Christ Haist: June Kocher Laurenson Remembers
BY NANCY BAUMGARTNER
When June Kocher was a little girl she shared lunch nearly every day with her grandfather, Christian Haist. “My grandfather always brought his lunch in a pail and he would sit in a rocking chair facing the window at my house. My grandmother, Minnie, always packed a little something for him to share with me,” said June.
That particular window in the Kocher house on Cochran Avenue in DuBoistown faced the Susquehanna River where Christ Haist had spent most of his life working on the river’s log booms. Sharing lunches and memories with his small granddaughter instilled in June a deep respect for the man known as the “last Boom Boss on the Susquehanna River”.
Haist was born in 1858 in the Pine Run area near Linden. As a young man he worked as a “boom rat”, helping to shepherd the logs down the Susquehanna to the cribs and lumber mills. Through the years he held a variety of jobs and amassed a wealth of knowledge about the lumber industry. During the height of the lumber boom in Williamsport in the mid to late 1800s, nearly 350 million feet of logs made their way down the river in a single season, and Haist became familiar with all aspects of the business.
In 1909, Haist was named Superintendent of the Susquehanna Boom, stepping into the job when James Dinehart died. By that time the lumber boom was declining and Haist oversaw the last log drive floated out of the Pine Creek area and down the Susquehanna on June 8, 1909.
However, he continued to work for the Susquehanna Boom Company which was owned by Senator J. Henry Cochran. Cochran trusted the work ethic of Haist and asked that he oversee the vast Cochran holdings in DuBoistown and at a “summer house” in Mosquito Valley. Cochran owned large tracts of land and a number of “company houses” at the western end of the borough. There was a barn for horses and a two-story house where a harness shop had once been. Haist looked after all the aspects of those particular Cochran holdings, including collecting the $5.00 a month rents paid by the folks living in the company houses. Some of those houses were occupied by the Zuber, Dunlap and Holmes families. Cochran died in 1911 but Haist continued to work for Mrs. Cochran in the same capacity.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, Haist urged his daughter Sara and her husband Ralph Kocher to move into the house that had once been the harness shop. Their daughter June was 9 months old at the time, her sister, Annette, was 8 and their brother, Ned, was 14 years old.
“My father, Ralph, respected my grandfather’s advice and so he moved our family from Newberry over to (what is now) Cochran Avenue in DuBoistown,” said June. “We didn’t have a vehicle so my father loaded up a high-wheeled cart with what little furniture we had and moved it from Fourth Street, across the Arch Street bridge to the house”.
June’s grandmother, Minnie, was upset that her husband had encouraged the young family to move from a house with all the amenities to a place with only a cook stove and living room stove for heat, an old iron sink, one light hanging from each room, cold running water and an outhouse. Over the years, Ralph and Sara got a government loan to buy the property, paid $5.00 a month mortgage, and made it into a comfortable home. One of the renovations included the room with a window overlooking the Susquehanna River where, years later, Christ and June enjoyed their lunches together.
Even after retirement, Haist continued to have a keen interest in preserving the heritage of the lumber boom in Williamsport. According to an article, written by Lou Hunsinger, Jr. for the Sun-Gazette, July 7, 2001, Haist was often sought out by those wanting information on the lumber industry. “He also preserved tools used by the lumbermen and he built miniature models of the Susquehanna Boom that showed how splash dams were made and operated, as well as miniature logging rafts,” wrote Hunsinger.
Mrs. J. Henry Cochran never forgot the Haist and Kocher families. June remembers that “Mrs. Cochran always looked out for my grandfather.” Every Christmas she would have her driver come to the Haist home at 810 Arch Street. “Mrs. Cochran would line us kids up and give each of us a silver dollar and give my grandfather a gift of some kind”, said June.
When Christ Haist died on August 16, 1944, June went to sit on the steps behind her Cochran Avenue house that overlooked the river her grandfather loved. “Those steps gave me solitude. I cried and cried. He was such a kind man.”
Haist’s passing was also lamented by the city of Williamsport. The Williamsport Sun wrote that “much of what remains in Williamsport to remind it of the days of its greatness as a lumber center survives because of the interest and foresight of Christ Haist.” An editorial ran in The Grit, titled “The Last Link is Broken” and noted that “Christ Haist not only was an expert lumberman, he knew the river as few men knew it, and none now, ever will know it.”
Yet, in the scrapbooks of his granddaughter, June Kocher Laurenson, of Hughesville the photos and articles about Christ Haist are kept for future generations. June preserves his legacy, much as he preserved the legacy of the Susquehanna Lumber Boom era.
For more information on the Susquehanna Boom the following links are provided: http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker. php?ma rkerld = 1-A-14E