SOMERSET, Pa. (AP) — Leona Shaffer remembers more than 90 years ago, back when her family ran a farm, raising Jersey and Guernsey cattle and growing and harvesting hay and crops with little mechanical help.
Shaffer, who just turned 100, said she was a bit of a tomboy, and she enjoyed building and loading hay (the family had no bailer then) onto the family wagon with two horses hitched.
"If you go back, it's all changed now," she said. "The buildings are all gone."
In this case, the buildings weren't knocked down to make way for business or industrial progress. Instead, much of the land has returned to a wilder state as the forested hills and creeks of Laurel Hill State Park.
The area Shaffer calls the lower farm and the place where the great-great-grandmother was born on May 2, 1913, now is park property.
The lower end was the homestead of her father, Solomon Bruner.
Ron Bruner, who runs Log Haven Bed and Breakfast not far from the state park's Trent Road entrance, said the Bruners played an important role in settling the area. Shaffer's uncle, Park Bruner, was Ron Bruner's grandfather.
Family members have traced their ancestors back to the 1500s in Zurich, Switzerland. Documents, such as the 1884 "History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania," note that Ulrich Bruner immigrated to Lancaster County in 1739. He eventually made his way to Somerset County, where he laid out the first lots and streets of what is now Somerset, called "Brunerstown" at the time, according to the book.
Ron Bruner's grandfather ran a tourists' home, essentially the same as a bed and breakfast nowadays. Shaffer's father, Solomon Bruner, farmed what is now state park property nearby. Shaffer said she loved working around the animals as a farm girl. Though her father died when she was about 10, Shaffer's mother and two siblings continued to run the farm with help from neighbors and relatives.
"My favorite memory from the farm is helping those baby calves learn to drink after they nursed for two weeks," she said. She also tells, in great detail, about how she and her brother hunted for frogs on cool summer evenings when dairy cows meandered near the farmhouse fence. She'd carry a carbide lantern, listen for croaks and spot a frog. Her older brother Harry would capture it and add it to a bucket, and their mother would cook frog legs, sometimes enough to pile high on a big oval serving tray.
Even when she wasn't working with horses, cows or crops, Shaffer said her mother taught her to be productive.
"She couldn't stand sitting still," Shaffer said, with a smile. "I remember her sweating over a coal stove to cook. If I was sitting, I got something thrown in my lap to do. That's how I learned to sew. Then, a number of people would bring me their clothes to hem."
She kept up the handiwork through her married life.
"All our pillowslips had lace and everything had a design of some kind."
In 1933, Shaffer married Roy Shaffer, who became her family's nearest neighbor when his family moved to town. Roy Shaffer worked for a time in the logging business, mentioned by the state as part of the park's history.
"The Laurel Hill Valley escaped the unbridled logging that swept through Pennsylvania — for longer than many areas of the state. The steep stream valleys and rugged hills made logging difficult until technology laid the tracks to enable the trees to be hauled to mills," according to a history from the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages state parks.
"Powerful, slow locomotives climbed the switchbacked tracks through Laurel Hill and hauled the logs to mills. From 1886 to 1940, logging companies clearcut the trees of the park, leaving behind a wasteland of brambles prone to forest fires and flooding. Only the area now called Hemlock Trail Natural Area escaped the loggers' reach."
The federal government in 1935 began buying agricultural and forest land, including part of Shaffer's family farm. The next year, the National Park Service took responsibility of the "Recreational Demonstration Areas," and Laurel Hill was one of five areas in the state targeted for restoration and reforestation, as well as organized group camping and picnicking areas, according to department history. Men of Civilian Conservation Corps began constructing roads, trails, bridges and recreational facilities, including group camps, picnic areas, the park's beach house and Laurel Hill Lake, it notes. The property became Laurel Hill State Park in 1945 after the federal government turned the project over to the commonwealth.
Farther down the road, Shaffer and her husband purchased a two-pump gas station along Route 31 near Donegal, where the couple raised two children and where she still resides. The couple ran the gas and service station for decades until Mr. Shaffer was killed in a crash in 1981. She now has five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Shaffer's great-granddaughter Fauna Shaffer Butera said the family matriarch always knows how to comfort loved ones.
"She's gone through her own share of adversities," she said, adding that her great-grandmother was the only person who could calm her worries about childbirth. "She knows how to put things in perspective. She told me, ' ... You're not the only one who's gone through this. If they can do it, you can do it.'"