The oldest house in Lycoming County unfolds a story to behold
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of the history of Muncy Farms as told by local historian, Robert Webster to members of the East Lycoming Historical Society, guests and former students on September 17, 2012.
As the story is revealed by Robert Webster from Hughesville, and to the demise of the Samuel Wallis family, the second owner of Muncy Farms got a deal for the property. He was Henry Drinker from Sunbury, another land speculator who wanted to restore it and re-sell it for a profit. He sold the land and mansion to Robert Coleman, a state legislator and one of the wealthiest men around.
In 1787 Coleman was reported to be the first millionaire in Pennsylvania. “He owned the Cornwall Iron Deposits outside of Lebanon which made iron smelting furnaces. The American Revolution made him wealthy. He was the Iron King of the Revolution,” reported Robert Webster.
As a wedding present, Coleman bought Muncy Farms and gave the estate away to his daughter who was betrothed in marriage. She was engaged to Charles Hall, a lawyer from Sunbury. The couple built a big addition to the home in 1810 and the property took on the name Halls Farms. Sadly, Mr. Hall died at a young age and the responsibility of the estate became too much of a burden for Elizabeth Coleman Hall. So she left the home and returned to her family in Philadelphia. However, Elizabeth Coleman’s sister, Ann, had a relationship with James Buchanan who would have surely visited Muncy Farms. “Imagine sitting at the same desk as the 15th President of the United States,” announced Webster who was hired to help take care of the property at a time when he started teaching school.
A prominent banking family from Philadelphia and a close blood relationship to Elizabeth Coleman Hall and “The Iron King”, took over the ownership of Muncy Farms. The Brock Family continued to own the vast property until 1961 when Mrs. Henry Brock passed away. During this time many townships were formed. Four towns grew into boroughs. Muncy was the first in 1826, followed by Hughesville in 1852.
In 1834 the Pennsylvania Canal Company from Harrisburg came to Muncy to extend the West Branch Canal, just in time for the lumber boom. The canal bed passed through Muncy Farms. “You can still see it from the front of the mansion. It is still there,” said Webster. “It is very visible and so is its pull-over next to the Reading Railroad that extended their line through the area where Fort Muncy once stood, and crossed right in front of the mansion,” Webster added. He further explained that the second oldest iron bridge in the United States was built there by Coleman himself. As Webster brought the history to life he described how they started laying the railroad track through the area in 1866 between Reading and Williamsport. A large hotel was also built in Williamsport.
Henry Brock soon became the third owner of Muncy Farms. In the mid 1920’s and newly married, he made the property his new home. An addition was added in 1926 putting the mansion up to eleven bedrooms. This was a good time for the financier according to Webster, for in July of 1929, the dedication and official opening of Lycoming County’s airport took place in nearby Montoursville.
Ten years later significant unrest shook the world on September 1, 1939 over in England, and the official start of World War II. At the time England would send their children “out of harm’s way” to America until the war was over. Through a registry set up between the nations, the Henry Brock family welcomed four young children to take shelter in their home. “First they came to Canada, then they were taken in by the Brock family who gave the children a home,” said Webster. Sheila, Susan, Brian and Malcolm Barlow became part of the Brock family.
To this day Malcolm Barlow and his sister, Sheila are the current owners and occupants of the private property. Malcolm was only four when he left England with his siblings. In 1961 Mrs. Brock passed away and the children inherited the property. The maintenance and responsibility of the remaining 800 acres are in their care. 450 acres are used for farming, mostly corn and soybeans. Fuel oil takes up a large amount of its budget. And now much commercial development has occurred nearby – a mall, restaurants, industrial complex, shopping center, a nursery and more have transformed around Muncy Farms. More history of the Barlow family and their story is revealed in a book, ‘Only One Child’ written by Brian Bohun Barlow himself. It is also available at the Muncy Public Library.
Following Webster’s presentation, a surprise and welcoming visit by Malcolm and Sheila Barlow was given to Mr. Robert Webster and to the audience, for it was his 84th birthday. The East Lycoming Historical Society also gave him a cake.