Cameron County

Chapter I



AMONG the spurs of the Alleghenies, in latitude 40 30' north, and longitude 1 15' west of Washington, D.C., upon the waters of the Sinnemahoning river and its tributaries, is Cameron county, named in honor of Simon Cameron, a leading politician of Pennsylvania, when it was organized March 29, 1860.

The altitudes are. Emporium, 1,031 feet; hill south of Emporium junction, 2,100; hill east of Beechwood, 2,080; Emporium junction, 1,019; hill above courthouse to outcrop of sandstone, 230 feet above elevation of the junction; the highest point measured in Lumber township is 1,375 feet from the lowest point, where the Sinnemahoning enters, Gibson township to the summit on the Kinzua-Emporium in the southeast corner of the township; Beechwood depot, 1,252; hill just west of Driftwood depot, 2,025,feet above tide; Driftwood depot, 816 feet; Trump's hill, near summit, 2,095 feet; Huntley depot, 855 feet; summit, two and one- half miles from Huntley, 2,110; bridge below Huntley, 845; opposite mouth of Mix run, 950; junction of roads, seven miles from Driftwood, 2,035; Sinnemahoning depot, 794; Panther Rocks, four miles from Sinnemahoning, 1,975; ridge, two and one-half miles south of Sinnemahoning, 2,040; railroad at Prestonville, 1,185; Shippen depot, 1,201; and Cochran's old camp, seven miles from mouth of Hick's run, 1,450 feet.

In 1784 the Indian title to the hills and valleys and rivers of this section was extinguished by what is called the New Purchase, signed by the chiefs of the Six Nations, October 23, 1784, and confirmed by the Wyandot and Delaware Indians January 21, 1785. Cameron county is within this New Purchase, and sundry land warrants were taken from the land office in 1785, and surveyed in 1786, among which are the James Hamilton warrant, partly in the borough of Emporium, and the Ephraim Blame warrant, comprising the farms of Sage and Wiley; also the John Wilson warrant, lying within the borough of Emporium, which was dated and surveyed in 1787.

The area of the county is 381 square miles or 243,840 acres, and the population in 1880 was 5,159, an increase of 886 in ten years. Of this number Emporium claimed 1,156, and Driftwood 504, in 1880. In November, 1888, there were, 782 Republican, 551 Democratic, and 12 Prohibitionist votes cast, showing a population of 6,725; but it is safe to say that, in view of the vast improvements making and the growth of iron and coal industries, the census of 1890 will credit this little county with over 8,000 inhabitants.

Nearly the whole county is well drained by the Sinnemahoning river, which empties into the west branch of the Susquehanna. There are five veins of bituminous coal in the county, all of them, workable. The soil is adapted to produce all the grasses and cereals. The timber consists of white pine, white oak, hemlock, elm, butternut, cherry, sugar maple and several varieties of oak and pine. Leather, iron and lumber are the principal manufacturing industries here. The waters abound with many kinds of fish, and the forests are the rendezvous of deer, black bear, wild turkey and other game. Large tanneries, using hemlock bark, are established in this county. Coal is occasionally taken from its bed and forwarded to market. Flax was much cultivated among the earlier settlers, and some attention was paid to raising sheep, but the old- time lumber industry claimed most attention from them. A specimen of the pine with which the pioneers dealt is seldom met with today, but the tree which W.L. Ensign cut down in February, 1867, in clearing his lot, points out what the pioneer forest was. This tree yielded five sixteen- foot clear logs, or 5,000 feet of timber. A pine cut on Dr. Bryan's lot in 1876 was 105 feet high. It was used as the Liberty Pole in July of that year.

In the following chapters many stories are related of the chase. To show that the territory is not yet rid of the wild habitants of the forest the following memoranda of modern hunting adventures are given: In July, 1871, thirteen rattlesnakes were killed on the ridge between Mix and Wykoff runs by Brooks, Trump and Nelson. In some of the reptiles were five and six soft-shelled eggs, nearly as large as hens' eggs. In September, 1873, Harry Lupole and Rice English killed twenty- one rattlesnakes near Mahlon Root's house in Grove township. The reptiles were discovered in a hollow log. In August, 1886, Jack Spence walked into the rattlesnake rendezvous on the hill above the tannery at Emporium. Seeing himself surrounded, he fled for means of defense and, returning, killed four reptiles, one measuring four feet two inches, and carrying fifteen rattles. In May, 1889, a Mr. Bancker killed one of the reptiles on the Bennett's branch road.

In November, 1873, a large black bear was seen on the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad, a mile west of Emporium. In 1872 George Warner killed two bears near the borough. In November, 1875, DeWitt, of Driftwood, went hunting partridges, accompanied by his dog, and when he got on Mix's run, came across a bear. The bear and dog got up an unpleasantness, and DeWitt thought he would give, old bruin the contents of his gun, although it contained nothing but bird- shot. The shot took effect, but the effects of the shot was more disagreeable to the shootist than to the bear. The animal got terribly enraged and made for the hunter, and there were lively times for a few minutes between the hunter, the dog and the bear. DeWitt fought with the breech of his gun, dealing some heavy and well- aimed blows, and the dog skirmished around, to the great annoyance of the bear. Like the first battle of Bull Run, both enemies were defeated, but DeWitt was the first party to make a retreat, and the bear didn't follow. Even at the present day the bear is found by the remnant of the old hunting circle. Representatives of the deer tribe exist here, but in small numbers. In the history of McKean county, where the Rice wedding is described, reference is made to the deer of this section, and in other chapters of this part of the work, the deer and their hunters claim some notice from that notorious hunt of 1810 down to the beginning of the war. A bald eagle was killed by Frank Lewis on the Lewis farm in Rich Valley in April, 1884. The bird measured eighty- seven inches from tip to tip. A golden eagle was captured in Shippen township, November 12, 1889, in a fox trap. He, however, broke the chain and carried the trap into the air.  He was followed all day, and in the evening alighted on a hemlock tree, where chain and trap held him until his captors killed him. The bird weighed forty- five pounds, and measured eight feet and four inches from tip to tip of wings. The body was prepared by M.M. Larrabee, and was purchased by the Knights of the Golden Eagle, at Cameron, for their castle hall.

At or immediately below the Second Fork, in the borough of Driftwood, was a large salt lick used by deer and elk, and at this point a salt well was sunk sixty- five feet in depth, salt water obtained and salt manufactured by the Lycoming Salt Company and the citizens for the several years, from 1811 to 1819. In 1830 or 1831 the salt works near Sizerville were opened. In modern times a search for oil commenced. The well bored at Emporium in 1876 presented the following strata: Surface sand, 40 feet; mountain sand, 138; stray sand, 240; regular first sand, 548; regular second sand, 890; total depth, 1,004 feet. The casing of well extended down 529 feet. In January, 1878, the Hughston well was down 500 feet, the water being shut off at 426 feet. Taylor, Aiken & Peet's well was down 700 feet, 525 feet being cased. Other ventures are also recorded in this volume in connection with township and borough history.

The county has been subject to large periodical floods. It is said the Indians had a tradition that these floods came regularly every fourteen years. One of these occurred in 1847, which swept away houses containing families. The house of James Miller, of Bennett's branch, was swept away with himself and family within. This Miller died April 2, 1877. He and family were living in a small log cabin built on the bank of the stream below Miller's Bend, when in the autumn of 1847 (as a good many readers will remember), there came a very high flood, the streams rising suddenly; Mr. Miller neglected to leave the house until it was too late. By night the banks were overflowing and the water was sweeping everything before it. The cabin of course was swept away and floated in a whole condition for about a mile, when the roof fell in injuring all the family more or less. Mr. Miller and his two oldest boys saved themselves by jumping on the top of a tree as they went by it. Mr. Miller endeavored to take his wife with him, but in her efforts to save her three remaining little ones lost her own life. It was supposed that the mother and two of the children were drowned immediately after the tearing asunder of the house. Little Charley, about five years old, was seen the next morning clinging to a tree in the middle of the stream, with the merciless waters roaring around him. It must have been a sad sight to have seen that babe hurried on to certain death, without any one being able to render him any assistance. He was seen passing Sinnemahoning and was never heard of after. Mrs. Miller was found below Sinnemahoning, all buried in the sand excepting one hand. Mr. Miller and the two boys remained in their perilous position for two days and nights before succor could reach them. Mr. Miller's oldest son went to the army and was killed, and is sleeping in the "Sunny South." There is but one of the three left to tell of that bitter night. Moses Lucore's family escaped from their log house. As they passed the hog- pen the animals were set free, and when the family returned, two of the largest hogs were found in the bed.

The next flood was in October, 1861. It carried off large storehouses, among them being one belonging to Brooks & Eldred, at Cameron. The next great flood was in 1865. This was not quite so high in the creek as the former, but very high and destructive on the river. The flood of April 2, 1884, caused by the log-jam in Howard's dam, converted Fourth street in Emporium into a river, the water being two feet deep at the Press office.

The flood of May and June, 1889, was the greatest since 1861, and even more destructive here. Fortunately, it came down in the day time, and to that fact there is no record of loss of life. The damage to property in Emporium alone-did not fall short of $50,000, not including the loss of C.B. Howard & Sons, who estimate it at from $30,000 to $40,000. Henry Ischua, who runs Howard. & Sons' mill, reports losing $500 worth of oil and tallow. The dyking to the Felt flouring- mill pond, in which Hacket & Sons' logs were stored, gave way at 10 A.M., letting out some 400,000 feet of logs, which started down the valley at a 2:40 gait, across the lands lately purchased by the Mankey Furniture Company and the Freeman property, most of them pushing out into the main stream and heading for tide water. I. M. Reynolds had twenty- five swarms of bees swept away.

West creek was on its worst behavior. Commencing at Beechwood, it tore out the big dam of Hall, Kaul & Co., letting out an immense amount of logs, which went down about a mile and piled up in a huge mass and stayed there. Truman's dam was next struck by the mad torrent, gave way, and away went all the logs in. his pond. The waters rushed on, and ran against the Buckwalter dam, some four miles below, and carried it along, together with some 150,000 feet of logs, giving the raging current fresh impetus, and when it reached the Whittemore & Gaskill dam, three miles farther down, it did not stop its speed, but took it along without any ceremony, together with a large quantity of logs, and on it sped. Reaching the Driftwood stream at the upper end of the borough, it seemed to run right over it in nearly a straight line, directly through the town, carrying with it every conceivable sort of debris, submerging the town and filling many of the business places to a depth of from five to six feet. The Portage was a terribly raging stream, but there being no mills or dams on it, it contented itself with washing out the bottom, lands, fences and bridges- all except one. The new iron bridge across the stream at the lower end of the borough went with the others. At Cameron, the W.W. Barrows dam on Hunt's run gave way, letting loose 500,000 feet of logs, carrying away about half of his big steam mill, all of the bridges and doing much damage to others in the little town. At Driftwood and up Bennett's branch, as well as at Sinnemahoning, the wild waters played havoc, destroying much valuable property, public and private. T.B. Lloyd reported the following rainfall at Emporium for the year 1889: January, 2.75 inches; February, 1.61; March, 1.44; April, 3.66; May, 8.04; June, 4.63; July, 7.03; August, 3.23; September, 2.84; October, 3.70; November, 5.11, and December, 3. 85, or a total fall of 47.89 inches. This measurement applies not only to Emporium, but also to the county.

The tornado of July 5, 1876, destroyed some property on the First Fork. This storm passed in a northerly direction, blowing down about one-third of Sylvester Smith's orchard, and, crossing the creek, blew down apple trees, besides forest trees and fences. The whirlwind of April, 1877, originated on the mountain, north of Emporium. Good- sized trees were twisted and thrown, down, and limbs of trees were scattered around in a promiscuous manner. The wind lasted but a few minutes, and was confined to a limited space. The storm of July, 1884, damaged the country on North creek. The estate of J.C. Chandler was greatly damaged, all the fences being blown down, a number of fruit trees destroyed, two barns destroyed and the dwelling- house moved from the foundation and set directly over the well. William Lewis had an unfinished house demolished. A large number of hemlock trees, about 100 acres, were blown down. A.K. Morton's orchard, in Rich Valley, was almost completely destroyed. The storm of May 21, 1888, struck the Cameron Iron Works and destroyed the large brick building. The lumberyards suffered some losses, while the, forest on Clear creek, where S.S. Hacket had sixteen men peeling bark, and at Howard's Camp, was tossed round like so many straws - the men escaping fatal injuries. A horseman from Cameron to Emporium had his animal killed by a falling tree.

From an early period in the history of this section of Pennsylvania, forest fires have been spoken of, but only in recent years has any special notice been given to them - a fact due to the increase of population and the establishment of the newspaper. In October, 1871, the old L.T. More saw-mill, one mile west, was burned in the forest fire. The forest fire of May 12, 1872, destroyed many dollars worth of timber on the hills and iii the valleys of Cameron county. Amos Lorshbaugh, on the First Fork, lost his house and barn with contents, together with sheep, hogs and cattle. The fires of April and May, 1884, were the greatest ever known here. For a week circles of flame surrounded the hills, but the storm coming up urged on the fiery element, and may be said to have begun the work of destruction at Sterling, as recorded in the history of that village. The scene in the forests defied description. The flames leaped fifty feet in the air, sweeping everything. Great sheets of flame would sweep across a clearing half a mile in length. While the destruction of property was great, it is almost a miracle that anything was saved - the heat was so intense that logs in the streams caught fire and burned like cord wood. Other fires are noticed in the local chapters.

The winter of 1843 was remarkable for its unusual mildness during the month of January, as well as for its great severity later in the season. In January it was as warm as it ordinarily is in the month of May. The grass grew to the height of four or five inches. Some plowed their corn land, and many, foolishly supposing the winter was past, threw away their fodder. In February it changed to cold and snow, continuing to increase in severity all through that month as well as March. On the 13th of April the snow about Emporium was so deep that it would reach to a man's vest pockets in walking through it. On the 14th it melted a little, and by the 20th it was all gone. During the last forty-six years there have been very few complaints of climate. The beautiful valleys and picturesque hills are in themselves guardians of the weather, as well as of the health, insuring to the inhabitants an atmosphere under which the young may attain the highest physical state, and the old may prolong their days.

Source: Page(s) 815-819, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed January 2006 by Nathan Zipfel for the Cameron County Genealogy Project
Published 2006 by the Cameron County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project


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