Warren Begins
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Warren Begins

When Col. Broadhead came paddling up the Allegheny with a small fleet of canoes in the year 1779, to punish Cornplanter for helping the British, he found a village of redmen at the mouth of the Conewango, the first Warren residents of whom we have record. When Brigadier-General William Irvine visited this locality six years later the Indians were still there, which proved that Brodhead hadn't annihilated them. The Indian village was called variously on the old maps `Canawago", "Canewagoo", "Canawagy", and "Kanoagoa", all of which mean, according to an Indian who still lives near the banks of the Allegheny, a number of things, all directly connected with the word "Cornplanter".

Pursuant to an act of Legislature of June 19, 1795, the town of Warren was laid out by the Commissioners of the State, General William Irvine and Andrew Ellicott, with 524 lots and certain "out-lots,"-undivided tracts adjoining the "in-lots". The dimensions of these lots and the fact that the worthy Commissioners forgot to supply proper alleys have caused some inconvenience in later years. But it is generally agreed the Commissioners did a pretty good job and the general plan is well adapted to the lay of the land.

The site of Warren was thoughtfully reserved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from the grant to the Holland Land Co., which latter took almost everything else in the region. Andrew Ellicott and his son-in-law, Dr. Kennedy, with some assistants, were in the region surveying for that company in 1794-5. As a depot for supplies they built a small house of hewn pine logs. It was simply a storehouse, without chimney or window, but it was the first permanent building on the site of Warren, the Indians having lived in round wigwams, high-peaked lodges with the poles gathered together near the top, the covering skins, large pieces of bark, woven wands of the water willow.

Daniel McQuay, a bit of the "ould sod" well known in Warren County's beginnings, and referred to elsewhere in this volume, later lived with his family in the log storehouse, having made a window and built a chimney with stones and clay from the river bank. The McQuays thus became the first permanent residents of Warren.

A little later on David Brown, father of Judge William D. Brown, temporarily occupied the log house, which had been modernized by McOuay. His daughter, Mary, afterward Mrs. Jagger, of Sugar Grove, was born there, the first girl baby born in Warren.

In the year 1798 James Morrison, Jr., and Gates Murdock arrived at the site of Warren in a dugout canoe. Two years later James Morrison, Sr., and Jeremiah Morrisun came to join the tiny colony forming at the mouth of the Conewango_ In 1803 came John Gilson.

Daniel Jackson, a fine pioneer type, settled on what is now the Wetmore farm on Jackson run in 1797. Here, in 1800 was started a sawmill, the first of hundreds of mills destined to be built in Warren County. It was this mill that is said to have sawed the first lumber ever sent down the Allegheny in form of a raft.

Warren's First School

On an October morning in the year 1804, when the tall oaks and elms which stood on the bank of the Allegheny were turned red and gold, some nine little girls and boys in heavy leather shoes, thick woolen stockings, home made woolen clothes and excited, expectant smiles trotted along through the fallen leaves to the log home of Mrs. Clara Cheeks, an excellent lady who had come to Warren County from the region of Philadelphia. In one-half the living room at Mrs. Cheeks', low, board benches, without backs, awaited the children. The boys and girls arrived, took seats on the benches. Mrs. Cheeks arose from a cushioned chair beside her table and read a selection from the New Testament. The first school in Warren County had opened.

Mrs. Cheeks was a large, motherly woman and wore a black dress with white collar ornamented with a cameo brooch. Her school equipment was not elaborate. It consisted of a Dilworth's Speller, a leather-bound copy of Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress and the New Testament. With these, and her knowledge of other books, she taught her classes. There were no lead pencils. Mrs. Cheeks had a bundle of goose quills from which she made pens. Her ink was home made, from poke berries. Children from the Morrison, Gilson and Jackson families attended her school, the tuition being something like a shilling a week for each child. The next winter Betsy Gilson succeeded Mrs. Cheeks as teacher.

Civilization was coming fast to the wilderness village of Warren. Travelers passed up and down the river in canoes. Men on foot appeared out of the shadowy trails that led through dim forests. Daniel Jackson, busy with his sawmill on Jackson Run, saw the need of a tavern, and an excellent chance to utilize some of his fine pine boards. In 1805 he built the Jackson Tavern where the Citizens' Bank now stands, bringing his boards and timbers down the creek in a large, flat-bottomed boat built for the purpose. It was the first licensed tavern in Warren County. Whiskey could be had at two cents per little tin cup. When the bar, which was an immediate success, was fully stocked, real rum could be had, and excellent French brandy, sold, after it's long voyage from the point of its manufacture, at the reasonable rate of about ten cents per cup. Warren had a real, up to date bar. Civilization had arrived.

The old Jackson Tavern with its quaint, low ceilings, candle-smoked walls and little bedrooms looking out on Front and Hickory streets, played a prominent part in the beginnings of Warren. It not only was the first place of public entertainment in the county, the first bar; it also housed the first store when, in 1808, Lothrop T. Parmlee set up in trade there with a stock of general merchandise brought at enormous labor up the Allegheny from Pittsburgh in dugouts. Sugar, tea, tallow candles, leather mittens, blankets, cotton prints, powder, shot, wooden-handled knives and forks, blue earthenware plates, teapots and dishes, fish hooks, salt, iron hinges, axes, wheat flour and the great staple, corn meal, were among the most common articles in Parmlee's stock.

In this same building, Archibald Tanner put in his first stock of store goods and announced to the world with a sign in which both `n"s were turned the wrong way, that he was ready for business. In a small room in the Jackson Tavern, George W. Fenton, destined to be the father of a Governor and United States Senator from New York, taught school in the winter of 1806, until the new school house, built of round logs and chinked with clay, its windows paned with oiled paper was ready for occupancy.

In 1812 Martin Reese, Sr. built the famous Dunn's Tavern of hewn pine logs where the First National Bank now stands in Second Avenue. The reputation of Dunn's Tavern reached down the rivers to New Orleans. It was a favorite stopping place for rivermen and it was here that Aaron Burr, who knew a good town when he saw one, stopped over for a few days of festivity, after a visit with James Morrison on Kinzua Island. Many a saddle of roast venison, many a wild pigeon stew, many a feast of native wild turkey was cooked in the low-beamed kitchen where the fire in the big stone fireplace never went out. Sturdy and staunch were the thick pine walls and floors of old Dunn's Tavern. They stood the racketing of many a merry party where heavy-booted guests danced by the light of tallow dips to the high squeak of a fiddle. Many a barrel of whiskey from the distillery of Mark Dalrymple, first Sheriff of Warren County, six miles down the river, was rolled into the doors of Dunn's Tavern. When the rafts were running, space at the bar would be at a premium Saturday nights. A gentlemanly game of cards was permitted, a couple of tables would be going in the barroom. Orrie Watkins, who officiated as bartender long enough to be known the length of the Allegheny was a good natured man who called all the rivermen by their first names. He filled his glasses high and knew how to keep a certain degree of order without the aid of his bungstarter.

As the lumber and rafting business developed, Dunn's prospered with it. The pilots drank decorously, as befitted their responsible profession. Lumbermen, back from a trip down the river with satchels full of money, spent freely, and slept with the satchels in bed with them, and a couple of loaded pistols under the pillow. Upon the site of all this years of merry entertainment the First National Bank now stands. The log walls of Dunn's Tavern survived till they were torn down to make way for the bank building.

Monday, November 29, 1819 was a day that made history in the growing town of Warren. On that momentous day the Courts of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court, Court of Quarter Sessions, Oyer and Terrniner and General Jail Delivery of Warren County were opened with due solenmity in an unfinished room in the house of Ebenezer Jackson, standing where the Carver House is now located. All the county flocked to Warren to witness the opening of the court, the starting up of the judicial machine with all its formalities. The Indians, who must have had some ideas of their own concerning white man's justice, flocked with the whites to Warren to see the court opened, even if they couldn't understand a word of what was going on. Men arrived from up and down the river in canoes and walked, some of them with long staffs in their hands, over woodland paths, short cuts across the hills to Warren from outlying settlements. A few men carried long-barreled rifles; Warren County was still a very new country and men who traveled the forest trails had not given up the habit of having a handy rifle along. There was no law against carrying firearms and the man who walked into Warren in 1819 with a rifle over his shoulder attracted no more attention than a traveler who carried a staff.

Guy Irvine arrived on foot, carrying a pack on his back. Richard B. Miller, foreman of the Grand Jury was with him. Sheriff Bowman, Prothonotary Alexander McCalmont and Court Crier Morrison came from Venango to show the officers of the new county how to conduct a court.

At the hour for opening, Crier Morrison stood in the front door of the building and blew a horn, no bell, for use in the opening of the Warren County Courts being available, in the county seat on that day. The long blast from Morrison's horn sounded across the river and echoed from the hill, it was the voice of justice, making herself heard for the first time in Warren County.

As the horn blew the officers assembled, and, led by the sheriff, escorted the court to the room. The procession was led by President judge Jesse Moore, of Meadville, a short, rotund and venerable looking man in a broad-brimmed beaver, beneath which his heavily powdered hair bushed out on all sides. He wore leather boots, well polished, and his trousers drawn down over them, a frock coat, black satin waistcoast and black satin tie which held the wings of a Henry Clay collar against his heavy chin. With great deliberation he took his seat on the bench. The Lay Judges, Hackney and Connelly sat on either side, while the crowd, filing in from the street, filled all the rude seats, stood against the walls and even climbed on the beams overhead to witness the formalities of the opening. Crier Morrison, with a great deal of dignity and a great deal of voice recited the quaint old formula still in use in opening court, finishing with "God save the Commonwealth and this Honorable-Court."

The lawyers present then took oath of office in the new courts. The one resident lawyer was Abner Hazeltine. But Col. Ralph Marlin and Patrick Farrelly, of Meadville, Thomas H. Sill, of Erie, and John Galbraith, of Franklin, were present. The new court was now ready for business, but there was none, except for a few civil cases transferred from Venango. These were not tried and Warren County's first court would have adjourned without functioning at its first meeting, had not John Dixon, a member of the grand jury, and Col. Marlin generously provided some business by getting into a fight. This immediately resulted in the prosecution of both gentlemen for assault and battery and provided the first grist for Warren County's legal mill.

That early Warren County laid great stress on the dignified administration of the law is evidenced by the fact that the first brick building erected was a court house, built between 1825 and 1827 close to where the present court house stands. The bricks for this first court house were made at the corner of Market and Fifth Streets, in the good old fashioned way, with straw. When Charles W. Stone was spading his garden there in the late '60s he unearthed enough fragments of the old brick yard to build a border around his new wife's pansy bed, and make the edges of a walk.

When the second, and present court house was built in 1876 a mild controversy arose as to whether the high dome which surmounts the building should be ornamented with a figure of Gen. Warren, or a figure of Justice. The lady won out, the female figure of justice was placed on the court house, with her eyes blindbolded so she couldn't see what the lawyers were doing.

The first jail, nicknamed "The Turkey Pen," was built on the opposite side of Market Street. The builders evidently didn't expect much business as the place had only six cells, and one large room, corresponding to the corridor of the modern jail, in which the milder prisoners were housed. The Turkey Pen let the rain in, and the prisoners out, occasionally. It was succeeded by the "Old Stone Jail" which was a picturesque, if not beautiful landmark in Warren for some years, holding its prisoners with but one escape till the present jail, in the rear of the court house was erected.

In the '20's, '30's, and '40's the circuit riders, mostly Methodist preachers, stopped in Warren on their long rides through the region of the upper Allegheny. One, Elder Whiteley, came riding down the river from Salamanca, preached in Warren, rode up Jackson Run to Chandlers Valley and Sugar Grove, held meetings in the latter place and continued into Mayville and Westfield, completing his long circuit 'round the northern shore of Chautauqua. Elder Whiteley's salary was eighty dollars a year, and upkeep of his horse.

Prior to 1820 that excellent, solid citizen Abner Hazeltine read sermons in his home to a small congregation of good folk, who brought their hymn books along, making it a complete church service except for the collection. Abner Hazeltine, with his fine, intellectual face and unmistakable stamp of a gentleman, with his long black frock coat, broad cravat of black satin and cheek-high collar might easily have been mistaken for a clergyman. It was said he could read a sermon better than many a man could preach it. The Sunday sermon readings at Hazeltine's were the nucleus of a regular meeting in the new school house, as soon as it was available, and out of these grew the organization of the First Presbyterian Church.

In 1825 Warren had so expanded it considered itself ready for a newspaper. The Conewango Emigrant, whose name typified the population of the region, issued its first number on July tewenty-fourth. The name was soon altered to "Warren Courier", but the paper died from faulty circulation a year after its birth as The Conewango Emigrant.

Although Warren could hardly have been encouraging to a newspaper, others soon followed, the Warren Gazette, Warren Mail, Voice of the People, Warren Bulletin, Democratic Advocate, Standard, Ledger, People's Monitor and Allegheny Mail all had their little day and ceased to be.

In May, 1826, Warren's first four-horse stage came rolling into town from Dunkirk at five P. M., having done the entire distance from the lake shore town the same day. It was of course a great event, celebrated with plenty of drinks at Dunn's Tavern, and at Jackson's, where the driver himself put up for the night. Old Ladies shook their heads as they heard of the fast time made by the new stage, declaring no manner of good could come of tearing over the country that way. The editor of the Warren Gazette, announcing the news to a startled world, declared anyone prophesying such a thing five years before would have been regarded as a dangerous visionary.

From then on stages ran regularly, when the roads permitted, between Warren and Dunkirk, with changes of horses at Fentonville and Jamestown, which latter place some people were still calling "Ellicott". There were two more stops for a change of horses between Jamestown and Dunkirk. People who went by the stages to Dunkirk, and on to Buffalo still referred to the latter town as "New Amsterdam" occasionally. There were stretches of two and three weeks sometimes, in March, when no wheeled vehicle at all could navigate the roads between Warren and Dunkirk. Then the mails, commonly carried by stage, were sometimes gotten through on horseback by be-spattered riders who picked their way along the edges of the miry roads, or took short cuts over bridle paths through the woods.

Twenty-two years after that first four-horse stage made its initial trip from Dunkirk to Warren, Richard Orr and some associates inaugurated a new line of stage coaches which could whisk passengers from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, via Warren, in three days.

It was a sight to see one of the earlier stage coaches make its start from Warren on a fine morning in October when the forest was aflame with color and the dirt road smooth and hard. At seven o'clock sharp Larry Brennan drove his four lively horses up from a livery barn at the lower end of Market Street, pulling up with a flourish before the door of Dunn's Tavern. Long before this hour the old log tavern had been astir with sausage sizzling in the kitchen at the rear and sending its appetizing aroma out into the fragrant morning air of the street. For the air was fragrant in those days, odorous with the pungent smell of fresh cut pine from the long rafts that lay tied at the river bank near by. The morning breeze came blowing over miles and miles of pine and hemlock forests, with nothing more to taint it than an occasional little spiral of blue wood smoke rising from settlers cabins in the surrounding country.

A couple of small black leather trunks, a large box bound with brass, several heavy looking bags made of cloth were standing on the plank walk in front of the tavern. It was baggage going to Oil City, Franklin and points south, the property of passengers booked for the day. No one thought anything of a stage driver having a "bracer", or a couple of them, before starting his trip. The obliging porter held the horses, which were young and lively and anxious to be off, while Larry went into the bar and "had something" with a gentleman with heavy black whiskers who was evidently a lumber buyer.

Larry brought his long whip with him into the bar, as he always did, for fear some one would snap it and set the horses going. He had a small tin cup of whiskey, and then another, after which the man with the black beard insisted on Larry having a glass of real French brandy, the pride of the house, served in a tiny glass, at a shilling, a drink only for plutocrats, or to be bought by well-to-do lumbermen intent on getting some valuable information from a loquacious stage driver.

While the two men were drinking in the bar the passengers had been climbing into the stage. The large box had been roped on behind and the bags were securely fastened on top. Half-past seven on as fine an October morning as ever flecked the riffles of the Allegheny with gold and silver, the passengers, all of them men on this trip, well settled in their seats. The man with the black beard is climbing up to ride with Larry on the driver's seat. The leaders are a pair of nervous young roans, "full of sass and vinegar" as Larry says. They know they're going now. The off-mare rears up, pawing the air, half-lunging, jerking the stage and running the singletrees into the other horses. The porter has his hands full holding her. Larry, deliberate and smiling, wipes his lips with the back of a red hand, runs his tongue around the corner of his mouth: that French brandy was certainly worth the money, not such a bad country, that France, if it could produce liquor like that.

The lanky Larry gathers up his four lines, spits over the wheel, settles his gray wool cap, nods to the porter to let go the horses. They're off, the young roans charging at a restrained gallop, Larry is sawing them down, bracing his boot against the iron railing on his foot board, saying to the obstreperous roans, "I'll take some a-that outa you, you crazy fools, afore we git to Tidioute."

Down Front Street at a lively gait, past rows of rafts that reach a quarter mile, the horses feet ringing on the hard October road. There are two leather mailbags on the seat between Larry and the black whiskers, one goes to Tidioute, the other to Oil City. The frosty morning has stimulated the horses more than the whiskey and brandy has enlivened Larry, they'd run away if he gave them half a chance. But the experienced driver pulls them down to a steady trot, it never does to warm a horse up too fast. Besides, Larry is thinking about a good looking girl at the Cornplanter Tavern at Irvine-ton, he doesn't want to get there too fast, wants to say something clever to her, but hasn't got it thought up yet. It will be late in the day when the stage makes Oil City, and the passengers will have had plenty of riding. But what a morning to be rolling over the gay-colored Warren County hills, through long stretches of dense virgin forest, giant pines reaching up and up against the blue, seas of feathery, fragrant hemlock with its beautiful, live green, groves of maples flaming scarlet, chestnut burrs crunching under the wheels. An Indian steps out from among the trees and watches the stage go by, makes no sign when the passengers wave at him. Larry says he belongs up the river, above Warren. The stage stops on a hilltop while Larry gets down and investigates a hold-back strap. Below them, seen through an opening in the trees, a glimpse of the glistening Allegheny, silvery blue on its riffles. The passengers can hear a "pattridge" drumming near by.

First Doctors

Up until the year 1828 Warren had no regular physicians. But this didn't mean there was no doctoring in Warren, indeed there was plenty of it. Here and there in the village were old women who knew the properties of herbs, roots, barks and leaves and were kept "tolerable" busy at certain times of year ministering to the sick. There were competent midwives who kept in constant readiness, the equipment necessary for ushering new citizens of Warren into the world. Sally Benson was one of these. She had come to Warren County from New England about 1815, bringing with her herbal traditions handed down by a mother and grandmother, both whom had been "in her line of work", as she expressed it. Sally, a very full bodied lady with an enormous bosom, ruddy cheeks and a pair of most able hands, sometimes stepped over the vague borderline that lies between the material and immaterial in treating sickness she occasionally treated patients by "the laying on of hands", which is said to have cured them, and if it did it was certainly a safe and excellent remedy.

On more than one night a hurried messenger banged at Sally Benson's door and was soon answered by a head protruding from an upper window, dimly yellowed by new-lit candlelight.

"They want you right away over to Jim Marsh's."

Mrs. Benson was perfectly familiar with the situation at Marshs'. She inquired, "Is she bad off?"

"She's awful bad off."

Then the window would quickly bang down, Sally Benson would hurriedly slip into her clothes, gather up the bag containing, among various other things, a pair of shears and a ball of strong linen thread. With this equipment, and a square, tin lantern containing a candle, she would be off into the night, along the short, rough streets of the tiny village of Warren, which in the day of Sally Benson had no street lamps of any sort. And, probably, before another dawn brightened the hills one more little resident had arrived to grow up with Warren.

Dr. Abraham Hazeltine, father of A. J. Hazeltine was the first regular, settled physician in Warren, beginning practice in 1828. Dr. Thomas Huston came the same year. There was no apothecary shop; the doctors furnished the medicines. They also acted in the capacity of dentists, their dental work consisting, of course, only in the simplest of surgery. They sometimes applied a leech to swollen and abscessed gums, a treatment not improved upon to this day. The old doctors also extracted teeth with a "turn-key", an instrument of torture hardly surpassed by the Spanish inquisition.

The Old Mansion House

Every Pennsylvania town, when it reached a certain size, had to have a "Mansion House", were few exceptions to this rule. In 1826 Archibald Tanner put up a row of frame buildings reaching from the Jackson Tavern to Second Street. One of these was Warren's famous "Mansion House". It was a low structure with a bell tower and bell a-top its broad roof. The Mansion House Bell was for long years an integral part of life in Warren. It rang when fire broke out, for some years it rang at noon, and at five or six in the evening. It called the village counsellors together for deliberation on more than one occasion. It was as well known around Warren as "Big Ben" on St. Paul's, in London. The recollections of that old Mansion House Bell have come ringing down through the years. Today many of them still reverberate in and around Warren.

In 1839 the first bridge over the Allegheny was built, near the present location of Hazel Street. Warren about this time was distinctly a lumberman's town, the pick of the pine, which grew within easy distance of the river banks, was being floated down to market in form of logs and lumber. Warren merchants dealt in lumber, buying lumber in the form of rafts and selling it at a fair profit in Pittsburgh. At least ninety percent of Warren County lumber was being sold in Pittsburgh at this time, though a great deal of it was not manufactured in the town at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela, but was floated on down the Ohio by Pittsburgh purchasers.

Whiskey was plentiful and cheap in Warren; how the raftsmen managed to consume as much as they did and still negotiate the sharp bends and shallows, of the Allegheny, with their long rafts, is one of the mysteries still unsolved. There is a tale of one of Guy Irvine's pilots starting out from Warren, on a lumber raft piled with shingles. The pilot, important as was his position on the raft, had tarried long at Dunn's Tavern and at Jackson's. As he went down the river bank to take charge of his crew, he walked so unsteadily the men were worried. But the pilot declared his head was "as clear as a bell". There was one difficulty, however, the man couldn't stand steadily, he weaved to and fro and seemed in constant danger of diving overboard. He leaned heavily on a pile of shingles and this gave the crew an idea. They propped him up with bundles of shingles all around, made a regular little house for him, above which his head, and high left hat protruded. In this safe position, the good man gave orders to cast off, and they say no man ever piloted a raft better. It just shows what a man can do if you give him the right support.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 51-67: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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