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The Story of the Mountain
Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary

Mary E. Meline & Edward F. X. McSween

Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

Chapter 1 | Chapter Index

Chapter 2: 1794-1806

On an Indian-summer afternoon of 1902 we set out from Conewago Chapel, Adams County, Pa., on a visit to the Cradle (sit venia tropo) of Mount Saint Mary's College at Pigeon Hills, near Paradise, in the land of the Susquehannas. The dirt roads were dry and soft; the sober nag was very moderate in his gait; the atmosphere was still and hazy; the crops were all gathered in except some corn that leaned in the local style against the fences, as if tired of standing straight so long; the leaves had mostly fallen, and nature was evidently going to rest after her long season of labor, chrysanthemums now forming almost the only fruits and ornaments of her industry. We had long been desirous of visiting these hills so often seen from a distance, and six miles of meandering roads at length brought us within half a mile of their western extremity. The "Seminary Farms" it is still called, was approached through a short lane that must have cost the students, for it is their work, immense labor to lay out, its cutting being deeper than any on the Emmitsburg railroad. In general the land resembles that on the pike south of the college, and is known as rolling or wavy, and the sight of the green wheat fields on Mr. Caster's farm, which, like several others, had been cut off from the original grant, was "a cure for sore eyes," especially at this season when all growth, except the late chrysanthemum, was hastening to decay.

Pigeon Hills, Pa.- Near Conewago Chapel

The first settlement in the vicinity seems to have been made by a surveyor named Pidgeon, one of the race of "the uneasy foot," who received a grant on the hills from Pennsylvania, in which State they now are, or perhaps from Maryland, for they were perhaps in Maryland in the middle of the eighteenth century, the time when Mason and Dixon drew the famous line that separated the (afterwards) Free States from the Slave ones. The Pidgeon name is now extinct in the neighborhood, and popular fancy loves to think that the hills took their name from the flocks of wild doves, such as Cooper describes in his "Pioneers," which used to cover a large area of the sky and fell one by one through their own crushing as they breasted the clouds, or were brought down by thousands when a cannon, loaded with bullets, nails and pebbles, was fired into the flying mass.

The first one that took up the Seminary Farm, north of the Carlisle pike and near the hills, was Henry Gearnhart, July 26th, 1750. In 1790 Peter Marechal owned a place nearby and south of the pike, which was then known as "Stony Batter." Three priests, one a Jesuit, and one nun were of the Marechal family. One of the priests died at sea. On the 4th of April, 1794, Joseph Harent paid one thousand pounds in "gold and silver" for the Seminary Farm, about 273 acres, and called it Harentford. Harent was an exile from the fair laud of France. He came to this part of the country apparently because others of his nationality had already settled here, people named Marechal, De L'Eau, etc., whose descendants bear names similar in sound but of spelling modified by the Irish, German and other elements that eventually made up their families, some of which are still Catholics, while others have lost the Faith.

Joseph Harent "evidently," according to John T. Reilly, the local historian, conducted a school, called Friendly Hall, on this very pleasant site, which boys from all the country around attended. One of the pupils, Henry Myers, became an invalid, and remained so for several years. He had a sister, a nun, who, as the story goes, on her death-bed promised to pray for his recovery when she got to heaven. The young man one day arose suddenly cured; heard a week later of his sister's death; became a priest, was pastor at Hagerstown, and died at the Cathedral, Baltimore. Harent himself, about 1805, joined the Sulpicians, and was ordained in 1812 by Archbishop Carroll. He was very serviceable to the Order, both as a teacher and on account of his judicious administration of the finances. He went to the Antilles to collect money due the college, and died in Martinique, April 10, 1818. The Memorial Volume of St. Mary's Seminary (Baltimore, 1891), to which as well as to Mr. Riley we are most indebted, tells us that the Sulpician priests had been driven from France by the Great Revolution, and coming to Baltimore, July 10, 1791, brought with them five seminarians, and at once began their seminary in the One Mile Tavern, with its four surrounding acres, on the site of their present buildings. An academy had been founded at Georgetown two years previously, and members of the Sulpician community sometimes filled chairs therein. In 1793, in order to develop vocations, they began to gather a few boys at their own place in Baltimore, to whom they taught Latin and French, but this ceased after a year, "lest it should hurt Georgetown."

In 1799, however, they opened St. Mary's Academy in their seminary residence, with three Cubans and a few French boys, all boarders, who, in 1800, were transferred to a new building on the grounds, called St. Mary's College. In 1803 the Spanish government ordered the Cubans home. Bishop Carroll had allowed the Sulpicians to take first twelve pupils, then twenty-five, but, out of deference to him and to Georgetown, no American boys were received; now, however, when the Cubans left, the college was opened, not only to boarders, but day scholars also, and without distinction of creed. In 1805 it got a university charter from the state of Maryland, and the following year, having one hundred and six pupils, conferred degrees for the first time. (This college flourished till 1852, when, by arrangement with the Jesuits, it was succeeded by Loyola.)

The Sulpicians always desired, however, to take up their proper work, and in 1806 sent a contingent to Pigeon Hills, where on August 15th they gathered a dozen boys of that neighborhood, evidently pupils of Harent, who wished to become priests, and "with the aid of a few seminarians," trained them to literature and piety. Three years afterwards the college of Pigeon Hills was transferred to Emmitsburg, Md., about twenty-five miles distant. The Pigeon Hill Seminary, as it was called and was in reality at least for a time, had a fine chapel, large buildings, lawns, walks, fine shade and ornamental trees, etc.

On the roadside in front of the porch was the well, which is still visible with its stone coping, on the roadside, but now "thrown shut" with stones. Some of the old tulip and poplar trees still stand, the decaying wrecks of their former selves, while not a trace remains of the edifices that once occupied this beautiful site and resounded with life, worship, study and the noisy sports of students. The present farmhouse is about four hundred feet off to the northwest. Many interesting legends linger in the neighborhood regarding the place and its occupants. We were told that many of the boys were from the West Indies, children, no doubt, of refugees from Hayti, like our Mr. Charles Leloup, for twenty years professor at The Mountain, the Chatard family, etc. One of the boys died, and was buried at the seminary, but his remains were removed to Baltimore when the Sulpicians gave up Pigeon Hills. (One only of the students of that house, John Shenfelder, ordained in 1818, became a priest. He died in 1824.)

The neighbors also told us that the boys used to lasso bulls and ride them nearly to death, and, of course, the fanners brought the bill to the Faculty. The ancestors of the present inhabitants of the locality used, it seems, to smoke the butts (locally "snipes") of the fine West India cigars used by the boys, and were even suspected of carrying on a contraband trade with the latter. What fun the students must have had (the Indian massacres being transferred to the West) hunting in the thick forests that, still existed and in which bear and deer and fox, and all kinds of feathered game, were still to be found. How they used to go out on a Thursday, like our predecessors on the Catoctin, gun in hand, for a day's sport; or trap the beaver and the otter along the forks of the Conewago, as our boys used to do on Tom's creek, or gently and quietly, with rod and line, plot against the peace and comfort of the trout, the eel, the sucker and the bull-head in those waters.

The old men told us, too, how the "Gentlemen of Saint Sulpice" and their lively young charges used to walk the five miles to Couewago Chapel, where the Jesuits were, on Corpus Christi, St. Inigo's Day, etc., and assist in grand celebrations there. After the Pigeon Hill Seminary was transferred to Mt. St. Mary's, the students of St. Mary's Sulpician College, Baltimore, used to go to Pigeon Hills in vacation time, as Professor Leloup often told us, and though they doubtless gave the farmers some reason to remember them, we heard no such legends as those told of the Latin Americans.

In 1830, Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, then in his ninety-third year, gave the Sulpicians the land on which St. Charles College, called from the patron saint of the great last signer of the Declaration of Independence, was afterwards erected. It was opened in 1848, and in 1849 the farm at Pigeon Hills was disposed of. Many distinguished clergymen visited the seminary farm. Bishop Chance of Natchez, one of Archbishop Elder's predecessors in that See, used to lecture there, and the latter himself, when a professor at the Mountain, went to the Hills to make a retreat. In fact, there is little doubt that every prominent ecclesiastic in the United States, for the first half of the nineteenth century, visited the Hills and the Mountain.

The autumn day is waning, and a suggestion of chilliness in the air warns us to leave the spot we had so long desired to visit and enjoy so much. Let us take one last look at the site. The old trees are stripped of their scanty garb, and a few more winters will finish their graceful and friendly career. The spring house still stands, and the pure water of the hills still wells up about the farmers' cream vats. A few perches of the foundation wall of the old barn still support the present structure. These, with the clump of trees in the quarry that furnished stone for the old buildings, and the abandoned well that so often yielded welcome draughts to the tired and dusty students on their return from a stroll over the hills and plains, are all the traces that remain of the Monks (Certain Trappist monks, exiles from France, bought a farm near the Seminary in 1803, but remained only a short time and settled finally in Nova Scotia. The "Monks' Farm" is called after them) or the Seminarians' occupancy. Imagine hills no higher than the ridge of Gettysburg battlefield, seen from the Emmitsburg road; imagine our college built on the hummock where once stood Chloe Brooke's cottage and now rises the college barn; put these two creations of our fancy together and you get an idea of the Cradle of the Mountain, once the mecca of many loving hearts, and still a place of interest to the historian and the poet. It is a home of piety and learning no more, yet its beauty remains, and a visit to it is an inspiration, for though the body be dissolved, the spirit of the consecrated spot can never die.

Chapter Index | Chapter 3

Historical Society Note: In honor of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Grotto of Lourdes we'll be posting at least 2 new chapters every week.

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