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In December of 2001

Dr. Mead Shaffer, a veterinarian from Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, donated 444 acres of property in Wayne County to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This gift of pristine land, now known as the Varden Conservation Area, is managed through Promised Land State Park in Pike County.

"Environmental education always has been a primary concern of mine. I trust this land will allow present and future generations to observe and study the diverse ecology found in the Varden Conservation Area."

Dr. Shaffer

The Varden Conservation Area is located in a once-remote section of the state that has recently begun to feel the pressure of development. All efforts are currently being made to protect the land from urbanization and to ensure its use for future generations as both a respite from daily life and a place to learn about Pennsylvania's natural history.

You can also read about Varden at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) website, located here.

Graciously, the DCNR also organizes recreational outings, educational programs, volunteer opportunities, workshops, and more at the Varden Conservation Area. The Calendar of Events can be found among the listings here.

The village of Varden borders PA 296 in Lake and South Canaan townships, Wayne County, Pennsylvania.


The Village of Varden

The area currently known as Varden has been home to eight generations of the Shaffer family, beginning with John Shaffer in 1786.

It is believed that John Shaffer was born in Germany in 1745. He left there as a stowaway. At the time of the American Revolution, he was living with his family in Orange County, New York and served with the Hawthorne Regiment of the Orange County Militia.

John Shaffer’s family, along with the families of Hans Ulrich Swingle and Henry Curtis, came to what is now South Canaan Township in 1786. John Shaffer may have visited the area prior to this time after hearing from hunters of the favorable land along Middle Creek. The families spent their first night under a large spreading tree near what is now the Easton Turnpike.

Prior to receiving the name of “Varden,” the area along Middle Creek was known as “The Dutch Settlement,” “Shaffer’s Town,” and even “Shaffer’s Hollow.” Eventually, it became Millville due to the number of mills that were constructed to harness the available water power. In 1886, the Postmaster, William Rufus Shaffer, changed the name of the village to Varden after his favorite Dickens character, Dolly Varden.

In 1790, John applied to the Pennsylvania Land Office for four hundred acres along Middle Creek. In June of that year, he was granted a warrant of four hundred and thirty-one acres that the land office referred to as “Saint John’s Tract.”

John Shaffer first built a log house not far from the site of the bridge which now crosses the Middle Creek on PA Route 296. Later, a permanent house was built at the site of the large chimney ruins near the Varden Cemetery (pictured right).2 This chimney, complete with three fireplaces and a stone-bake oven, is all that remains of the house which was destroyed by fire in approximately 1870. Due to the instability of the chimney, caution is advised when approaching the remains. For more information on the Shaffer House and Chimney, please visit the Sites & Landmarks section of this website.

Due to the three streams that converge in Varden, there was a sufficient amount of fast-flowing water to power various types of mills. For instance, prior to 1790, John built a grist mill along Middle Creek. Later, in the 19th Century, the Village of Varden witnessed the development of saw and grist mills, as well as tanneries. These enterprises were succeeded by stores and industries such as millwork, and later, dairying and egg production.

In the mid-1700s, both Connecticut and Pennsylvania claimed what is now the northern part of Pennsylvania. During this time, revolutionary citizens of Connecticut actively settled there, causing great conflict. Between 1774 and 1782, this area was a part of Westmoreland County, Connecticut. However, in 1787, Congress ruled that the land claimed by Connecticut belonged to Pennsylvania.3 It then became a part of Northampton County and, in 1789, Wayne County.

In 1932, Mead Shaffer Sr., a mason from New Jersey, returned to the place of his family roots. Likewise, his father, Frank Shaffer, who had sought work in New Jersey during World War I, returned to Wayne County during the Great Depression. Together, the Shaffers bought approximately 64 acres of property for $700, and there they tended a herd of eight or nine milking cows, as well as a team of horses. Frank Shaffer contracted pneumonia at the age of 58. A blizzard prevented him reaching the hospital for a week, and he died within hours of leaving the house for the hospital. Afterward, Mead Shaffer Sr. ran his masonry business and took care of the farm, milking cows before and after work. At the end of the war, the dairy cows were replaced by beef cattle.

Sources:

1 Elred, Richard Orvis. The Shaffer Family. Gateway Press: Baltimore, 1991.
2 Berger, Louis and Associates, Inc. Assessment of Historic Architectural Resources: Varden, South Canaan Township, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. East Orange, 2004, pp. 49. (Document available at Salem Public Library in Hamlin, PA)
3 Miller, Randall and William Pensak. Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth. Penn University Press: University Park, 2002.

Schaffer Barn

The Varden Conservation Area (VCA)

In 1840, Cortland Brooks, an orphan from Orange County, New York, came to Northeast Pennsylvania and purchased 30 acres of what is known today as the Brooks Farm (pictured lower right, circa 1920). Eventually, his farm ammounted to 400 acres. The Brooks family owned this property for better than a century. Only two farm buildings remain today: a dairy barn and a wheelwright shop (pictured left), both located on Tannery Trail. The latter was constructed and operated by Cortland Brooks himself, who was trained in Orange County as a wheelwright.

Starting in 1965, Dr. Mead Shaffer purchased a number of adjacent properties when they became available, including some of the land once owned by the Brooks family. Beginning with a donation of one thousand red pine transplants by the Wayne County Sportsmen’s Association, the Shaffer family has hand-planted seedlings almost every spring. Many seedlings have originated from the Pennsylvania State Forests Nurseries. Through these efforts, one hundred acres of abandoned fields have been reforested (pictured lower left).

In December of 2001, Dr. Shaffer donated his land to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Totaling approximately 430 acres, the land became known as the Varden Conservation Area.

Presently the park is divided into two areas, VCA East (Tannery Road Access) and VCA West (Mid Valley Road Access). VCA West is approximately 192 acres, and VCA East is approximately 242 acres. Please visit the Maps section of this website for a closer look.

In 2006, an access road and parking lot were built at VCA West, which is reached from Mid Valley Road and is located approximately ½ mile from Varden. At this location, most of the trails and roads are established. Many trails are medium-sloped, though some portions are steeper than others. One can see natural wooded areas and growths of hand-planted evergreens. VCA West is bordered on the north by Holster Creek, a rapidly-moving, rocky stream, and on the east by a 2 ½ acre pond built in 1962. In summer, water lilies grow at the pond's edge. Pond View Trail passes on one side of the water. Please visit the Recreation section of this website for more information on hiking at the VCA.

In 2007, at VCA East, an access road, parking lot, pavilion, rest stops and a bridge over Middle Creek were built. This area is accessed by Tannery Road and is located approximately ½ mile south of Varden off PA Route 296. Here there are trails, farm roads, and open fields surrounded by mowed paths—a place to view nature in an open setting. There is a large area of natural woodland which has undergone timber stand improvement, as well as areas planted in white spruce and larch. Middle Creek flows near the south border. It is a slow, meandering stream that offers sightings of wildlife such as beaver, muskrat, mink, otter and waterfowl. For a complete listing of the animal life observable at the VCA, please visit the Natural Resources Inventory.

To the west of VCA East is the Village of Varden, which was recently assessed by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). Nearby are the Varden Cemetery and the chimney remains of John Shaffer’s second house.

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