CHAPTER LXVII

HISTORY OF RICHLAND TOWNSHIP

Richland township lies in the western part of Clarion county. The Allegheny River forms the western boundary. The township extends to the Clarion River on the south, and to Venango county on the northwest. Salem township forms the northern boundary, and Beaver and Licking townships the eastern. It has an area of about nine thousand five hundred acres, and contains about one hundred and, twelve farms.

It lies in the great oil-belt of Clarion county, and oil-producing and farming form the chief occupation of the people.

Before the organization of Clarion county, Richland township formed a part of Venango county.

The greater part of the land now included in Richland township belonged to the "Peters tract," which contained about ten thousand acres, embracing a large part of Richland, and parts of Salem and Beaver townships. The first settlement within the present limits of the township was made by Daniel Ashbaugh. In the spring of 1806 he came with his family from Sugar Creek, Armstrong county, Pa., and settled near St. Petersburg. Here he purchased from Richard Peters about three hundred and fifty acres of land, a part of which is now within the present limits of St. Petersburg borough. His son, Jacob Ashbaugh, and his grandsons, Henry, Abraham, and John Ashbaugh are still living on the land which he settled.

At the time of the settlement the land was all covered with woods, there were no roads, and traveling was very difficult. Mr. Ashbaugh and his family traveled in a wagon as far as the Clarion River. From there they proceeded on foot, carrying their household goods with them. They built a shanty, which consisted of poles driven in the ground to support a roof of clap-boards. There were no sides, and snakes and other wild animals kept them continually uneasy for their safety.

In this way they spent the summer, and put in crops on the land which they cleared. After the fall seeding was done they began the erection of a small log house, which they completed and moved into about Christmas.

In 1807 Conrad Moyer came from Sugar Creek, Armstrong county, Pa., and settled on a tract of land south of St. Petersburg, now known as the Ritts farm. About this time William Porter settled on the land now owned by Hiram Neely. On this farm Richard Peters, the proprietor of the "Peters land," built a house where he lived by himself for many years.

Many early settlements were made in the vicinity of Chestnut Ridge. Jacob Hale settled there in 1812, Daniel Knight in 1818. Mathias Gilbert settled prior to 1829, and Jacob Heeter settled in 1829. Robert Mackelwaine settled on the Slicker farm early, but never received a title to the land. Andrew Porter settled in the Conver school district about 1831. In 1814 Captain Henry Neely moved from near Edenburg, Clarion county, and settled on the Isaac Neely farm. He purchased four hundred and thirty-five acres, then unimproved, from the heirs of Edward Butler.

During the early history of the township, the majority of the people attended the Reformed Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg. Later, services were often held in the different school-houses of the township.

The first school-house was built on the Porter farm, now owned by Hiram Neely, about the year 1816. The house was built of round logs, and roofed with clap-boards. For a chimney, sections of several logs were cut out at one end of the building. Then a stone foundation was made, and upon the stone a chimney was built (outside of the house) of poles with mud mixed with straw for mortar. For windows there was a section of a log taken out on each side of the room, and about every three feet props were placed upright, and over the openings thus formed greased paper was pasted to serve as window-lights. Robert Mackelwaine was the first teacher. This house was afterwards vacated, and the residence of Richard Peters, located on the same farm, was used for a school-house. The next school-house built in the township was erected in 1824, where the Conver school-house now stands. In 1826 a school-house was built near where the old Bostaph school-house stood. There are now ten school-houses in the township, and three in the Independent Foxburg district.

The Allegheny Valley Railroad was the first in the township. This railroad, extending along the western border of the township, was built in 1865. The Foxburg, St. Petersburg, and Clarion Railroad was built in 1877. Soon after, it was sold to the Pittsburgh, Bradford and Buffalo Railroad Company, and finally the Pittsburgh and Western.

The first store kept in the township was owned by Louis Collner, and was located on the road between St. Petersburg and Emlenton. He afterwards located in St. Petersburg, where his sons, the well known Collner Brothers, still continue the business. Before the opening of this store, the people from the township went to Emlenton or Lawrenceburg to make their purchases.

In 1818 the first grist-mill of the township was built on the Clarion river, near Alum Rock, by George Myers. This mill was burnt, and Mr. Myers built another one where Martin’s mill now stands. The first saw-mill in the township was built on Alum Rock Run by Henry and John Neely about 1820. The famous millwright, Harry Jenkins, performed the work.

In 1862 the first post-office established in the township was located at Alum Rock, in the house of Daniel Bostaph, who officiated as postmaster. At that time mail was received only once a week. The mail was carried from Emlenton to Callensburg, via Agnew’s Mills and St. Petersburg.

In 1832 the land upon which Keating’s furnace was erected was bought of Richard Peters by Jacob Frederick, who sold to John Keating and John Vensel. The land was found to contain much rich iron ore, and in 1846 the furnace was built. In 1866 operations were suspended. It was never re-opened, and is now a thing of the past.

About the time of the first oil excitement at Oil City, a company was formed composed of Isaac Neely, William H. Neely, Daniel Bostaph, Alexander Wilson, Henry Barr, Edward Murray, and others. They began drilling a well at Alum Rock, on the Isaac Neely farm. The tools and apparatus for drilling were then very crude, and progress was made very slowly. Now and then operations were suspended for want of money to carry on the work. The first drilling was done by hand, then by horse-power, and finally, after the war, work was again resumed on the well. A set of tools was obtained, which stuck in the well, and it was finally abandoned, as a failure. Much gas was found, but no oil. This was the first well that was ever drilled in Rich-land township. Oil operations were then suspended until about 1870. In the spring of that year John Galey leased a piece of land belonging to Judge Keating, situated on the Clarion River at a place called the Grass-flats. The well was a success, producing sixty or seventy barrels per day. Excitement spread rapidly. Land was leased and other wells were drilled soon after.

In 1871 Hulings & Company drilled a well at Antwerp, on the Ashbaugh farm. It produced three hundred barrels per day. This caused intense excitement, not only in the immediate vicinity, but throughout this and adjoining counties. People flocked from all parts of the State. Other wells were, drilled and found to the good producers, and in a short time a flourishing town had sprung up.

In the fall of 1872 the town was burnt, During the two short years of its existence, it had grown to be a town of about a thousand inhabitants. It was never rebuilt, and the few buildings which escaped the flames were afterward torn down and moved away. The school-house, built in 1871, which stood on the hill above the town and escaped the flames, was moved down in the fall of 1882, and is the only building left to mark the spot where the town, once stood.

In 1872 oil was found on the Hiram Neely farm, a short distance east of Antwerp. Soon after wells were drilled on the Isaac Neely farm, Keating farm, and around Turkey City.

FOXBURG.

The history of this village properly commences with the oil excitement in 1870. It is built on land owned by the Fox heirs, all on leased lots, hence the name. The post-office was established in 1870, and Colonel Gibson was appointed postmaster. C.C. Bone opened a news-room and stationery store about the same time. Then followed other stores, a meat-market or two, dwellings, etc. Mr. Jos. Hart came here in 1870, building an oil refinery across the river in 1873. In 1876 he moved it upon the hill above Foxburg, and subsequently sold it to the Standard Oil Company.

Fires. - The first fire occurred here in 1876, when all the buildings on the river side of the A.V. Railroad were burned, including Porterfield & MComb’s store, express office, Smith’s meat market and other buildings, amounting in loss to about $25,000. The same ground was again burnt over in 1881, taking two restaurants, Wales’s hardware store, Moore’s grocery, express office, billiard-room and oil-well supply store.

In the spring of 1883 the Fox Hotel was burned, and during the next two years the present fine building was erected by the Fox estate.

The Valley depot was burned in 1884, and the present neat building erected the next summer.

In July, 1886, another fire occurred in this place, burning Smith’s meat-market, D.C. Hart’s store, and Odd Fellow’s Hall, a room above, Barnes’s tin-shop, and a millinery store. After all these fires most of the buildings were rebuilt.

There have been several societies organized in Foxburg from time to time, including I.O.O.F. in 1871, A.O.U.W. about three years afterwards, and later the Knights of Honor, G.A.R., and others.

The round-house and car-shop were built in 1880. The school-building was erected here in 1874, by heirs of the Fox estate. It is a neat, two-story building, containing three rooms, well furnished. Mrs. Samuel Fox has been a liberal contributor to the schools there ever since they were organized, giving to their support $1,000, $1,500, and sometimes as much as $2,000 per year, besides taxes on the estate, which included the greater part of the public funds raised there.

The Fox mansion is pleasantly situated on an elevation some distance above the town, and is a beautiful country residence.

Turkey City was at one time a flourishing oil centre, but is now on the decline.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 588-591, History of Clarion County, A.J. Davis, A.J.; Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1887