Organization of the Township - The Pioneers - Their Work and their Hardships - Early Roads and Primitive Manufactures - The Pioneer Schools - Truby's Mill - The Borough of Queenstown.
Perry Township was formerly a part of Sugar Creek. In 1845 it was organized as Parry, with the following limits: Brady's Bend township on the south; Butler county on the west and the Allegheny river on the east, thus including all that part of the county lying north of Brady's Bend township. In 1870 that portion lying north of Bear Creek was taken from Perry and erected into a township by the name of Hovey. The land lying west of the Allegheny river in the northern part of this county, on account of its rugged and hilly character, was little sought by the pioneers of Western Pennsylvania. consequently few settlements were made within the territory of Perry township until after other portions of the county had become considerably populated. The progress of settlement and improvement was very slow, and this part of the county remained the favorite hunting-grounds of the early settlers and the wandering Indians many years after the encroaching population had banished game from the surrounding neighborhoods.
A few courageous pioneers located in this township as early as 1796, and began the arduous task of subduing its stubborn soil. They subsisted largely upon game at first; but as years went by their strong arms and axes made perceptible inroads upon the forests, and here and there small fields appeared to brighten the monotonous aspect of the surrounding wilderness.
William Love was among the first settlers. He located on a 400-acre tract and made a small improvement, for which he received a deed for the land from its owner, Charles Campbell. Charles, James, Robert and Samuel Campbell each owned a tract of 400 acres. The land lay in a body, and was settled by Love, Truby and others. Love sold his right to the land to John Binkerd, who came to this township about 1798. Binkerd was a native of Virginia, who moved from Eastern Pennsylvania to Butler county, and thence with his father and mother to the tract above mentioned. The original farm is now mainly owned by his sons, Isaac and John K. Binkerd. Another son, Dr. A. D. Binkerd, now of Cincinnati, Ohio, is well known in this county, having practiced medicine in Parker several years, besides being long identified with t he interests of Perry township.
Binkerd was of German descent, as were most of his neighbors. Chistophel Truby, best known as "Stophel" Truby, settled upon an adjoining tract, and owned the land which is now the Walley and George farms. He once offered to sell "Dogwood flat", containing over 200 acres, for John Binkerd's small black horse, but the offer was declined. After some years Truby sold his property here and moved to Catfish, where he died. He left no children.
Jacob Truby, a brother of Stophel, was likewise an early settler and lived upon the farm now belonging to John Williamson. He reared a large family. Four of his daughters, Mrs. Rambaugh, Mrs. Seibert, Mrs. Barger and Mrs. Walley, still reside in the neighborhood.
William Parker* built the first gristmill in this part of the county. It stood on Bear creek, nearly a mile from its mouth. A few years later Stophel Truby's log mill was erected.
These mills proved a great convenience to the settlers, who, prior to their erection, had depended for flour and meal either upon the few mills run by horse-power then in the county, or else upon the result of long journeys on horseback to the distant mills of Westmoreland county. Mr. Isaac Steele states that Truby's mill, occupying the site of Barnet Fletcher's present mill on Binkerd's run, was erected by William Love some years after the arrival of the first settlers.
About the year 1797 Isaac Steele came from Westmoreland county and took up a tract of land in the woods of this township. He brought all of his goods and his family (consisting of his wife and two children) by means of two horses and packsaddles. Michael Shakeley had settled on a tract in the edge of Butler county a few years before and had made a small improvement which Steele had agreed to purchase. But when the later arrived he found that Shakeley had changed his mind, concluding that the price agreed upon was too little. The Steele family sought admission to the house, which was refused. Shakeley was inside and had the door fastened. Steele found a mallet and broke in the door. A consultation ensued, during which Shakeley persuaded Steele to settle upon another tract. Mr. Steele resided in this township until his death, and reared eight children, two of whom are still living - Isaac and Elizabeth (Hyle). Isaac Steele, born in 1805 is the oldest native resident of this township, and has a vivid recollection of the experiences of pioneer life. Despite his advanced age he proved himself too smart for a gang of burglars who, a few years ago, broke into his house and sought to rob him of a large sum of money. Mr. Steele fought them single-handed until the neighbors were summoned and arrived, and the robbers fled without having accomplished their purpose.
The early settlers found game abundant, and very little hunting enabled them to keep a constant supply of fresh meat on hand. Grain food was not so easily procured. The farmer's supple of wheat and flour was often exhausted before harvest-time; and in such cases wheat was cut while in the milk, and boiled, making a very palatable and wholesome food. Salt was a valuable commodity and very scarce. The settlers were obliged to go to the eastern counties to obtain it. When a man made a trip "east of the mountains", or to Pittsburgh or Westmoreland county, he went literally loaded with errands, generally taking several packhorses along to bring back supplies.
Cabins were made without nails being used in any part of the structure. The principal implement employed in constructing them was the ax. With this tool the timbers for walls, floors and doors were fashioned. A saw and a drawshave shaped the shingles for the roof. When the weight-poles had been adjusted and the open spaces between the logs forming the walls carefully chinked with mud, the cabin was warm and comfortable. Chimneys of sticks and mud, fireplaces of stone and mortar, greased paper in place of windows added the finishing touches to the dwelling. Rude benches served as chairs and tables, and troughs hewed from logs largely took the place of pans, pails, tubs and other kitchen vessels.
On the farm wooden plows were used after one or two crops had been planted with the hoe and mattock. The first scythes were known as the "Dutch scythes" and were of soft material. They were sharpened by means of a hammer and an anvil. when clearing, it was customary to burn the brush at night. As soon as the fires were lighted the wolves set up their mournful howls from every hilltop and valley, nor did they cease as long as the brush continued burning. Such were some of the accompaniments of pioneer life.
George Knox, whose descendants are very numerous in Armstrong and Butler counties, was one of the earliest pioneers of old Sugar Creek township. He had one of the first orchards in the new settlement and visitors came many miles to test the quality of his fruit. Not infrequently were these visits made without the knowledge or consent of the proprietor of the orchard. He manufactured apple and peach brandy, which articles were in great demand.
Thomas Miller and Jacob Edinburg were the first settlers at Miller's eddy. Dr. Hovey was the proprietor of considerable land in that neighborhood.
About 1808 Jonathan Hyle came from Westmoreland county with his family and located on land adjoining the Steele tract. The family lived seven weeks in a wagon while a cabin was being erected.
In early days every cabin was a factory where clothing was manufactured. Busy hands kept the spinning-wheel and loom buzzing and slamming early and late. In almost every household there were a large number of mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. Shoes were used sparingly by the lucky few who possessed them, for leather was high and money scarce. Often girls and women could be seen walking to church barefooted, carrying shoes and stockings, which they put on when near the house. Tow and linen, buckskin and similar home-made goods formed the clothing worn by males of all ages. The girls' best dresses were frequently spun, woven, dyed, cut and made by the wearers. An old resident remarks: "The girls were just as pretty in those days as they are now, but could one of our fashionably-dressed belles have stepped among them, some might have gone wild with envy and excitement".
All the travel of the settlers was performed on foot or on horseback. Wagons were almost unknown within the memory of men now living, while carriages are a comparatively modern innovation. As in most new settlements, the first lines of travel were paths marked by blazed trees. Afterward trees and underbrush were cut away, and some of the principal routes of travel were converted into highways. There is, however, scarcely a rood in the township that follow its course as originally traced. Thoroughfares were built at the cost of a great expenditure of time and labor.
John Beatty and Daniel Revere were among the early settlers of this township, and resided here until their deaths. Gideon Gibson, near the river, was an early settler and had a fine farm.
Henry Byers located in this township about fifty years ago. Samuel and William Crawford and David Hutchison are also among the oldest residents.
James Steele and John Hyle were the noted hunters of early years. A man named Foster was the first settler on the farm afterward owned by David White. White erected a frame house, which was perhaps the first in the township. No later than 1845 nearly everybody lived in log houses.
The oil developments in this township since 1870 have produced many changes. Many old residents disposed of their farms and moved away. Others remained, and received in one year such incomes as the results of scores of years of labor in tilling the soil had not produced. The little oil village of Criswell sprang up on the farms of James A. Parker and Sidney Crawford. All the wells in that vicinity are fourth sand-wells, and two of them were very large. A few are still producing, though the yield is small.
In 1880 the population of Perry township was 1,309. The oil business largely increased the number of inhabitants.
Perry township now contains six schoolhouses, and the schools are generally well conducted. At Miller's eddy there is a school building which is also used as a church, and is free for all religious denominations, having been specially constructed for the double purpose of affording educational and religious privileges.
Before the free school system was inaugurated, the schoolhouses of the township were few and far apart. Many of the children of the pioneers attended schools in Butler county, and were taught by Archibald Kelly, "Dominie" Cook, Thomas McCleary, and others of the "old masters".
One of the earliest schoolhouses stood on the farm of James Hunter, near Queenstown. Hunter was the teacher. He was jovial, good-natured and popular. Edward Jennings was an early teacher at the Peters schoolhouse. He taught several years. At noon he often gave a very long recess that he might go to Jacob Peters= distillery and fortify himself with whisky for the remaining duties of the day. Any man who could read and write, and possessed a very slight knowledge of arithmetic, was a competent teacher in those days.
QueenstownThe borough of Queenstown was incorporated in 1858. The town was named after John Queen, who located in the place in 1848. At that date the only persons residing within the present limits of the borough were Daniel Day and Abraham Teegard and their families. Teegard, now deceased, was a farmer. Day is now a resident of East Brady. While he resided at Queenstown, he worked for the Brady's Bend Iron Company, building log houses for employes, and performing other kinds of work.The first houses built in the place were the log buildings of Day and Teegard. Day's cabin stood on a six-acre lot, afterward owned by Rev. David R. Davis. Teegard's house stood where Edward Jennings now lives. No regular survey of lots was ever made, but pieces of land were sold to purchasers as they were wanted, by J. Queen, R. Jennings and Daniel Day, who owned the land now comprised in the borough. These lots were taken up by the employes of the Brady's Bend Iron Works, and in a few years Queenstown became a small but flourishing village.The first store was established by R. Jennings, in 1851. It stood a short distance north of his present place of business. The second store was started in 1866, by John Queen, who still continues the mercantile business. When he first came to the place, Mr. Queen followed carpentry and building. The third store was established also in 1866 by M. H. J. Meldron. Mr. Meldron died in 1867, and the business has since been conducted by his brother, William J. Meldron. The stores receive custom from a wide extent of the country, and do a much larger business than is usual in small places.The first hotel in Queenstown was opened by James Morely, in 1852. Subsequently it was conducted by Richard Meldron, Jr., then by Thomas Jennings. Mrs. Mitchell, daughter of Thomas Jennings, is the present proprietor.In 1853, a gristmill, run by steam power, was erected by J. Queen, R. Jennings and Daniel Evans, who operated it until 1866 under the firm name of Queen & Co. J.L. Meldron is the present owner.The first blacksmith in Queenstown was Giles Morgan, who began business soon after the settlement of the place.Oil production, while it did not greatly increase the population of Queenstown, materially aided its business interests. The Armstrong well, on the Meldron farm, was the first producing well struck in the neighborhood. This well began flowing April 17, 1870. It caught fire and burned three or four days. Good judges estimated the first day's flow at one thousand barrels. Other wells were soon completed in the vicinity of Queenstown, some of which are still producing. In 1872, Chas. Phillips began manufacturing all kinds of oil producers' implements at Queenstown. He employed from eight to ten men, and carried on a very successful business until 1881, when he moved away.The first schoolhouse was erected soon after the borough was incorporated, and continued to be used until 1876, when the present school building took its place. The new schoolhouse was erected partly by subscription and partly by taxation. It is two stories in highth. The lower story is for school purposes, and the upper part as a place for public worship. There are no churches in the place except for the Catholic church, erected in 1845, was occupied until 1864, when its congregation united with churches more conveniently situated.Queenstown is situated on a small tributary of Sugar creek. The southern limit of the borough is the northern line of Brady's Bend township. In 1860, the population was 127; in 1880, 217.___________________ *See history of Parker City.
Source: Page(s) 571-574, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
Transcribed December 2000 by Bonita O'Connell for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Bonita O'Connell for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/armstrong/)
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