Secrets of Raystown Lake

HUNTINGDON, HUNTINGDON COUNTY, Pa. - It's one of the most well-known spots in our state, especially here in Central PA, Raystown Lake. 

But before it become the big time tourist attraction that it is today, it went through a transition period, whic hleads to some amazing historical secrets beneath the water's currents.

Here on the shores of Raystown Lake, If these frigid/frozen waters could talk right now then they would tell you a rich history that they make up. 8,300 acres, 30 miles of flowing water, accompanied with surrounding mountains and landscapes that make the area one of the most visited places in PA for tourists.  

But part of this lake's rich history is a little tid-bit that some may not even be aware of, and it lies beneath these currents.

Years ago, it was just a regular dam in the Raystown section of the Juniata River in Huntingdon County. Although it still had its visitors, it wasn't until the early 70's, 1974 to be exact, when it officially became what it's known as today, Raystown Lake.

Tourism in the area would never be the same.

 "The original, the Raystown branch of the Juniata River has been dammed for over a century now," Executive Director of the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau Matt Price said. "I think 1909 was the first dam on the Raystown branch.  It was a hydroelectric dam.

"Privately owned and when that dam was created a lot of cottage development happened along the river and on the backwater of the dam." 

Price like many others that have come to Raystown before have a deep connection to that past.

"There were I think 3 or 4 marinas on the old dam, including Jim's Anchorage and Yokum's Boathouse were the two biggest," he said. "I know my grandparents and my Dad grew up on the old dam, kept a boat at Yoakum's Boathouse on the old dam.

"It's been a popular tourist destination for more than a century, with that old dam."

Somebody else who did, was  Bob Sipes and his family. He along with his wife Janet raise six kids on the waters of Raystown.

Their cottage home in the area of Finks Bridge was a top destination for their friends and family each summer.

"I remember the old cottage was a lot of fun and also we did a lot of fishing," Sipes said. "The memories, the water-skiing, and we used to sit at the dock when we bought the new cottage and we'd sit at the dock and watch the boats go by, but we did have a lot of fun; we fished a lot."

Great memories of yesterday fast forward to today.

"Yes, it where the gas lines come down, they come right through the ground," he said "It was out about, oh, three or 400 feet."

The Sipes' cottage like many folks who vacationed or even lived permanently on that stretch of the hold dam today is no more. When that transition from old dam to new happened in the 60's into the early 70's, many of the cottages and permanent residences in the area were flood over and in some parts destroyed as part of that project.

That project was developed and carried out by the Army Corps. of Engineers, initiated (as they stated back then) to help with "flood control and improve water quality and recreation among other things.

Thousands of people, like bob and his family were warned of htis impending "controlled flooding" he said sometime between 1970 and 1971, but it still didn't make it any easier at the time.

"Well, there was an ad in the paper, and I kept all the ads in the paper and when they passed it and of course the man that would buy the cottages for the state he would wanna come talk to me, and he'd come in and of course I'd walk away, because I didn't want to sell," he said.

If you look out there now, would there be anything left of the old cottage underwater?

"Well, I thought there was, but I understand that they just knocked it down," Sipes said. "It was a cinder block and I really thought it was left down there, but the way I heard today that it wasn't."

So maybe no remnants of the Sipes Family's old cottage, but the murky waters of Raystown Lake still do hold some amazing reminders of what once stood in the area.

Take a look at some of this incredible video shot back in 2012, some 160 feet below the lake's surface taken by diver Rich Shea, the beams you see, Rich says are part of the Old Hawns Bridge.

Another clip shows beams from an old powerhouse.

Sipes has since rebuilt from scratch a new cottage in the Entriken Area of Raystown Lake, up near James Creek. He said, "they had to do it."

The Aitch area was arguably the most affected by the transition. According to records, 407 graves and about 1,000 cabins had to be removed.

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