The bums of Bailey’s Woods
This interesting report was sent to me by Tom Keesey for publication.
They would be known as the Homeless of Bailey’s Woods in today’s politically correct setting, but a generation ago everyone in the Stewartstown area knew of them as “bums,” - the Bums of Bailey’s Woods. Stewartstown Lion Don Yost is preparing a book about the phenomena and wove excerpts from it into an entertaining story for his fellow Lions at their October dinner meeting.
He was cautious to point out his differentiation between bums, hobos, and tramps. Hobos were a mobile lot that never spent much time in one area. Tramps were a rung down on the social ladder and were known for finding things that weren’t lost. His “bums” were basically honest, offered to work for their food at nearby farms, and spent months in their Bailey’s Woods campsites before migrating south for the coldest part of the winter.
Lion Don recalled visiting the woods as a boy of ten or twelve years of age. There might be 10 to 15 campsites there at any given time, with one to three men occupying a campsite. Shelter was provided in some instances by packing crates disposed of by the Stewartstown Furniture Company. Most of the men were between 40 and 60 years old. Most were veterans of WWI who had been unable to acclimate to the great depression, so they dropped out of society.
Why did they end up in a woods near Stewartstown? First was its proximity to the tracks of the Stewartstown Railroad and that railroad’s lack of railroad police. Then there was the abundant opportunity for agricultural work on the many local farms. As a sidelight, a number of the men became experts at digging holes for cesspools which had to be ten-foot circles, twelve feet deep.
But, the primary reason the bums ended up in Bailey’s Woods was that Harry Bailey let them stay. Their numbers diminished in the 1950’s and there was little trace of them by 1960. It is a sign of the changed times that a 12-year youngster of that era was allowed to wander freely among the campsites of so many homeless and unemployed men.