White Deer Valley inspired famous writer
MONTGOMERY For a young man spending but four years near Montgomery, novelist Conrad Richter gleaned experiences which would appear in his works, with memories lasting his lifetime.
Born in 1890 at Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, PA, his father opted to leave the proprietorship of his general store to become a minister. Eventually the Rev. John A. Richter became pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Brady Township, Lycoming County.
Locally known as the Stone Church, the immediate area included Alvira and Deckertown. Next door neighbors to the minister’s family was the Levi Hulsizer’s blacksmith shop, and across the field, the Decker family residence. This area was midway between the current federal prison and golf course.
During the Richter family’s four-year residence, Conrad spent about six months in Pittsburgh. At age fifteen his father found the son a job with Westinghouse. Neither he, his mother, nor his brothers wanted Conrad to leave the valley. But leave he must, and without friends in the western part of the state, saving the refuse of a library, Conrad became despondent. In 1906 when he arrived home at the train station in Montgomery, he was sullen, slender and downhearted.
The White Deer Valley was a perfect place for rest and rejuvenation. Conrad hiked, soaked in nature, and visited with hunters and woodsmen. After a time, Conrad was employed in Montgomery at the Farmer’s National Bank. The bank catered to the agriculturalists of the valley by sending Conrad to the farms eliminating the need for coming to town for banking.
The employee walked from his rural home to and from the bank. The horse and buggy that was used to call upon the farmers was provided by the bank president during banking hours. Conrad became inspired with making money, perhaps because his father’s meager income depended on the generosity of his congregation.
One of Richter’s first published works was a poem entered in the yearbook, “A Glimpse of the White Deer Valley.”
When he wrote, four theme seeds seemed to be gleaned from the Montgomery area. They included nature, a pioneer spirit, self-identity and family. Following WWI, Richter’s writings were not about the happenings of the day, but issues from the past.
Readers may see similarities to the local area in a trilogy of writings titled “The Field,” “The Towns,” and “The Trees.” Conrad Richter is credited with writing 14 novels, and over an 18-year period, 30 articles for the Saturday Evening Post.
The highest grossing film in 1947 was taken from Richter’s book, “A Sea of Grass” starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
In 1961, the former Pulitzer Prize winner won the year’s Best Book Award for “The Awakening Land” which beat out the well-known, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The aforesaid account was given by Larry Stout in a presentation during the Oct. 18 meeting at the Montgomery Area Historical Society. On display and recently purchased by the society, was a complete first edition collection of Richter’s works.
Following Stout’s presentation, remarks were added by several in attendance. Lois Wertman said she once worked at the Farmers Bank, and husband Paul had his law office on the second floor.
Miriam McCormick said Deckertown was the place where as children, her father Paul and uncles Elmer and P. Harold resided. “There were three Decker boys and three Richter boys; Conrad, Joseph and Frederick. The latter trio loved to get up early in the morning and go fishing. It was difficult to awake one of the Decker boys, so the night before, he’d tie a string to his toe and drop the string out the window. The next morning, the Richters would pull the string, then be off while fishing was at its finest.”
McCormick spoke of a second instance involving Conrad Richter. On occasion he’d come to the area seeking a quiet place to write during a dry time. Miriam’s uncle, P. “Harold” Decker, at the time an eye doctor in Williamsport, found him an empty cabin along the Loyalsock.
Added to remembrances was an account previously given by Marlene Hulsizer Gallagher. When Richter visited her family, a neighbor asked who was in the big car. The response was, “Oh that’s Connie, he writes books.”
After living in Reading and New Mexico, in 1968, the novelist died and was buried in the town of his birth, in Saint John’s Lutheran Cemetery at Pine Grove, PA.