Chapter IX
From 1860 to the Present Time 

Tornadoes -  Floods -  Railroads -  The Rebellion -  Murder of Betty McDonald -  General Improvements -  Statistics of Agriculture -  Manufactures -  Commerce, Etc.

The last twenty-seven years of the county’s history has been an era of prosperity and improvement.

In 1870 we find the population of the county was 21,588 white, and sixty-eight colored, an increase in ten years of 3,386. One of the well-remembered events of 1860 was the great tornado, or cyclone, as we would call it in these days, which swept over a portion of the county. It first destroyed the town of Maysville, in Clarion county, causing the death or wounding of quite a number of the citizens of that little village. From there it crossed the Red Bank into Jefferson county, where it first destroyed the house and barn of Paul Gearhart, all the buildings of Isaac Mottern, the house and barn of Henry Spare, the large barn of McLain Ferguson, the upper story of whose house was carried away, and one of his children slightly injured. After leaving Beaver township it passed into Knox and Pine Creek townships, crossing the Indiana road between Little Sandy and the residence of John Montgomery. Samuel Montgomery, who was caught by the storm on the road leading from Knox township to Brookville, had both his limbs broken by falling trees. The horse he was riding was killed, but the one he was leading escaped uninjured, but was penned in so securely by the fallen trees that food had to be carried to it for several days, until a road could be cut into the fallen timber to extricate it. The house of Jacob Rinestein, in Pine Creek, was demolished, and all its contents destroyed. In Knox and Pine Creek the course of the storm was about a mile in width. It crossed the turnpike near Reynoldsville, where it destroyed two or three houses, and where a son of Mr. Dietrich had a leg broken, Mr. Dietrich’s buildings being torn to pieces.

In the entire pathway of the tornado not a tree or anything else escaped its fury. The loss in timber was immense, and the course of the storm may yet be traced by the "windfalls," as they are termed, on which not a large tree is seen, only the growth of underbrush since that time. These "windfalls" are covered with blackberry bushes, and annually yield a large supply of that fruit.

After the tornado passed over the county pieces of oak shingles were found in the vicinity of Brookville, and in other parts of the county, which must have been carried by the force of the wind from Clarion county, as only pine shingles were used in Jefferson county. It seems miraculous that no lives were lost, and so few casualties occurred in this county. The same day Brookville and other localities in the county were visited by a severe rain and hail storm, accompanied by thunder and lightning, but strange to say with very little wind. The hail was very large, and the measurements taken at that time give the largest that fell at from five to ten inches in circumference.

July 4th of the same year the little town of Roseville and portions of Union townships were visited by a similar storm. The houses and barns of Isaac Siars, Daniel Lamb, and William Kelly were destroyed, John Fitzsimmons’s barn unroofed and fences destroyed. The large brick house of Richard Hughes was badly shattered, the kitchen torn away, and the roof lifted up and then let down to its place again. The orchards, laden with fruit, of Messrs Hughes and Kelly were destroyed, and fences carried away, making the loss in the small area covered by the storm very heavy.

The streams which for so many years were the commercial highways of Jefferson county -  which in summer are generally small creeks -  become, when at "high flood," mad, rushing torrents. The most destructive floods occurred in January, 1828, February, 1832, spring of 1847, September 27, 1861, March 16, 1865, and June, 1884.

The flood of 1861 was a very disastrous one, the waters being higher than ever before except in 1847. Great damage was done, and millions of feet of timber and boards were carried off. The next flood in 1865 was almost a repetition of that of 1861. The winter previous an unusually large amount of timber had been put in ready for rafting, and the loss was very great to the lumbermen on all the streams. The latest destructive flood was that of June, 1884, which caused great devastation in and about Brookville. The North Fork bridge was destroyed, and Messrs. Thomas K. Litch & Sons lost heavily in damage to mills and lumber lost. The dam of Carrier, Verstine & Co.’s mill, on the North Fork, was torn out, and they lost heavily in lumber.

In 1861 the war, premonitions of which had been felt for some time, was precipitated upon the country; but it found the loyal citizens prepared for the issue, and the alacrity with which they responded to the call for men to aid in putting down the rebellion was a surprise, even to those who knew the deep-seated loyalty of our people. The history of the part taken by the soldiers of Jefferson county is given elsewhere, and fully shows their gallant service during the great struggle.

During the four years of the war, the history of Jefferson county is that of every county in the loyal North. With the greater portion of her able-bodied citizens in the army, all departments of business suffered, for the farmer had gone forth leaving the plow in the furrow, the lumbermen had left his ax sticking in the pine tree, the lawyer closed up his office, the merchant left his counter, and the mechanic his bench and forge, the printers nearly all forsook the case. Then the noble women of the county "came to the front"; the mothers, wives, and sisters took up the work where their sons, husbands, and brothers had laid it down, and they bore the burden nobly until the end came, and peace was once more restored. We could not give the history of those days as far as the women of the county are concerned, for no parade was made of what they did for the county in those long and bloody days of the war; but we know that when, with pale cheeks and faltering lips they bade their loved ones hasten to the defense of the flag, they stepped into the gap their absence created, and worked untiringly and uncomplainingly to keep the machinery of the homes running. They took the men’s places in the stores, offices, and workrooms, and in the field, even in some instances plowing, sowing, and reaping, and in all those years of long suspense and hope deferred, they cared for the wants of the soldiers in the field, in preparing and forwarding supplies for the sick and wounded.

During the years of the war business of all kinds suffered; but with the dawn of peace new life was infused into the county, and prosperity again reigned.

From an early period in the history of the county the railroad question was agitated more or less, and numerous surveys were made through Jefferson county, which would for the time being cause the people to think that they were to secure an outlet to the outer world; but for a long time these expectations were not realized, and the county seat of Jefferson county was "forty miles from anywhere," it being about that distance by stage to Indiana, Kittanning, Franklin, Ridgway, or Clearfield, points to be reached before the cars could be taken by the traveler.

In the spring of 1853 ground was broken at Pittsburgh on the Allegheny Valley Railroad, or, as it was then called, the "Pittsburgh, Kittanning and Warren Railroad," and as the survey of the road ran through Jefferson county, the commissioners of the county subscribed ninety thousand dollars to the stock of said road, issuing bonds for the same; but the Allegheny Valley road, instead of coming through Jefferson county, followed the Allegheny River to Oil City, and our people were again "left out in the cold." In August, 1871, however, work was commenced on the Low Grade division of the Allegheny Valley road running from the mouth of Red Bank, on A.V.R.R., through the counties of Armstrong, Clarion, Jefferson, Elk, and Clearfield, to intersect with the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad at Driftwood, in Cameron county. This road was finished in May, 1874, the first through train of cars going over the road May 4th. The building of this road, bringing into the county so much ready money, and giving employment to so many men, helped our people to tide over the panic of 1873 - 4 without their feeling its effects to any great degree. The extent of railroads in the county will be given elsewhere.

On the 19th of February, 1866, a murder was committed in Jefferson county that caused a widespread feeling of horror. Mrs. Elizabeth, or as she was better known, Betty McDonald, an old lady of eighty years of age lived alone on a small farm in Washington township. She had a few hundred dollars in money, and to secure this was the object of the murder. When she was found horribly murdered on the day succeeding her death by her neighbors, suspicion at once rested upon two strangers who had come into the neighborhood a few months before. Warrants were issued for their arrest, and Charles Chase, one of the suspected men was arrested at Ridgway the next day, and conveyed to the Brookville jail, and at the May term of court following, he was tried and convicted of the crime, and sentenced to be hung. Hon. James Campbell presided at the trial, and Messrs. I.G. and A.L. Gordon, and John McMurray, esq., with the district attorney, L.A. Grunder, esq., represented the Commonwealth, while the prisoner was ably defended by Messrs. P.W., W.P., and G.A. Jenks.

The jury was composed of the following persons: Charles Jacox, Fulton Shoffner, Silas Brooks, Abel Fuller, Andrew Hawk, William Williams, W.A. Hadden, William Altman, Thomas North, Darius Blose, William Norris, and James Buzzard. August 23, 1867, Chase paid the penalty of his crime, the sentence being executed by Sheriff Nathan Carrier, in the jail-yard at Brookville. Dean Graves, Chase’s accomplice in the crime, having succeeded in eluding the officers of justice, the commissioners offered a reward of five hundred dollars for his apprehension, and on the 29th of October he was arrested, after a desperate resistance, by the sheriffs of Kent and Verick counties, Mich. Sheriff Carrier, accompanied by Colonel W.W. Corbet, armed with a requisition from the governor of Pennsylvania, went to Michigan and brought Graves to Brookville, where he was tried at the December term of court and convicted of murder in the second degree, and sentenced to solitary confinement in the Western Penitentiary for eleven years and eight months. In this trial the Commonwealth was represented by District Attorney A.C. White and the Messrs. Gordon, and the defense by the Messrs. W.P. and G.A. Jenks.

The jurors in the trial of Graves were Ephraim E. Johnson, James F. Hawthorne, James L. Whitman, William Best, jr., John Frampton, Israel Graffius, Peter Galusha, John Coon, Miller Harding, George S. Campbell, James M. Morris, and Charles B. McCain.

The last half of a century has done wonders in the way of improvement, and developing the resources of the county. Though there is yet considerable valuable timber in the county, the wholesale, indiscriminate, and in some cases wanton destruction of our forests, has greatly diminished the supply. Lumbering was for so long the only business by which money could be made, that nearly all the grand old pines have fallen victims; no voice was raised for the woodman to "spare that tree," and year by year vast quantities of lumber was carried off by our streams to find a market, often, too, at paltry prices; but all this has come to an end now; what timber is left is held at its just value by the owners, and the cessation in the lumber trade has caused that attention to be given to farming, which had been neglected while the lumber business was in the ascendency. Farms that in former years scarce yielded a pittance, have now been brought to a high state of cultivation. The unsightly stumps are all disappearing, good fences have been built, while the best and most approved farming implements and machinery are in general use. On the farms the log cabin, and the rude stable have given place to the large, well-appointed dwellings, and commodious barns. The homes of the farmers are comfortably, and in a great many instances, luxuriously furnished. The organ or piano, and well selected libraries are found in nearly every farm house, showing that the farmers of Jefferson county believe in surrounding their children with that which is ennobling and refining. In every home also is found the weekly newspaper, and papers and magazines treating on agricultural and literary subjects.

Within the last few years a great interest is being taken in the improvement of stock, and now some of the very best grades are to be found in this county, until it has become noted abroad for the fine horses and cattle raised and owned by our stockmen.

Jefferson county is also becoming noted as a fruit-producing region, her soil and climate being especially adapted to the raising of almost all kinds of fruit except the peach, which usually succumbs to our severe frosts. Apples, pears, cherries, grapes, etc., are grown in the greatest profusion and perfection. Great attention has been paid to the planting of the very best varieties of apples, and it is rare indeed that Jefferson county has not more than enough for home consumption.

The development of the immense deposits of excellent coal that underlies so much of the surface of the county, has also given a new impetus to business. Two new railroads built into the coal fields within the past two years, the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh, and the Ridgway and Clearfield Railroad, a branch of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, have done much toward developing the eastern and southern portions of the county.

The population of Jefferson county at the last census was 27,898 white, and thirty-seven colored, showing an increase over the census of 1870 of 6,347. It will be seen by the figures of the different censuses that the colored people do not take very kindly to Jefferson county, the entire number given by the different censuses being 369.

The statistics of agriculture and manufactures for 1870 and 1880 show the great strides the county has taken in that direction:



Value of improved land




" Farms




Value of all farm productions, including all betterments and additions to live stock




Spring wheat, bushels


Pounds of wool


Winter "


Bushels of potatoes




Pounds of butter



" cheese



Census of 1880

Farms and farm values.


Cost of building and repairing fences in 1879

$ 55,328

Numbers of farms



Acres of improved lands


Cost of fertilizers in 1879


Value of farms, including buildings and fences


Value of orchard products


Value of implements and machinery


Estimated value of all farm productions, sold, consumed or on hand in 1879


" live stock




Size of Farms in Jefferson County.

Over 3 and under 10 acres


Over 100 and under 500 acres


" 10 " 20 "


" 500 " 1,000 "


" 20 " 50 "


1,000 and over


" 50 " 100 "




Live Stock and Production

No. of horses


Pounds of wool


" mules


" butter


" oxen


" cheese


" milch cows


Gallons of milk


" other cattle



" sheep



" swine




Poultry and Eggs, produced in 1879

Poultry on hand June 1, 1880, exclusive of spring hatching


Other fowls


Barn-yard fowls


Eggs produced in 1879, doz



Apiarian Products

Honey, 1879, lbs


Wax, 1879. lbs



Grain Products

No. bushels of wheat


Tons of hay


" rye


Pounds of tobacco


" corn


Bushels of flax seed


" oats


Tons of flax straw


" buckwheat


Gallons of maple molasses


No. pounds maple sugar




Grass Lands and Forest Products - 1879

Hay crop, tons


Amount of wood cut, cords


Acres mowed


Pulse - Canada peas (dry) bu


Clover seed, bu


Beans (dry) bu


Grass seed, bu


Broom corn raised, lbs


Potatoes, acres



" bushels







Paid in wages per annum


Capital invested


Amount of material used


Hands employed


Value of products



Assessed Value and Taxation.

Real estate, value


Taxation, State

$ 664

Personal property, value


" county



" borough and school


Total value of property


Total taxation


Local debt of county, not including any portion of the State debt: Bonded debt, $102,808; floating debt, $10,026; gross, net, $112,834. This debt has been largely reduced in the last six years, the "Auditor’s Statement" for the year ending December 31, 1886, giving the bonded debt as $26,600; floating, $871.22; total liabilities of county, $27,741.22.

The census of 1880 classifies the population of the county as follows: Total males 14,327, females 13,608; school age, between five and seventeen, males 4,814, females 4,625; military age, between eighteen and forty-four, 5,055; twenty-one and over, 6,291. 1870 -  native born 20,568, foreign born 1,090; 1880 -  native born 26,587, foreign born 1,338.

Triennial assessment of Jefferson county, showing the amount of real and personal property in the county for the year 1886, and the valuation thereof:


No. of acres seated


No. of horses



$ 1,205,841


$ 147,276

Average per acre


Average value

$ 29.92

No. of houses and lots


No. of cows



$ 577,886


$ 62,637

No. of grist and saw-mills


Average value

$ 9.76


$ 56,468



No. acres unseated lands



$ 1,629


$ 355,197



Average value per acre

$ 3.90


$ 119,747

Acres surface



$ 27.70


$ 43,244

Total valuation subject to county tax

$ 2,652,550

Average value per acre

$ 2.91


Acres, mineral


No. of carriages



$ 85,685


$ 28,285

Average value per acre

$ 3.83

Money at interest

$ 660, 587

This assessment does not give the real, only the assessed value, which is only about one-fifth of the real value on real estate, and one-third on personal property. Hereafter we believe property is to be assessed at its true value, and the percentage of taxation lowered, which is the only true method of taxation.


Source:  Page(s) 71-78, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Jefferson County Genealogy Project (

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