JUNE 2012

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Unraveling Family Ties

A historic house captures our interest as much for the stories of those who built it, lived in it, or visited it as for its architectural pedigree. In this issue, the stone house and surrounding farm now owned by Roy and Ginny Zartman played a role in several stories.

The property grew and prospered thanks to its rich soil, its location along a prominent canal, and the clay dug there by two well-known potters separated by a century. Buying the house brought Roy back to his family’s 18th-Century roots in central Pennsylvania, where descendants of the only Zartman known to emigrate from Germany gather annually to celebrate their heritage and meet distant cousins.

Writing that story got me digging again into my paternal roots, although they are not as deep as Roy’s because my Italian-born great-grandparents didn’t immigrate until the last decades of the 19th Century. Thanks to the unusual spelling of our family name and the immediate access to records offered by the Internet, I turned up enough anecdotal information to lend credence to oft-repeated family stories.

My great-grandfather Domenic Gocella, for whom my father was named, followed his brother Giuseppe (Joseph) to the United States to work as a stone mason. I had always heard that they helped build one of the railroad bridges across the Susquehanna River. As it turns out, I probably drove beneath that bridge most days on my commute to and from Harrisburg to the magazine’s former offices.

Rockville Bridge, built for the Pennsylvania Railroad, runs nearly a mile long over 48 spans of cut stone mined from local quarries, including the one owned by Giuseppe. Two contractors, one on each side of the river, constructed the bridge to carry as many as a hundred trains daily on the vital Philadelphia to Pittsburgh main line. Eight hundred workers—including upwards of 300 Italian stone masons—spent two years erecting it, using 220,000 tons of stone and 600,000 barrels of cement, at a cost of approximately $1 million.

At its completion in 1902 and well into the 21st Century, it remained the longest stone arch bridge in the world. Considered a potential military target, armed guards protected it during both world wars. In 1975 the bridge earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Trains still pass over its tracks.

Uncle Giuseppe did well for himself. “One of the great builders of Falls Creek was Mr. G. A. Gocella,” according to an article on the DuBois Area Historical Society web site. “The town was founded on great layers of sandstone, and during the next half century, huge quantities of building stone and crushed stone were used in railroad construction and bridge work. Mr. Gocella was one of the first to exploit these fields ... The Gocella Mansion remained as a landmark for many years.”

A history of DuBois from 1874 to 1938 noted, “Gill & Gocella developed a big stone quarry business and Joe built himself a brick-stone mansion where he entertained his friends lavishly.”

Alas, while the bridge remains, the mansion no longer stands. Family lore holds that it concealed a great sum of money that probably helped hasten its destruction, but I found an old postcard showing an impressive three-and-a-half- storey house behind a solid sandstone wall.

In the process of my research, I also discovered a Gocella cousin who lives nearby. I wonder what stories we might share.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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