Potter County, Chapter 18, Sylvania Townsip

Created: Tuesday, 21 October 2008 Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email




SYLVANIA TOWNSHIP, north of Wharton and east of Portage, finds the Sinnemahoning increasing in size among its grim forests. Above and at Costello, the First fork, the South fork and Freeman's fork of this creek flow together. The county is rich in material for the student of natural history, while the borough of Austin and town of Costello afford subject to the student of enterprise and progress. North of Costello the huge boulders, farther away the red shale. and in the northeast corner, gray shale and gray sandstone, and the regular dip of the rocks northwest and southwest from the centre, make the township a book which the student must walk to read. The population in 1880 was 214. In 1888 there were 59 Republican, 61 Democrat and 16 United Labor votes cast, representing 680 inhabitants, while in 1889 the number of taxpayers was 211, and value of property $82,415. This township was assessed in 1857-  58 by A.C. Scovill, who found here E.O. Austin, Andrew, William and Chester Burleson, John Brownlee, Thomas, Hugh and Ben. Booth, Joseph Baker, William Carson, Washington Clinton, McReady Earl, Eli, James and John Glaspy, T. Gearhart, Joe Hall, William and Pardon Haskin, Franklin and Beaty Holliday, C.W. Ives, William and T.M. Keeler, Henry Knickerbocker, James Logue, A.G. Olmsted, Lewis Payne, Chester and Elijah Prouty, James, Isaac and C.C. Rees, A.C. Scovill, T.L. Tulle, John Vanatter, Charles and Isaac Wykoff and R.H. Young. William Carson with others moved upon the upper Sinnemahoning in 1836. He was a mill- wright and built a small log grist- mill above the mouth of Freeman's run, at the upper end of the Costello tannery, in Sylvania. The old mill (a block or log building) was in existence until recent years. The Webb colony, referred to in the history of Costello, settled here in 1835-  36.

In 1838 Eli Rees and John Glaspy moved from Philadelphia into the forest, what is now the township of Sylvania, near the forks of the First fork of the Sinnemahoning, at the place now known as Rees Settlement. They came into the country by the way of Jersey Shore, and, as there were no roads after leaving the turnpike, they were obliged to chop their way through the woods. Their nearest neighbor, John Nelson, lived five miles south, and in the other direction George Ayers, on Ayers' Hill, was their nearest neighbor, nine Smiles distant. The children of Eli Rees were: Sons-  Eli, Jr., Columbus, James, Isaac, Thomas and Miller; daughters-  Mary Ann (Mrs. John Glaspy), and Hannah (Mrs. Corry). The children of John Glaspy were James, Edward, Miller, Eli, Elizabeth (Mrs. Wheeler) and Mary (Mrs. Logue). Eli Rees, Jr., while county treasurer, was accidentally shot and killed by D.D. Reed, in 1859. Eli Rees, Sr., came here as an agent for the Webb lands, receiving for himself 400 acres. He laid out a village plot where the tannery town of Costello now stands. Every man who bought a farm received the deed of a village lot. Farms were sold and the land brought under cultivation, but the village refused to grow until many years after, when manufacturing interests gave it a. push. Within two or three years after the arrival of Rees and Glaspy, Chester Prouty came into the country. The first blacksmith was Isaac Rees. He is still living at the advanced age of seventy- seven years.

Those passing the estate of Columbus C. Rees, to whom we are indebted for much useful information, will notice a large pine standing in one corner of the lot in which his house is built, near the creek. This Mr. Rees set out when he was a boy, first in the garden, but at his father's suggestion he transplanted it to its present position. Benj. Berfield informs us that at this timer his father was living down the stream; remembers his father camping out with two Indians, where the camp- meeting ground is now, while hunting, and also remembers lying awake, when a small boy, until 1 o'clock in the morning, listening for the report of his father's gun, who was lying in wait for a bear that had killed his sheep. The bear when brought in tipped the scales at 400 pounds.

In 1835 the first church was organized in Sylvania, Methodist Episcopal in creed. Rev. Butt and Rev. Gregg preached alternately once every four weeks at the house of Eli Rees, Sr. But the first prayer meeting was held two years before by Isaac Rees, in William Crosby's log- house, near where the church stands now. Soon after this preachers came and held services in the house of Widow Hamilton, and formed a class of six or seven members. Isaac Rees was appointed class leader, and used to walk eight miles on Sunday to meet with his class. Isaac Roes learned the gunsmith's trade in West Philadelphia, but on coming to the colony he became a blacksmith. The first schoolhouse in Sylvania township was built by David Wilson for the land owner, Samuel Webb, in 1838. Isaac Rees taught the first school. The first gristmill in Sylvania was built by William Carson for Samuel Webb, in 1839. There was no hotel until 1861, when one was opened by William Burleson.

The officers elected in 1890 are as follows: Supervisor, George Morse; town clerk, E.E. Curtis; treasurer, A.D. Jorden; constable, John F. Cadden; auditor, R.F. Martin; collector, John F. Cadden; school directors, J.M. Rees, A.J. Burleson, J.F. Cadden; judge of election, H.N. Rees; inspectors of election, Edward Bailey, Harry Peck; overseer of the poor, Ed. Glaspy.


Costello is named in honor of the enterprising leather manufacturer, P.H. Costello. Prior to 1880 he and a brother brought the old tannery at Oswayo into the front rank of leather factories, and coming here that year built up another great industry in the wilderness, which gives employment to over 250 men directly, and many more indirectly.

The first settlement at the mouth of Freeman's run was made in 1835-  30 by the weaver, William Carson and wife, Scotch- Irish people and members of Quaker Webb's Upper Sinnemahoning colony. The Carson cabin was given the name "The Saint's Rest," and the grist- mill (a little log affair) "The Settlers' Hope." This mill stood, until recently, at the upper end of the great tannery grounds, while the race forms part of the water- supply system of the tannery. This mill was built by Carson for Webb, the only one of many of his proposed manufacturing industries brought into existence. In 1837 he had a town, Sylvania, surveyed on the site of the present town of Costello, and a short time afterward a small log building was erected to point out the center of settlement as well as for school purposes. Grounds for cemetery purposes were also set apart at that time.

In 1878 P.C. and P.H. Costello directed their attention to this part of Potter county, and decided upon selling the old Oswayo tannery, which they had already made a great industry, and establishing their works on the Upper Sinnemahoning. They purchased the Pratt lands together with the William and Chester Burleson's farm and R.G. Stewart's farm. On the site of the Burleson and Stewart lands, the Sylvania of 1837, the work of erecting tannery buildings was entered upon in 1880, and in the summer of 1881 the first hides were put in, and a yard 1,000 x 90 feet completed in every particular. The buildings were considered adequate to meet the requirements of trade for a number of years, but within a short time they proved too limited.

There are now three yards or vat buildings equaling one building 190 x 1200 feet, containing 900 vats 8 x 10 feet square and 5 1/2 feet deep. To get an idea of the size of such a building, compare it with the court- house in Coudersport, it being more that forty- two times larger. The two beam houses are equal to a building 115 x 160 feet, equal to three and a half such buildings. The hide house is 127x171 feet, or four such buildings. The scouring and oiling room is 76 x 136 feet, or twice as large. The dry house, finishing and shipping rooms are 42 x 730 feet, and four stories in height, which, on the ground, nearly equals a building six times as large as the court- house. Viewing it in this manner an idea can be obtained of the immense structure in Costello. This latter building has a capacity of drying and finishing 1,200 sides of leather a day. It is heated throughout with steam; has two elevators each of 6,000 pounds hoisting capacity; is equipped with a two- foot guage railroad track, laid with fifteen- pound steel rails, which aggregate over a mile in length. The leach house is 50 x 372 feet, and contains forty- eight round leaches, each of thirteen cords capacity. There are six bark mills in operation. The steam bank consists of ten boilers, capable of producing 900 horse- power, running eight engines located in different parts of the works, equalling in all 550 horsepower. The water for the yard is supplied by an artesian well. It is gaseous, burning freely for a moment when a match is applied. There are consumed in this establishment 32,000 cords of bark annually, mainly supplied by the Goodyears. The spent bark is mostly burned in the boiler arches; indeed they are constructed to consume as much as possible. There are yearly put out for market 265,000 sides of sole leather, equal to over 6,000,000 pounds, or 3,000 tons, about one half of which is sold for exportation, a large percentage of the balance being consumed in home markets. All leather is consigned to their New York house, where it is sold. The water- works for protection from fires is very complete and admirable, and the force of workmen well drilled. Steam heat is used throughout, and the whole lighted by electricity. There are eighty houses occupied by employes, together with a large boarding house; also a general repair shop, machine shop, blacksmith and wagon shop, saw- mill, extensive stables, a large acreage of farm lands in the highest state of cultivation, as well as 25,000 acres of hemlock timber lands. A general store, 30 x 90 feet, two stories in height, is supplied and maintained for the use of the hands, but much merchandise is sold to citizens of the surrounding country; indeed, before the building of Austin it was the chief source of supplies for a large surrounding region. The offices attached are large and commodious, being 24 x 38 feet, two stories in height, and fitted and furnished for the use designed. They are connected by telephone with the neighboring villages, with the Western Union Telegraph system, and the railroad offices at Austin and Keating Summit. There are employed in these works about 275 men, at an average monthly pay roll of from $9,000 to $10,000. Many of the employes are from necessity skilled workmen, and are excellent citizens. The business was established by P.C. & P.H. Costello, at Camden, Oneida Co., N.Y., about 1844. From that their celebrated brand of leather took the name of "Camden Sole Leather," so well known in the trade. The present company of Alfred Costello & Co. consists of P.H., P.C., Alfred and John H. Costello, the latter being a resident here.

Among the leading business houses of the village of Costello, in 1889, were the following: Alfred Costello & Co., general store; W.B. Rees, drugs and jewelry; H. & M.J. Young, groceries; C.W. Breisenick, drugs and groceries; Julius M. Harris, general store, and E.L. Brownlee, millinery and fancy goods.

At Wharton, across the river, are the general stores of Westgate Bros. And D.S. Seibert & Co, and the grocery store of B.F. Ross. The Sylvania Portage bridge over the Sinnemahoning at Costello was authorized in December, 1889, and the contracts for stone abutments sold to M. Delaney, of Olean, N.Y. The Costello saw- mill, built in 1850, was burned in 1882, but rebuilt the following spring. This mill is now leased by Albert Lyman, and is devoted to the cutting of hardwood. In January, 1890, Daniel Lyman purchased the hardwood on the lands of F. Goodyear, in the vicinity of Austin, for $50,000. It is his intention to erect a large mill at this point for its manufacture. A great wood- pulp factory is proposed.

St. Paul's Catholic Church dates back to 1886. A very neat church building was erected that year, at a cost of about $4,000-  the Messrs. Costello donating the lots and a cash contribution, all estimated at $1,000. Father Patterson served this part of the large parish of St. Mary's until his death. Father Cosgrove is now pastor.

Source: Page(s) 1104-1109 History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed May 2006 by Nathan Zipfel, Published 2006 by PA-Roots