Cameron County

Chapter XI





LUMBER TOWNSHIP is bounded on the north by Portage township, on the west by Shippen, on the south by Gibson, and on the east by Grove, the northeast corner bordering on Potter county.

The greatest elevation occurs on the Kinzua, Emporium, Cross-flexture and Rattlesnake anticlinal in the southeastern corner, where a height of 2,227 feet above ocean level was reached, being 1,375 feet above the level of the river at Gibson township line. Logues, Norcross and Brooks creeks run east from the divide into the First Fork; Plank-road, Hunts, Still House, Square Timber, Mason and Big runs flow west or southwest from the divide into the Driftwood branch, while Sterling run flows southeast from the Boon's Mountain divide into the main river at the village of Sterling, and Canoe run, from the same divide, enters above Cameron.

The population in 1880 was 902, including the 263 inhabitants of Cameron village and 411 of Sterling. In November, 1888, there were seventy-five Republican and eighty-four Democratic votes recorded, the population based on same being 954. The Cameron Company's iron and coal mines, with their coke-ovens, will give employment to 300 men this year.

The assessment for 1889 is as follows: 287 taxables; exempt, $10,000; occupation, $10,517; seated real estate, $39,548; unseated real estate, $72,619; 118 cows and oxen, $1,456; 111 horses, $2,455; total, $126,595; money, etc., at interest, $9,173.77.

Two miles west of Sterling is the "Devil's Elbow," a gulch in the form of an elbow, through which the road winds along. One mile and a half south of Sterling, at the tannery, is the peculiar cap rock which projects from the mountain peak. At the tannery also is the ice spring, a mineral water which is considered of some value.

When digging the cellar under the Widow Earl's present store, about sixteen years ago, eighteen skeletons were exhumed. On the spot a large maple had grown, so that had this improvement not been made this ancient burial ground would still be unknown. One skeleton measured seven feet eight inches; in the mouth of another was found a pipe. An earthen pot was also found.

The March elections of 1861 for Lumber township were presided over by Samuel Smith, judge; George Chapman and James Strawbridge, inspectors; R.W. Grunnels and D.C. Chapman, clerks. The following were the candidates and number of votes: Justices of the peace - Richard Eldred, 12; David Chapman, 12. Constable - R.W. Grunnels, 12. Supervisors - John Strawbridge, 9; David Chapman, 11; J.W. Whiting, 2. Auditor - George Chapman. Election inspectors - R.M. Lewis, 4; William Smith, 6. Assessor - R.M. Lewis, 9; assistant assessors - P.W. Whiting, 8; Samuel Smith, 8. School directors - E.B. Eldred, 11; John Chapman, 10; James Strawbridge, 9. Judge of election - James Strawbridge, 10.

Lumber township elected the following named officers in February, 1890: B.E. Smith, clerk; Matt. Phenix, constable; M.W. Whiting, auditor; C.G. Minick and Charles Morton, school directors; F. Shafer, supervisor (A.S. Elston and John Morris received each forty-four votes for this office); Charles E. Martin, overseer of the poor.

Forest fires have done much injury in this section - that of 1884, which almost wiped out Sterling, threatened to destroy the whole township. In May of that year the forests on each side of Hunts run showed running fires. Early in May a strong wind prevailed, fanning the fire into a raging flame, which increased every moment as it came tearing along in an easterly direction, catching the dry leaves and dead timber in its way, and driving a dense volume of smoke ahead. It reached the Pump Station. The hose was run out for three hundred feet from the boiler house, and began playing on the fire around the buildings, as it approached, temporarily checking it on the west side. The hose was instantly taken in and strung out in the direction of the tanks, where the fire had now reached and had caught the dry log heaps within a hundred feet of the immense tanks, which contained fifty thousand barrels of oil, completely enveloping them in a cloud of smoke and flying cinders. The entire force, which consisted of only eight men, exerted themselves with a determination seldom excelled, in their endeavors to impede the further progress of the fire in the direction of the tanks; scarcely being able to recognize each other through the blinding smoke, they bravely faced this new danger, expecting every moment to see the gas catch fire from some flying fragment, and fully aware that in case of an explosion they would be utterly lost, as every avenue of escape was cut off by the fire. It was an hour calculated to try their nerves, but the men succeeded in keeping the fire in check until 5 o'clock, when fortunately the wind went down, and finally, having the flames subdued in the immediate vicinity of the tanks, the attention was then turned toward the buildings, where the women were at work carrying water from the creek and dashing it over the fire, which had almost reached the houses and already burned a portion of Schrum's stable. By this brave act the women wore the means of saving the buildings. At the Cameron mines, situated on the hill, where a large number of miners are employed, the families with their household goods were taken into the mines, while the men (and many women) fought the fire and saved the settlement.


The village of Sterling was surveyed by John Brooks in 1861 - 62 near the old Sterling grist-mill. Mr. Brooks, Judge Smith, the Widow Sterling and B.J. Earl having interests in the Sterling farm. In the spring of 1871 a company known as Grant, Clark & Co. made purchases of land and privileges of John Brooks, near Sterling, and erected a tannery, which, although it has changed into other hands, has been in successful operation ever since. In 1876 it was the property of B.F. Sherwood, of Utica, N.Y., whose superintendent was Milo Bull, and storekeeper, P.N. Grant. The tannery buildings consist of a dry-house, 256 feet long and 45 feet wide, with capacity for drying 10,000. The vat house is 310 feet long and 62 feet wide, and has 152 vats that will hold 150 hides each; 134 that will bold 100 hides each, and six large vats that will hold 1,000 hides - making in all 292 vats with capacity for 37,200 hides. Prior to 1876 water-pipes were placed from the buildings to the mountain reservoir, 500 feet above.

The Sterling Gazette (moved to Driftwood in June, 1880) was issued at Sterling in March, 1877, by H.D. Earl & Co., who continued it in a small four-page form. Number 3 of this volume contains the report of school No. 5, then ably presided over by J.F. Nelson. In November the Alpine House was opened there. Daniel McCormick was proprietor of the McDonald House (vice H.A. McDonald). Dr. S.S. Smith, of Driftwood, advertised in the little paper, and also William Berry, the boot maker of Sterling. In March, 1879, the Gazette was enlarged and converted into a newspaper. The pioneer journal gave an account of the killing of bear and deer by the Sterling boys, and the third volume speaks of black bears around the village.

Jerome B. Earl, born at Coudersport, in 1825 (afterward owner of Earl's restaurant, Philadelphia) came to Sterling, and in connection with the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad Company established a restaurant at that point. After the house was burned, he conducted the Driftwood House until it was burned. He died in 1885.

The Sterling fire of December 27, 1876, destroyed McCormick's Centennial Hotel. Andrew Kauls saw and planning mill at Sterling was destroyed by fire in January, 1881, entailing a loss, above insurance, of $6,000. The forest fire of May, 1884, commenced its work of destruction above the tannery. The first houses destroyed were about one mile above the tannery, at the old mill - one unoccupied and the other Mike Loughlin lived in, who lost all his household goods. The next was the Oak Hill farm-house and barn, with about forty tons of hay, mowing machines and other farming implements, belonging to B.F. Sherwood.

The terrible cyclone swept on toward Sterling village, consuming the Orner house, occupied by John Lanning and Jacob Langlan, who lost everything, and came near perishing in the flames. The house occupied by James Quigley and the old school-house were next destroyed; the saw-mill (Hall, Kaul & Co.'s) and all the surrounding buildings were in flames. Dense volumes of smoke swept down the valley, covering everything from view. Boards and shingles in flames, were flying through the air, propelled by the terrible gale. John Summerson's residence and buildings, surrounding it, were in imminent danger; also the whole upper part of the town. The people in the lower part of the town were in a terrible panic, and instead of helping those who needed help, commenced packing their goods and leaving, believing the day of wrath had come. But the people at the upper end stood their ground, assisted by a few men, not more than ten or twelve in number, and saved Sterling, for had Summerson's houses caught fire, those below would have also burned and Sterling would have existed only in name. The losses are as follows:

B.F. Sherwood, one house and barn, household goods, hay, and other losses, $4,000; John Summerson, nine houses, blacksmith shop, barn, sawmill, lumber, etc., $4,000, no insurance; Andrew Kaul, machinery, lumber, etc., $5,000, insured, $3,000; Laughlin, household goods, $200; John Lanning, household goods, $300; Jacob Langlan, house hold goods, $200; John Ritchie, household goods, $50; Jeremiah Bull, clothing and valuables, $300; John Seymour, household goods, $150; James Quigley, household goods, $200; A. Pardee, Oak Hill House and barn, $1, 500; Henry Hamilton, clothing, etc., $100; Barr Bros., lumber, $50. The total number of buildings destroyed in the vicinity of Sterling was twenty-three - fourteen dwellings, eight barns and one mill, besides a large amount of fences, about thirty cords of bark and 50,000 feet of lumber.

The Widow Earl was removed from the office of postmistress at Sterling Run in 1884, when Judge Smith was appointed. W.P. Herrick was appointed in 1889.

Sterling Grange was organized at Sterling May 26, 1870, with John Orner, master, and V.A. Brooks, secretary. This was the first organized in the county.

Sterling Run Cemetery Company was organized in September, 1886, with H.L. Pearsall, M.W. Whiting, A.W. Wylie, Joseph Kissell and J.E. Smith, as members.

The Church of the Messiah, at Sterling, was incorporated in 1871, on petition filed April 20, that year. The trustees named were D.R. Nelson, Philip Smith, S.W. Herrick, Samuel Smith and B.J. Earl. Among other names connected with the enterprise were Washington Mason, John Brooks and G.W. Gentry. The church building was dedicated September 2, 1872.

The Methodist Church of Sterling was chartered August 14, 1871. The trustees named in articles of association were George and John Chapman, David Chapman, John Mason and P.W. Whiting. The building was dedicated September 29, 1872, by the pastor, L.S. Crone.

The Catholic Church building at Sterling was dedicated by Bishop Mullen, July 20, 1884. This church belongs to St. James'parish, and is in charge of Father Brennan. In July, 1880, the contract for building the schoolhouse at Sterling was sold to Joseph Kissell, the lumber being furnished from Andrew Kaul's mill.


The village of Cameron was surveyed in 1859, by John Brooks for himself and E.B. Eldred, and they erected their store-house, the same which was carried away in the flood of September, 1861. After the flood they erected a few buildings at this point and in 1864 sold their interests to the Cameron Coal Company, having previously sold thirteen acres to the Hunt's Run Lumber Company, who built their mills in 1863.

The old Cameron House at Cameron was burned in June, 1873, while on June 18 Earl's Hotel and the Philadelphia & Erie depot at Sterling were destroyed. The Cameron fire of January, 1882, destroyed the stores of E.N. Mayo, Stephens and W.L. Herron. The collision near the Cameron coal chutes, in January, 1880, resulted in the destruction of two locomotives, thirteen cars and serious injury to six employees. In the fall of 1888 smallpox entered Cameron settlement, creating much havoc.

The Catholic Church of Cameron is contempory with that of Emporium. The school building was purchased there about ten years ago by Rev. M. Meagher and remodeled for purposes of worship. The congregation numbers about 100.

The new coke ovens at Cameron, which have just been completed at the foot of the incline (operated by the gravity system) extend over the waters of the Sinnemahoning and up the mountains 1,000 feet. This is the terminus of the railroad the iron company have just begun to build, to connect their coal and ore interests with the furnace at Emporium, and about one-half mile above this spot on the opposite side of the river (over which at the mouth of Canoe run a railroad bridge will be erected) are the ore mines, 600 feet above the level of the valley. From them the ore will be transported to the railroad by means of the wire-rope and bucket system. The coal-mines are two and one-half miles across the mountains from the top of the incline leading to the coke-ovens, and are connected with the incline by a track traversed by a locomotive and many coal cars. Just before reaching the mouth of the mines, which are drifts, a trestled ravine is crossed, from which the coal gradually rises both to the east and west, affording a good drainage from the mines.

Source: Page(s) 916-920, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed February 2006 by Nathan Zipfel for the Cameron County Genealogy Project
Published 2006 by the Cameron County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project


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