Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Located near Pine Grove Furnace within the state park of the same name in Cooke Township, Cumberland County, a 200-acre plot of land was the site of a unique sequence of historical events over the past 225 years. In the mid-18th century, iron ore was discovered along nearby Mountain Creek, which led to the development of Pine Grove Iron Works, a large-scale iron mining and pig iron production operation, on the grounds. Iron production required a large amount of charcoal to fuel the furnace, and the surrounding forest supplied ample timber. To provide food for the workers, the iron works established several farms to cultivate crops and raise livestock. One of these, Bunker Hill Farm, was located on a site that was subsequently developed into a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp and then a prisoner of war camp during World War II.

Although the forest surrounding the iron furnace had an abundance of trees when the operation started, more than 100 years of deforestation resulted in a barren land stripped of much vegetation. In 1913, nearly 20 years after iron mining ceased, the 17,000-acre ironworks was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The devastation left behind by the mining industry presented a serendipitous opportunity to establish a New Deal CCC program here in 1933 with Camp S-51-PA. Built on the old farmland, the camp provided forestry work for hundreds of young men during the Great Depression. New trees were planted and roads, trails and facilities built on the surrounding acreage that would become Michaux State Forest and Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

But before it became part of a premier nature conservation and recreation area, the same land was used during World War II as a prisoner of war camp. The CCC buildings were ideal for this new purpose. Also, because of its location, relatively remote yet just 80 miles north of Washington, D.C., this site was selected as one of the clandestine interrogation facilities of the U.S. War Department. It was one of only three in the nation. Here, several thousand German and Japanese prisoners were housed and questioned over a 30-month period, in an effort to uncover secret information valuable to the Allies.

A prisoner walks through the barracks in Compound One at Pine Grove Furnace POW Interrogation Camp. A guard tower is visible in the background. Adams County Historical Society

A prisoner walks through the barracks in Compound One at Pine Grove Furnace POW Interrogation Camp. A guard tower is visible in the background.
Adams County Historical Society

In 1943 the U.S. Army leased more than 100 acres of land where the camp was located and modified many of the existing buildings to their purposes. Some CCC buildings were demolished while a few additional buildings were constructed. Double security fencing was placed around prisoner compounds and a barbed-wire and wood fence surrounded the entire facility. Guard towers were placed around the perimeter and searchlights were mounted to cover the grounds. The cost to make these modifications exceeded $25,000, a substantial investment in 1943.

Several years after the war, the facility was used as a church camp. Hundreds of visitors experienced and learned about nature at Camp Michaux, which operated until 1972. The camp was subsequently dismantled; however, remains of several building foundations and a stone wall remain at the site, which is open to the public. Interpretive panels have been placed along a trail created by the Cumberland County Historical Society.

The Pine Grove Furnace POW Interrogation Camp historical marker was installed and dedicated near the entrance to the camp on July 16, 2011.


Karen Galle is on the staff of PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005.