Chapter LIII
History of Oliver Township 

Oliver, the twenty- second township, was organized in 1851, and, as it was taken from Perry, it took also the Christian name of the great naval hero for which that township was called. Oliver is bounded on the north by Knox and Rose, on the east by McCalmont and Young, on the south by Perry, and on the west by Beaver and Ringgold.

Drainage. - The region is one of deep valleys. Big Run, heading near Oliveburg, flows across the southern part of the township and receives numerous small tributaries coming from the north and south. The Little Sandy makes a long circuit through the northern part. It has also numerous important tributaries coming from the north and east, all of which occupy deep, wide ravines.

Geology. - The Freeport lower coal is the principal bed in Oliver, and is found in nearly all parts of the township, but notably in the Little Sandy region. Its thickness is from five to six feet where it has been mined. Mr. W.G. Platt says of this coal: "Most probably the Freeport lower coal is here a large and valuable bed, but the determination of that fact must wait development. To all appearances there is an enormous expanse of it on the lands of Messrs. Jenks & Winslow, situated on both sides of Jordan’s Run, east of Burkett’s. These lands, embracing thousands of acres, are unimproved forest."

The Kittanning lower and middle coal beds are found averaging about two feet thick, and the Brookville about the same.

The ferriferous limestone is found in good condition, and is from five to seven feet thick in the Little Sandy and Big Run valleys, and is easily quarried, making excellent lime. Buhrstone iron ore and fire- clay is also found in the Little Sandy valley.

Early Settlers. - The first settler in what is now Oliver township was Reuben Hickox, who came from Connecticut in 1822. Mr. Hickox has been mentioned in the history of Perry township.

William Hadden, who came with his parents from Indiana county in 1812, when his father, Archibald Hadden, settled in Perry township, is the oldest living citizen of the township, being now in the eighty- second year of his age, having resided in Jefferson county over seventy- five years. In 1831 Mr. Hadden moved on to the farm in what is now Oliver township, where he still resides. Mr. Hadden’s life of three- quarters of a century in Jefferson county comprises the greater part of its history. He was always very fond of the chase, and when only about eleven years of age killed his first deer near the town of Indiana, and the last one some six years ago. He computes the whole number of deer that have fallen before his unerring rifle as at over six hundred. In one year alone he killed forty deer, one bear and sixteen wild turkeys, besides smaller game. Another year he killed twenty- five deer. Game was so abundant in those days that the hunter could choose that which suited him best. At one time Mr. Hadden, John Henderson and Hugh McKee, who were hunting together, killed an elk, the horns of which measured from five to six feet.

Mr. Hadden did not confine himself to hunting, but cleared and improved a large farm, besides engaging in lumbering. About the year 1842 he built a saw- mill in Oliver township, and was one of the first pilots on the Mahoning, when rafts had to be run out to Kittanning before they could be tied up. The rafts at that time were steered with two oars at the front end instead of one as in the present day.

For many years Mr. Hadden every spring would open up a sugar camp on his farm, where he made all his own sugar and molasses. While at his early home in Perry township he had often to go to the mill on Black Lick, in Indiana county, to get a grist ground, or to the town of Indiana to purchase the necessary store goods. Indiana was then a small village, and only a trail through the woods led to it. Mr. Hadden is still a sprightly, well preserved man, and bids fair to live longer than is often allotted to man. He has never been sick but once in his life and that was more than thirty years ago.

George and William Newcom settled on adjoining farms and cleared land in 1825. The latter had one of the best improved farms in the township, with good buildings. It is now the property of his son, Samuel T. Newcom.

John Jones settled in Oliver in 1826, Peter Depp in 1828, and Samuel Cathcart in 1831. The McKinstry brothers, Alexander and William, came from McVeytown, Mifflin county, about 1833, and settled first near where Worthville now is, but afterwards moved to the present Cool Spring.

Alexander McKinstry had purchased a large tract of land, on Little Sandy, of the Holland Land Company, and many of those who settled there about the same time purchased their farms of him. Among these were James and David Han, Benjamin and Samuel Reed.

Alexander McKinstry was one of the most prominent settlers of what is now Oliver. He was for a number of years justice of the peace, and his house was for many years a popular stopping- place for travelers.

In the year 1855 dysentery prevailed to an alarming extent in Jefferson county, especially in the Little Sandy valley, where, in less than two months, there were some thirty deaths. It was during the prevalence of this epidemic that a sad affliction befell the family of Alexander McKinstry. The wife, child and sister- in- law (Miss Kelly) of his son, William B. McKinstry, who resided with his father, died of the prevailing disease within a few days of each other, the last of the trio, the little child, dying on the 25th of September. Soon after seeing his little one close its eyes in death the bereaved husband and father, crazed by grief, went out into the woods near his childhood’s home and there shot himself. He, was an unusually gifted and intelligent young man, beloved by all who knew him, and his sad death cast a deeper gloom over the community in which the dread pestilence had made such terrible havoc.

In 1860 diptheria visited the same community and with the same dire effect. In the month of January eight children of William McKinstry (brother of Alexander) dying within a space of two weeks. All the heads of these two families have been gathered in by the same Great Reaper.

William M. Reed now lives upon the farm first settled by his father, Samuel Reed. James Han resides on the Benjamin Reed farm and cares for Mr. Reed and his wife, both being about eighty years of age.

Joseph Manners came into the township in 1835, Adam Dobson and Samuel Gaston in 1833, Jacob Fishel in 1837, George Stewart in 1838, John and William Coulter in 1841, Samuel Burket in 1842,Robert Hice and Elias Gilhousen in 1848, Henry Brown, Daniel Fair, Jonathan Rowan, William Smith,. Robert Parks, John Kellar, Jacob Wyant, were among the early settlers in Oliver.

Mathew Barr came to the township in 1849, and settled on a farm purchased from Alexander McKinstry, where he lived until his death. His son, James Barr, now owns the place.

Of the first settlers in this end of the township only John Coulter, Benjamin Reed and David Han survive, all residing on the farms their own hands have cleared and improved. Nearly all the land in Oliver township belonged to the Holland Land Company, and was sold by their agent, C.C. Gaskill, and it was owing to his leniency that many of these early settlers were able to pay for their farms. In some instances where they had been unable to make the first payment, or pay the interest, they would go to Mr. Gaskill, who, by their paying a dollar or two on the new article, would cancel the old, and allow them to commence in the new. On one occasion, a certain man in Oliver or Perry township, wishing to get hold of some land claimed by another party, went to Mr. Gaskill, and tried to purchase it, and when reminded that it had been sold to another, replied that he would never pay for it. "Well," said Mr. Gaskill, "he tells me that he hopes to pay for it, and I will not deprive him of that hope. ‘There is plenty more land that thee can have."

Early Improvements. - The first store was Opened at Cool Spring by James Gray, who came from, Indiana county, about 1836. Mr. Gray also built a. small saw- mill on Kellar’s Run, which he operated for a few years. He died there in 1844. He was the fifth postmaster appointed in the county, and his office was the only one except Punxsutawney south of Redbank. He named the office from a remarkably cold spring on the premises. Only one of Mr. Gray’s family is a resident of this county, Miss Margery Gray, of Brookville, who is in the eighty- third year of her age.

The next store was opened about 1846; at Sprankle’s Mills, by David Frank.

Thomas Houston also kept store at an early day at Sprankle’s Mill. He was followed by Peter Seiler, who kept a store for several years, until he perished in the fire which consumed his premises. Finding the building on fire one night, he entered with the intention of saving his books, when the draught caused by the fire closed the door upon him, and he was unable to escape. His son, Daniel, succeeded to his business.

The first grist- mill was built by Frederick Sprankle, of Indiana county, about the year 1833, at the junction of the Big Run and Kellar’s Run, who called the place Fredericksburg. The next grist- mill was built by Philip Enterline.

The first saw- mill was built by John Sprankle, son of Frederick, at the same place, and the next by William McKinstry; on Little Sandy. William Hadden built the next, and about 1848, Levi Gilhousen built a mill on the south branch o Little Sandy. Daniel Enterline built one below Sprankle’s Mill, in 1852. Samuel and Benjamin Gilhousen also built one of the early saw- mills.

John McKee started the first carding- machine on Little Sandy, near McKinstry’s, in 1846. Mr. McKee came from Westmoreland county, near Leechburg, and started his carding- mill, with one set of rolls, which he ran for a while, and then put in another set. He did the wool- carding in that section of the county until 1859, when he removed to Frostburg, where he has since resided. He has followed wool- carding almost ever since he located in the county, doing the first work of the kind in Brookville, where he still superintends that part of the business in the woolen manufactory of Newsome & Fawcett. Mr. McKee was one of the early school teachers in Oliver. The first school- house was built at the cross Roads, near William Newcome’s. It was an old log structure, and was succeeded by one at Kellar’s. The first church was built in 1854, at Oliveburg. The first grave-yard was on the farm of John Kellar, where several of his children, and some others were buried, and the next was started at Oliveburg, in 1853, two children of Isaac C. Jordon, being the first buried there.

Present Business. - The saw- mills in Oliver are those of William Hadden, T.A. McKinstry, Eli Enterline, S.T. Newcom, Robert Geist, C.C. Geist, George Geist, J.M. Hadden, Raybuck & Brocius, and Eli Coulter. The latter is on the site of the mill built by John Sprankle, whose daughter, Sarah, Mr. Coulter married. Mr. Coulter also owns the grist- mill at Sprankle’s Mill.

About twenty years ago the old saw- mill at McKinstry’s, was torn down, and a new steam mill erected. This, with the large grist- mill, one of the best in the county, is owned and operated by Thompson A. McKinstry, son of Alexander McKinstry, who owns and resides on the old homestead. Joseph M. Elder owns and operates a tannery in Oliver. The stores in Oliver are those of Daniel Seiler and William Eisenhart at Sprankle’s Mill, M.J. Kunselman, T.A. McKinstry, John Shafler and Harry Ickes at Cool Spring, and John Fink at Oliveburg.

There are nine school- houses and six churches in the township, with a cemetery at Oliveburg, and one at Wesley chapel.

Farms. - Agriculture is the principal business of the citizens of this township, and some excellent farms with fine improvements are found within its territory. Fruit growing also receives a great deal of attention, and the best varieties of apples, peaches, pears, cherries, quinces, grapes, plums, currants, gooseberries and strawberries, are grown. Among the best farms are those of S.T. Newcom, Isaac C. Jordan estate, George Startzell, J.H. Rowan, Charles M. Law, William Hadden and Daniel Seiler.

The post- offices in Oliver are Cool Spring, Oliveburg and Sprankle’s Mills. The former was moved to McKinstry, in 1856.

Elections. - At the first election held in Oliver township, in 1851, the following persons were elected: Justice of the peace, John Scott; constable, John Ferguson; supervisors, Samuel Gaston, Robert Reed; assessor, William Hadden; auditors, John P. McKee, Joseph Manners, Peter Depp; overseers of the poor, George. Cochran, H. Doverspike; school directors, Samuel Jordon, George W. Shaffer, Mathew Barr, Henry Hoch, George C. McKee; town clerk, William B. McKinstry; judge of election, William P. Gaston; inspectors, George Newcom, George Manners.

At the election held February 15, 1887, the following persons were elected: Constable, J.I. Barr; tax collector, R. Geist; supervisors, W.M. Reed, S.S. Jordan; poor overseer, G.D. Geist; assessor, J.M. Elder; auditor, W.R. Meredith; town clerk, J.R. McKinstry; judge of election, Mathew Cochran; inspectors, S. Huffman, W.L. Yeager. The justices of the peace for Oliver are R.H. McKinstry and Eli Coulter; and the members of the school board previously elected, are C.M. Law, William R. McGaughey, J.A. Harl and Robert Geist.

Taxables, Population, Assessments, and School Statistics. - The number of taxables in Oliver township in 1856, were 180; in 1863, 183; in 1870, 245; in 1880, 300; in 1886,324. The population in 1860, was 977; in 1870, 1,117 in 1880, 1,305.

The triennial assessment for 1886, gives the number of acres of unseated land in Oliver township as 14,806; valuation, $68,249; value per acre, $4.60; houses and lots, 44; valuation, $3,058; unseated, 3,919 acres, valuation, $23,416; average value per acre, $5.96; number of horses, 263; valuation, $8,815; average value, $37.35; number of cows, 362; valuation, $4,174; average value, $11.53; number of occupations, 86; valuation, $2,375, average, $27.53. Total valuation subject to county tax, $110,087. Money at interest, $10,648.

The number of schools in Oliver township for the year ending June 7, 1886, were 9; length of term, 5 months; number of male teachers, 4; female teachers, 5; average salary of teachers, $30; number of male scholars, 225; female scholars, 184; average attendance, 262; per cent of attendance, 82; cost per month, 73 cents; 13 mills were levied for school, and 3 for building purposes. Total amount of tax levied, $1,486.82.

Source:  Page(s) 651-656, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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