The pioneer farmers of this county had little to aid them in the reclamation of the soil. The ground was covered with dense undergrowth and weeds, the removal of which required the most arduous labor by hand. Small quantities of grass seed were sown. The principal crops were rye, wheat, corn, oats and buckwheat. The latter was often used as a roughland crop, frequently saving the day when other crops failed. In 1819 the price of wheat was 50 cents a bushel, rye 40 cents and oats 20 cents.
An accompaniment to the burning of the brush piles at night were the mournful howls of the wolves, so it is seen that the settlers had some natural music to divert them. In these modern days we have the mournful dog and tuneful cat of our next-door neighbor to accompany our attempts at slumber.
Wooden plows were used after one or two crops had been planted with the hoe and mattock. Later the "Western" plow, with metal moldboard, was introduced, and after that came the cast-iron plow. One of the old timers was the "Bull" plow, so named from the power required to run it. Those were the days of the "chaff piler" threshers and flails.
The first metal plow was introduced into this county by James Elgin in Plum Creek township, in 1811. He was so proud of it that he would never allow others to use it, and on occasion would resent any attempt to borrow it without his consent.
AN ORIGINAL CHARACTER
Nearly a century ago Frederick Altman commenced, and continued for some years, the manufacture of plows with wooden moldboards. He advertised in the Kittanning Gazette, Sept. 21, 1825, that he was then making half-patent plows, that is, those with cast-iron moldboards and wrought-iron colters. His plows of both kinds are still remembered as having been excellent ones. The locality where he made them is in the northern part of Burrell township, near the head of a spring run which empties into Pine run above its junction with Crooked creek.
Altman must have been endowed with a good degree of mechanical ingenuity and inventive genius. Besides guns and other things, he made a good pocket-knife with twelve blades, and invented an auger with a chisel attachment, by which he bored holes in his wooden moldboards, etc., which were nearly square. He was certainly eccentric enough to have been a man of genius. One of his eccentricities was his constant refraining from speaking to any of his children. Their mother was the medium of communication from him to them, except on one occasion, which was when he and one or more of them were going to Kittanning in a wagon. When they were descending, or about to descend a hill he said to his son Isaac, in German, perhaps involuntarily, "Nun yetz der wagon must gespert sein!" "Now the wagon must be locked," equivalent to "down brakes."
Threshers began to be used in 1849, and reapers and mowing machines came into use about 1860. The sulky rake was introduced in 1863. One of the reasons for the slow adoption of these labor-saving machines was the extremely broken surface of the country. As the methods of soil culture become more advanced the use of machines gains greater headway, and they are made more adaptable to the peculiarities of our farm structure.
The gristmills of those days were marvels of originality and ingenuity, when we consider the crude implements used in their erection and the lack of proper materials. Many of them were made almost without a piece of iron or a nail. One of the earliest was that of William Green in North Buffalo township, of which the following description will be of interest to readers who never see the process of making flour now.
The bolting chest of the first gristmill was made of the trunk of a large, hollow button-wood tree, which was divided into two equal parts, one placed above the other, with an interval of about two feet between them. The entire interval on one side was closed by shaved clapboards, and all on the other, except about four feet in the middle, which space was covered by a piece of homemade linen cloth, nailed on the upper, and which dropped on the inside of the lower part of the trunk so as to keep the flour from falling out of the chest. Instead of a leather belt, a rope made of straw was used, which required moistening to make it effective. People brought their grists to that mill from twenty miles around. One of its customers was a little Irishman from Butler county, who fell asleep while waiting for his grist. As he awoke, he saw the large cog-wheel and the trundle-head turning between him and the moonlight which penetrated a crevice in the wall. Being alarmed, he screamed and yelled lustily. On being asked what was the matter, he replied, "I thought I was in hell, and the big devil and a little one were after me."
All of these mills were operated by water-power, sometimes from an undershot, but generally by an overshot, wheel. Our illustration of the Cowanshannock mill will give an idea of the appearance of the better kind of water mill.
Although the cultivation of the lands of this county is now often neglected, owing to the tremendous development of the mineral resources, there are some fine farms in cultivation by enterprising and intelligent agriculturists. Their farms are generally well kept and their homes neat and in many cases luxurious. The live stock on these farms is noticeable for its high average, there having been a number of men who had sufficient foresight some twenty-five years ago to import valuable strains of standard bred animals into the district, which were crossed with what was already fairly good Pennsylvania stock, and in many cases they have been bred up to standard. This was noticeable in the Jerseys, Short Horns, and the Holsteins among the cattle, and the Clydesdales and Percherons among the types of horses. Within the last fifteen years racing and coach horses have received marked attention, some of the best breeds of trotters and pacers being found on many farms. One large stock farm, the Pleasant Valley, owned by A. Wayne Smith, has done much toward improving this latter class of horses not only in the neighborhood but in other parts of this and surrounding country. With such famous horses at the head of the stud as "Highland Baron" and "Arcady," and standard bred mares from the best Kentucky strains, his enterprise attracted the lovers of stock for many miles and the old "Purviance" strain of horses made a very desirable class for crossing.
About 1838 a superior breed of sheep was introduced into the county, this stock being later improved by crossing with the native strains. Were it not for the custom of some residents of sporting proclivities of keeping a number of useless dogs, which annually go forth on sheep-killing raids, the sheep industry would be further advanced than it is now.
Much interest in later years has been awakened by the agricultural colleges, experiment stations, and by the "back to the farm" movement of the wealthier citizens of the great cities. Not least in this movement to renew the vocation of agriculture and add to the wealth of the farmer is the help given by the State and National Grange.
The National Grange, or Patrons of Husbandry, was organized in 1867, and the first lodge was located in this county in Cowanshannock township, in 1875, the first president being John Steele. The next was that of Bethel, in 1876. The present county organization is Pomona Grange, the officers of which are, S.S. Blyholder, J.P. Ramalee and G.A. Marvin.
The officers of Madison Grange are: F. Furlong, J.J. Pence and Miss Zella Pence. Burrell—J.P. Ramalee, Mrs. J.P. Ramalee, Norman Rupert. Kiskiminetas—J.I. Kier, Mabel Couch, Paul Martin. Mt. Joy—Z.T. Lessig, A.J. Allshouse, G.A. Marvin. Marshall—A.H. King, S.E. Smeltzer, H.F. Waltenbough. Pleasant Union—Carl Miller, Lola M. Wolf, Mary F. Blyholder. Washington—C.Y. Bowser, Watson Bowser, R.R. Stoops. Tidal—C.R. Hornberger, T.C. Heath, W.E. Paine. Laurel Point—J.T. Bowman, Mrs. D.D. Riggle, W.F. Hill. Armstrong—S.L. Hiles, Edward Shakeley. Kaylor—W.K. White, Grant Bair, Archie Stewart. West Franklin—R.L. McKee, M.C. Templeton, J.B. Hindman.
VINES AND FRUITS
Some of the farmers of this county were at one time engaged in the culture of the vine, but the San Jose scale gradually destroyed the industry. We are glad to state that in this year of 1913 the pest has at last been conquered.
For a review of the fruit culture of the county reference is made to the article on that subject by Rev. T.J. Frederick of Spring Church.
FAIRS AND INSTITUTES
The Armstrong County Agricultural Society was organized in 1855. Its object was to give fairs and hold exhibitions of the products of the county. A space of ground was laid out for its purposes and a series of successful exhibitions held in 1856 and 1857, after which interest lapsed and the society passed out of existence.
Each year the Armstrong County Fair Association has an exhibition of the products of the county and promotes a series of trotting and pacing races on its grounds below Applewold, across the river from Kittanning. The officers of the association are: E.F. McGivern, present; W.E. Noble, secretary; M.J. Linnon, treasurer.
The Kiski Valley Agricultural and Driving Association was chartered in 1910, and has held annual meetings on the grounds near Apollo since that date, at which exhibits of farm products are made and daily races held on the track adjoining. The officers are: L. Todd Owens, president; Dan Clark, secretary. The directors are: Frank Newinghaus, David Elwood, Charles P. Culp, W.A. McGeary, W.E. Shutt, John H. Bair, Jr., Dr. John F. Boal, Dr. S.J. McIlwain, C.F. Armstrong, S.J. McDowell, W.B. Swank, J.C. George, Bert Orr, Frank J. Isency.
Since 1895 the State agricultural department has held annual farmers’ institutes at the principal points in the county, at which addresses are made by competent lecturers on varied subjects. The attendance has increased from year to year and much interest is manifested in these farmers’ schools. During the year 1914 meetings will be held in Dayton, Elderton and Spring church.
An interesting item is the report of the United States department of agriculture is the statement that the potatoes of Armstrong county contain but 70% of water, in comparison with those of other States, which have a percentage of 90.
There were raised and made in this county in 1870, according to the census, 298,194 bushels of wheat, 135,257 bushels of rye, 680,314 bushels of corn, 883,846 bushels of oats, 33,192 tons of hay, 126,068 pounds of wool, and 964,020 pounds of butter, besides large quantities of other agricultural products.
In 1830 the cost of a barrel of flour was $3, beef was 3 cents a pound, venison hams were 1 1/2 cents, fowls were 6 cents each, butter 6 to 8 cents a pound, and eggs 6 cents a dozen. The value of common labor was correspondingly low, only 50 cents being paid for a day’s work of twelve hours, and this seldom in cash.
In 1878 flour was $8 a barrel, butter 14 to 35 cents a pound and eggs were 10 to 20 cents a dozen. Day labor could be had for $1 and the hours were ten.
In 1913 the price of flour is $6 to $7; beef, 11 to 25 cents a pound; poultry, 14 to 25 cents; eggs, 20 to 40 cents a dozen; butter, 30 to 45 cents a pound; venison not to be bought anywhere; while the prices paid for farm products are; wheat, 95 cents a bushel; buckwheat, 70 cents; wool, 18 cents a pound; hay, $13 a ton; and even turnips are worth 40 cents a bushel. The prices paid for common labor vary from $1.50 to $3 per day of ten hours.
In 1825 Charles C. Gaskill, agent of the Holland Land Company, offered for sale 150,000 acres of land at from $1.50 to $2 per acre, on the easy terms of 5% cash and the balance in eight equal annual payments. In 1830 the best improved farming land was worth from $12 to $20 per acre. In 1880 it was valued at from $60 to $100 per acre. Such land is seldom for sale at present, the prices ruling from $40 to $125 per acre, according to mineral deposits and market locations.
The report of the commissioner of statistics of Pennsylvania for 1873 shows the assessed valuation of real and personal property in Armstrong county to have then been as follows: Real estate, $11,488,318; personal estate, $2,259,795. Total, $13,748,113.
The report of the secretary of the interior shows this county to have an area of 612 square miles, or 391,680 acres, of which over two-thirds is under cultivation.
There are 100 species of mammals and 130 species of birds in Armstrong county, of which 115 are native. The bear, panther and deer have long ago become extinct. An occasional eagle, however, has been seen. Bounties on various obnoxious animals are still offered and sometimes collected.
From the report of the director of the census for 1900 we glean the following figures for Armstrong county:
The number of farms in the county was 4,112; the area of land in the county was 417,920; the amount under cultivation was 367,867 acres, there were 4 farms of 3 acres, 312 of less than 10 acres, 295 of less than 20 acres, 641 of less than 50 acres, 1,265 of less than 100 acres, 1,251 of less than 200 acres, 266 of less than 500 acres, 63 of less than 1,000 acres, and one of over 1,000 acres.
The value of the land in the county was $11,487,568; buildings, $6,222,346; implements and machinery, $967,175; domestic animals, poultry and bees, $2,103,694.
The domestic animals on the farms and ranges were: Cattle, 21,976, value, $557,607; horses, 9,566, value, $1,219,400; mules, 196, value, $24,925; swine, 20,154, value $130,076; sheep, 13,009, value $51,013; goats, 70, value, $292; poultry, 189,823, value, $110,038; colonies of bees, 2,485, value, $10,293.
Farms operated by owners, 3,211; operated by tenants, 860; by managers, 41.
Classes of crops and amounts: Corn, 694,873 bushels; oats, 493,430 bushels; wheat, 206,372 bushels; barley, 543 bushels; buckwheat, 148,466 bushels; rye, 36,310 bushels; beans, 130 bushels, hay and forage, 41,619 tons; Irish potatoes, 288,709 bushels; sweet potatoes, 466 bushels; maple sugar, 35 pounds; maple syrup, 273 gallons; apples, 217,773 bushels; peaches, 58,917 bushels; pears, 5,907 bushels; plums, 15,901 bushels; cherries, 18,478 bushels; quinces, 565 bushels; grapes, 441,638 pounds; strawberries, 86,444 quarts; raspberries, 28,238 quarts; blackberries, 15,519 quarts; nuts, 26,495 pounds.
Value of crops: Cereals, $2,225,711; grains and seeds, $3,089; hay and forage, $545,722; vegetables, $326,529; fruits and nuts, $235,999; all other crops, $120,890.
The early settlers on the American continent found here probably the greatest supply of wild game that the world has ever seen. The forests teemed with bird and animal life and the streams and lakes abounded in edible fish. Contemporary accounts agree on this point. The settler killed his deer almost from his cabin door, and birds were so numerous that shooting them was hardly sport. In fact, the colonist, especially in Pennsylvania, had little of the sporting instinct. What he shot was distinctly for the pot and ammunition was so costly and so likely to be needed against the ever-threatening red men that its waste was a thing unthinkable.
This condition continued way down to within almost a generation of our own time. Near the large cities the demands of the market were beginning to make inroads before the Civil war, but these depredations were little felt, so great and apparently inexhaustible was the supply. Then with shocking suddenness came the drop. First went the heath hen, a variety of grouse the early settlers found in abundance throughout Pennsylvania and the Middle States along the seaboard. The passenger pigeon was the next to disappear. The years immediately following the close of the Civil war saw this bird dwindle from uncountable millions to complete extinction. In 1908 the last wild specimen known was captured near Detroit and one lone survivor mourns his departed fellows in a cage in the Cincinnati Zoological Park. A price of $3,000 for two mates for this bird was offered with no takers.
The tragedy of the buffalo is known perhaps better than all. The great herds that covered the Western prairies were bound to dwindle and disappear before the advance of the cattlemen and the settlers, but today thousands of square miles of waste land lie empty that could have supported large herds of American bison without loss or damage to anyone. Today there are in the neighborhood of 1,600 head, wild and in parks, in all North America. The prong-horned antelope has practically ceased to exist as a wild animal, and a similar fate threatens the big-horn sheep, the mountain goat, and the grizzly bear.
In the case of the big game little more can be done at the present time other than to give ample legal protection to the specimens that are still at large and to increase the number of the parks and preserves in which they are safe from hunter and settler alike. Buffalo and elk respond readily to such treatment and something can be done for the sheep and goats. The fate of the antelope is probably sealed and the doom of the grizzly is not far distant.
Bird refuges are increasing in number and size yearly, along with greater stringency in enforcement and character of protective laws. New York has led the way with the Bayne bill prohibiting the sale of wild game or its shipment out of the State for purpose of sale elsewhere. But these measures are at best only palliative. Illegal shooting continues in many places where enforcement of the law is lax, the district too large for proper patrol. Like it or not, we must admit that we are confronted with the same situation as that which English sportsmen faced many generations ago. Genuine wild game is losing its place—has already lost it in many cases—and we cannot legislate it back into existence. It remains for man to step in and do what Nature can no longer do unaided. In other words, the salvation of the future lies in the artificial propagation. Birds and fish lend themselves peculiarly well to this sort of treatment.
As in many other similar cases, when we found ourselves confronted with the problem of saving our fish, the solution was ready to hand. It was in 1725 that Stephen Ludwig Jacobi, a German youth of seventeen, conceived the idea of artificially fertilizing the spawn of fish. Sixteen years later he hit upon the right method, but with characteristic German carefulness it was not until 1761 that he announced his discovery and his method. America, of course, had no need of Jacobi at that time and for many years after; and it was the French government that established the first extensive hatcheries nearly a century after the German experimenter had made his discovery known.
The State of Ohio led the way on this side of the Atlantic in 1853, but little was done until within the last two decades. To-day the Federal government and most of the States conduct extensive hatcheries and distribute hundreds of millions of eggs, fry and fingerlings annually.
POLLUTION OF STREAMS
This insures the solution of the fish problem—if the young fish when distributed can be assured of a proper habitat. To this end it is necessary that eternal watchfulness be employed to prevent the pollution of streams and lakes. Factories, mills, mines are a constant menace in this respect, and the fate of the salmon in the Connecticut river is a case in point. In Colonial times this stream teemed with them during the spawning season, but with the appearance of the first dams and mills just after the Revolution they began to disappear, and within a decade the river was completely abandoned by this beautiful fish. This has been repeated in varying degrees in countless instances. The question of the pollution of streams is one of the most difficult problems that the Pennsylvania Department of Fisheries has to solve says Commissioner of Fisheries N.R. Buller:
"Public sentiment is rapidly growing in favor of having all the streams cleared up and this is shown every day by the number of complaints that reach the department. Recently the Susquehanna river at Williamsport was reported badly polluted. All the manufacturers in this territory were notified that they must stop the pollution of the streams. Examination showed that with hardly an exception not one had done anything in the matter, so the department has directed prosecutions against every manufacturer along the streams, with possibly one or two exceptions. One thing the department has to combat is the fact that when the prosecutions are brought in a particular place, the citizens of that place object because the industry is an important one to the town and say that the manufactory at some other place ought to be the victim."
A few weeks previous to this examination the Susquehanna river was reported polluted between Lock Haven and Williamsport, many fish being killed. The result of the department’s investigation was the prosecution of the Lock Haven Paper Company. The superintendent was found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of $100.
Source: Page(s) 19-23, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J. H. Beers & Co., 19114.
Transcribed June 1998 by Michael S. Caldwell for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Michael S. Caldwell for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/armstrong/)
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