Its name might conjure up images of tourist-filled hot spas or whitewater rafting, but the village of Boiling Springs, PA is a more sedate community.
Springs literally bubbling 52-degree waters feed an idyllic seven-acre lake that feeds into the Yellow Breeches, a popular fly-fishing stream. The town is also well-known as the postal address of Allenberry Playhouse, which is actually in neighboring Monroe Township.
But Boiling Springs, located along Route 174 southeast of Carlisle in South Middleton Township, has plenty of history of its own, ranging from its iron furnace that helped supply the Continental Army to serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
With about 2,000 residents, Boiling Springs is the only designated town in South Middleton Twp., said Barbara Wilson, township manager. Most of the town is built out, she said, and much of it is in a historic district.
“It’s a nice little community it’s attractive, it’s clean and there’s very little crime in the area,” Wilson said.
Most people work outside the village.
“We have a lot who work for the state and county government and the school district,” she said, with major private employers Pittsburgh Plate Glass and Land O’Lakes plants.
Mary Ann Taylor said Boiling Springs became her adopted home when she moved there 27 years ago.
“I never expected to be so much at home when I moved midlife like that,” said Taylor, who served on township boards for 18 years. “It’s a very special community.”
One annual visitor is Bill Bryce, who was sizing up fishing prospects on the Yellow Breeches.
“I always enjoy coming up here,” said Bryce, who visits family in Mechanicsburg each year. “It has all the amenities I like a playhouse, a trout stream and rolling countryside,” he said, referring to Allenberry Playhouse.
Also attracting visitors is the Village Artisans Gallery, which stained glass artist P.J. Heyman opened in 1995 in an 1875 church building.
“To me, this is what people come to seek quiet, peace, enjoyment,” Heyman said. “You can walk along the lake and step back in time a little bit.”
Boiling Springs recently celebrated its 25th annual Foundry Day. It offers 100 juried craftsmen and probably draws the most people to the town on a single day, Taylor said.
Other popular community events include Labor Day fireworks, house tours, a Memorial Day program at the clock tower and Christmas tree lighting at the lake.
Sandi and Eric Edstrom made Boiling Springs their home in 2001 after retiring from the New York City area.
Eric Edstrom was attracted by fly-fishing, and Sandi Edstrom by their home, built in the late 1700s or early 1800s, one of a row of stately buildings restored along Children’s Lake. It took 18 months to renovate the house, Sandi Edstrom said.
“It’s a wonderful environment. On a sunny day it looks like Bermuda,” she said of the lake’s clear blue-green water, which also is without mosquitoes thanks to its cool temperature.
During late spring and early summer, it’s common to see through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which recently was re-routed to go past the lake.
Boiling Springs and South Middleton Township, which are near the halfway point of the 2,200-mile trail, were officially designed the state’s first Appalachian Trail Community during Foundry Day this year. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2010 started recognizing towns near the trail that are assets to hikers and the trail.
“This is becoming a pretty major stop,” said Kim Williams, environmental planner in the conservancy’s office along the lake. Several hundred hikers pass through on a busy week, and many of them patronize local businesses, she said.
Hikers often mail themselves packages to pick up at the Boiling Springs Post Office, which is feet from the trail. Two such through-hikers on a recent June day were Deneen Bishop and Stephen Kish from Colorado, who stopped at the AT office after picking up supplies they had mailed to the post office. Their next stop was a local pizza shop.
The Boiling Springs Pool offers hikers a shower for $1, and there are several bed and breakfasts, a nearby campground and even a resident who lets hikers sleep in the backyard. Nearby Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse even rents rooms to hikers for a reasonable rate, she said.
The Boiling Springs Pool is a center of summer activity, nestled next to a picturesque stone arch bridge of a lake tributary. Built in 1927, it is the oldest public pool in Cumberland County, is privately owned and is built on a historic site of the town’s former iron furnace.
Local historians Richard Tritt and Randy Watts chronicled Boiling Springs’ place in history in “At A Place Called the Boiling Springs,” published for the town’s 150th anniversary in 1995.
Until he began his research, Tritt said, “I didn’t realize the depths of history. There are layers and layers.”
True to its name, Boiling Springs’ history revolves around water, starting when land grants were issued around the 1730s.
Springs were dammed up in the 1750s to provide water power for iron production, with raw materials of iron ore, timber and limestone plentiful in the neighboring mountains. The Carlisle Iron Works was in full production by the 1760s, and a grist mill was built at the end of the lake in 1762.
While iron made there was probably used to make ammunition and weapons for the Continental Army, no cannons were made there, Watts writes.
The iron works was in decline when the town of Boiling Springs was laid out by Daniel Kaufman, who purchased 48 acres from his father, Abraham, in 1843.
An interesting period in Boiling Springs’ history was its role in the Underground Railroad. Kaufman claims to have helped at least 60 slaves escape through 1848.
The Underground Railroad approached him as it needed a stopover between Shippensburg and Harrisburg. Kaufman hid escaped slaves in wooded areas in Island Grove, a thicket on the Yellow Breeches above Boiling Springs, as well as in barns at his farm and even in his house.
Kaufman was sued by slave owners and convicted in Cumberland County, but the verdict was overturned by the state Supreme Court. He was then charged in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia and convicted.
Boiling Springs is now part of the Network to Freedom, a series of noteworthy sites along the Underground Railroad. The town grew in the 1870s and ¤’80s, after new iron works owners brought in the railroad, and an assortment of local businesses cropped up. The last iron was manufactured around 1892, with the feed mill business succeeding it.
A new focus for the town tourism and recreation came when trolley lines were added running from Carlisle and Harrisburg in 1895. Boiling Springs became a resort community, with travelers coming to picnic and boat on the lake, and enjoy dances and a merry-go-round in a Trolley Park, which lasted until around 1930.
Boiling Springs today
Evidence remaining of the iron furnace is a tower in Forge Park. The mill has been converted to apartments, the Boiling Springs Pool is on the site of an iron furnace, and the ironmaster’s mansion is perched on a hill overlooking the lake.
As commerce shifted to Carlisle, Boiling Springs has become more residential. The village remains pretty much intact, Tritt said, without much commercial intrusion.
Recreation continues to bring people to Boiling Springs, ranging from fly-fishing on the Yellow Breeches to theater, dining and lodging at Allenberry.
The Boiling Springs Tavern across from the lake is a popular dining destination, and is historically significant as well. Portions of the tavern, which is located along an old stagecoach route, date to 1832.
Located behind the tavern is the “bubble” the circular pool where springs percolate to feed the lake. There are also springs in the north end of the lake, with about 22 million gallons of water flowing per day from 30 springs in all.
In the center of town, a clock tower memorializing veterans is a more recent addition, built in 1956 from stone from Kaufman’s barn where escaping slaves were believed to have been sheltered.
Historic buildings continue to get new uses. A new eatery in town is Caffe 101, opened a year ago at 101 Front St., which was once a store.
Local activism also has shaped Boiling Springs. The Boiling Springs Civic Association led efforts to have the village listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Tritt said creation of the district is considered a turning point for the village, with properties since stabilized and civic pride promoted.
“It’s just kind of a jewel, really, in terms of scenic quality, its historic assets, architecturally, and it’s a great place to raise children,” said James Barnes, one of the founders of the civic association.
The civic association also worked to ensure the lake and surrounding property stayed in public use when it came up for sale in 1983. Funds were secured from a private donor, and an endowment trust was created to care for the property, with assistance of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission. In 1992, a state grant was obtained to stabilize the lake bank and make associated improvements.
Barnes said he would like to see South Middleton Twp. adopt recommendations from a recent study to give Boiling Springs increased historic zoning protection.
Taylor also would like the village to have a historic zone of its own.
“What I hope is that we can make the rules fit the community rather than the community fit the rules,” she said.
Tritt believes the town’s challenge will be to preserve its provincial character, architecture and boundaries.
“People who come here are amazed a place like this still exists.”