MERCER — The houses have been demolished, the wells filled, the wooden grave markers rotted away, and its name doesn’t appear on any modern maps. But at one time, there was a community known as “Pandenarium” in Mercer County.
But unlike other communities in the area, Pandenarium — which was in the area of Indian Run, a stream that runs through East Lackawannock Township — was established for freed African Americans.
The community was started by Dr. Charles Everett, a Virginia plantation owner and physician who was convinced that slavery was a sin and freed his slaves in his will. Everett died in 1848 and his slaves were hired to work his plantation for five years while their freedom was prepared for, according to “History of East Lackawannock Township, Mercer County, PA.”
Everett’s nephew eventually purchased 50 acres here on the farm of John Young, an anti-slavery society member, on Cannery Road at Indian Run. Twenty-four two-story houses were built, as well as gardens and wells for the freed slaves, who received a purse of $1,000, said Ruth Woods, a local historian who wrote the East Lackawannock history.
Some of the freed slaves also used money provided by Everett to buy the freedom of their family members who were enslaved at other plantations.
Woods said she wrote the history after she retired from nursing in 1996 and was asked by the township supervisors to write a history of East Lackawannock Township for the 200th anniversary of Mercer County, which was in 2000.
“I learned that half a mile from where I lived on a farm was this place called ‘Pandenarium,’” Woods said.
“Pandenarium” is believed to be a misspelling of the Biblical term “Pandenaream,” which means fertile, plowed plateau in the northern region of Mesopotamia.
The arrangements for the freed slaves were completed on Oct. 11, 1854, and the group of of 52 individuals arrived at Indian Run on Nov. 12, 1854, where they were greeted by abolitionist families, according to the history of East Lackawannock Township.
To commemorate Pandenarium’s place in Mercer County history, the community received its own historical marker during a dedication ceremony held Saturday afternoon at the Mercer County Historical Society’s Helen Black Miller Memorial Chapel in Mercer. The marker was unveiled by the historical society’s Executive Director William Philson Commissioner Kenneth Turner with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Though Turner said he lives outside Ellwood City in Lawrence County, and recalled spending his summers as a teenager at Lake Latonka, he was not as familiar with Pandenarium as he was with Liberia, a similar community that was established in the Stoneboro area.
“I had known all about Liberia in Mercer County for escaped slaves, but I had never heard of Pandenarium,” Turner said.
Eventually, many residents of the community left for the cities and higher-paying factory jobs in places such as Pittsburgh, Sharon or Cleveland. However, Pandenarium had an important place in Pennsylvania’s African American history, as the community grew to 100 acres and some men from Pandenarium even served with units of colored troops for the Union in the American Civil War, Turner said.
“These were free men fighting to end the slaveholders’ rebellion in the south, to end the institution of slavery, and to liberate the place of theirs births — Virginia,” he said.
Local historian and author of “African Americans in Mercer County,” Dr. Roland Barksdale-Hall, spoke on what it was like for those living in Pandenarium, with a talk entitled “Turning Shadows into Substance — The House that Love Built.”
Instead of taking the points of view of the people who intended to create the community, Barksdale-Hall focused his talk on a group of people who lived in the Indian Run area, including husband-and-wife George and Caroline Lewis. The couple raised a daughter and two sons in a home that included a square iron stove in the kitchen, a Bible on its own stand in the living room and four maple trees in the yard.
Barksdale-Hall said the “love” that built the household could be seen in the way George, himself a Civil War veteran, gave his children space outside to grow what they liked and even shared the wealth when the produce was taken to market.
George, Caroline and their daughter Emma were buried together at White Chapel Cemetery, where the White Chapel Church still exists. However, their daughter Emma, who died after being afflicted with galloping consumption, had a final request that Barksdale-Hall said was yet another example of love.
“Her one request was that her children not be separated. That was her dying request, because the slaves had seen their families separated,” Barksdale-Hall said.
Angela Jaillet-Wentling, who has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Penn State University and a master’s degree in applied archeology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is originally from Sandy Lake and has been excavating the Pandenarium area for the past 10 years.
She first began investigating Pandenarium for a thesis that was published in 2011, but continued researching the area due to newspaper articles from as recent as the 1990s describing the community as a “nightmare” or short-lived. However, the evidence that has been found so far seems to challenge that concept, Jaillet-Wentling said, with the community believed to have existed up through the 1930s.
Buttons, toys, eyeglasses and broken plates are just some of the items that have been uncovered. They were on display at the church for those who attended the dedication Saturday afternoon.
“In archeology, we look at broken things and what people left behind that they didn’t intend to tell a story with,” she said.
The marker is expected to be installed at a later date, and will be located immediately south of the Iron Bridge Inn on the western side of U.S. Route 19, according to the historical society.