Chapter XVII - Mifflin Township
History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania
This township was erected in 1799, in the last term of Thomas Mifflin's incumbency as governor of the state. It was one of the two political divisions south of the Susquehanna embraced in Columbia county at the time of its formation, and was originally formed from the eastern portion of Catawissa. By an act of assembly approved March 3, 1818, part of this territory was annexed to Schuylkill county. Practically, however, Mifflin was reduced to its present limited area by the erection of Maine and Beaver in 1844 and 1845, respectively. It extends from the Susquehanna to the summit of Nescopeck mountain, and adjoins Luzerne county on the east. The foot-hills of the Nescopeck range extend in a south-westerly direction from the mouth of the stream of that name to a point where they are intersected by Ten-Mile creek. The triangular area of level land between the base of these hills and the river is known as Mifflin "flats".
The date of the earliest settlement in this region cannot be definitely determined. There were some families here in 1779 who were probably recent settlers at that time. One of these families were murdered by a band of hostile Indians in this year, and their more fortunate neighbors fled across the river to Fort Jenkins for protection. Whether they returned is unknown. The last Indian tragedy in this region occurred about the year 1785, and was perpetrated by a party of savages on their way to New York state. A family of three - father, mother and son - were murdered on the Mifflin "flats". They had pushed some distance ahead of the body of immigrants with which they traveled, and who, upon reaching the summit of the hill on the following day, saw the smoke from the cabin and retired to Catawissa. Returning in a few days they buried the dead in one grave. It appears that a neighbor of the unfortunate family, with a presentiment of danger, crept into a potato-hole or cave cellar for protection; in the dead of the night he came out to reconnoiter, and found the savages sleeping on the floor of his cabin. He retreated to his asylum and was not discovered. Of the subsequent permanent settlement the first families came after the close of the war, and included the families names of Creasy, Angle, Gruver, Aten, Kirkendall, Brown, Koder, Bowman and Kern. All these families came from Warren county, New Jersey, a section that gave to Columbia county many of its best citizens in the earlier years of its history. Those who appeared first followed the Reading road to Catawissa, and from that point made their way over the river hills. At a later period the journey was made by way of Beaver meadows and the Sugar-Loaf across the Buck, Broad and Nescopeck mountains. The river "bottoms," now acknowledged to exceed in fertility another part of the township, were regarded by the pioneers as pine "barrens". They turned from them to the surrounding hilly region, well watered and covered with a luxuriant growth of timber.
Nicholas Angle located on Ten-Mile run* a mile from its source. Westward, at the base of Nescopeck mountain, Paul Gruver made an improvement, and in his neighborhood Thomas Aten and Jacob Schweppenheiser also settled. The latter built the first saw-mill in the township on a branch of Ten-Mile creek. On the ridge above this stream were the Creasys, John and David Brown and the Kirkendalls. John brown, Sr., in 1793 located in the valley of the creek on a tract of four hundred acres purchased by his father for twelve dollars an acre. It included the Brown mill property, the Frymire and Snyder farms.
A considerable German element from Berks and Lehigh counties appeared subsequent to the arrival of the families just mentioned. Among the number the Hartzels, Mostellers, Zimmermans and Mensingers are still represented.
In August, 1794, John Kunchel and William Rittenhouse laid out a town on the Mifflin "flats," and conferred upon the name of Pennsylvania's first governor. The original draft describes it as, "situate on the south side of the river Susquehanna, opposite the three islands in Catawissa township, Northumberland county, about thirty miles above Sunbury, and the same distance below Wilkesbarre." The last part of this description is significant. The erection of Northumberland county in 1772 and of Luzerne in 1786, with their seats of justice sixty miles apart, made it probable that the formation of a county from the adjacent parts of each would be eventually necessary, and these enterprising founders, taking time by the fore-lock, sought to emphasize the eligibility of Mifflinsburg as the county seat of the future. While the population of the township was receiving constant additions in rapid successsion, the town of Mifflinsburg increased in size with a slowness which characterized the growth of other places in this section at the period.
The floods of nearly a century have gradually but effectually denuded the islands of their once fertile soil, leaving a barren sand-bar to mark the location of each. At this point the course of the river is slightly curved away from the "flats," and the bank is steep and high. Front and First street extended along the river a distance of one mile. Market crosses it at a right-angle and extends the same distance through the center of town. In the rear of Front are four parallel streets, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth. Ferry street is above Market, at the eastern limit of the town plot. West street forms the opposite boundary. Market and third are one-hundred and thirty-two feet wide. Their intersection formed the publis square, in which an acre of ground was reserved as locations for houses of worship. The public spirit of the proprietors was further manifested by appropriating two lots on Third for the respective locations of a German and an English college. Neither of these institutions ever progressed further than this incipient state, if we except a school opened in 1794 by David Jones in a hut which stood among the scrub oak and pine beyond the limits of the prospective town.
The first house in the village was built by Peter Yohe, a German from Berks county, and occupied a lot adjoining Hess hotel. It is said that before his first crop had matured, being reduced to the last extremity for food he went to Wilkesbarre in a canoe, and there procured a bushel of corn. It may be inferred from this circumstance that he entered the region at a very early date. Other old houses stood at the south-west corner of Race and Third, on Market between Front and Second, and on Front above market. Their respective occupants were John Reynolds, Christian Kunchels and Michael Wehr. The landing of the ferry was some distance above its present location. Raftsmen on the river frequently replenished their supplies of rum and provisions at the hotel of Matthias Heller, on Front street. Subsequently, Jacob Harman built another public house a short distance from the site of the present one and here opened the first store in the township. About the year 1825 Clement Millard, M. D., a native of Philadelphia and nephew of Dr. Benjamin Rush, located in the town as its first regular physician.
The sagacity of the proprietors in locating it midway between Sunbury and Wilkesbarre, and in making generous provision for religious and educational instructions could not compensate for its commercial disadvantages. So apparent was this, that no attempt was made to attempt their original design when the new county was eventually erected. In 1808 an unsuccessful effort was made to induce the projectors of the Mauch Chunk and Towanda turnpike to locate its course through the town. The "North Branch" canal might have conferred substantial benefit on the place had it not been constructed on the opposite side of the river. To reap the greatest advantages from the line of traffic, Captain Yants proposed the erection of a bridge, and with characteristic promptness and energy secured subscriptions to the amount of some thousands of dollars. Although a comparatively small amount in additional would have secured an appropriation from the legislature, the enterprise was never consummated.
Failing to realize any pecuniary benefit from the town, the proprietors ceased to exercise any supervision over its affairs. Many of the lots were occupied and improved without any formal purchase and are held to this day under no tenure save the right of possession. The streets and commons originally embraced one hundred acres. Many of the citizens curtailed the width of the streets by appropriating for cultivation those portions adjoining their lots. To such an extent had this been carried that in some places the publics ways were scarcely wide enough for the passage of a single vehicle. Such proceedings demanded a vigorous protest from the conservative element of the population. Accordingly on the evening of Saturday, march 28, 1835 thirty one citizens assembled in the school house to take into consideration the propriety of opening the streets. Captain S. B. M. Yants was called to the chair, and Benjamin Seidle, Samuel Harman and Charles Hess were elected to town committee for a period of six years. They were empowered to take measures for re-survey of the town, to rent the public lots, and to call meetings of the citizens. Though not regarded as a legally constituted body, these town committees have never been opposed in the exercise of their prerogatives. After five days' work in locating the corners of the streets, Ezra E. Hayhurst, the surveyor, produces a plat of the town in which the original wide streets and broad commons were again a prominent feature.
With no facilities for transportation until the construction of the North and West Branch railroad, Mifflinville has not been a desirable point for the location of industrial enterprises. On a small scale the manufacturer of blasting powder was begun in 1855 by Matthew Brown and Samuel Snyder. Their mill had been in operation but three days when an explosion completely shattered the building and machinery. Such occurrences, from their frequency eventually ceased to attract attention. The old stamping process was here used. The product found a ready sale in coal regions of the state; but the manufacture has been abandoned, having ceased to be profitable since the opening of works on a larger scale at other points. Contrary to the wishes of its citizens, the railroad station has been given the name of Creasy. The town comprises one hundred houses, six stores,a commodious school building and three church edifices. At Zion church, some distance in the countyr, an Evangelical congregation meets for worship. Considering the provision made for buildings of this latter character, it is a matter of surprise that more religious societies have not gained a footing.
The Lutheran and Reformed congregations were the first to avail themselves of the generosity of the proprietors. April 19, 1809, articles of agreement for the erection of a union church building were signed by their respective representatives. It was begun the same year, but not completed until four years later. Among those who have ministered to the Reformed congregation may be mentioned Reverends Dieffenbach, Shellhammer, Tobias, Hoffman, Huttenstein and Dechant. The Lutheran congregation was organized in 1809 by Reverend John Paul Ferdinand Kramer. His predecessor, Reverend Shelhardt, was one of the pioneers of his church in the Susquehanna valley. The Wolf, Hetler, Creasy, Brown and Gruver families formed the first organization. Its successive pastors were Reverends Kessler and Schindle; Isaiah Bahl from 1830 to 1862; William Fox from that date until 1868; S. S. Henry, the succeeding four years; Thomas Steck from 1873 to 1879; and J. P. German in charge since August 1, 1883, and dedicated it December 2 of the same year. During the winter of 1859-60, as a result of radical differences of opinion regarding certain points of doctrine and discipline, a portion of the German Lutheran congregation separated from it and organized an English Lutheran church. Reverend E. A. Sharrets has been succeeded by Henry R. Fleck, David Truckenmiller, William E. Krebs, M. V. Shadow and J. E. F. Hassinger, the present pastor. A neat brick structure erected in 1860 has since then been used as a house of worship.
About the time the German element was establishing a church home, Methodist services were held in the house of Samuel Brown, and when the growing number of adherents to this faith could no longer congregate here, in the barn of henry Bowman. In 1819 Samuel Brown built a small frame house near the burial ground of his family. A gallery extended around three sides of the interior, and was reached by ascending a ladder; the pulpit had the appearance of a bird's nest affixed to the wall some distance above the floor. It was scarcely large enough to contain the portly form of Reverend Marmaduke Pearce, but as this was one of the few appointments on his curcuit with any house of worship whatever, he cheerfully submitted to this inconvenience. A frame church building erected in Mifflinville in 1831 was used for Methodist services during the following thirty years. In 1861 it was replaced by the house of worship now occupied. This congregation is connected with the Danville district of the Central Pennsylvania conference.
The South Mifflin Mills were erected in 1869 by George Nungesser, who conducted them until 1881, since which time they have been operated by William J. Nungesser. The mills are equipped with three run buhrs, and have a capacity of grinding 100 bushels of grain per day, and are supplied with water from Ten-Mile creek, which flows by the mill. The building is 36 X 45 feet, and three stories in height.
* The name of this stream has no reference to its length. When the hill road from Catawissa was surveyed, ten miles had just been completed upon ascending the hill. The propriety of the name is thus explained.
SOURCE: Page(s)286-291. History of Columbia and
Montour Counties. Battle, J.H., Chicago: A. Warner, 1887. Transcribed by Tina