What's Historic About Brookville, Pennsylvania?

Healing the Pioneers; Dr. William J. McKnight
By Michelle McGahey

One of the most well-known doctors of Jefferson County was Dr. William James McKnight.

W.J. McKnight was born on May 6, 1836, to Alexander and Mary (Thompson) McKnight of Brookville, where he was born and raised. His father died when he was a young boy. So William James had to start jobs at a young age in order to help raise money for his family.

When he was only 16, he started teaching at a school and working at the Jefferson Star. At the age of 18, he started reading medicine under Dr. A.M. Clark.

On Sunday, November 8, 1857, the whole town of Brookville was thrown into a state of confusion when the body of Mr. Henry Southerland (a Black man) was found in the ice house. Because of this event, the "dissecting of bodies" for "the use of the dead to the living" became legalized in 1867, by the Philadelphia College of Physicians and the Legislature.

William was married to Penelope Goddard Clarke on January 9, 1860. With her he had 7 children. One of his daughters, Bonnie, married George R. Matson.

McKnight accomplished many things in his years. He started practicing medicine in March of 1857, and opened his own drug store in Brookville on October 8, 1863. He called it "McKnight and Son" because his son later worked with him.

In the years 1862-1869, he served as a private orderly sergeant in Company G. and 57th United States Emergency Regiment. While he was promoted to the Quartermaster.

McKnight finally received the degree of MD in 1869.

Jefferson County presented Dr. McKnight for state senator in 1876. He won the election and served in the senate from 1881 to 1885.

On March 14, 1883, McKnight was quoted for saying, "and, Mr. President to further assist in the public good, to promote honest government and purify the public service, I would except the merest clerkships, elected by the people. I would elect postmasters, collectors, marshalls and especially United States Senators."

That speech gave his state celebrity, and great credit upon his ability and statesmanship. It led him to be elected to a second term in 1884.

Not only was William McKinight a doctor and a senator, but he also started running and operating bituminous coal companies in 1895. Such as the Toby Valley Coal Company and the McKnight Coal.

He was an author/writer of the books "My First Recollections of Brookville, PA," "Pioneer History of Northwest Pennsylvania," and "Pioneer Sketches of the Cities of Allegheny, Beaver, DuBois and Fowanda, Pa."

By the year 1916, McKnight had become director and Vice President of the National Bank of Brookville, a merchant, coal operator, doctor, writer and an author.

Dr. William J. McKnight led the life that only few of us could dream of. That is why he is so well-known to Jefferson County.

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