A BRIEF HISTORY OF COOKE TOWNSHIP, CUMBERLAND COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
Cooke Township was founded in 1872 from the southern portion of Penn Township. The area that became Cooke was primarily industrial at that time, while the remainder of Penn was primarily agricultural. The Township takes its name from Jay Cooke, the famous 19th Century financier who was a key figure in funding the Union during the Civil War, and who was involved in numerous business ventures including railroads and Pennsylvania iron-making. Cooke Township was devoted to the iron industry at Pine Grove Furnace and Laurel Forge. Abundant iron ore, limestone, forests for charcoal production, and water power had supported the Pine Grove Furnace iron-making community since 1770's. Pine Grove Furnace was centered on the (still standing) furnace stack, which produced pit iron and some finished products such as stove plates. Nearby at Laurel Lake was a water-driven forge, built in 1830.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the South Mountain Mining and Iron company, like other small iron producers in the region, was struggling. New technologies and resources shifted the iron industry to large-scale production elsewhere. In addition, local ore deposits were being exhausted. For example, what is now Fuller Lake was originally the main iron ore pit for the furnace. Quarrying depth had reached 90 feet in 1895 when iron production ended. The water wheel that had kept the ore pit dry was permanently stopped, and by 1900 the lake was filled.
Another industry which did not survive long into the 20th Century was the ice house at Laurel Lake. In the days before electric refrigeration, ice was cut from the lake and stored in a large ice house for year-round rail transport to markets in Carlisle, Harrisburg and beyond. Several fires occurred because highly flammable sawdust was used as insulation.
Cooke turned to other industries such as tile and brick but without lasting success, and the Fuller Slate and Brick Company ultimately went out of business. In 1912-13, some 25,000 acres of industrial works and surrounding forests were sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the bargain price of $29,827. Ninety-two percent of Cooke Township became part of Michaux State Forest, or surrounding the ironworks, Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Thus, the modern use of most of Cooke Township for recreation and sylvan solitude arose directly from the industrial uses of prior centuries. Under the stewardship of the state government, the forests were re-vitalized after two centuries of unrestrained cutting for making charcoal for the iron industry. Today, the state forest remains a source of commercial lumber, but the hillsides are not completely denuded as had been the earlier practice.
The Appalachian Trail passes through the township on its way from Maine to Georgia. the midpoint of the trail lies just outside Pine Grove Furnace State Park, heading toward Maine. Through-hikers who reach the midpoint traditionally eat a half-gallon of ice cream at the park store located in a former stable. On the other side of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, heading toward Georgia, the Appalachian Trail passes Camp Michaux. Originally Bunker Hill Farm, wheat was harvested there until 1919. The farm was abandoned, and only part of a stone barn remains from the farm.
In 1933 Camp Michaux became the first Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Pennsylvania. Camp S-51 hosted approximately 200 young men at a time. They improved the area by replanting trees obliterated by two centuries of charcoal production, removing harmful gooseberries (a host of pine blister rust), and building roads and bridges. At the onset of World War II, the CCC shut down and Camp Michaux was taken over by the Army. From 1943 to 1946 it was a top-secret prisoner of war camp, strategically located near the Carlisle Barracks and Washington, D.C. Prisoners were primarily German (originally most were submariners, and later some were from Rommel's Afrika Korps) but also included a few Japanese officers. A German POW's name can still be seen written in concrete along an automobile bridge on Michaux Road. From 1947 to 1972, the camp was used by a church group. Today, little remains except concrete foundation and a crumbling waterworks along Toms Run. The former camp is now a protected part of the Michaux State Forest. (A sign commemorating the CCC can be seen along Michaux Road at the camp.)