History of Lilly,
This "History of Lilly" was taken
from the April, 1948 Lilly High Flash published by the students of
"The first official record we have of the town of Lilly, Cambria country, Penna. is from the Journal of Samuel Maclay, surveyor, who with John Adleum and Timothy Mattach, was commissioned by the supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania in the spring of 1790, to make a survey of the Kiskiminetas, Conemaugh and Little Conemaugh rivers and a portage to the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata river, and to report on the practicability of constructing a line of water and overland highway from the East to the West. On the night of August 31, 1790 they encamped in a laurel thicket at the mouth of a run (Bear Rock or Bear Rock Run) and on the morning of September 1, 1790, their provisions being about exhausted on account of the failure of their pack-horse to come up, they divided some chocolate which was all they had left, and hastened onto the Galbraith road and down to the mouth of Poplar where they secured provisions.
They afterwards surveyed the
The present site of Lilly was once a swamp,
first settled by the German and Welsh who came for the purpose of farming. As
early as 1806, a patent for 332 acres of land was granted to Joseph Meyer, or
as Anglicized Joseph Moyers, and his wife for a grant
of land that was designated under the name of DUNDEE and which was the first
name given to our town. The Moyers, like all the
pioneer families, worked hard for several years clearing out the land, building
a grist mill and digging a mill race. This undertaking apparently proved too
much for them for in March 1811, they sold the land to Simon Litzinger, one of the first millers of
In 1823 Litzinger
sold these holdings in what was then
After 1830, with the beginning of the construction of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, another section of the community began to develop at the base of incline Plane No. 4 and was referred to as FOOT OF FOUR. Repair hands formed the nucleus of this community and they began calling the town LAUREL RUN on account of the laurel which grew along the railroad. As travel and business increased, a tannery was built on the site of the present Polish church and adjacent to the tannery a warehouse, in which building the post office was located. A sawmill was established to harvest the large stands of hemlock trees which populated the area. This bark gave off quite an odor which attracted the attention and remarks of the travelers who went through on the railroad. One Mr. Swank who visited here is credited with the suggestion that the town be called HEMLOCK.
In the year 1858, the New
The coal industry, which thus began, and
which governs and controls the lives of so many of us today received a track to
the location of the New Portage Road where a family by the name of Richard
Lilly lived. In coming from the foot of the plane over to the location of the
At the time that Conrad acquired the grist
mill and George Tiley and his sons began a coal and
coke operation immediately below Conrad's Mill, the main line of the
KKK Riot (Excerpt By
Eighty years ago, more than 400 Ku Klux
Klansmen rode evening trains into the tiny
It was a time when a quarter million people
"They came prepared for trouble. That was the reason that they came in here," said Art Yingling, one of the men injured in the April 5, 1924, melee, in an interview before he died two years ago. "This was the only place around here that tore down their crosses. When they put up their crosses, they tore them down."
About 300 of the men took a train from
"I can remember that night like it was yesterday," said Morris Shullman of Lilly, whose father owned a business right across from the train station. "I was sitting there with my mother and the train pulled in on the side tracks. It had maybe 10 cars on it. [The Klansmen] lined up and started to march up the street."
The Klan was strong in the area, with a
higher percentage of the population on its membership rosters than areas in the
South known as Klan strongholds, said Philip Jenkins, a
Blacks were targeted and attacked, but in
Lilly was different.
Founded by Irish and German Catholics in 1806, it had a small Protestant minority. Though there were Klan members and sympathizers (residents remember that the Klan newspaper was sold in town), the town had defied previous attempts to burn crosses. It also was a strong United Mine Workers town and the Klan's hostility to unions had been increased by the decision of the UMW earlier that year to expel workers in the local district who were Klan members. Many of the mine workers were Eastern European immigrants who spoke little English, another category of people targeted by the Klan.
Right after the Klansmen arrived, the electricity to the town was cut, probably by locals who were working with them. The community, in a high valley scooped in the Alleghenies near Ebensburg, went black.
You can start at the tracks at Railroad and Cleveland streets and follow the Klan's route from that night along Lilly's meandering streets, past the same storefronts, beneath the same Catholic Church on the hill where many townspeople belonged, by the same Lutheran church where the Klansmen turned north to go up to Piper's Field. That field is now full of homes; the site of the cross burnings about where a green-and-white garage and basketball hoop now sit.
That night, the town had no intention of being cowed by the Klan. One Klan member was beaten up; residents contemplated setting loose coal cars up by Piper's Mine on the hill above town to roll down and smash the KKK Special. Instead they decided to use water against the KKK's fire and hatred.
A modern hydrant squats about where its forerunner did, just across the street from the depot where the Klan went to get back on the trains. That's where the townspeople hooked up the section of hose they'd gotten, spraying the tail end of the Klan procession. Frank Miesko, 22, the lead man on the hose, was shot dead there. Hugh Conrad's uncle, Phil Conrad, 24, was standing in a storefront two doors down, watching, when he was shot and killed. Cloyd Paul, a 26-year-old Protestant who had helped cut the wood for the crosses, was the third man killed.
Phil Conrad's youngest sister, Helen, was in a nearby home. "We went upstairs and you could see Piper's Field," she told her uncle Hugh. "When they shot across the brick street, when the bullets hit those bricks, it sounded like roller skates. It just sounded to me as a kid like skates."
After the Klan invasion, Lilly was invaded
by the press. The story and the subsequent trial made national headlines. When the KKK Special arrived in
Twenty-eight Klansmen and 16 townspeople
were charged with riot, affray and unlawful assembly. Cambria County Common
Pleas judges all recused themselves from the trial, and an appellate court judge from
Many Catholics refused to patronize businesses whose owners testified against townspeople in the trial, and some hung carved wooden "Ku Kluckers" on electric lines in front of homes of Klan members or sympathizers, but for the most part the tension between the two groups was damped down, said Conrad.
Though the Klan remained powerful -- 40,000
Klansmen marched down
Lilly, too, has declined. The last mine closed more than 40 years ago. The population is around 900. It's still a Catholic town, but its two parishes were merged several years ago. There aren't many who remember the confusion and violence of the night 80 years ago, but "Their painful journey altered the footprints for future generations."
Points of interest
Lilly has a lot of points to visit
throughout the community. The old