BROOKVILLE — Ken Burkett of the Jefferson County History Center said the Scripture Rocks Heritage Park in Brookville is a place where people can appreciate a part of Brookville’s historical heritage.
The main feature of the park is the rocks that were inscribed with verses from the Bible by Douglas Stahlman. According to the park website, Stahlman began naming and inscribing hundreds of rocks in the Brookville area after he returned to the area in 1908. He encouraged people to pray and meditate at the rocks. By January of 1912, Stahlman had “dedicated” more than 500 rocks in a three mile area around Brookville and inscribed at least 165 of them with scripture by 1913.
He began organizing outdoor worship services at some of the rocks in 1909 before falling out of favor with the public over family issues. He moved to a cabin under Altar Rock the same year where he penned his book titled “Dedicated Rocks.” Stahlman vanished from public view until 1915 when he was arrested, declared insane and committed to Dixmont State Hospital. He died there on Aug. 26, 1942.
Burkett said one of his goals when he became the director of the history center in 2008 was to get the museum outside of the building and he was also looking for a project for the Northfork chapter 29 of the Pennsylvania Society for Archeology. He said the museum had acquired Stahlman’s journals that he penned when he was living on Altar Rock and were always aware of the Scripture Rocks’ existence.
“We knew of the fact that there were engraved rocks in and around Brookville, but nobody had created an inventory. We didn’t know how extensive they were. I am sure as time goes on more rocks will be found in the Brookville area,” Burkett said.
He said the museum began a two and a half year endeavor to catalog and find as many of the rocks as they could using methods of archeology. They have located 179 rocks in multiple locations within a three mile radius of Brookville.
“There are still more out there to be found. We certainly didn’t locate them all. Our goal was to create an inventory of where the rocks were. A lot of people didn’t know these rocks were on their properties,” Burkett said.
Burkett said interested people wanted to create a place to tell Stahlman’s story in one consolidated area. The park contains 67 rocks that include Stahlman’s first and last carved rock. In 2011 Burkett applied for a Keystone grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The grant allowed them to bring archeologist Brian Fritz to the area to create a detailed survey map of the rocks at the park. After the survey was finished the history center’s board of directors agreed to begin developing the park.
He said a large capital campaign was begun to fund the park’s creation. Two long term lease agreements were developed to create the park itself and the parking lot area. Burkett said the park opened in June 2016 and has had more than 19,000 visitors. He said the park is not religious in intent, but rather tells a story about one man’s religious experiences.
“It is a park about religion, not a religious park. We have also tried to include other aspects such as environmentalism, geology and archeology. We excavated an archeological site on native American rock shelters. We are creating an environmental area at the trailhead that is handicap accessible using natural plantings from western Pennsylvania so people that can’t hike the park can have an educational opportunity while waiting on family members,” Burkett said.
He said the park and the rocks themselves are an important part of Brookvillle both historically and economically.
“Brookville is a very historically oriented community. We are a national historic district. People are aware of the history of the community and are very supportive of the history center and the park. On a tourism basis, we are advertising statewide and we are bringing people from outside and showing that Brookville may be a place you want to make your home at some point. I look at the rocks as a place of solitude and comfort. I think some of Doug’s rocks will be here for a thousand years,” Burkett said.