Monocacy Hill Conservation Association

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Some Monocacy Hill History


Before Now...There was Then!!


As Amity Township prepares to celebrate its 300 year anniversary, the Monocacy Hill Conservation Association thought it fitting to provide a look at some history of Monocacy Hill and its immediate surrounds.  This will  clearly not be exhaustive compendium of all historical records and events surrounding this little quirk of nature.  It may, however, provide a few tidbits to tease your curiosity about Monocacy Hill and make you want to inquire further into both its recent and far distant past!
The historical map, above shows the location of "The Hill" (highlighted) located in the southern part of the township.  Clicking on the map takes you to another map that you can expand to see Monocacy Hill's proximity to several towns and property tracts that have existed over the years.  The southern border on the map is the Schuylkill River. 

Of course the geological history of Monocacy Hill spans millions of years!  We provide just a brief glimpse of that history here. There is a fascinating article written by Michael Caton in January, 2017.  Michael Caton offers the theory that Monocacy Hill, along with several other local geological phenomena, is the remains of a very long ago (+200 million years) VOLCANO!  Read his post here (Monocacy Hill is discussed about half way through the article).

The first human inhabitants to walk here, for whom we have archeological evidence, were the Native Americans know as the Lenni Lenape, which loosely translates from their native language to "original people".  There is a wealth of information out there about the Lenape Tribe that inhabited the area where Monocacy Hill is located.  They are presumed to be the long ago descendants of the nomadic stone age people who crossed the Bering Strait into what is now Alaska some 12,000 to 20,000 years ago.  Several references are provided here for those interested in pursuing further.   Perhaps the best summary of the Lenape Indians is found at this Wikipedia Site .  There is also a work by David B. Brunner (1835 - 1903) titled "The Indians of Berks County PA, Being a Summary of All Tangible Records of the Aborigines of Berks County..." .
It is fascinating reading that goes into great detail regarding the complex interactions among the European settlers and the Native Americans who lived here during the earliest days of contact.  The book is a free e-book and, for those wanting to delve further into this history, it is a most worthwhile read! 

 The first Europeans to settle near Monocacy Hill were Swedes!  The account of their arrival here and their interactions with the Native American people whom they encountered is found in a variety of sources - including the aforementioned book by David Brunner.  Other sources include the historical sections of the Amity Township 250th Anniversary Brochure (1719 - 1969) and a little 11 page booklet written by John Lincoln Bower, M.D., entitled "A Little Visit To The Monocacy Creek And Its Country" (third printing - November 1939).

We're going to temporarily skip ahead about a century on our time line here!  We're doing this in deference to this being the 300 year anniversary celebration of the founding of Amity Township.  And during the year, we didn't want to fail to put forth the story of perhaps the most famous resident of Monocacy Hill.


On September 16, 1812 Sallie (Sarah Harner) Shirey was born (incidentally the date 207 years hence upon which I am writing this).  Her birthplace was about a mile from her eventual residence on the slope of the "Hill".

Risa Marmontello, president of the Monocacy Hill Conservation Association, wrote an article for the Amity Township 300th Anniversary booklet describing this fascinating, stalwart lady of her century which is presented in its entirety below.
Monocacy Hill is an unmistakable landmark in the landscape of Amity Township, rising over 600 feet above the Schuylkill River Valley.  Today it is a 428 acre recreation area with six miles of hiking trails.  People from all over the region come to hike and enjoy nature there, most of them unaware of the interesting history of the Hill and the people who lived there in the past.  If we could step back in time to the mid 1800's, we would find that Monocaccy Hill was home to a colorful local legend - Sallie (Sarah) Shirey.  She was born near Monocacy Hill in 1812 and never lived more than two miles from her birthplace.  She raised a large family of 12 children.
After the death of her husband William in 1861, Sallie moved back to Monocacy Hill and built  a house with her sons and daughters on a 30 acre parcel.  It is hard to imagine now that her two and a half story stone house, a barn and other farm buildings stood on the western slope.  There she continued to raise her family and farm animals and maintained an impressive orchard, garden and hayfield.  We know quite a bit about her life through a book written by her nephew, John Z Harner.  Sallie was well suited to the hard work of farm life.  Born the oldest child of a Pennsylvania German farm family, there was not a job on the farm Sallie could not do.  Like many people of that time who lived off the land, she used the resources of the forest for food, medicine and building materials.   Her orchard was known in the area for its delicious peaches and the butter she made and sold was a favorite among local merchants.
As she grew older, Sally became a local legend and was referred to in news articles as "The Incomparable" Widow Shirey.  She was probably the best known resident of the township at the time and perhaps the oldest, living to age 98.  In her later years she hosted large birthday parties at her mountain home, entertaining  her guests with songs and lively stories of her life.  It is estimated that over 100 people would come from miles away to attend these parties.  She passed away in 1910.
By the time Amity Township purchased Monocacy Hill in 1968, Sallie's homestead was long gone, but for almost 50 years she reigned as the Grand Lady of Monocacy Hill!

 For more information about Sallie Shirey and her life on Monocacy Hill, click here.




MHCA * P.O. Box 3 * Douglassville * PA * 19518