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Elk County
Chapter I




ELK COUNTY was carved out of the hills and valleys of McKean, Jefferson and Clearfield counties, April 18, 1843. Judge Geddes, who in 1831 - 32 surveyed the Clarion and Sinnemahoning summit for the proposed canal of that period, says in his report: "At the head of Bennett's Branch is a marsh called Flag Swamp, from which in wet seasons the water flows both ways, and where at such seasons the summit might easily be passed in a canoe. This point is remarkable as, probably, the only one in the State where the beaver can be found. Everywhere else they have been driven out by the approach of human footsteps. In the same region a few elk still remain." Running from the southeast corner of Warren county through McKean's. southwest corner, and as far as Daguscahonda was the old Buffalo swamp. The big level or ridge, running in opposite directions through the northwest corner of the county, made the swamp look greater to the old-time travelers than it really was, while the Warren and Ridgway State road, cut through in 1832, aided such travelers in obtaining glimpses of the historic swamp in its. extensions.

The elevations of the county are given as follows, the figures representing the number of feet above tide level: Hyde House, Ridgway, 1,400; P. & E. B. B., Ridgway, 1,393; S. & R. R. R. crossing Ridgway and Centreville road, 1,925; Lower Kittanning bed at Mine No. 8, 1,605; L. K. bed at Mine No. 15, 1,845; L. K. bed, McAllister's farm, 1,600; road at J. C. McAllister's. 1,580;. Clarion bed at Mine No. 7, 1,685; Clarion bed at Mine No. 16, 1,735; Boot Jack, 2,166; road forks, warrant 4,248, 1,760; road at Brandy Camp Hotel, - 1,565; lower Freeport bed ("M vein"), Faust farm, 1,760; lower Freeport. bed ("M vein") west side of Mead's run, north of Mead's Run School-house, 1,710; lower Freeport bed, tunnel opening, southwest of Meade Run Schoolhouse, 1,650; Freeport lower limestone, McAllister farm, 1,740; ferriferous limestone, mouth of Karns run, 1,535; George Faust's house, 1,765; J. C. Wellington's house, Karns run, 1,600; Mead's Run (Colomo) School-house,. 1,550; Theodore Fox's house, 1,530; suxnmit of Fox hill, 1,755; Freeport lower limestone, west of Fox hill, 1,580; bottom bench of Freeport upper coal, west of Fox hill, 1,650; J. S. Chamberlin's house, 1,545; summit of Chamberlin hill, 1,845; Freeport lower limestone, Chamberlin hill, 1,730; ferriferous limestone, Chamberlin hill, 1,585; Brockport, 1,545.

Bathbun, 1,316 above mean ocean level on track, West Creek Summit, 1.695; St. Mary's, 1,667; a point near St. Mary's, 1,888; Scahonda, 1,519; Daguscahonda, 1,478; Shawmut, 1,426; Ridgway, 1,393; Whistletown, 1,414; Johnsonburg, 1,441; Rolfe, 1,446; Clarion, 1,482; Wilcox, 1,526; Dahoga, 1,601; mouth of Johnson's run, 1,505; Benezette depot, 1,040; Medix run bridge, 1,099; Caledonia tunnel, 1,148; Dent's run, 924; a point east of Earlev, 2, 265, and a point just south, 2,108.

The population in 1870 was 8,488, in 1880, 12,800, and in 1888, 17,075, based on the election returns, which, in November of that year, show 1,824 Democratic votes, 1,321 Republican, 52 Prohibitionist and 18 Union Labor, a total of 3,215. The area is 774 square miles or about 495,360 acres. The vast resources of this territory are principally lumber and coal. There are seven veins of bituminous coal, each twenty- eight feet thick, two veins of cannel coal, three feet each in thickness, and two beds of lime partly fossilized. Iron ore, which yields 30 to 40 per cent of pure metal, abounds in the hills. Heavily-timbered wildernesses cover a large portion of the county. Tanning and lumber are the principal active industries. In the vicinity of St. Mary's, coal of good quality is mined and shipped to market.

In the "sixties" an oil well was put down 800 feet near Ridgway, but abandoned. In June, 1876, travelers noticed the old well flowing, and the oil stampede was resumed. About this time the oil well at Wilcox was blowing gas at a tremendous rate, and many residents felt certain they lived within the envied oil circle. The oil lease from David Scull to Maurice M. Schultz for an oil tract in Jones township, was entered March 19, 1877, and in April, Alonzo Field leased lands there to W. L. Holman, T. W. Ryan and W. W. Griffith. The lease on the Mulroy lands in Benezette was made in February to B. W. Petrikin, Julius Jones. George Rolfe, S. P. Romig and D. A. Waddell. The same parties leased several tracts in that and adjoining townships, making the actual beginnings of oil leases in this county.

On the Julius Jones farm, one mile west of Benezette, on Bennett's creek, "The Nearest Oil Company" (which is composed of numerous Bradford speculators) cleaned out, in February, 1890, an old hole drilled in 1882, during the Cherry Grove excitement. When the well was first drilled there was a showing for a good twenty or twenty-five barrel well, but owing to the discouraging outlook for a better price for oil at that time, the well was abandoned.

G. W. Newman, the principal projector of the modern prospecting, states that the company own 6,000 acres in the vicinity.

The Ernhout & Taylor well No. 1, at Wilcox, reached a depth of 276 feet in February, 1878, and work on the Benezette well was commenced. Schultz No. 3 was yielding three to five barrels; a well on the Hedsnecker farm was commenced, also one on the Bridgetown tract, and one for Boughton, Frisbee & Van Sickle on Big Mill creek. In March Capt. Ernhout leased 117 acres at Whistletown and the Osterhout lands along the Clarion, in Jones and Ridgway. townships, for oil prospecting purposes. . . . In June, 1880, the Huling' s well at Daguscahonda was down to third sand.. . . Hallock & Johnson's well in Millstone township, near Raughts, was shot in July, 1881, and a 1,200-barrel tank erected. The Johnsonburg well, six miles south of Wilcox, was then reported yielding from fifty to seventy-five barrels per day.

The Grant & Horton gas well was struck in June, 1883, at 2,300 feet, and a light oil producer the same month. In May, 1885, the White, Oyster & Short gas well was drilled at Johnsonburg, and in June a gas run was struck at 1,734 feet. In August, 1886, S. B. Hughes & Co.'s well in the northeastern part of warrant 3663 made forty barrels the first three days after being shot, while the well of M. J. Feeley & Co., in the northeast coiner of 3672, was credited with six barrels a day from an upper sand, which was supposed to correspond with the Clarendon formation. These wells are over three miles apart, and were thought to mark the beginning of two new and distinct oil-producing districts. Armstrong, Boggs & Co. had two wells drilling in this region, one on 2032 and the other on 3655, and several other lest wells were started. In 1871 the old John well was drilled near the Schultz well of 1887. In May, 1887, five wells were completed in Elk county, and- there were eighteen producing wells in the field averaging seven barrels each. Mike Murphy's well on warrant 2027 was then a mystery; Clark & Foster's wells on 3063 and 3064 were fair producers; their No. 3 on 2033 was drilling, and No. 4 on same warrant struck sand May 31, while a rig was up on 2020. The Elk Company's well on 3663 was yielding fifteen barrels, and another well was started by them; Porter, Thyng & Co.'s No. 4 on 2033, and No. 6, were doing well; the Highland Oil Company's hole on same warrant was also giving fifteen barrels. The Wilcox Tannery Company's well was finished on 2676 (on Lanigan' s run) to a depth of 1,750 feet, and proved a producer. Round it were the National Transit Company's gassers.

In August, 1887, John Markham had his pipe line complete from his Kane wells to the Highland oil field; Porter, Thyng & Co.'s No. 10 on the northeast corner of 2033 was rated at twenty barrels per day; Boggs, Curtis & Co.'s well on 2027 was being drilled; the venture of the Gillis Farm Oil Company was closed down after going over 2,300 feet; the Sill, O'Dell & Barnsdall well on the Crawford lot was drilling, while Clark & Foster found two new producers. The Elk County Oil & Gas Company's well, three miles northwest of Ridgway, was shot in July, 1886, and showed a strong flow of gas. Many oil ventures have been made in the Elk county field, but success seldom rewarded the ventures. Within the last few years the gas reservoirs in the Johnsonburg neighborhood have proven themselves worthy of notice, and gas from these wells is being conducted into the towns and villages of the county, as related in the sketches of such localities.

In February, 1890, the T. F. Barnsdall lands in Elk county, and wells producing 275 barrels per day, were sold to Noyes, Wood and others for $325, 000.

The coal deposits of Elk are scattered everywhere, but developed only at a few places - St. Mary's and Dagus mines being the mining centers. In the history of the townships much is given relating to the development of the coal beds. The paint-ore mine, extending from Eagle Valley to Whistletown, was discovered by D. B. Kline on the lands of J. S. Hyde, in 1887.

Building stone of excellent quality is found outcropping on the summits and hillsides. In 1888 - 89 the first organized effort to find an outside market for this sandstone succeeded, and quarrying and shipping building stone is to-day an important industry. Throughout the county great hemlock tracts still exist, with smaller tracts of pine and hardwood. How long this forest may continue to clothe the hills and valleys~ may be learned from a review of the great lumber mills scattered here and there, the sketches of which are contained in the pages devoted to local history. The forest fires of centuries seem to have done little injury to the great trees, as only a few sections of the forest disappeared before the flames. In May, 1884, the great fire which swept over parts of Cameron county, damaged property here: The saw-mill of Steinhelfer & Otto, near Swissmont, together with lumber, logs and houses, loss, $8,000; insurance, $4,000. The saw-mill of Joseph Goetz, also near Swissmont, together with 100,000 feet of lumber, 1,000,000 feet of logs, house and household effects, involving a loss of $6,000, upon which there was no insurance. The house of Mr. Tyler and its contents, near by, were also burned. Andrew Kaul lost his saw-mill on Spring run, 2,500,000 feet of lumber, over 100,000 feet of logs, boarding house, stables, blacksmith shop, and nearly a mile of plank road; on Wolf ran 1,000,000 feet of logs, 300 cords of bark, camps, stables, blacksmith shop, etc., his loss at both places aggregating about $25,000. Mr. Kaul also lost a saw-mill, all his houses and 60,000 feet of lumber at Sterling run, Cameron county, upon which there was an insurance of 37,500. Near Hemlock station the large Otto mill and a great amount of lumber were destroyed. Will Sykes' mill, at the same place, escaped.

The flood of August 12 and 13, 1885, deluged Johnsonburg, threatening the Bayard mills at Whistletown; carried away 400,000 feet of logs from the Hyde mills at Eagle Valley; carried away the Dickinson Brothers' boom lower down, and at Portland did more damage. At Ridgway the water was two feet deep on Main street, near the R. & C. depot, and the water entered the Bogert House and the Congregational Church. The high waters of May and June. 1889, also caused damage.

When the pioneers arrived, they found wild fruit in abundance. Mr. Brooks states that native grapes from the size of the Delaware to the Fox grape grew as large as crabapples, yielding fifty bushels from one vine. Native plum trees grew on the river bottom lands by hundreds and thousands, the fruit of which were large, juicy and luscious, delicious as nectar, fit food for the gods. Peach, pear and apple trees were planted by the immigrants, and in a few years peaches were so abundant that thousands of bushels of the fruit fell to the ground and became food for the swine. About 1832 - 33 the severity of the winters killed many of the peach trees, and since that time, there has been comparative scarcity. Game, like fruit, were offered to the pioneers. Elk were found in the Flag swamp neighborhood as late as 1850, and in 1867 the last elk in the State was killed on Bennett's branch. In the fall of 1886 the presence of one was reported. The deer, bear, wolf and fox are regular inhabitants down to this day. A story of a bear hunt is chronicled under date, December 19, 1876. It is unlike a pioneer bear story in the roundabout way taken by the hunter to capture bruin. It appears that on the date mentioned, Ralph Johnson of Dry saw-mill, while in the woods about one mile from his house, stopped by the side of a large standing hemlock, when he heard, as he supposed, the breaking of ice, caused by his own weight, but a visual ray of about seven feet of his height proved to him that something with its head poked out of a small hole was grating its teeth within six inches of his boot. From the size of the hole, as it appeared from the outside of the tree, he thought it an animal of some description, of inferior size, and blocked up the hole. Next morning, in company with John and Will Wainwright, with two axes and a single-barrel rifle (the old family gun) carried by Will, went to capture the prize, and to their surprise found a hollow larger than a flour barrel, which evidently had been lately vacated by old bruin; following the trail about one mile, they found him under a flat rock. Ralph, Will and the dog stood guard until John went and returned with John Johnson, commonly known as "Old Farmer," with two more rifles, a double and single barrel. But one shot from the gun manufactured in our fathers' day gave him such a headache that a shot from the other single-barrel gun, piercing a second hole in his forehead, laid out a bear weighing about 200 pounds by the "Farmer's" scales.

In 1885 a Daguscahonda chicken walked out of the shell on four perfect legs, and was indeed one of Nature's strange freaks. Had it been cuffed and kicked about like the common brood, it would still have lived, but it was petted to death. Though having unusual facilities for walking, it only played the pilgrim for a few days.

While the unthinking hunter has been for years industriously engaged in killing the deer, it is a relief to think that two citizens, at least, have succeeded in saving a number of them. The Trout Run Park, the private property of Andrew Kaul and J. K. P. Hall, containing 600 acres, is located between St. Mary's and Benezette, in the heart of the wilderness. This park is enclosed by a fence eight to ten feet in height, erected at a cost of $2,500. The park was enclosed in 1887, and stocked with twelve deer. A mountain stream flows through this park, and outside, in the course of this stream are a series of fish ponds and hatching houses, for the cultivation of brook trout and carp. The wire in the fence is connected with an electric apparatus in the game-keeper's house; close by is the club house. The total cost of this park may be placed at $7,000. The Williamsport Republican, referring to this great game preserve, says: "It is six miles square, and was arranged as it now is about four and one-half years ago. The work of making such an immense place was a tremendous one, but it was accomplished with apparent ease. All around the place a fence made of trees stands, from ten to fifteen feet in height, inside which the brush and trees are so thick, that people are easily lost there. Approaches to the park are so arranged that the deer coming up find but little difficulty in gaining an entrance, but once inside there is no possible means of getting out. Inside the fence the ground slopes so much that the most expert jumper in the deer tribe, would not attempt to get out. It is thought now that there are not less than one hundred and fifty deer within the park."

Source: Page(s) 573-579, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed December 2006 by Nathan Zipfel for the Elk County Genealogy Project
Published 2006 by the Elk County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project

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