Some local women have been thinking of a tragedy, and they couldn’t be happier.
Members of the Bellefonte chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on Sunday will dedicate a stone marker in front of a Potter Township log house. It’s one of the oldest homes in the county, if not the oldest, but that’s not the reason for the commemoration.
On a spring day in 1778, Indian warriors descended upon the cabin and massacred the Standford family. Among the area’s first settlers, Jacob Standford, his wife and their daughter became casualties of war.
The British, locked in the Revolutionary War, were inciting Indians to attack throughout frontier regions. Two months after the Standfords died, two soldiers from the Upper Fort in Penns Valley were killed, leading to the so-called Great Runaway of 1778 — an exodus of settlers from the valley and along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River to the safety of Fort Augusta at Sunbury and communities farther east.
Anyone passing by the Standford house on Rimmey Road now can read the sad history, courtesy of a tapered, gray stone memorial finally in place after a decade of dreaming and fundraising.
“This is something that the DAR, the Bellefonte chapter, has wanted to do for a long time, to recognize what went on during that time,” said Sue Kellerman, the chapter’s historian.
It took about $2,000, gathered bit by bit, to commission the marker from Mayes Memorials in Lemont. But the historical value is immeasurable.
Nancy Lee Stover, a chapter member with a passion for local history, said the Standford log house memorial differs from other DAR markers noting Penns Valley historical sites.
“Nothing is standing. They’re all gone,” Stover said. “(The Standford house) is a place from history that is still standing from the 1770s. This was an opportunity to mark someplace that’s still here.”
When the Standfords built their home around 1774, 26 years before Centre County was formed, they carved out a spot in rugged wilderness.
Settlers had been starting to arrive only a few years before. A hard life became even more difficult after the Revolutionary War broke out. The British stoked the fires of Indian warriors angry about the expansion into their lands. Raids increased.
On May 8, 1778, the Standford family bore the brunt of the fury.
Robert Moore, a frontier ranger and express rider for the colonial government, arrived at the homestead from Bald Eagle, where Simon Vaugh, a settler, had been killed. Moore was looking for water for his horse from the Standfords’ spring.
Instead, he found the slaughtered family. A son, Abraham Standford, was not home at the time.
Moore, whose grave lies near Houserville, rode a few miles to the Upper Fort with the terrible news. Soon, settlers began leaving en masse, not to return until 1784 after the war ended.
Abraham Standford was among them, living in Potter Township to 1804, then migrating to Armstrong County in the west with local families.
For two centuries, as the world around it changed, the log house stood, impervious to time.
But by the early 1970s, its future looked dim.
Its owners, seeing only an aging house, contemplated tearing it down — until Stover’s father came to the rescue.
J. Marvin Lee, a local historian, discovered the logs behind the weathered siding. He plumbed ancient tax and property records, unearthed the house’s past and persuaded its owners to hold off on the wrecking ball.
“I always say I can’t help it,” Stover said of her love for history. “It’s in my genes.”
In 1976, when the house’s first restoration started, it went on the Pennsylvania Register of Historic Sites and Landmarks.
Since 2001, Carol Caldwell and Sandy Alexander have owned the house, continuing the restoration inside and out. They’re delighted that the copper plaque by the road will share the history of their beloved home.
“I just think it’s wonderful that these women have the enthusiasm that they do and the willingness to do something like this,” Caldwell said.
She and Alexander share a deep respect for the heritage they possess. It’s their house, but it’s also a community heirloom where three people died.
“It’s more of a stewardship,” Caldwell said. “You feel more of a responsibility to save it, keep it, protect it and nourish it, and savor the essence of what it really is.”
At 2 p.m. Sunday, DAR members will gather where Jacob Standford chopped wood and fended for his family until the end arrived on quiet feet padding down a forest trail.
During the dedication, the house’s tale will be told once again, a story now inscribed forever for generations to come.
“It’s a little-known fact of Centre County,” Kellerman said. “And the fact that the house is still standing is really amazing.”