Chapter VI
Early Schools and Churches 

The First Old Log School-House - Primitive Education - The First Schools in Pine Creek and Perry Townships - Schools of Ye Olden Time - The Presbyterians the First to Sow the Good Seed in Jefferson County - Reverend McGarragh the Pioneer Minister - The First Church in the County - The First Marriages - The Early Baptist Church - The First Coming of the Seceders - The Planting of Methodism in the County - Early Ministry of Reverend George Reeser.

As soon as the people got their cabins ready for habitation they began to plan for the building of school-houses and the organization of churches. Mrs. Graham informs us that the first school in the county was taught in the winter of 1803 by John Dixon. He was the father of the venerable John Dixon, of Polk township. The house in which this school was taught was built of rough logs, with no windows except "chinks" left between the logs over which greased paper was tacked, the floor was of puncheons, and the seats of broad pieces of logs hewn smooth on the upper side, and with pins in the under side for legs. Boards fastened to the walls served as writing desks, and a log fire placed at one end of the house supplied that want. A year or two later a man named John Johnson taught in a house between Port Barnett and Brookville. This house was somewhat of an improvement on the first one in that it had real glass in the windows. The first school in the south end of the county was near where Perrysville now is, at John Bell’s. The schoolhouse was almost a facsimile of the one described above. These schools were maintained and the houses built by those who felt interested in having school in the neighborhood and who had children old enough to attend. The wages paid were very low, but were all that the times afforded. We notice that a school taught on Little Toby, somewhere in 1828, the teacher received twelve dollars per month, paid in maple sugar. In those days the requirements for teachers were not very exacting, and no rigid examinations had to be undergone.

Mrs. Ann Smith, one of the early settlers of the northern part of the county, left Ireland at the age of ten years, and never went to school in America. She married at the early age of sixteen, and could have had but little opportunity for study at home, yet in her old age she taught school. When her husband became discouraged and wanted to leave the backwoods, she was so anxious to remain and build up a home for her children that she offered him one year’s work on the farm if he would stay on, and for twelve months she went to the field as early and toiled as late as he did. We have before us two old school books, one "The American Accountant, or School Mafter’s New Affiftant," by Benjamin Workman, published in Philadelphia in 1793. The other is a "Short, but Comprehensive System of the Geography of the World," published in 1795 by Dr. Nathaniel Dwight, of Hartford. The books, which are both in good preservation, show that in those early days the boy or girl who was so lucky as to own a book knew how to take care of it. In the geography is written, "Sandy Lick saw-mill, Pennsylvania, Erastus Turner," and in the arithmetic, in very legible, though old-fashioned characters,

"Do not Steal this book for Fear of Shame, for underneath lies the owner’s name;


His hand and pen,
Sept. the 30th, 1794."

And these are the books handed down from the first days of our county, and from which in that old rude school-house in Pine Creek township the first rudiments of arithmetic and geography were taught. The history of the schools of Jefferson county, from the rude beginnings which we have mentioned, up to the present time, which will be given in a subsequent chapter, will show what progress has been made in the method of teaching, books used and school buildings.

The Presbyterian Church seems to have been the first that gained a foothold in this county, and the ministers of that denomination the first who "sowed the good seed" in this wilderness.

The first account we have of religious services being held in the settlement was in June, 1809, when Rev. Robert McGarragh preached at the house of Peter Jones, near where John McCullough now lives in Pine Creek township - "held the communion and baptized certain persons." Mr. McGarragh was undoubtedly the pioneer minister of the county. He had come to the Clarion region as a licentiate of the Presbytery of Redstone in 1803, and removed, with his family, to take charge of the churches of Licking and New Rehoboth, now in Clarion county, in 1804. He seems to have taken charge of the little congregation of Port Barnett, but how long he ministered unto them is not known. Mr. McGarragh did not "serve his Master for hire," for the people he preached to were too poor to pay for his services, and the good man was used to poverty. It is told of him that when a student at Cannonsburg in 1803, he and his wife kept boarders, students of the same institution. "One night Mrs. McGarragh found the stock of provisions so low that she declined to sit down to the table lest there might not be enough for breakfast. They urged her to partake of the food, and agreed to keep the morrow as a fast day. Next morning, as they held a prayer-meeting, a knock came to the door, and upon opening it a countryman was found who inquired for Mr. McGarragh, stating that he wished to sell him some provisions. ‘But,’ said he, ‘though I need provisions, I have no money.’ ‘If you can pay me in six months it will do,’ said the farmer, ‘I am not afraid to trust a Presbyterian student.’ He bought a side of beef and two hundred pounds of flour. That very day his father came to see him and brought fifty dollars, which he had saved to help him. The next day he hired a man to go out fourteen miles into the country and pay the stranger." The good man remained poor, and on one occasion Mr. Wilson, of Strattanville, when he went to engage him to preach, found him busy "logging," and of course expected him to change his clothes, but found that the only suit he owned was the one he had on. This man, "poor in purse but rich in goodness," was he who first preached the gospel to the people of Jefferson county.

The first meeting-house built was about three miles from Brookville, on the Clarion road. It was built of logs, without a floor, and slabs or boards on logs constituted the seats. The pulpit was a board supported by two posts. Rev. William Kennedy was the pastor, and is the first settled minister in the county of the Presbyterian Church of whom there is any record. This church was organized about the year 1824, and was called the "Bethel of Jefferson County."

In 1826 Rev. William Kennedy went from his home in the Beechwoods to marry Henry Keys and Catharine Wilson, and at the same time baptized Ninian Cooper. Rev. Gara Bishop, in 1830, came from his home in Clearfield to the same locality to marry James Waite and Martha McIntosh, and at the same time baptized Susan McIntosh; so that in those days they were in the habit of "killing two birds with one stone," either in a religious or secular way. In 1831 Rev. Cyrus Riggs, another Presbyterian, made a missionary tour into the county, and besides preaching several times made a pastoral call upon each family. The people of the Beechwoods did not want to send him away without some remuneration for his services, but money was a scarce article in those days. It was found, however, that Matthew Keys had a five dollar bill, and the rest all agreeing to pay him twenty-five cents apiece as soon as they got the money, if he would give the money to the preacher, Mr. Keys agreed to the proposition, and Rev. Riggs carried away with him all the money in the settlement. When Mr. Riggs first came there he told Mrs. Keys that he was looking after the "stray sheep." "Oh, indeed," said the old lady, "you’ll find none of them here." "Oh, mother," said her daughter Betty, "it is the lost sheep of the house of Israel he is after."

Rev. Jonathan Nichols, a Free Will Baptist, settled in Brandy Camp in 1822. He was the first minister in the northern part of the county for many years, and was, in fact, the first who settled in the county, and who labored in his Master’s vineyard until death called him to his reward. He was also the first physician, and spent his life in ministering both to the souls and bodies of the people with whom he had cast his lot. His ministrations were well received by the people without regard to sect or denomination, as in those days "every body went to meeting," in summer on foot, and in winter with ox-sleds. There was no money to pay the preacher, and so the gospel was dispensed "without money and without price." Dr. Nichols, who was the father of Mrs. Dr. A.M. Clark, of Brockwayville, died in May, 1846. Dr. Clark says of him: "He was a generous, kind-hearted gentleman, somewhat of the olden school, genial and urbane in his manner, with a helping hand ready to assist the needy, and kind words to comfort the sorrowing. He was the friend of my childhood, and rendered me much assistance in my medical studies. I remember him with gratitude, and wish that the world contained many more such as he."

The first United Presbyterian, or as it, was called in those days, Seceder Congregation in the county, was organized at Dowlingville in 1828. Revs. Joseph Scroggs and Thomas Ferrier were instrumental in the organization and dispensed the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there, and begun what has ever since been one of the leading churches in the county.

Although there may have been occasional sermons preached by some of the pioneer preachers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in the territory now embraced within Jefferson county, earlier, we find no record of any such, until the year 1821, when Rev. Elijah Coleman, a local preacher, formed a society, or class, of ten members at Punxsutawney, at the house of Jacob Hoover. This society was attached to the Mahoning Circuit of the Baltimore Conference, which circuit was formed in 1812, and was large enough for an annual conference. Rev. Mr. Dorsey was the preacher in charge. In 1822 Mr. Hoover’s house was a "regular preaching place." As late as 1827 and 1828 the Erie Conference had only one preacher in all the territory east of the Allegheny River, the old Shippenville district. Rev. James Babcock, then Rev. Nathaniel Callender, were the first preachers on this circuit. Their work was mostly done in the Clarion District, but they preached occasionally in Jefferson. In 1828 a class of six members was formed in Pine Creek township, the meeting being held in an old mill north of Brookville. David Butler was the leader, and Cyrus Butler superintendent of a Sunday-school organized at the same time. In 1829 this society met for service in a school-house that stood where the jail now stands. In 1829 the Shippenville Circuit had two preachers, Revs. John Johnson and J.C. Ayers, and a "gracious revival of religion on the circuit attended their labors." A class or society was organized at Troy, of some ten or twelve members.

Rev. George Reeser, who spent the first thirteen years of his ministry in this region of country, sends us a sketch of his labors in this field, and as it is general in character, embracing all the territory now covered by Jefferson county, we give it here in full. Mr. Reeser, who is one of the oldest members of the Erie Conference, now sustains a superannuated relation to that, body: - "In the month of July, 1840, I was admitted on, trial in the Erie Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which held its annual session that year in Meadville, Pa., and sent as preacher in charge, with Israel Mershon for my colleague, to what was then Red Bank circuit, which embraced a large portion of the south side of Jefferson, but included Bethlehem in Clarion, Putneyville, and two other appointments in Armstrong, and three in Indiana county. The principle preaching places in Jefferson county were Punxsutawney, Hopewell Church, Gahagans, Troy, Heathville, and Sprankle’s Mill. Among the early and leading members of the Methodist Church in Punxsutawney, Jacob Hoover, Daniel Burkett, John Hunt, John Drum, Jacob Bear, Joseph Weldon, and Thomas Robinson and their wives deserve honorable mention. Joseph Weldon was subsequently licensed to preach, and admitted into the Erie Conference, and did good service for a number of years.

"Punxsutawney was favored this year with a wonderful revival of religion. Rev. John Bain - of precious memory - our presiding elder, at his second quarterly visit remained with us some ten days, and preached the grand old gospel of Christ with matchless simplicity and power - often holding crowded congregations spell-bound from one hour and a half to two hours. A general awakening and serious thoughtfulness upon this subject of their soul’s best interests pervaded the community for miles away. Of the fruits of this meeting, which lasted but two weeks, the Methodist Church recorded eighty-three new names to the roll of her membership. The Baptist and Cumberland Presbyterian Churches also shared largely in the benefits of this revival.

"As neither myself nor colleague were at this time ordained ministers, we could not perform the marriage ceremony, and were mainly dependant for this service on Rev. Elijah Coleman, a venerable patriarch, and for many years a popular and useful local preacher. In early life Father Coleman resided at Morrison’s Cove, but had now lived many years on the south side of Mahoning Creek, in Indiana county. On one of his visits to our charge he consented to remain over Sabbath and preach. His text on this occasion was the parable of the sick man, Dives, as he called him, and Lazarus. An old German, and an acquaintance of Mr. Coleman while they lived together at Morrison’s Cove, heard the sermon, and on his way home, it was said, he remarked to a friend who had also heard the sermon: ‘Dem tings what we heard to-day about Divis and Lashurus ish all a pack of lies. I knew Mr. Divis and Lashurus well doun dare at Morrison’s Cove. It is true, Divis was a rich man, but den he was not a proud man, nor a stingy man, and it ish true too, dat Lashurus was a poor man, but he was never so poor as to have to beg hish bread. He had a yoke of oxen, and he drove around de town many tings, and sometimes he just had slugs of money.’

"Daniel and Jacob Swisher, two brothers, formerly of Lewistown, Pa., were at this time the most prominent members of the Hopewell Church, four miles west of Punxsutawney. It was largely through their influence that the appointment was established, sustained, and a house of worship erected there. The house of Daniel Swisher was always a welcome home for the weary itinerant. Never can I forget the kindnesses shown to me by the entire family during the two years of my pastorate.

"Next to Punxsutawney, Troy, in Jefferson county, was the most important point on our field of labor; but where, or by whom, Methodist preaching was first introduced, I have no means of ascertaining. Prior to the general conference of 1836, Erie Conference had no existence, and the Pittsburgh Conference, to which all that territory belonged, supplied the Methodist Churches with its pastors. I found in Troy a church of some fifty members, but we had no better place in which to hold our public services than an old and somewhat dilapidated school-house. Nathan, Darius, Euphrastus, and Hiram Carrier, all brothers, Elijah Heath, Philip Clover, a Mr. Fairweather, and a Mr. Fuller, and some others whose names I cannot recall, were among the prominent and influential members of the church at this time. The revival spirit pervaded our societies generally, and many were added to the church.

"In the summer of 1841 our conference held its annual session in Cleveland, Ohio. I was reappointed to Red Bank charge. Israel Mershon was removed, and John Graham was sent to take his place as junior preacher. The form of our circuit remained unchanged. Two camp-meetings, one at Putneyville, the other at Punxsutawney, were held this year, which resulted in great spiritual good; conversions at both were numerous, and in some instances very powerful and clear. As a whole, we had a laborious, but pleasant and prosperous year; many were added to the church, and its spirituality greatly increased. The salary which I received from the entire charge the first year was a trifle less than one hundred and thirty dollars. The second year, with a greatly increased membership, I was paid less than two hundred dollars, and yet, strange to tell, I was never obliged to go to bed hungry. During this conference year Brother Graham made the acquaintance of Miss Cornelia Gaskell, at Punxsutawney, to whom he was subsequently married. Brother Graham has served many important charges, and filled the office of presiding elder for eight years, and is still in the active work of the ministry, a true and good man.

"In July, 1850, I was appointed to Brookville Mission, as it was then called, with Thomas Elliott as junior preacher. For some years prior to this Brookville and Luthersburg, with a few outlying appointments at both ends, constituted the mission field. Dean C. Wright, my immediate predecessor, preached in Brookville and in Luthersburg on alternate Sabbaths. Luthersburg was now cut off from Brookville, and formed into a new charge, and the Brookville mission field was greatly enlarged, so as to take in Greenville, Kearney’s school-house, and Canada, as it was called. These appointments were in Clarion county, and with Troy, and Holts, Brookville, Warsaw, Richardsville, Ebenezer Church, a mile or two from Sigel, and Hominy Ridge, near the Clarion River, constituted our Sabbath appointments, and with two preachers on the charge, we were able to give them public services once in two weeks. But in addition to these we had a good many other preaching places, and feeble societies which could be reached and served only on week days and nights. Thomas Elliott, being a young man and a novice in the ministry, thinking the labor and sacrifices too great, became discouraged, and fled ingloriously from the field before the year was half ended. This occasioned my labors and responsibilities to be greatly increased; but later on Samuel Warren was sent to my assistance. He was kind, companionable, and faithful to his work. He was after this received into the Erie Conference; served a number of charges, then moved to Missouri; entered the conference there, and subsequently became a presiding elder, and for anything I know to the contrary, he is still alive, and in the active work of the ministry.

"On my arrival in Brookville I found a feeble society, numbering, to the best of my recollection, but twenty-six in all; of these, fully one-third lived four to six miles away, and were seldom seen at any of our Sabbath services. Elijah Heath and Christopher Fogel, a local preacher, had transferred their residences and membership to Brookville, and with Martin Travis, Reuben Hubbard, John Long, Samuel Clark, Daniel Silvis, and James Moore, and their wives, were the principal members.

"As we had no church edifice, and the court-house not always available for public services, I early began to agitate the matter of building a church of our own. This, however, was decidedly opposed by the official members generally, and particularly by Judge Heath, who affirmed that no man could raise a thousand dollars in Brookville to build a Methodist Church. With persistent agitation, however, their consent was obtained not to oppose the enterprise any further, provided I would agree to solicit the subscriptions, and collect the funds, to which I gave a willing assent, and in a comparatively short time I had good pledges to the amount of $1,500. The judge very frankly acknowledged his mistake, and became quite enthusiastic to see the building commenced and carried on to completion as rapidly as possible. This was soon done, and I had the very great pleasure of preaching and worshiping with my people in our own house of prayer during the latter nine months of my second year on the charge, and pushing the subscription as much as my time would allow. I had the entire cost of lot, building, etc., cancelled with the exception of about $450, with nearly that amount of subscription uncollected, before my alloted time expired.

"In the month of January, 1851, I commenced a series of meetings in the court-house, hoping thereby to get the church revived, and her membership increased. I was not disappointed - the result was a glorious revival, such as had never been witnessed before in Brookville. Of the new accessions many were heads of families, and became stable and useful members of the church. We were blest with a similar revival soon after we began to worship in the new church. One of the converts, Rev. J.K. Mendenhall, became an itinerant minister in the Erie Conference. From this time on the Methodist Episcopal Church has had a respectable showing, and has been a power in Brookville. The missionary appropriation was now withheld, outside appointments were formed into other charges, and the church in Brookville became an independent station. Three sessions of the Erie Annual Conference have been held and creditably sustained there.

"In the summer of 1852 I was appointed to Punxsutawney, and remained there two years. The revival spirit prevailed generally over the charge. Many new and valuable members were gathered, especially at Punxsutawney and Ringgold. The latter place was a new appointment; a flourishing society was organized and the ‘Union Bethel Church’ erected, which was built and held in common by the Evangelical and Methodist denominations. Paradise, near Reynoldsville, was a new appointment, and a house of worship was erected there soon after I had left the charge, chiefly through the liberality and persistent efforts of a Mr. Syphert.

"Two of this Brother Syphert’s daughters were afterwards married to Methodist preachers, and are still itinerating and toiling with their husbands in the Master’s vineyard.

"In the summer of 1854 I was sent to Luthersburg, and remained there two years. By special invitation I visited Washington township, in Jefferson county, and established a preaching place not far from Rockdale Mills. A series of revival meetings held in a school-house proved a great blessing; a society of some fifty members was formed, and the ‘Beech Wood’s Church,’ as it was called, became one of the most important Sabbath appointments on the charge. Mathew and John Smith, Michael Grogan, Daniel Groves and three of his sons - James, Thomas, and John, and many others whose names I cannot now recall were among the earliest members. James Groves was afterward licensed to preach, and admitted into the Erie Conference, and did the church good service for a number of years.

"From Luthersburg I moved to Clarington, on the north side of the Clarion River, but I had several preaching places in Jefferson county. In 1866 and 1867 I was reappointed to Clarington and remained two years again, and had the same preaching places in Jefferson as before. In 1868 and ‘69 I was at Brockwayville. The charge was a laborious one and lay entirely within the limits of Jefferson county. Fourteen years of my ministerial life and labors were thus spent, either wholly, or in part, in Jefferson county. When I first entered the county as a Methodist preacher there was not a single parsonage, and but one house of worship owned by the Methodists in the county. That house was in Punxsutawney, and was a mere shell, small, old, and somewhat dilapidated, in which a feeble society had been worshiping, for a number of years. The second house of worship erected by the Methodists was the Hopewell Church, of which I have spoken before; the third was at Troy, the fourth at Brookville, the fifth at Gahagan’s, in the southern part of the county. Our preaching was done chiefly in school-houses, private dwellings, grist-mills, and in the open air, but ‘the hand of the Lord was with us working with signs and wonders,’ and hundreds were added to the church. Of the older members of my acquaintance many have departed, I trust in peace; others moved away, and when I consider how many parsonages and houses of worship have been built, and how many new societies have been organized, and how many preachers are employed and liberally sustained within the 1imits of the county, I am constrained to exclaim ‘What hath God wrought!"

The first Catholics who came into the county, as far as we can learn, were those two sturdy, honest Irishmen, John Dougherty and John Gallagher, who settled in Brookville, in the year 1831, and who were both prominently connected with the town and county for so many years. Soon others came in; some from Belgium, who settled on the south side of Red Bank, in what has ever since been known as Belgiumtown. They were for a long time ministered unto by priests from St. Mary’s, Pa., and from the older Catholic settlements in the Clarion region, until 1853, when, during the pastorate of Rev. Father Ledwith, they built the brick church on Water street, which was for a long time the finest church edifice in Brookville.

Although there were members of the Baptist, Lutheran and other denominations in the county prior to 1830, they had no organization, nor any preaching, except that of Dr. Nichols, in the northern part of the county, before noted.

The rapid growth, the fine church edifices, with full statistics of the different church organizations within the county the past half of a century, will be given elsewhere.

Source:  Page(s) 53-61, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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