Schools Shamokin Folklore The Academy

The Helfenstein Mystery

On the 22nd day of December 1854, an unusual event took place in Shamokin that remains unexplained to this day.  The story is best begun by reprinting here the letter that had been sent by the committee.

Dear Sir:

On Friday, December 22nd at 10 o’clock A.M. At this place, Judge Helfenstein proposes to dedicate forever a valuable and productive coal estate in the Shamokin Coal Basin for the benefit of the destitute poor of New York, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Carlisle, etc.  And also the laying of the corner stone of a free collage at Shamokin to be endowed with the proceeds of another coal estate; and also the dedication of a coal estate for the benefit of African Colonization.

Kimber Cleaver
Wm. Fagely

D. M. Bird
Wm. H. Marshall
Wm. Atwater

A description of the two estates shows that one laid immediately south of the town and was estimated to hold enough coal to produce 300,000 tons per year.  The other was purported to be a short distance east and was capable of producing 150,000 tons per year.  This estate was already leased for a royalty of 25 cents per ton.

The then Governor of Pennsylvania, William Bigler, was present at this auspicious occasion and after a short tour of the estate, laid the cornerstone of the free college.  Speeches were made by several men including the Governor and Judge Helfenstein.

It has been ascertained that this was the beginning of the “Academy” which stood where the present Shamokin Middle School now stands.  However, what happened to the free coal estates has not been learned and thus is still a mystery today.