Chapter X - Fishingcreek Township
History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania
The signification of names by which political divisions are designated is suggestive of their origin. Upon the erection of Luzerne county in 1786, the formerly indefinite limits of Wyoming township were restricted to that portion of Northumberland north of the Susquehanna and east of Little Fishing creek. Contemporary custom conferred upon this region the name more specifically applied to its distinguishing natural feature. The popular designation was sanctioned by legal action in 1789, when this area was constituted the township which forms the subject of this chapter. The erection of Briarcreek in 1797, and of Greenwood in 1799, reduced its size without affecting its relative dimensions. Sugarloaf was formed in 1813, and the northern boundary of Fishingcreek established as at present defined. Its western confines suffered a
220change in 1840 upon the erection of Orange. The division line between Fishingcreek and Briarcreek became a topic of heated discussion, as the question at issue involved the making of roads over the Lee and Huntington mountains, and through the intervening Shickshinny valley. The northern or Huntington range was finally decided to be the "Knob" mountain referred to in the description of the line as originally located. Huntington township, Luzerne county, adjoins Fishingcreek on the east.
There is a general similarity in the topography of both these townships, but the circumstances of their settlement were widely different. While the Connecticut Susquehanna Land Company was populating the region at the head waters of Huntington creek, the land speculator, the squatter and the settler were gradually possessing the valley at its lower course, and securing titles from the proprietary and commonwealth governments. Connecticut settlers transplanted the "steady habits" of their native state to the section east of the Luzerne county line; the pronounced Pennamite proclivities or their neighbors on the opposite side of the line appeared in marked contrast.
It was not until the former had appeared in some numbers that settlement in Fishingcreek township actually began. In the summer of 1783 Daniel McHenry became the first settler in the valley of Fishing creek above Orangeville. Originally a native of Ireland, and successively resident in new Jersey and near Milton, on the "West Branch," he secured the title to a tract of land about the present location of Stillwater on the representation of a brother who was connected with the land office. He visited his purchase in 1783, carrying with him a gun, axe, how and provisions sufficient to last six weeks. The gun afforded protection from the dangers of the unexplored forest, the blows of his axe and the crash of falling trees re-echoed through it dark recesses; and when the work of clearing a small plot, had been accomplished, the woodsman and hunter became farmer as well, and used his hoe in planting Indian corn, drawing the loose earth into a small mound and depositing the grains therein after the Indian custom. Mr. McHenry removed his family to their new home the following year (1784); and here, September 13, 1785, John McHenry was born. This was the first birth of a white child in this county north of Knob mountain.
The second family to enter this township appeared in 1786. Abram Dodder, from Muncy, having bought the confiscated lands of Mr. Bartman, a tory, with "scrip" at six cents per acre, remover thither and located on Huntington creek at the mouth of Pine creek. His father come two years later and settled new his son; he died in 1790, and was buried in the Dodder cemetery near Jonestown. So far as know this was the first death and burial of a while person in this section. Ludwig Smith removed from Berks county about 1800 and settled on Huntington creek adjoining the county line. A Mr. Craig, a former neighbor, continued to be such by occupying an adjoining tract. Henry Yaple, from Montgomery county, arrived in 1796, and Sebastian Kisner, a few years later. The former was a veteran of the revolutionary war. he was one of five brothers whose term of service was four years and nine months. Captain Weidman, his former commanding officer, owned land in this section and transferred it to him at a merely nominal price. Sebastian Kisner removed from one of the lower counties and located on Huntington creek near Ludwig Smith in 1808. John M. Buckalew settled on the frame now owned by John. M. Buckalew, Jr. Samuel Creveling and Samuel Cutter entered the township in 1810; Richard Brown, Benjamin Jones and John Paden became residents about the same time. Subsequent settlement had gradually extended until the township had become as thickly populated as it agricultural resources permitted. Benjamin Jones and Richard Brown built a gristmill on Huntington Creek in 1810 and 1811. John M. Buckalew operated a saw mill in 1808. A woolen mill was established about 1820 by -- Kennedy on Little Pine creek. It has long since ceased to be operated, and Fishing creek continues to be an exclusively farming district.
The antagonism between the Yankee and Pennamite was expressed in the selection of a name for the first post-office. It was strenuously averred by the latter that the stream know as Huntington creek (named in honor of a certain governor of Connecticut) was the east branch of Fishingcreek, and should be known by that designation. Accordingly the post-office of Fishingcreek was established in 1814 with Benjamin Jones as post-master. The name has not, however, received popular sanction. The stream will continue to be Huntington creek as long as it has an existence.
Fishingcreek was at this time the only intermediate post-office on a mail-route of which Shickshinny and Jerseytown were the terminal points. The next post-offices, at Stillwater and Pealertown, were established in 1849 by James McHenry and Daniel Pealer, respectively. Daniel McHenry succeeded to the former in 1854 and is the present incumbent. Pealertown was changed to Forks in 1855, when Bernard Ammerman became postmaster. It was re-established under its former name in 1861; ten years later, J. M. Ammerman again became postmaster, and has continued the office to the present time under its old name of Forks. Van Camp post-office was established in October, 1857, with George M. Howell as postmaster. He has held this position since then continuously. Mail was first received by this route from Bloomsburg to Cambra. Runyan post-office was opened January 8, 1886, at the village as Asbury. Various names were suggested by the citizens, and successively rejected by the department. The name finally accepted is that of an ex-soldier and former resident of the village.
Jonestown derived some importance from its position on the old turnpike. In connection with the latter it may be stated that John M. Buckalew graded one mile for the sum of three hundred and fifty dollars; and that, although the prerogative of collecting tolls from the travel on this road has not been exercised by the Susquehanna and Tioga Turnpike Road Company for years, it has not forfeited its corporate existence. Moreover, an item of some thousands of dollars invested in this road by appropriation of the legislature, still appears in the assets of the state. Asbury aspired to becoming the business center of the township, by the equally accessible positions of Stillwater and Pealertown prevented any on of them from reaching that distinction. Forks, Ikelertown and Bendertown also rejoice "in that strange spell, a name."
Christopher Pealer taught the first school in this township in connection with his occupation of weaving. Jonathan Colloy taught in a building erected for school purposes at Pealertown. A similar structure was also built near the location of Zion Church. In 1885 Fishingcreek supported nine schools for a term of six months. The average attendance of pupils is about two hundred and forty-nine.
The establishing of the first churches in this section was contemporary with the appearance of the different denominations in other parts of the country. The first services of a religious character were conducted by John and Christopher Bowman. Methodist Episcopal clergymen from Briarcreek. These services were held at the house of Abram Dodder, but the time at which they began cannot be definitely determined. In 1812 the names of seven of his family appear on a list of the membership of the Southold Huntington church. Preaching was continued at Dodder's until school-houses were built. John Andrews, Martin Andrews, Albert Ammerman and others removed from Rush township, Northumberland county, in 1836 and at one made arrangement for the holding of religious services by the Methodists itinerant clergymen who were then in charge of Berwick circuit. The first meetings were held at John Andrews' house, and the road from Asbury to Huntington. Subsequently, a schoolhouse west of Asbury was occupied. The church building was erected in 1848, Reverends John Tongue and William Gwinn being pastors at the time. The name of the founder of American Methodism was conferred upon the church previously organized, at the suggestion of John Andrews. The Stillwater church organization was being effected about the time in the house of Alexis Good, which stood on the band of Fishing creek some distance from that village. The meetings of the class were afterward held tin the school-house at Stillwater. The corner-stone of a church edifice at that place was laid July 4, 1880. Both these churches are included in the Orangeville circuit.
The following with reference to Reformed churches in this township, is presented through the courtesy of Reverend A. Houtz, who has been in charge of Orangeville pastorate for some years, and has collated valuable data regarding the introduction of that denomination into this section: "Occasionally, in the latter part of his ministry (1820-1822), Reverend Jacob Deiffenbach preached in private houses and in a school-house located where the old Pealer Bellas graveyard is in Fishingcreek township. Tradition says he was a fine German preacher, and an excellent singer. After his death Reverend John Nicholas Zeiger, who resided below Wilkesbarre, preached here from perhaps 1822 to 1825. His son occasionally filled his appointments. About the year 1825 there was a Lutheran Reformed church built at New Columbus. The Reformed congregation moved their place of worship to this church and procured the services of Reverend Isaac Shellhammer. Here they worshipped till 1840, when they moved to the Creveling cross-roads school-house. Here they remained till 1852. The St. James church being was now completed, they occupies it and have continued there ever since. While the congregation was worshipping at the cross-roads school-house, the desire for some English preachings was expressed on the part of a few members. Accordingly Reverend H. Funk, who had already been preaching at the old log church where the present St. Gabriel church stands, was secured and he became the regular English pastor while Reverend Isaac Shellhammer remained their German pastor. They continued thus to have two regular pastors till the close of Reverend I. Shellhammer's pastorate in 1858, when the transition from German to the English language was completed.
Rev. W. Goodrich became the immediate successor of Reverend H. Funk in 1854, and served this congregation with great acceptance and success till 1865. During his pastorate of this congregation he baptized sixty-seven and confirmed sixty-four. In the spring of 1866 Reverend E. B. Wilson took charge of his congregation and served them till 1868, during which time he baptized fifteen and confirmed eight. On the 1st of August, 1869, Reverend A. Houtz took charge of the congregation, and up to the present time (1881) baptized fifty-seven and confirmed sixty-one. In December, 1878, this congregation was incorporated under the title of St. James Reformed Church, and adopted the constitution recommended by General Synod.
"Thus the St. James congregation, at first like a tenant, moved from one place to another until it finally settled down permanently in its present house of worship. In its progress it has absorbed kindred interests and elements and now has the form of a solid phalanx. Its membership is composed of substantial material. Here all are attentive and devout in their worship. Here all, from the least to the greatest, sing. Here are found unity of feeling, singleness of purpose, and great church attachment. Here parents generally bring their children to church, have them baptized, catechized and confirmed. The members of this congregation are noted for their liberal support of their pastor and benevolent objects, also for their attendance; those coming three or four miles are as regular as those living near. This is a model congregation, and has commended itself to the observing and unprejudiced community. Within the last four years the congregation added a number of improvements to their church building, and surrounded the graveyard with a neat picket fence."
He thus speaks of Zion Reformed congregation: "The first regular Reformed service in this neighborhood was held in 1842 by Reverend D. S. Tobias in the old Stucker school-house located where the Zion graveyard is in Fishingcreek Township. Previous to this time the few Reformed families in this locality worshipped either at the old McHenry log church, located a short distance west of Orangeville, or at the old log church at New Columbus. In the winter of 1842, or about that time, Reverend Tobias was assisted by one Reverend Loader in holding a protracted meeting. There being good sleighing the people came from near and far in great sled loads. As the school-house was too small they obtained permission to hold their service in the old church at Stillwater. After occupying this church one week, they were denied further privilege, and they were obliged to return to the school-house. During this revival a number made a profession of religion who subsequently became the virtual founders of the Zion congregation. This Stucker school-house continued from 1842 to 1857 as a preaching point, and the congregation, without church organization, was served by Reverends D. S. Tobias, H. Funk and W. Goodrich. On the 17th of February, 1857, the Zion church was dedicated, and on the following Saturday the Zion congregation was organized with thirty members: They were principally from Orangeville and St. James congregations."
Stillwater Christian church (Disciples) was among the first of that denomination established in this section of the country. In 1835 Reverends John Ellis, J. J. Harvery and John Sutton associated themselves together to propagate its doctrines, and established preaching places from Union county to Luzerne. Mr. Sutton visited Stillwater at the request of certain persons there residing and preached occasionally during the two succeeding years. The success which attended his work was such that in 1838 a monthly appointment was begun and sustained. In compliance with the general desire of his people he made his residence among them. The material of an old log school-house was purchased and when rebuilt constituted the first parsonage in this region. On Friday, August 10, 1838, Reverends Sutton, Richards, Harvery, Philips and McConnell inaugurated a protracted meeting. It continued for some days, resulting in twenty conversions. Sabbath, August 17, three persons were baptized; the ceremony was again performed four weeks later and twelve more accessions were made to the church. The interest in the revival culminated December 8, 1838, when, after a sermon by Reverend J. S. Tompson, an organization was effected with twenty-nine members. The design of the organization is thus expressed: "That the believers in Christ may the better support the truth and in a united capacity let their light shine as a city set upon a hill that cannot be hid; that they may watch over each other or good and not for evil; that they may meet together and improve the gift that god was given them, exhorting and teaching, comforting and strengthening each other in the faith of, the gospel; and that they may thus grow up together, an holy temple in the lord, their living Head." August 11, 1839, Moses McHenry and Benjamin Morriss were deputed to present to the Pennsylvania Christian Conference a request for admission into that body. August 26, 1841, and August 30, 1861, that body met with this church. The discussion on both occasions resulted in disseminating their doctrines and strengthening the church. October 23, 1842, the first house of worship was dedicated, Reverends Rodenbaugh, Hance, Miller and Sutton being present. The last service was held her May 27, 1877. A new structure marks the site of its predecessor. The following elders may have been regularly in charge of this church: John Sutton, Theobold Miller, Jacob Rodenbaugh, J. J. Harvey, J. G. Noble, Zephaniah Ellis, E. E. Orvis and D. M. Kinter. It has been for years the religious center of the denomination in this region.
Source: Page(s) 219-224. History of Columbia and
Montour Counties. Battle, J.H., Chicago: A. Warner, 1887. Transcribed by