Dr. Robert Mitchell – Abolitionist

Dr. Robert Mitchell was the second physician to settle in Indiana County, PA and an ardent antislavery supporter.  He was born in 1787 in Cumberland County, PA near Chambersburg.  In his early years, Dr. Mitchell lived with a relative, Dr. Magehan, with whom he studied medicine.  Mitchell was exceptionally well-trained for his day, graduating from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, under Dr. Benjamin Rush.  When Dr. Mitchell came to Indiana, PA, Dr. French, the pioneer physician of Indiana County, invited him to stay and assist him in his work. At this time Dr. French was in declining health.  At times, Dr. Mitchell found himself being called to points beyond the county’s borders.  After Dr. French died, shortly after Mitchell’s arrival, Dr. Mitchell received Dr. French’s practice as well as his library and office fixtures, and started a drug store in connection with his practice.

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Dr. Mitchell

Dr. Mitchell was a successful physician, but was also a man of strong conscience and an advanced thinker, taking an active role in the progressive movements in his time.  As a member of the Whig party, he served five years representing the district in the State Legislature, and was also appointed associate judge, but he preferred his practice and private life to making laws.

On April 6, 1823, Dr. Mitchell married Jane Clark.  Their witness was Rev. David Blair, the pastor of the Associate Presbyterian Church of Indiana, PA, and their life-long friend.  Mrs. Mitchell shared in her husband’s antislavery views, believing in the Golden Rule of Christ, and taking pride in her husband’s brave stand for the right.

Jane Clark

In 1823, Mitchell purchased 1,550 acres of pine timber land in Cherryhill Township, on top of Chestnut Ridge, where he laid out a village which he named Diamondville (as it was on the most desirable location of the tract), and started a saw and flour mill.  He is probably best known in Indiana County history as an ardent abolitionist, and one who suffered for adherence to his convictions.  

From all accounts, this opposition began at an early age, as a boy he spent time in Virginia, where slavery was then flourishing.  He witnessed many horrors in his youth which made him vow that he would do everything in his power to accomplish the downfall of the institution.  This included the sight of two men working in the field with ox yokes around their necks.  This and other cruelties and unrighteous features of the system led him to sympathize deeply with its victims and eventually to take an active part on behalf of those who attempted to flee their bondage.

It is important to note here the Fugitive Slave Act which passed Congress in 1793.  This Act decreed that owners of enslaved people and their “agents” had the right to search for escapees within the borders of free states.  In the event the suspected runaway was captured, the slave hunters had to bring the suspected runaway before a judge and provide evidence proving the person was their property.  If the judge was satisfied with the proof – often in the form of a signed affidavit – the owner would be permitted to take custody of the enslaved person and return home.  The act also imposed a $500 penalty on any person who assisted in harboring and concealing the runaway.

Most northern states refused or neglected to enforce the Act and many passed what were known as “Personal Liberty Laws.”  These laws gave the accused runaways the right to a jury trial and also protected free African Americans, many of whom were abducted by bounty hunters and sold back into slavery.

The constitutionality of Personal Liberty Laws was challenged in 1842 in the United States Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania.  The facts of the case involved Edward Prigg, a Maryland man who was convicted of kidnaping, after he captured a suspected slave in Pennsylvania.  The Court ruled in favor of Prigg, thereby setting the precedent that federal law trumped any state law that tried to interfere with the Fugitive Slave Act.  Despite the decision the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 remained unenforced.  An example of this can be seen right here in Indiana County with the case of Dr. Mitchell and Van Meter with Judge Thomas White presiding.

The case had its beginnings with the “harboring” of runaways, Hollingsworth, Brown, and Harris.    When brought before the court, Judge White demanded from Van Meter to produce written evidence that slavery exisited in Virginia.  When he could not, Judge White ordered the three released from custody.  Van Meter then brought a civil suit against Dr. Mitchell who was summoned on October 19, 1845, to appear before the Federal District court in Pittsburgh.  On November 17, the case began being designated as “No. 8 November Term 1845. Van Metre vs. Mitchell,” and it dragged on for almost eight and a half years until May 1854.  

This incident contributed to the more restrictive Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 being passed.  This Act was also met with resistance and criticism.  Because of the widespread opposition and being virtually enforceable in certain states, Congress repealed both Acts on June 28, 1864.

There were a total of three trials – two of which Mitchell won and a third which he lost.  During the first trial, the jury disagreed.  So the case was called upon a second time.  During the second trial, the defense claimed that Dr. Mitchell had not concealed the men, rather they came to Indiana in a most deplorable condition, and when they inquired about housing they were directed to the office of the Clarion of Freedom, and were given lodging for the night.  The men then breakfasted at Dr. Mitchell’s home the following morning, and he bought them the necessary supplies and for the next few weeks they resided in a cabin on Dr. Mitchell’s land, which was often times used by travelers.  The defense claimed they were living there openly and finding employment in the community.  The claim was that no one knew them to be fugitive slaves and there was no evidence that Dr. Mitchell had such knowledge.

The prosecution responded that it was known to the court that Indiana County was a place of Whig majority, and therefore a region fit for treason, stratagem and spoils.  To prove that Dr. Mitchell knew the men were living in his cabin, they produced a note from the pocket of one of the captured men, directing them to a man who lived on Dr. Mitchell’s farm adjoining the cabin, and read: “Kill a sheep and give Garriet half. [Signed] Robert Mitchell.”

It was admitted that this did not prove that Robert Mitchell knew Garrett Harris was a slave, but being an abolitionist and living in a county with Whig majority, it was safe to assume he knew these men to be runaways.  The judge sustained this assumption and likewise charged the jury.  The jury found against Mitchell and fined him $5,000 and costs.  Dr. Mitchell had to sell his pine timber to satisfy the judgement.

Dr. Mitchell continued supporting the cause and always stood in high esteem to his fellow citizens, not only in Indiana County but across the State.  Unfortunately, Dr. Mitchell died April 14, 1862, shortly before President Abraham Lincoln wrote and signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Story of Hollingsworth, Brown, and Harris

[In Indiana County] it was a matter of public knowledge…that fanatics, ‘friends of humanity,’ were banded together under professions of conscience and philanthropy, and vows of propagandism to disregard the constitution and laws of the country…a regularly organized association existed there to entice negroes from their owners, and to aid them in escaping…

Van Meter v. Mitchell Trial Record

Many people are familiar with the Underground Railroad from their days in high school history class, or earlier.  As a child sitting in a history class, upon hearing railroad one things of a series of underground tracks which took people from point A to point B.  But the Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad, but a loosely organized network of men, women and children who were willing to assist fugitive slaves.  This was not an easy task though, because at the time slavery and the rights of slaveholders were protected by the Constitution, and because of this local authorities were expected to uphold the law, thereby defining the actions of the Underground Railroad as acts of civil disobedience.

The motivation for those assisting with the Underground Railroad came from simple decency and/or religious conviction.  The New Testament commands to love one’s neighbor, feed the hungry, and aid the oppressed.  In Indiana County, some of the earliest congregations were the Associate Presbyterians, who had serious reservations about slavery.  In Indiana, Reverend Dr. David Blair, was an ardent abolitionist, and all five of the Associate Prebyterian churches in the area provided and nourished the core of Indiana County’s anti-slavery leaders.

In the 1840s, Methodists and Baptists were split over the issue of slavery and the Lutherans and Wesleyan Methodists opposed it.  In the late 1850s, the Plumville Baptist Church, with its pastor Rev. William Bingham, an abolitionist, organized a group of Indiana County citizens to got to Kansas to make it a free state.

Not everyone who helped with the activities of the Underground Railroad were committed abolitionists, but the leadership was grounded in abolitionist principles.

James Moorhead was the founder and editor of two abolitionist newspapers in the 1840s and 50s: the Clarion of Freedom and The Independent.  Other prominent abolitionist leaders were Dr. Robert Mitchell of Indiana and John Graff of Blairsville; they were also Underground Railroad managers.  In Indiana County, there were at least 40 others who conducted for the Railroad and organized anti-slavery activities in the county.  The men often served as conductors, the women in the “Subsistence Department,” and the children as watchguards, guides, and messengers.

Likely the most “famous” story in Indiana County is with Anthony Hollingsworth (12 years old), and his two companions: Charles Brown (19) and Garrett (Jared) Harris (late 20s).  They came to the outskirts of Indiana late in April 1845.  The three were exhausted and famished, and they hid out in the overgrown brush and brambles of the old neglected Lutheran cemetery, what is now Memorial Park.

Charles Brown was a favored house servant of Garrett Van Meter Family from Hardy County, Virginia and was Mrs. Van Meter’s carriage driver.  The Van Meter daughters had begun to teach Charlie to read and write, until they were warned by a family friend that it was illegal.  The Van Meters were kind to Charlie, but Van Meter was always willing to sell, even his best servants, if the crops did not grow well.

One day in 1844, while Charlie and Mrs. Van Meter were returning from the market, they were meet by a slave dealer and two young servants cuffed in the wagon.  The two young servants cried out to Mrs. Van Meter to save them, but there was nothing she could do.  The slave driver struck the two with his whip, which disturbed Mrs. Van Meter, and when Charlie tried to console her, she stated that she feared he may be next.

It was at that point, Charlie began to plan his escape.  He gathered information and practiced his reading.  One night, he heard guests tell the Van Meter family that a group of five slaves had escaped from the neighboring county and when asked how they knew where to go, the visitor said they followed the North Star.  One of the Van Meter daughters observed that the north star was like the Star of Bethlehem to the wise men.”

Charlie, Anthony Hollingsworth, and Jared Harris escaped together.  At some point between Virginia and Pennsylvania they connected with the Underground Railroad network of Blairsville’s John Graff, which led them to Indiana.

Alexander Moorhead, Jr., age 12 and grandson of James Moorhead, was working as an apprentice at the Clarion of Freedom office when Charlie knocked on the door.  Moorhead wrote:

[Charlie] was about 5 feet 10 inches in height, straight as an arrow, full-breasted, a clear, bright eye, dark-skinned; his hair had the regular African crinkle, and there was something that was very pleasing and winning.  He had a merry, cunning twinkle in his eye, and when he smiled, showed a row of ivories that would have been envied by any of our beautiful ladies…Charlie magnetized me at our first meeting.

Moorhead took the three home and seated them at his dinner table.  The three were then taken to a cabin on Mitchell’s farm near Diamondville.  Hollingsworth later moved to the farm of James Simpson near Homer City.

It was June 1845, when Anthony Hollingsworth was working in the Simpson field when he saw two familiar Hardy County men approaching him.  They forced the small, think, 12-year-old boy onto a horse and tied his feet together under the horse’s belly and took him into Indiana.

As they arrived in Indiana, the men took Hollingworth into the quarters at the Indiana House Hotel (the corner of Sixth and Philadelphia), owned by pro-slavery Sheriff David Ralston, who had begun his long career of aiding slavecatchers.  However, they did not arrive unseen or uncontested, as it was Court Week in Indiana.  By the time they had reached the hotel, where Garrett Van Meter may have waited, an angry mob filled Philadelphia Street.

News of the capture spread quickly through town, and the mob began crying “Down with the manhunters!” “Tear the house down over his head and set the man free!”

Ralston sent for Moorhead and Mitchell, who agreed to talk to the crowd.  Moorhead convinced the crowd to bring the case before the law: “He that is for us is stronger than they who are against us. Be persuaded. It may be on the morrow we will have to battle for the right.  Make your guard line strong and wait for the morning.”

The courthouse was packed the next morning with the crowd overflowing onto the streets.  Mitchell applied for a writ of habeas corpus and William Banks, a local attorney, agreed to defend Hollingsworth.  The case was heard before Judge Thomas White, who was known to be anti-slavery.

White demanded that Van Meter produce written evidence that slavery existed in Virginia; when they could not, Judge White turned to Ralston and said, “Sheriff, release that man from custody.”

Hollingsworth, Harris and Brown continued to live on Mitchell’s farm in Green Township.  The cabins, located on Two Lick Creek were no secret to Indiana Countians, and they even became a favorite place for young people to visit and hear the exciting story of their escape.

In August, Brown began to get restless, and wanted to return to Virginia to bring back a young woman whom he loved.  Alex Moorhead and Mitchell tried to convince him to stay, but it was to no avail, Charlie was determined to go south.  A few miles south of Cumberland, Maryland, he was apprehended by a B&O railroad employee and imprisoned; Van Meter was sent for.  Van Meter summed, but by that time Charlie had already escaped.

Charlie made his way back to his mother’s home and hid out there, and then headed back to Indiana.

In September 1845, Sheriff Ralston, three deputies and eight slavecatchers raided Mitchell’s cabins on Two Lick Creek in the middle of the night.  A struggle ensued.  A sheriff’s deputy recounted later:

Garret Harris was a powerful man and fought with the strength of a lion.  We had the advantage on him in the suddenness of the attack.  We pounced upon him while he was still lying on the floor, attempting to tie him before he could get on his feet.  One large man sat down on his breast and tried to keep him down while two others would tie him, but by superhuman exertion, he threw the man off and fought and crawled to the door, then springing up, he got free and escaped into the woods.

Sheriff Ralston made a hair-breadth escape.  Charlie Brown ran in on him, tripped him up, wrestled his club from him, and drew it up to strike.  I thought it was all up with the sheriff when one of the southerns gave an under stroke with his club arresting a fatal blow.  Another slave catcher struck him a fearful blow on the head, knocking him insensible.  Before he regained consciousness, they had him securely bound.

Brown and two others were carried off on horseback.  Rumors of Charlie’s fate came in several different reports.  One said that Charlie had sent correspondence north that he was going to remain in slavery, be obedient and just do the best he could.  Another rumor said he was whipped to death in front of his mother.  There was a Charles Brown, an African-American male of approximately the right age who was born in the United States, who appears in the 1871 Ontario Census. 

Reports of Jared Harris say that he went to Pittsburgh, while others say he went to Canada.

After the raids on the cabins, Hollingsworth went to Canada.  In 1862, he was living in Stratford, Ontario and in 1863 he was listed as a hairdresser and shampooner.  Anthony Hollingsworth last appears in the Ontario Census of 1871 at the age of 38.

Samuel Williams

Since February is Black History month, I thought it would be interesting to research some of the African-American history in Indiana County.  Starting this research back in December, I did not realize how difficult it would be to find information about notable African-Americans in Indiana County (it seems not much was written about these early figures), which somewhat surprised me knowing that Indiana County and the surrounding area was part of the Underground Railroad.  I came across the same stories of Dr. Robert Mitchell and his trial against Van Meter, for harboring “fugitive slaves,” especially one by the name of Anthony Hollingsworth.  But I knew there had to be others.

While searching, I came across a series of articles written by Clarence Stephenson in the 1970s and 1980s, one such article was about a gentleman by the name of Samuel Williams.  So I did some more digging, and it turns out an article in the Indiana Evening Gazette in 1944 told of how Stephen Foster was inspired to write some of his songs because of Samuel Williams.

Sam’s story begins on a Kentucky plantation, as a slave.  Among the slaves on the plantation was Nellie Gray, a friend of Sam, who was sold to a Louisiana plantation owner.  Sam missed his friend and went to Louisiana and stole her from her new owner and brought her back to the Kentucky plantation.  However, the Louisiana plantation owner came back to claim Nellie and took her back to Louisiana.  Sam was severely beat for his actions, resulting in making him blind in one eye.

Sam again stole Nellie and brought her back to Kentucky, but after this she was never heard from again, my best guess would be that she was again returned to Louisiana.  This left a sorrow in Sam’s heart.

Sam ran away from Kentucky and arrived in Armagh where he met with Judge Thomas White, father of Harry White.  Judge White was involved in aiding the slaves and giving them shelter and food and hiding them until it was safe to go further along on their journey.  One hiding place was the Old Stone house on the White property.  

When Sam came to Indiana, he took two women with him, and swam the Potomac river with them on his back.  He decided to locate in Indiana and worked for various families.  He married Sidney Harvey, an Indiana-born African-American.

Sam was employed by Attorney William Stewart.  This is where Stephen Foster enters the story.

Foster visited the home of Attorney Stewart, several times a year, as he was related to Mrs. Stewart.  While on his visits to Indiana, Stephen Foster often times heard Sam Williams singing his ballads as he worked.  Sam had a beautiful voice, which was known around the community, and a gift of composing the music and words as he sang.

One of Sam’s songs was that of his long lost love, Nellie Gray.  Another of a pet dog named “Tray,” which was left behind on the Kentucky plantation and another of Jeannie with the Dark Brown Hair.  Foster became so inspired with the voice and words that he wrote the music and arranged the songs “Darling Nellie Gray,” “Old Dog Tray,” and “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.”

Samuel Williams died on November 26, 1879, shortly afterward the following tribute was printed in the Indiana Progress on December 4, 1874:

As Shakespear says of one of his characters, “Alas, poor Yorkick! I knew him well.”  So now may the town of Indiana say of her colored friend, Sam Willias. Alas, poor Samuel! We knew him well.  An escaped slave from the sunny South, he dwelt for many years among us.  An African of the blackest visage, of crispest curliest locks, his face was to one and all of us familiar.  A fellow of queer, odd merriment and joke, he provoked us oft to laughter.  A being of iron, sinewy frame, he performed for us many menial offices, carried for us many heavy burdens.  A negro whose voice of powerful, yet soft, sweet melody, we have all so often heard, sometimes in the early morning, sometimes in the stilly night, waking the sleeping echoes among the hills that lie all about our beautiful town, we all remember.  As the young, the bright, the beautiful; as the honored, the brave, the gifted, as the statesman, the orator, the here, have lain down and died, so too has died on of the town characters – the queer, odd character – Sam.  Spring time shall come again with bending skies of blue, with bursting flowers, with tender grass blades, with the singing of birds and the rippling laugh of little children, but never again shall come our right hand man – Black Sam.

Stable doors shall swing idly in the gentle breeze; curry combs in corners lie neglected, unused; steeds untended, stand and neigh for the voice, for the touch of their keeper, while inn keepers talk lowly together as to where they can find one to fill to them the place of him who has gone forever.  As every stone, however rough, fills a needed place in the finished palace; as every drop, however little, helps swell the mighty ocean; so every man, however lowly, fills his own place in life; so Sam in our community occupied his own particular niche; and we hold that a word of kindness, a word of farewell is fitting as we turn on our heel from the grave of the negro saying, “Rest in Peace.”

Samuel Williams was laid to rest in the Oakland Cemetery.

The History of the Railroad in Indiana County Part IV

The automobile and the Depression took a heavy toll. In an effort to cut operating costs PRR had put a gasoline combination baggage-passenger car in service between Indiana and the Torrance intersection with the mainline.  B&O put a similar car on the Punxsutawney-Indiana line.  These were known as “hoodlebugs.”

In 1940, plans were underway by the U.S. Army Engineer Corps to build the Conemaugh flood control dam near Tunnelton.  This would flood the PRR lines in many places and necessitate rebuilding them on higher ground.  The railroad bridge between Blairsville and Torrance Junction was within the flood control area and had to be razed late in 1940, thus cutting Indiana County’s connection with the mainline.

Passenger train “Groundhog Flyer” of the B&O in 1949

Due to this and dwindling passenger use, PRR discontinued passenger service to Indiana.  The last passenger train ran from Indiana to Blairsville on April 18, 1940.  Ralph E. Forrester was the conductor and C.A. Taubler the engineer on this last run by gasoline car No. 4656.

While work proceeded on the Conemaugh Dam, the West Penn tracks were being re-routed in several places.  Below the dam a high-level bridge replaced the old Bow Ridge tunnel and bridge.  In Saltsburg, the entire line was abandoned.

The last passenger train passed through Saltsburg in 1947 and the last freight train in September 1951.  The railroad had been built on the old canal towpath which is now known as the Saltsburg Canal Park.  The Saltsburg station gradually deteriorated and was razed in October 1975.

Elsewhere PRR ended its passenger service from Clymer to Cresson.  The last passenger train left Clymer on October 4, 1947.  That left only one railroad in Indiana County offering passenger service – the B&O “hoodlebug” from Punxsutawney to Indiana.

Finally on June 10, 1950, the B&O gave up; gasoline engine No. 6040 made its last run operated by engineer M.S. Reams, and conducted by Thomas Baird, both of Punxsutawney.

The age of steam was also ending.  On January 3, 1954, the last steam freight locomotive, a 124-foot J-1, left the Blairsville railroad yards enroute to Pitcairn and the scrap yards.

Over the years, many miles of railroad have been abandoned, some branch lines to coal mines and others trunk lines.  The B&O from Juneau through Trade City and Plumville was abandoned and tracks torn up.  In February 1975, the old Indiana Branch of PRR was abandoned and the tracks torn up in 1980.

Disaster befell the PRR and NYC.  Both railroad giants were in financial trouble in the 1960s.  A merger of the two was effected in 1968 and named Penn Central – the largest railroad in the U.S. Various economies were tried.

On May 29, 1967, PRR terminated all its operations at the Blairsville yards and moved them to Kiskiminetas Junction.  In July 1969, all railroad structures in Blairsville except the station were torn down – the round house, a 100-foot turn table, coal tipple, sandhouse and repair shops.  By 1975, Penn Central was bankrupt and a new corporation was formed with Federal government help – Conrail – to continue freight service.

The History of the Railroad in Indiana County Part III

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s 48-year monopoly of railroad traffic on its Indiana Branch was about to end.  In September 1902 BR and P officials gave a contract to Alexander Patton for the construction of a 15-mile section from McKee’s Mills (Ernest) to Black Lick.  About a year later in August 1903 it was revealed that, in consideration of a contract with Pittsburgh Coal and Gas Co. to carry its entire output, BR and P had agreed to build another 17-mile line from Ernest southwesterly to Iselin at a cost $677,000.  This branch was known as the “Ridge Line.”

The cost of building the Indiana-Punxsutawney line as of June 30, 1903 was $1,095,841.72.

At last the tunnel was completed, and the Gazette informed its readers that “the first BR and P train, hauled by Engine 84, had been run into Indiana.  On last Monday morning, February 8, 1904, “Squirrel” Repine, manager of the Union Transfer Company, loaded the first load of freight…Miss Daisy Conner of West Indiana, was the first woman to walk through the new tunnel.”

This tunnel is still in use today and may be seen by driving out North Ninth Street and turning toward Fulton Run.  The south end of the tunnel is seen as you cross the bridge over the B and O tracks.

On Monday May 2, the first passenger train arrived amid a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering people.  The train consisted of Engine 193 with Engineer William Murray at the controls, an express car, and two passenger cars loaded with about 80 passengers including many Punxsutawney officials.

The Indiana Station, 28 by 86 feet, had not yet been completed.  J.J. Archer was the first agent.  He sold the first passenger ticket to Edward Rowe.  The fare to Punxsutawney was $1.10, round trip, $2.  During the first week of operation Archer sold 426 tickets to points north of Indiana. 

Possibly the first fatality on the new railroad occurred May 7 – only five days after the arrival of the first passenger train in Indiana.  Sherman Thayer, a freight conductor, was killed between Engine 73, which was backing southward on the “Ridge Line” with a caboose in front, when it met a work train coming north at the curve near Creekside Station.  The caboose was smashed to kindling wood.

On July 18, 1904 the first passenger train on the BR and P Blacklick Branch arrived in Indiana, a combination passenger and baggage car attached to a train of coal cars.  It left Vintondale a few minutes before 7 a.m. and, through an arrangement with PRR, traveled on the PRR tracks to Black Lick, and from there to Indiana on its own tracks by way of Coral and Homer City, reaching Indiana at 8:45 a.m.

In September 1904 BR and P carried 1,400 passengers to Indiana in one day – Thursday of fair week.

For a few months in 1904, BR&P had a passenger service to Vintondale with the train traveling part of the way over Pennsylvania Railroad tracks by special arrangement, but it was discontinued on October 22, 1904.

Additional branch lines were built to mines at Fulton Run and Whiskey Run (1906); along Yellow Creek (1907); to Tide, Coy and Luciusvoro (1908); to Jacksonville, Aultman and Nesbit Run (1910); and to Guthrie and Tearing Run (1913).

In 1912, improvements were made to the tunnel near Indiana.  It was the height of the coal boom.  In May 1910, a BR&P motor car, “The Comet,” was exhibited in Indiana – an example of the coming demise of steam power.

Among other railroads planning extensions was the Pittsburgh & Eastern, which had a line to Glen Campbell by 1896 and announced ambitious plans in 1897-98 to construct a 70-mile railroad through Indiana County to West Newton on the Youghiogheny River. Nothing came of this, however, and in 1899 that railroad was sold to the New York Central.

In 1898, an item headed “At Work on a New Railroad” told of a private, standard-gauge railroad being built from the P&E at the forks of Cush Creek up the north branch of the creek past Gipsy and across Gorman Summit to a timber tract in Grant Township near Nashville.  This logging railroad built by Nathan L. Hoover was about seven or eight miles long.  On May 20, 1899, a Shay geared locomotive was purchased.  In December 1902, Hoover sold the line to the NYC for $68,500, and it was used thereafter to haul coal.

Another logging railroad was the Black Lick & Yellow Creek, organized June 15, 1904.  Most of the lines were in Cambria County, with projections into Indiana County at Rexis in Buffington Township and Burns in Pine Township.  It was also standard gauge.

After the owner, Vinton Lumber Co., had completed timber operations, the coal interests eyed the railroad.  A Gazette item in October 1910 spoke of a preliminary survey for an “extension of the old Blacklick and Yellowcreek Railroad to Pine Flats” nearing completion for the NYC and J.H. Weaver Coal Co., who apparently had purchased it about that time or earlier.

On April 20, 1911, the name was changed to the Cambria & Indiana Railroad, and the extension to Malvern near Pine Flats opened for service on December 24, 1911.  At Possum Glory it connected with NYC, and at Rexis it connected with PRR. 

At first passenger service was steam-powered, but on June 16, 1912, a self-propelled storage battery car was put in service – an unusual feature.  The battery cars were replaced in October 1922 by gasoline cars.  Passenger service terminated in 1931.

NYC was interested in the coal deposits of Indiana County for use in its steam locomotives and had constructed the Beech Creek Railroad from Williamsport to Clearfield for this purpose.  By 1896 rumors were circulating that the Vanderbilts, owners of the NYC and the Beech Creek, were planning to extend the line to Pittsburgh.

In 1903 a possible ruinous competition with PRR was averted by an agreement reported in the Indiana County Gazette, May 20, 1903:

“It seems that both the PRR and New York Central will extend from Cherrytree to Fleming Summit at once, occupying the same right of way.”  This cooperative arrangement was known as the Cherry Tree & Dixonville RR.  By August 1903 the Beech Creek Railroad had reached Cherry Tree.

In September of that year, another Gazette story said the road to Fleming Summit was “almost completed” and was to be extended south along the north branch of Two Lick to Joe Hine’s place near Mitchell’s Mills (Diamondville), where it would branch, one branch going to the mouth of Dixon Run (in what became Clymer) and up that run about six miles to Dixonville.  The other branch went to Possum Glory near Heilwood.

Passenger trains operated by PRR were running by December 1904 from Cherry Tree to Hines, making stops at Fleming Summit, Purchase Line, Lovejoy, Shanktown and Possum Glory.

Before the line could reach Clymer, a deep cut through a hill had to be made, known as the “Diamondville Cut.”  The first train reached Clymer in November 1905.  In 1906 a station was erected there and the line was extended farther to Dixonville and Idamar.

Regular PRR passenger service from Cresson to Clymer began April 1, 1907.  For a time both PRR and NYC operated passenger trains over the same track.  In 1922, the line from Idamar was extended to a mine at LaRayne located at the southeast corner of East Mahoning Township.

In July 1903, it was reported that surveys and coal testing were underway in the area of Plumville and northwestern portions of Indiana County for the Buffalo & Susquehanna RR.  An agreement was made in February 1905 with the BR&P to use the BR&P tracks from Juneau to Stanley in Jefferson County two miles east of Sykesville.

From Juneau a new line was built 15 miles to Sagamore, Armstrong County, completed 1905-06.  In 1932, the railroad was sold to B&O.

While these and other lines were being built, PRR did not stand idle.  In 1888, the people of EAst Wheatfield Township were angered by the construction of a 10-mile PRR line on the old canal towpath between Johnstown and Cramer, destroying the only good road between these places.

PRR had a disastrous year in 1889.  The headquarters of the former West Penn RR (now W. Penn Division of PRR) was moved from Blairsville to Pittsburgh.  In January, a locomotive which had been repaired in Blairsville shops was being brought out when the cap blew off the dome.  Machinist Hugh Connoll was killed and fireman Scott and two others, were seriously injured, along with two others.

A coroner’s jury decided that the explosion of Engine 247 “was due to some imperfection in the iron cap, not possible to have been observed.”  In May the Johnstown Flood caused extensive damage to the lines and rolling stock of PRR.

In August the Indiana Branch passenger train operated by Engineer Delos Hetrick crashed into a freight locomotive in the lower part of the Blairsville Railroad Yard.  Engineer Shepard on the freight engine was en route to Bolivar Junction train heading toward him.  Putting the locomotive in reverse, he jumped out.  

No one was seriously hurt, but both locomotives were badly smashed and a baggage car was slightly damaged.

The freight locomotive went by itself for about five miles and passed a gang of workers who put a hand car on the rails and gave chase.  About two miles further they caught and stopped the runaway.

In July 1889 the Indiana Times mentioned that the Indiana Branch passenger train consisted of an engine, three coaches and a baggage and express car.  “It is only a few years,” said the Times, “since an engine, one coach and baggage and passenger car was sufficient.”

In 1892 a new bridge at the west end of the Bow Ridge tunnel (W. Penn Division) was built, and in 1895 a new bridge was erected over the Conemaugh at Social Hall.

In 1898, the stock yards and the locomotive turntable at the Indiana Station were removed and a “Y” for turning constructed on a more than 10-acre tract purchased from Wilson, Sutton & Clark at the southwest corner of the old Experimental Farm.

In July 1900 PRR contracted with H.S. Kerbaugh for a 4-½ mile extension from Vintondale down Black Lick Creek to Buffington.  By September 1902 the line was being pushed down the creek from Dilltown to Social Hall.  Farmers were paid $4 a day for a team and labor. “Foreigners” got $1.35 a day and were housed in shanties at Buena Vista.

In 1902, PRR acquired the Pennsylvania & Northwestern RR, one line of which ran from McGee’s Mills through the northeastern corner of Indiana County to Punxsutawney.

In 1906 nine miles of the West Penn line was double-tracked from Blairsville to Tunnelton and a new 600-foot tunnel bored through Bow Ridge.  Six new masonry bridges were erected over the Conemaugh at various points.

A scandal surfaced in March 1907 when a PRR agent was arrested in Johnstown for attempting to bribe Blairsville Councilman David Miller.  It was alleged he offered Miller $1,000 “and a mileage book in return for a promise to fight any attempt to repeal the street-vacating ordinance.”

At last in May 1911, after considerable delay, a new passenger station was constructed in Indiana.  W.R. Artley was the contractor for the 40-by-90 structure, which enclosed the walls of the old freight depot in a buff brick casing.  The interior was finished with cement and plaster.

An old engine house at the corner of Eighth and Water streets was torn down.  The new passenger station was 60 feet back from Philadelphia Street.  “This will enable the loading and unloading of trains without blocking the street, as has been the custom ever since the railroad was built.”

PRR Train at the train station in Indiana at 8th and Philadelphia Streets (1949)

Excursions from Indiana to Atlantic City were offered in 1916 at $10 and $14, round trip.

About 1900, the automobile began to be seen occasionally on the muddy or dusty roads of Indiana County.  At first the railroads were uncensored about the newcoming transportation, and many railroaders no doubt laughed at the flimsy “putt-putters.”

As time moved on, more and more automobiles were seen and great strides were made in improving their performance and comfort, as well as the public roads on which they traveled.  The railroad people felt this was unfair competition because they had to maintain their tracks at private expense, as well as pay taxes; whereas automobiles, trucks and buses did not have to maintain their roadbeds.

For some time and in some parts of Indiana County, from 1907-1933, the railroads also had competition from streetcars.  Then the Great Depression occurred, which killed the streetcars; it did little to nothing to help the railroads.  Passenger volume declined, as well as coal hauling – so much so that the Iselins and other coal magnates of the R&P Coal Corp. sold their railroad to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1932.

In 1931, the Cambria and Indiana Railroad terminated passenger service, followed by the New York Central in 1933 which ended its passenger service to Clymer.  The PRR continued service to Clymer.

In 1928, just prior to the 1929 stock market crash, an experimental section of concrete ties were laid on the West Penn Division near Tunnelton, replacing the standard wood ties.

One November 25, 1938, Santa Claus made a trip on the B&O to Indiana where he was welcomed by a large crowd and afterward went to Troutman’s Store.

The History of the Railroad in Indiana County Part II

The manufacture of coke (from coal) began in Indiana County in 1886 and in November a railroad station named “Mikesell” for George A. Mikesell who erected the first coke ovens, was erected south of Homer City at what is now Graceton.

In 1866, a disastrous accident was narrowly averted in April when the “cow catcher” of a locomotive got caught in one of the boards of a narrow boardwalk on the railroad bridge over the Conemaugh River three miles west of Blairsville at a place called Social Hall.

The board walk was for the purpose of allowing railroad workers to cross the river.  The locomotive and some of the cars were derailed, with some of them projecting out over the edge of the bridge – a 72-foot fall if they had gone over.  There were 15 passengers aboard.

In 1867, another bridge over the river above Livermore was swept away in a flood a few days before Christmas.

Business was going well, J.M. Robinson reported that grain sent from the Saltsburg depot during the period of October 1, 1867, to January 31, 1868, was 49,376 bushels of wheat, oats, rye and ear corn, plus 232 bushels of clover seed.

In November 1870, the wooden bridge at Social Hall, with weather-boarded sids and sheet iron roof, 800 feet long, burned.

Beginning in 1881, WPRR began some major reconstruction of routes and building new ones.  An 8-mile extension from Blairsville through the Pack Saddle Gap on the northern (Indiana County) side of the Conemaugh River to Bolivar was begun early in October 1881 by Campbell and Bush of Altoona, contractors, employing 200 Swedes.

Western Pennsylvania Railroad Office Blairsville PA

The extension was completed in 1883 and at the same time a portion of the tracks west of Social Hall were realigned.  Other sections of the line were rerouted so as to reduce the distance between Blairsville and Allegheny City by 18 miles.

This involved enlarging the railroad tunnel below the present Conemaugh Dam, and changing the route through Saltsburg by building new tracks on top of the old canal towpath, then continuing on the Indiana County side of the Kiskiminetas River to Coalport (Edri).

Here the railroad crossed the river on another bridge and continued to Salina through a 1,400-foot tunnel.  Laying of rails on this new line began in Saltsburg in November 1882.  A new station was erected in Saltsburg in 1884.

During this time the Foster Coal Co. built a narrow-gauge connecting line from a tipple along the WPRR tracks at Coalport to its mine about a mile away. This was the first narrow-gauge railroad in Indiana County.

An item in the Indiana Times February 28, 1883, told of fighting at Coalport between a gang of Italian workers and Mr. Weaver, contractor on the Foster Coal Co. Railroad.  The dispute was over the deduction of railroad from Pittsburgh to the site from the wages paid to the Italians.  A constable assisted by a posse of twenty men arrested five or six workers.

In January 1882, the Indiana Times quoted from the Pittsburgh Commercial an item regarding the proposed Clarion, Mahoning & Pittsburgh Railroad Co. which was planning a line from North Warren to Pittsburgh by way of Plumville, Elderton, West Lebanon, Clarksburg and “near Saltsburg.”  This was no doubt very disturbing news to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

An editorial in the Indiana Times March 8, 1882, urged PRR to extend its lines from Indiana to Cherry Tree.  By then some of the businessmen of Indiana may have had second thoughts about the desirability of the PRR branch line ending in Indiana.

In June 1882, a meeting of Indiana businessmen was held in the office of General Harry White to consider building a narrow gauge railroad.  A.W. Wilson presided.  On motion of White, it was unanimously “Resolved, that it is the desire of the business men of Indiana that a narrow gauge railroad be built from Indiana to Reynoldsville via Punxsutawney.”

In July another meeting was held at the St. Elmo Hotel, Punxsutawney.  General White, G.W. Hood, and John W. Sutton spoke, “giving assurance that the business men of Indiana were in hearty sympathy with the project,” and letters to that effect were read from S.M. Clark, A.W. Taylor, A.W. Wilson, W.B. Hildebrand, W.B. Marshall, J.M. Thompson, and others.

J.R. Caldwell, a civil engineer, estimated the cost of construction at $7,000 per mile.  Another meeting was held August 1 in Marion and solicitation of stock subscriptions began afterward.  Some people, however, hung back, as reported in the Marion Independent December 23, 1882: “The majority of our citizens, as did many others…did not enter into the enterprise with much push, and this, no doubt, to a great extent led to the failure of the effort.”

Soon afterward (March 1883) the Independent reported that the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Railroad was surveying in Indiana County.  In July 1883, the first R&P train entered Punxsutawney. 

The entry of the R&P into Indiana County was delayed by financial problems.  In 1885 the railroad was sold at sheriff’s sale to Adrian Iselin, a New York banker who held a mortgage.  The sale was contested in court but the eventual decision favored Iselin.  All R&P property was transferred to him in March 1887, and the company was reorganized as the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad.

The Indiana Times had earlier (March 1883) reported that surveys were under way of four different railroads through Indiana County and that they would leave “Indiana high and dry.” In June 1883, a charter was issued to the Central Pennsylvania Railroad for a line from Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, through Blairsville and east of Indiana to Punxsutawney, 70 miles.

In August a corps of engineers for the railroad were running lines from Dixonville by way of Decker’s Point, Nashville and Locust Lane to Punxsutawney, and the Times informed its readers “It is said that the Pennsylvania railroad company will try to keep the B&O company (Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, backers of the Central) from building this road.”

Wooden Railroad Bridge in Saltsburg PA

In 1886, the Pennsylvania & Northwestern Railroad was completed from McGee’s Mills to Punxsutawney, going through Sidney and Hillman in the extreme northwestern corner of Indiana Country.  Regular service on this line began December 1, 1887.  This was the first railroad not controlled by PRR to enter Indiana County.

The second independent line to enter the county was the Clearfield & Jefferson Railroad.  By April 1889 there was a great activity along the route of the railroad from McGee’s Mills to Glen Campbell.  The object of the railroad was to open up the coal fields around Glen Campbell, Indiana County’s first mining town.  It was named for Cornelius Campbell, an Altoona railroad contractor, who built the railroad and was the first superintendent of the Glenwood Coal Co.

The first car of coal left Glen Campbell on October 21, 1889, to make the 9-mile trip to McGee’s Mills. By May 1892, two passenger trains a day were making the trip.

Surveys and plans for other railroads continued.  In September 1889, engineers were said to be surveying between Plumville and Marion for a railroad heading east from Butler.  In August 1890, a charter was issued at Harrisburg to the Saltsburg & West Lebanon Railroad, whose directors were all from Philadelphia.  In April 1894, lines were being surveyed in Young Township in the interest of the Beech Creek Railroad.  In September, the Indiana County Gazette spoke of a “battle royal” being fought between the projectors of the new Pittsburgh & Eastern Railroad and the PRR.

The PRR for its part had decided by 1890 that it could not ignore the threat from new lines.  The Cherrytree Record reported that a local wagon factory had received an order to build 500 wheelbarrows, and that the Cherry Tree Foundry had an order for 2,000 picks to be used in building a railroad to Cherry Tree.  The railroad was an extension of the PRR from Cresson through Spangler.

In March 1892, a heavy blast during construction threw rocks all over Cherry Tree.  One struck a young son of Vincent Tonkin, knocking out several teeth.  Another broke a horse’s leg and the animal had to be shot.

The first PRR passenger train entered Cherry Tree on April 25, 1893.

The PRR also eyed the old abandoned and partially graded line of the defunct Homer, Cherry Tree and Susquehanna Railroad.  In May 1890, J.M. Guthrie organized the Homer & Susquehanna Railroad, with the backing of PRR.  In December 1891, PRR engineers surveyed the route from Homer City to Two Lick Creek.  In March 1892, the Indiana Times announced that PRR would lay rails along the old right-of-way in the spring.  However, the work was delayed for some reason until January 1893 when tracks were laid for five or six miles to a coal operation.

From time to time plans also were made to extend PRR from Black Lick up Blacklick Creek.   Laying of tracks finally began in April 1894, but the line was not finished to Ebensburg until some time later.

By 1895, another PRR was being built from Robinson north of the Conemaugh River through Centerville to Johnstown following the tow path of the old canal.  Indiana County was on the verge of a major railroad boom and the PRR was soon to see some real competition.

In July 1896, rumors were afloat that the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad would construct a line into Indiana County.  By March 7, 1898 a contract for construction of a branch line from Punxsutawney to Indiana had been signed and BR and P was paying the landowners for rights-of-way.

At the same time, a subsidiary railway, the Allegheny and Western, had been organized (Jan. 22, 1898), and construction began on a line from Walston Junction near Punxsutawney southwest and west to Butler.  This railroad traversed the northwestern corner of Indiana County through West Mahoning Creek on a high steel bridge.

Passenger service began October 16, 1899.  In January 1900, a delegation of citizens from Smicksburg went to Butler to see railroad officials about a passenger station at Goodville.

During the last week of September 1900, a group of officials of the BR and P and of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Co. visited Indiana, according to the Indiana County Gazette.  Afterward they went to Pittsburgh and awarded Carnegie Steel Co. a contract for 2,500 tons of 80-pound steel rails at $26 a ton.

On February 21, 1901, the Gazette triumphantly announced “That Railroad is Surely Coming.”  The accompanying story stated the railroad would be built from Valier through Marion Center and that “Prominent members of the Board of Trade have very, good assurances…”

Construction began in 1902.  One of the major engineering projects was the boring of a tunnel through a hill in White Township just outside the Indiana Borough limits.  This work began on December 1, 1902.  

By early April 1903 tracks were laid as far as Marion Center, and by April 15 the track-laying crew of 300 men and a patent Holman tracklayer reached Home, PA.  In May, a regular passenger schedule was announced between Punxsutawney and Ernest:

Before the railroad could reach Indiana, however, problems developed at the tunnel.  Charles S. Streele, a civil engineer in charge of tunnel construction, suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle on July 10, 1903 when his foot was caught between two rails being dragged by a mule team.  Two days later about 10 feet of tunnel caved in.  Since it was a Sunday, no one was injured.

In August it was announced that the trains would run as far as the north end of the tunnel during Indiana County Fair Week, and from there a line of hacks would take passengers to the fair.

On September 2, the Gazette rejoiced that “The Tunnel Is Through The Hill” and “Today a mule can pass through from end to end of the tunnel.”  The Italian work gangs celebrated by coming to town parading and yelling.  “They may have drunk some beer, too. At any rate, they were very hilarious.”

It was hoped that “1903 will yet see trains running to Indiana over the BR and P” and that this would “connect the two sections of railroad that is almost complete from Blacklick to Punxsutawney.”

The celebration was premature.  Later in September there was another cave-in, and in October still another.  The Gazette noted that the hill contained no solid rock formations.  The tunnel would have to be arched with concrete.

The History of the Railroad in Indiana County Part I

From the Pennsylvania Canal system, the railroad in Indiana County was born.  The Pennsylvania Canal was completed along the Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas rivers in 1829-30; however, canal transportation had some serious limitations.  During the winter months, the system had to be closed because the canal waters became frozen.  This caused a sentiment among the citizens to look for a better, more reliable, faster means of transportation.  Thus, the railroad was born.

Charles L. Schlatter, was authorized by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1839 to make surveys “for a continuous railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.  He submitted his report on January 9, 1842, which recommended a “central route” via the Juniata Valley, over the Allegheny Mountain, and then through the valley of Black Lick Creek.

On November 21, 1845, a meeting was held in Blairsville to discuss a “continuous Rail Road from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, by way of the Juniatta and Blacklick vallies.”  Another similar meeting was held on December 24, 1845 at the Indiana County Courthouse.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) was chartered by the Pennsylvania General Assembly on April 16, 1846, on the condition that it obtain $3,000,000 of subscriptions to its stock, 30 percent of which must be paid up, and had under contract 15 miles of railroad at each end of the line on on before July 30, 1847.  These terms were met and the charter was validated.  

The prospect of the railroad in the Black Lick Creek valley was influential in causing enterprises like Buena Vista and Black Lick Furnaces to locate there during 1843-1847.  An advertisement for the sale of lots in Mechanicsburg (now Brush Valley) stated it was “directly on the route intended for the CENTRAL RAILROAD.”  The PRR decided on the Conemaugh Valley route in 1848.

One of the company’s first three locomotives was named the “Indiana” and was ready for delivery in January 1850.  By December 1851, the PRR main line had been completed from Johnstown to just southwest of Latrobe.  The point nearest to Blairsville was Liebengood’s Summit (now Torrance) in Westmoreland County.  Other convenient stops were Nineveh (now Seward), New Florence, Lockport, and Bolivar.

An April 6, 1850 Act of the General Assembly, authorized PRR to construct a branch line from Liebengood’s Summit to Blairsville.  Liebengood’s Summit became known as “Blairsville Intersection.”

On July 31, 1850, the PRR directors agreed to build the branch provided the citizens of Blairsville and the vicinity subscribed $40,000 to the capital stock of the company and secured a free right-of-way and station site of three acres.  Beginning September 1, 1850, subscriptions were to be received and payable in installments of $5 per share until the full cost of $50 each share had been paid.

On December 20, 1850, Clark presented council with a diagram of the proposed depot which was to be located on a one-acre tract owned by William Maher.  Two hundred dollars was paid for the tract by deed dated February 26, 1851.

By December 10, 1851, the track was sufficiently completed that a locomotive, the “Henry Clay,” and a single coach – the first ever to enter Indiana County – came to Blairsville from the Intersection to pick up Edmund Smith and his bride for their wedding trip. 

Early in 1852, the Blairsville Branch opened for general passenger and freight traffic, but operated with horse power for a time.  A single passenger car was put in service and descended the 90-foot grade from the Intersection to a bridge over the Conemaugh River by gravity and up the grade toward Blairsville as far as its momentum would take it.  At that point, the brakes were applied, horses attached to haul the car to Blairsville where a passenger and freight station had been erected at the northeast corner of Main and Liberty streets.  The station agent also served as conductor, and after selling tickets, boarded the car and collected them.

After seeing the success of Blairsville in obtaining railroad service, the citizens of Indiana were determined to have the branch line extended to Indiana.  January 29, 1852, an act of the General Assembly, authorized extension of the Blairsville Branch north to Indiana.  

The PRR Board of Directors agreed to build in the Indiana Branch on May 28, 1852, provided the citizens subscribed $170,000 to the company’s stock (3,400 shares at $50 each) and conveyed a “clear right of way, free from all cost, together with the clear title to four acres of land at the terminus” in Indiana.  Ten percent of the stock, or $5 per share, was to be payable July 1, 1852, and another 10 percent by September 1.

James Sutton, John H. Shyrock and Thomas White were authorized to receive the installments and forward the money to PRR.  By September 8, 1852, it was found that many people had failed to pay the second installment and therefore, “the Railroad Company are holding back and refuse to take any step towards making the road.”

The issue regarding the installment issue was soon cleared up and by October 6, 1852, it was reported that the PRR engineer had arrived in Indiana.  Dr. Robert Mitchell wrote in November 1852, “Our Railroad is going on slowly and Depo (station) will be at the west side of town.”

Indiana County’s first railroad line was 2.8 miles long.  In September 1852, a “Daily Stage Line” and a “daily mail” began between Blairsville and Indiana by George Cunningham of Blairsville and James Clark of Indiana.  The train would leave from Scott’s Exchange or Gompers Hotel in Indiana every morning, except Sunday, at 7:00 a.m.  Stopping at the Exchange Hotel in Blairsville, the stage connected with the 11 o’clock westbound train and the 2 p.m. eastbound train.  Leaving Blairsville at 3:00 p.m., the traveler arrived back in Indiana at 7:00 p.m.

The Register announced January 11, 1854, that Leonard Shryock “who owns the ground upon which the depot has been located, has released, without consideration, all his interest and claim therein to the Railroad company.”

In April 1853, another issue was encountered when it was learned that there was a scarcity of iron for rails.  On August 1,1853, the Register had an item headed, “Have We a Railroad Among Us?” complaining “it were desirable that the work should progress more rapidly than it does.”  The “great demand for railroad iron” has “caused a scarcity of the article.”

By September, PRR engineer William Warnock was operating the locomotive “Henry Clay” on the branch line so far as it had been laid.  By October 1, Collins & Co. had completed grading a five-mile portion south of Indiana Borough line, but other sections were “not so far advanced.”  In December, P&T Collins advertised for 20,000 cross ties for sections between Bell’s Mills and Indiana.

Construction dragged into 1855 and by July 10 the Register lamented that the railroad was “not likely to be completed before next spring, the excuse for the delay being that sufficiency of laborers cannot be procured.”  On September 18, it was announced the laying of track had begun.

By December, the tracks had been laid as far as Phillips Mill (adjoining Homer City) and James Johnston, Jr. was running hacks twice a day from Indiana to Phillips Mill “to connect with the train on the Indiana Branch Railroad.”  The second locomotive put into service on the line was said to have been the “United States,” operated by engineer Warnock and used to haul iron and supplies for Collins & Co.

On May 27, 1856, the Indiana Branch was completed.  R.D. Walkinshaw was named conductor and Fergus Moorhead appointed ticket agent at the Indiana depot.  Regular passenger trains began operating on June 1, 1856.

On June 10, 1856 the Indiana Branch was put in full operation, with two daily passenger trains to Blairsville Intersection.

The single-track line was 18.8 miles in length and cost $310,000.

During the first week of operation there were 188 passenger tickets sold at the Indiana station.

The railroad through Western Pennsylvania continued to grow, with the North-Western Railroad being chartered on February 9, 1853, with the purpose of connecting with the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad and permit through service from Philadelphia to Chicago without going through Pittsburgh, where the citizens, at the time, were blocking Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) attempts to obtain a through right-of-way.

On September 9, 1853, Joseph Loughrey, an agent or officer of the Northwestern Railroad Company (NWRR), requested the Blairsville Borough Council to permit tracks on one or more streets of the Borough.  On September 13, Council granted a right-of-way and release for damages, provided NWRR’s tracks were located at one side of the street and not over 22 feet wide.

The first locomotive to travel this line is believed to be operated by W.C. Richey on March 16, 1854, and pulled a baggage car and three coaches loaded with officials.  The track at this time may have only been a short section, perhaps no further than from Blairsville to the point where a bridge was to be erected over the Conemaugh.

By 1858, the grading and ballasting of the line between Blairsville and the Allegheny River had been completed and the superstructure of several bridges erected, but the financial problems were so acute that work had to be suspended.

On July 5, 1859, a group of bond holders foreclosed, and the NWRR was sold for $16,000 after expending about $2,000,000.  On March 22, 1860, a new company, Western Pennsylvania Railroad (NPRR), was charged. However, before the line could be completed, the Civil War broke out and caused further postponement of the project.

By early spring of 1863, work once again resumed and it was hoped it would take only a few months to finish it.  By fall of 1863, the first passenger train ran from Blairsville as far as the west end of the wooden bridge at Saltsburg which crossed to the Westmoreland side.

The formal opening was held on July 4, 1864, with a special excursion from Blairsville.  By fall 1864, trains were running as far as the Allegheny Junction near Freeport.

On August 1, 1865, a wooden bridge over the Allegheny River was completed, and the line was completed to Allegheny City by the fall of 1866.  The PRR advanced funds to do the work and received as security a $500,000 first mortgage from WPRR.  The main office of WPRR was in Blairsville and the relationship between the two companies was very close.

The WPRR engine house and two locomotives at Blairsville were destroyed by a fire on November 19, 1865.

An Act of April 19, 1854, chartered the Mahoning & Susquehanna Railroad Company.  

On July 15, 1856, a meeting was held in Punxsutawney.  By October the Jefferson Star of Brookville reported that a corps of engineers headed by Geroge R. Eichbaum had reached Punxsutawney from Indiana.  In November, Eichbaum was said to be completing a draft of the survey and “the route is declared favorable.”

In February some extracts from the engineers’ report were published, but after this nothing more was heard of the project.

After the completion of the WPRR in 1864, there were no other railroads were completed in Indiana County until 1882.

Becoming well established in Indiana County, the PRR embarked on a program designed to eliminate competition from the Pennsylvania Canal for freight traffic.  Hauling freight by water had always been cheaper than any other method.  Over the years, the state-owned canal system had suffered mismanagement and political pork barreling.

After the first train ran from Johnstown as far as Lockport on August 25, 1851, the canal was still needed because freight had to be transferred, first at Lockport and then at Blairsville, to boats going to Pittsburgh.  Not until December 1852 was the railroad completed to Pittsburgh.

The state began efforts in 1844 to sell the canal.  By 1854, an Act of the General Assembly authorized the Governor to accept sealed bids for the main line of the canal, the minimum being set at $10,000,000.

No bids were received, and another Act, passed on May 8, 1855, directed Governor Bigler to hold a public sale, the minimum price was reduced to $7,500,000.  The Act further provided that, if the PRR was the purchaser, the price would be $8,500,000 and the railroad would be exempt from the 3-mill tax on freight tonnage.

This intent behind the tax was to protect the canal system from price gouging by the PRR.  Still, no buyer presented themselves.  On December 20, 1855, the PRR offered $7,500,000 to be paid in installments over 30 years, and provided the tonnage tax be repealed.

These terms were accepted, on the condition that the PRR pay an additional $1,500,000 for the repeal of the tax and for exemption from all other taxes. The Act of May 15, 1857, finalized the sale and on August 1, 1857, the operation of the canal was turned over to PRR.

In October, the canal railroad over the mountains was closed.  This ended canal traffic from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.  PRR President John Edgar Thompson tried to sooth people who feared the railroad intended to close the canal.  On March 17, 1863, PRR officially abandoned the canal from Johnstown to Blairsville and the next year, following the opening of the WPRR to Saltsburg in July, the rest of the canal followed.

In October and November 1865, the slackwater dam at Blairsville was removed and the railroad thereafter deliberately set about destroying almost every vestige of the canal.  The railroad did not want any possibility, however remote, of future competition from low-cost freight going by canal.

In February 1872, the canal lock in Saltsburg was torn apart.  Numerous other canal structures were systematically robbed of stone to build railroad structures.  In April 1882, the canal bed in Saltsburg was filled in and the railroad tracks were laid directly on top of the old canal tow path.

The railroad at times resorted to outright deception to accomplish its ends.  The old canal aqueduct between Lockport and the Indiana County side had been used as a wagon road of the Conemaugh River to the other for a number of years after the canal had been abandoned.

In 1888, according to James Riddell of New Florence, a party of railroad workers appeared and began digging around the piers of the aqueduct.  When local people asked what was going on, they said they were strengthening the bridge.  The truth came out that night when a loud explosion shook the people out of their beds to find the entire structure blasted into the river.

The railroad also mounted a campaign to get rid of the tonnage tax on freight.  As a result of an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the repeal of the tonnage tax by the 1857 legislature had been declared null and void.

In 1859, the PRR attempted withholding the tax but the State sued and the PA Supreme Court ruled that the accumulated tonnage taxes amounting to $850,000 must be paid.  Finally, through intensive lobbying and other means of “persuasion” the railroad succeeded in 1861 in having the tax repealed.

Shortly afterward the Civil War distracted the people’s attention and the PRR escaped taxation.

For 28 years from the time the first time the first tracks were laid to Blairsville in 1851 until 1889, no other railroad penetrated Indiana County except the PRR or its subsidiaries.

One effort to break the PRR monopoly was the Homer, Cherry Tree and Susquehanna (HC and S) railroad.  In 1867, meetings were held in Cherry Tree, Greenville (Penn Run) and Homer to discuss the idea of a railroad from Homer to Cherry Tree on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

On March 19, 1868, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that originated in the House to incorporate the HC and S Railroad Co. Robert F. McCormick, a Cherry Tree PA House Democract representing Indiana County, was one of the principal backers of the bill.

The Indiana business community was very leery of the project.  On February 2, 1871, the Progress commented on a “continual line of sleds loaded with boards” passing the Progress office, and posed the question, “Would we lose this trade if the Homer and Cherrytree road should be constructed?”

Earlier when the PRR Branch line from Blairsville to Indiana was being promoted, the Indiana people insisted that the line end in Indiana, feeling it would enhance the growth and prosperity of the town.  On February 9, the Progress admitted that “our moneyed men would not subscribe of their means to help construct” the Homer, Cherrytree and Susquehanna Railroad.

Despite this, the backers, principally from Cherry Tree, Homer and points in between, broke ground on January 31, 1871, at Homer.

By August 1871, the grading was suspended and it was reported that Mr. Bird, the chief engineer, had moved from West Indiana.  Signs of financial difficulty appeared in September 1872 when the board of directors, meeting at Pine Flats, named a committee to confer with PRR officials to obtain assistance to complete the railroad.

Another committee was named to look into the feasibility of standard gauge.  On October 30, 1873, the Progress somewhat gleefully reported on “A Little Unpleasantness” between the HC and S and some of its stockholders who were refusing to pay, and the directors were suing.

After this the project died; the PRR monopoly continued for the next 32 years.  The first full year of operation of the Indiana Branch in 1857 revealed that 13,126 passenger tickets were sold, yielding $22,844.81 in fares.  Freight shipped was 9,685,305 pounds from Indiana; 6,786,755 pounds from Blairsville; 1,868,751 from Homer; and 515,644 from Phillips’ Mill.

Total costs of operation were $23,329.23 – so the passenger receipts alone nearly met the costs, and freight income was profit.

Consumption of wood by the locomotives was 1,998 cords, and about 1,000 additional cords were sent to Pittsburgh.  About 1860 locomotives began burning coal, and by 1862 all freight locomotives were burning coal and passenger locomotives by 1864.

In 1858, the tonnage of freight increased enormously from 4,842.6 tons at the Indiana station in 1857 to 127,315 tons.

In January 1860, a “new and handsome passenger car” which was “much needed” was placed in service.  R.D. Walkinshaw, conductor on the Indiana Branch, retired about October 1860 and was succeeded by J.D. Hibbs.  Total income at the Indiana depot alone, as furnished by G.W. Sedgwick, PRR agent at Indiana, was freight $31,945.72, and passenger $10,606.36.

After the Civil War broke out, business boomed.  In January 1862, alone, 2,194 horses, 979 cattle, 4,088 sheep, and 154 mules were shipped from Indiana.  In addition, there were 1,846 tons of products including flour, grain, seeds, beans, butter and wool.

After the war, the volume continued to be high.  From January 1 to June 9, 1866, the Indiana Weekly Register said not less than 675 carloads of products were shipped, including 263 carloads of sawed lumber, 184 of bark, shooks, staves and shingles, 67 of livestock, and 181 of other freight – an average of five carloads a day.

In 1870, Railway Express deliveries were wheeled from the Indiana depot in a wheelbarrow by J.W. McCartney to the homes and business places of town.

An interesting activity in January 1871 was the cutting of ice from Black Lick Creek by PRR employees who cut and loaded 241 cars of ice which were sent mostly to Pittsburgh.

In 1875, the PRR reduced the wages of common laborers to 10 cents an hour.  This and other oppressive actions led to a violent railroad strike in 1877 centered in Pittsburgh.  Locomotives, cars, warehouses and other railroad property were burned and the governor called out the National Guard to restore order.

The United States Centennial in 1876, featured a magnificent exposition in Philadelphia, which the PRR capitalized on by selling excursion tickets to the exposition.  The first excursion from this area occurred in July with 100 person on a round-trip fare of $8.  In September there were about 900, of whom 700 left in the morning and 200 in the evening.  The Indiana Progress reported that those in the evening group had to ride box cars to the Blairsville Intersection because passenger coaches were not available.

There were 400 excursionists in October to the Centennial at a round-trip fair of $7.50 each.  Later in October and November cost $7.  By October 19 there were 1,836 tickets had been sold at Blairsville and over 1,000 at Indiana.

1877 figures of livestock shipments from Indiana were: horses 1,571, cattle 3,556, sheep 21,445, hogs 10,334, calves 551, mules 9, and poultry, three car loads.  Total value was estimated at $433,053.

Blairsville was the location of some major PRR facilities.  An 1878, engineering drawing shows an engine house 150 by 46 feet, two repair shops 126 by 30 and 123 by 40 feet, three woodsheds, a cement storehouse, paint shop, sand house, offices, etc.

In 1879, 2,000 bushels of chestnuts were shipped from Indiana. 

The Bent Rung Ladder

Another of Indiana’s bygone industries was the Bent Rung Ladder & Manufacturing Company.  It was said that at one time the products of the Company were sold extensively throughout the United States and were exported to England, Scotland, South Africa, South America, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.  The patented bent rung ladder was the invention of Edward Rowe, who organized the company in 1891.  The ladder was described as “constructed on different principles from any heretofore”

“There are no holes bored in the side pieces to weaken; there are no wedges driven into the ends of the rungs to split the sides; the side pieces are not made three times as heavy as necessary to overcome the weakness produced by the holdes…

In the center of the sides is a groove three-sixteenths of an inch and the exact width of a rung, into which groove the rung fits nicely.  Wrought iron nails hold the rungs securely clinched.”

The ends of each rung, made of either hickory or ash, were split or “bent” two ways when inserted into the groove – hence the name “Bent Rung Ladder.”

When the company was organized, those listed as partners were: R.D. Hetrick, D.A. Hetrick, W.T. Wilson, Dr. N.F. Ehrenfeld, E.A. Pennington, A.M. Hammers, John Switzer, W.F. Wettling, and Rowe.  They began in a rented an old furniture factory on Water Street, producing only ladders at first.

In 1892, the partners moved to South and Eighth streets and erected a building 50 by 80 feet.  Despite a financial depression, which followed the 1893 panic, the business continued to grow, however some of the partners dropped out at various times.

In 1897, Rowe sold his interest to J.H. Young.  In 1899, John P. Elkin purchased Young’s interest and became president of the company, which was incorporated at that time.  In 1904, when Elkin was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he sold his holdings and was succeeded as president by C.R. Smith.  W.F. Wettling, the only original remaining partners, was secretary and general manager.

In 1906, the company began to make porch swings and the Larkin Soap Co. had placed an order for 600 swings to be given as premiums.  By 1907, the company had a large plant covering approximately three acres and comprised of main factories, store houses, sheds and yards connected by switches with the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The company’s output in 1907 was 50,000 ladders and 10,000 porch swings a year.

The Company also produced step ladders, folding camp furniture, Army stretchers, sleds and the “Handy Floss Cabinet” in which silk floss “is stretched over a spring-forked holder, preventing tangling, matting or soiling and keeping all colors separate.”

In February 1908, the company purchased the plant of the Everett Manufacturing Company in Everett, Washington.

Tragedy struck on May 11, 1910, when the main factory building was destroyed by fire, but the setback was only temporary.  The building was rebuilt and manufacturing resumed.  As new modern machinery was quickly purchased and installed.  The new factory was opened shortly after the fire.

By 1914, there were as many as 50 operatives employed, but for unknown reasons, the business went into a slow decline until it closed in 1916.

The Indiana Foundries

There existed in Indiana, an industry known as a foundry, as memorialized in the name of Foundry Avenue.  There were three iron foundries in operation in Indiana at different times over a period of nearly 100 years from 1851 to 1948.  A foundry uses ingots made at another location and remelts them to make castings for things such as stove parts.  A common example in Indiana are pot-bellied stoves, or the covers to storm drains which bear the marking “Indiana Foundry Co.”

In 1851, the first foundry in Indiana was erected by William H. Choeman and Samuel George.  An advertisement appeared on June 4, 1851 that announced “Indiana Foundry is in Blast” advertising for sale cooking stoves, cannon and egg stoves, and ploughs such as Wyatt’s pattern and Caledonia’s self-sharpening.  They also announced that “all casting that may be called for will be made to order on the shortest notice.” 

The 1856 Peelor map shows the foundry on the north side of Philadelphia Street between Second and Third streets.

In June 1852, Mitchell & Boyle announced they had purchased the interest of Thomas Jacobs “in the New Foundry in Indiana Borough.”  By 1859, the East End foundry was still operating with a horse-powered fan.  It is not known how long the foundry continued, but it appears to have declined slowly and closed some time before 1880 when an item appeared in the Indiana Progress stating, “The old East End foundry presents a falling appearance.”

The second foundry was erected in 1853 by Robert Johnston and John H. Shyrock.  It was located in West Indiana on the north side of Philadelphia Street between Ninth and Tenth streets.  They built a new facility in 1855 alongside Shyrock’s steam saw mill.  The same engine that powered the saw mill also drove a fan used in blasting.  The new plant was named “Enterprise Foundry” and began operations on June 16, 1855.  The foundry produced about 10 castings each week by the four moulders and the four hands employed.

In 1856, Johnston sold his interest to James Bailey.

An 1857 ad by Bailey & Shryock listed the following available items: cook, laundry and heating stoves, large kettles, several sizes of iron pots, waffle irons, skillets, griddles, plows and plow points, iron railing, fenders and wrenches for buggies, stove pipe dampers, stone hammers, bedstead fasteners, iron stands, porch steps and scrapers, wagon boxes, and common and ornamental grates for fireplaces.

In February 1865, Burns, Convery & Co. purchased Indiana Foundry from Bailey & Shryock.  On April 13, 1868, the partnership of Patrick H. Burns, James Convery, H.J. Crouse and N. Vinroe was dissolved and the firm became Burns & Turner (James Turner).  Major Irwin McFarland became associated with the firm, and it became known as the Indiana Manufacturing Company.  At some point Turner left the plant, and McFarland became the proprietor by 1873.  Among their products were the Champion and Dexter cook stoves, and the Champion plow.  

In 1872, Burns built another foundry and employed five men.  In 1874, his brothers were associated with him being known as “P.H. Burns & Bros.”  An 1877 advertisement for “P.H. Burns & Bros.” headed “Who Sells the Best Plow?” offering to test their plows with any others made and sold in Indiana County.  The plowing had to be done within three miles of Indiana and judged by a committee of disinterested parties.  Adverse business conditions caused Burns & Bros. to sell in 1878 to E.P. Hildebrand, Thomas Sutton, and J.H. Young who reorganized as the Chill Wheel & Plow Co.

Hildebrand served as manager and employed six men to make “chill wheels” for pit wagons or coal cars, and “Uncle Sam” and “Rival” plows.  Burns worked for the new company for a while before moving to Pittsburgh.  In 1879, the Chill Wheel & Plow Co. merged with R.A. Young’s machine shop.  Young was a brother of J.H. Young.  This merger added the “Young & Carroll Hay Elevator,” a horse-operated hay fork; the “Lytle Red Staff and Diamond Dresser,” and five-horsepower steam engines to the product line.

In 1883, Thomas Sutton and his brother, John W. Sutton, bought out the other partners and began business with Hugh M. Bell as “Sutton Bros. & Bell.”  by April of 1887, the foundry and machine shops were running at full capacity.  During this transition period, the foundry was moved to a location at Oak and Tenth Streets and Burns and Clymer Avenues.

When the new jail was built in 1887, Sutton Bros. & Bell received a $15,000 contract for all ironwork, including the boilers, steam heating, water fittings, ironwork on cells, etc.

In September 1888, a 70-horse-power boiler, said to be the largest in Indiana County, was installed at the foundry.  Afterwards an advertisement headed “Mill Supplies” claimed they could “build New Machinery and do any kind of repair work.”

In July 1889, ground was broken for a new two-story foundry building.

In the years after 1870, Irvin McFarland continued to operate a competing enterprise known as the “Indiana Foundry.”  In 1876, his foundry made a canon for the citizens of Blacklick to used during the U.S. centennial and “has proven itself able to perform its work to the entire satisfaction of all.”  By 1879, there were eight employees, and the foundry was only running at half the capacity during the preceding three years.

The Indiana Times reported on March 7, 1894 that McFarland’s foundry had been shut down during the winter of 1893-94, but resumed operation on March 5, 1894 under “Smith & McCartney.”  McFarland died on November 17, 1898, and the foundry closed at either that time or some time before.

Bell sold his interest in Sutton Bros. & Bell to Edward Sellers of Oak Hall, Pa., and the name changed to the “Indiana Foundry Company.”  Sellers served as general manager.  His designs for a cutting box and land roller were added to the other castings already a part of the product line.  The Gazette announced that the company had to turn down an order from Sears, Roebuck & Co. for 180,00 pounds of farm bells “as it was impossible to manufacturer the bells at the present time,” but an order for one car load was accepted.

Indiana Foundry Co. stoves were adopted by the Pennsylvania, Lake Erie, and Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railroads for their stations and shops.  Pit wagons, frogs, switches, turnouts and car wheels were manufactured for use in the coal mines.  Other casting listed in the 1904 Gazette ad were cast iron stable mangers, ash pit and oven doors, hitch weights, sash weights, cast washers, farm bells, coal chutes, dumbbells and quoits.

In 1906, the Indiana Foundry Co. obtained a five-year contract to make sand dryers for Fox Bros. of New York City.

A account published in 1913 showed the business had increased in volume since 1900 and sand dryers were being exported to England, Europe, the West Indies, South America, and Japan.  Other produced included: boil grate bars, windlasses, cranes, tire benders, and emery stands.

In 1918, the Indiana Foundry Co. was incorporated.

During World War II, their entiere capacity was devoted to the war effort.  This included the manufacture of thousands of dirt tampers, winches and sand dryers.  In September 1942, unfortunately all the patterns were destroyed in a fire.

Production at the Indiana Foundry ceased in 1948, but orders were filled by the Cowanesque Valley Iron Works in Cowanesque, Tioga County until the plant was sold to A.J. Stahura in August 1957, and converted into “Handy Andy’s” supermarket.

The G.C. Murphy Co.

Last week we explored the beginnings of the J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 store.  This week is a branch off from that story, with the focus being on the Murphy Company and John Sephus Mack.

Our story begins with George Clinton Murphy.  Mr. Murphy was born in 1868 in Indiana County, first working for his cousin – John G. McCrory.  After working for McCrory at the Jamestown, New York Store, Murphy went out on his own opening 5 & 10 cent stores.  The first 5 & 10 cent store was opened in the McKeesport area around 1900 and was built into a chain of 14 stores, which Murphy sold to Woolworth in 1904, promising that he would not open any more 5 & 10 cent stores.  However, that promise did not include opening 5, 10 and 25 cent stores; so in 1906 Murphy went back into business under G.C. Murphy Co.

Tragedy struck in April 1909, when Murphy suffered a burst appendix and died.  At the time of his death,, he had a chain of 12 variety stores doing $210,000 in sales.  His will directed that his investments – including the 388 shares of the G.C. Murphy Co. – be sold to provide yearly annuities for his family, but a public auction found no takers.  In the hands of court-appointed receivers, the company foundered.  

So enter, John G. McCrory (owner of J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 stores) and John Sephus Mack.  John was born on March 9, 1880 and served as the president of the Murphy Company.  He was the son of John M. Mack, a farmer, and Sarah Ellen Murphy, and educated in the Indiana County public schools and attended business college in Johnstown.  Mack’s career began as a stock room clerk at the McCrory Store in Johnstown (which was owned by his cousin John G. McCrory) with a weekly salary of $5.  Mack worked his way through the McCrory Company, becoming general manager in 1908.  When McCrory learned of the sale of G.C. Murphy Co. he sent Mack to McKeesport to see if Murphy’s company was worth saving.

John Sephus Mack

Mack reported back that he believed G.C. Murphy Co. should be acquired as soon as possible.  McCrory responded: “Young man, I make the decisions around here.”  Mack and Walter C. Shaw resigned from McCrory and put together their savings purchased G.C. Murphy Co. out of McKeesport, PA in 1911.  This purchase caused a rift between Mack and McCrory, and McCrory refused to speak to Mack for many years.

Mack became president and chairman of the board in 1912, and turned the failing company around and began to expand it.  The Murphy Company thrived during the Great Depression, and from 1929 to 1934 sales increased from $15.7 million to $28 million.  By 1934, there were 181 Murphy Co. stores in eleven states and Washington, D.C.

Mack and Shaw made a really good team, with Mack being known as “the architect” and Shaw “the engineer.”  The Murphy store policies also set them apart, such as the “price ceiling.”  The Murphy stores contained a second floor which featured all goods priced 25 cents to a dollar, while down below was the normal 5-to-10 cent price point.  After many years of moving back-and-forth on this policy, the company moved everything to the main floor.

Another point where Murphy seemed to succeed was establishing their stores in the industrial towns of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while their competition tended to establish coverage in the major markets like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.  Despite the Great Depression, Murphy pulled through, with an average per store sales and profits being much higher than Woolworth’s.

When Mack passed away in 1940, the chairmanship passed to his cousin Edgar Mack.  Upon Edgar’s death in 1946, the job went to Walter Shaw, Mack’s original partner in the business.  In 1951, G.C. Murphy acquired the Morris 5 & 10 cent Stores, a Bluffton, Indiana-based chain of 71 stores.  Leadership changed again in 1953, when Jim Mack, son of John Seph Mack, took over.  After 1970, G.C. Murphy Co. shifted its emphasis away from its variety stores and toward the new Murphy’s Marts, modeled after Kmart.  By April 1985, Rocky Hill of the Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores bought out Murphy’s shares and Murphys was no longer.

John Sephus Mack is a well-known name in Indiana County, with the J.S. Mack Community Park.  He became a philanthropist and community booster.  He donated the Ralph Gibson McGill Library to Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.  He bought local homes in disrepair and fixed them to rent out.  He set up a fund for the upkeep of the local cemetery.  In 1935, he established the Mack Memorial Trust Fund to Indiana Hospital as a memorial to his parents.  He directed that the income from the fund, which amounted to more than $300,000 in 1939, be devoted to the payment of hospitalization for needy residents of Brush Valley Township.  He further stipulated that the income be extended in 1941 to the remainder of Indiana County for hospitalization of the needy. 

On September 21, 1939, Mack dedicated a four-floor addition to the Indiana Hospital, which cost $115,000, and was known as the Mack Memorial Wing, also presented as a memorial to his parents.  One floor of the addition was designated for Brush Valley Township residents.  The other three floors were to be utilized as a maternity section. funded the Brush Valley Maternity Hospital, which was done in memory of his parents.  He also stocked some of his own 1700 acres with deer and buffalo.  His family farm was known as Old Home Manor.

Mack was a devout Presbyterian and decorated the main assembly room of the Murphy Company with Bible verses.  While serving on the organizing committee for a 1927 revival campaign in McKeesport, Mack met Bob Jones, Sr. the founder of Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University).  Mack was very impressed with Jones and donated money to the college; he even told Jones to “construct your buildings and send me the bill.”  Mack received an honorary degree from the college and named the library in his honor.

Mack died on September 27, 1940 at his home in Brush Valley, and was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery in Indiana, PA.