Bio Books Reviews Local Connections Press Releases Contact Links


Local Connections

The Philipsburg / Mushannon Town Connection

The eponymous hero of Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town is loosely modeled on an actual person–the author Mark Seinfelt’s great-great-great-great grandfather John Henry Simler, a Parisian shoemaker, a soldier of the American Revolution, and one of the first settlers of the town of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1797. John Henry Simler has many famous descendants including Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher, Exxon Senior Scientific Advisor John H. Sinfelt, Four-star Air Force General George B. Simler IV, and Navy Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson. The town of Philipsburg originally bore the name of Mushannon Town. Many of the characters in Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town were inspired by actual Philipsburg natives. John Henry Simler’s obituary appeared on the front page of the Philadelphia newspaper The Saturday Bulletin on October 24, 1829: "The decease of John Henry Simler, a soldier of the Revolution, occurred in this city about ten days ago. In the year 1780, he enlisted in France as a private, and served as a Dragoon in Capt. de Bert's corps of the First Troop of Light Dragoons, Free Legion, under the command of Col. Armand. He arrived at Boston, and proceeded thence with his Troop to Yorktown in Virginia, at which memorable siege he was present, and assisted in the capture of it by the united forces of America and France. He was wounded in the forehead and eye by a sabre and retained the scar until his death. He remained in the service until regularly discharged immediately after the surrender of Yorktown. On the termination of the war, he married and settled in Philadelphia, where he remained for about fifteen years. In 1793, he lost his wife by the yellow-fever; he then married a second time and in 1797 removed to Philipsburg in Centre County Pa., a perfect wilderness at the time. He built the first house in the place and where he resided until he lost his second wife, in the year 1822. In the year 1825, he again removed to Philadelphia with his only son, where he lived until his death."

Philipsburg Founder has 'French Connection'

THE PROGRESS, Clearfield, Curwensville, Philipsburg, Moshannon Valley, Pa., Wednesday, October 28, 1998
By Judith Kay Hollis Staff Writer PHILIPSBURG -
The teenagers were headstrong, reckless and rebellious. They advocated human rights and liberal causes, throwing caution to the wind in search of what they considered the truth. The youths set out to create a land where the people, not the government, ruled and freedom was the mind set of the populace. If this sounds like teens from the '70s, well, that's partially correct. These were the teens of the 1770s who fought in the American Revolution and left a legacy for the people of Philipsburg. This is an interpretation of how Mark Seinfelt, chairman of the Simler House Restoration Committee, saw the young men who paved the way to present day Philipsburg.
Mr. Seinfelt noted that much has been written about John Henry Simler,his family, and the house itself; but asks, what about the "French connection?" According to Mr. Seinfelt, John Henry had direct ties with some of France's most colorful military figures who played a prominent part in the early history of the United States. He explained this little known part of Philipsburg's history, which starts a journey back in time to the court of French King Louis XVI. The King commissioned John Henry to furnish and repair the high boots for his courtiers, the Gray Musketeers, one of whom was a young teenager named Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette.
John Henry became acquainted with the young Lafayette, and his brother-in-law, Vicomte Louis Marie de Noailles - an equally defiant young man. German by birth, John Henry was seven years the Marquis' senior and knew the young aristocrat prior to Lafayette's commission as major general in the American Army at 19. Lafayette and de Noailles were typical teens, according to Mr. Seinfelt. They enjoyed flaunting the norms and fashions of their time.
The two were immensely wealthy at the time of the American Revolution and up to that time had never suffered any sort of hardship in their lives. Mr. Seinfelt said a number of historians today debunk the Lafayette legend and insist that the Marquis and his brother-in-law merely enjoyed expressing opinions and viewpoints just to shock their stiff-necked, etiquette-bound elders. De Noailles, very flamboyant and a gaudy dresser, nevertheless went on to fight in the American Revolution in the French Army under Rochambeau, participating in the seige of Yorktown. Unlike his two younger aristocratic friends, Simler, the shoemaker, enlisted in the American Army late in the war. In 1780,in Paris, he joined the Partisan Legion Calvary Unit of Charles Armand, the Marquis de la Rouerie Tuffin.
A colorful figure, Armand was as popular a hero as Lafayette but Mr. Seinfelt said his memory is all but forgotten now. Armand was one of the few foreign adventurers who impressed Washington, and the latter gave him the authority to raise a legion of dragoons; he returned to France in 1780/81 to purchase clothing and equipment for his corps. At that time, he convinced John Henry to enlist as a continental dragoon. Assisting in the American Revolution was the Partisan Legion, an American brigade with French officers and privates who were natives of the German states, deserters from the British Army or prisoners of war who turned their coats.
Because of his German heritage and time spent in France, John Henry was invaluable as an interpreter. He participated in skirmishes at Spencer's Ordinary and Green Springs and fought at Yorktown under Lafayette. John Henry was wounded in the forehead and eye by a saber, leaving a prominent scar. Lafayette and de Noailles returned to France after the Yorktown surrender. John Henry married Anna Donnawin in 1784 and resided at 5 Prune St., Philadelphia, where he continued his shoemaking trade. Meanwhile, both Lafayette and de Noailles became involved with the French government, and at the beginning of the Revolution there, de Noailles embraced the rebellion. De Noailles lost most of his family to the guillotine. He escaped to Philadelphia, where he became reacquainted with Mr. Simler, who lost his wife and three of his children in the yellow fever epidemic, along with 10 percent of the population. De Noailles believed many French refugees would shortly arrive in America. In fact, Mr. Seinfelt said his stated purpose in coming to the U.S. was to seek asylum for French aristocrats, including Queen Marie Antoinette. His efforts on her behalf were fruitless, as she was guillotined shortly after his escape from France. De Noailles became a partner in a land venture known as the Azilum Company, which acquired vast tracts of land in central and western Pennsylvania with hopes of providing a refuge for the anticipated French.
In 1794, a town named Azilum was built on the banks of the Susquehanna. The following year, the Azilum company went bankrupt. Henry Philips of the firm of John Leigh Philips and Brothers, of Manchester, England, purchased a vast tract of unimproved land in central Pennsylvania from the Azilum investors for $173,000. Acting as agent and middle man, the Vicomte de Noailles brokered the deal and subsequently became a business partner of Henry Philips. In 1796, Mr. Philips bought the Shippen Mansion at 114 South Fourth Street in Philadelphia, which stood cater-corner from John Henry's shop at 5 Prune Street That same year, Louis- Philippe, Duc de Orleans, later King of France, and his brother, the Duc de Montpensier, moved next door to John Henry. In 1797 John Henry was one of the 12 settlers who accepted Henry Philips' inducement to come to Mushannontown, the settlement known later as Philipsburg. He was probably talked into joining the expedition by de Noailles, Mr. Seinfelt speculated, possibly as an agent of France. Having lost a wife and three children to the yellow fever, Mr. Seinfelt said Simler was eager to leave the city and safeguard his remaining family from further exposure to illness. John Henry's second wife, Sarah, and his surviving children, Lovinia, Sarah, and Charles, acompanied him to the frontier settlement. He remained in Philipsburg until 1825; the anticipated French settlers never arrived.
Vicomte Louis Marie de Noailles
Col. Charles Armand
Vicomte Louis Marie de Noailles
Col. Charles Armand
in the uniform of the Partisan Legion

Uncovering History
Centre Daily Times, Sunday, October 25, 1998
By Barbara Brueggebors
Swinging his claw hammer from the shoulder, Steve Scott bashes away at the parlor wall, ripping away decades with every blow.
Behind him, Mark Seinfelt -- wrecking bar in hand -- rakes at the ceiling, unleashing a downpour of laths, horse-hair plaster, square cut nails, and furring strips.
Susan Hughes, nose and mouth covered by protective mask, plods back and forth through the dust and debris, blazing a trail with a scoop shovel.
Outside, the traffic moves on Second Street; people stroll the sidewalks on Laurel, oblivious to the commotion in the derelict old house on the corner.
It's another "Adventure Tuesday" in downtown Philipsburg.
For six straight Tuesdays, an all-volunteer crew anchored by Scott, Seinfelt, and Hughes has been going about the very dirty business of undressing and photographing the 191-year-old-house at Second and Laurel.
Led by State College architect Larry Wolfe, who is also volunteering his time, the Adventure Tuesday wrecking crew is on the front end of a restoration process that is rescuing and preserving Philipsburg's oldest still-standing house for posterity.
Slowly but surely, the gem beneath the weathered clapboards and ugly asbestos shingles is emerging. The foundation will hold an open house at the dwelling from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov 1 so townspeople can see how the project is coming.

Tours and displays

The 2 1/2 story log dwelling was built in 1807 by town pioneer John Henry Simler. A local couple long interested in local history, Robert and Barbara Bezilla, purchased the house last November and donated it to the borough.
The borough will continue to own it; the Philipsburg Historical Foundation will restore it and administer it in essentially the same way Philipsburg's famed Old Mud Church is operated. The house will be used for tours and display.
Barabara Bezilla, a Philipsburg Historical Foundation trustee emerita and a Simler descendant, says few people in town realize the building's significance.
"We knew what was here and wanted to save it," she said.
Seinfelt, a Simler descendant four greats and a grandfather down the line from the builder, is the project's chairman and chief grantwriter.
A writer with five novels and a Master of Fine Arts degree to his credit, Seinfelt is "just another grunt" on "Adventure Tuesday." And he's loving it.
"We're in the prerestoration discovery stage now," Seinfelt said. "This is a 10 year project, but we should have something really nice here by the year 2000, just in time for Centre County's 200th birthday. For Philipsburg, it's going to be a point of civic pride."
So far, the project has received a $4,200 grant from the Centre County Community Foundation. That paid for the demolition of the frame addition and to have the log house evaluated by restoration architect Norman Glass of Philadelphia.
The Historical Foundation has applied for a discovery grant of $10,000 from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and is waiting to hear about it, Bezilla said.
The paperwork is about to be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, asking that the project be awarded 501C-3 tax-exempt status. That all-important designation, will enable serious fund-raising to begin, Bezilla added.
The house at Second and Laurel actually was the second one built in Philipsburg by John Henry Simler. His first house -- also log -- went up in 1797, just after the pioneers arrived.
Born in 1752 in Coburg, Germany, John Henry was a traveling shoe and bootmaker who came to the United States via France to fight in the American War for Independence. He was wounded at the Battle of Yorktown.
For thirteen years following the war, Simler lived and worked in Philidelphia. Then he moved his family to Moshannon Town, now known as Philipsburg. He was one of the twelve hardy souls who agreed to Henry Philip's offer of town lot and a 4-acre outlot in exchange for going there to live.
Arriving in 1797, he quite literally carved his first house from the wilderness. It stood on what today is the north corner of Front and Laurel streets. History has it that the forest was so thick Simler was forced to cut seven trees before one could fall.

A new home

Around 1807, John Henry built his second house -- the one now being restored. He lived and worked there until 1824, when he returned to Philadelphia.
The dwelling originally was a double house, one room deep, with a common attic and cellar. The walls were made of hand-hewn logs, 15 inches in diameter, resting on a foundation of river stones hauled to the site from the Moshannon Creek. The roof was made of hand-cut, side-lapped wooden shingles.
About 1820, Simler enlarged the house with a two-story rear addition. Some 50 years after that, a subsequent owner tacked a third townhouse unit -- this one frame -- to the Second Street side of the building, and the duplex became a triplex.
While everything about the project excites him, Seinfelt said the hand-hewn logs, the beautiful stone foundations and near-pristine section of the original roof (covered over during construction of the rear addition) are the restoration's most significant discoveries to date.
When Norman Glass evaluated the building last spring, the Philadelphia man strongly encouraged the group to go forward with the project, Seinfelt said.
"Glass has done 80 restorations, and this was the first time he had ever seen an original section of German 'side-lapped' shingles intact." Seinfelt added. "His reaction when he saw then was, 'Oh wow!'"
From the onset, the log house was both residence and business to the Simler family. Seinfelt said that, early on, the first floor was a tavern. In 1819, it housed Philipsburg's first school, with Charles Simler, John Henry's son, teaching in German.
When the building was enlarged in 1820, John Henry Simler took the downstairs backroom facing Laurel Street for his shoe shop and designated much of the rest of the new addition for use as the town orphanage and poorhouse.
Somewhere along the line -- just when is not known -- the exterior log walls were covered with siding.
As the 19th century turned into the 20th and moved on toward the 21st, the building saw use as a bakery, as the home of the Salvation Army and for several decades in recent times as a three family rental unit.
By 1997, when the Bezillas bought it, the house had been looking shabby for a very long time. With the exception of the historical foundation members, not many townspeople considered it worth saving. Most thought it was an eyesore.
"There were people in town who wanted to tear the whole thing down and make this a parking lot." Seinfelt said. "Let's hope they start feeling differently now."
Only the log portion of the structure is being restored. The frame townhouse addition that was 104 N. Second Street was razed last month, exposing the original building's exterior north wall.
As funds become available, the Simler house will gradually return to its original 1807 appearance.
"This is so exciting," said a smiling Barbara Bezilla as she side-stepped a falling chunk of ceiling on a recent Tuesday. "The day the frame addition came down, I stood out here on the sidewalk and stared at that log wall. Just think how long those logs were covered."
As the volunteers work their way through the house, they try to compare what they know about the dwelling to what they find.
"So far," Bezilla conceded, "the list of questions grows immensely and the list of answers shrinks."
Wolfe is confident the answers will emerge. It's just that for now, some are still hidden in the rubble.
"Once we get all the debris cleaned up, we'll take a look and see what we have," the architect said. "Then we'll figure out where we're going with this."
One of the immediate priorities, Bezilla said, is to batten down the hatches before winter. "We're going to have a stonemason come in and shore up the hole in the basement wall where they broke through the frame addition," she explained. "He'll use old stones from the part that was torn down. Then we'll backfill (the razed section) and do chinking on the log wall."
For now -- and probably through November -- Adventure Tuesdays will continue.
"This house is Philipsburg's treasure," Bezilla said, fluffing plaster dust from her hair. "They may not recognize it now, but they will."

Simler House comes alive at open house

THE PROGRESS, Clearfield, Curwensville, Philipsburg, Moshannon Valley, Pa., Monday, November 2, 1998
Simler House in the 1880s     Simler House today
The Simler House as it was in the 1800s.
The Simler House as it is today.
By Judith Kay Hollis Staff Writer PHILIPSBURG -
People talking, laughing, sharing stories, drinking cider and eating gingerbread in the old tavern room at the Simler House yesterday created a scenario reminiscent of days gone by. The 191-year-old house on Second and Laurel streets, Philipsburg, played host to approximately 175 visitors interested in a part of the borough's history. The open house was sponsored through the efforts of the Philipsburg Historical Foundation, the Simler House Restoration Committee and Sue Hughes, Simler descendant and historical restoration student at Penn State University. Stories about the house and the Simler family abounded from J. Clair Simler, a direct descendant of John Henry Simler who built the house. Mr. Simler is curator emeritus of the Philipsburg Historical Foundation. Mark Seinfelt, Mr. Simler's grandson, is chairman of the Simler House Restoration Committee, and also regaled visitors with tales of his family's history. Mr. Simler said there was a story of how his great-grandfather Charles would tell his son, George, who at that time was a very young boy, that Indians scalped people. "One day an Indian came in to get his moccasins repaired," said Mr. Simler, "and upon seeing the Indian, George high-tailed it upstairs and hid under the bed for fear he'd be scalped." Mr. Simler also told of how the stones used to build the basement foundation were carried up from the Moshannon Creek bed, which at that time was about two blocks away.
Mr. Seinfelt informed visitors about Philipsburg's beginnings, the Simler family and their connection with the French army in the American Revolution. A significant attraction in the old tavern room were storyboards and picture albums organized by Ms. Hughes, chronicling the uncovering or "discovery" phase of the house from start to present. The photographs gave visitors insight on the various phases involved in researching the history of the house. David and Judy Tedesco, from Lafayette, Calif., were in town visiting relatives and walking around Philipsburg Saturday and saw the sign announcing Sunday's open house. They stopped in and were fascinated by what they saw and heard about the Simler House and will visit the historical foundation during their stay to find out more. One visitor, Patricia Jean Lingle Milsom, has very familiar ties to the Simler House. She is not a descendant, but lived in the house from the age of 3 until she was 20. Mrs. Milsom said she never had any idea the house she lived in those 17 years had so much history behind it. Ms. Hughes, in preserving the history of the house, also hopes to ensure its future.


Open house tour yields interesting facts about Simler House

THE PROGRESS, Clearfield, Curwensville, Philipsburg, Moshannon Valley, Pa., Friday, November 16, 2001
By Jane Elling
How many times when visiting a structure and wondering what has happened there through the years, we say, "If only the walls could talk!" If you have the historical knowledge and trained eyes like some of the people who have been overseeing the Simler House renovation project in Philipsburg, you would be able to look at the building and know what some of those happenings were.
It was interesting attending the recent open house where Philipsburg Historical Foundation board members Chris Watson and Mark Seinfelt explained as we toured the building what was found during the renovation and what those details meant. They could answer the questions of why the fireplace was taken out and its burnt stones showed up in the basement of the adjacent home, why there are round holes in the wall of the portion of the structure that was at one time a bakery and how they knew where the staircases were. One thing that isn't known is why there are three areas on an outside wall where some small and large BBs are still in place and small holes show someone shot into the building.
According to family lore from the late Clair Simler, Mark's grandfather, the house was built in 1807 and was the second home of John Henry Simler, his ancestor and one of the 12 original settlers of Philipsburg. The house at Second and Laurel streets is the oldest structure in Philipsburg. A copy of a map depicting Philipsburg in 1813 that was drawn by George Schultz, another of the 12 settlers, hangs in the Foundation rooms. Mr. Schultz says the Simler House was built in 1813. It's known that the Simlers lived there in that year. John Henry sold his first home to John Lorain. Mr. Watson supplied copies of deeds that were filed showing John Lorain's deed for John Henry's first house was entered Aug. 4, 1817, in Centre County. That same day, the deed for the second house was filed in Clearfield County and signed by another noted historical person, Arthur Bell. Both transactions were for $1. Another mystery: why were they filed in different counties?
Mr. Watson says the $1 cost could mean the ground might have already been paid for. He asks the question, "Was it a 'rent to own' or payment plan or were the Philips just not overly concerned with recording deeds?" Both homes were built on ground known as White Oak Grove. Mr. Watson explained the lot where the Simler House is located is 60 feet wide but in those early years went back 240 feet. He would have had a barn there also since he owned two cows and a horse. In 1817, there was also a deed for a four-acre "Out Lot" on Fourth Street that Charles Simler, John Henry's son, paid taxes on. Margy Marshall, a Simler descendant and Foundation curator, lives in a home located on that "Out Lot." Logs taken from that land were used to build the Old Mud Church, Mr. Watson and Mr. Seinfelt said. Mr. Seinfelt, who wrote a history given to visitors at the open house, says of John Henry: "The fact that John Henry owned two houses shows not only that he had confidence in the settlement but also speaks of his initiative and industriousness and of his frugal character." Mr. Watson says, "It was a classy house for its time" pointing out the features that made it different from other log homes of the era. It had four staircases which made it "a mansion in comparison to that of Abe Goss of Osceola Mills whose 16-foot square, one and one-half story log home had no inside staircase," Mr. Watson says. A ladder was placed up the outside wall for people to reach the upstairs room. According to Mr. Watson, the Goss structure accommodated, besides a family of 13, his mother, one girl to sew full-time and two girls whose job was to cook the meals. The farm hands also lived there. Living in the Simler house were John Henry and his wife, and son, Charles, his wife and six children.
It is thought the children would have slept in the attic because there is a window there. Since a tax was charged for every pane of glass in a house, if no one was staying in the attic, no window would have been placed there. It is interesting to know how John Henry, who was born in the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1752, the son of Jonann Georg and Anna Katherina Nitzsch Semler, came to the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Mr. Seinfelt wrote a history that says John Henry's father and grandfather Georg Nitzch were shoemakers and this was the trade he also followed. His travels took him into France where eventually he practiced his trade at the court of Versailles. There he became acquainted with a number of young French noblemen including the Marquis de Lafayette of American Revolution War fame.
In 1780, he enlisted in the Partisan Legion, a cavalry unit. It was an American Brigade with French officers and there was a language barrier between the German American recruits and French officers. John Henry was invaluable as an interpreter. John Henry fought at the battle of Yorktown where the Partisan legion served under the command of Lafayette. He was wounded in the forehead and eye by a saber and retained this scar until his death. He was discharged in Philadelphia in 1783 and married Anna Donnawin there in 1784. They were the parents of four known children. Anna died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 and the following year he married his neighbor Sarah Dentzel, whose husband and son also died in the plague. John Henry continued his shoemaking trade and had a shop and home on Prune Street in Philadelphia.
In 1796, Henry Philips purchased a mansion located near the shop. The next year John Henry accepted Mr. Philips' inducement to join the expedition to Philipsburg. Sarah and John Henry were accompanied by Lovina, Sarah and Charles, ages 12, 7 and 6. The eldest son, George, remained in Philadelphia. They were the only children on the expedition, Mr. Seinfelt says. His second wife, Sarah, died in 1822 and is buried in the churchyard of the Old Mud Church in Philipsburg. In 1825, John Henry returned to Philadelphia where he died in 1829. Other known history of the family is that Charles was a tax assessor in 1816 and he listed their occupation as cordwainer. This is a step above shoemaker and meant they worked with the finest leather. Three shoes were found between logs that date back to the beginning of the structure, Mr. Watson said.
Today, in front of the house, are some original stone slabs and the sidewalk is constructed of handmade bricks. Although there wouldn't have been bricks there at the time the house was built, there would have been in Philadelphia at that time. When going in the front door you see the original floor made of wide boards, original ceiling beams, the fireplace recreated and the day of the open house squirrel stew was kept hot over the fire and samples were given to visitors. The fireplace is not an exact copy because if it was "it would smoke like the first one. That's why they didn't feel bad about tearing down the smoky one. I think Mr. Simler would be envious because his smoked terribly," said Mr. Watson. When the addition was constructed on the end of the home the root cellar was expanded and the fireplace taken out and the stones thrown in the foundation of the house next door. A stairway was built where the fireplace was originally located. There was tongue and groove paneling in the home and in the area where once was located a tavern and later a bakery, randomly placed holes can be seen that were used to help put the paneling in place.
Several stories were told, both dealing with Indians. Mr. Watson said family lore from Clair Simler is that one day George Jr. came in the home, saw an Indian in the room, ran out the door, up Laurel Street, back in the front door and up the stairs at the side of the fireplace and hid under a bed. Mr. Seinfelt wrote about a story about the Simler Tavern found in the Shultz diary. It concerns the local Indians who often came to the town to trade and visit: "As for the Indians, they generally behaved pretty well except at such times as they had too much whiskey, and they would then sometimes become troublesome. "One day, after Simler had commenced tavern keeping, a number of Indians gathered in Simler's and after drinking all the whiskey they could get, they became very noisy and went into a real Indian dance and spree and cut a good many pranks and capers. "Finally, one big Indian picked up Mrs. Simler's dinner pot and threw it down with all his might on the hearth, when of course it broke into many pieces being a cast iron pot. "After performing this great feat, he began to exult very much and to plume himself on his great strength saying: Me berry strong Indian, can break iron pot." It's impossible to relate all the wonderful details of this historic building. When another open house is scheduled, be sure to go and see it for yourself. The Foundation was assisted by the Old Bedford Village Restoration and Preservation group and they praised Roland Cadle who was in charge. He was able to read the clues that told the story of the structure and when anything had to be replaced he had the knowledge of where to find the 200-year-old materials.

4th Street at Prune, Philadelphia, PA
4th Street at Prune, Philadelphia, Pa. near John Simler's home.
New novel parallels history of Philipsburg
THE PROGRESS, Clearfield, Curwensville, Philipsburg, Moshannon Valley, Pa., Friday, September 26, 2008
By Jane Elling
Mark Seinfelt of Philipsburg has both visited and lived in the community of Philipsburg most of his life, and now this great-great-great-great-grandson of John Henry Simler is the author of a book that is loosely based on his ancestor's life. This ancestor is one of the 12 original settlers who came in 1797 to settle the area. "Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town," a novel of the American Revolution, has recently been published and is now for sale. It is dedicated in loving memory to his grandfather J. Clair Simler, 1907-2000, with whom he lived for about 11 years. Everyone interested in Philipsburg, Centre County and area history remembers Clair with respect and fondness for his knowledge and his willingness to share it. He spent many years at the Philipsburg Historical Foundation rooms and welcomed everyone who visited. Clair shared the information of his ancestors and their life in the community, including the Simler House, with his grandson. The structure is the oldest in the town and was the second home of John Henry Simler that was constructed in 1807. Mark uses the original name, Seinfelt, instead of Sinfelt, and is related to John Henry both through his maternal line and paternal line from two different children of John Henry.
Mr. Seinfelt grew up in Indiana, Pa., where his father, Frederick Seinfelt, was an English professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but he spent his summers with his grandfather. He is a graduate of Indiana High School, received a Bachelor's Degree in English from The Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Arts degree in literature and creative writing from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. He has written various magazine articles and has an unpublished novel. He wrote the book, "Final Drafts, Suicides of World-Famous Authors." After nine years, it is still in print.
The current book is a labor of love because of his grandfather, and one he spent many, many years researching the various details and then writing the story of people in many walks of life and in several countries and those who served during war time, including Henry Boulanger. Although the book is called fiction, it has a lot of truth in it, Mr. Seinfelt said. Anyone familiar with Philipsburg's history beginning in 1797 will recognize details that have been written in numerous history volumes. Mr. Seinfelt noted the many details of history in his book are correct, and the French history is very relevant. He said after his book was written he found in one of Henry Shoemaker's books that Louis Phillipe, later King of France, was actually in the area of what was later named Philipsburg. He traveled with his brother in 1796.
On the back cover are details about the book, including: "The court of Louis XVI continues to exert a powerful pull on the imagination. The dramatic events of Yorktown, the final struggle in America's bid for independence also remains a subject of fascination. Less well known is the story of the Azilum Company, how after the French Revolution, investors purchased large tracts of land in Pennsylvania and promoted settlements in the hopes of providing a refuge for French emigres. Versailles, Yorktown, Azilum, all play a part in Mark Seinfelt's novel, Henry Boulanger of Mushannon Town, which tells the story of a Revolutionary War soldier, who prior to coming to the States, was a traveling shoemaker in Germany and France."
According to Wikipedia, French Azilum, located in Bradford County, was a planned settlement for refugees fleeing the French Revolution. Several prominent and influential people were sympathetic to the exiles and also saw a chance to profit financially. So in 1793 they purchased some 1,600 acres of land. A town plot was laid out, 30 log houses built, and a small number of exiles arrived who were fleeing from possible death during the French Revolution. Louis Phillipe also visited there.
After funding dried up many exiles moved farther south. None of the more than 50 structures remain, but there is a museum and self-guided tours of the site. It is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. At the beginning of the story, Mr. Seinfelt tells about the family he calls Rallings patterned after the Philips family, and the community is first named Mushannon Town and then Rallingsburg. He writes that Philip Rallings, a land speculator and one of three brothers, paid $89,000 for the land, a little more than a cent per acre. "Mushanne" in the native Indian tongue meant dark water. Mr. Rallings told people he was trying to persuade to settle in the area that sloops would be able to sail right up to the site. Moreover, rich deposits of coal had been found,in the mass of timberland. Leadership for the settlement was still a need. He promised the first 12 settlers a premium town lot and four acres of ground. Another tale he told was that a number of buildings had already been erected and there were fine roads to the settlement. Also, provisions would be cheap and plentiful at an outpost some 20 miles distant.
Anyone who knows Philipsburg history knows the truth about the settlers who came to Philipsburg and how many settlers finally left because of their disappointment in what they found. Henry Boulanger followed the careers of his father and grandfather and became a shoemaker, received a royal commission and he even waited on Marie Antoinette herself and the Gray Musketeers. This career was valuable because he could do the work in every location he lived. His specialty was ladies footwear, but later when he was in the army he spent a lot of time making footwear for the soldiers. Mr. Boulanger went from Saxe-Coburg to France and spent nearly a decade there before leaving to travel by boat to America where he enlisted to fight in the War for Independence. He was badly wounded and carried the scars the rest of his life.
Mr. Boulanger accepted the position of being the agent to lead the expedition to their new land and tells the story of the difficult two-month adventure.
It had been more than three years since his first wife and two baby daughters died in the yellow fever epidemic. He married a second time, in part so he had someone to help raise his other children. His wife and the children accompanied him.
At the beginning of an unusually mild February in 1797, Henry, his wife and children, the only children who made the trip, began with some walking, others on horseback and his family in an ox-drawn cart, courtesy of the Azilum Company. They encountered Indians but they were peaceable Cornplanters who traded skins and hides for blankets, shawls and handkerchiefs. It was after they arrived they were menaced by bears and panthers. After coming to the Rallings outpost they had 25 more miles to travel.
Imagine their dismay when they found only axe marks on trees to indicate their lots, and footpaths for roads. The Mushanne was not a mighty waterway, but a mere stream, suitable perhaps for canoes not for sloops with sails. But Mr. Boulanger was happy to get away from Philadelphia to a place where his remaining children were able to breathe clean air and drink pure water. Others were not so happy and after a time left. This is a story of an interesting, adventurous life of a man who met up with and knew many famous people the reader will recognize, a man who knew tragedy but also knew contentment as he persisted in following his dreams and made a success of them.
Included in the Author's Note is the obituary of John Henry Simler that was published on the front page of "The Saturday Bulletin", a Philadelphia newspaper, on Oct. 24, 1829. "The decease of John Henry Simler, a soldier of the Revolution, occurred in this city about 10 days ago. In the year 1780, he enlisted in France as a private, and served as a Dragoon in Capt. De Bert's corps of the First troop of Light Dragoons, Free Legion, under the command of Col. Armand. He arrived at Boston, and proceeded thence with his Troop to Yorktown in Virginia, at which memorable siege he was present and assisted in the capture of it by the united forces of America and France. He was wounded in the forehead and eye by a sabre and retained the scar until his death. He remained in the service until regularly discharged immediately after the surrender of Yorktown. On the termination of the war, he married and settled in Philadelphia, where he remained for about 15 years. In 1793, his lost his wife by the yellow- fever; he then married a second time and in 1797 removed to Philipsburg in Centre County, Pa., a perfect wilderness at the time. He built the first house in the place and where he resided until he lost his second wife, in the year 1822. In the year 1825, he again removed to Philadelphia with his only son, where he lived until his death."

Web Development by Jeni Fowler