The Mythical Drowning of Aitch
© 2017 - Stephanie Hoover, All Rights Reserved
It seems only fitting that a town whose very name is the result of a disagreement would become one of Pennsylvania's most debated “hauntings.” Aitch - or at least the portion remaining above-ground - today sits on the northwestern shore of Raystown Lake. In the late 1800's, upon learning that a new post office would be erected to serve the area, the five most prosperous men of the region (Anderson, Isenberg, Taylor, Crum and Henderson) all wanted it named after them. After much discussion, bickering, and debate they found themselves at an impasse. The solution: use the first initial of each surname to create “Aitch,” pronounced like “H.“
Prior to the formation of the lake, Aitch sat on the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River - a body of water viewed by prescient 19th century businessmen as an excellent source of hydro-electric power.
Construction plans for a massive dam were drawn in early 1907. In September of that year, contracts were awarded. Initial construction required 60,000 barrels of cement. First estimates promised that more than 5,000 horsepower worth of electricity could be generated and harvested. As developers acquired more tracts of land, however, the power potential grew and two years later engineers boasted that the Raystown Dam could supply enough electricity for all of Pennsylvania.
The dam's original planners soon realized their man-made lake offered impressive recreational opportunities as well. Revised building plans included lakeside cottages, swimming beaches, boating, fishing and hunting areas meant to attract tourists who would pump millions of dollars into the local economy.
The original dam and lake saw various improvements over the years but by the late 1960's it was clear that a larger dam was needed to improve flood control measures in the Juniata Valley. But instead of being privately funded, this time Baltimore District's Army Corps of Engineers would do the work. First, however, the Corps had to acquire 30,000 acres of mainly private land. And so begins the legend of Aitch.
Many web sites claim that Aitch is a haunted, underwater ghost town where the bodies of those who refused to leave their homes are still trapped. While this makes for entertaining storytelling, it is ludicrous on its face. To believe such a tall-tale one would have to believe that the Army Corps of Engineers purposely drowned the people of the town and left them to decompose in the deep, cold waters of Raystown Lake.
In actuality, property owners (who agreed to and were reimbursed for seizure of their land) were given sufficient time to move or otherwise dispose of their businesses, furnishings, vehicles and other personal property.
Raystown Lake's Supervisory Park Ranger Jude T. Harrington explained it to CIM this way: “The structures in the village of Aitch (like all areas inundated by the construction of Raystown Lake) were either demolished and removed, or relocated.”
Harrington went on to assure us, “There were no fatalities as a result of the Lake's construction.”
Perhaps the legends surrounding the submerged town of Aitch are fueled by the archaeological evidence that remains above ground. For instance, the foundations of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad today support the fishing pier at the Aitch Recreation Area of Raystown Lake. And, if you look closely at the woods surrounding the lake, you may spot wild-growing roses that once lined the yards and driveways of the village's residents.
But enjoy the lake without worry, for the truth is this: no residents of the town of Aitch were harmed in the making of this ghost story.