Chapter 19
Parks Township

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BOUNDARIES -- PIONEERS -- STITT�S MILL -- NORTH VANDERGRIFT -- OLD SETTLERS -- THE PARK FAMILY -- SCHOOLS -- RELIGIOUS -- ELECTRIC RAILROAD -- POPULATION -- GEOLOGY

As was the case with Bethel and Gilpin, this township was formed from the territory of the original Allegheny township, now obsolete. It is bounded on the north and east by Bethel and Burrell, on the southeast and south by Kiskiminetas township and the Kiskiminetas river, and on the west by the same river and Gilpin township, giving it a fine water front. It is also drained by Carnahan�s run and Guffy�s run. It has very fertile farm lands with towering hills bordering some of the streams, also some beautiful valleys and fine table-lands running for two or three miles at a stretch, especially from the first river branch back of "Farmer�s Delight," owned by Robert Parks, past Laurel Point through the Hill, Parks and William Crosby lands, all of this being formerly known as the "Martian" or "Old Dutch Martin" tract, but later purchased by the late Hon. Jacob Hill, who represented this county in the Legislature in 1847; he served for two years. His son Winchester still occupies a large tract of the land.

The entire valley for five miles up Carnahan�s run is a rich farming country. It is on this run and only one mile from its mouth that for years was located one of the most famous old flouring mills in this part of the State, known as "Stitts� Mill." The building was a log one, most of which is still standing, and the mill race and dam were well defined. It was built in 1847 by Frantz and Levi Stitt, two famous old-time millwrights, whose father John had owned the site before them. For nearly seventy-five years the expression "As good as wheat in Stitts� Mill" has been used, quoted, and requoted from Pennsylvania to California, or wherever an Armstrong county man located. One of the builders, Franz Stitt, met with a sad death by falling off the railroad bridge at Leechburg, in his old age, in about 1895. His son Levi seems to have inherited his ability and has for many years been a master mechanic, or held other positions requiring skill in mechanism, first with the Apollo Iron & Steel Company and later with their successors, the American Sheet & Tin Plate Company. Another son, Thomas, lives with his mother on part of the old farm. The other builder, Levi Stitt, died a few years ago, after having opened coal mines at North Vandergrift only a mile south of the old mill.

We may just say here that North Vandergrift is the only town in the township and has been built up in the last ten years, owing its existence to the locating, in 1904, of a large plant of the American Sheet & Tin Plate Company of Vandergrift, Westmoreland county, just across the river. The town has now about one thousand inhabitants.

Settlers in this township were few before 1814, among them being Samuel and David Hill and John Carney, who located on Carnahan�s run; Jacob and William Hesselgesser and Robert Hanna, who had their homes on the Kiskaminetas; John, Samuel, and William Stitt, who settled on and near Taylor�s run, and Elijah Eakmon, in the eastern part, near the river.

Peter Le Fevre kept the first ferry just below the mouth of Carnahan�s run, from 1800 to 1825, when he left for other fields.

Among the names of later settlers were those of John Guthrie, Samuel Crosby, Phillip Kearney, Greenberry Wilson, Thomas Foster, Jesse Graham, Jacob Painter, the Eakmons, Girts, Wyants, Gourleys, Bowmans, Heckamans, Stitts, Altmans, Shaners, Kepplers, McIntires, Hawks, Lannings, and others. We want to add here that Richard Lanning, the head of that family, lived to be one hundred and four years old, notwithstanding the fact that he had a leg broken when he was one hundred and one years of age. The Stitts were the most numerous of the residents, having descended from several sturdy old pioneers, who early in the last century settled near here. On one of their old properties, the site overlooking Carnahan�s run, in a most beautiful location, shaded by old sugar maples and oaks, which, if they could speak, could tell the history of from two to three hundred years. It is bordered by spruce and pine and laurels, that keep the memories of the dead seemingly in evergreen remembrance. The cemetery is well kept and many beside the Stitts and their kith and kin lie buried there, beautiful monuments betokening the sacredness of the place.

Perhaps the most important of the first landowners was Robert Park, after whom this township was named. He came here in 1814, purchased the John Montgomery farm, naming it "Farmer�s Delight,� cultivating it and working at his trade of shoemaking. So popular was he that the name of the township was accepted without dissent, when suggested. He left a large number of descendants, who in the coming year (1914) will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of continuous residence of some member of the family in the handsome brick home that stands near the Kiskaminetas river.

SCHOOLS

The first schoolhouse in this township was located on a branch of Carnahan�s run, about 1812, and was taught successively by John Criswell and Samuel Taggart. Mrs. Alexander Gordon was the last surviving pupil in 1880.

Another school was near St. Paul�s Lutheran Church on the eastern branch of Carnahan�s run. Townsend Adams was its teacher in early days.

Parks township was famous as having the first graded school in this section of the country. As far back as 1866 there was a schoolhouse near Stitt�s Mill, also known as "Laurel Point," from being on an elevated location just at the edge of the stretch of table-land referred to in the first of this sketch. The directors, having been petitioned to build another school in a distant part of the township, decided to double the capacity of the one here by building another room and grading the school. Strange to say, the citizens did not appreciate their foresight, and haled them to court. But the court very justly decided in the directors� favor.

In 1913 the number of schools was 7, months taught 7; male teachers, 1; female teachers, 6; average salaries, male, $50, female, $45; male scholars, 120; female scholars, 111; average attendance, 171; cost per month, each scholar, $2.15; tax levied, $2,980.56; received from State, $1, 204.38; other sources, $3, 227.67; value of schoolhouses, $13,000; teachers� wages, $2,230; other expenses, $1,292.82.

The school directors are: H. F. Stitt, president; S. W. Wetzler, secretary; W. F. Hill, treasurer; J. G. Smail, Lee Crebs.

RELIGIOUS

The Lutherans were the first to have a home of their own in the limits of this township, building it in 1848, or later. The location is east of Dime post office, on a branch of Carnahan�s run. The membership in early days was about 75, and the scholars of the Sabbath school probably the same. The Zion�s congregation is now under the car of Rev. J. Ash.

Another church was built in 1912 at North Vandergrift, in the southeastern end of the township. It is called Brethern in Christ Chapel, and the membership is about one hundred.

DIME

The village with this low-priced name is situated near the border line of Bethel Township. The first postmaster here was Amos Altman. His successors have been Josiah W. Klingensmith and his son, Frantz W., the present one. All of them were storekeepers, this place having a country-wide reputation. This is the only settlement or post office in the township. Two blacksmiths are located here, E. P. Durbaker and J. I. Leller.

TROLLEY LINE

In 1906 an electric railway for carrying passengers and freight was promoted and built from Leechburg to Apollo, a distance of eight miles, following the seven-mile level along the old towpath of the Pennsylvania canal, over almost the entire route, the road skirting along the southern end of this township. This level received the names from the fact that the dam at Leechburg backed the water of the Kiskamenetas up to what was known as the outlet locks, one mile west of the center of the business district of Apollo, so that the boats were locked out of the canal into the lake-like waters of this beautiful stream and for seven miles had clear sailing through a most romantic valley, but recently vacated by the Indian tribes. This road has given the people of this township, or at least the southern end, a most convenient means of transit to and from Leechburg, Vandregrift and Apollo, at all of which places may be found a fine market for any produce of the farm, garden or dairy. It is now under the control of the West Pennsylvania Traction Company.

POPULATION

Statistics of this township before 1878 are to be found in the sketch of Gilpin. The population, according to government reports, in 1880 was 715; in 1890 it was 704; in 1900, 572; in 1910, 936.

The assessment returns for 1913 show: Number of acres, timber, 1,205, clear, 7,007, valued at, $1146,559; houses and lots, 192, valued at $59, 310; average, $308.90; horses, 187, value, $4,095, average, $21.88; cows, 200, value $2,034, average, $10.17; taxable occupations, 417, amount, $11,265; total valuation, $246,319. Money at interest, $6,015.

GEOLOGICAL

The following is the part of Rogers� report on the geology of Pennsylvania that refers to this section of Armstrong county.

At the salt works, half a mile above Leechburg, the upper Freeport coal, three and a half feet thick, covered by sixteen feet of shale, is sixty-two and a half feet above slackwater and sinks to an altitude of fifty feet for the next two miles up the river, and is there three and a half feet thick, covered by black slate and htis by eight feet of sandstone.

The highest point in the township, on the border of Burrell, is 1,561 feet above sea level.

Source: Page(s) 180-182, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J. H. Beers & Co., 19114.
Transcribed July 1998 by Donna E. Mohney for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Donna E. Mohney for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/armstrong/)

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