Let's begin with as simple a matter as birth -- the facts
of which have been little known, even apparently to Abbey
himself. Virtually all sources, ranging from the popular
press to the scholarly publications, have followed Abbey in
recording his birthplace as the village of Home, about 10
miles north of Indiana. Yet in fact, as reflected on his
birth certificate and the baby book kept by his mother,
Edward Paul Abbey was born at the Indiana Hospital.
Moreover, his first homes were in Indiana, and his family did
not move to the area around Home until he was 4 years old.
Why the inaccuracy? Because the family's many moves in his
earliest years preceded or escaped Abbey's memory and because
he so much loved to link himself to appealing place-names.
Later he would claim "Wolf Hole" or
"Oracle" as his place of residence; both are real
places in Arizona, but Abbey never lived in either. He just
liked the sound of their names, and preferred to mislead
people after he became a cult figure.
Home is indeed a real place with an appealing name -- so
appealing that in history it supplanted another, earlier
place-name. At Kellysburg, founded in 1838, the post office
came to be known as "Home" because the mail was
originally sorted at the home of Hugh Cannon, about a mile
away. The name stuck so well that eventually it officially
replaced "Kellysburg" altogether as the name of the
village, though people often continued to refer to
Kellysburg, as did Abbey in his journal and manuscripts as
late as the 1970s.
Since the Home post office has rural delivery, while several
other surrounding villages (such as Chambersville) do not, a
number of people living not particularly close to Home are
able to claim it as their address.
The appeal of "Home" in the Abbey family is
expressed by Bill Abbey, Edward's youngest brother, who
retired to Indiana County in 1995 after 27 years of teaching
in Hawaii, and who collects his mail at the Home post office
even though he lives closer to a different post office.
"I like the name 'Home, Pa.' I wanted that all my
life," Bill says. "When I came back here, I really
needed to get a Home, Pa., address because nobody believes it
back in Hawaii. I have a deal with the postmistress at Home
where she stamps my letters to Hawaii 'Home."'
Edward Abbey always referred to Home as his birthplace --
not only in print, but also in his private diary, much of
which was published as Confessions of a Barbarian (1994):
"Joy... where are you? Where were you on the night of
January 29th, 1927, in that lamp-lit room in the old
farmhouse near Home, Pennsylvania, when I was born?"
Home has been dutifully repeated as his birthplace by
virtually everyone else; only the FBI got it right, in the
file on Abbey that he obtained under the Freedom of
"Subject born January 29,1927, Indiana, Pa."
The Abbey family moved around a lot, in
poverty and in the midst of the Depression; their dwellings
were difficult to trace, since the earliest ones were not
remembered well by surviving relatives and because they could
not be traced through ownership records, as Abbey's parents
always rented before 1941. Edward Abbey could remember,
however, that "I found myself a displaced person shortly
Indeed, there were at least eight scattered residences in
Indiana County at which he lived from just after birth to
adolescence: two houses in Indiana and then two places in
Saltsburg, about 20 miles southwest of Indiana, between 1927
and 1931; then three different houses in or near
Chambersville, Tanoma, and Home between 1931 and 1941; and
finally the farmhouse, cornfield, and acres of woods near
Chambersville (but with a "Home RD" address) that
Abbey memorialized as "the Old Lonesome Briar
Moreover, in 1931, when Edward (or "Ned," as the
family called him) was 4 years old, the Abbeys spent a summer
on the road, in the middle of that string of eight different
residences. Along with Howard (nicknamed "Hoots"),
who was a year-and-a-half younger than Ned, and John, who was
just a baby, Paul and Mildred Abbey drove from Indiana County
eastward over the mountains to Harrisburg, then to New Jersey
and back into Pennsylvania (and perhaps Ohio) before
returning to Indiana County, all the time living in camps as
Paul picked up various jobs to try to support them while he
competed in sharp-shooting competitions. Mildred kept a
remarkable diary of this trip. One of her most poignant
entries was written somewhere in northeastern Pennsylvania:
'As we drove under the big apple tree Hootsie said 'Wake up,
Ned, we're home.' Poor little kids! They haven't been getting
much of a show this past year. Ned gets homesick to live in a
house, and frequently when we drive past an empty one he will
exclaim hopefully 'Momma, there's an empty house we could
Writers such as James Bishop, Jr., author of the
journalistic biography Edward Abbey: Epitaph for a Desert
Anarchist, have tended to romanticize Abbey's countryside
boyhood: "It was a beautiful, though ragged, farm
community where people were connected to the earth.... People
knew the wildflowers by name, tending and appreciating them
as they grew."
This may have been true, but it was also true, as Edward's
sister Nancy told me, that "we lived so simply because
we were so poor."
only boyhood home remembered in all of the writing both by
and about Ed Abbey is "the Old Lonesome Briar
Patch," where he and the rest of the family must have
been very glad to settle in 1941, after all of their previous
moves. This was the scene of everything that mattered the
most to Abbey about his boyhood, as recaptured in The
Fool's Progress. Near here were the "Big Woods"
that the Abbeys loved. Here was where he and his brothers
wandered in and around Crooked Creek, organized baseball
games, and followed the family tradition of liberating coal
from passing trains on the Baltimore and Ohio line. This
countryside was then much less "developed" than it
is now, yet it was actually easier for children to get into
the larger town of Indiana than it is now: all the Abbeys had
to do was walk to the end of their road to catch the
"Hoodlebug" train to town.
|An early draft of The
Fool's Progress (1988), written in
Tucson some 30 years after he'd lived there, included a
rendering of the house.|
In The Fool's Progress, Abbey fictionalized this
family home as "Lightcap Hollow" and, with wishful
thinking, wrote of "the gray good gothic two-story
clapboard farmhouse that remained, after a century still the
Lightcap family home" (85). Paul and Mildred
Abbey continued to live at the Old Lonesome Briar Patch from
1941 until 1967, when they moved to a little house on US ll9
just south of Home that became well known because of the rock
shop next to it where Paul would sell and give away rocks
collected from his trips west.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks
The "Old Lonesome Briar Patch" house burnt down
in the early 1970s. Later Ed Abbey wrote that the name
revealed his brothers' and his own "attitude toward
We liked the woods, the hunting and trapping, fishing
in Crooked Creek and small-town baseball, but tired
quickly of pitching manure, milking cows, husking corn,
fixing fence, plowing up potatoes, and the fifty other
daily and seasonal chores that required, we thought, too
much of our time. We had better things to do, though we
had only the dimmest notion of what those better things
might be. We envied our city cousins with their electric
lights, indoor toilet, hot and cold running water, new
car, neighbors living one hundred feet away; and the
poolroom and movie-picture show only a few blocks down
the street. When the war came and an opportunity to
escape, we left -- in a hurry. Without regret. My father,
not keen on farming himself -- he preferred the logging
business -- sold our farm... We should have kept the
place in the family.
cherished childhood home, the "Old Lonesome
Briar Patch" (after the Abbeys had moved and a
fire destroyed its interior in the early 1970s). See map
below for address.
The family's experience with their
homestead was not as idyllic as imagined by some writers and
perhaps sometimes by Abbey himself. It was never a complete
or very successful farm; much of it was covered by woods,
some of which Paul Abbey participated in clearing for
strip-miners. Mildred Abbey was very upset when they moved in
1967 to a much smaller house and plot of land right next to
the busy, noisy Route 119, writing to Ed: "I protested
as much as I could. I'd been promised, when we moved there,
that I'd never have to move again and there have been many
times when I've felt that I just couldn't survive the fourteenth
uprooting. I had resolved that I'd never go near the
place again. To have watched its slow dying... If I can't
live out my life there, then I don't want to be involved in
it in any way."
Ed Abbey remained very nostalgic about the Old Lonesome
Briar Patch, writing about it repeatedly -- perhaps most
memorably at the beginning of his significantly entitled book
You go down into that valley... until you come to a
big creek -- that's Crooked Creek, glowing with golden
acids from the mines upstream -- and across the creek and
up a red-dog road under a railroad trestle through a
tunnel in the woods. I call it a tunnel because the road
there is so narrow and winding that the trees on either
side interlace their branches overhead, forming a
canopy.... At the far end of the living tunnel, beyond it
and in the open, under a shimmer of summer sun or behind
a curtain of whirling snow or within a lavender mist of
twilight condensing toward darkness, stood the house. An
austere and ancient clapboarded farmhouse, taller than
wide when seen from the road, it had filigreed porchwork,
a steep-pitched roof and on the roof lightning rods
pointing straight up at the sun or stars; half the year
there would be smoke winding out of the chimney and amber
lamps burning behind the curtains of the windows....
Nobody even knew if there was a key. Home again. Time to
slop the hogs, Paw.
However, Abbey's relatives and friends remember that as a
boy he was not, in fact, anxious to "slop the hogs"
or do other farm chores; he seemed interested only in nature,
reading, and writing. Howard and Bill Abbey remember that Ned
did not join them, their father, and their brother John in
hoeing corn, and claimed that he had a heart problem. Nancy
Abbey recounts this incident:
Ed was sitting in an apple tree eating an apple and
reading a book and my dad was working in a garden not too
far away and my dad yelled to Ed, "Ed, will you go
down and get me a hoe?" And Ed says, "Where are
they?" And my dad says, "You mean to tell me
you live on this farm and you don't know where we keep
the hoes?" And Ed says, "Yes, and I'm proud of
Similarly Ed's best boyhood friend, Ed Mears, recalls that
"he went out to pick blackberries and he took a book
along. How many blackberries are you going to pick with your
hand on a book?"
Clearly Ed Abbey was an independent, rebellious, free
spirit from an early age. Betty George, his aunt, recalls
that she "couldn't hang on to Ned" while
babysitting him when he was a year old. The baby book that
Mildred Abbey kept on him includes entries like these:
"Falls out of bed at 3 months," and "Goes
everywhere at thirteen months."
|The Abbeys in Indiana County After 1931
Notes: The addresses listed above are mailing addresses that allow
one to find more precise road locations by searching them
on Mapquest.com. No. 3 above is Abbey's only house
actually located in the village of Home itself; the others
listed for Home illustrate the long reach of Home as a
mailing address. Similarly, no. 2 is listed for Clymer, a
larger town several miles away, because the tiny
crossroads of Tanoma where that house is located does not
carry a mailing address.
- The Abbeys' first house near Home, c. 1931-32. 800
Chambersville Road, Home, PA 15747-8605.
- In Tanoma, c. 1932-36. 3881 Tanoma Road, Clymer,
- In the village of Home, c. 1936-1941.
. 5565 Route 119 Highway North, Home, PA 15747-9105.
- The "Old Lonesome Briar Patch,"
1941-1967. Adjacent to 255 Houser Road, Home, PA 15747-8419.
- Washington Presbyterian Church, where the
gravestone of Paul, Mildred and John Abbey is
located. 1820 Washington Church Road, Home, PA 15747-8222.
- Rayne Township Consolidated School, attended
by Ed Abbey, 1934-1941, at corner of Route 119
Highway North and Tanoma Road, near Home.
- Marion Center High School, attended by Ed
- Paul and Mildred Abbey's home (and Paul's
rock shop), 1967-1992. Adjacent to 5115 Route 119
Highway North, Home, PA 15747-9103.
- The Pennsylvania
state historical marker commemorating
Edward Abbey, erected in September 1996, directly
opposite 5115 Route 119 Highway North.
 I am thankful to Howard Abbey for helping me obtain
Edward Abbey's birth certificate, and to both Howard and Iva
Abbey for lending me Mildred Abbey's baby book about Ed.
 Garth McCann, in Edward Abbey, also
mistakenly asserts that Jonathan Troy is about a boy
in "central Pennsylvania" rather than the more
specific western Pennsylvania (10).
 Abbey referred to Kellysburg in the draft
manuscript of his unpublished novel The Good Life (Abbey
collection, box 4, folder 8) and in the handwritten draft of The
Fool's Progress (box 13, folder 2), and he changed
"Kellysburg" to "Home" in the original printed
version of his essay "Hallelujah, on the Bum"
in American West Magazine at the beginning of the
1970s (box 24, folder 5, p.13), for its publication in The
Journey Home (New York, 1975).
 All quotations from Bill Abbey are from my
interview on 27 Oct.1995, unless otherwise indicated. In the
rest of this article, I also quote from my interviews with
Howard Abbey (18 Oct.1995), Iva Abbey (18 Oct.1995), Nancy
Abbey (2 Dec.1995), Bill Betts (1 Dec.1995), Betty [Elizabeth
Postlewait] George (27 Oct.1995), Ed Mears (4 Oct.1995),
Isabel [Postlewait] Nesbitt (2 Dec.1995), and John Watta (18
May 1995). I am extremely grateful to all of these
individuals, each of whom gave generously of their time and
knowledge, and kindly permitted me to quote them. I also wish
to express my thanks to Paul Roberts of Pittsburgh
History, the best editor I've ever worked with; Eric
Temple, who sent me transcripts of his interviews with
Abbey's relatives and friends and was generous in several
other ways, and whose 1993 video documentary "Edward
Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness" is an excellent
resource; to Richard Higgason, my graduate assistant during
1995-96, who transcribed my interviews and several audiotapes
from the Abbey collection, helped me gather sources, and
generally assisted me expertly and in various ways in this
project; Jim Wakefield, IUP photographer, who took most of
the pictures accompanying this article and was helpful well
beyond the call of duty; Bob Sechrist of IUP's Geography
Department and his student assistant Mick Burkett, who
generated maps for me; Cathy Bressler, who took the time to
find and lend me her photo of the Abbey family farmstead;
Virginia Brown, associate graduate dean for research at IUP
who helped me administer an IUP Senate Fellowship that
supported this work; Suzanne Brown of the Pennsylvania State
System of Higher Education in Harrisburg, who facilitated the
administration of my Faculty Professional Development Fund
grant, which also made this project possible; my brother
Bill, a bioregionalist and Cincinnati psychologist, who gave
me my first book by Abbey; and Peter Narusewicz, an IUP
doctoral student whose interest in Abbey helped to increase
 Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the
Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989, ed. David Petersen
(Boston and New York, 1994), 308; hereafter cited as Confessions.
 Abbey collection, box 1, folder 6. Abbey was
disappointed that his FBI folder was not thicker and more
interesting. A few examples of the many people who have
misreported Abbey's birthplace as Home are Bruce Hamilton,
"Edward Abbey, Druid of the Arches," High
Country News, 27 March 1989, 12; Michael Moore, "Out
There Somewhere Lies Edward Abbey" SMART No.5
(Sept.-Oct. 1989), 82; Carl L. Davis, "Thoughts on a
Vulture: Edward Abbey, 1927-1989," RE Arts and
Letters 15.2 (1989), 16; and John Macrae, ed., The
Serpents of Paradise: A Reader (New York, 1995), 1.
 Abbey, introduction, The Journey Home: Some
Words in Defense of the American West (1977; New York,
 Ed Abbey lived with his parents at 254 North Third
St. from 1927 until late 1928 or early 1929, and then at 651
East Pike until about 1930; then a farmhouse at the edge of
Saltsburg followed by a third-floor apartment in Saltsburg,
until 1931; then a house on the main road between
Chambersville and Home, until 1932 or 1933; another house
several miles away in Tanoma, until about 1936; and at 57
U.S. 119, the only time the family lived in the village of
Home itself, until 1941. In the absence of any official
records of these residences, I operated on the assumption
that if two relatives or close friends of the Abbeys told me
the same thing, then it was true. My key sources in tracing
these residences were Howard and Bill Abbey, Betty [Elizabeth
Postlewait] George, Isabel [Postlewait] Nesbitt, and Ed
Mears. Paul and Mildred Abbey bought the Old Lonesome Briar
Patch on 31 Oct.1941 (Indiana County Deed Book 317, p.193)
and closed its sale on 2 March 1968 (Deed Book 576, p.773).
 I am grateful to Iva Abbey for lending me her typed
copy of Mildred Abbey's summer 1931 diary and to Nancy Abbey
for bringing it to my attention.
 Bishop, 53. As another example of the romanticizing
of Abbey's Appalachian boyhood, see also Carl L. Davis,
"Thoughts on a Vulture" 16.
 Abbey, typescript of a review of books by Wendell
Berry Abbey collection, box 25, folder 5, pp. 2-3.
 Mildred Abbey, 1967 letter to Ed Abbey Abbey
collection, box 2, folder 1. Joseph and Emma McElhoes had
transferred the rock shop property to Paul Abbey on 22 July
1960 (Indiana County Deed Book 489, p.665).
 Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smoky
Mountains, Eliot Porter photographer, with "Natural
and Human History by Edward Abbey" (New York, 1970), 14.
"Red-dog" is, by the way, a rock by-product of coal