Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
Gold and Ghosts near Langhorne
When the First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia established a summer compound in Parkland (Bucks County, Pa.) in 1890, they reputedly chose the spot based on a message from the spirit world: "Thar's gold in that thar hill of Parkland!" The location is not far from the present-day Historic Langhorne Association, a gold mine of archival information on Parkland.
Spiritualism, a belief that spirits coexist with mortals and can communicate with them through mediums, reached its peak in popularity during the second half of the 19th century. It was established around 1848 by Kate and Margaret Fox, who toured the world and amazed packed audiences by communicating with ghosts through "spirit rappings." The First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia first met in 1852, making it one of the oldest Spiritualist associations in the world.
The First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia grew over the ensuing decades, and like most organizations, required funding to sustain itself. In 1889, the group formed a Relief Mining and Milling Company, dedicated to investigating whether the spirits were right about mineral wealth in "that thar hill of Parkland." A portion of the proceeds would be directed back to the mother church.
The Spiritualists must have been disappointed by the mining potential in the area, because they only held five meetings of the mining company. In 1890 they changed tack to establish the Parkland Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association. This group had twin objectives to contribute financial aid to the First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia and "to spread the philosophy and religion of spiritualism at Parkland." A cookhouse, ice cream stands, and a hotel were built on the grounds; lectures, musical performances, sports competitions, and other recreations were held--as well as seances and other Spiritualist gatherings.
It seems that the Parkland Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association held its last official meeting in 1893, although Spiritualists continued to inhabit the area and the campgrounds were still used. The area remained popular as a summer resort destination for a time, and eventually the summer homes were converted to year-round rental units.
Historic Langhorne Association holds a small amount of materials from the Spiritualist Association, including miscellaneous financial records, a booklet of by-laws, and scattered correspondence. Most of the Parkland materials at Historic Langhorne Association, however, date from the rental unit era. Records from the renting organization, Park Land Association, include three linear feet of leases and various financial documents from 1914 to 1960.
If the spirits are calling to you to learn more about Parkland, do not fear! Head over to the Historic Langhorne Association.
Fabian, Jean. "Parkland Is." 1970. Pamphlet at Historic Langhorne Association.
Smalarz, Timothy. Finding aid to "First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia Collection," Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection 3089. Accessed December 11, 2012. http://hsp.org/sites/default/files/legacy_files/migrated/findingaid3089firstspiritualists.pdf.