History of Warren County, Chapter 30



Source of the Conewango - Navigable Waters of the County - Asking Aid for Their Improvement - Survey of the Allegheny by U.S. Engineers - Its Length and Fall from Olean to Pittsburgh - Early Manner of Transporting Freight and Passengers - Keel-boats - Their Great Usefulness - Shipping Lumber to New Orleans - Names of Steamboats Engaged in the Warren and Pittsburgh Trade - An Immense Raft - Description of Rafting - Nathan Brown’s Ventures - Wagon Roads Laid Out by the Pioneers - Present Condition of Highways - Railroads - Celebrating the Opening of Railway Communication with Erie - Date of Completing Other Railroads.



THE waters flowing through the Conewango branch of the Allegheny River take their rise on the borders of Lake Erie at an average elevation of about thirteen hundred feet above the sea, and nearly seven hundred feet above the level of the lake. Hence a small boat can start within seven or eight miles of Lake Erie, in sight of the large sailing vessels and steam propellers which navigate the great lakes, and float down to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of about two thousand five hundred miles.

Before the beginning of the present century the Allegheny, Conewango, and Brokenstraw were officially declared navigable waters of the Commonwealth, but, as all well-informed readers know, they were only navigated by canoes, keel-boats, and rafts, until about the year 1830. For years prior to this date efforts had been made by the people’s representatives, both at Harrisburg and the national capital, to obtain appropriations for the improvement of the streams named. The only response to these appeals, however, in any degree satisfactory, was obtained in the year 1817, when the State Legislature appropriated the munificent sum of one thousand dollars for the improvement of the Allegheny River, and French and Conewango Creeks.

During subsequent years, after the steamboat Allegheny had made her historic trip to Olean, the questions of slack-water navigation and the building of a canal parallel with the Allegheny River were paramount for a time and vigorously agitated. As a result of this agitation the river was surveyed from Pittsburgh to Olean, and the distances between points, and altitudes, accurately ascertained. This work was performed by Major Kearney and Major Hughes, topographical engineers of the United States army. The first named surveyed the river from Pittsburgh to Franklin, the latter from Franklin to Olean. According to their report, the distance in miles, and the descent of the river in feet between the towns mentioned, was found to be as follows: From Little Valley, N.Y. (which is twenty-five miles by river below Olean), to State line, twenty miles, and one hundred feet fall. From the State line to Warren, twenty-two miles, and one hundred and five feet fall. From Warren to Franklin, sixty-five miles, and two hundred and five feet fall. From Franklin to Pittsburgh, one hundred and twenty-one and one-half miles, and two hundred and fifty-six feet fall.

Prior to the inauguration of steam navigation between Pittsburgh and Warren, keel-boats and large canoes were mainly relied upon for the transportation of freight and passengers. The keel-boats would carry from ten to twelve tons each, and among the favorite ones remembered by early residents were the Transport, Mayflower, and Rover. During the very early years boats of this class were poled up the river, a slow and very laborious method of navigation. Afterwards they were towed by attaching a cable and two or three horses to each. By this means the journey from Pittsburgh to Warren could be accomplished in from ten to twelve days, which was considered quite expeditious. The return down the river, however, could be made in three days. Even after the advent of steam navigation keel-boats had to be depended upon in a great measure, for quite frequently steamers could not ascend above Franklin, and for many weeks in the year they could not navigate the river for any considerable distance above Pittsburgh, from lack of depth of water over the shoals. Indeed, the keel-boats continued to make their trips up and down the river until the building of railroads rendered their further use unnecessary and unprofitable. The freight charges between Pittsburgh and Warren during the era of river navigation ranged from fifty cents to one dollar and a quarter per hundred pounds.

In other pages of this work frequent allusions have been made regarding the early lumbering operations in this county, and the running of the first rafts to Pittsburgh. This business began here with the century, and was continued unceasingly for more than fifty years, or until there were no more pine forests of any considerable extent to destroy. Long before the organization of the county Jacob Hook, up the Allegheny, Major Harriot and Colonel Hackney, up the Conewango, and the Meads and McKinneys on the Brokenstraw, were extensively engaged in the manufacture and rafting of lumber.

The product of their mills was mostly marketed at Pittsburgh; but there were other markets where the unexcelled white pine lumber of Warren county was more highly appreciated. To illustrate: "The first foreign traffic in pine lumber from the Brokenstraw" said Judge Johnson in an address delivered at the dedication of the cemetery at Youngsville, "of which I have any authentic account, was a fleet of three boats got together at the mouth of the creek, in the fall and winter of 1805-o6, and started on its perilous voyage to New Orleans on the 1st day of April, 1806. The lumber had been gathered from the mills of Long, Andrews, Mead and others, of the best quality, stub-shotted and kiln-dried during the winter, while the boats were building. It was owned by Colonel William McGaw and William B. Foster, and brought in New Orleans $40 per 1000 feet. Daniel Horn and Daniel McQuay were two of the hands on board, and walked back;" the first taking a sailing vessel to Baltimore and thence walking home in time to do his summer’s work, the latter walking the entire distance from New Orleans.

"In the spring of 1807, another fleet of seven boats freighted with seasoned lumber, owned by Joseph Mead, Abram Davis, and John Watt started to the same destination - New Orleans; the owners returning by sailing vessels to Philadelphia, and the pilots and hands finding their way back as best they could. These ventures were several times repeated by the same and other parties, and McQuay and others are said to have made several return trips on foot, a feat that required more time and risk than a journey around the globe at the present day.

"This was the morning twilight of the lumber trade, that for half a century thereafter furnished so large a field for the enterprise and industry of the residents of the county. Infant-like at first, boards crept cautiously down the creeks in floats or single platforms, with the aid of halyards and Gregg’s hickory splint cables. Gradually the markets, mills, and rafts enlarged until they absorbed nearly all the capital, the enterprise, and the energies of the county."

The county, as we have shown, was almost inaccessible except through its natural water-ways. Pork, flour, whisky, etc., had to be brought in keel-boats and canoes from Pittsburgh; salt, nails, glass, etc., from Mayville, by boats passing through Chautauqua Lake and its outlet. Truly, nothing but industry, economy, and indomitable perseverance insured success, or the attainment of even the most common necessaries of life. The pine forests (never to be replaced) were the main reliance of the early settlers, and their destruction was brought about at first, more particularly for the purpose of supplying the imperative demands of the pioneer stomach, than by any burning desire to supply the demands of trade.

For fifteen or twenty years subsequent to 1830 a blank exists in the history of Warren county, which can never be satisfactorily filled, by reason of the general neglect of people to preserve newspapers, and the loss by fire, in 1849, of quite complete files of The Voice of the People, Warren Bulletin, Democratic Advocate, and Warren Standard, stored in the Standard office and there burned. The Warren Mail, now the senior newspaper in the county, was established in 1848, and from its complete files we have gleaned what little more can be told regarding the river and its traffic. In the spring of 1848 the freight charges by keel-boatmen, between Pittsburgh and Warren were noted as varying from seventy-five cents to one dollar and a quarter per hundred weight.

On the 19th of December, 1848, the Mail chronicles the arrival of the steamer Wave from Pittsburgh, loaded with flour, pig-iron, etc., also about fifty passengers. The editor closes his remarks concerning her trip, etc., as follows: "If she can run from Pittsburgh to the extent of steam navigation on the Allegheny, by sleighing, she will deserve, as she will doubtless receive, a liberal share of public patronage."

Early in 1849 the following announcement was printed in the newspapers and placarded about the town:



"Wm. H. Gordon, Master.

"HAVING been built expressly for the Pittsburgh and Warren trade will run regularly between the above ports during the entire boating season. The Wave No. 2 being the only boat built expressly for the trade referred to, will rely with confidence on the support of the citizens of Warren and surrounding county.

"N.B. - Keel Boats will be furnished for the transportation of freight in low water."

On the 20th of March the Mail man was pleased to say: "Two steamers in to-day; the Arena and the Wave. Oh, how we flourish. This is a great town, notwithstanding one end is burned off. Think of it! Two steamers in one day; two acres of rafts lying in the eddy, and others passing every moment. Crowds of people thronging the streets and room for more. The telegraph flashing intelligence from all points of the Union, and last, but not least, the Allegheny Mail in full blast."

These boats made several round trips during the season mentioned, charging fifty cents per hundred pounds for freight. During the month of April of that year was noted the passage down the river of four boats built and owned by Nathan Brown, of Jamestown, N.Y.; each being seventy feet long and sixteen feet wide, and three of them handsomely painted and finished in a manner superior to any thing before seen on the river. They were loaded with scythe-snaths, grain-cradles, hoes, hay-rakes, pitch-forks, shovels, sash, doors, etc., of the value of $15,000.

The steamer Clara Fisher made her first appearance at Warren in March, 1850; her dimensions being as follows: Length of keel 145 feet; breadth of beam 25 feet, and depth of hull 4 feet 4 inches. She was built by that well-known boat builder, Pringle, of West Brownsville, and cost $1,300. Many of the citizens of Warren accepted an invitation from Captain William H. Gordon, her master, and enjoyed a trip to the mouth of the Brokenstraw and return.

By the erection of bridges at Pittsburgh and Franklin, and the building of the Freeport Aqueduct, the free navigation of the Allegheny was seriously obstructed as early as 1851. In denouncing these obstructions the editor of Mail, in February of that year, said: "We ought to have slack water navigation... Either this will at no distant day be done, or a railroad will be constructed along the valley of the Allegheny." In March of the same year was noted the arrival of the Allegheny Belle. Her actual running time from Pittsburgh to Warren was thirty-three hours, yet by reason of her detention at the Freeport Aqueduct, it required five and one-half days to make the trip. The Clara Fisher, also, made a trip about the same time and was similarly delayed at the same point.

In January, 1852, the steamboats Cornplanter, Clara Fisher, and Belle No. 2 were noted as arrivals at the port of Warren with freight and passengers from Pittsburgh. The Fisher and Cornplanter also visited Warren in December of the same year.

In the spring of 1853 the steamboats mentioned as arriving with freight, etc., from Pittsburgh were the Clarion, Clara Fisher, Cornplanter, Belle, Sam Snowden, and Justice.

The Clara Fisher seems to have had a monopoly of the carrying trade in 1855, as she was the only boat mentioned. The business of rafting, however, was in the aggregate of enormous proportions. Many millions of feet were floated past Warren, and one of its residents alone sent 7,000,000 feet to the lower markets. It was noted also that Captain Hall, of Warren, owned a raft which, when it passed Cincinnati, Ohio, contained 1,500,000 feet of boards. It covered an area of nearly two acres, and, it was asserted, was the largest raft ever seen upon the Ohio River.

The Cornplanter and several other boats already mentioned visited Warren in the spring of 1856. In April of that year the editor of the Mail, who had experienced its vicissitudes and rough pleasures, described life on a raft, as follows: "Let any one stand at the wharf and see the process of ‘snubbing’ an Allegheny raft on this water, and he will get an inkling of life on the Allegheny and the labors of a raftsman.

"With what a steady, solemn, irresistible force comes the broad, rich fleet, turned this way and that by the quick, nervous strokes of the creaking oar. With what coolness and half-heroism the pilot heads to land, and marks the spot to a foot, while half a mile above, where he will strike, if he is a good pilot; and what a silly, laughable, fidgetty splutter if he is a novice. How the boys ‘crack ‘er to the right’ ‘crack ‘er to the left’ and ‘crack ‘er up behind.’ Then comes the ‘snubbing,’ - look out for your legs. How the cable uncoils, stretches, sizzles, snaps and jerks. How the cabler hangs like a puppy to a root and bounds for a new hitch when it runs out like lightning, tearing the nails from his fingers, and the slivers and bark from the post or tree. But a big raft, like a big rogue, tires of pulling hemp and swings at the rope’s end surely at last. Then how the boys sweat and puff and blow. And what a lusty supper they get in the ‘shanty,’ and how richly do they relish it, and what a glorious sweet slumber is theirs on the soft side of a plank, or bundle of straw."

In December, 1856, great losses were sustained by many lumbermen on the upper Allegheny, in their attempts to run rafts down the river so late in the season. They were caught en route by a blizzard which suddenly closed navigation.

The steamers announced as carrying freight and passengers between Warren and Pittsburgh in 1858-59, were the Venango and Echo. During the latter year mention was made of a raft claimed to have been the largest ever floated down the Allegheny river. It contained 600,000 feet of boards, of which 400,000 feet were "clear stuff," and was rated to be worth not less than $12,000. Captain James Martin was in charge. The lumber was manufactured by Joseph Hall at his mills in Mead township, on the Tionesta Creek.

In May, 1860, the Mail informed its readers that "the steamboat which has been in process of construction for some time past has been completed, and will now ply regularly between this place and Tidioute. She is to be called the J.D. James, after our distinguished townsman." For some reason, however, the James proved to be a failure.

The steamer River Queen was built at the yard of C.F. Starkey, on the Sill farm, just below Warren, in the spring of 1865. She was one hundred and fifty feet long, light draught, thirty feet beam, and intended to ply between Warren and Pittsburgh; but we find no other mention of her.

The steamer Annie Lavelle, from Pittsburgh, visited Warren in March, 1866. During the same year Captain Gardner built a steamboat opposite Warren, which was burned at Tidioute in March, 1867. It was the fate of Tidioute at that time to be "burned up" about three times a year.

The last steamboat mentioned as navigating these waters was the W.A. Eddy. Fifty-three feet long and ten feet breadth of beam, she passed Warren en route from Randolph and Cold Spring, N.Y., to Parker’s Landing April 2, 1870.

In 1885 Nathan Brown, of Jamestown, N.Y., the most widely-known character along the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers, closed his career as a boatman; the last boat of his fleet making a total of one hundred and fifty-six. From 1843 his trips had been made annually, with the regularity of the seasons. Starting at Jamestown he floated along the outlet of Chautauqua Lake, then through Cassadaga Creek into the Conewango and Allegheny, jumping several mill-dams, and thence down the Allegheny and Ohio, landing at all towns as far as Evansville and Paducah. His boats usually were seventy-five feet long, sixteen feet wide, and fitted up with separate rooms, pantries, etc. His stock in trade generally consisted of sash, doors, blinds, nails and trimmings, also hoes, rakes, scythes, snaths, axes, grain-cradles, furniture, etc. His wooden wares were manufactured at Jamestown, N.Y.; his cast-steel articles by S.A. Millard, of Clayville, N.Y. After disposing of his goods he generally sold his boats at Louisville, Ky., or below, at a good profit for trading-boats.


It is probable that the first attempt at road-building in the county of Warren was performed under the orders of agents of the Holland Land Company during the years 1795-96; but as these avenues of travel, if so they could be called, were simply for the convenience of employees of the company, and as this region was then without the limits, so to speak, of judicial jurisdiction, the rude highways cut out by the above-mentioned company were never made a matter of record.

Under the jurisdiction of Crawford and Venango counties, and before the organization of Warren, the following described roads were laid out by and for the accommodation of Warren’s pioneers. From "Marsh’s Landing to the Public Square in town of Warren," Daniel Jackson, Robert Miles, Hugh Marsh, Joseph Goodwell, and James Justice, viewers, confirmed July 7, 1801. From "Marsh’s Landing to William McClean’s," Robert Miles, James Shipman, James Brown, John Marsh, Hugh Marsh, and Milford Marsh, viewers, confirmed January 12, 1802. From "the town of Warren to Brokenstraw," Daniel Jackson, Jeremiah Morrison, James Morrison, Joseph Gray, John McKinney, and John Andrews, viewers, confirmed April 7, 1802. From "Marsh’s Landing to the State Line," Ethan Jackson, Stephen Ross, Jacob Goodwin, William Eagan, Daniel Jackson, Michael McKinney, viewers, confirmed at March sessions in 1807. From "McDowell’s to Devoe’s improvements," Ninian Irvine, Eliel Farr, James Ricketts, Francis McClintock, and Richard Hamilton, viewers, approved September 19, 1808. From "Giles White’s to John Hinds’," Charles McNair, John Watts, Hugh Wilson, Philip Huffman, and John Arthur, viewers, confirmed December 8, 1808. From "the Crawford county line through the western part of Brokenstraw township," confirmed November 8, 1810. From "the State road at Little Brokenstraw Creek to the place where Conewango Path crosses the same"; confirmed February 7, 1811. From "town of Warren to New York State line near the two hundred and fourth mile-stone"; Samuel Dale, Alexander Clants, David Brown, Edward Jones, Daniel Jackson, and James Rogers, viewers, confirmed November 6, 1811.

"Alteration in State road from Warren to Brokenstraw," Samuel Dale, Daniel Jackson, Robert Arthur, Samuel Morrison, and John Watts, viewers, confirmed November 4, 1812. From "Conewango Creek to Sackettsburgh," Daniel Horn, Charles McNair, Hugh Marsh, John Brown, William Davis, and Isaiah Jones, viewers, confirmed November 7, 1815. From "Little Brokenstraw to William C. White’s," Abraham Strickland, Ephraim Miles, Charles McNair, William C. White, Lansing Wetmore, and James Irvine, viewers, approved November 9, 1815. From "Jacob Goodwin’s to the two hundred and fourth mile-stone on the New York State line," John Brown, Amos York, Charles McNair, Jacob Goodwin, Richard B. Miller, and William Arthur, viewers, confirmed December 6, 1816. From "Lottsville to meet a road laid out from John Titus’s to the State line, at an angle known by the name of Alexander Watts’ Cabin," Harmonius Lott and others, viewers, confirmed February 4, 1817. From "Fleming’s Mill, in Venango county, to Shelletto’s in Warren county," Edward Fleming, James Miller, David Kidd, Daniel Fleming, and Samuel Fleming, viewers, confirmed November 4, 1817. From "the State line to the crossings of the roads," David Dalrymple, Thomas Green, John Brown, Richard B. Miller, and John Tuthill, viewers, confirmed May sessions, 1818. From "Youngsville to intersect the road from Jacob Goodwin’s to the State line," John Mead, Henry Kinnear, Mathew Young, Hugh Wilson, and William Mead, viewers, confirmed November 24, 1818. From "Culbertson’s Mill to Erie county line," James Culbertson, Alexander Watts, Daniel Horn, Hugh Wilson, Jacob Goodwin, and James Bonner, viewers, confirmed February 22, 1819. From "two hundred and second mile-stone on State line to John Barr’s," William Stewart, Garret Burgett, John Marsh, and Hugh Marsh, viewers, whose report was confirmed May 23, 1819.

Since the organization of the county scores of other roads have been laid out and somewhat improved until to-day they are found leading in all directions. They are, however, very, very ordinary dirt roads. Once a year the farmers and others assessed for highway tax turn out and spoil the road here and there within their beat for the ensuing twelvemonth, by throwing upon it loose loam, sods and stones, and the next year the same operation is repeated at other points. As a result of this yearly patch work, "a lick and a promise," highways which have been in use for fifty years are in no better condition than when first opened, other than the disappearance of stumps, roots and some loose bowlders.


The Sunbury and Erie, now known as the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, was chartered in 1837, mainly through the persistent efforts of Hon. Thomas Struthers, of Warren. This was only eight years after railroads were first used as public thoroughfares in America. Owing to the failure of the United States Bank, the Sunbury and Erie Railroad enterprise, in which it was the principal stockholder, lay dormant for many years. Its friends, however, were undismayed, and one of them, Dr. G.A. Irvine, to save the charter, graded a portion of the line near Irvine Station in 1840. In 1856, the towns and counties along the route having subscribed very liberally to the capital stock, work was commenced at the western terminus, and late in the fall of 1859 the western division, from Erie to Warren, was completed.

The cars first came into Warren December 10, but did not commence running regularly on schedule time until December 21, 1859. On the 15th of that month occurred the celebration at Warren in honor of so great an event in its history - railroad communication with Erie, and thence by other railroads with the chief cities of the Union. Many visitors from Erie, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York and other places were present. Among the Erie guests present were General Wilson and staff, escorted by the Wayne Guards of Erie and a brass six pounder. They were appropriately received by General R. Brown and staff, the Packer Rifles, and a uniformed body of fireman, representing the citizens of Warren. After a street parade a banquet was enjoyed at the Carver House, where Hons. S.P. Johnson, G.W. Scofield, C.B. Curtis, Thos. Struthers, and Rev. C.L. Hequembourg, did the principal speaking for Warren; G.J. Ball, M.B. Lowry, C.W. Kelso, W.A. Galbraith, and ex-Mayor King for Erie, and Chief Engineer Farris for the railroad company. At night a military ball, held at Odd Fellows Hall, closed the festivities of the occasion.

The first through passenger train from the eastern terminus reached Warren August 12, 1864, but the formal opening of this avenue of travel and commerce did not take place until October 4 of that year. From its inception, twenty-seven years prior to that date, Thomas Struthers had been one of its warmest and most active advocates, and during its building he, together with C.B. Curtis and L.D. Wetmore as contractors, under the firm names of Struthers, Curtis & Co., and Struthers & Wetmore, built thirty or forty miles of the road from Irvineton eastward. At times they had as many as five hundred men in their employ at the same moment. The name of the road was changed from the Sunbury and Erie, to the Philadelphia and Erie, in 1861.

Other railroads were completed during the years mentioned as follows: The Warren and Franklin from Irvineton to Oil City in 1866, carrying 65,000 passengers during the first five months after its completion. The Dunkirk and Warren railroad, commenced in the fall of 1867, was finished in 1871, and in 1872 the Warren and Venango road, from Warren to Titusville, was opened for business. In 1883 was completed another railroad, running up the Allegheny River through Kinzua and Corydon to Salamanca and Olean, now called the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad, making Warren a center, to and from which trains run in five different directions every day in the week, Sundays excepted.

SOURCE: Page(s) 302-310, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887