Chapter II
Natural Characteristics 

General Character of the Country - Elevation of Different Localities - General Topography - Water System and Drainage - Forests and Their Character - The Flora - Animals and Fish - Geology - Natural Curiosities.

THE surface of Jefferson county is uniformly broken and hilly, everywhere occupied by the same rock strata, lying nearly horizontal and excavated into valleys and streams in the same style, although one valley is not the exact counterpart of another, nor the streams of equal size and importance, yet the type of the topography is the same, wherever we look at it, and one part of the county is, in this respect, almost a counterpart of the other.

"Standing upon any one of the elevated points of the region, the observer may see beneath him a broad valley from three hundred to five hundred feet deep, and as irregular in its trend and course as its slopes are variable in their fall. Here precipitous walls face the stream on both sides; there a sharp descent upon the one side is faced by a long, gentle slope upon the other, according as the dips are arranged; at another place the valley widens under the influence of a synclinal and both its slopes are gradual. Numerous ravines, some short, some long, some deep, others shallow, debouch into the valley from both sides. Uplands, undulating, but of a pretty uniform height, stretch away in both directions. No mountain ridges are anywhere visible on the horizon. As far as the eye can see, there spreads an elevated table land, broken by vales, valleys, and ravines.

"The height above tide of the upland summits range from 1600 to 1800. They are lowest at the southern end of the county, and highest at the northern end, in obedience to a topographical law prevailing throughout western Pennsylvania, that the surface elevations gradually increase in the direction of the rising anticlinal axis, i.e., toward the northeast.

"To this law there is one notable exception in Jefferson county. The southeast corner borders on the high table land of the Chestnut Ridge anticlinal, whose summits frequently attain, an elevation of 2000; and some few points in Gaskill township rise very nearly to that height; but these points are related more closely to the topography of Indiana and Clearfield counties than to that of Jefferson, which is in fact a mere continuation of that prevailing throughout Clarion, Armstrong, and western Indiana counties.

"The drainage of Jefferson county is all westward towards the Ohio River, through (1) the Clarion River at the north end pf the county, (2) Red Bank Creek in the center, and (3) Mahoning Creek on the south. Each of these streams has its own complex system of tributaries; each with its own system of small branches and branchlets; and thus the surface of the whole county is broken into hills.

"Although the Clarion and the Mahoning are larger streams, yet as they flow on the borders of the county, they are less important to it than the Red Bank.

"Red Bank Creek is the principal stream, as a glance at the map of the county will at once show. Its water basin is unsymmetrical on the two sides; a much larger part of its drainage coming in from the north than from the south. Excepting, indeed, for the Little Sandy branch, its basin on the south side would be confined pretty much to the hills which overlook the creek; whereas towards the north its far-reaching arms extend to the Elk county line.

"Red Bank Creek, in the original maps and drafts of Jefferson county, bore the name of Sandy Lick, which name is still retained for its main branch, coming from Clearfield county, along which the Bennett's Branch Railroad is built. The creek assumes the name of Red Bank at Brookville, where the Sandy Lick unites with the North Fork, and both branches carry enough water during floods to run rafts of heavy square timber.

"Mill Creek, a branch of Sandy Lick, and Little Sandy, before alluded to as occupying the southwestern part of the county, are also rafting streams.

"The volume of water, however, in all these streams, large and small, is extremely irregular, varying as it does from stages of high flood, when the larger streams are destructive torrents, to stages of almost complete exhaustion during the periods of severe drought. This extreme variability is largely the consequence of the porous and loose condition of the surface rocks, which thus copiously yield water so long as they hold it. In 1879, an unexceptional year, after a succession of prolonged, droughts, there was a dearth of water in all parts of the county; the larger streams had barely enough to turn a mill; and considerable difficulty was experienced, especially in the upland country, to obtain water for the cattle. As a rule, the county is abundantly watered for agricultural purposes, and for domestic supply in towns and villages.

"The Red Bank-Mahoning divide, in the southeast corner of the county, crosses from Clearfield at a point nearly due east of Reynoldsville; thence it follows an irregular southwest line around the heads of Elk Run and of the Little Sandy. Paradise Settlement stands at the head of it, so does Shamokin, Oliveburg, and Frostburg. Porter post-office, at the southwest end of the county, marks the top of the divide in that region.

"The Red Bank-Clarion divide, on the north, enters Jefferson county south of Lane's Grove, where one branch of Rattlesnake Run takes its rise; after passing Brockwayville, the water-shed is forced almost to the edge of the Little Toby valley, as will be seen by an examination of the county map; along with the last-named stream, it passes into Elk county, where, curving about the heads of the North Fork (Red Bank system), it returns again to Jefferson county, whence closely skirting the Clarion River, it runs southwest to Sigel; there it turns sharply about, and next sweeps around the head of Big Mill Creek, extending thence south to within a few miles of the Red Bank valley. It therefore describes a semi-circle in northern Jefferson, stretching from one side of the county to the other."*

The Forests. - The forests of Jefferson county contain a great variety of trees, the principal of which are white and yellow pine, hemlock, white, red, and black oak, chestnut, sugar, maple, beech, hickory, elm, cherry, ash, and birch.

The rock areas of the northern part of the county contained the most valuable pine and hemlock, while the farming lands in the southern part of the county were originally covered with oak, chestnut, sugar, maple, beech, and hickory. The greater part of the valuable pine and hemlock has been cut off, though there is still a considerable quantity of marketable timber left. Where these forests have been cleared off, a new growth of hard woods generally have taken their place, though in some instances where the pine and hemlock has been cut down, birch and cherry have taken their places, and again white oak succeeds the pine and hemlock, while the latter sometimes again grow upon the cut lands.

The Flora. - The flora of Jefferson county is both rich and varied; indeed no section of the country produces more beautiful or sweeter flowers. The sweet trailing arbutus, so much quoted in song and story, is found in great perfection and profusion in our woods, and before the snow has all gone from the ravines, parties are out searching for these little spring beauties, who hide their loveliness under the leaves and pine needles - arbutus parties being one of the features of the early spring time. Then we have several varieties of viola, anemones, cerulia, May-flowers, field daisies, ox-eye daisies, lady slipper, wild columbine, the brilliant mountain pink, wake robin, wild roses, eglantine, hawthorn, dogwood. Wild azaleas grow in profusion, two varieties being found. In the fields are found magnificent lilies, while the pride of the woods is the brilliant laurel, and the lovely rhododendron, which in season are nowhere found in greater profusion or more rich in coloring. In the depths of the woods the most beautiful mosses and ferns are found, from the delicate maiden-hair to the large, coarse-leaved bracken, and two varieties of trailing moss. Thus they succeed one another, gaining in brilliancy of coloring, from the time when the early violets and arbutus burst the bonds of winter's ice, until the stately golden-rod succumbs to the late autumn frosts. The woods are one poem of beauty from the time the first green leaves appear until they are all ablaze and aglow with their gay autumn dress of gold, crimson, scarlet, bronze - all the most brilliant colorings of the rainbow, toned down by the everlasting green of the pine and hemlock.

Animals. - The original animals found in these forests comprised the elk, deer, black bear, wolf, fox, beaver, panther, wild cat, otter, mink, martin; lynx, muskrat, raccoon, skunk. These animals were all once very numerous, but some of them have entirely disappeared. The Indians had almost exterminated the beaver before the white settlers came, but their many "dams" in different localities showed that they had once been numerous. The noble elk was one of the first to flee before the advance of civilization, though they were occasionally found in our northern forests as late as 1850. In the wilder sections of the county deer and bears are yet quite numerous, more so of late years, since the enactment of the present game laws, which has in a great measure abated the wanton destruction of game. The wolf once the terror of the farm-yard and sheep-fold, has almost entirely disappeared, but the wild cat is still found in the rocky fastnesses of the forests, and sometimes ventures almost into the haunts of civilization. Not more than a year ago a very large one was killed in "Dark Hollow," on the North Fork, almost inside the borough limits of Brookville, by Master Frank Kimball, a youth of thirteen years, who, with the aid of a small dog and his revolver, killed the savage beast and secured the bounty from the county commissioners for its scalp. The small game, such as black, gray, and red squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, etc., are still plentiful. The wild turkey has about disappeared.

Fish. - All the fish native to fresh water streams have been found in the waters of this county, the mountain streams especially producing the beautiful speckled trout in great abundance. Pike of quite large size are frequently caught in Red Bank and Mahoning. The accumulation of sawdust from the many saw-mills has proved quite destructive to the fish in the larger streams.

Birds. - All the birds native to our northern forests are found in great numbers, and the woods are never without the pretty warblers, for even in winter when the song-birds seek a warmer climate, the hardy little snow-bird is found. Once in a great while an eagle is seen, having by some mischance wandered into the haunts of man; the last of these royal birds that has been seen in Brookville was in 1861, a notice of which, in the Republican of May 4, 1871, says:

"On the 18th of April, as the citizens of Brookville were engaged in raising the American flag, a very large eagle was found poising itself in mid air, apparently an interested spectator. When the flag reached the head of the staff, and was caught by the breeze, displaying the stars and stripes, the eagle, apparently satisfied that all was right,, slowly flew away."

George W. Andrews, esq., now of Denver, Colo., but for many years a prominent resident of the borough of Brookville, is credited with having introduced that much-abused bird, the English sparrow, into Jefferson county, having brought a pair of these birds from the eastern part of the State. The progeny of this pair of strangers now numbers thousands, and it is doubtful whether Mr. Andrews is deemed a public benefactor because of their introduction into the county.

Geology. - "This county resembles Indiana county as to its eastern and southern parts, and Clarion county as to its northwestern half, the basins all rising gradually northeastward, and the rolls between them running in straight parallel lines into Elk and Forest counties; so that while the Barren measures cover most of Bell and Henderson townships, and broad areas in Gaskill, Young, McCalmont, Winslow, Snyder, Perry, Porter, and the hilltops in Knox, one-half of the county exhibits the outcrops of the Lower Productive coal measures, which grow thinner and thinner northward, and at last leave most of' the surface in Barnett and Heath, and much of that in Eldred and Polk destitute of coal beds - a region of Conglomerate. The Indiana anticlinal" passes Frostburgh and dies away at Rockdale Mills, in Washington township. The Waynesburg or Roaring Run anticlinal' enters the county one mile east of its southeast corner, and runs straight across it to the Elk county line, six miles east of the Clarion River. The 'Bagdad anticlinal' crosses the whole county, passing one and a half miles west bf Brookville. The 'Anthony's-Bend anticlinal' runs parallel with the last at a regular distance of four miles from it. The 'Kellersburg anticlinal' cuts across the northwest corner. Jefferson county therefore has six remarkably regular coal basins. The Brookville anticlinal brings up the Mauch Chunk red shale and some of the Pocono rocks along Little Sandy near the Armstrong county line. The same formations are cut down into by the Clarion River all along the northern county line. The Freeport Upper coal is not reliable in this county. In the eastern townships it is thick enough, but of poor quality; at Reynoldsville four feet; at Brockwayville thinner, but better. Its limestone is fifteen feet thick at, Worthville, and keeps its unusual thickness along a narrow belt from there to Perrysville, but thins rapidly westward and eastward, and cannot be found in Knox and McCalmont townships, but it reappears around Brockwayville. The Freeport Lower coal bed is the main deposit of the county, and gives its great value to the Reynoldsville basin. It is in all parts of the county of workable thickness, sometimes thickening to ten feet, but it varies much in both size and quality. It is, already extensively mined, lying forty-three feet beneath the Freeport Upper coal, and just under the Mahoning sandstone, the cliffs and blocks of which make a huge show. The Freeport Lower limestone lies ten feet under it on top of the Freeport sandstone, which is here massive enough to make cliffs, but elsewhere in the county is shaly and inconspicuous. The Kittanning group of three coal beds is of small importance in this county; the Upper bed nowhere exceeds three feet, and its underlying Johnstown Cement bed is merely an impure ferriferous limestone. The Middle coal is thicker in Knox and McCalmont, but impure, and in Union shows its best aspect. The Lower coal is persistent, but poor everywhere. The Buhr-stone iron ore enters the county, as far as Brookville, but then fades into insignificance. No trace of it is seen on the Mahoning at Perrysville, but it can be detected in the north at Brockwayville. The Ferriferous limestone is generally from five feet to six feet thick; its outcrop runs along the sides of all the valleys of the Red Bank and Sandy waters, and surrounds the hilltops in the northern townships, furnishing an indisputable guide to the classification of all the other strata above and below it, especially for the sinking of trial oil wells. The Clarion coal bed is a mere streak. The Brookville coal bed is nearly everywhere of a workable size. Its best show is made in Beaver township, where there are several small mines in it. Between the three subdivisions of the underlying Conglomerate 300 feet thick, lie shales containing very thin coal beds of no value, the equivalent of the Mercer and Sharon coals."**

No oil fields are yet known,. though trial wells have been put down at Brookville, Punxsutawney, Reynoldsville, and Rockdale Mills, but an were abandoned after a depth ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 feet was reached.

Salt has been obtained in different sections of the county.

Ever since the first settlers appeared in this region there has been a belief in the existence of a lead mine within the limits of the county. The early pioneers found the Indians supplied with plenty of this ore in its natural state, and very pure in quality, and the Indians said it was procured in this region, but they always refused to disclose the locality in which it was to be found. One of the earliest traditions is that of Uncas, and Owonoco, two braves of the Seneca tribe, who came back to Punxsutawney soon after the first white men located there, and who, the legend says, "came back to cover up the places where they got their lead; that they dare not tell the white men where they got it for fear of the dread Manatau, who would inflict dire punishments upon them if they should divulge the place of ,treasure, or if the pale faces found it, and that a guard of warriors manes watched over it." Only a year ago two Indians are said to have appeared again upon the Mahoning, telling no one of their business, but going on up the stream, apparently searching for something. This lead mine has been variously located; by some it is supposed to be on Sandy Lick, by others on the Red Bank west of Brookville, while others claim that this hidden treasure is concealed in the hills that skirt the Mahoning.

The pioneer settlers around Brookville always believed in the existence of a lead deposit somewhere in the neighborhood, and that the visits of the Indians to these waters were for the purpose of procuring supplies of the metal. Joseph Barnett knew of the Indians being plentifully supplied with it, and frequently obtained it from those who visited him from time to time, but up to this time the source of supply has never been discovered.

Specimens of the ore got from the Indians were sent to Philadelphia, and after being analyzed were pronounced identical with the Galena ore, and many suppose that while the Indians got their supplies of the lead here, they had previously brought it from some other locality and secreted it in a secure place known only to themselves.

Natural Curiosities. - Tradition says that the pioneer settlers found a cave near Punxsutawney, on the hill above Elk Run, "that was of unknown depth, circular in form, and walled up with cut stone, and that when the first explorers had descended about a fathom from the surface they rested upon a rock, then gradually sloping their descent, at about thirty degrees, through a hall of some six feet in length, and with lighted torches they came to another descent, which appeared to have been walled, up from an unknown depth. The darkness was so deep and the silence so profound that when one of the searchers threw a pebble downwards it reported back its descent by rumbling tones like thunder dying on the distant hills. This cavern work was never explored, nor its wonders more fully examined. When the early settlers inquired of the Indians for what purpose they had used it, they replied that it was there before they came, and that they had never gone in to examine it. Some of the pioneers believed it to be where the Indians got their lead, but they were afraid to explore its unknown depths, and filled it up with logs and stones to prevent their cattle falling into it."

Another curious feature of the hills around Punxsutawney is the "Chiseled Rocks," which are found on the banks of the Mahoning below Clayville. One who visited these strangely-marked rocks and closely examined them says of these curious relics: "On the north slope of the hill there were many huge bowlders of sandstone scattered around in an irregular and confused manner, as though some great earthquake had torn up the foundations of these hills and scattered the fragments around. On these rocks are found kettle-shaped excavations, evidently the work of human hands. On one, for instance, about eighteen feet long, and eight or nine feet wide, with its base deeply imbedded in the ground, are found some twenty holes cut in its smooth, table-shaped, flat surface. These holes varied in size, and were cut in the solid sandstone, in shape like the inside of a common tea-kettle - small, and perfectly round at the top, then widening to the half depth of the hollow, then again narrowing down until it measured at the base the same in circumference as the opening at the top, and then the bottom is flattened off so exactly in size with the top, and the whole work finished so smoothly and mechanically and so in accordance with the most perfect rule of mathematics and geometry."

Many have been the conjectures of those who have visited these wonderful rocks, but all agree that the chiseling of these holes must have been done by some practiced hand, and with tools of some hard metal, such as steel or the hardened copper used by the ancient Mexicans.

If these suppositions are true, then this region of country was peopled by a race of people more refined, civilized, and ingenious than the Indian tribes found upon this continent by the earliest European pioneers. Ages, perhaps, before the red men peopled this country, this people, a race long extinct, but traces of whose enduring works is found from time to time upon our continent, may have lived here. It is true but little trace is found here of such a people, but what trace is there found of the Indians, who only ninety years ago peopled this county? even their graves are obliterated; only now and then the plow brings to light the broken blade of a stone tomahawk, or the flint of an arrow.

In Perry township are some rocks, or caves, that are worthy of mention. They are located on Ross's Run about a mile from the Mahoning Creek and about half a mile from the residence of Mr. Michael Palmer, to whom we are indebted for the description we give of these natural wonders.

On the north and west of these rocks there is good farm land - not stony; on the south and, east is a plateau of about one and a half acres, level, and also without rocks or stone; this is overgrown with underbrush, laurel, and small trees. As you pass down on the east side of this plateau you come to a wall of rock reaching for eight or ten rods, then comes a projecting ledge of rocks extending some five or six rods, and projecting outward fifteen or twenty feet; in this semicircle formed by this projection, no rain or snow can penetrate. Passing westward you come to a mass of rock thrown in a promiscuous pile, in every conceivable shape, for a distance of eight or ten rods, then all around for some forty or fifty rods rise detached rocks from ten to twenty feet in height, the whole, covering an area of from twelve to fifteen acres, and giving the place the appearance of some deserted city, with its fortresses, and ruined battlements. Underneath these rocks are caverns and crevices, some of them large enough to hide away at least fifty men. In one of the largest you can go in a distance of some sixty feet, and then look down into the depths below for a distance of at least one hundred feet. This place is quite a resort for small game, and, wild cats, skunks, and other small animals are trapped here.

* Report H. 6, Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania.

** Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania, Report

Source:  Page(s) 16-24, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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