Hidden History in The Cove

A brisk, windy, thirty degree day. Perfect for a hike, an adventure.

The boy inside me that loved to search for treasure was itching to come out. So this afternoon I geared up for the weather and terrain and set out for an adventure and search for a piece of history I had read about.

Hidden in the hills among the trees there are pieces of history, unknown to many. Nature and time has a way of wrapping itself around it, guarding it’s contents. But for two seasons of the year nature opens up and pulls back the curtain slightly to give us a glimpse and reveal what’s hidden.

At the top of Tussey Mountain between boulders and rocks is a large flat concrete arrow. What is or was its purpose and who put it there? And how many residents of the Cove have driven past it not even knowing it was there?

I parked at the top of Tussey Mt. where the Mid-State Trail picks up just off Mountain Rd that leads into James Creek. There was no trail to be seen but I was set on finding this arrow. I had a rough idea of its location and using my GPS and compass I headed north along the ridge top. Hiking this area is challenging if your not an avid hiker. Large boulders and crevasses can make it difficult and if not careful can cause injury. Hiking boots are recommended as well as trekking poles to help keep you stable. This time of year when the leaves have fallen, even when dry, can cause you to slip. And if you’ve never hiked or are new to it, hiking this mountain ridge alone would not be advised.

The distance to the arrow from my starting point was less than a half mile. The arrow itself is just past the SGL 104 (State Game Land) boundary corner. I stood on the arrow, took a picture and reflected for a moments on its history before heading back. It was a great time of hiking, but then again any day hiking is great.

So what is the story of this arrow? Here is some help from my friends at the Juniata Valley Audubon Society.

On August 20, 1920, the United States opened its first coast-to-coast airmail delivery route, just 60 years after the Pony Express closed up shop.

There were no good aviation charts in those days, so pilots had to eyeball their way across the country using landmarks. This meant that flying in bad weather was difficult, and night flying was just about impossible.

The Postal Service solved the problem with the world’s first ground-based civilian navigation system: a series of lighted beacons that would extend from New York to San Francisco. Every ten miles, pilots would pass a 70-foot concrete arrow on the ground which was painted a bright yellow. At the center of each arrow there would be a 51-foot steel tower and topped by a million-candlepower rotating beacon. Below the rotating light were two course lights pointing forward and backward along the arrow. The course lights flashed a code to identify the beacon’s number. If needed, a generator shed at the tail (or feather end) of each arrow powered the beacon and lights.

By 1924, just a year after Congress funded it, the line of giant concrete markers stretched from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Cleveland, Ohio. The next summer, it reached all the way to New York and then extended all the way to San Francisco by 1929.

Around 1926, the new Aeronautics Branch in the Department of Commerce (or U.S. Postal Service?) proposed a 650-mile air mail route linking Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and passing through Washington County. It was designated as Contract Air Mail Route 4 (CAM-4). Western Air Express, Inc. was awarded a contract to lay out the route and carry the mail. Their first flight was made on April 17, 1926 in a Douglas M-2 airplane. By 1928, the route had been marked with the cement arrows and beacon towers for navigation at night and in inclement weather.

New advances in communication and navigation technology made the big arrows obsolete, and the Commerce Department decommissioned the beacons in the 1940s. The steel towers were torn down and went to the war effort. Today, only some of the weathered cement arrows (less the yellow paint) remain.

So the next time you find yourself driving up Mountain Road for an afternoon at Raystown Lake remember, there is a large concrete arrow pointing east. A piece of history hidden within nature. For me, as I stood there looking at the view of the Cove I wondered how many letters were flown over this arrow on it’s way to my great grandparents and grandparents.

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