The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

In the Spotlight

June 13, 2014

Tracing the flow of dam’s history: Local author has roots near Hinckston Run

— Charles Frederick Smith grew up around the Hinckston Run Reservoir and discovered very little had been written about the site.

The Parkhill resident recently published “The History of Hinckston Run,” a 50-page book for future generations to enjoy, and he checked that item off his bucket list.

“I started eight years ago to collect information and had no idea I would write a book,” Smith said. “I started with two postcards from 1905 or 1906.”

He began his research in local libraries and ended up in Harrisburg at the State Land Records Office and Pennsylvania State Museum.

According to maps from the 1700s, the dam site used to be in Quemahoning Township, Bedford County, before that region was divided into smaller counties.

When the dam was built in 1904, hundreds of horses and mules were used to haul slag, clay and stone.

At one time, Hinckston Run supported seven grist mills and three sawmills.

“The water power attracted settlers,” Smith said. “Cambria Iron Co. took property by force through eminent domain and seizure.

“The one main road was covered by the dam, and now there are two roads on each side.”

The lake formed by the dam is a mile long, 90 feet deep and contains 1 billion gallons of water.

Recreational opportunities include fishing, boating including kayaking, and picnicking.

“The book has been on sale for about four months and is doing well,” Smith said. “It’s sold well on Benshoff Hill.”

Smith has donated hardcover copies of his book to local libraries and historical societies.

A paperback version is available for $27.50 by emailing Smith at

Smith’s father, Lester C. Smith, bought land near Hinckston Run in 1948 after receiving a family inheritance.

Charles Smith, now 69, moved to the farm with his parents when he was 4 years old.

Growing up, Smith worked long hours from sunrise to sundown. He left the family farm at age 17, when he joined the Navy.

“I had no regrets about the life I lived, but I was wondering what to do with my life,” Smith said. “I spent three years in the Navy as a medical technician. I had a new career, and it opened my eyes to what was out there.”

During his time in the Navy, Smith was stationed with the Marines in El Toro, California, and also served in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Key West, Florida.

“I felt it was worthwhile,” Smith said. “My roommate got me interested in going to college. I went to the University of Florida on the GI Bill and got a bachelor’s degree in design.”

After college, Smith worked in Washington, D.C., for a time, but found it was not the type of life he wanted to live.

He returned to Johnstown in 1971 and applied for jobs downtown at Penn Traffic and Glosser Bros. in the display and ad departments.

Smith was grateful to get hired at Glosser’s, but found he wasn’t satisfied with the salary and being moved to different departments.

“I was disillusioned and thought, what am I doing?” Smith said.

It was then he got a phone call from Penelec through the application he had filed at Penn Traffic and was asked to interview along with hundreds of others.

“I was picked and spent 25 years as a graphic designer in communications and public relations,” Smith said. “It was a wonderful dream job. I think I was the only person in the Johnstown office doing that type of work.”

When he was asked by the company to move to Reading, Smith declined and went on to teach computer graphics at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, which was then located in the Glosser building he had left.

“It was an enjoyable experience working with young people,” Smith said.

“I was concerned about getting respect in the classroom, but I got it. I had younger and older students, and the older ones set the pace in the classroom.”

He also served as director of academic support, hiring adjunct faculty and filling administrative positions.

Smith’s hobby is building houses and designing furniture.

He has started work on a house by the lake on his property.

“The foundation is dug, the well is drilled and the sewer is in,” Smith said. “I’ll start the house this summer. I hire several youths every summer to help. I’ve worked with youths in boys clubs and Sunday school classes. For the past four to five years, I’ve found them to be hard workers.”

Smith enjoys the company of his young workers and remains friends with some of them.

He made a trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater when he discovered one of them wanted to be an architect.

Smith also designs outdoor settings on his property, such as a pond with water lilies and goldfish.

He and his wife, Marsha, are members of Pleasant Hill Church of the Brethren, where they have made mission trips to Honduras three times.

“We visited an orphanage, and I taught woodworking, and Marsha taught knitting and crocheting,” Smith said.

The Smiths have five children and two cats, Susiebell and Tommy.

Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at

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