A significant event of American history occurred in 1875. Although it affected the entire nation, Not many folks bothered to pay attention. No one, that is, except the 3,710 souls whose lives were altered, twice, across a century divide.
In that year, the town fathers of the big-little sister towns Platz, Pennsylvania, and Bukmyn, West Virginia, decided that their towns were important enough to become a new state of the U.S. This in spite of the fact that only a few years earlier neither appeared on any map nor had any trains or major roads been run to or through them.
In 1870, Platz, PA and Bukmyn, WV were typical of large towns on the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border: they had Main streets, tradespeople and shop keepers, constables, fire companies and plenty of cows and chickens. Life was uncomplicated and self-contained. The most interesting thing about the towns was their location on a huge body of water known as “Buk Lake”. Although the lake was large and straddled the state line it wasn’t significant at the time since nothing ever happened in Platz or Bukmyn anyway.
But 1872 came and with it a young, clever Italian immigrant named Giovanni. Giovanni came looking for gold in the mountain streams around Bukmyn (yes, there was and is plenty of gold in the right half of the U.S.A.). He never found the gold, but his diggings did lead him to a rich coal vein not far outside of town, up on the Runamok River.
(Giovanni celebrated with an extravagant seventy-five cent bottle of fine, old red wine.)
Quietly, Giovanni set about buying the land the mine was on and as much of the surrounding acreage as he could afford. Soon he was shrewdly bargaining to get what he needed to start mining. One of the sweet deals he made was to have the two towns, Platz and Bukmyn, pay to have a railroad built between them and (eventually) to Jericho, north of Buk lake about 18 miles. The first leg of the branch-line track-work, however, would interchange at Jericho with the New York Central Railroad line heading to Erie, PA. Of course Giovanni managed to get himself elected President of the new railroad. No one is quite sure how he swung it—but it was rumored to have something to do with information Giovanni may have had concerning the mayor of Platz and said mayor's relationship with the state Senator’s daughter. But that's another story.
(Giovanni bought a new horse and wagon.)
By the time Giovanni’s mine was up and running the railroad was too. With the grandiosity so typical of those times, Giovanni named his road the “Platz, Bukmyn & Jericho Railroad” even though the line did not go anywhere near Jericho at the time. (No matter, many eastern railroads sporting “Western” or “Pacific” in their names never made it past the Mississippi River either.)
(Giovanni bought a new surrey with a fringe on top, married the mayor’s daughter, Mary-Margaret O’Reilly, and purchased the former Weinstain estate on Main Street in Bukmyn.)
Soon, a new issue arose—how to get the coal and other “export” items out of the towns without having to build a railroad branch to circumnavigate the vast expanse of Buk Lake. Again, Giovanni was right on the spot; he proposed construction of a car-ferry slip at the lakeside in Platz. The new water operation would bring railroad cars to and from the connection with other railroads at the mouth of the Halfahatchett River on the south end of Buk Lake. This was cheaper than the numerous tunnels, bridges and steep grades that crossing the tall foothills around the lake would entail.
The local bigwigs greeted this plan with great enthusiasm. The resolution was drafted, voted on, passed unanimously and signed and sealed before you could say “monopoly”. Naturally, Giovanni became the chief executive officer of the new company, “Buk Lake Transport Ltd.”. This new line would do nothing but hustle railroad cars on and off the ferries or car floats. There would be one yard at the south slip by the Halfahatchett inlet and one at Platz by Knot’s Landing. Once ashore, the PB&J would take over to haul the cars from the yard in Platz for transport to Bukmyn and points north. Of course, the BLT owned the ferry and car floats and itself was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the good old PB&J.
(Giovanni started designing his mansion.)
Remember that piece of history we mentioned at the beginning? Well, in 1874, the twin towns of Platz and Bukmyn decided that they were doing so well that they should form a new state of The Union. This would not only give them all the rights that states were entitled to but also ensure their place as a commerce center where all the money stayed at home. Needless to say, the schemers had their way and with the help of highly placed (and highly-rewarded) politicos in Washington, D.C., the new state of Pennsylginia was born in 1875, All 83 square miles of it. The PB&J tracks reached Jericho shortly thereafter in August of 1876.
(Giovanni was a shoo-in to be elected the first governor of Pennsylginia.)
Everything went beautifully until the turn of the century. In those early years of the 1900’s, several U.S. presidents and other political types were starting to respond to outcries about the railroads and their robber-baron ways of doing business. One investigation led to another and soon it was determined that the sovereign state of Pennsylginia had been formed illegally and must be dissolved.
(Former governor of Pennsylginia, Giovanni, and his wife, suddenly took a three-year world cruise for “health reasons”.)
While Washington was roiling the waters, the city fathers and state government of Pennsylginia were assembling their army of attorneys and lobbyists. The battle was long and fierce. Suit followed counter-suit after suit after counter-suit. The whole thing came to a sudden halt in 1927 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a landmark 9-0 decision, to dissolve the state of Pennsylginia. Follow-up in Congress quickly ensued and within a month, the state officially was no more.
(The Giovannis were somewhere near Indonesia and could not be reached for comment.)
The decision by the high court stunned the residents of Pennsylginia. Transition back to membership into their former states slowly began but it was obvious that everyone was dragging their feet. Years later one could still find many items that carried the words “Bukmyn, PG” or “Platz, PG”. Change was not easily embraced.
(Giovanni was buried in the family plot next to his late wife on the grounds of his elaborate house up on Miners' Hill. He built it at a spot where it would forever overlook his railroad and face his original coal mine.)
The children have done nicely with the profits their late father had gleaned from his many lucrative deals, mainly from his silent ownership of the legal firm the government of Pennsylginia had retained to fight their statehood case.
(Giovanni’s son, Junior, still lives in that house outside of Bukmyn Pennsylginia, er, West Virginia.)
It’s now 1955 and the post-war boom is on. The BLT still has its car floats, tugs and ferries lettered with “Platz, PG” as their home port. Somehow these decades later, no-one can bring themselves to pick up a paintbrush and erase those last mementos of the late, great state of Pennsylginia.