Originally published in Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 39, no. 1 (January 2016): 15-19

By Dale Good

In northwestern Lancaster County, there is a lone tombstone on a knoll overlooking Pa. Route 441 at the intersection with Wickersham Road. Situated on the south side of the road are nine concrete steps that mount the roadside embankment, easily overlooked, seldom, if ever, used, leading to this little-known vestige of the Billmeyer quarry.

The tombstone of Arnett and his wife Elizabeth

The quarry, to the west of the tombstone, lies between Pa. Route 441 and the Susquehanna River just south of Bainbridge. It was a significant source of limestone and dolomite (calcium magnesium carbonate) from 1896 into the 1930s. It became a huge industrial operation, a complete company town with homes, a general store, a post office, railroad stop, a chapel, and school. The town, situated between the railroad and river, housed workers and their families of many ethnic groups, including African Americans and immigrants from Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, and Russia.1

The quarry’s workforce is said to have peaked during World War I, when magnesite import supplies, critical to iron and steel production, were cut off from Austria. The owner of the quarry, the J. E. Baker Company, was the first to begin production of a magnesite substitute, which it trademarked as “Magdolite.” Large quantities of this product were required during the war and into the 1930s.2

Today, the quarry’s deep pits are filled with water, while to the east, only the north side of an iron fence enclosure flanks the lone tombstone. Its twenty-fourfoot length suggests a burial site for many, yet only one tombstone is visible. It reads:

Arnett
Harvey V. 1875 – 1951
His Wife
Elizabeth
1899 – 1946

The site, cared for by the property’s present owner, is near the better-known Haldeman Family Cemetery, located about two hundred feet below the knoll to the west, separated by a copse of trees. A few locals may still remember that the cemetery was moved to its present site in 1934 from an increasingly perilous position on the rim of the Billmeyer quarry.3 Why were Harvey and Elizabeth Arnett buried on the knoll? Who was this man?

Billmeyer quarry and surroundings as it appeared in 1940, with key landmarks labeled.

A Descendant of Slaves

Research has revealed Harvey was an African American,4 a descendant of Virginia slaves,5 a Mennonite,6 who rose to the position of foreman at Billmeyer quarry.7 Some say Harvey asked the owner of the quarry to be buried on the knoll because African Americans were not allowed interment in the nearby Bainbridge Cemetery.8 However, this was not the case. There is a monument in the Bainbridge Cemetery for “The Employees and Families of J. E. Baker Company.” Most, if not all, of the twenty individuals listed there are African Americans; all died during the period 1926 to 1955. Their death certificates, as available, list their burial places as being in the Bainbridge Cemetery.9 Harvey, then, had this Bainbridge Cemetery burial option for his wife when she died in 1946.

Harvey’s request for burial on Billmeyer property may have stemmed from his knowledge that J. E. Baker had made available land for the new Haldeman Family Cemetery in 1934 near the knoll. Harvey may have helped or even supervised the moving of the Haldeman Family Cemetery. We may never know why he requested the site. There is a remaining question, why was his request granted?

Harvey was born in Louisa, Louisa County, Virginia, in 1875.10 He married his first wife, Maggie Dickerson (1874-1930), in 1899. In 1900, they were living in neighboring Columbia, Fluvanna County, Virginia, with a one-year-old son, (William) Vivian Arnett. Harvey was a day laborer.11 Sometime before the 1900 United States Federal Population Census, two of Harvey’s wife’s brothers, Dillard (b. ca. 1884) and William (b. ca. 1879) moved north and began to work at Billmeyer.12

Harvey and his young family followed his wife’s brothers north to Billmeyer sometime between 1902 and 1909.13 The 1910 United States Federal Population Census finds him as a renter, head of household, living with his immediate family—his father-in-law, Lewis Dickerson; his brother-in-law, Dillard; and Dillard’s wife, Fanny. Harvey, Lewis, and Dillard are listed as laborers in the quarry.14

According to an article, “Billmeyer,” by Joe Kreider:

During World War I (1914-1919), when the demand for steel in armaments peaked, so did the work at Billmeyer. A lot of heavy work at Billmeyer was done by Blacks, who had been recruited in the South. Chief recruiter of the Blacks was a large, well-dressed and impressive-looking Black man named Harvey Arnett. He would go south, talk to Black men there about the opportunities at Billmeyer and if they were interested, he would pay their transportation north.

Kreider commented on how the Blacks at Billmeyer “were proud of the high status achieved in the Baker Company by that dignified Black man, Harvey Arnett.”15

In 1920, the United States Federal Population Census listed Harvey as a foreman at the quarry and his wife Maggie as a keeper of a boarding house. They had three unrelated male boarders living with them.16 In the 1930 and 1940 United States Federal Population Censuses, Harvey is listed as a widower.17 His annual income for 1939 was $1,100, the third highest of those employed and living at Billmeyer Station.18

Harvey’s father, Otho Arnett (Jan. 1851-July 1930) and his second wife, Lucy M. Dickerson (b. Aug 1867),19 were living in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1920. By this time, Otho had accrued sufficient funds to take out a mortgage on a farm. We can only imagine that Harvey visited them during his recruiting trips to Virginia. Perhaps he even helped them with the purchase of their farm?

According to United States Federal Population Census data, the number of Billmeyer’s employees living in Conoy Township, including those living in Bainbridge, Billmeyer Station, and the surrounding countryside peaked in 1920. The number of workers listing their place of business as the stone quarry was 313. About 40 percent were white immigrants from Europe; and 34 percent, African Americans (85 percent born in Virginia). The total number of African American laborers and their families was about 160.20

If Harvey was the sole recruiter of African Americans, he did well as the number of African American employees born in Virginia increased from 21 (58 percent of total) in 1910 to 89 (85 percent) in 1920. There were a few African Americans, not many, from states other than Virginia, such as the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, and West Virginia.21

 

The second Rebecca Chapel, Billmeyer Station. The first chapel was destroyed by a flood in 1936.

 

A Man of the Gospel

From various sources, we learn that Harvey held religious services in his home.22 According to Kreider, Harvey eventually suggested to J. E. Baker that the (Billmeyer Station) community should have a church. Baker took his suggestion and “built Rebecca Chapel, named for Baker’s mother.”23

In a publication by Ira D. Landis, The Missionary Movement among Lancaster Conference Mennonites, we read: “During the World War Mr. Baker built a Chapel near the river for his people. Here a colored Sunday School was conducted by their own people.” The Mennonites decided to hold services in the chapel every two weeks. Samuel T. Fry, the Mennonite preacher of the Elizabethtown congregation, was responsible.24 He occasionally reported on the services and their progress in the monthly publication Missionary Messenger under the heading “Billmyer [sic] Station.”25 According to Landis, Mennonite services began June 23, 1929, and continued until 1934.26 Attendance was impacted in the early 1930s as the population of Billmeyer Station began to decline. With the advent of modern quarrying techniques, fewer workers were required.27

Preacher Fry reported in August 1929,

There are about 300 people living at this place (Billmeyer Station), children included. . . . Some years ago, Mr. Baker built a nice chapel, but as no one took charge of the work, no services were held. The colored people had a minister there, but he left.28

In his March 1930 report, he referred to Harvey as “the colored Brother.”29 The term “Brother,” as used in the 1930s, suggests Harvey was a baptized church member. Landis mentions in his summary of the Billmeyer Station ministry that “there was one confession in the meetings.”30 Members of the nearby Good and Bossler Mennonite congregations helped out on occasion.31

Interestingly, the death certificate of Harvey’s daughter-in-law, Georgine Woodburn Arnett (19111963), indicates she is buried at Mellinger Mennonite Cemetery, 1918 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, Pa.32 Her husband, (William) Vivian Arnett (1899-1961), Harvey’s first son, died before her. He is buried with Harvey and Elizabeth on the knoll overlooking Pa. Route 441.33 Today there is no trace of his grave at the site.

 

Harvey Arnett’s signature

 

Tragedy Strikes

Preacher Fry reported in March 1930 that Harvey had gone south to bring his son, Maggie Dillard Arnett, to Billmeyer Station:

When they reached the (Railroad) station at Harrisburg the son, who was sickly, dropped over dead. Leaving the son in Harrisburg, the father went home to Billmeyer Station and told the sad news to his wife. Upon hearing it, she also dropped dead. The Brother needs our prayers. He is a faithful worker. His name is Arnett. There are a few very faithful men and women at this place.34

The son, Maggie Dillard Arnett, and his mother, Maggie Dickerson Arnett, died the same day, February 23, 1930, apparently within hours of each other. The mother’s cause of death is listed on her death certificate as “Grief and shock at hearing of the death of her son.” Their bodies were transported together, back to Louisa, Virginia, for burial on February 26. Harvey was the informant listed on his son’s and wife’s death certificates. He provided the first name, Maggie, for his son as well as his wife.35 It is possible that his son was called Dillard informally. His son’s name was reported as Maggie in the 1910 United States Federal Population Census and Dillard in the 1920 Census.36

In the 1940 United States Federal Population Census, we find Harvey has a housekeeper, Elizabeth Wallace, age forty.37 She, as Harvey, was born in Louisa, Virginia. Sometime after the 1940 Census, Harvey and Elizabeth married.38

Epilogue

Harvey was a resident of the Elmsdale Rest Home in Lititz, Pennsylvania, when he died on February 18, 1951.39 He had not only experienced but had contributed to the build-up to Billmeyer’s heyday during World War I and witnessed its phasing out through the 1940s and 1950s as the quality of the quarry’s dolomite deposits declined. How many African Americans he recruited for J. E. Baker, we do not know. Suffice it to say that this descendant of slaves from Louisa, Virginia—an employee, recruiter, and foreman—played a significant role in helping to produce the Billmeyer quarry’s rich dolomite at a time when the United States and its allies had expanded steel production needs during World War I.40

Kreider reported Billmeyer Station community was unique for African Americans at a time “when segregation prevailed elsewhere . . . (it) was an integrated community, where blacks and whites worked together, lived next door to each other, studied and worshiped together.”41 J. E. Baker, who was known to have taken an active part in the civic welfare of the communities where he had business interests, may have kindled this community atmosphere.42 One can only imagine that Harvey, along with J. E. Baker, must have had much to do with shaping a sense of community among the African Americans and their integration into the wider Billmeyer Station community through his actions and demeanor.

Much is left to speculation about Harvey and his life, but now when I pass the knoll where Wickersham Road meets Pa. Route 441 in Conoy Township, I see more than a tombstone. I see “a large, well dressed and impressive looking African American named Harvey Arnett,” a Mennonite, a man who over a forty year period helped mold a small community of people in northwest Lancaster County. □

Harvey’s Ancestry

Asa Arnett
m. Judy _____

Wilson Arnett, b. ca. 1822, Louisa Co., Va.
m.(1) bef. 1851 Susan _____
m.(2) aft. 1864 Mary Anthony
m.(3) June 14, 1874, Louisa, Va., Jane E. Martin
dau. Shadarack Martin and Barbara

Otho C. Arnett, b. 1851, Goochland Co., Va.; d. July 16, 1930, Virginia; bu. Louisa Co., Va.
m.(1) Dec. 10, 1874, Louisa, Va., Rebecca Shelton, dau. Peyton and Jane Shelton
m.(2) 1885 Lucy M. Dickerson, dau. Lewis Dickerson and Matilda Shepherd*

Harvey V. Arnett, b. June 9, 1875, Louisa, Louisa Co., Va.; d. Feb. 18, 1951, Elmdale Rest Home, Lititz, Lancaster Co., Pa.; bu. Arnett Cem., Conoy Twp., Lancaster Co., Pa.
m.(1) 1899, Maggie Dickerson, dau. Lewis Dickerson and Matilda Shepherd,* b. Sept. 20, 1874, Va., d. Feb. 23, 1930, Billmeyer, Conoy Twp., Lancaster Co., Pa.; bu. Louisa Co., Va.
m.(2) ca. 1940, Elizabeth Wallace, widow, dau. Mr. Desper and Liza, b. July 4, 1898, Louisa, Louisa Co., Va.; d. Dec. 6, 1946, Billmeyer, Conoy Township, Lancaster Co., Pa.; bu. Arnett Cem., Conoy Twp., Lancaster Co., Pa.

* Otho C. Arnett and his son, Harvey V. Arnett, married daughters of Lewis Dickerson and his wife, Matilda. Lucy M. Dickerson (b.1867) and Maggie Dickerson (b. 1874).

 

Dale Good lives in Maytown, Pa., with his wife Georgia. He is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University (BS) and the University of Minnesota (MS) in Agriculture Economics. He is retired after a thirty-five year career in international agricultural marketing, research and trade policy with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (twenty-five years) and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (ten years). While employed by the USDA he and Georgia served in the U.S. Foreign Service representing USDA in Algeria, Belgium, Germany, Tunisia and Southeast Asia (Singapore). Good’s ancestors settled in West Donegal Township in 1737 to the immediate north of the Good’s Mennonite Church. He has conducted extensive research into the history of northwest Lancaster County and the history of its early settlers. Good serves as a volunteer at the Winters Heritage House Museum’s Seibert Library and Research Center in Elizabethtown, Pa. and serves on the Board of Directors of the Haldeman Mansion Preservation Society, Bainbridge, Pa. H

 

1. Anonymous, “Words and Works,” undated, 69-90. This is an article that appears to have originally been published within a periodical, journal, or magazine. It presents a biography of J. E. Baker. It was found by the current owner of the Billmeyer quarry, Bainbridge Scuba Center, Bainbridge Sportsman Club, Inc. (www.divebsc.com/ Files/BSCHistoryScanned6Nov08.pdf), accessed March 2015.

2. Betty Clock Peckham, The Story of a Dynamic Community, York, Pennsylvania (York, Pa.: York Chamber of Commerce, 2007), 118.

3. Grace Smith-Hoffman, “Haldeman Graveyard to Leave Heights 200 Feet Up On Stone Quarry Cliff,” Sunday News (Lancaster, Pa.), May 13, 1934, 1.

4. Death Certificate for Harvey Arnett, February 18, 1952, file no. 13392, Commonwealth of Pa., Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

5. Harvey’s ancestry can be traced back three generations in Virginia. His father, Otho (b. 1851); his grandfather, Wilson (b. ca. 1822); and his great-grandfather, Asa (b. ca. 1800). His greatgrandfather, Asa, is mentioned along with Asa’s wife, Judy, in their son Wilson’s marriage record. “Virginia, Select Marriages, 17851940,” Ancestry.com, 2014.

6. Harvey is referred to as “the colored Brother” by Samuel T. Fry in an April 20, 1930, issue of the Missionary Messenger 6 (April 20, 1930): 9. Mennonite historians are of the opinion that the term “Brother,” as it would have been used in 1930, would have certainly indicated a brother church member, implying that Harvey Arnett was a baptized Mennonite.

7. 1920 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy, Lancaster County, Pa., roll T625-1582, 7B, enumeration district 23, image 479.

8. Private landowner interviews near the grave site, February 11, 2015.

9. Death certificates of twelve individuals listed on the “The Employees and Families of J. E. Baker Company” memorial were verified to have been African Americans. Each of their certificates designated Bainbridge Cemetery as their place of burial. The earliest burial, prior to Harvey’s wife’s burial on the knoll, was that of Charles Johnson on October 3, 1927. File no. 94974, Commonwealth of Pa., Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

10. Death certificate for Harvey Arnett.

11. 1900 United States Federal Population Census, Columbia, Fluvanna County, Va., roll 1708, 5B, enumeration district 0071, FHL microfilm 1241708, image 11.

12. 1900 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., Roll 1423, : 5A, enumeration district: 0017, FHL microfilm: 1241423, Image 9.

13. Harvey’s second son, Maggy, was born in Virginia. He was eight years old in 1910. 1910 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., roll T624_1353, 3A, enumeration district 0026, FHL microfilm 1375366; image 5; Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Directory, 1909 (Lancaster, Pa.: R. L. Polk & Company Publishers, 1909), 497.

14. 1910 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa.

15. Joe Kreider, “Billmeyer,” Susquehanna Magazine 5, no. 2 (February 1980): 8-11.

16. 1920 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., roll T625_1582, 7B, enumeration district 23, image 479.

17. 1930 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., roll 2056, page 9A, enumeration district 0019, image 344.0, FHL microfilm 2341790, image 17; 1940 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., roll T627_3528, 14A, enumeration district 36-19, image 17.

18. Ibid.

19. 1920 United States Federal Population Census, Louisa, Louisa County, Va., roll T625_1894, 13B, enumeration district 86, image 462.

20. A simple survey was conducted of all residents living within Conoy Township. Only those listing their place of work as “Stone Quarry” were counted. Some Billmeyer Quarry workers may have lived in surrounding townships and towns. The number of those from outside of Conoy Township is thought to have been limited by the cost and lack of ease of transportation. Within the township, workers were clustered near the quarry. 1920 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., roll T625_1582, enumeration district 22, images 456-92.

21. Ibid.

22. Kreider, “Billmeyer,” 9; Audrey Gates Snyder and Jane Andrews Sweigart, Conoy Township: The History and the Mystery (Morgantown, Pa.: Masthof Press, 2013), 455.

23. See Kreider, “Billmeyer,” n. 26.

24. Ira D. Landis, The Missionary Movement among Lancaster Conference Mennonites (Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1938), 23.

25. Samuel T. Fry, “Elizabethtown: Billmyer Station,” Missionary Messenger 6 (July 1929) through 9 (August 1932) were consulted.

26. Ibid.

27. Fry, “Elizabethtown: Billmyer Station”; Anonymous, “Words and Works,” 85.

28. Samuel T. Fry, “Elizabethtown: Billmyer Station,” Missionary Messenger 6 (August 25, 1929): 8.

29. Samuel T. Fry, “Elizabethtown: Billmyer Station,” Missionary Messenger 6 (March 29, 1930): 9.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. Death certificate for Georgine Woodburn Arnett, April 9, 1963, file no. 042532-63, Commonwealth of Pa., Department of Health, Vital Statistics.

33. Death certificate for Vivian W. Arnett, June 23, 1961, file no. 055252-61, Commonwealth of Pa., Department of Health, Vital Statistics.

34. Samuel T. Fry, “Elizabethtown: Billmyer Station,” Missionary Messenger 6 (March 29, 1930): 9.

35. Death certificate for Maggie Dillard Arnett, February 24, 1930, file no. 16560, Commonwealth of Pa., Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics; death certificate for Maggie V. Arnett, February 24, 1930, file no. 17944, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

36. 1910 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa.; 1930 United States Federal Population Census Conoy, Lancaster County, Pa., roll 2056, 9A, enumeration district 0019, image 344.0, FHL microfilm 2341790, image 17.

37. 1940 United States Federal Population Census, Conoy Twp., Lancaster County, Pa., roll T627_3528, 14A, enumeration district 36-19, image 17.

38. Death certificate for Elizabeth Arnett, December 6, 1946, file no. 105978, Commonwealth of Pa., Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

39. Death certificate for Harvey Arnett.

40. Peckham, The Story of a Dynamic Community, York, Pennsylvania, 118.

41. Kreider, “Billmeyer,” n. 26.

42. John E. Baker obituary, Meyersdale Republican Newspaper, Meyersdale, Pa., June 12, 1941.

Visit Billmeyer Today

Get a feel for Harvey Arnett’s home during the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society’s upcoming bicycle learning tour: “Susquehanna River Towns Central to Industry and Underground Railroad” on Saturday, June 29 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

One of the stops will be Billmeyer Station, alongside the dolomite quarry, now abandoned. Although the Arnett cemetery is not along the route, the ruins of the town in which Arnett lived and worked will be visited.

This 22-mile trip follows the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail from Columbia to Bainbridge and back, with stops at points of historical interest. The paved rail-trail is friendly for individuals of varying fitness. A picnic lunch is included with the tour.

Registration costs $50 for LMHS members, $55 for nonmembers.


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