps, or maybe an old family heirloom,
but this was not to be the case. The ground around the house was so heavily
impregnated with ore bearing rocks that finding anything other than ore
was virtually impossible. The one item of significance we found was a cooking
pot. It was buried under about 4 inches of sod, right outside the door
of the house. Although crushed when we found it, the pot was very thin
and we were ably to bend it back into it's original shape with our bare
hands. It appeared to be a small cooking pot about 5-6 inches in diameter
and about 4 inches high. It may have had a ceramic or porcelain handle
as we found a white ceramic like substance in the same area, that registered
on the metal detector.
After awhile we just stood around soaking in the ambiance of the area, each of us lost in our own thoughts of the good old days and ancestors long gone...........
Day One, Casparis Quarry
Our next stop, although unscheduled, sounded really exciting. Ken asked us if we'd like to visit the Casparis Quarry. Emanuel's son, my Great Grandfather, worked in the quarry and we have a photo of him and other workers standing by the quarry, so, of course, we all agreed we'd love to visit the quarry. (He's third from the left in the photo.) We started back down the dirt road and soon enough made a turn and began climbing up the mountainside.
Now, I must tell you that, being from Amherst, Ohio, sandstone capitol of the world, I'm used to seeing quarries. Their huge open expanses cut deep down into the earth, that are usually filled with water, and make exceptional fishing and swimming spots. So, expecting a similar type of quarry, I was totally shocked with when we arrived to find huge mountains of solid rock rising straight up out of the earth. This wall of rock was hundreds of feet tall, several hundred feet wide and who know how many feet or miles deep. In the face of this rock cliff were several large carved out openings or doorways, if you will. Each opening was probably 100 feet tall and 50 feet wide.
Our next surprise came after we parked and exited the vehicles. It was another hot day. It was 98 degrees and the humidity was approaching 100%, so it was miserable sticky out as soon as we got out of the truck. I remember telling Dorothy, "I'm not going too far in this heat without water." We stood there by the trucks for a few moments gathering up gear, preparing for our trek into the bowels of this cavernous quarry.......
Bev was the first to notice the breeze and excitedly called us over to where she was standing. It was remarkable. She was standing about 15 feet away from us and standing there, you could feel a cold breeze emanating from the mouth of the quarry. Only then did it dawn on me. This is a cave, albeit manmade, it's still a cavern, and as such, it's cool inside. Upon realizing this, we couldn't wait to get inside. We rushed for the entrance. At about 40 feet from the opening the temperature dropped to about 70 degrees and after only one step inside the quarry the temperature had dropped to what felt like a bone chilling 55 degrees. IT FELT GREAT!
As we walked inside we realized the immensity of the quarry. The main body of each cavity was about 50 feet wide and 100 feet from floor to ceiling and extended back as far as the eye could see, and even further, I'm sure. Then there were connecting tunnels or rooms dug out between each cavity. To support the roof huge 30 to 40 foot square columns extended from floor to ceiling and were spaced about every 50 feet or so.
It was quite a thrill to stand inside this horrific monument, knowing that our common ancestor, John Harry (Dick) O'Neal, was here as the mountain was being quarried. As each block and chunk of stone was removed from the spot where it was no doubt created and had lain in solitude for millions of years. And to wonder what structures these stones may have gone into building. Perhaps, bridges, courthouses, who knows, some of these stones may have ended up in our own foundations, driveways and highways.
To show the scale of the quarry, see below.
1. Me in Doorway.
2. Bev & Ken inside the quarry.
3. Ken & Dorothy near the entrance.
After leaving the quarries
we headed back to civilization and visited a couple of cemeteries in the
Connellsville area before heading back to our rooms to prepare for day
2. Day One of TOGA-X was drawing to a close and although we were tired
were already looking forward to Day 2.