Chapter XV - Madison and Pine Townships
History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania
This township embraces that part of Columbia county west of Little Fishing creek and Pine township, north of Hemlock, east and south of the adjoining counties of Montour and Lycoming. A striking feature of the topography is the "divide," a continuation of a spur from the Muncy hills. It extends in a direction nearly parallel with the course of Little Fishing creek, and defines the basins of that stream and of the Chillisquaque. The latter here takes its rise, and flows in Madison, through the fertile Jerseytown valley. This is the only area of any extent in the county drained by a tributary of the "West Branch."
"Frozen Duck" is the literal meaning of the Indian designation, Chillisquaque. The contribution of this people to the history of the region about its source is not, however, confined to the single circumstance of bestowing upon it this name. The Indian trail from the "West Branch" to Nescopeck crossed the "divide" several miles above Jerseytown; on of the early surveys locates an Indian town about the point where Lycoming, Montour and Columbia meet, and therefore partly in Madison township; and even after the whites had begun to occupy the soil in considerable numbers, the savage clung tenaciously to a region that had once been a favorite hunting ground. A thrilling incident of their struggle for its possession, and one of the last outrages committed in the region was the murder of the Whitmoyer family.
In the year 1775 this family, with two others, the Billhimes and Wellivers, made their appearance at the head-waters of the Chillisquaque. All came from the region in New Jersey on the opposite side of the Delaware from Northampton county. In their journey they crossed eastern Pennsylvania to Harris' ferry, and followed the Susquehanna and "Frozen Duck" to the Jerseytown valley. Michael Billhime located on Muddy run, where he built a cabin and cleared six acres of land. Daniel Welliver fixed his residence on Whetstone run, an affluent of Little Fishing creek. The Whitmoyers settled a short distance west of Jerseytown. The dangers incident to frontier life were early realized by the Billhimes and Wellivers, who retired to a place of greater security; but their unfortunate neighbors remained in fancied and apparent safety. On a morning in the month of March, 1780, there was unusual stir at their solitary cabin. It was evident from the preparations made that certain members of the family were about to leave in order to establish a sugar camp and it would have been a happy circumstance if the departure of all had taken place. Some time during the day, a party of hostile savages passed through, leaving their rear traces of the tomahawk and firebrands. It is disputed whether three or five of the Whitmoyers were murdered. The son returned the following morning in quest of a needed utensil, or perchance with a premonition of the tragedy already enacted. Turning with a shudder from the melancholy spectacle which met his gaze, he fled in haste to Fort Augusta. The next day a party of rangers reached the spot and buried the dead. Their graves are still pointed out on the old road from Jerseytown to Washingtonville.
In the autumn of the same year, the Billhimes and Wellivers returned from New Jersey. They came by a route different from that taken on their previous journey. Following the Delaware some distance northward, and crossing the ranges of the Blue Ridge and Kittatinny in a north-westerly direction, the North Branch of the Susquehanna was reached through the Nescopeck Gap. Daniel Welliver was accompanied by three cousins, John, Adam and Christopher, and in course of time this family became numerously represented. The purchase of the latter included the site of Jerseytown. John located where the Whitmoyers had previously lived, and Christopher occupied an adjoining tract. Michael Billhime found his former residence in possession of a "squatter,: and was obliged to make a second clearing on Spruce creek. Joseph Hodge and Peter Brugler, former neighbors in Jersey, continued to be such by securing titles to contiguous surveys. In 1785 Thomas Pegg settled on the Chillisquaque tow miles south-west of Jerseytown. Three years later Phineas Barber became owner and occupant of a tract on the opposite side of that stream. The following year Hugh Watson became a resident of the vicinity. John Funston located one mile west of the village, and Evan Thomas about the same distance east on the Millville road, near the lands of Richard Demott, who had entered the region several years previous. Lewis Schuyler, and ex-revolutionary soldier, came to the neighborhood in 1794, and permanently fixed his residence in the valley of Spruce creek five years later. This seems to have been regarded as a desirable locality, for in 1794 Jacob Swisher, and in 1796 George Runyon also became residents here. The former was appointed justice of the peace by Governor Snyder, and continued in that capacity until the office became elective. Other early settlers were James Laird, Thomas Laird, John Smith, Henry Kitchen and Hugh McCollum. The trials and inconveniences of this pioneer community were lessened to each of its members in being shared by all. A mitigating circumstance was the fact that the larger proportion of families represented had previously resided in Sussex county, New Jersey, and there formed acquaintance of each other. Those who were not among the first to enter the region did not on their arrival have the feelings of "strangers, in a strange land." They were constrained to leave Sussex by gratifying report of a fertile soil and equable climate at the frontier settlement, which appropriately bore the name of their native state.
From a comparison of the dates above given with the time at which other portions of Columbia county received settlement, it appears that Madison is on of the earliest settled townships north of the Susquehanna. A person considering the relative value of the river land and the Jerseytown valley at the present day, would doubtless conclude that this order should have been reversed. The comparison in 1780, however, was between the swampy, malarial region near the mouth of Fishing creek, and the healthful, undulating, and well watered hill country further north. At this period, and to a certain extent since, the quality of the timber was regarded as a criterion of the quality of the soil. At Sussex, in Jersey, the best lands were invariably covered with luxuriant forests of pine and oak. The natural inference from this circumstance explains the priority of settlement and improvement at localities which would not now be regarded as preferable. The indefinitely increasing value of the river lands between Fishing and Briar creeks, and the growth of a thriving town contiguous to an apparently irreclaimable swamp, were contingencies which no foresight could then determine. Jerseytown valley was not exempt from the ubiquitous operations of the land speculator. The class of individuals which originally owned the larger portion of its area secured their titles without the remotest idea of ever becoming resident proprietors'. In the immediate vicinity of the village William Wilson, John Rogers, Jasper Yeates and Benjamin Humphreys were the warrantees. One of the most singularly shaped surveys ever recorded in the land office was that of Joseph Codd. In proof of its irregular form it may be stated that thirty-four corners and ten adjoining surveys are mentioned in a description of its boundaries. Some of the first settlers secured titles from the warrantees; others "squatted" on the land, and were not disturbed in its possession. The notorious carelessness and indifference of the latter with regard to its ownership have resulted in legal complications which might otherwise have been avoided. There was not, however, any apparent fear of defective titles to discourage settlement. The population increased; the opening of a road from Bloom to Muncy, and of another from Berwick to Milton, both of which passed through this region, gave a new impetus to the improvement of lands and farm buildings.
The growth of population called for a separation from the old and extensive township of Derry. Accordingly at the April sessions, 1817, of the Columbia county court at Danville, the new township of Madison was erected and its organization ordered. The president of that name was just completing his second term. The compliment thus bestowed indicates the political faith of those who conferred it. The democratic majorities in the township through a series of years would seem to signify hereditary tendencies in the expression of political preferences. The complexion of the township in this respect has not been changed by the reduction of an area originally including Pine and part of West Hemlock to its present limits.
The stage line from Bloom to Muncy in the years immediately following received a fair degree of patronage. At the former point it connected with other lines for Reading, Sunbury and Wilkesbarre. The Muncy hills and the valley at their base may have been a pleasant region to traverse in summer and autumn; but this was amply compensated by the almost impassable condition of the road in winter and spring. The wheels of the vehicle sank in the mire to their hubs. When further progress became impossible, the impatient passengers alighted unceremoniously, and gave vent to their feelings in vigorous and energetic efforts to assist the team in surmounting the obstacle. Sometimes the coach obstinately refused to move, and a fence rail was hastily improvised as a lever to pry the wheels from the mud. When this was ultimately accomplished, the journey could be pursued until an occurrence of a similar character relieved its monotony.
The village of Jerseytown reached its present proportions during the most prosperous period of stage travel. The first store in the township was opened by John Funston on the site now occupied by Conrad Kreamer, and formed a nucleus for subsequent growth. Evan Thomas was the first blacksmith and hotel proprietor of the place. Jacob McCollum began the manufacture of leather in 1826; Hugh McCollum succeeded to the business in 1856 and E. W. McCollum became proprietor twenty years later. James Masters, who settled on Spruce creek in 1788, built the first saw-mill in this section and operated the first carding machine north of Danville. No grist-mill has ever existed in Madison as none of its numerous streams affords adequate or reliable motive power. Besides the tannery above the mentioned Jerseytown comprises about forty dwellings, two stores, a church building and school- house.
The predecessor of the latter was the first of that character in this region. The school opened here in 1799 was taught by Mr. Wilson. In 1810 Thomas Lane opened another in a dwelling on the land of Leonard Kisner. A third opened in 1815 where the Reformed church has since been built, and a fourth, conducted in the eastern part of the township, completed the number of early schools.
Organized religious bodies appeared in Madison at a later period than the schools just noted. Many of the early settlers, the Demotts, Runyans, Hulits, Hodges, Wellivers and Swishers were members of the Baptist society, and retained their religious preferences in their new homes. September 27, 1817, Elders John Wolverton of Shamokin, Smiley of White Deer, and Simeon Coombs of Middleboro, Massachusetts, organized the Little Muncy (Madison) Baptist church in the union meeting house of Moreland. This society is one of the oldest within the present limits of the Northumberland Baptist Association. Its representatives at the formation of that body in 1821 were Henry Clark and Silas E. Shepard, pastors; James Moore, Richard Demott, James Hulit and Powel Bird, lay delegates. In 1845 the Madison church edifice was erected. Elder Clark remained in charge until 1829; his successors were J. Green Miles, Joseph B. Morris, Henry Essick, A. B. Runyan, Henry C. Munro and R. M. Hunsicker.
In 1826 the German element of the population erected a church building on the exact site of a structure in which the Reformed congregation now worships. Many of those connected with this body reside in the adjoining township of Hemlock. Reverend Jacob Dieffenbach organized "Heller" church about 1820; among his successors were Daniel S. Tobias, Henry Funk and William Goodrich.
The Methodist and English Lutheran denominations were the last to secure representation in the township. The Jerseytown appointment of the former is connected with the Washingtonville circuit. A house of worship was erected in 1832. Vandine Lutheran church was organized in 1869 by Reverend George Eicholtz of Lairdsville, Lycoming county. A building for religious services was erected in the following year. Reverends Miller, Bodine, Battersby and Hutchison have successively preached at this place.
The extreme northern and western parts of Columbia county comprise an extent of surface drained by Fishing and Green creeks. The chief features of this region are the mountains and foot-hills in which numerous tributary streams find their source. That part of this district adjoining Lycoming county, and bounded on the south and east by Little Fishing Creek, is embraced in the political division the name of which appears at the head of this chapter. Although possessing the general characteristics of the entire sections, Pine township has peculiarities distinctively its own. The Muncy hills and their forests of waving hemlock and pine overshadow apparently insignificant streams and shallow water courses which have, by centuries of constant attrition, deeply seamed their ribs of rock. The picturesque and diversified character of the landscape is presented in a most favorable aspect when the last rays of the setting sun gild the clouds above the horizon and infinite variety of contour, elevation and color - the frame of a picture of wooded hills, verdant slopes and winding brooks scarcely less beautiful.
Natural beauty of scenery, although desirable, was not an essential feature of a prospective agricultural region. It was its economic resources, a fertile soil and the growth of timber to indicate it, that engrossed the interest of the farmer, or attracted his attention. Thus neglected by the class of persons known as permanent settlers, that part of Columbia county to the northwest of the headwaters of Little Fishing creek remained a wilderness long after the adjoining valleys of Jersytown and Greenwood had been marked by the presence of an aggressive and enterprising population.
During this period, however, it was not unknown nor entirely unoccupied. The deer, panther and bear, here found a secure retreat; and even here they were eventually pursued by hunters of undoubted bravery, prominent among whom appears the name of Peter Brugler. It appears that he removed from New Jersey to Spruce creek for the sole purpose of gratifying a decided predilection for the enjoyment of the chase. He discovered the deer-lick above Sereno which bears his name, and kept the matter secret for some years. Not content with this as his exclusive property, he "salted" the earth at a locality more accessible, and so well imitated the natural deposit as to completely deceive the deer. On one occasion a companion had a narrow escape from death in an encounter with a panther. He had emptied the contents of his gun into the animal's flank, but this only served to make it more furious. The hunter had only time to relaod before the brute sprang toward him and seized the end of the rifle barrel between his teeth. At this instant it was discharged and took effect in his throat. The iron was perceptibly indented by the death grip of his teeth. The reminiscences of a farmer in the vicinity of Millville present some curious incidents of his experience at a later period, when wild animals had been partially exterminated. He rode into the brush one evening in search of his cows, which had failed to return at their usual hour. On a rising ground beside Little Fishing creek he found the herds with erect heads and dilated nostrils, apparently in great fright and about to stampede. At a short distance from the rest stood one of the number with his head firmly planted against a tree, bellowing furiously. It was discovered that in this position he held the body of a wolf in which signs of life were not extinct, but which was speedily dispatched by a blow from a cudgel in the hands of the farmer.
Beside the patrons of gun and rod the hills of Pine were visited by the shingle makers from Muncy, who built lodges in the forest but made no effort at improvement and cultivation. The first work of this kind was reserved for John Lyon, a native of Sussex county, New Jersey. Emigrating to Greenwood in 1796 he remained there until six years later, when he crossed the Muncy hills to their summit, the region known as the pine "flats." At this place, on the land now owned by Jeremiah Fowler, he made the first improvement in the township. In the course of a few years he was followed from Greenwood by David Hamilton and Daniel Whipple, who settled some distance above Sereno. Hamilton's cabin was on the site of a bark-house at James Ritchie's tannery. The next comers were Joshua and Samuel Davis, with their families, originally from the same region in Jersey as Lyon. They built the first saw-mill in Pine township, on the same site as the present one at Sereno. Subsequently Jno. Thomas built another on Little Fishing creek, and these two mills did all the sawing that was done in Pine at an early day. Much of the timber was merely cut into logs and rafted down the creeks and the Susquehanna to Harrisburg and Marietta. There are neither adequate shipping facilities nor reliable water-power to justify the establishment of an extensive lumber manufactory, and hence the population of Pine has not been materially benefited by the development of its timber resources. In 1853 Henry Battin built the California mill, and about the same time Zebulon Robbins embarked in a similar enterprise. The latter bought three-hundred acres of land formerly embraced in a track of several thousand acres owned by Fredrick Veates.
He was a member of a corporation known as the Asylum Land Company, which owned the larger portion of Pine township. To evade the requirements and restrictions of the land laws, warrants were obtained for the prescribed four-hundred acre tracts, although the real owners were members of this powerful syndicate of speculators. These warrants were issued December 29, 1792; the names that appear most frequently among the list of holders are Montgomery, Cornelison, McHenry, Giffin, Mackey, Sample and Strawbridge. Some of this land has never been patented. However, under the management of the company which first acquired possession, no conflicting titles or boundary disputed involving any great interest have ever resulted in consequence.
At the time when William Montgomery as deputy surveyor was marking off these tracts, the region was included in Derry township, Northumberland county, from 1817 to 1853, in Madison, in Columbia. By act of assembly approved January 15 of that year, the township of Pine was erected, its boundaries fixed and its organization ordered as one of the provisions of the act providing for a readjustment of the division line between Columbia and Montour counties. The new feature of the political organization of the former was not however, entirely resultant from the division process. The geographical isolation of that part of Madison, thus separated from it, and the numerical minority of its citizens when voting on questions of roads or schools had created a wish for the change some years previous.
Since this time (1853) the village of Warnersville has not perceptibly increased in size. It practically began in 1837 with the erection of a tannery by Edward Ritchie, which is still in operation. During Buchanan's administration the post-office (named Sereno at the suggestion of John Starr) was removed to Iola; but in 1861 Francis B. Masters, the present postmaster reopened it. The village comprises a store, several dwellings and a school-house. In the predecessor of the later, John Masters, in 1830, opened the first school in Pine. The schools in the township compare favorable with those in more thickly settles localities.
Iola Lodge, No. 711, Free and Accepted Masons, was organized at Iola July 5, 1870, by C. F. Knapp and others, members of Van Camp Lodge at Bloomsburg. The charter members were Wilson M. Eves, N. G.; John Lore, V. G.; John Leggatt, treasurer; William Burgess, secretary; W. H. Hayman, assistant secretary; Ira C. Pursel, S. W.; Isaac K. Titman, J. W.; William Lowton, O. G.; Benjamin Lore, L. S. S.; Amos Harlan, R. S. S. It was removed to Pine Summit, October 1, 1881, at the dispensation of the Grand Lodge. The present officers are Samuel Williams, William Kingston, J. R. Fowler and J. F. Crist.
St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran church was organized in 1879 by Reverend N. A. Whitman; May 4, 1880, a house of worship was dedicated by O. D. S. Marcley, his successor. The officers at this time were John Bruner, P. W. Sones, Samuel Eckman and A. E. Girton. Owing to a change of faith among its members the congregation disbanded. At this time, September, 1886, there is no regularly organized religious body in Pine township.
264-269. History of Columbia and Montour Counties. Battle, J.H.,
Chicago: A. Warner, 1887. Transcribed by Terri Cook.