Chapter XIV - Hemlock and Montour Townships
History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania
At the November session of the court in 1801, Hemlock was erected out of Mahoning township, both being then in Northumberland county. It is therefore one of the twelve townships embraced in Columbia county when it was originally organized. A part of Hemlock, as at present constituted, was included in Montour county by the provisions of the act first defining the boundary line. The act of January 15, 1853, however, provided for a revision of the line, and fixed the present western limits of this township.
In the earliest warrants for surveys, this region is mentioned as Wyoming township, Northumberland county. Hemlock creek is here mentioned, but the location is more definitely fixed by reference to Fishing creek, a larger stream. The extreme northeast corner of the township was surveyed, in pursuance of a warrant granted to John Nicholson, southward along Little Fishing creek; Robert Bogard, William Oike, Philip Hahn, David Lynn and Elizabeth Gray were the warrantees. The land at the forks of Fishing and Hemlock creeks was surveyed for William Patterson; north of this, and east of the Hemlock, were the tracts of Evan Owen, Michael Bright, Henry Funk, Philip Gable, Samuel Emmitt, Sebricht Wagner, Alexander Johnson and James Ellis. West of the Hemlock, Margaret and Daniel Duncan, Thomas Barton, Daniel Montgomery, Nathaniel Brader, Peter Brugler, Andrew Waltman and John Lilly secured large tracts.
Peter Brugler entered this region about the year 1788 or 1790, being among the first to permanently locate within the present limits of the township. His land extended across its western end, from Frosty valley into the Liebenthal, a deep, narrow valley, through which the west branch of Hemlock creek finds its way. This track embraced about six-hundred acres. The house he built on the southern slope of Frosty valley was destroyed by fire some years since. On one occasion while out hunting, he had an adventure which illustrates how much the life of the pioneer sometimes depended on cautious but decisive action.
The ground was covered with snow to the depth of several inches. He had followed a deer for some distance, when, on turning a hill, he came upon what at first appeared to be an entirely different trail, but the discovery of his own footsteps proved that he had made a circuit, and reached the same trail he had previously traversed, and at the same instant he noticed before him in the snow the prints of an Indian moccasin. Their contrast with his own tracks may have caused a momentary fear, but this only intensified the keenryess of his faculties, as the certainty of his danger became conclusive. He remembered having seen a hollow tree when he first passed over the trail. It required but a few minutes to reach it and conceal himself within its dark recess. The stealthy tread of the pursuing savage could be plainly heard at a short distance, and presently his dusky form emerged from the pines into full view. Brugler waited till his rifle was well aimed at the eye of the Indian. The sequel must be inferred. In relating the story he never went beyond this point.
A few years after the coming of Brugler, Peter and Philip Appelman entered the township. Peter Appelman succeeded to the ownership of part of the Duncan tract, but was misinformed regarding the location of his land, and built a house before the mistake was ascertained. Margaret and Daniel Duncan secured patents for their Iand under date of December 17, 1774, but subsequently disposed of both to George Clymer, a Philadelphia merchant. It was from him that the Appelmans received their titles; part of the tract was sold to Hugh McBride, in whose family it remains to-day.
Other German families who came with the Bruglers and Appelmans, or followed them in the course of a few years, were the Ohle, Hartmans, Neyharts, Whitenights, Leidys, Girtons, Menningers, Merles, Grubers, Yocums and Haucks. They emigrated from the older counties of Berks and Northampton, and the adjoining region of New Jersey across the Delaware. They journeyed over the Broad and Little mountains by a road which has since been known as the Lehigh and Susquehanna turnpike. Berwick was its northern terminus, and practically the end of the journey. Sunbury and Catawissa were the points from which supplies were first obtained. The Germans purchased their land from the patentees; few of them received it direct from the state. These first owners were the predecessors of the more recent land jobbers, but their profits were in most cases merely nominal.
Henry Ohl, a soldier of the revolution, entered the township in 1804, from New Jersey. He built a house on the land now owned by his grandson, Samuel Ohl. It has long since disappeared. Ludwig Neyhart's land is now owned by Lewis Girton. The old house was built in a hollow near where Mr. Girton's buildings have since been erected, but nearer the springs. Michael Menninger located his buildings on a hill above Little Fishing creek. Henry Warrich was the owner of an adjoining tract. The house he built is still in use on the farm of John Girton. In the Liebenthal a saw-mill was erected at an early day, but all trace of it disappeared fifty years ago.
The township of Hemlock is, to the casual observer, almost exclusively agricultural. The hills of the Fishing creek, the T iebenthal and Frosty valley present nothing in appearance more striking than fields of waving grain or forests of hemlock; but on the elope of Montour ridge, deep seams and furrows, certainly not the water-courses of exhausted springs, arrest the attention and awaken interest. , From these drifts, however, the only mineral wealth of the' township, iron ore, has been removed until it is practically exhausted.
The first discovery of the ore was made about the year 1822 on the land of Robert Green, by Henry Young, a farm laborer. He noticed the peculiar color of the ground he was plowing, and procured a pick and shovel to ascertain how deep it continued so. An examination revealed its true character and value and led to the immediate commencement of drift mining. The entire product, until 1844, was hauled across the river to be smelted at Bittler's Esther furnace and the Penn furnace. But in that year the Bloomsburg Rail-Road and Iron Company began to operate their works, and for ten years received nearly all the ore that was mined in Hemlock township. Since 1854 the firm of McKelvy and Neal, now William Neal and Sons, have divided the product'with them.
The company first mentioned owns the "Bank" and " Farrandeville farms. The latter was purchased from the Farrandsville Iron Company, which mined several hundred tons of ore, and had it forwarded over the canal to their works in Centre county, some time prior to 1844, but never manufactured a ton of iron. The ore was here unloaded and forgotten, apparently, until a few years since, when an enterprising boatman reloaded it and brought it back to Bloomsburg. The Bloomsburg Rail-Road and Iron Company also retains the ore in land purchased by them from Caleb Barton, but now owned by Edward W. Ivey. It is land bought from Charles R. Paxson and Leonard B. Rupert, and is the Robinson farm now owned by Daniel Yocum.
William Neal and Sons have succeeded McKelvy and Neal as lessees of the land of Daniel, Isaac and Sylvester Pursel. A few years since, having exhausted the surface basins, a shaft was sunk on the north side of Montour ridge. Mining in this way is attended with so much expense as to render it unprofitable. But for the fact that the hard ores thus obtained are needed to mix with others of a different character, the shaft would be abandoned entirely.
The ore drifts of the Montour ridge have contributed largely to the wealth and prosperity of the whole region. The villages of Buekhorn and Wedgetown were built for a class of laborers for whom there is no longer employment. It is not probable that Hemlock township has any resources whose development will necessitate a return of this floating population.
Seventeen years ago; however, when even the most sanguine were forced to admit that the drifts had passed their period of most profitable production, the bluffs on Little Fishing creek began to be looked upon as the probable site for the opening of another industry. A quarry at this point had for years supplied the furnaces at Bloomsburg with limestone; just above this, from the appearance of the shale on the perpendicular surface of the bluff, Reverend Thomas, a clergyman from Northampton county and interested in the manufacture of slate, conceived the idea that suitable material was here available. In the year 1869 the Thomas Slate Company, through William Milne®, its president. purchased twenty-three acres of land along Little Fishing creek. On this land a building was erected, valuable machinery arranged therein, quarries opened, and the manufacture of roofing-slate and slate-mantels begun on an extensive scale. The fine quality and superior finish of their mantels created an encouraging demand. But the death of Mr. Milnes caused the suspension of the works, within a few years after they were first operated. The plant has been allowed to rust and rot for the past twelve years. There are no indications that the manufacture will ever again be resumed, although such an occurrence is possible, as slate of superior quality certainly exists.
The circle of local manufactures is thus narrowed to three flouring mills. The Red mill, built some years ago, has recently come into the possession of I. W. McKelvy, who has enlarged and improved it. Near it there were at one time two establishments known respectively as Groetz's tannery and Minshall's fulling-mill. But the pursuits hero conducted, though locally important at one time, can now be referred to only as "lost arts."
Although the village of Buckhorn has been built as the result of the discovery of ore, there is associated with its name a story that begins many years before that occurred. It is said that before any settlement had been made in this section the antlers of a deer, fastened between the forked branches of a white-oak sapling, marked the course of an Indian trail through this region. This tree stood on the edge of a swamp, within three miles of Catawissa. When, subsequently, it became necessary for the pioneers of the upper Fishing creek valley and North mountain to communicate with the forts on the Susquehanna, a path was blazed through the woods, crossing the Indian trail at the Buckhorn tree. The sight of this tree to the weary traveler from the distant settlement, was an assurance of his nearness to friends and safety. Other way-marks disappeared; the blazing on the trees became quite indistinct; and the trees themselves succumbed to decay; but the sapling grew apace, and gradually locked the antlers in a vise-like embrace. It finally completely concealed them in the widening circles of its yearly growth. The story of the buck's horn within was received with questioning credence from the "oldest inhabitants." A few years since, a long-billed bird made an opening to the hollow interior of the tree, revealing the antlers, and also establishing the fact of its early usefulness and later imprisonment. It was removed, and a part has been preserved in a museum at Allentown.
Just opposite this tree, where the house of Isaac Pursel now stands, Vaniah Rees built the first house in the village. It was a hotel, and received the patronage of the stage line from Bloom to Muncy. He bought land from James and Robert Dill, and laid out the town. In 1832, twelve years after Rees built his hotel, Hugh Allen erected another on the site of the present one. Rees built the third house at the opposite end of the village, and in 1836 opened the first store. He subsequently built about twelve houses, nearly one-third the present number.
Hugh Allen was the first postmaster. Noah Prentiss carried the mail from Bloom once a week for many years. About 1850 Israel Bittler was commissioned to carry it twice a week. In 1866 a tri-weekly service was begun by Jacob Crawford, but not until 1883 was the daily mail established. In 1843 Marshall Shoemaker succeeded Allen as postmaster. The office has been in the same building ever since, except one year.
The village comprises a number of well built houses, two stores, a hotel, carriage-shop, school-building and two houses of worship. N. Patterson Moore, proprietor of the carriage-shop, has been justice of the peace for fifteen years. Previous to this Jacob Harris filled the office for twenty-one years. Henry Ohl was the first justice of the peace in Hemlock township after the formation of Columbia county.
The school-building, erected some years since at a cost of three-thousand five-hundred dollars, compares favorably with others of a similar character anywhere. It was originally intended that the school here conducted should be a township high-school, but this design has never been fully carried out. Under the principalship of Josephus Grimes, the first principal and present county superintendent, and his successors, it has done much to raise the standard of teachers and teaching throughout the entire township.
The first school in Hemlock was opened in 1801, the same year that the township was erected. It was held in a dwelling house on the road leading from Buckhorn through Frosty valley. A Mr. Davidson was the first teacher.
Another was opened shortly afterward by Thomas Vanderslice, and a third in theLiebenthal, just within the present limits of the township. It was widely known as a place for social gatherings and singing-schools. John Nevins was one of its early teachers. Other old teachers were Henry Ohl, Jacob Wintersteen and Charles Fortner. The present well-built school-houses, and the improved methods of teaching generally, pursued, certainly indicate a progress which has kept the system abreast of the times.
It is probable that the school in Frosty valley was opened before religious services of any kind had been held in the township. It is said that Reverend Frederick Plitt, a German Lutheran minister from Philadelphia, followed those of his nationality and faith across the mountains and into the valleys where they had planted their homes. He ministered to the settlers in the Hemlock region; his successors, Reverends Ball, Frey, Weaver and Oyer, preached occasionally in the old school-house a short distance from Buckhorn. The first house of worship, however, built by contributions from persons of all denominations, but dedicated as a Methodist church, was completed in the, year 1848, and occupied a lot of ground formerly owned by John McReynolds. Reverends Funk, Price and Consor, of the German Reformed, Evangelical and Methodist denominations, respectively, preached in this building in the years immediately after its erection. Only the Methodists, however, were regularly supplied with religious services. Among the Reverend Consor's successors were Reverends Hartman, Taneyhill, Buckingham, Gearhart,, Ross, Bolton, Warren, McClure and Chilcoat.
The old church building, having been in continuous use for twenty years, began to show indications of decay. Reverend T. O. Clees, the pastor in 1868, began to agitate the necessity of immediately replacing it by a new structure. With characteristic energy he pushed the work to completion, and in the following year dedicated an edifice coating seven-thousand dollars. Thomas J. Vanderslice, John Appelman, Jacob Richert and John Kistler, trustees, secured the funds for both this building and the parsonage. The latter was erected several years later on a lot adjoining the church property. The pastors of this church in recent years have been Reverends Bowman, Brittain, Ale, Savage, and W. H. Tubbs, the present incumbent.
The Frosty valley Methodist congregation, as part of the Buckhorn circuit, has had the same pastors as the Buckhorn church, since its organization. It worshiped in a school-house until 1869, when a substantial frame church-building was erected on the road from Bloomsburg to Mooresburg, three miles from Buckhorn. December 23, 1878, Elisha Brugler conveyed to Henry Hodge, William McMichael, John Gulliver, Samuel Runsley, Peter Brugler and Pooley, trustees, the ground on which the building had been completed nine years before. The membership has been weakened considerably in recent years by the removal of persons formerly at work in the mines on the Montour ridge.
Reverend William J. Eyer, the Lutheran minister mentioned above, began to hold religious services in the old Methodist church immediately after it was built, and continued to do so for some years. It was his successor, Reverend E. A. Sharrets, who first organized its scattered membership into a regular congregation. In the winter of 1859-60 he held a protracted meeting which re; sulted in the conversion of forty-three persons. The organization was effected in the spring of 1860 and numbered sixty-three members.
In 1867 Reverend Sharrets was succeeded by Reverend J. M. Rice. During these seven years neither a complete organization nor regular religious service had been maintained. Sunday, Oct. 20, 1867, a re-organization was. effected by the election of James Emmitt and Peter Werkheiser, elders, and George Wenner and John I-1. Miller, deacons. "Christ's Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Buckhorn," became part of the Espy charge, and took meal ures to provide for the support of a regular pastor. The aggressive spirit thus. displayed was further manifested in the appointment of a committee to select a suitable lot for a church building. One month later, at a congregational meeting called for the purpose, the present location of the house of worshipo was chosen, and James Emmitt, Peter Werkheiser, Sr., John H. Miller, Reuben Bomboy and George Russell constituted a committee to solicit contributions for the enterprise. On the 29th of November, 1860, the new edifice was dedicated by Rev. E. A. Sharrets, president of the Susquehanna synod. The cost, abouto five-thousand dollars, was fully provided for. Succeeding pastors have been Reverends B. F. Selleman, H. C. Haithcox, J. M. Reimunsnyder, William Kelley and E. A. Sharrets, who began his second pastorate April 28, 1878, and has been in charge ever since.
The position of Montour is best indicated by reference to the county line, the Susquehanna river and Fishing creek. It adjoins the county of the same name, while the Montour ridge separates it from the township of Hemlock on the north. From the county line it extends east to the Fishing and Hemlock creeks, and from the Montour ridge south to the river. East of Fishing creek, the north bank of the Susquehanna for some distance is a level area of exceptional fertility; but west of the mouth of that stream an elevation abruptly terminating at the water's edge appears in striking contrast. Between these river hills and the Montour ridge at the opposite side of the township is the Dutch valley, so named because of the nationality of the first occupants of its soil.
When it is stated that these first settlers were of German origin, it need hardly be added that they emigrated from Berke and Northampton counties.. The first to make their appearance were the Ruperts. They followed the same route as those who preceded them to the region of Roaring creek and Catawissa. Leaving the city of Reading in the spring of 1788, they crossed the-mountains of what is now Schuylkill county over a rough wagon track or bridle path, since known as the Reading road. From Catawissa the journey, though comparatively short, was extremely dangerous. The contents of the wagons. were placed in canoes and thus taken to the opposite side. The wagons were transported in the same way, two canoes being required for this purpose. The two wheels on each side were placed in one of them, while the rowers took their places between the wheels and under the wagon. A landing was effected as desired just below the mouth of Fishing creek. A rude log cabin, apparently used by a " squatter " for a short time and then abandoned, was occupied until a more substantial habitation could be erected. This "house," which stood near the present site of the Paxton mansion, was considered a marvel of frontier architecture in size and finish. It comprised three rooms instead of the single apartment usually constituting a dwelling. Built in 1788 it was occupied by the Ruperts for thirty years, and a portion has since been incorporated in one of the farm-buildings of the Paxton estate. Thus, in 1788 did Leonard Rupert become the first permanent occupant of any part of Montour township. The tract of land he owned comprised the site of the village which bears his name. Originally surveyed in pursuance of warrant No. 1,000, issued April 3, 1769, to John Spohn, it was patented February 4, 1784, a half interest having been previously secured by Michael Bright, the owner of large tracts of land in different parts of the state. The original patent designates the tract "Partnership," and locates it "on the North Branch Susquehanna, at the mouth of Fishing creek." Michael Bright was Leonard Rupert's father-in-law, and transferred the title to him in 1801, thirteen years after his first occupation of the soil. Among those who followed him were the Tucker, Frey, Dietterich, Blocker, Lazarus Hittle and Leiby families, who located in the region beyond the river hill, appropriately known as "Dutch valley."
Although separated from its nearest town by the broad channel of the Sus. quehanna, the region at the mouth of Fishing creek was not necessarily entirely secluded. On the other hand its people had rare facilities for learning what was transpiring at other places in the outside world. In 1786, and during the subsequent twenty-five years, Sunbury and Wilkesbarre were the seats of justice in the valley of the "North Branch," and the only towns of any importance in that section of the state. The constant stream of travel between these two points found a road near the river, its shortest and easiest route. From Danville to the mouth of Fishing creek, however, the course of this .highway avoided the almost impassable river hills, and traversed the Dutch valley in their rear. At the month of Fishing creek the stream was crossed by a ferry. Although not a regular public-house, Leonard Rupert's establishsnent was practically rendered such by the hospitality of its proprietor. The distinguished personages of the day, judges and lawyers, with others of every character and occupation here found a ready welcome.
A ferry was established at the exact points of the river now crossed by the railroad bridge. Its first proprietor was William Hughes, and afterward a Mr. Clark. As they objected to paying Mr. Rupert for the use of his lands at the terminus on his side of the river, he established a ferry of his own, which eventually absorbed its rival. In 1829 the "North-Branch " canal was opened and the packet became a formidable rival to its predecessor, the stagecoach. The work of excavating a channel at the base of the river hills, and the building of an aqueduct across Fishing creek, were among the most difficult works of their respective characters accomplished throughout its entire extent. In the summer of 1853 the rail-road bridge across the Susquehanna was begun. September 5, 1854, the first train passed over it. and Rupert station, on the Catawissa, Williamsport and Elmira railroad, was established. Wesley Fleming was appointed first freight agent at this point, and still remains in his original capacity after thirty-two years of continuous service. As the only rail-road point in Columbia county, north of the river, Rupert became a place of some importance, although it comprised, when the rail-road was opened, but two houses, the Paxton mansion and the lock-keeper's house. Four years later, January 1, 1858, the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg rail-road was opened to Rupert, which was for some mouths its southern terminus. But before discussing the subsequent growth of the town, it is necessary to state an important circumstance in the history of the township in general.
One of the results of the opening of the "North-Branch" canal was an increase in population more rapid in proportion to the relatively shorter time required to perform the journey from the lower counties. And a result of this was the formation of the township of Montour. The agitation of the public-school question, however, was the immediate cause of the change in the political organization of the county. Originally embraced in the extensive township of Turbot, the "region on the North Branch Susquehanna at the mouth of Fishing creek" was subsequently included in Mahoning and Hemlock, and ;:i 1887 erected into the township of 'Mlloutour. It appears that some of the most prominent citizens of the township thus formed had tried in vain to secure efficient schools under the act of 1834; failing to do so, they sought a separate organization, with results, educationally, highly satisfactory. Having made this necessary digression, the account of the growth of the village of Rupert from the time it became important as a rail-road point may be resumed.
Three years after the completion of the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg rail. road, W. A Monroe established a powder-keg manufactory at its jflnction with the Catawissa road. From a comparatively small beginning, this enterprise has grown to considerable local importance. With improved machinery and a full force of workmen, it has a capacity of one-thousand kegs per day. They find a ready sale at the Dupont powder-works at Wapwallopen, in Luzerne .county, and Wilmington, Delaware.
It was several years after this, however, that what promised to be the most important industry of the place was begun, by the establishment of extensive paint works. The Susquehanna Slate Company had begun the manufacture of paint at their slate works some distance from Rupert on the Fishing creek. In order to extend this branch of their business and avail them-:selves of the rare facilities of Rupert for the shipment of their product, the plant was removed thither in 1871, and the manufacture of paints begun, under the firm name of Reay and Drehr. The works had been in operation but ten days when a destructive fire reduced them to ashes. While the ruins were yet smoking, new buildings were begun and pushed to completion with energy. Owing to the financial depression of 1885 and$the following year, the manufactory was temporarily suspended.
Beside the two industries mentioned, Rupert comprises about twenty-five dwellings, a store and hotel, the "Rupert Marble Works," and the coal-office of Paxton & Harman. It combines a beautiful and healthful location with exceptional convenience of access to all parts of the country. Its educational and religious interests are represented by a commodious school-building and a house of worship-the only one in the township.
The original predecessor of the Rupert school-house was a rudely framed building occupied by contractors while constructing the aqueduct across Fishing creek. Harriet Rupert opened a school here in 1831, but removed it to a more comfortable and suitable building on her father's land. The present school appliances and methods in Montour township compare favorably with ,others in rural districts anywhere. Until 1884 the school-building was the place of religious services as well. In June, 1870, Reverend Creever of Bloomsburg delivered the first Methodist sexmon in Rupert in the dwelling house of James Farnsworth. From 1869 to 1872 Reverends Barsaux, Irvin, Shuneberger and Hertz conducted Evangelical services in the school-house. In September, 1884, the corner-stone of a Methodist Episcopal church was laid with appropriate ceremonies by Reverend G. W. Stevens, then pastor at Buck-horn. It was completed the following winter. Its general appearance is tasteful, substantial and attractive.
Source: Page(s) 256-263. History of Columbia and
Montour Counties. Battle, J.H., Chicago: A. Warner, 1887. Transcribed by Rosanna Whitenight.