On an absolutely beautiful, but cold and very windy afternoon, H and I took a ride through an area known as the Muncy Hills. The Muncy Hills are a broken, highly eroded upland rising about 500 feet above the lowlands lying to the north and south. The hills are mostly wooded, but in the 1800s many of the more level hilltops were cleared as farmland. The acidic shale-derived soils were soon exhausted and many of the fields reverted to woodland.
Now some of the remaining farms are growing Christmas trees; others still produce crops (after applications of lime and fertilizer); some are now State Game Lands open for hunting, fishing and hiking; and some have been subdivided as rural homesites.
As we headed toward the Muncy Hills we came upon Katy’s Church Road – an intriguing name for a road. The road was paved for a while, but as it climbs into the hills it becomes a dirt and gravel road. Up it climbs until it gains the heights whereupon a white church without a steeple comes into view across an open field.
There it is – Katy’s Church, backed by a beautiful large white oak tree (more about that tree later) –
Katy’s Church sits at the four-way intersection of two roads, one side of which hadn’t been plowed all winter. Although there are a couple of fairly new houses nearby, the church seems isolated –
And appears to be very well maintained –
We pulled into a small parking area and faced the adjacent cemetery with its trees, fence and sign with that intriguing name, Katy, now including her last name – VanDine–
The cemetery has a gorgeous view, 19 miles across the valleys of Muncy Creek and its tributaries, to North Mountain which rises 1,200 – 1,500 feet above the surrounding lowlands. The cemetery wouldn't be a bad place to spend eternity –
Home we went, thinking about that intriguing name and wondering why the church and cemetery were named for Katy VanDine. Had she donated the land, or …? Time for some research.
The search turned up several versions of a local legend about Katy VanDine; all relating that she met her end hanging from a tree in the church’s cemetery –
That she was a young unmarried woman who became pregnant, was shunned by the community and hung herself rather than live in shame.
That she was betrothed to a soldier killed in war and, in grief, hung herself in her wedding dress.
That she was the mistress of a wealthy married man; she became pregnant and he accused her of bewitching him, then local people hung her as a witch.
There isn’t a date or documentation for any of the legends and some living members of the VanDine family strongly dispute all versions of the legend. Some say that Katherine (or Catherine) VanDine lived into old age and died in 1899 when she was 86 or 87.
Whatever the truth, the stories are interesting, as is the church which was built in 1869 and officially named the Immanuel Lutheran Church. Katy’s Church is now only used for occasional services, weddings and community gatherings. Naturally, given the legends, the church and cemetery are said to be haunted.
Now about that tree –
It’s a white oak, one of the longest-lived tree species in eastern forests; I once counted the annual rings in the stump of a felled white oak and determined it was 358 years old when it was cut. The wide spreading crown and large lower limbs on the white oak at Katy’s Church reveal that it has been growing in the open with few if any adjacent trees throughout its life – which almost certainly began after the adjacent fields were cleared, perhaps even after the church was built.
If Katy was hung, was it from this tree? Unlikely, since the tree would almost certainly have been too small in the 1800s. But then perhaps Katy’s story is just a legend after all.