History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 10

Created: Tuesday, 12 April 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

CHAPTER X

EARLY INDUSTRIES

AN EARLYSIGNBOARD - HESHBON - McKINLEY'S FORGE - EARLY FURNACES SAWMILL AND GRIST MILLS - OTHER INDUSTRIES - HORTICULTURE - FIRST FOUNDRY - EARLY MANUFACTURING  -SALT WELLS - SALT MANUFACTUREING - CEMENT ROCK

A signboard erected on the scene of a Lycoming Creek Valley real estate development, through a misspelling of the name of the community, has served to call attention to the fact that it was once the center of a hustling industry of a type which has long since ceased to exist in Lycoming County, and also to bring to mind other industries which once flourished in this county and which have now disappeared, leaving little or no indication of their existence.

The real estate bulletin board is at Heshbon, which lies just to the east of Lycoming Creek at No. 3 bridge. Through misunderstanding of the name conferred a century ago, the real estate development has been designated as "Heshburn Terrace." Numerous inquiries as to the correct spelling of the word have been made since the sign appeared.

Heshbon, as a community, ceased to exist some years ago. Heshbon Church, an Evangelical congregation, has served to prevent the name from passing into oblivion.

The name Heshbon was conferred upon the community about 182, when Isaac McKinney and his son, William, located there and established an iron forge, which may still be recalled by some Lycoming county people as "McKinney's Forge."

Biblical names were favored by the people of earlier days, and the McKinneys turned to the Scriptures for a name for their community. Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, whose forces were defeated by the children of Israel, under the leadership of Moses, when they were refused the right to pass through his domain on their long wanderings. The cities were taken and occupied by the Israelites.

Heshbon was a "city of the plain" and it caught the fancy of the tribe of Reuben, who were herdsmen and saw there a place suited to their mode of life. Even though it lay "on the east side of Jordan" instead of in the "promised land," the Reubenites preferred to remain there. The city is mentioned in Numbers, Joshua, Nehemiah and Isaiah and the name is translated as meaning "intelligence."

Whether the McKinneys fancied a resemblance between ancient Heshbon and the community which they planned, or chose the name simply because it appealed to them, is not recorded.

The MeKinneys first established a forge, later adding a furnace and rolling mill. The ore which they worked was mined in Centre County, which for many years was noted for its ore production. It was transported on boats to Jaysburg, at the mouth of Lycoming Creek, and thence hauled to Heshbon. Tin-plate stoves were one of the leading products of the McKinney forge. The forge changed hands and apparently was never a very profitable venture. At any rate, after the plant was wiped out by the famous flood of 1865 it was never restored and traces of it gradually disappeared.

The same fate was experienced by all of the other numerous ventures into the iron manufacturing interests in Lycoming County, most of which relied for raw material upon ore mined in this county.

While there may have been earlier attempts to make commercial use of the Lycoming County iron ores, the first noted by historians is that which was carried on in Cummings Township from 1814 until 1817. Ore mined near the Coudersport Pike was used to supply this furnace.

Furnace Run, a Watson Township tributary to Pine Creek, takes its name from the fact that a furnace was started there in 1817. The first furnace was built some distance up the smaller stream but later it was moved nearer to Pine Creek George Heisler established this furnace, which passed through varied degrees of prosperity, under different management, until about 1848. Mifflin Township also had its ventures in the iron industry. Ore was also mined in the vicinity of Antes Fort.

One of the smallest communities in Lycoming County has two names being known as Powys and Crescent. The former name is that conferred by the railroad company, while the latter, the older of the two commemorates the industry which once gave to the place an importance and an activity far greater than it now enjoys. That was when the Crescent Iron Works were in operation. This industry was established in 1839 and was quite a flourishing enterprise. Nails and bar iron were among its products. It eventually passed to the control of Peter Herdic and was discontinued in 1876 soon after his business reverses.

Ore mines in Lycoming Township were worked quite extensively from 1854 until 1875 and operations did not entirely cease until 1883.

There is today little evidence that there once existed a flourishing iron town at the mouth of Frozen Run, near Ralston. There in 1831 was established a village known as Astonville, in honor of the founder. Iron native to that community was used. Investments running into hundreds of thousands of dollars were made, but from all indications the experiment was not attended by a high degree of success.

The ore contained certain chemical components which made it difficult to work. It was found that the adverse conditions were relieved somewhat by exposing the ore to the weather throughout the winter season and large piles of ore were placed along the stream. It is believed that the name "Frozen Run" comes from this practice. Experiments with mixtures of other ores were tried, to little avail. The flood of 1865, which ended the career of the McKinney forge, effectually halted efforts to revive the Astonville furnace and both the industry and the village disappeared.

In 1854 a. John Carter, of Philadelphia, built a furnace two miles from Ralston and called the place Carterville. Considerable ore was mined and the plant was ready for its opening when Carter was shot and killed in Philadelphia. It was not until 1874 that an attempt was made to revive this industry. Minersville capital was put into it, but failure was the result.

While the upper end of the Lycoming Creek Valley is being considered, the vanished town of McIntyre may be discussed here. McIntyre was a coal town. Its mines produced as high as 20000 tons a year until 1886, when the supply ran low and work was discontinued. Its 1,500 people sought homes elsewhere. Its 300 dwellings were dismantled, burned or moved. McIntyre no longer exists and the majority of people in Lycoming County do not knew that it ever existed.

The iron works are but indications of many industries which once existed in the town and rural communities of Lycoming County but which have long since passed out of existence. Changing economic order, introducing of machinery, opening of avenues of communication with other centers, changing modes of life, etc., opening of new sources of raw material of better grade than that obtainable here, have been among the causes which have led to discontinuance of these industries. The earliest pioneers were by force of circumstances thrust upon their own responsibilities to provide the necessities of life and the comforts were not expected. As soon as the number of settlers increased to a sufficient extent, small industries began to appear. Andrew Culbertson, whose estate was located at the mouth of Mosquito Creek in what is now Duboistown, was one of the first to establish industries for his own profit and the convenience of his neighbors who included persons living many miles. distant from his home. Culbertson established a saw mill as far back as 1773.

He, with other settlers of the valley, was forced out of the territory in the "Big Runaway" in 1778. When conditions were such that it was possible to return, Culbertson resumed his activity, and added a grist mill "for expressing nut and linseed oils."

His establishment was the center of community life for many miles. An old Indian trail up through White Deer Valley across the White Deer Mountain, into Mosquito Valley and down to the river was widened and used as a bridle path by settlers bringing grain to Culbertson's mill. This path was so extensively used that it was worn deep into the surface of the earth and as a result it is still traversable at many points of its course. The river also served as a highway for persons traveling to Culbertson's.

Colonel Antes established his grist mill either on the site of the original mill or very near to it until the present day. Colonel Antes established other industries, including a mill for cleaning clover seed.

Saw mills and grist mills were the pioneer industries throughout the county, as they supplied the most pressing needs. Distilleries were not far behind, as their product was considered an "essential" in those days.

Succeeding years brought into the settlements tradesmen who not only sold wares but manufactured them. Among those who established themselves in business in Williamsport early in the life of the community were hatters, shoemakers, tailors, cabinet makers, gunsmiths, watchmakers, blacksmiths, harness makers, wagon builders, tanners, coopers.

One of the pioneer businesses was that of George Edkin, an Englishman who had been employed as a gardener by General Gates, of Saratoga fame, and who came here in 1794, bringing with him shoots of apple, peach, pear and plum trees, for the purpose of establishing a nursery. He found a suitable location up the Muncy Creek Valley and in later years supplied trees throughout a wide territory.

Williamsport's first iron foundry was opened in 1832 by John B. Hall, who came here from Geneva. He brought with him the first engine used in the West Branch Valley and his foundry, which was one of the sensations of the day, made the first stoves used in the valley. Iron castings for the canal were made at his plant and in 1836 he cast an iron fence which for forty years surrounded the court house grounds.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, saw makers were attracted to Williamsport by the lumber industry and continued in business here until the decline of the industry.

Among the later Williamsport industries which are no longer in existence was the Wire Buckle Suspender Company, which boasted that it was the largest industry of its kind in the world. Charles R. Harris was the patentee. The plant produced 40,000 pairs of suspenders a day and had thirty salesmen on the road.

The Demorest Manufacturing Company, which had been in existence for many years before its plant was established here in 1889, when the people of Williamsport subscribed $100,000 and made numerous concessions to obtain the industry, manufactured sewing machines, bicycles and opera chairs. The Lycoming Manufacturing Company plant at Oliver and High streets includes the old Demorest plant and to this day is frequently referred to as "the Demorest works."

Throughout the county there have been numerous small industries which are now forgotten. Montoursville for years had a paper mill, established in 1847.

Pennsdale in 1829 and for some time thereafter boasted a pottery, established by Job Packer and called the Elizabethtown pottery. Elimsport had a "spoke manufactory." Hepburn Township had a fulling mill, clover mill, woolen mill, a distillery and several saw mills, as well as a plant which manufactured grain cradles. This was operated by Samuel Ball and found a market for its product in the west. Today Hepburn Township has only its flour and grist mills.

Knitting factories, woolen mills, carding mills, distilleries, tanneries, plants for manufacturing fillers and paints from shale formations, shingle and stave mills, flagstone quarries, and plants for manufacturing pumps and agricultural implements, were among the industries which were established to meet local needs and are now nonexistent.

Early in the nineteenth century, Gamble Township had salt works. Deep wells were sunk to tap pools of salt water, which was brought to the surface and evaporated. The demand for this product and the price which it commanded made the business profitable in spite of the primitive conditions of production, in the days when means of communication with other sources of supply were meager. Near the salt works was a plant for the manufacture of potash.

In 1809 the Lycoming Salt Manufacturing Company was formed chiefly by Muncy men. Its works were located at what is now Driftwood, Cameron County, opposite the mouth of the Sinnemahoning. The Pennsylvania Railroad passes over the site occupied by the salt works.

Rock found in Piatt Township was used many years ago to make cement for construction work on the old canal. Within the last few years considerable prospecting has been carried on in this township to determine the extent and commercial importance of the cement rock formations.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 137-143, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka - Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929