There’s a new attraction getting ready to take Brookville by storm in June. Scripture Rocks Heritage Park is a must-see destination for history buffs, legend seekers, and adventurers of all ages. Covering four acres of beautiful Jefferson County woodland, Scripture Rocks contains cryptic and mysterious testaments, painstakingly carved into the large stone edifices that sprout forth from the ground. However, in order to learn about Scripture Rocks, you must first learn about the man behind the rocks, and we don’t mean the park’s founder, Ken Burkett (although he is a big part of the story).
Born in the year 1861, Douglas Monroe Stahlman was a farm boy from Warsaw Township in Jefferson County, and the middle child in a family of ten children. He attended Erie Commercial School where he developed a passion for academia. He transformed that passion into a career, becoming a teacher at the Clear Creek School near Sigel. It would appear that Stahlman was restless in nature, however. He left his behind his career as a teacher and became a book agent in Tennessee. Far from home, Stahlman found love when he came upon his future wife, Marion. The couple married in 1897 and moved to Indianapolis, where Marion gave birth to their two sons.
Shortly after his marriage, Stahlman became involved in the teachings of John Alexander Dowie and the International Divine Healing Association. Dowie was a self-proclaimed faith healer and despite the fact that he had been sued on multiple occasions for fraud and practicing medicine without a license, the man had developed a rather large following of believers, including Douglas Stahlman.
In 1901 Stahlman was living in Chicago, following the teachings of Dowie, during which time his wife Marion was back home in Indianapolis with their two children. Marion had been ill ever since delivering the family’s second child, James, and was recovering under the care of a physician. When Stahlman returned he was outraged and dismissed the physician immediately. Without proper medical care, Marion died of blood poisoning which set Stahlman on the long and spiraling path of depression and mental instability.
After his wife’s death, Stahlman was incarcerated and declared insane. His children were take from him and placed in the custody of his wife’s family. He was eventually released, but his life would never be the same.
With his family gone, Stahlman returned to Brookville. His odd behavior and radical beliefs quickly made his presence known to the nearby residents. Stahlman began inscribing and praying at the large rock outcroppings in the woodlands surrounding Brookville. Before long he developed a following of his own, and created outdoor churches where he and his followers could hold services. By 1913 Stahlman had dedicated over 500 rocks with his scriptures, messages, and prayers.
Fast forward 103 years and welcome to the grand opening of Scripture Rocks Heritage Park slated for June, where volunteers from the Jefferson County Historical Society and Northfork Chapter 29 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archeology have spent countless hours identifying and uncovering Stahlman’s work.
The park itself is a testament to what can be achieved by a dedicated and enthusiastic group of community volunteers. 1.5 miles of scenic woodland trails were laid out using over 160 tons of gravel. The trails themselves are sectioned off into color coded loops for easy navigation through the park. Visitors can be transported back in time as they travel along the path and witness over 70 boulders that Stahlman inscribed between the years of 1911 and 1913. They can also visit Chapel Rock, where Stahlman lived for a time and penned his journals.
In addition to the rocks themselves, the park contains interactive trail side panels that tell the story of Douglas Stahlman, as well as highlight the geology and natural history, lumber heritage, and wildlife of the area. There’s even a small prehistoric archeological site. For a small donation, visitors can pick up a trail guide booklet at the trail head or at the Jefferson County History Center.
The Scripture Rocks Heritage Park was recently named one of the top 10 most interesting places to visit in Pennsylvania in 2016. After her recent visit, Carrie Fischer Leprore, Deputy Secretary from the Pennsylvania Office of Marketing and Tourism said, “We believe that the Scripture Rocks Heritage Park will be a tremendous asset to Jefferson County in terms of recreation and education, and are extremely optimistic about the park’s potential to create a new tourist attraction in the commonwealth.”
Thanks to some very generous contributions by the PA Department of Conservations and Natural Resources, The Jefferson County Room Tax Committee, and the PA Lumber Heritage Region, Scripture Rocks Heritage Park was able to complete its final stages of construction and is scheduled to open on June 11 th at 1:00 p.m. The park is free to the public and there will be a dedication ceremony and guided tours are available. The park is located one-mile north of Brookville following Rt. 28, or just south of Interstate 80 exit 81.
If you would like to know more about this compelling piece of Jefferson County history, visit ScriptureRocks.com, or check out the award-winning publication, Scripture Rocks: Why Douglas Stahlman Carved His Legacy in Stone, available at the Jefferson County History Center on Main Street in Brookville.