From the Archives: Ledgers Hold Secrets of Pine Forge Academy's Past
This story was originally published in a February 1, 1987 Columbia Union Visitor:
Allegheny East Conference's Pine Forge Academy has a special historical heritage. The school is nestled in a rustic valley that holds some of America's most intriguing colonial history and this country's most poignant folklore.
Located in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, the academy is approximately 40 miles from Philadelphia, 20 minutes from Valley Forge to the east and about 10 minutes from Daniel Boone's homestead to the west. Just minutes north of Hopewell Furnace and the Amish country in Lancaster County, the school is just south of the Moravian settlements of Bethlehem and Nazareth. On top of all that, it was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad.
This historical legacy is made even more vivid by the fact that the school archives contain about a dozen bookkeeping ledgers and journals dating from the early 1700s.
Thumbing through the age-stained and yellowing pages of the journals, one is quickly transported from the bustling 20th century back nearly 250 years to the quiet, restful acres called "The Pines." Thomas Rutter, one of the forerunners of the great American steel magnates, gave this affectionate name to the land he received from William Penn before the American Revolution. The building currently used as the principal's residence was built in 1728.
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington, whose army was camped at nearby Valley Forge, had his iron work done at Pine Forge and in all probability was a guest at Pine Manor House.
During the Civil War and the era of the Fugitive Slave Law, Rutter's estate served as a station of the Underground Railroad, a network of houses where friendly people secretly helped slaves as they made their way to freedom in Canada.
The following excerpts are part of a historical account that was written in the July 6, 1964, issue of the Pottstown Mercury: "Whether Thomas Rutter somehow imparted his anti-slavery sentiments to his children or his heirs were simply made of the same mental and physical mettle cannot be said.
"But two of his grandsons, Charles and John Potts Rutter, risked certain physical danger and probably imprisonment despite their community standing by long and active participation in the secret and arduous task of helping slaves escape to relative freedom and security in the North.
"Charles Rutter, who married Mary Anna, daughter of the Jesse Ives who owned the Pottstown Roller Mills, occupied the Ives house at South and Hanover streets during Underground Railroad days.
"The Ives home was strategically located near the bridge across the Schuylkill River. The fugitive slaves would race from Chester County, their first stop after crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, across the bridge and into the Ives home.
"Charles Rutter would hide them in a small room over an out-kitchen, it is believed, until the opportunity arose to pass them along to his brother, John Potts Rutter, at Pine Forge.
"The two Rutter brothers almost certainly escorted many escaping Southern slaves personally from northern Chester County until they left Pine Forge for a still more northerly station on the route.
"The Rutters had to make all transfers of the Negroes from one station to another at night and be home before daybreak or risk exposure.
"Had the Rutters' activities been exposed, they would have been arrested for violating the Fugitive Slave Act, a law passed in Congress to appease Southern legislators.
"The act offered a reward for information leading to the capture of escaped slaves and specified fines and prison terms for any persons caught in aiding a slave's escape."
In 1946, when the founders of Pine Forge Institute, as the academy was then called, were laying plans to construct needed buildings, a proposal to raze all the structures and erect new buildings was consid- ered. However, this idea was short-lived once the ledgers were found and their historical significance was realized.
Today Pine Manor House is registered with the state of Pennsylvania as a historical landmark, although it serves as the principal's residence.
Private tours can be conducted if arranged well in advance. Although the underground passageways had to be sealed, visitors can still see evidence of where they were.
God now allows Seventh-day Adventists to use this bountiful land that is a monument to the courage, faith and determination of those who fought to make freedom meaningful.
Robert L. Booker was director of the communication and Sabbath school departments of the Allegheny East Conference when this article was written in 1987.