History and Hiking Trail Cross Paths

Central Pennsylvania’s Link Trail is a north-south hiking path about 72 miles in length, “linking” the Mid State Trail with the Tuscarora Trail. Near it’s middle it traverses “Jack’s Narrows,” where the ambitious hiker will scale one of the steepest and most beautiful glens in the entire state.

Following please find a wonderful poem penned over 100 years ago by W. W. Fuller. It describes the afore-mentioned gorge located in Huntingdon County that figured heavily in the westward push of pioneers and goods during the founding and settlement of our country. For a basic background on the subject, I defer to the book* from which it came:

“Jack’s Narrows” is the name of a remarkable glen in Jack’s Mountain, over two miles long, near Mount Union. The “Blue Juniata” flows the whole length of this wild and romantic gap, the ruins of the old Pittsburgh turnpike extend through it, the almost forsaken Pennsylvania canal traverses it, also the Pennslyvania railroad, many telegraph lines, and telephone lines. The narrows took their name from Captain Jack Armstrong, an early pioneer and Indian trader, who frequented this mountainous district in the years from about 1730 to 1744, and who was murdered by the Indians and buried on the river shore in the vicinity of this famous gateway. The recent discovery of the bones of the veritable Jack Armstrong we believe to be a remarkable confirmation of history and tradition. In addition to what has been said of “Jack’s Narrows,” another historical fact well known and well worthy of preservation, was the establishing of “Drake’s Ferry” by Samuel Drake, Sen., just one hundred years ago this year of 1889. Drake’s Ferry for fully fifty years was the great crossing place over the Juniata for nearly all the trade and travel. It served it’s enterprising originator and the public well in its busy days, but now only a few old landmarks remain to show the crossing of this once famous Drake’s Ferry.

*History of the Early Settlement of the Juniata Valley, U. J. Jones, 1855. With notes and extensions compiled as a glossary from the memoirs of early settlers, the pension statements of revolutionary war soldiers, and other source material by Floyd G. Hoenstine, 1940.

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JACK’S NARROWS

All hail!  thou deep and might gorge,/ That mak’st for man the way;
Thou wond’rous work of nature’s hand,/ On old creation’s day;
With awe I view thy rugged slopes,/ And mark thy tow’ring heights,
Where mountain grandeur clothes each view/ With wild and lonely sights.

And proud thou art that at thy feet/ As peaceful measures glide,
The Juniata’s limpid waves/ Thy rocky steeps divide;
And mirror from their placid depths/ Thy pine and oaks so old,
Whose mossy trunks and cone-clad boughs/ Heed not the heat nor cold.

Upon the gray and hoary cliffs/ That crown thy winding way,
That stand like castles, old and grim,/ Untouched by rude decay,
The eagles rear their helpless young/ From all their foes secure,
And teach their timid wings to range/ To ether clear and pure.

When vernal skies dispel the chill/ That winter winds have brought,
And heal the wounds with piteous hands/ Unfeeling frost hath wrought,
Then woodland beauty hastens forth/ Thy bleak defiles to hide,
And leaflets spring from tree and shrub,/ And flow’rs on every side.

If summer suns, with melting ray,/ Make hills and valleys glow,
And fling their beaming radiance down/ Alike on friend and foe;
With gentle breezes thou art fanned,/ With balmy zephyrs blest,
Refreshing to the languid ones,/ And to the weary rest.

So, too, when autumn’s mellow days/ Begin their busy hours,
And hang their gorgeous drapings wide/ O’er all thy sylvan bowers,
Then many a low and ladened bough/ And many a stately tree,
With gen’rous yield their fruits bestow/ A bounty rich and free.

But when the storms of winter come/ Thy solitudes to claim,
Old Boreas rides in wrathful mood/ O’er all thy bleak domain;
He fiercely binds thy far-famed stream,/ He madly seals it fast,
And sweeps athwart thy dark ravines/ In many a roaring blast.

An hundred years great change hath brought/ To thy primeval state,
And in thy future’s hidden years/ Still greater wonders wait;
Oh, glorious gateway for the world,/ So kind to coming life,
Bring not the woes of Glenco’s vale,/ Nor old Thermopylæ’s strife.

Long ere Magellan built for fame/ By sailing round the earth,
In years unknown to history’s page—/ Before Columbia’s birth,
The tribal children here did dwell/ In freedom’s happy dream,
And sought their food among thy glens,/ And from thy fruitful stream.

But they have left thy wooded wastes,/ And sought an unknown strand;
Their fires are out, their wigwams gone,/ To rise in spirit-land;
They tread no more thy mazy paths,/ Nor cross thy rocky bounds,
But tread in blissful ecstacies/ Their happy hunting grounds.

And then another race arrived/ To wake thy sleeping scenes,
To hew a passage through thy length/ And bridge thy dark ravines;
Their beasts of burden came and went/ Their wide and beaten way,
While great and lumbering wagons passed/ In haste both night and day.

They smoothed still more their great highway/ With most untiring skill,
And sent the daring stage-coach/ To speed along at will;
And when the echoing horn rang out,/ In din both wild and new,
Thine Alpine peaks and deep retreats/ Soon faded from the view.

But greater works thou wast to see/ Along thy rocky feet,
A graceful son thy river gave,/ The stranger’s wants to meet,
Who on his gentle bosom bore/ In craft of wise design,
The treasures of the field and mill,/ And riches of the mine.

Anon the packet sped along/ In haughty, boastful pride,
Her precious load of joyous life/ Rode soft as zephyr’s glide;
And swiftly by thy wond’ring hills/ She carried man and wealth,
To distant fields they journeyed all,/ For fortune or for health.

Yes, mark the wonders still to rise/ To men’s progressive will;
The iron way traversed thy length,/ Man’s wishes to fulfill;
And where thy quiet year’s have slept,/ The thundering train now flies,
And millions of the striving race/ Have swept beneath thy skies.

Yea, ev’ry land that shares the sun,/ Contributes to thy throng,
That day and night between thy slopes/ Is swiftly borne along;
And treasure, too, from ev’ry clime/ Comes slumbering in the wake,
And both are grateful for the way/ Thy kindly openings make.

And stretching all thy dreary length/ The iron nerves are hung,
That gather thoughts from all the world/ And speak with lightning’s tongue;
What greater works hath man to boast/ Than these immortal peers—
The telegraph, the telephone,/ That bless the rolling years.

And here a century old to-day/ Drake’s Ferry lives in name!
How bright the story of its years!/ How far its patrons came!
What bustling life, what moving wealth,/ Confided in the skill,
Of one tradition praises well,/ And loves his memory still!

And last, let mem’ry’s deep impress/ Record the deeds of yore,
Oh him who sleeps in peaceful rest/ Upon thy river’s shore;
Friend to friend, a foe to foe,/ To stand he was not slack,
And thou dost wear this hero’s name—/ The name of Captain Jack.

W. W. Fuller, 1889

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