Chapter 1
Historical Sketch of Armstrong County
Part 3

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Wiser legislation, Gen. Wayne's treaty with the Indians at Fort Grenville, Ohio, and other causes, operated favorably in causing permanent settlements to be made in this section of the state, from and after 1796. Such had been the increase of population therein that the Legislature, by act of March 12, 1800, organized the counties of Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Erie, Venango and Warren.


In 1800 the population of Armstrong county, when its territory was more extensive than it now is, was 2,339; in 1810 it was 6,143; in 1820 it was 10,234; in 1830 it was 17,625; in 1840 it was 18,685. After deducting the number in that portion detached in the formation of Clarion county in 1850, it was 29,500; in 1860 it was 35,797; in 1870 it was 43,382. The number of taxable inhabitants in 1870 was 9,335. Dividing the whole population by the number of taxables gives 4 621/1000, or about 4 3/5 inhabitants for each taxable. The number of taxables this year is 11,843, which multiplied by 4 3/5, gives 54,477 as the total population of this county in the centennial year, 1876. The colored population was 96 in 1830, 129 in 1850, 178 in 1860, 179 in 1870.

The early settlers of this county were chiefly of Scotch-Irish and German descent. Most of the former came from Westmoreland and adjacent counties, and most of the latter from Lehigh and Northampton.


In early times, in this as in other counties, neighbors were sparse and less independent than in older and denser society. Neighborly kindness was then cordial as well as necessary. The interchange of obliging acts was frequent and pleasing. If, for instance, a log cabin was to be raised, the inhabitants from several miles around would assemble where the cabin was to be erected, with their teams, axes, and other implements needed for the purpose. Such a cabin was generally one and a half stories high, roofed with clapboards and weight-poles, with openings cut in the side and end of the building for a door and chimney. The logs were round, the loft was covered with split puncheons, and the chimney was chunked and daubed. The walls and roof were made from the stump in a single day. The work was cheerfully done by neighbors for a neighbor. At the close of the day, when their work of charity was done, the ground floor was cleared and then followed a jolly hoe-down until midnight, the dancers and lookers on being exhilarated by what was left of the contents of a five-gallon keg of whisky, which was placed, at the beginning of the dance, in a corner of the room. The light of science had not then disclosed to these good-hearted pioneers in the wilderness the true character of the mocking fiend that lurked in their whisky-kegs.


For years after the early settlement there was an abundance of deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, foxes, crows and partridges. Wolves must have been troublesome, for there are several items of amounts paid for wolf scalps, and wolf orders in the statement of the final settlement made between the commissioners of Armstrong and Westmoreland counties in 1808: For 1803, wolf scalps, $195.67; for 1804, wolf orders, $139.33; for 1805, wolf orders, $96.60; for 1806, wolf orders, $104; for 1807, wolf orders, $8; for 1808, wolf orders, $24. Total for those years, $567.60. The bounty paid for a full-grown wolf's or panther's scalp was $8 until 1820, and after that $12. Trivial amounts are still paid annually for fox scalps. Crows and squirrels must have been destructive pests, for it was provided by the act of March 4, 1807, that a tax of $300 be levied, out of which the county treasurer was required to pay for all scalps produced to and receipted by a justice of the peace and then burned, viz., for each crow's scalp, three cents; for each squirrel's scalp, one and one-half cents.


The amusements in rural districts in early times consisted chiefly of frolics, or, as elsewhere called, bees, grubbings, rail-maulings, corn-huskings, quiltings, singing-schools at private houses, and occasional dances at frolics. In 1828 there was a prevalent mania for circular fox and wolf hunts. The areas of the several circles covered nearly the entire territory of the county. Several columns in the papers were filled with notices of the routes, times and arrangements. Those hunts temporarily excited a deep and general interest in the aged, middle-aged, and the young. They were designed not only for amusement, but for the beneficial purpose of exterminating these pestiferous and destructive animals. Yet the Indiana and Jefferson Whig denounced them as demoralizing and causing a useless waste of time.


Gen. Armstrong purchased from the proprietors of the then Province of Pennsylvania 556 � acres with the usual allowances. The tract was surveyed to him by virtue of a proprietary letter to the secretary, dated May 29, 1771, on November 5, 1794. The patent for that tract bears date March 22, 1775. It is thus described: "A certain tract of land called 'Victory,' etc. Beginning at a marked black oak11 by the side of the Allegheny River; thence by vacant hills east thirty-eight perches to a marked white oak; south four degrees, west one hundred and ten perches to a marked maple; south seventy-nine degrees, east forty-seven perches to a marked white oak; north thirteen degrees, east one hundred and thirteen perches to a marked white oak; south seventy-seven degrees, east forty-nine perches to a marked black oak; south forty degrees, east ninety-six perches to a marked white oak; south two and three-fourths degrees, east four hundred and fifty-four perches to a marked sugar-tree; south six degrees, west eighty-four perches to a marked hickory12 at the side of the Allegheny River aforesaid; thence up the same river seven hundred and two perches to the place of beginning, containing five hundred and fifty-six and one-half acres and the usual allowances, including the Indian town and settlement called Kittanning." That tract of land, with other property, was devised by the will of Gen. Armstrong, proven July 25, 1797, to his two sons, John and James. The former was secretary of war during a part of Madison's administration.


The seat of justice of this county was directed by act of assembly to be located at a distance not greater than five miles from "Old Kittanning Town." By the same act of March 12, 1800, John Craig, James Sloan and James Barr were named and constituted trustees to receive and hold the title for the necessary public buildings; and for that purpose they were authorized to receive proposals in writing from any person or body corporate for the conveyance or grant of any lands within the limits of that act. That portion of that act was repealed by the act of April 4, 1803, and James Sloan, James Matthews and Alexander Walker were appointed trustees for the county, for locating the county seat and organizing the county. The last-named declined to act, and the duties were performed and the powers exercised by James Sloan and James Matthews. It having been contemplated by the legislature to lay out a town to be called Kittanning, in the most convenient place for the seat of justice of this county, and the above-described tract of land having been considered the most convenient therefor, application was made to Dr. James Armstrong, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one of the devisees of Gen. Armstrong, for so much of that tract as might be necessary for that purpose, who, in behalf of himself and his brother, John Armstrong, the other devisee, as well for enhancing the residue of the tract as for and in consideration of one-half of the purchase-money of all the town lots to be laid out, executed and delivered to the governor of this state, to and for the use of this county, an obligation whereby he bound himself and his brother John to make and execute a deed of conveyance in fee simple to the trustees of this county, which offer the trustees were, by an act of 1803, empowered to accept. In pursuance thereof, John Armstrong and Alida his wife � a daughter of Chancellor Livingston � and Dr. James Armstrong and Mary his wife, did, by their deed dated December 17, 1804, convey to James Sloan, James Matthews and Alexander Walker, the trustees or commissioners of this county, and their successors, that part of the above-described tract bounded thus: "Beginning at a post on the Allegheny River, thence north fifty-one degrees, east one hundred and fifteen and one-tenth perches to a post; thence south thirty-nine degrees, east one hundred and sixty-three and nine-tenths perches to a post; thence south fifty-one degrees, west thirty-five and five-tenths perches to a post; thence south thirty-nine degrees, east forty and seven-tenths perches to a post; thence south fifty-one degrees, west twenty-four perches and seven tenths to a post; thence south thirty-nine degrees, east thirty-six and seven tenths perches to a white oak; thence south fifty degrees, west fifty-four and nine-tenths perches to a walnut tree on the Allegheny river aforesaid; thence up the same north thirty degrees, west two hundred and forty-one and nine-tenths perches to the place of beginning, containing one hundred and fifty acres, be the same more or less."

By the act of 1804 the trustees or commissioners of this county were authorized to lay out in that one hundred and fifty acre tract lots for the public buildings, and to sell the remainder in town lots, containing not less than one-fourth nor more than two-thirds of an acre each. Two acres were reserved for public use, namely, one acre on the southeast corner of Market and Jefferson streets, where the first court-house and public offices were erected, and the other acre on the northwest corner of Market and McKean streets, on which the first jail was erected. One-half of the proceeds arising from the sale of those lots went to the donors, and the other half was to be applied to the erection of the public buildings.

Our county town was laid out in 1803, with convenient streets and alleys crossing one another at right angles. It was divided into two hundred and forty-eight in-lots and twenty-seven out-lots. One hundred and sixty-one in-lots were sold soon after and assessed at $1858, or an average of $11.54 per lot. The eighty-seven in-lots then remaining unsold were assessed at $882, or an average of $10.14 per lot. The twenty-seven out-lots at $288, or the average of $10.67 per lot.


This county was for several years after its organization by the act of 1800 attached to Westmoreland county, until there was an enumeration of its taxable inhabitants. The first settlement of accounts between the boards of commissioners of the two counties was in 1808, when there was found to be a balance due from Westmoreland to Armstrong county of $2,978.11, which was certified by the commissioners of the former, and for which they also certified that they would draw an order on the treasurer of our county.


Armstrong county was organized for judicial purposes in 1805, and the first court was held in a log house, on lot number 121, the present site of the Reynolds house, in December of that year. The bench was a very primitive one, and consisted in part of a carpenter's bench. The chair in which the president judge then sat is now in the possession of Mrs. Jane Williams, of Kittanningborough. It is a splint-bottom arm-chair.

At that and subsequent terms, until the bell for the court-house was procured, the times for opening the daily sessions of the court were signified by the blowing of a horn by the court crier, who was James Hannegan.

John Young, of Greensburgh, was so after appointed president judge of the judicial district, then composed of Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, and Capt. Robert Orr, George Ross and James Barr, Esqs., were appointed associate judges of the several courts of this county. The constitution of 1790 prescribed that the governor should appoint, unless otherwise directed by law, "not fewer than four judges in each county." The act of February 24, 1806, prescribed that if a vacancy should thereafter happen in any county then organized, by the death resignation or removal of any associate judge or otherwise, the governor should not supply the same unless the number of associates should thereby be reduced to less than two; in which case, or in case of any county thereafter organized, he should commission so many as would complete that number in each county, and no more. The act of April 14, 1834, prescribed that the courts of common pleas of the several counties of this commonwealth, except Philadelphia, should consist of a president judge and two associate judges, who, as was the case before, were also constituted judges of the courts of Oyer and Terminer, quarter-sessions of the peace and orphan's courts.

The courts were held in the jail after it was built until the first court-house was erected.


From the minutes of December sessions, 1805, recorded in the neat and legible chirography of Paul Morrow, the first prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas and clerk of the other courts, it appears thus: Present, Samuel Roberts, Esquire, President, and James Barr, Robert Orr and George Ross, Esquires Justices of the same court. Sheriff: John Orr, Esq. Coroner: ������ �����. Constables: Alexr. Blair, Buffalo township; James Scott, Allegheny township; and Joseph Reed, Toby township. Attorneys admitted: Samuel Massey, Samuel Guthrie, George Armstrong, John B. Alexander and Wm. Ayers. John B. Alexander was sworn to execute the office of Attorney-General within the county of Armstrong.

Grand Jurors: Wm. Parker, Esq., James McCormick, Adam Maxwell, Joseph Shields, Gideon Gibson, James Elgin, John Laughlin, Isaac Townsend, John Corbett, Wm. Freeman, Sam'l Orr, Esq., Sam'l Walker, Capt. Thos. Johnston, James Coulter, Jacob Allimony, John Craig, Esq., James Lindly, Col. Elijah Mounts, Thos. Barr, John Henry, James Clark, Esq., James Thompson and David Todd.

Traverse Jurors: James Smith, Jacob Young, Philip Bolin, Sam'l Hill, Parker Truitt, Jacob Wolf, James Gaff, Thos. Herron, George Beck, John Week, Eli Bradford, Tate Allison, Peter Le Fever, John Beatty, Wm. Cochran, Michael Anderson, Gilbert Wright, Timothy Lermonton, Thos. Foster, John Patrick, Andrew Milligan, Thos. Watson, Abraham Gardner, Sam'l Elder, Philip Templeton, Ezekiel Lewis, John Davis and Joseph McKee.

Petitioners for tavern licenses recommended: David Reynolds, David Shields, Joseph Wiles and Wm. Cochran.

Ex. Orders: Petitions were also presented for the division of this county into townships, for the Crooked Creek bridge, and for public roads from Kittanning to Toby's Creek, from Freeport to the Butler county line, from Freeport to Brown's Ferry, and from Thomas's Mill to Reed's Mill. Viewers were appointed.

In the Common Pleas nine suits and one certiorari were brought to December term, 1805, none of which were then tried. Eight judgments by confession on warrant of attorney were also entered as of that term.

It appears from the court minutes that Judge Barr was on the bench, for the last time, at December term, 1817; Judge Ross, at March term, 1829, his successor Joseph Rankin; Judge Orr, at June term, 1833, his successor the late Gen. Robert Orr; Judge Young, at September term, 1836, his successor Thomas White, of Indiana, Pennsylvania. So that the first Judges of the courts of this county held their respective positions as follows: Judge Barr 12 years, Judge Ross 24 years, Judge Orr 28 years, and Judge Young 31 years. The act of 1806 obviated the filling of the vacancy caused by the retirement of Judge Barr. Joseph Rankin, then a Member of Assembly, was appointed, though not an ostensible applicant, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Ross. There were several earnest applicants for the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Orr in 1833. Governor Wolf was not a little perplexed by the eager contest between them, to compromise which he tendered the appointment to the son of the deceased, the late Gen. Robert Orr, who at first declined it because he did not wish it, but was finally persuaded by the Governor and Philip Mechling, who was then in the State Senate, to accept it. The tendering of the appointment to Gen. Orr was suggested to the Governor by Mr. Mechling.

The circuit court was occasionally held at Kittanning by Chief-Justice Tighlman, and Justices Yeates and Huston, of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, from 1807 until 1834, when it was abolished.


was built on one of the acres reserved for public buildings, situate on the southeast corner of Market and Jefferson streets, on the present sites of J. A. Gault & Co.'s and McConnell & Campbell's stores in the then town of Kittanning. It was a substantial brick edifice, about fifty feet square, two stories high, with two one story brick wings containing the county offices, the one fronting on Market and the other Jefferson street. The roof of the main building was hipped, in the center of which was a cupola in which the bell was suspended. The court-room, in the first or lower story, lacked proper means of ventilation. The jury-rooms were in the second story. Both the brick and wood work, the latter especially, was, in its day, considered a fine specimen of architectural taste and skill. For about two-fifths of a century that edifice was used as a temple of justice, and for a considerable portion of that period as a temple of religion by various denominations, and for political and other secular meetings.

Its erection must have been begun in 1809, as the date of the first order for brick, viz., 120,000 at $5 per thousand, is October 7, 1809. It and the public offices were not probably completed until about 1819. An order was issued February 29, 1812, for $5.20 for boards and nails to close it up; July 10, 1816, one for $100, the first payment for plastering and painting the first and second stories; August 7, 1818, one for $212.81 � for the bell � 283 � lbs. at 75 cents; and September 23, 1819, one for $290 for building the registrar's office. The latest order on account of that court-house and its annexes appears to have been issued March 21, 1820, for $33.78 for carpenter work in the "new room." The commissioners' order-book shows the total amount of orders issued on that account to have been $7,859.19.

In 1805 a substantial two-story stone jail was erected on the acre reserved for public use, extending from Market, along the west side of McKean street, to a public alley near the present site of the Methodist Episcopal church.


New public buildings at length became necessary. But the county commissioners hesitated to erect them, more on account of the expense that would be incurred than their lack of conviction that they were needed. By the act of April 8, 1850, they were authorized to divide the two acres reserved for public buildings into lots, sell them, and use the proceeds in the erection of new buildings elsewhere within the Borough of Kittanning, which they did. A new two-story brick court-house, with its westerly end fronting toward the river, the offices on the first floor and the court-room in the second story, was erected in 1852-3, at the head of the easterly extension of Market street. The good acoustic properties of the court-room were, to say the least, among the chief excellencies of that edifice, which was not so well constructed and hated as a court-house ought to be. It was destroyed by fire, which was discovered about noon, March 10, 1858 � shortly before or during the noon adjournment of the courts. The writer was absent at the time but was informed on his return that some people from the country, taxpayers, regarded its destruction with complacency, and some of them even exclaimed, "Let it burn!" The dockets and papers in the county offices were saved, but were sadly disarranged in their hurried removal to the rooms that were temporarily used as offices.


A new stone jail was erected cotemporaneously with, and a few yards northwardly of, the second court-house. It was a two-story structure with a two-story brick jailer's house attached, fronting the road or street extending northwardly from the head of Market street. That jail at length proved to be insecure both for the health and custody of the prisoners. Their escapes through the roof and elsewhere became frequent. After several presentments by the grand jury respecting its condition, the county commissioners contracted with Harrison Bros. of Pittsburgh for raising the walls several feet higher, and putting on a new and secure roof. On the removal of the old roof it was discovered that the walls were insufficient for sustaining the increased weight of such a new roof as would be adequate for the retention of the prisoners. It therefore became necessary to tear down the old walls and build new ones. A farmer, passing by one day and observing the material of the old walls as it lay before him, remarked, "Those were never fit for prison walls."


was erected by Hulings & Dickey, on the site of the burned one, in 1858-60, at a cost of about $32,000. It is a substantial building, partly of brick and partly of stone, of the Corinthian order of architecture. Its sides front nearly west and east. There is an elegant portico on its west front, with stone columns, and capitals and all parts of that order, the whole resting on an arcade of cut stone. The dimensions of this edifice are 105 feet by 65 feet. A beautiful cupola or dome, highly ornamented, crowns the center, with a large bell therein suspended. The first story, which is reached from the western side by a fight of stone steps of the same length as the portico, is divided into a cross hall, with a floor laid with English variegated tile, grand-jury and witness rooms, the commissioners', prothonotary's, register and recorder's, sheriff's and county treasurer's offices, three of which offices are substantially fire-proof. The court-room is in the second story. It is elegantly frescoed, ceiling twenty-three feet, length sixty-two feet, and breadth fifty-eight feet. Being so nearly square in shape, its acoustic properties are very unfavorable for both speaking and hearing. That defect has been obviated by suspending a screen,13 twelve feet wide, from the ceiling, the entire width of the room, making that part of the room where the speaking is done, so far as sound is concerned, a parallelogram 58x31 feet, causing an almost entire cessation of the previous excessive reverberation incident to a large room that is square, or nearly so, in shape. The rest of the second story contains vestibules separated by flights of stairs in the lower or southerly end, and a hall twelve feet wide, reached by a flight of stairs, and two traverse jury rooms, one of which is used for an office by the county superintendent of common schools.


On the presentments of two grand juries, after the tearing down of the second jail, recommending the erection of a new jail and jailer's house, the plan and specifications of the present structure having been before these grand juries, were adopted, and the contract for building both was made with Harrison Bros., and for superintending the work with Jas. McCullough, Jr. The erection was commenced in 1870, and was completed in 1873. The whole structure cost $252,000. It is one of the strongest, securest and most substantial buildings in the United States. It is constructed of stone, brick and iron. It contains twenty-four cells, 8x13 feet each. The ceiling is 13 � feet high. The ventilation is good. The main corridor is 68x16 feet, and 38 feet high. The jailer's house contains eight rooms with proper ventilation. The woodwork of the whole building is of North Carolina pine, with iron guards on the outside of the windows of the jailer's house, made of 1 � inch round iron. The dimensions of the entire structure on the ground are 114x50 feet. Its foundation is 24 feet deep, down from the surface, and 7 feet wide at the bottom. It required that depth for a solid foundation, which greatly increased the cost. The tower is 96 feet high, 18 feet square at the base and 10 feet square at the top, all of solid stone, neatly tooled, and surmounted with battlements. All the outer surface of the house and jail, including gutters and cornices, is an Ashlar facing of wrought stone, neatly tooled. The outer walls are 2 � feet thick, and are lined on the inside with brick 4 inches thick. All the floors are brick, 13 inches thick. The arches are of solid concrete 4 inches thick, and of cast iron 1 inch thick. The flagging in the main corridor and cells is 2 � inches thick � brick in the former and wood in the latter. There are four large rooms in the jail part to be used as hospitals when needed. Both the house and jail are well supplied with gas and water from the Kittanning Gas and Water Works. The house part of the structure is octagonal, with bay fronts and surmounted with battlements. All the window and door openings, the tower, battlements and outer walls are of cut stone, the facing on the front side of the house being finely wrought, and the doors and windows capped with elaborately wrought, substantial and beautiful keystone arches. All the stone of which all the outer walls of both house and jail are constructed was obtained from the sandstone quarry at Catfish, Clarion county Pennsylvania, and is said to be among the best for outer walls and to stand the chemical test better than any other stone used for building in Pittsburgh. All the stonework is laid or put together with the best of hydraulic cement, no lime having been used except in plastering the inner walls.

This jail is on the site of the second one, a little west of north of the present court-house, with an interval between the two of nearly thirteen feet. The material and workmanship of it and the jailer's house are such that both will stand for centuries, unless they are purposely torn down by official authority and human instrumentality, or overthrown by some powerful convulsion of nature.

Source: Page(s) 13-59, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
Transcribed January 1999 by Jeffrey Bish for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Jeffrey Bish for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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