Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.
A 3-inch ordnance rifle rests in the area where Ricketts’ battery fought on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Dave Pidgeon

A 3-inch ordnance rifle rests in the area where Ricketts’ battery fought on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Dave Pidgeon

The order was clear. Capt. Robert Bruce Ricketts and his two companies of artillery were to hold the Union’s left flank on East Cemetery Hill just beyond the outskirts of Gettysburg. “In case you are charged here,” Ricketts’ commanding officer Col. C.S. Wainwright told him, “you will not limber up under any circumstances, but fight your battery as long as you can.”

The reality facing Ricketts on the evening of July 2, 1863, could not have been more harrowing, for up the steep slope of East Cemetery Hill came a brigade of Confederates from Louisiana hell-bent on smashing the Union line, which would mean disaster. The infantry defending Ricketts’ batteries fled in face of the onslaught, leaving Ricketts and his men unguarded and vastly outnumbered.

Capt. Robert Bruce Ricketts, circa 1863. U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks, PA

It would seem that such a decisive moment would be considered the high point of an officer’s career, but Ricketts would have more than five decades of life ahead of him beyond the Civil War. Born in Orangeville, Columbia County, on April 29, 1839, the grandson of a Revolutionary War officer in the Pennsylvania militia, Ricketts was a mere 24 years old when he fought at Gettysburg. His legacy today, however, is tied more to the life-affirming serenity of nature than the deadly fire of war.

Robert Bruce Ricketts has become synonymous with Pennsylvania’s state park system, his name tethered to the famous Ricketts Glen with its more than two dozen waterfalls and 245-acre lake in the north-central part of the state. A hiker’s paradise, noted in national outdoor adventure magazines as a premier location to walk trails and see trees that are hundreds of years old, Ricketts Glen is as peaceful as East Cemetery Hill was violent.

Ricketts’ legacy was forged in the vicious combat of Gettysburg and a bare-knuckles postwar industrial economy that led him to seek his fortune in the timber industry. Perhaps perplexing when seen through the lens of the 21st century, Ricketts’ involvement in land speculation and timber extraction led to vast swaths of virgin forest being clearcut, but ultimately the preservation of the Ricketts Glen waterfalls and surrounding forest would be his life’s most lasting contribution and over- shadow the twists and turns of his fascinating biography.

 

Ricketts at Gettysburg

Ricketts enlisted in the Union Army in July 1861 as a private and by the time the war ended four years later in spring 1865, he was a colonel and inspector of the artillery reserve for nearly the entire Army of the Potomac. When he signed up for war service, he had no military or engineering background. He let an opportunity to study law at Yale pass so that he could march among the ranks of his generation, young farm boys and city dwellers leaving their homes for the first time to participate in the great struggle.

By the time the opposing Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia smashed into one another at Gettysburg, Ricketts had already fought in some of the war’s bloodiest engagements at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam and Chancellorsville. Before his unit marshaled at noon on July 2 in Taneytown, Maryland, he had been promoted to captain and commanded a battery unit of the Pennsylvania Light Artillery that was a consolidation of Battery F and Battery G.

 

The gatehouse of the Evergreen Cemetery looms in the background of Edwin Forbes’ depiction of the Confederate charge on East Cemetery Hill and the capture of the left gun of Ricketts’ battery. <i>LIBRARY OF CONGRESS</i>

The gatehouse of the Evergreen Cemetery looms in the background of Edwin Forbes’ depiction of the Confederate charge on East Cemetery Hill and the capture of the left gun of Ricketts’ battery. Library of Congress

The situation that day was urgent. The previous afternoon, a slice of the Army of the Potomac had been routed near Gettysburg, in spite of a spirited defense, and they were now expecting the brunt of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to hammer the Federal defenders. A defeat could mean the Confederates had an open road to Washington, D.C., and if that happened Congress and the public might push President Abraham Lincoln to sue for peace. A victory for the Army of the Potomac – which had suffered defeat after defeat since 1861 – was imperative.

Ricketts joined the rest of the Union Army in a long, hot march to the area south of Gettysburg, and by 4 p.m. his battery of six cannon reached the battlefield just as Southern forces began hammering away at the Federal defenses on Little Round Top, the Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield, locations now famous for heroic and deadly combat. Ricketts’ battery was ordered to the right of the Union line onto East Cemetery Hill, which had not yet experienced a Confederate attack.

East Cemetery Hill today is not quite as well- trampled as other locations in Gettysburg National Military Park. For example, during any time of day around The Angle, where on July 3 the charging Confederate forces of Gen. George Pickett’s desperate division reached its apex, tourists and battlefield experts by the score come to discuss and view the scene of the action. But East Cemetery Hill is typically quiet, except for the rumbling of vehicles on nearby Baltimore Pike.

The ground Ricketts’ six guns occupied lay on the crest of the hill, facing northeastward over laurel green slopes and farm pastures in the valleys among Cemetery, Culp’s and Benner’s Hills. Today, to the back of the silent cannon and the Ricketts Battery monument, which commemorate what happened there, is the Soldiers National Cemetery and the prominent brick gatehouse of Evergreen Cemetery. A handful of visitors from the national cemetery meander their way across Baltimore Pike, take pictures of the imposing statue of Union Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, briefly gaze out eastward and then move on.

The fighting on East Cemetery Hill, though, was no less desperate or violent than anywhere else during those three days in 1863. When Ricketts’ six cannon took their position, Confederate artillery opened fire and the Union batteries returned their volleys. As the sun quietly touched the mountains to the west, troops from Confederate Gen. Harry Hays’ famed Louisiana Tigers brigade charged the Union defenses. As written in the chapter on the Pennsylvania Light Artillery in Samuel P. Bates’ History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, Ricketts’ battery fired “four discharges per minute, throwing five hundred pounds of deadly missiles full in the faces of the foe. But these desperate [Confederate] men had never failed in a charge, and nothing daunted, they closed up where their line was blown away, and rushed forward with deafening yells.” According to Ricketts, what Union infantry defended his and the other batteries on the hill behind a stone wall “commenced running in the greatest confusion to the rear, hardly a shot was fired, certainly not a volley, and so panic stricken were they that several ran into the canister fire of my guns and were knocked over.”

Ricketts’ troops were now exposed. The Louisianans opened fire, but perhaps because of the smoke and evening light, they aimed too high. “I remember well the roar of the torrent of bullets as they passed over our heads,” Ricketts wrote 30 years later.

 

The monument to the Consolidated Batteries F and G of the 1st Pennsylvania Light Infantry stands on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park.<i>PHOTO BY DAVE PIDGEON</i>

The monument to the Consolidated Batteries F and G of the 1st Pennsylvania Light Infantry stands on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Dave Pidgeon

The fight was just beginning. “I do not remember ever to have heard of any member of my command having failed to do his whole duty,” Ricketts recalled. “Only once, for a moment, when the [Union] infantry was falling back, some of my men gave back, but were instantly rallied with the cry ‘Die on your own soil boys before you give up your guns.’”

The fighting descended into chaotic hand-to-hand combat, the men using handspikes, hammers, pistols, stones or anything they could find to inflict fatal damage on their enemy. “The situation had now become really desperate,” Ricketts wrote.

The Confederates captured the left-most gun in Ricketts’ command and took three prisoners, one who would die from a mortal wounding. Ricketts lost six men killed and 11 wounded that day before reinforcements from the Union 2nd Corps, commanded by Hancock, rushed to Ricketts’ right and drove the Confederates back.

Ricketts and his battery were just reaching the midpoint of their Civil War service when the guns cooled during the night of July 2 into July 3. In fact, his battery came under bombardment on July 3, a Confederate attempt to soften Union defenses ahead of Pickett’s Charge.

Ricketts later saw action during the Wilderness Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 before finally being mustered out of service during the summer of 1865. He and his troops participated in 56 battles and came under fire 131 times. Remarkably, Ricketts never received a wound.

 

Ricketts and the Falls

As Robert Bruce Ricketts was retiring his Union uniform, two men who were guests of the Stone House, a vacation resort owned and operated by Ricketts’ family, made a fateful discovery. Plunging off the forested side of Red Rock Mountain in a watery series of parallel gorges were two streams that converged at one area and continued southward as a single torrent. The waterfalls were exquisite, one right after another, the largest of them tumbling 94 feet. The series of white-water curtains and the roar among the pines, oaks and hemlocks was nature’s antidote to the wrecked farm fields and hundreds of thousands of new graves now adorning much of the country. The most lasting part of Ricketts’ legacy, the 22 falls of Ricketts Glen State Park, had been found.

Parking is free at two lots along PA Route 118, about 18 miles west of Dallas in Luzerne County. The 7.2-mile-long hike on the Falls Trail starts from there, winding north along Kitchen Creek for less than two miles. After hiking a mile and a third, you come upon the first significant waterfall – the 16-foot-tall Murray Reynolds – which begins a trio of cascades, each more magnificent than the previous one.

Robert Bruce Ricketts’ portrait for the Battle of Gettysburg 50th anniversary in 1913. <i>Pennsylvania State Archives</i>

Robert Bruce Ricketts’ portrait for the Battle of Gettysburg 50th anniversary in 1913. Pennsylvania State Archives/RG-25

At Waters Meet, a confluence of two branches of Kitchen Creek, you can go left or right to begin a 3.5-mile loop through the twin gorges of Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen, the rivers cutting twin canyons in the sandstone and red shale. Each waterfall is named for either a Native American tribe or friends and family of Ricketts. The footing is mostly solid with bridges and steps in appropriate places and a few slick spots as you meander up and down the side of Red Rock Mountain. The Falls Trail takes you so close to the cascades you can feel the refreshing mist on your face.

As if the falls aren’t impressive enough, many of the trees here are more than 300 years old with trunks often about 4 feet in diameter. Ricketts Glen achieved National Natural Landmark status in 1969, and in 1993 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania designated it a State Park Natural Area, meaning it will be preserved in its natural state in perpetuity.

What makes the preservation of the falls and the surrounding forest and its celebrated status as a hiker and naturalist paradise all the more remarkable is that all of it is owed to Ricketts, a man whose business career was made in large part by the extraction of vast swaths of virgin timber. During the decades following the Civil War, Ricketts returned to northern Pennsylvania and immediately realized that as a businessman he could make a fortune in land speculation and selling or leasing his property to timber interests. At one point he controlled more than 80,000 acres of forest, about 10,000 more than the entirety of today’s Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The seeds of such business acumen may have been planted during his childhood. His father, Elijah Ricketts, along with an uncle, owned and operated the Stone House, a lodge and tavern near Ganoga Lake, just north of Ricketts Glen State Park. To reach the Stone House, visitors had to take a stage line off the Susquehanna and Tioga Turnpike, and that was used as a thoroughfare for lumberman returning home to New York after drifting rafts full of timber down the Susquehanna River to Harrisburg.

Nearly 30 years after the waterfalls of Glen Leigh and Ganoga Glen were discovered, contractors hired by the Ricketts estate began constructing the Falls Trail in 1889. It apparently was no easy endeavor. A path had to be cut not only through virgin forest largely untouched from the beginning of time, but on a sandstone slope that falls more than 1,000 feet. The Falls Trail eventually opened in 1893.

According to F. Charles Petrillo, who wrote Ghost Towns of North Mountain: Ricketts, Mountain Springs, and Stull, guests of the Stone House could pay a dollar for the privilege of fishing in the falls area. While square miles of surrounding woodlands were cut, Ricketts prohibited logging activities in and around the Stone House and the two cascade-filled gorges, which is partly why hikers have the pleasure of enjoying the state park today.

A universal truth about logging is that a person can cut down a tree faster than one can grow, and after decades of hard-charging lumbering, there were eventually few if any trees left to cut as Pennsylvania moved deeper into the 20th century. Ricketts died near the falls at his Lake Ganoga house on November 13, 1918, and his heirs sold about 48,000 acres of land to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, maintaining ownership of about 12,000 acres around the estate and the waterfalls.

 

Of War and Peace

Examining Ricketts’ life more than a century later continues to reveal an impressive figure. There were busi- ness rivalries and land deals that could have made him a millionaire but failed to materialize because of a world-wide recession in the 1890s. Not that he lived in poverty. He played host for decades as guests came and went at the Stone House, lived among high society in the Wilkes- Barre area and even accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for lieutenant governor in 1886, which ended in defeat.

Even his Civil War narrative contains surprises beyond just his rare achievement of rising from private to colonel. Petrillo’s book tells of John H. Green, a slave of a Confederate officer who managed to escape during the Gettysburg battle. Green became a valet of Ricketts, stayed with the Ricketts family after the war and handled estate affairs.

A renewed interest in Ricketts’ life and legacy has grown in the areas he called home. More than 100 people attended a May 24, 2014, dedication of an interpretive sign on the history of the boom-and-bust lumber-mill town of Ricketts, named for the veteran colonel and lumber baron. The forest has retaken what was left of the town, leaving only foundations about four miles north of the entrance to Ricketts Glen State Park along PA Route 487 in Wyoming County. At one point about a century ago, 800 people lived and worked there.

That a forest would spring up where a company once thrived by cutting a forest down is an irony that should be apparent to anyone who sees the sign. Perhaps then it is fitting that the waterfalls of Ricketts Glen, symbols of enduring tranquility that represent the exquisite possibilities of geology and nature, were preserved by a veteran of savage combat such as Robert Bruce Ricketts.

 

 

The Named Waterfalls of Ricketts Glen

There are 22 waterfalls at Ricketts Glen State Park ranging from 11 to 94 feet that were named by Robert Bruce Ricketts, although there are other falls within the park that are unnamed or were later named by others. Ricketts, a member of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, named some of the waterfalls after Native American tribes who had lived in or near Pennsylvania. He named other waterfalls for friends or members of his family.

  • Adams Falls, 36 feet, for Adam Kale, a watchman on Kitchen Creek employed by the North Mountain Fishing Club, whose members paid Ricketts to fish Kitchen Creek and the feeder lakes.
  • B. Reynolds Falls, 40 feet, for the brother of Ricketts’ wife Elizabeth.
  • Cayuga Falls, 11 feet, for one of the Iroquois Confederacy who were located near Lake Cayuga in New York, their name meaning “people of the great swamp.”
  • Conestoga Falls, 17 feet, for the Susquehannock tribe who settled in a village in Lancaster County after conquest by the Iroquois.
  • Delaware Falls, 37 feet, for the tribe also known as the Lenape who lived in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New York and New Jersey.
  • Erie Falls, 47 feet, for a tribe who lived on the southern shore shore of Lake Erie and were conquered by the Iroquois before contact with Europeans.
  • F.L. Ricketts Falls, 38 feet, for Frances Leigh Ricketts (1881-1970), the Ricketts’ youngest daughter.
  • Ganoga Falls, 94 feet, for the Seneca phrase for “water on the mountain”; it is believed that a state representative friend of Ricketts recommended the name.
  • Harrison Wright Falls, 27 feet, for a friend of Ricketts who had a Ph.D. in archaeology, but practiced law and was a trustee of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society.
  • Huron Falls, 41 feet, for a tribe who lived in Canada by Lake Huron who were allies of the French until the Iroquois conquered and dispersed the tribe.
  • Mohawk Falls, 37 feet, for one of the original five tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy who lived in eastern New York, their name meaning “people of the flint.”
  • Mohican Falls, 39 feet, for a tribe who inhabited eastern New York, western Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut who were successful in trade, leading their Mohawk neighbors to conquer them.
  • Murray Reynolds Falls, 16 feet, for the brother of Ricketts’ wife Elizabeth.
  • Oneida Falls, 13 feet, for one of the original five tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy who lived near Oneida Creek in New York, their name meaning “people of the standing stone.”
  • Onondaga Falls, 15 feet, for one of the original five tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy who inhabited central New York, their name meaning “people of the hills.”
  • Ozone Falls, 60 feet, for a hiking club from Wilkes-Barre.
  • R.B. Ricketts Falls, 36 feet, believed to be for the Ricketts’ grandson, the son of their son William; Ricketts did not name anything for himself, his wife or his son.
  • Seneca Falls, 12 feet, for one of the original five tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy and the largest of the tribes who lived in western New York, their name meaning “people of the great hill.”
  • Shawnee Falls, 30 feet, for a tribe who were scattered across Ohio and Pennsylvania; they migrated to many locations and dwelled with many other tribes before moving west.
  • Sheldon Reynolds Falls, 36 feet, likely for Elizabeth’s brother, who died young, but also believed to be for her father, who was a prominent citizen of Wilkes-Barre and member of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society.
  • Tuscarora Falls, 47 feet, for the Iroquois tribe who lived in North Carolina until they lost a war against the colonists; they migrated north and became the sixth nation of the Iroquois Confederacy.
  • Wyandot Falls, 15 feet, for a tribe who were called Huron but after their defeat by the Iroquois migrated to the Great Lakes region and were called Wyandot.

 

Dave Pidgeon is a freelance journalist and photographer who has covered a variety of subjects, including adventure travel, politics, health care and history. He lives in Lititz, Lancaster County, with his wife and their two sons.