MADERA — A tragic story that made headlines numerous times in the recent year about a man who was murdered in a Main Street home here in March 2018 has stirred up memories for a Tennessee woman.
Her fond recollections of the large home that was owned by her family for more than a century are now marred with sadness at the knowledge that a man lost his life there.
In March of 2018, Joshua Sahm of Blandburg was stabbed to death by Johnathan Maines, 21, of Madera, after a night of abusing methamphetamine with a group of others in the house. Maines was sentenced on Monday to serve 22 to 45 years in prison after being found guilty of murder in the third degree.
Sally Ruffner Singles, a Madera native who now lives in Tennessee, has been a Progress subscriber for years despite moving away from the area some time ago.
And the stories regarding the murder make Singles yearn for locals to remember the Madera of yesteryear — not the one that is known for drugs and a murder in the quiet, rural town.
“It was just terrible to hear,” Singles said. “There was nothing but happy, good memories in that house. Until now. It was the hub for people to stop in and talk.
“I can’t even remember a murder in that town that I am aware of,” Singles continued in a telephone interview. “It was such a happy, prosperous town. Kids played everywhere. Everyone knew each other. There was no such thing as illegal drugs.
“The big crime in town when I was growing up was someone stealing a neighbor’s chicken,” Singles said.
Singles spent most of her life growing up in Madera as a fourth-generation of the affluent Ruffner family.
Her great-grandmother, Henrietta Ruffner, purchased the building on Main Street where the Sahm murder occurred in the late 1800s for $80. Known as the Madera Hotel, Henrietta operated the hotel/boarding house for 40 to 50 years.
Henrietta’s son, James W. Ruffner — who was Sally’s grandfather — went to college at Lock Haven Normal School (now Lock Haven University) and became a history teacher at Madera High School. He also took law classes.
“My grandfather ended up being a district magistrate and at one point, he ran for circuit judge,” Singles said. James Ruffner was also president of the Madera School Board and was Republican chairman for many years.
In an ironic twist, Singles’ grandfather’s courtroom was located in the same building where the 2018 murder occurred. And that makes her sad, Singles said.
Her grandfather and her grandmother, Elizabeth, became owners of the Madera Hotel and made one side her grandfather’s District Court office and the other housed the family’s living quarters as well as the upstairs.
“The house had two porches,” Singles recalled. “The left side was my grandfather’s court as well as an insurance office. People would stand outside on the sidewalks and listen to the court cases. My grandmother was my grandfather’s secretary, and she also operated the insurance agency. In addition to that, they took in boarders.”
One famous boarder — who actually lived in the historic home for decades — was well-known Dr. Roy F. Baker. Never married, Baker remained living there until his death in 1996.
The busy family also owned a coal company/tipple and strip mine in Madera.
The busy family also had a live-in maid — Christina Anderson — who worked and lived with the family for 65 years.
Singles’ father, James, was a coal miner until the coal industry bottomed out and ended up working for the Shawville Power Plant. Her mother was a beautician in Madera for many years.
“We never lived in the ‘big house’ — my grandparents bought an old school house about a block away, tore it down, and built a house for my parents.”
Singles said when the coal industry died, her father ended up working for Shawville Power Plant, resulting in her living in Shawville during the week and in the Madera house on weekends. She attended Clearfield High School and graduated in 1967.
After Singles’ grandmother died in August 1998 at the age of 99, and then after Baker died in 1996, the big house remained in the Ruffner family until it was sold in the early 2000s.
Baker said she hopes that despite the recent tragedy in what was her family’s legacy for more than 100 years, people in Madera will remember the good times far outweighed the bad.
“In the photo (published with this story) you can see what a thriving town Madera once was. There was a fire company, dentist, post office, drug store, two grocery stores, a movie theater, a doctor’s office, Moose, VFW and a big hotel at the other end. We had company stores, a 5 & 10, places like that. Nothing is there anymore. Almost everything is gone.”
Singles said she is, however, happy to hear that a Dollar General store — of which she owns stock — is proposed to be constructed in her former hometown, and that the area will soon be patrolled by the newly formed Bigler Township Regional Police force.