A Short History of Somerset County

Created: Monday, 14 September 2015 Last Updated: Monday, 14 September 2015 Written by Administrator Print Email

That part of Pennsylvania now included within the limits of Somerset County, was formerly part of Bedford County, from which it was taken by an act of Assembly, dated April 17, 1795. It contains within its borders an area of 1,050 square miles. Situated as it is, between the Laurel Hill and Allegheny Mountains, the country is one of remarkable beauty. It is of an undulating character, consisting of high hills, fertile valleys, and grassy glades. Owing to its elevated position, the climate is liable to great and sudden changes. The soil of its glades and valleys, and even on some of the mountain sides, is very rich and productive, and will compare favorably with the best farming lands in Lancaster and other eastern counties. The county is bounded on the north by Cambria, on the east by Bedford. The southern border is the Maryland State line, and the western border is composed of Fayette and Westmoreland Counties. The lowest grade over the Allegheny Mountains is to be found in this county, by way of the Deeter Gap. This gap is formed by a small stream, known as the Deeter\'s Run, forcing its way through the mountains. It has its source within a few hundred rods of the summit of the mountain, and is one of the streams that form the head-waters of the Raystown branch of the Juniata River.

The county is almost a solid bituminous mountain, at least two-thirds of the entire area containing coal, one-half iron-ore, one-half limestone, and full one-third contains all three in juxtaposition. Fully one-half of its area is clothed with forests, numbering among their growth almost every variety of timber known to a mountainous country. Among the principal coal veins are those of the North Fork, Elk Lick, and Buffalo basins, the average depth of the seams being about eight feet. The agricultural products are principally wheat, rye, oats, buckwheat, and potatoes. A large amount of the land is devoted to grazing and dairy farms, and "Glades butter" enjoys an enviable reputation in the Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other eastern markets. The amount of maple sugar manufactured forms no small item in the yearly products of most of its farms. The manufacturing interests are not very numerous, and are mainly confined to woolen goods, lumber, whiskey, and leather. A large fire-brick manufactory has been established on the line of the Pittsburgh branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, a short distance east of Meyersdale.

The development of the county was very backward until the completion of the Pittsburgh division of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, in the fall of 1870. Since that time it has been quite rapid. There are now seven lines of railroad being operated in the county; the Pittsburgh division of the Baltimore and Ohio, the North Fork, Somerset and Mineral Point, Buffalo Valley, Salisbury, and the Keystone.

The point at which the first settlement was made is a matter of doubt, and one about which there has been considerable dispute. There is a tradition founded on what seems to be good authority (which will be given as we proceed further with this history) that the first settlement was made at Turkeyfoot, prior to the Chester settlement, but the oldest settlement of which we have been able to gain any accurate knowledge appears to have been made in the Glades, near the centre of the county, the present site of the town of Somerset, and in Brother\'s Valley.

A number of hunters located in the Glades, near the centre of the county, where the present town of Somerset now stands, about the year 1765. Their names were Sparks, Cole, Penrod, White, Wright, and Cox. The latter appears to have been the leader of the party, and gave his name to the creek which
flows through the Glades. A number of them afterwards removed their families to their claims, and became permanent residents. In the spring of 1773 the number of settlers was greatly augmented by the arrival of people from the eastern side of the mountains, and continued to grow rapidly in numbers and prosperity until the beginning of the Revolution.

As early as 1762, a party of settlers had located along the O1d Forbes Road, which had been opened up by Colonel Bouquet, on his expedition to Fort Pitt in 1758. His command constructed a small fort where Stoystown now stands, and it is probable that they threw up the earthworks (known as Miller\'s
breastworks), at the forks of the road in the Allegheny Mountains. In the fall of the year 1758, General Forbes marched his command over this road. A very small force of men were regularly stationed at the fort at Stoystown until the memorable invasion by Pontiac in 1763, when they were called in to the assistance of the garrison at Bedford. This road continued to be the only avenue of communication between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for nearly forty years after. The settlers spoken of above settled along the direct line of the road, and were stopping places of notoriety among the traders and packers. Among them were Casper Stetler, near the summit of the mountain; John Miller, on the top of the mountain; and John Stoy, where Stoystown now is. Mr. Husbands, in his "Annals of the Early Settlement of Somerset County," says, "about the year 1780 a colony of fifteen or twenty families from New Jersey arrived at Turkeyfoot and spread over the adjacent hills, from which it received the name of Jersey settlement." These persons were mostly Baptists. Benedict\'s history gives the date of the first organization of a church at this point at 1775. The Redstone Association, to which this church belongs, was established in 1776.

The news of the stirring events that were being enacted in the east during the spring and summer of 1776, did not reach this settlement till fall, owing to the imperfect line of communication they were enabled to keep up with the outside world. The news of Lexington and the signing of the Declaration of Independence awakened the enthusiasm and patriotism of the settlers, and a company of riflemen was enlisted by Captain Richard Brown, and marched east to the scene of hostilities. This company, after participating in the battle of Long Island, was ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, and served in nearly all of the battles of the Revolution, fought in the southern campaign, and but few of their number ever returned to the settlement. The absence of such a large number of its able-bodied men left the settlement in rather a precarious and defenceless condition. The Indians, instigated by the British, commenced to become troublesome; and after the massacre at Hannastown, Westmoreland County, in September, 1782 (the nearest settlement to the west of the Glades), the consternation became so great that the settlement was almost entirely abandoned.

In the spring of the following year, a number of them returned, and after the treaty of peace with Great Britain, nearly all the old settlers and a large number of new ones joined the settlement. From that time on their numbers increased rapidly, and on the 21st of December, 1795, the first court was held. The court was held in a room in John Webster\'s tavern, by Alexander Addison, Esquire, Judge, and James Wells, Abraham Cable, and Ebenezer Griffith, justices of the peace.

In 1776, the order book of the county commissioners shows that John Campbell and Josiah Espy received the sum of two hundred and seventy dollars seventy-five cents and one-half cent, for the erection of a temporary jail in Somerset town. The sessions of court continued to be held in different rooms about the town, rented for the purpose, until the year 1800, when the commissioners had a stone court house erected. The contract for the erection of the building was awarded to Robert Spencer. A jail was erected in 1802. These buildings remained until about 1852-\'53, when they were torn down to make room for the present ones. During the Whiskey Insurrection the citizens of this county took but little part with the malcontents. A liberty pole was raised in the public square, and one night a party of masked men, supposed to be from Westmoreland County, took the collector from his house and compelled him to swear that he would not enforce the odious laws. Mr. Husbands and Mr. Philson were taken to Philadelphia and thrown into prison on a charge of having been connected with the insurrection. After enduring imprisonment of eight months, Mr. Husbands died, and Mr. Philson was released.

In 1833 Somerset was almost totally destroyed by fire. From Main Cross Street into West Street every building was consumed. This was the work of an incendiary. Again, on the 9th of May, 1872, the town was visited by fire. The number of buildings destroyed was one hundred and seventeen, of which fifty-one were dwelling houses. After the fire of 1872 the town was rebuilt in a thorough and beautiful manner, and now contains a number of buildings that would be a credit to any town in the State. The Somerset and Mineral Point Railroad connects the town with the outer world. The population is about twelve hundred.

Berlin, or the Brother\'s Valley settlement, was originally made by a few German families in 1769. After the Indian title to this territory had become extinct by reason of the treaty and purchase at Fort Pitt, a number of Mennonite families moved into the neighborhood. The newly-arrived emigrants resolved to establish a town, and secured a tract of land on the head spring of the Stony Creek, known as Pious Spring, and laid out the town of Berlin thereon. The first deed on record in the county is for "Pious Spring." It conveys in trust to Jacob Keffer and Peter Glassner, and their successors, a reserved interest on all the lots in the town of Berlin, to be paid as an annual ground-rent on each lot of one Spanish milled dollar, for the use of the Lutheran and Calvinistic Churches, and for schools forever. Reference is made in this deed to a warrant dated 1784, and a patent dated 1786. The town of Berlin is situated on a ridge that forms the dividing line between the natural water basins of the county. The waters on the east flow to the Atlantic through Will\'s Creek and the Potomac, and the Juniata and Susquehanna, and on the west to the Gulf of Mexico, through the Casselman and Monongahela Rivers, and through the Stony Creek, Conemaugh and Allegheny Rivers. It is a neatly built little town, and has been increasing slightly since the completion of the Buffalo Valley Railroad.

Meyersdale. The early history of Meyersdale begins with the year 1785, when Andrew Berndreger took up the tract of land upon which the greater part of the town is situated, and secured it by a patent from the government. He immediately commenced clearing the land, and in 1789 built a small grist
mill on the Flaugherty. The mill was what is known as a tub mill, and was the first built in the county. In 1791, the land was sold to Jonathan Harry, a land speculator from one of the eastern counties, who sold it to Michael Buechley in 1792. During the same year the adjoining land, known as the "Olinger
property," was patented by John Olinger, a farmer from York County. Mr. Olinger moved his family to his claim, and erected a house on it. In 1793 that part of the town known as "Buechley lands" was patented, and improvements commenced by John Berger. In 1815, John Buechley sold his interest to
Jacob Meyers, Sr., a farmer of Lancaster County, who in turn sold it to his son Jacob. The latter moved on the land, and immediately erected a fulling mill and a grist mill, and rapidly put the land in a state of cultivation. About the time of Mr. Meyers\' settlement and the founding of the town of Meyers\' Mills, five of his brothers, Christian, Rudolph, Henry, Abraham, and John, also emigrated and settled on the adjoining lands. In 1831 Peter and William Meyers started the first store in the village. In 1871 the name of the borough was changed to Meyersdale. After Somerset, it is the largest town in the county. It is pleasantly situated on the Casselman River, at its junction with the Flaugherty, and is surrounded by hills filled with almost inexhaustible quantities of coal. It lies in a rich agricultural section, that is widely noted for its valuable farms, and is increasing rapidly in wealth and population.

(Source: An Illustrated History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by Edward B. Scull of Somerset, Pa.; pub. by William H. Egle, 1876.)