Town turns 200

Sentinel photo by TABITHA GOODLING
‘A Journey Through Time: A Bicentennial Celebration,’ examines the history of Richfield and will be available at Dutch Days.

RICHFIELD — The village of Richfield is rich with history.

Christian Graybill laid out the plans of the village in 1818 in what was then Mifflin County. The area became Juniata County in 1831, and Richfield extends into West Perry Township in Snyder County.

A book documenting the 200 years of Richfield has been put together to help the community celebrate this year.

“A Journey Through Time: A Bicentennial Celebration,” was put together by Richfield Bicentennial committee member Danny Stump, with numerous contributors from the committee.

The book will be available for purchase at Dutch Days, July 17 to 21, for $10.

Some of the committee members, including Stump, Dan Martin who also serves as the Dutch Days announcer each night, Pat Neimond, Sara Beth Spade and Makaila Auker, shared some of their insight on the history recently.

The book, which was made possible by several sponsors, is filled with photos and little known facts.

One of the more historical moments took place on New Year’s Eve, 1925, when fire destroyed most of Richfield. The fire began directly behind the location of the current Richfield Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center.

A large hotel had occupied the space before fire destroyed the structure along with surrounding buildings on both sides of the street, including the former Paul V. Leitzel Store and homes belonging to eight families. The loss was somewhere between $60,000 and $75,000.

In true Richfield style, the community worked together during the all night fire and tried to douse flames with a bucket brigade until companies from Lewistown and Selinsgrove could get to the location.

“We have always looked out for one another when a need arises,” Martin said.

As a result of the loss, the Richfield Fire Company came into existence.

Other little known facts about Richfield include its national impact on the hatchery industry. C.M. Lauver, of Richfield, was the first to use incubators with oil heated lamps in 1905. Hatcheries sprung up all over Richfield, selling chicks across the United States. Other parts of eastern Juniata County followed suit in hatchery establishments. More chicks came from Juniata County than any other location in the country during the 1930s.

Many laborers from Japan worked at the hatcheries in Richfield, according to the 1940 Census. It was during World War II, and the men came to Pennsylvania by way of California.

Spade is a local historian and did extensive research on the hatchery topic.

However, over the last 50 years, Richfield may be best known for its yearly festival, also known as Dutch Days.

The event came about as a sesquicentennial celebration of the village and continued as a yearly tradition due to its success.

Dutch Days has had its share of historic moments as well, which are also examined in the book.

Its location in Basom Park, for example, came about as a donation of seven acres by Pearl Basom in memory of her husband, O.B. Basom, in 1968, just in time to be prepared and put to use for the first celebration.

One of the more memorable years was 1980, when in the afternoon of the opening day a tornado touched down in Richfield, knocking over the ferris wheel and causing damage throughout Basom Park and the surrounding area.

Committee members recently reflected on one of the only times Dutch Days was shutdown early.

A severe thunderstorm, with torrential rains, caused severe flooding one night in the late 1990s.

Martin recalled telling the group scheduled to provide entertainment that night to “watch the mountain.” When clouds get dark over Shade Mountain, it is always a clear indicator bad weather is headed toward Richfield.

Neimond said she was working the country store as usual, when Martin came across the speakers indicating the park would be evacuated.

“The water was up to my ankles and this guy poked his head into the doorway and said, ‘Can I still get some cheese?'”

As the years continued to go by, the committee was always hopeful the next generation would keep Dutch Days and the history of Richfield alive.

Two committee members for the bicentennial are 18 years old, including East Juniata High School graduates B.J. Sheeler and Auker.

Auker said she chose to be on the community on her own.

“My parents did not drag me to Dutch Days every year. I drug them. I noticed as I got older that less of my friends were coming to Dutch Days. So I thought, ‘How can I help out?'” and keep people coming in.

Martin said Auker and Sheeler’s enthusiasm is a relief.

“For us older committee members, it is reassuring to see,” Martin said.

Neimond said she remembered being a young bride in 1975 and not knowing anyone in Richfield. “I got this call asking if I wanted to help in the park kitchen at Dutch Days. I said, ‘Well, sure.'”

And Neimond has been committed ever since. Spade said she, too, grew up in another town, but upon getting married and moving to Richfield, she was welcomed into the village wholeheartedly.

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” Neimond said.

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