Chapter XXI - Locust Township
History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania
The erection of Locust grew out of the controversy regarding the boundary between Columbia and Montour counties. As at first defined Montour embraced nearly the whole of Roaringcreek township. But by a re-adjustment of the division line in 1853, Roaringcreek township, in Montour, became Scott, in Columbia. By this name it was known for about one month, when, by act of assembly dated April 18, 1853, the name was changed to Locust. It is one of the eight townships originally embraced in Catawissa, when it was part of Northumberland county.
In the year 1768 the proprietary government acquired the title to all the northeastern section of the state, the southern limit of this purchase in Columbia county being nearly identical with the southern boundary of Locust township. The earliest warrants for surveys in this section were issued the following year. In these early records this region is mentioned as the valley of Roaring creek, in Augusta township, Berks county. From the older settlements of Maiden creek, Exeter and Reading, within the present limits of that county, the early Quaker settlers, after weeks of toilsome travel, reached the wilderness of Roaring creek. Their first point was Harris' ferry; from here the journey was continued, partly by water and partly by land, to Catawissa, which was practically their destination.
Warrants for surveys in this township were early issued in rapid succession, but there were comparatively few actual resident patentees until after the revolution. On the cessation of hostilities, however, the increased quiet and securIty of the frontier is indicated by the coming of many more families in 1785 than in any previous year. Among those now in the township were the Siddons, Bonsalls, Whiteheads, Hughes, Lees, Williams, Millards and Starrs.
Their names are not even locally remembered. In their pronounced opposition to all ostentation, they would not suffer the erection of a marble slab to perpetuate their memory. But in the early development of this fertile valley they have written a history of untiring toil for which few of them every received any adequate return.
Pioneer life in this section was not devoid of adventure. To the labor of redeeming the waste places there was added the fear of wild beasts and still 302 wilder men. An occurrence that created wide-spread interest at the time, was the disappearance of Alexander McCauley. He came from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1771, and settled in Beaver valley three years later. Fearing an Indian raid, his wife and three older daughters returned to Harris' ferry. They were followed in the fall by Mr. McCauley, his youngest daughter, Jeannie, and her brother, still younger. In 1783 they returned to the farm. In the autumn of that year his horses strayed away, and he followed then through the woods into what is now Locust township. At a house near Roaring creek he obtained information which induced him to continue the search. He was never again seen. Twenty-five years afterward, twenty Spanish dollars and a number of silver buttons were found in a deep ravine near Bear Gap. He was known to have carried such money, but any connection between his disappearance and this discovery can only be a matter of conjecture.
In 1769 Samuel Mears arrived at Philadelphia and settled near Valley Forge. In the winter of 1777-78 several American officers were quartered at his house, and General Washington was a frequent visitor. June 6, 1787 he secured from the commonwealth a patent for land in the Roaring creek valley, and at once removed thither. In March, 1794, his eldest son, Alexander Mears, was married to Jeannie McCauley, who as a young girl has been mentioned as descending the Susquehanna eleven years before. The bridal party left the house of William Collins near Catawissa, and rode on horseback to the prospective home of Mr. and Mrs. Mears. The ceremony was here performed, and was duly celebrated after the manner of the olden time. It was one of the first marriages within the present limits of Locust township. Catawissa being the residence of the notary, and place of meeting for the Quakers, seems to have had a monopoly of these interesting occasions.
The first roads were merely bridle-paths from house to house, converging to a rough wagon track leading to Catawissa. This was the only point from which supplies were to be obtained. That only a minimum quanitity was needed is readily apparent when it is remembered that only home-spun was worn, and that the style of living was as simple as the avowed religious character of the people could make it.
About the year 1798 Samuel Cherington, mill-wright of Maiden creek erected a grist-mill and saw-mill for Thomas Linville on the site of the present one at Slabtown. It was the first in the present limits of the township, and was a great boon to the people.
Shortly afterward he built a grist-mill for Nathan Lee on the site of one now operated by Jeremiah Snyder. The machinery for this mill was brought from Philadelphia. The money was carefully stowed in two wooden boxes, which were concealed between the linings of a wagon-top and thus taken to the city. This was the largest mill in the whole region. During an extremely cold winter just before the war of 1812, people resorted to it from all directions, as its strong water-power enabled it to continue after the ice had compelled others to stop. But at last it too stood still. Then Nathan Lee resolved on an expedient of which, too late, he saw the folly. He placed a mass of straw around The water-wheels, and hoped, by firing it, to release them from their icy fetters. In one hour his mill and its bins of grain and meal were reduced to ashes. It almost resulted in a famine.
About the time that these mills were built, and during the decade following, there was an influx of people from the same old county of Berks, but differing widely from the Quakers who preceded them. They were Germans, some of whom had but recently come to this country, and by several years of service in the lower counties were obliged to redeem their passage money before going farther. They entered the Roaring creek country by a road just opened from Reading northward across the mountains. This was a shorter route, but not an easy one by any means. Many of these people at once became proprietors. The price of land had appreciated from the twenty-five cents per acre, paid by the original patentees, to eight or ten dollars for cultivated land. The German element rapidly supplanted the Quaker, and has retained its predominance to the present day.
The road from Reading did not cease to be useful when the emigrants' load of goods and small drove of domestic animals had passed over it. It forthwith became his road to market; and Reading, on the Schuylkill river and canal, superseded Catawissa and Sunbury as the "town" for this section. Great covered wagons loaded with grain and corn wound slowly over the mountains. Twenty bushels of wheat were load enough for two horses. The journey to Reading and return required eight or ten days. The price of wheat was five shillings (sixty-two and one-half cents) per bushel.
About the year 1817 a sum of money was appropriated to improve the Reading road. Then a local strife of much bitterness ensued regarding its course in this township. Caspar Rhoads finally induced the viewers to decide on the upper road, which passed his hotel. The amount appropriated was not yet exhausted, and the lower road was also graded, to the satisfaction of all parties. A line of stage-coaches appeared in 1825, Joseph Weaver being proprietor. Benjamin Potts started an opposition line in 1839, and for some years both changed at Yeager's hotel in Slabtown. The opening of the Catawissa rail-road rendered them no longer profitable, and they were soon afterward discontinued.
The improvement of this Reading road led to the opening of the only manufacturing industry of any magnitude that has ever existed in Locust township. Directly after its completion, Esther furnace was built by Samuel Bittler. It was situated on land originally patented to Samuel Shakespear under date of August 17, 1773. The tract was located "on Roaring creek, nineteen miles from Fort Augusta," now Sunbury. David Shakespear inherited the land, and died in Newcastle county, Delaware. John Harland, as his executor, deeded it to Jacob Yocum, from whom it passed to the Bittlers. There was neither iron ore nor limestone in the vicinity, but an abundant supply of wood for charcoal, and a location near the Reading road were thought to compensate for these disadvantages. The bulk of the ore was carted from the Fishing creek valley. The articles at first manufactured were stoves, and the first cast-iron plows used in the region. Subsequently it was enlarged and leased successively to Trego & Co., Lloyd Thomas, and Fincher & Thomas. The opening of a canal along the Susquehanna made Catawissa the shipping point, and rendered the location less advantageous.
In 1845 Samuel Diemer became lesee and in 1861 proprietor. From him it has passed successively to John Richards, John Thomas, D. J. Waller, Sr., and Caspar Thomas, and is now owned by Jacob Schuyler and J. B. Robison. A crumbling wall, overgrown with bushes, marks the place where the last blast was taken off twenty years ago.
About the year 1840 a new element, the Welsh, make its appearance in Locust township. Among the families were the Watkins, Evans, Humphreys, Reeses and Joneses. They bought farms with money brought from Wales; but after building a church many of them removed to the west and Canada.
The character of the early settlers of Locust townhship, its exclusively agricultural resources and the absence of any rail-road, have not favored the growth of towns. A small village, however, clustered around each of its old hotels; but since the stream of travel over the Reading road has been diverted in other directions, their growth has ceased, the erection of a new house, or opening of a new store occurring only at long intervals, as the clearing of the forests and increase of population required.
The village of Slabtown was the first to receive a name. When Thomas Linvill began to saw lumber for the first houses, a few sheds were built of rough boards several rods above the mill. The name was suggested by their novel appearance, and is retained by the village that has succeeded them. Linvill bought his land from the Penroses, who secured it from James Lukens, and John Pemberton, the original patentees. Lukens also sold a part of his tract to Andrew Trone, who built a log-house about the year 1797, a short time before the saw-mill was built. He opened a tavern at once, but in 1804 sold it to John Yeager, who continued as landlord for many years.
At that time Catawissa was the post-office for all this region. At Slabtown however, there were postal facilities which were both appreciated and patronized by the farmers of the vicinity. In front of Yeager's hotel, a box with a sliding lid was fastened to a post. Persons going to Catawissa would look over its contents and take with them the out-going "mail;" on their return they would deposit what they had received at Catawissa in the box, retaining whatever was addressed to themselves, or to persons whom they would see on the road home. Everybody had access to the box. This postal service was perfect it its simplicity, but its workings were hardly free from friction, unless the prying propensities of human nature have but recently been developed. The appointment of John Yeager as a post-master and of a regular weekly carrier, did not immediately result in entirely discontinuing the old way of distributing the mail. About the year 1847 the post office was removed to the rival village of Numidia; but in 1855 it was again opened, and has been continued ever since under the name of Roaringcreek. The village at present embraces about a dozen substantial houses, a store, hotel, school-house and church. Yeager's tannery has been in successful operation since 1837. The Roaring creek is here spanned by an iron bridge, built in 1874, at a cost of one-thousand, five-hundred dollars.
Shortly after Andrew Trone built his hotel on Roaring creek, Caspar Rhoads built another about two miles father south, on the upper Reading road. Samuel Cherington subsequently built the mill now owned by William Snyder. The place has been known as Kernville since 1840, when John Kern became proprietor of the village hotel. July 12, 1884, the post-office of Newlin was established, but this new name has not yet entirely superseded the older one in popular use.
Caspar Rhoads succeeded in having one course of the Reading road opened past his property, but the stage driver obstinately persisted in preferring the other. That the family might yet share in the profits of this travel, Isaac Rhoads, his son, in 1832 became landlord of a public-house on the lower road built three years previous by Benjamin Williams. The half-dozen houses built around it have since been known as Rhoadstown. A post-office under this name was here opened from 1855 to 1864, when it was removed to Numidia.
The latter village is geographically nearest the center of the township, surrounded by the finest farms of the Roaring creek valley. It is situated on land originally patented to Nathan Lee; and it was his son-in-law, Peter Kline, who built the first house in the village. It was situated on the ground now occupied by Dr. Wintersteen's garden. In 1832 a store was opened in this hotel. It was not the first in the township, however, as one had been kept by John Yeager at Slabtown, five years previous. About the year 1835 Elijah Price laid out the town and changed the name from Leestown to New Media. Subsequently Anthony Dengler built the present hotel and store. By his energetic efforts the post-office was removed to Numidia from Slabtown In 1847; the local strife was renewed at frequent intervals, and in 1855 the office for the southern part of the township was removed to Rhoadstown. It was again opened at Numidia in 1864, and has since remained there.
A knowledge of the principles of Odd-Fellowship, gained from members of the order in other places, led to the formation of a branch of the society in Numidia. Good Will Lodge, I. O. O. F., was chartered April 17, 1847, but this charter was destroyed by fire and another issued four years later. George R. Craig, N. G.; Henry Apple, V. G.; Harmon Fahringer, secretary, and Christian Small, treasurer, are the present officers of the society. The lodge erected a hall some years ago at a cost of one-thousand dollars. This hall was also used by another society until its meetings were discontinued a few years since. Camp No. 204, Patriotic Order Sons of America, was chartered December 13, 1873. The twelve original members were D. N. Bachman, Joseph C. Knittle, William H. Morris, John Fetterman, John Gable, William H. Billig, David Fetterman, Charles W. Fisher, John H. Helwig, Albert Sevan, J. H. Vastine, Daniel Morris, Franklin Fetterman and Harmon Fahringer.
Numidia comprises a number of comfortable homes, and a store, hotel, carriage-shop and smithy the usual and necessary features of a country village.
The Quaker pioneers of this region were characterized by a simplicity of life which permitted a few wants their own efforts failed to supply; but, however well contented they may have been with the natural wealth of forest and farm, their industry was rapidly developing; they had a desire for general intelligence among their children which was never to any extent gratified. As soon as their numbers had so increased as to tender it necessary, they erected a school-building and employed a teacher. The school-house was situated on the road from Newlin to Slabtown, near where the old Friends' meeting-house stands. William Hughes was one of the first teachers. In 1796 the school passed to the care of the Catawissa monthly meeting of Friends, by whom it was continued for twelve years.
The German population did not seem so desirous of continuing this school as the Quakers had been to secure it. However, they patronized the meeting-house school, which was subsequently taught by James Miller, and also others which had meanwhile been opened at Slabtown, Kerntown and Esther Furnace. Among the early teachers were Joseph Stokes, Alexander Mears, Joseph Hughes, Isaac Maish and a Mr. Crist.
In 1839 the public school question was voted upon, having been previously submitted to the people several times. The result was the establishment of public-schools, accomplished, it is said, by a majority of only one vote. Nine buildings for school purposes were erected that year in the districts known as Numidia, Beaver, Miller, Fisher, Wynn, Leiby, Eck, Deily and Furnace. This number has since been increased to thirteen. All the present buildings are in good repair; many of them are furnished with a degree of comfort, care and taste in strong contrast with the forbidding, neglected appearance of their earlier predecessors.
The first church-building, as well as the first school-house, was erected by the Quakers. It was built in 1796 on land adjoining their school-building. The Exeter monthly meeting granted them permission to hold weekly meetings at least ten years previous; subsequently a preparative meeting was established, which in 1796 became part of Catawissa monthly meeting, and was known as the Roaringcreek preparative. In 1802 Amos Armitage was appointed overseer of this meeting in place of Joseph Hampton, who had held the office for some time. December 24, 1803, John Hughes and Thomas Linvill were appointed to assist Isaac Wiggins in the care and education of certain poor children of deceased Friends. December 12, 1804, Thomas Penrose succeeded Amos Armitage as overseer. The latter, with Job Hughes, Isaac Penrose, James Hughes and Samuel Siddons removed to Pelham, Upper Canada, the following spring. Later in the same year Isaac Wiggins and Thomas Linvill removed to Yonge Street, Upper Canada, and John Lloyd to Shortcreek, Ohio. February 2, 1808, Bezaleel Hayhurst succeeded to the office of overseer. In the same year he, with Thomas Penrose and Jeremaiah Hughes, was appointed trustee to succeed Isaac Wiggins and Jacob Strahl. The title to the property was held in trust by these persons as long as any of their number was connected with this meeting; when the removal or death of some of them made such action necessary, a new board was appointed, to whom the title was transferred.
In 1808 the Roaringcreek preparative meeting was attached to Muncy, the monthly meeting of Catawissa having been discontinued. In 1814, Muncy Friends having first made the request, the quarterly meeting of the society at Philadelphia established the Roaringcreek monthly meeting. This was a virtual re-establishment of the old Catawissa meeting under a new name, for it embraced Catawissa, Berwick and Roaringcreek, the original territory.
Although much reduced in numbers the Friends of the vicinity have held regular meetings in the Roaringcreek meeting-house until a few years since. For ninety years it has been a place of worship. The quiet of the burial ground, within its crumbling, moss-grown wall, and the quaint appearance of the house itself, suggest thoughts of a people whose peculiar religious ideas and customs were but the expression of a sincere and uncompromising regard for truth and virtue.
In the year 1808 other religious teachers and preachers make their appearance. Reverend John Dieterich Adams, a Reformed minister from Sunbury, preached to the German people in a barn then owned by John Helwig, a short distance north of where Numidia has since been built. At the same place, and but a short time afterward, Reverend Frederick Plitt held services for the Lutherans. He rode on horseback from Philadelphia, and may be regarded as the pioneer minister of his church in Northern Pennsylvania. In October, 1815, Rev. Jocob Dieffenbach succeeded Mr. Adams, whose inconsistent life made the change necessary.
About this time measures were taken to build a house of worship. Caspar Rhoads, George Miller and Matthias Rhoads were appointed a building committee. They bought a lot from Jocab Kline and began to build at once. In the fall of 1816 the new structure was dedicated. It had not been completed, however, and remained in an unfinished condition for fifteen years.
For years after this, religious services were held here once in every month by the two denominations, alternately. Denominational distinctions were not observed however: the whole church-going element of the German population attended all the services without regard to the liturgy used or the minister who preached. The privilege of hearing the Word expounded twelve times a year was too precious to be neglected.
The succeeding Reformed pastors were Reverends Knable, Tobias, Fursch, Steeley, Daniels and Moore; the Lutheran ministers, Reverends Baughey, Benninger, Schindle and Eyer. Reverend Eyer's pastorate began in 1837, and ended with his death in 1874, covering a period of thirty-seven years. During his ministry and that of Reverend Moore the present brick church building was erected. Reuben Fahringer, Leonard Adams, John Reinhold and Henry Gable were the building committee. Its cost was seven-thousand dollars. It was dedicated in the spring of 1870. Reverend William Litzel became pastor of the Lutheran congregation in 1874, and in 1878 Reverend L. Linderstreuth, who was succeeded in 1881 by Reverend J. H. Neiman, at present in charge. Reverend George B. Dechant has been, since 1872, pastor of the Reformed church.
Unfortunately the relations between the two congregations in recent years have not been harmonious. In the spring of 1882 the officers of the Lutheran congregation established a Lutheran Sunday-school in the union church-building. In July, 1883, the officers of the Reformed church, in a written protest, objected to the holding of a sectarian school in the house of worship jointly owned on the alternate Sundays, when its use for service belonged exclusively to them. An effort was made in 1885 to effect a peaceable settlement. It failed, however, owing to a want of unanimity among the Lutherans, and the matter has been referred to the civil court.
A desire for religious services in English, on the part of persons not connected with the Society of Friends, led to the establishment of a Methodist congregation, or at least the holding of Methodist services, about the year 1835 at the houses of Nathaniel H. Purdy and Michael Philips, near Rhoadstown. The early pastors, Reverends Oliver Ege and Thomas Taneyhill, were stationed at Sunbury.
Two of the Methodist congregations in Locust township form part of the Catawissa circuit. Previous to 1879 they were embraced in the Elysburg circuit. The oldest, however, known as the Bear-Gap church, is still included in that circuit. It has existed as an organization forty-five years, and is at present served by Reverend H. B. Fortner.
The Slabtown congregation worship in a building erected by the Reformed church in 1848. Three years later a Methodist camp-meeting was held in the vicinity; it resulted in the conversion of the most prominent of the Reformed members, and many others. The church-building thereupon became a Methodist place of worship, and as such it is used at the present day.
In 1864 the Welsh chapel appointment was begun by Reverend Franklin E. Gearhart. George Wheary was one of the first members. Some of the Quakers, and many English speaking persons from German families, speedily Connected themselves with the organization. Reverends Henry S. Mendenhall, John F. Brown, T. A. Clees, John Guss, John Z. Lloyd, Thomas Owens and W. S. Hamlin have successively served this and the Slabtown appointments. In 1871 the services were held in a school-house. The discomfort of this arrangement led to the erection of Trinity Methodist Episcopal church. It was completed at a cost of twenty-two hundred and fifty dollars, and dedicated in the autumn of 1872. Isaac Dyer, Daniel Levan, Thomas Seaborne and William Kline were the trustees at the time.
The Welsh chapel mentioned above was built in 1850 on lands given for the purpose by James Humphreys and Michael Philips. The Welsh Baptists first occupied it, with Reverend William Jones as their first pastor. It is now a preaching point for the United Brethren church. This religious denomination was the last to make its appearance in the township. There are at present two other organizations in the township, St. Paul's and Fisher's. St. Paul's congregation was first served in 1866 by Reverend John Swank. The church-building was erected that year on land deeded to the church by John Richards. Fisher's church has resulted from a bush-meeting held in the summer of 1883 by Reverend F. G. M. Herrold. Ground for a house of worship was secured from Isaac Fisher. The new church-building will be complete before long.
The increase in the number and efficiency of church organizations and schools has resulted from the changed condition of the people in general. The last twenty years have been marked by greater material prosperity than any two succeeding decades in the previous history of the township. Woodland has been cleared and brought under cultivation; judicious drainage has improved the farming land and increased its value, and with more comfortable homes there are also better facilities for the intellectual and religious instruction of the people.
301-310. History of Columbia and
Montour Counties. Battle, J.H., Chicago: A. Warner, 1887. Transcribed by Alice