Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ghost Town of Celestia, Pennsylvania

Traipsing through the endless mountains region of Pennsylvania can be a daunting task. Gas stations are quite rare, and poisonous snakes are quite abundant. But tucked away in these remote mountains a few hidden treasures can be found. Located near the county seat of Laporte in Sullivan county one man believed he found God's treasure.

In 1850, a paper maker from Philadelphia founded a town he believed to be a "City in Heaven." Peter Armstrong was part of a devout group of Adventists called millennialists. Seeking a wilderness exile for his followers, he founded the town of Celestia. Hidden away from the bright lights, and bustle of Philadelphia. The peaceful mountain community seemed to be the tranquil spot the followers needed to attain clarity. Armstrong believed highly in a passage from Isiah stating "And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains." He believed the end of days were coming, and took the passage quite literally. Convincing other members of the church to retreat with him into the woods, where they would be safe from the upcoming rapture. Armstrong got enough believers that they were able to eventually purchase over 3800 acres and create their own town for the apocalypse.

The town was laid out in a 9 block grid with the central spot reserved for a house of worship, as well as a place for Jesus when he returns to save them. The remote town was dotted with homes, a general store, and a sawmill as well. Quickly and quietly a community was forming. Devout members stayed true to their beliefs and prosperous times were happening. But the country was changing and war was on the horizon.

The peaceful town of Celestia got it's first wake up call from the World when a resident was drafted for the Civil War. The townspeople banded together and convinced President Lincoln they were a religious community who should be exempt from Military service. Armstrong also petitioned the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to consider them exiled from the state. He also transferred the deed of the town's property over to "Almighty God, and to his heirs in Jesus Messiah for their proper use and behoof forever."

Armstrong believed he had now secured his town from any outside intrusions. Sadly others took advantage of the community's kindness. Soon families seeking exemption from the draft, as well as easier living conditions, due to the kindness of the community, began to show up and exploit the neighbors. The issue became such a problem that Peter Armstrong had to establish another locality to weed out those with ulterior motives. But soon enough interest waned all together, and the townsfolk began doubting Peter and began fleeing the sacred grounds.

By 1876 the county authorities began to come after Peter Armstrong also, demanding money for unpaid property taxes. Mr. Armstrong believed he owed no taxes because he didn't own the land, God did. Needless to say the tax authority didn't find amusement in this and claimed him the heir to God's property. Eventually the land was auctioned off at sheriff's sale and was purchased by one of Peter's sons. For years the two kept attempting to rebuild the town and their dreams. When Peter died in 1887 only a few residents remained in God's town, shortly after the last neighbors left. Since then the endless mountains that attracted this commune have been quietly regaining the land. Maybe this is the return of God?

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