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Freedom History, Beaver County


Feb 28, 2014
Freedom History
Freedom Borough
Written in 1932 by Lydia K. Fruth and Mary Blatt.
Freedom is one of the thriving little towns of the Beaver Valley, a mile or so up the Ohio, above the mouth of the Big Beaver, and almost adjoining its neighboring borough of Rochester. It is built on a narrow flat along the Ohio, and on the hillsides, and, from the peculiarity of its situation, is one of the most picturesque towns on the river. From its upper levels is afforded an almost unrivaled panoramic view of the Ohio at the majestic bend where its course, after having been north westward all the way from Pittsburg, suddenly turns to the Southwest. And a night view from the hills above Freedom is a thing long to be remembered. Looking up and down the river, from Rochester below to Conway railway yards above, the spectator beholds a bewildering maze of tracks, with moving trains and an infinity of many-colored lights. It is well worth while standing there has the writer recalled Mark Twain’s phrase, descriptive of similar scene at Heidelberg, Germany: “A fallen Milky Way, with that glittering railway constellation pinned to the border.”
History is a chain of causes and consequences, and events are strangely linked together. Diedrich Knickerbocker begins his History of New York with the creation of the world. We need not go so far back in writing the history of Freedom, but we must look back to Germany in the latter part of 1831. In October of that year Bernard Muller, having assumed in the Fatherland the style and title of Count Maximilian de Leon, emigrated to America, and with about forty of his followers joined himself to the Harmony Society. Dissension arising between him and the leaders of the society, he, with one third of the members, withdrew, and purchased from the owners of Phillipsburg the land on which that town stood. This necessitated the removal of the large boat-yards there to another location, and the present site of Freedom was determined on, where, with other advantages, the depth of water was more favorable to the launching of the completed craft.
Stephen Phillips and Jonathan Betz, partners at Phillipsburg, immediately purchased from General Abner Lacock 101 acres of land for $2000, for the purpose of building a town and new boat yard. The firm was soon changed to Phillips & Graham, and the new enterprise was pushed to completion; with what despatch may be seen from the following extract, taken from the Beaver Argus, May, 1832:
Rapid Work.–Messrs. Philips & Graham purchased a tract of land from Gen. Abner Lacock, on the Ohio river, on Monday of last week, laid out a town on Tuesday, and built fourteen houses in four succeeding days. At this place they intend establishing their ship- yard.
The original village of Freedom was surveyed and plotted by Simon Meredith, the streets, alleys, and lots being all located with special reference to the only business of the village, that of steamboat building.
The boundary lines of the first purchase made by the firm named above began at a post on the bank of the Ohio River, near where the warehouse of Freedom Oil Refinery now stands. Thence they ran north and east, including the upper tier of lots fronting on High Street; thence east and south along said line of lots to a point back of the stone house, near the present residence of Captain Abram McDonald; thence south and west to the Ohio River, at a point near the steamboat landing; thence west to the place of beginning.
An additional purchase of 39 acres was made, by the same parties from William Vicary for $2500. The lines of this purchase were as follows.
Beginning at a post on the bank of the Ohio river, near the steamboat landing and extending along the line to the tracts of Lacock and Vicary, to the rear end of lots fronting on High street; thence east to Dutchman’s Run; thence by the meanders of said run to the Ohio River; thence west to the place of beginning.
None of the cross streets extended to the river except Betz Street, to the steamboat landing, and Vicary Street. Independence and Liberty streets terminated at the line of the boat yard. Wolf Alley skirted the lower end of lots fronting on Main Street, and extended from Liberty to Vicary Street, where the railroad is now located.
In 1832 a number of families came over from Phillipsburg and settled in Freedom. About one hundred and fifty people first located there, and the place grew rapidly. The house referred to in the extract from Argus given above, were only rude board shanties. Hence Freedom was at first called “Shanty Town.”

Into these one-roomed buildings the first settlers moved. Some doubt exists as to the first frame building erected in the village, but tradition seems to settle on the shoeshop erected by Samuel Furnier, who also erected the first hotel, which was a brick. The lots were sold, as selected by purchasers, except that lots one and two fronting on Main and Independence streets were reserved for blacksmiths, Samuel S Coulter and Thomas G. Kerr, and they decided who should have the corner by cast-ing lots, when the corner fell to T.G Kerr. In selecting locations, Jonathan Betz built on the southwest corner of Main and Betz streets. Stephen Phillips built on the southeast corner; and Daniel S. Skillinger built on the northeast corner. Samuel Furnier purchased and improved the lots on the northeast and southeast corners of Main and Independence streets. John Graham selected and built on the southwest corner of Main and Liberty streets. Philip Bentel purchased and improved the southeast corner. James McConnel located and built northeast corner, and Wm. P Phillips built on northwest corner. John W Snead erected what is know as ‘the stone tavern,” on Main Street, which still stands much as it was when built. Some idea of valuation of lots may be had by the fact that in 1841 vacant lots were valued at $75 each for borough taxation. Cows were rated at $4 to $14 each, and horses from $4 to $35 each.
The steamboat yard, which began at the western end of the town and extended to Betz Street at its eastern extremity, included all the land from the rear end of lots fronting on Main Street, and from Wolf Alley to the Ohio River, and embraced three acres of ground which, with its buildings-exclusive of the steam saw-mill-was valued at $638 for purposes of taxing. The saw mill was valued at $960 for taxing. It would seem that but one man in the borough at that time was able or inclined to carry a gold watch, and that was Stephen Phillips, whose gold lever watch was valued at $100. At that date John W. Snead must have been, financially, one of the important personages of the town, as his taxes in 1841 amounted to $11.33; while Robert Lutton, on the other hand, paid but six cents. In that year Phillips and Betz were taxed for fifty-two vacant lots, valued at $1650 or $31.73 each. The descendants of Jacob Kronk, Adam Graham, Samuel Furnier, John A. Brown, John Graham, and Charles Graham continue to occupy the lots originally taken by them. William Hall, eldest son of Joseph and Matilda Hall, was the first child born in Freedom. Large families, as a rule, were reared by these early settlers, many of whom still survive, and are widely scattered from Atlantic to the Pacific and through the South. In 1833 Freedom contained forty dwellings, forty-seven families, and about 320 inhabitants. In 1837 there were one hundred houses, and the population had increased to 600.
Freedom was incorporated, April 16, 1838. At the June session of the court, 1856, Samuel Baker, burgess, and the council, consisting of D. S Marquis, M.D., James McKee, James Van Kirk, Christian Holland, and R. H. Hall, presented to the court a petition to have the borough placed under the provisions of the Act of Assembly of April 3, 1851, and the petition was granted.
In the year 1823 Phillips & Betz must have dissolved their copartnership, as in that year Stephen Phillips and John Graham formed a copartnership in building of steamboats. This firm was succeeded by Abel Coffin in the same business, and this by “The Freedom Boat Building Society.” The firm of Charles Graham & Company, composed of Chas. Graham, Robert McCaskey, and Thomas G. Kerr, next succeeded to the business; and this firm was followed by that of McCaskey & Kerr. This firm was continued for thirty-eight years, until the death of Robert McCaskey, when , by agreement, the business was continued under the same firm name, rounding out the full forty years. This firm was succeeded by W.H Brown’s Sons: they by Spear & Company; and later by Dunbar & Sons, which ended the business in the original boat-yard. John Graham & George Rogers, conducted the business of boat-building for a time above the landing. James a Sholes & Company built and operated a steam saw-mill above the landing, and conducted the business of a planing mill and lumber yard. John Baker & Company had a large shop for the manufacturing of steam-engines on the southeast corner of Vicary Street, facing the river, and had a large foundry on the corner of Wolf Alley and Vicary Street. Andrew Baird & Company succeeded to this business in these buildings, and operated quite extensively, employing many workmen; and many steamboats were supplied with engines by this firm. Donovan & Company became the successors, and established an extensive stove foundry for the manufacturing of cooking and heating stoves. This firm also did a large business, employing many men.
McKee & Company succeeded, and established a wagon manufactory, They manufactured extensively, and shipped their goods largely to the south and west. This firm gave employment to a large number of men, and contributed much to the business prosperity of the town. Business finally closed there in the abandonment of the site by the present coffin manufactory.
Jacob Stahl operated a distillery and grist mill near Dutchman’s Run, on Main Street. Among the early merchants(1837 to 1841) were Phillips & McConnel, Stiles & Fisher, Phillip Bentel, John W. Snead, Benjamin Brown, and Benville Brown. Their stores contained a varied stock of dry goods, groceries, hardware, queensware, boots and shoes, hats and caps, notions, farm products, tobacco and cigars, butter and eggs, nails, glass, putty, white lead and oils-in short, a little of everything needed by their customers. The prices asked for various articles were ‘a fip, a levy, and three fips, or two bits.”
Harris’s Directory of Freedom for 1841 shows the following persons holding borough offices at that time, and business interest of the town.
Burgess- Henry Bryan. Council- William P Phillips, Robert McCaskey, Joseph Hall, Isaac Ingraham, and Jacob Stahl; with E.G. Dubarry as clerk. Constable- Thomas Sutton. Physicians- Drs. T. F. Robinson, William Smith, and Thomas Dickson. Hotel-keepers- Anthony Windham, S.B. Linn, J.A. Williamson, at Crow’s Bottom; J Young, Swan Inn; John W Snead, Freedom Hotel; Samuel Turner. Ship Carpenters- William P. Phillips, Robert McCaskey, Joseph Hall, Adam Graham, C.Graham, John Graham, J Betz, S. Phillips, W. Merriam, J. Shearer, Phillip Hoover & Sons, Daniel Skillinger & Sons, S. Phillips, J.A Brown, Daniel Graham, Simon Gritz, William Woods, Robert French, George Stoops, Joseph Grimes, Andrew Woods, Thomas Crooks, Roert Hall and Isaac Grimes. Carpenters- John Hamilton, Isaac Ingraham, Phillip Stetsell. Blacksmiths- Samuel Coulter, HC Grant, R. Wagoner, N.P. Kerr. Engine builders- E.G. Dubarry, John D. Eakin, Charles Anderson. Wagon makers- John Andrews, Jacob Schoffleberger, Israel Bentel. Farmers- Philip Vicary, A. Hall. Philip Grimes. Tailors- Richard Hall, F. Shoemakers- Christian Holland, Jacob and John Hill. Gunsmiths- Joseph Graham, Andrew Emery & Co. Engineer- Woolman Hunt. Cabinet maker- John C. Shoal. Millwright- C. Myers. Stone masons- Jacob Krout, David Martin. Sea Captain- William Vicary. Piolt- James a Sholes.
The first justice of the peace was James mcConnel who was succeeded by Martin Fisher, and he by Thomas G. Kerr, whose ten commissions as justice of the peace covered half a century, and he lived to almost complete his last commission, having been the longest in commission, perhaps, of any one in Beaver County. Henery Bryan also served several years in that office.
The post-office, established with the town, has been served as follows, vis: 1832, Stephen Phillips and James McConnel; 1836, Dr. Wm. Smith; 1840, Dr. T. F. Robinson; 1844, Henry Bryan; 1845, Friederich Schumacher. Wm. P. Phillips was postmaster in 1850, John Graham in 1854, W.W. Kerr, in 1858, and W.D. Fisher, 1871; Thomas C. Kerr, 1880; Francis M. Grim, 1886; James L. Conner, 1890; William G. Jack, 1894

A look at our Freedom, before it was Freedom shows that this territory was part of New Sewickley Township. the western part of freedom,” West End” was part of Rochester Township, which was formed out of New Sewickley township.
In this land that comprises Freedom there were two people of note who were here before Freedom. One of these was Abner Lacock, who, with his wife Hannah, moved here from Beaver town about 1810-12. They established their home on a pleasant, flat narrow plain that fronted on and sloped gently down to the Ohio River.
Just a brief review of the public political career of Abner Lacock is pertinent. Appointed Justice of the Peace from Pitt Township, Allegheny County ( Now Beaver County) at the age of twenty six, He was appointed Associate Justice of the Court by Governor McKean. In 1808 he was elected to the U.S. Congress. In 1812 he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He died at his residence Spril 12, 1837, at age 66.
The other famous person who was here before Freedom was William Vicary, a ship captain, who established himself and his home in this area. His house still stands and it may well be one of the oldest usable houses in Beaver County. What is its name? Vicary House at the corner of third Avenue and Harvey Run Road.

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