Chapter 18
Gilpin Township - Johnetts Borough



The area of old Allegheny township having become too unwieldy for practical operation and supervision by the time the settlements had grown into towns and the farms developed to productive capacity, it was decided in 1878 to cut it up into three separate sections. In this process Gilpin was formed, and by reason of being the most important of the trio, will receive the most extended mention.

By reason of its proximity to the headwaters of the Ohio at Pittsburgh, the advantage of location at the junction of the two most important streams in the county and the early construction and operation of the Pennsylvania canal, Gilpin has developed faster and more permanently than any other township of the twenty-six in Armstrong county.


Besides those in the list of land owners and settlers in the sketch of Bethel township, the following were located in this division before 1814: Philip Bolen and James Coulter, on Elder's run; John Klingensmith, on the hill below Leechburg; Philip, Peter and Nicholas Klingensmith, farther down and back from the Kiskiminetas; William Hill, along the river near the three above mentioned; William Hum, near Hill; Conrad Houck, senior and junior, southeast of Johnetta; John Hawk, on the farm later owned by Henry Truby.


Probably the earliest industries of this township were the sawmills of Michael Barrickman and Philip Klingensmith, the former on Elder's run and the latter on the same run, but higher up. The first was built in 1812 and the last in 1817.

John Hill's sawmill was on a run midway between Leechburg and Donley, and the date of its erection was 1819. Jacob Riggle's mill was at the forks of the Allegheny and Kiskminetas rivers in 1839-58. Levi Klingensmith's was near Donley after 1855.

This township is, so far as manufacturing is concerned, possibly ahead of any other in the country, it being right at the junction of the Kiskiminetas and Allegheny rivers, so giving drainage to manufacturing sites which can scarcely be excelled by any township in the several counties adjoining.

Just at the forks of these two rivers, in 1856, an oil works was erected, by what was known as the North American Oil company, which made oil from cannel coal, a vein of which is found under the Freeport bituminous stratum at this place, being found in but a few other localities in the State. The same vein is found across the Kiskiminetas river to the west, and there also large oil works were in operation from 1857 until 1864, but the discovery of petroleum put them out of business about that time.

The Penn Oil Works were established on the Allegheny, about one hundred and twenty-five rods above the mouth of the Kiskiminetas, in 1865. Their capacity for refining crude petroleum was about 5,000 barrels per month.

A carding machine was established by Joshua Cooper in 1824, at what is now Donelly's station. It is notable that Isaac David was assessed in 1807 as a bookbinder, but where his place of business was is not known.


There was a ferry established at Schenley in 1878 to make a better connection with Freeport and the northern side of the Allegheny river. Its location was just above where the old Pennsylvania canal aqueduct crossed, parts of the piers still standing. Among the promoters of this enterprise and charter members were Col. F. K. Patterson, Billy Ratigon, Joe Gugenheimer, R. F. Turner and Hugh Forester of Freeport, Pa., J. E. Harrison, Joseph G. Beale, H. H. Wray, and the late D. B. Ashbaugh and John M. Schwalm of Leechburg. James Kelly, a noted fisherman and canalboat man of Saltsburg, was the first ferryman, and was later succeeded by Silas Eackman, a coincidence being that both of these navigators were classed among the best of old-time fiddlers in their day; and even only a few years ago the latter engaged in an old fiddlers' contest in Leechburg. This was quite an interesting form of entertainment during the days when these old-time musicians were in the great reunion with "Old Rosin the Bow."" Mr. Kelly is dead, but Mr. Eackman is still living in Freeport. His son, Peter Eackman, was the first postmaster here, in 1862.

Mrs. Susan Patton is the oldest inhabitant in the place, if not in the county. For many years she kept a store, hotel, and also the postoffice, having succeeded the late H. C. Pavitt in the store about the time the oil refining works closed down. Mrs. Patton has therefore been identified with the interests of Schenley, Aladdin and Lucesco for over fifty years. Her daughter, Emma, was postmistress at Lucesco after Schenley was abandoned, up until five years ago. This old lady, Mrs. Patton, now over ninety years of age, was a daughter of the late Richard Lanning, a farmer of Parks township, who lived to be 104 years of age.

In 1888 the Schenley Distilling Company was established at the junction of the Allegheny and Kiskiminetas rivers, in Gilpin township and the village has been called after the company ever since. They have five warehouses, with a capacity of 10,000 barrels per year, and employ thirty men, who, with their families, compose the population of the village of Schenley - about 150 souls. The capitalization of the company is $400,000. The place also has two stores and a school. One of the large warehouses was burned here in July, 1912, entailing a loss of $350,000, over one hundred barrels of whiskey being burned.

In 1894 a coal works was started at Aladdin to work the Freeport vein of coal, which can be mined by "drifting," as it is termed. A company composed of miners undertook to run this, but were unable to finance it, and in 1898 the works were purchased by Joseph G. Beale, of Leechburg, who was already in the coal business at that place. He is still operating the works, the opening being on the Buffalo & Allegheny division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, formerly known in Armstrong county history as the Allegheny Valley Railroad. This company is chartered as the Aladdin Coal Company.

In 1890 a Greek named William Porterie came to Schenley, having in some way heard of the pitch or waste from the cannel coal oil and for several years made a considerable sum distilling and melting the residue, which he dug up on the grounds of the old North American Oil Works. In the meantime he built quite a large candy factory at Aladdin station, and having acquired some lands from the Schenley estate, owned by Mary Schenley of England, who was still living at that time, he drilled for gas and was rewarded by striking a good flow. He put down other wells and for several years furnished the Enterprise Gas Company of Freeport, and also the Leechburg Gaslight and Fuel Company of Leechburg, with gas, so that this little point right at the junction of the Allegheny and Kiskiminetas has been one of the most important for its area of any place in the county.


About 1888 or 1890 the Pennsylvania Railroad company constructed a branch from Leechburg to Schenley connecting with the Allegheny Valley road, in which they had a controlling interest, thus opening up the vast coal fields in Gilpin township, every acre almost of which is underlaid with coal of a fine quality, the Freeport vein being on top, and as it can be "drifted" it is the one now being worked.

Four miles above Schenley, on the Kiskiminetas river, and two miles below Leechburg is the old village of Bagdad, famous in canal days and since. It was at this old town, or a short distance below it, that a point on the Pennsylvania canal known for years as "Wherry's Defeat" was located. The following incident or disaster gave rise to this name. When building this section of the canal the Late James Wherry, of South Bend township, this county, had the contract, and it was found necessary to build an extensive riprap or retaining wall sloping from the edge of the towpath to the river. Just when it was nearing completion the Old "Kiski" got on one of her "tears" and swept away the work of months and with it several thousand dollars of the contractors' hard earned and not too plentiful money. The wall was rebuilt and stands to-day as a monument of what determination and skill can do under the right kind of leaders and skilled workmen.

Bagdad, about the middle of the last century, became prominent as a salt producing community, and some of the best wells along this river, famous then for this industry, were drilled at this place and above and below it, most of the salt boilers and miners living in the little village. Among the old-time salt manufacturers were the late Daniel Hill, David Lynch, Daniel Kistler, Capt. Samuel Kistler and his brother John, the latter being one of the few yet living; his home is in Freeport. There were also the Clines, Stulls, Shusters, Sherbondies, Shirys, Klingensmiths, and Walters and a host of others, the long roll of which it is impossible now to record; it is regrettable they were not recorded earlier.

Capt. R. D. Elwood was among the last to engage in the business, having bought a salt works from Jonathan Stoops. He traded these works to a man named Parker, who sold to a Mr. Rowan. The last salt made here was produced by Ashbaugh & Wray (B. B. Ashbaugh and H. Wray constituting the firm), who leased the works from Mr. Rowan. David Lynch, then in his seventy-eighth year, managed the works and acted as salt boiler. This was in 1882, and the salt was the last made on the river, except at Gamble's works, near Roaring run in Kiskiminetas township, which ran about one year longer. Thus closed an industry for which the entire valley, from Saltsburg to White's station, had long been famous. New discoveries of great salt beds in Louisiana and the West reduced the price so that this territory could not compete.


To a great extent credit is due the citizens of Leechburg and vicinity for the use of natural gas in lighting homes and business establishments. When William Porterie, a Greek, came to Aladdin in 1890 to work over the waste from the oil works, he and some associates from Freeport organized the Consumers' Gas company, and drilled several wells, all of which were successful. A pipe line was laid to Leechburg and for some time they supplied gas to the Leechburg Gas Light & Fuel Co., the first natural gas company chartered in Pennsylvania. The latter company also drilled several wells, so that this district soon sprung into prominence as a center of the gas industry. The Gilpin Gas company was later chartered by local men and is still in operation. S. C. Bole, a noted gas well operator, next organized the Good Luck Gas Company, and put down several wells in the exact center of Gilpin township. He was successful and the company is a prosperous concern in this year of 1913.

The lines of the Carnegie Gas Co. are across the township near Leechburg, and they have a pumping station near the borough limits. It is not an exaggerated estimate to say that in the last twenty years this section of the county has produced over $250,000 worth of fuel gas, and the field is still not overcrowded.

The Great Seaboard Oil Co. pipe lines also cross the county near Leechburg, carrying oil from far-away Oklahoma to the Atlantic ocean ports.


The only church outside of the towns in this township is the Zion's Lutheran, also called "Forks Church," from its location at the forks of Elder's run. The congregation incorporated in 1849, the officers named in the charter being Rev. Henry Isensee; John Torney, Henry Wanamaker, elders; Griffith Baker and Jonathan Moyer, deacons; John Allshouse and Henry Klingensmith, trustees. The members at that time were few, but in 1880 the total was over one hundred.

Their first edifice was a frame one. It was destroyed by fire in 1869 and the present frame home was built at a cost of $3,000.

Among the ministers of fifty years ago was Rev. Charles Ehrenfeld, whose home was in the township on the banks of the Kiskiminetas river, overlooking Westmoreland county, and is still occupied by one of his sons, while two other sons live near. A large and beautiful cemetery, or what was formerly called the "Burial Ground," adjoins the church lot, where lie many of those who helped to make our county's history, among them being many brave men who fought in the Civil war, in the war with Mexico and in 1812. This congregation has a fine parsonage, built in 1905, with large grounds and most delightfully situated. Rev. John Ashe, the present pastor, also serves St. Paul's in Park township, formerly known as "Highfield's."

This township has nearly two miles of macadam road which almost covers the stretch from Forks Church to Leechburg on what is known as the Leechburg and Kittanning road, making it very convenient for the farmer, traveling man and market gardener.


While there are a large number of persons who belong to various secret societies, the only organization owning its own buildings and having local lodges is the Patrons of Husbandry, and the Mt. Joy Lodge has a comfortable hall near Forks Church, with a large membership.


We will have to include in the estimated population of this township previous to 1878, the number of residents of old Allegheny township. The first separate census was that of 1880.

Allegheny's population in 1850 was 2,506; in 1860 it was 2,406; in 1870, 2,539. Gilpin's population in 1880 was 1,190; in 1890, 1,156; in 1900, 1,875; in 1910, 2,334.

The population of Gilpin township by the census of 1910 was 2,334. However, in the year 1904 the borough of Johnetta had been incorporated from the district comprising the above township and the population of this borough was given by the census of 1910 as 662, so that only for this severance of a large number of her citizens the number of her population would have been 2,996, or the second most populous in the county. Gilpin township's population showed a gain of 41 per cent in the last ten years, even after losing Johnetta, or over 6 percent, including that borough, which shows as healthy a growth as any township in the county or in fact the western part of the State. A large part of this increase is in the Georgetown district, adjoining or bordering on Leechburg borough and at the various coal works.

The assessment returns for 1913 show: Number of acres, 9,787, valued at $208,614; houses and lots, 274, value $73,600, average, $268.61; horses, 242, value $5,055, average $20.88; cows, 208, value $3,135, average $15.07; taxable occupations, 557, amount, $17,330; total valuation, $427,474. Money at interest, $49,377.74.


About 1812-14 a log schoolhouse was erected west of the present Kittanning and Leechburg road, opposite the mouth of a short branch of Elder's run, and about one hundred rods from the schoolhouse near Abraham Klingensmith's residence. Among its first teachers, if not its first, was James Stitt. The only other school before 1835, when the free school system was adopted, was kept in a schoolhouse about two miles north of Jacksonville, or Bagdad, in or near the forks of the run that empties into the Allegheny, a little below the head of the island, near Donnelly's station. The branches taught were generally those mentioned in the general sketch of the county.

In 1860 the number of schools was 15; average number months taught, 4; teachers all male; average salaries, $22; number male scholars, 442; female, 319; average number of scholars attending school, 437; cost of teaching each scholar per month, 48 cents; amount tax levied for school purposes, $1,826.70; amount levied for building purposes, $304.45; received from State appropriation, $155.04; received from collectors of school tax, $1,730.46; cost of instruction, i. e. whole amount of teachers' wages, $1,320; fuel and contingencies, $135.07; cost of schoolhouses, purchasing, building, renting, repairing, etc., $428.92.

In 1876 the number of schools was 16; average number months taught, 5; male teachers, 5; female, 11; average salaries of males per month, $34.80; of females, $34.40; number of male scholars, 400; of female, 314; average number attending school, 344; cost per month, 86 cents; total amount of tax levied for school and building purposes, $4,039.80; State appropriation, $567.13; total receipts, $4,687.92; paid for teachers' wages, $2,914.50; fuel, collectors, contingencies, etc., $1,041.53. Total expenditures, $3,956.03.

These figures above cover the townships of Bethel, Parks and Gilpin, which before 1878 were included in the territory of Allegheny.

In 1913 the number of schools in Gilpin township was 11; average months taught, 7; male teachers, 1; female teachers, 10; average salaries, male $50; female, $44; male scholars, 177; female scholars, 189; average attendance, 318; cost per month for each scholar, $2.04; tax levied, $3,633.64; received from State, $2,118.64; from other sources, $4,932.56; value of schoolhouses, $8,250; teachers' wages, $3,461.50; other expenses, $1,653.31.

The school directors are: A. W. Smith, president; John L. George, secretary; E. J. Nieman, treasurer; E. M. Lookabaugh, D. E. Shutt, Frank Stull.


One and one half miles above the mouth of the Kiskiminetas are fine exposures of the Freeport sandstone, dipping both west and north. Two and a half miles above its mouth, the Upper Freeport coal is about one hundred and eight feet above the canal, due east and twenty-five feet higher than at Freeport. Four miles above the mouth the Freeport sandstone has passed the fourth axis and descended below water level, dipping southeast. There the Upper Freeport coal is sixty-nine feet above the canal, all the strata below it being shales. At the canal level are black shales from four to five feet thick. The mass of shales dips up the river rapidly, and at the same time changes into sandstone beds still interstratified with shales.

A fourth of a mile below Leechburg the following section exhibits the coal at a much lower elevation than there: Descending from the surface-shale, 9 feet; Upper Freeport coal, 3 feet 3 inches; shale, 22 inches; coal, 7 inches; shale, 3 feet. Freeport limestone blue, 2 feet; soft sandstone, 1 foot; shale, 17 feet to bed of Pine run, not much above slack water.

At Leechburg, five and a fourth miles above the mouth of the Kiskiminetas, above which is gentle undulation of the strata, the following section of rocks was obtained at the quarries: Sandstone and shale, 16 feet; Upper Freeport coal, 4 - feet, 63 feet above slack water; blue-black shale, 14 inches; light shale, 6 inches; coal, 4 inches; light shale, 14 inches; iron ore, 3 inches; Freeport limestone, 1 foot; calc slate, shale, 3 feet; shale and large chunks of limestone, 3 1/3 feet; limestone, 32 inches; shale, with calcareous nodules and flags, 5 feet; calcareous shales, 6 feet, 8 inches; shale sandstone, etc., 3 feet; sandstone, 1 foot; shales, a little bituminous, 1 foot; blue ferriferous shale, 7 feet; shale and sandstone, 6 feet; massive Freeport sandstone, 42 feet; Lower Freeport coal, interstratified with slate, 4 feet.

The Freeport sandstone, near the water's edge, is a fine quartzose conglomerate, containing vegetable impressions and pebbles of nodular carbonate of iron, of all sizes and so numerous as to compose the whole mass of the rock for a thickness of 6,8 or even 10 inches. A slip appears to combine with the original oblique bedding of the sandstone to express to the eye of the spectator an unconformity of stratification at the upper limit of the sandstone, and upon its apparently up heaved edges rest the calcareous slate and coal above. Something similar may be observed elsewhere along the Kiskiminetas, at a point seven miles below Saltsburg.

In the northern portion of the township, east of Johnetta, is located the highest point, a hill 1,430 feet above tidewater.


The town of Johnetta, established in 1892, is located at one of the most beautiful points in the Allegheny valley, the houses being built on a high bluff overlooking the river. Each house is surrounded by a large plot of ground suitable for gardening, and fruit and shade trees have been planted along the streets.

The town depends entirely upon the operations of the Pittsburgh-Buffalo Company controlled by the Jones interests, John H. Jones, president of the company, residing there all the year round. He is unusually popular with the employees and takes a strong personal interest in their welfare.

The town is thoroughly sewered and supplied with good water, so that a more picturesque and healthful manufacturing location could not be imagined.

The amusement hall is an interesting feature of the town. This contains standard bowling alleys, billiard and pool tables, refreshment stand, and a large roller skating rink, which is also used for a meeting place and for popular entertainments. There is also a playground for the children.

The town consists of 140 frame houses, sixteen brick residences, a store, schoolhouse, and the Johnetta Memorial Church, presided over by Rev. Walter Kennedy.

The houses are heated by gas taken from the company's own wells, which have a pressure of 80 pounds to the square inch.

The population is 662, of which about 500 are employees of the company.


The Johnetta Plant of the United States Sewer Pipe Company utilizes the famous Kittanning clay for the manufacture of refractory products. This clay immediately underlies the Kittanning coal, which is mined in advance of the clay, and which finds a ready market at the northern lake ports. The clay seam is about 15 feet in thickness, of exceptional purity, and adapted to the manufacture of pavers, high-grade face brick and sewer pipe.

The clay is hoisted from the same shaft which handles the coal, the clay cars being run across the coal tipple and dumped into a bin, in the bottom of which is a crusher. This crusher reduces the clay lumps to pieces of about one inch diameter. From the crusher, the clay is fed into dry pans, where it is ground to the size required for brick and elevated to the screens. After being screened, the ground clay is dropped into the pug mills, where it is tempered with water and then pressed through the brick machine. This machine forces out the clay in a long column the exact size of the brick. A wire cutting apparatus separates the bricks, which are borne away on a belt. Three represses are located near this belt. With these machines the better grades of paving bricks are finished. The dryers are built on the waste heat principle, and are of ample capacity to handle the largest day's run. The bricks are burned in improved down draft kilns, both the round and the rectangular types being used. The circular kilns are used for burning both brick and sewer pipe. Repressed and wire cut waterproof face brick are made in all shades and the greatest care is taken in all the operations to produce first-class bricks, packed and shipped so that they may reach the buyer in the best possible condition.

It is evident from the constantly increasing demand for a road material that will stand hard service without heavy maintenance cost, that all principal county roads will soon be built of brick. For such purpose the paving brick and block made at this plant are unsurpassed, as they are tough without being brittle, and are vitrified, and consequently impervious to water and unaffected by frost. The great capacity of this plant, over 100,000 per day, makes it possible to fill the largest orders for all grades of brick at short notice. In the yards, all building brick are stacked according to their shade and quality, and in such manner as to be convenient to the cars for loading. This arrangement is of great service in filling large orders promptly.


The property consists of about 2,4000 acres, underlaid with the coals of the lower productive measures, of which the Upper Freeport and Lower Kittanning are workable. The latter vein is reached by shafts at a depth of about 100 feet below the surface and is a fine gas and domestic coal.

All mining and hauling is done by electricity, the power being furnished by two 200 K. W. generators in parallel.

The steam generating plant consists of six 150 horse-power tubular boilers, equipped with underfeed stokers fed from overhead bins.

The Johnetta Foundry & Machine Company was incorporated in Pennsylvania on Oct. 29, 1906, with a capital of $5,000.00, for the purpose of operating a machine shop for the general repair of mining and brick works equipment and the reconstruction of railroad cars. Upon the opening up of the Ten Mile field in Washington county, and the projection of the new town of Marianna and the location of the new mines at that point, the old building at Johnetta was sold, the capital stock increased to $50,000.00, and new property acquired at Marianna upon which a large shop building of steel and brick has been erected and new machinery installed.

The superintendent of the plant is Mr. L. E. Allen. The resident physician is Dr. D. O. Thomas. W. A. Reed is the postmaster and storekeeper; Joseph Walbert, hotelkeeper.


Johnetta is a separate school district. The returns of the commissioners show that the number of schools in 1913 was 2; average months taught, 8; male teacher, 1; female teacher, 1; average salaries, male, $55, female, $55; male scholars, 68; female scholars, 53; average attendance, 98; cost per month, $1.05; tax levied, $1,867.40; received from State, $435.56; other sources, $1,728.33; value of schoolhouses, $6,300; teachers' wages, $962.50; fuel, fees, etc., $366.71.

The school directors are: Dr. D. O. Thomas, president; S. B. Pierce, secretary; Samuel Wilson, treasurer; H. W. Smith, Alex Hoffman, James A. Iddings.


Johnetta was incorporated as a borough in 1904, and the next census, in 1910 showed the population to be 662.

The assessment returns for 1913 show: Number of acres, 567, valued at $44,054; houses and lots, 34, valued at $10,150, average, $298.52; horses, 17, value, $1,190, average, $70; cows, 8, value, $200, average, $25; taxable occupations, 202, amount, $11,180; total valuation, $81,774. Money at interest, $1,425.

Source: Chapter 18, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J. H. Beers & Co., 19114.
Transcribed July 1998 by Kathy Zagorac for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Kathy Zagorac for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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