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UNITED STATES v. 287.89 ACRES

January 20, 1965

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
287.89 ACRES OF LAND, MORE OR LESS, Situate IN CLEARFIELD COUNTY, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, and Howes Leather Company, Inc., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH

After non-jury trial and a view of the premises involved, the court makes the following:

FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. On May 29, 1962, the United States of America, the plaintiff, condemned, inter alia, a tract of land in Greenwood Township, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, known as Tract 504, containing 3.42 acres, reserving the underlying coal, clay and mining rights. *fn1" This land was condemned in connection with the construction and establishment of the Curwensville Reservoir Project in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River Basin.

 2. In 1927 Wendell P. Watts owned a 52.53-acre tract of land, except the clay and mining rights, which, by deed dated April 28, 1927 and recorded on June 2, 1961 in the Recorder's Office of Clearfield County in Deed Book Vol. 489, page 327, he conveyed to V. I. Shuss, reserving, however, a portion thereof which is the condemned Tract 504 (Watts' Ex. 1). At the date of taking, the fee simple title to this Tract 504, except the clay and mining rights aforesaid, was vested in Mr. Watts, now deceased.

 3. Tract 504 is a rectangular strip of land bounded on the south by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and, at the time of taking, on the north by the right-of-way of the New York Central Railroad Company. It fronts 1,000 feet on the northerly shore of the river and extends in a northerly direction to the Railroad right-of-way varying distances averaging about 55 feet at the sides to a maximum of 120 feet (Government's Ex. 10).

 The land rises gradually from the river's edge to a height of approximately 4 or 5 feet and from this bank is practically level to the Railroad right-of-way where it rises abruptly and steeply up a mountainside. The right-of-way of Highway Route 969 paralleled the Railroad right-of-way and lay to the north thereof. There is no vehicular access from the highway across the Railroad right-of-way to Tract 504.

 No structure has been erected on this tract; trees and brush concealed the railroad tracks and the highway aforesaid.

 4. At the time of taking, Mr. Watts and Mary Core Watts, his wife, also owned contiguous tracts of land (Tracts 516 and 516E) on the south shore of the river opposite Tract 504. These tracts, hereinafter called the homestead property, contained approximately 41 acres, including a landscaped area of 18 acres, having thereon erected a two-story frame dwelling, a garage, and, out of sight to the west, two smaller dwellings called the mill house and hunting lodge.

 The main dwelling was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Watts as their home since their marriage in 1938; it faces the river and the eastern part of Tract 504 on the opposite shore. The land rises about 15 feet from the river's edge and is level for some distance to the south and then rises steeply up a mountainside. The area surrounding the home has been beautifully landscaped by the Watts with a very large grass lawn, flower gardens, hemlock hedge, white pine stand, and rhododendron paths. Along the river bank are trees and foliage; however, in front of the house is a cleared space providing a view of Tract 504 and the mountainside across the river. A lookout has been constructed around a large tree to the west of the house also providing a view of Tract 504 across the river and the mountainside. No habitation or other structure is visible from the Watts' land. Access is by a narrow township road which leads from the western edge of the landscaped area south to the top of the mountain and connects there with an improved highway. At the time of taking, the homestead property was an exceptionally well kept country estate, isolated in the heart of the mountains, and designed to insure privacy which the owners so obviously desired.

 6. Since 1927, Tract 504 was used by Mr. Watts in conjunction with the homestead property. Not only did it provide a scenic view of forested land across the river from the homestead property, but also served as a buffer area against unwanted construction and intruders. The homestead property and Tract 504 were considered as one property unit by Mr. Watts since 1927 and by Mr. and Mrs. Watts since their marriage in 1938. It was called Kerrmoor.

 The river which flows past the main dwelling is not navigable; it averages about 100 feet wide (Government's Ex. 10); the water is clear and except in the spring averages 2 1/2 feet deep; there is a swimming hole near the opposite shore which is 6 feet to 8 feet deep.

 A vehicular bridge and a swinging foot bridge at one time spanned the river connecting the tracts, but both structures were taken out prior to 1938. Access to Tract 504 from the homestead property normally is by means of a ford across the river.

 7. Since 1938 until the time of taking, there has been common ownership in Mr. Watts and unity of use by Mr. and Mrs. Watts of Tracts 516, 516E, and 504. This unity of use has been of an aesthetic nature as well as of a practical nature to protect against intrusion and to insure undisturbed arboreal scenery and seclusion.

 8. The clay and mining rights are now owned by Harbison-Walker Refractories Company. *fn2" There is no proof that there is any merchantable clay or coal underlying Tract 504. Disturbance of the surface is only a remote ...


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