A Book Swap is an ideal sort of volunteer green movement action for any community, large or small. Canadohta Lake in northwestern Pennsylvania is a great example. The swap began in 2006 with a small group of volunteers, support from the local business community and book “recycling” has grown ever since attracting hundreds of people on some weekends.
Swappers bring a book to trade and go home with a new book they haven’t read or need. But organizers won’t say a word if a person doesn’t have a book to bring, a person can still take a book or two. Donations of books have poured in from people and storage was donated to store the overflow. Some books are new, some have been used.
There are books for all ages from toddlers to seniors; cookbooks, children’s books, novels, manuals and technical books, text books, history and religious books. It is something akin to a free community library. There is no money transferred.
During the summer months, the swap is held in a small community park, Hawthorne Park on the shore of historic Canadohta Lake. The books are stacked on tables near several Civil War cannons which were placed in the park near the shoreline in the early 1900’s. From late Sunday morning every week for several hours, book seekers come and go, some are tourists who rent cottages which surround the rural and scenic lake; others drive to the lake from other communities. Some are full time residents, according to census figures there are only 600 full time residents.
Canadohta Lake attracts visitors since it is the second largest natural lake in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, known for it’s spring fed and pristine waters, excellent fishing and other recreational opportunities. Formed by ancient glaciers, it was once known as Washington Lake, after George Washington; then named Oil Creek Lake because of the nearby oil deposits and Oil Creek which originates from the lake. The first commercial oil well was drilled about 20 miles away in Titusville back in 1859.
The Lake was named Canadohta in 1894 after a Seneca Nation Chief, Canadaughta. The Senecas were frequent earlier visitors to the lake which they used as a fishing and hunting area. The Senecas would also gather the oil with blankets which would frequently bubble to the surface in the surrounding area. Back then, the black substance was used for medicinal purposes.
When the first commercial was was drilled, it started a “gold rush” to the region. Oil companies were formed. More wells were drilled, train tracks were constructed to haul the “liquid gold”, and investors poured into the region. Fancy hotels were constructed to house many of them.
While oil has a somewhat iffy “green” history, there is one often overlooked important benefit – kerosene. The fuel that lit oil lamps cheaply enabling rural and urban dwellers to be able to read after the sun went down. With cheap kerosene school work could be done after farm chores, magazines, books and newspapers could be easily read in cabins, farm houses and more urban dwellings.
Today, during the harsh winter months, the book swap moves into donated space in a small community business and still opens every Sunday, the same time. Some people have more time to read during the winter months and the tourists still come. Ice fishing and other winter sports are popular activities.
Museums and an old nearby “ghost town”, famous Pithole City, mark the old oil era, the old kerosene lamps are gone, and Canadohta is not the same popular, wealthy resort destination of the early 1900’s it once was, although the Roller Rink is still a popular attraction. But throughout the region, thanks to some dedicated volunteers, willing business leaders, and folks with too many extra books, reading still happens because of the volunteer book swap or book recycling for free.