A Labor Trilogy Part II – 1894: Year of Protest in Indiana County

Historians accord considerable attention to the labor disputes, mass movements and political protest parties of the 1890s.  However, the linkages among these movements receive less coverage and activities in the less populated counties of the East get little notice.  Indiana County provided no events of national significance, but protest movements gained support and their connections offer examples of joint actions by producers.  The Populist Party spearheaded protest activities in many areas and played a role in Indiana County as a political presence and a catalyst to other movements, particularly the “industrial armies.”  Coxey’s Army, the most famous industrial army, never entered Indiana County but other groups of unemployed workers passed through the county.  Coal mining hadn’t reached a high level of production.  However, some mines operated, particularly in the Glen Campbell area, where miners joined the widespread coal strike.

Popular ferment shook the nation in the 1890s as the beneficiaries and victims of industrial capitalism clashed over the distribution of wealth and power.  The Farmer Alliances and the Populist Party spearheaded agrarian discontent.  Farmers, particularly cotton and wheat growers in the South and West, complained about the currency, transportation and political systems and sought an alternative society which would recognize the values of the producers and offer them greater access to wealth and power.

In some cases coal miners joined the struggle, creating a fragile farmer-worker alliance.  However, coal miners more often used the United Mine Workers to obtain higher wages and better working conditions.  The effects of the Depression of 1893 intensified the underlying problems facing workers and farmers.  Mass unemployment became more prevalent and the government remained unresponsive to the growing demands for aid.  Therefore, some unemployed workers joined “industrial armies” which marched and rode across the county to raise the consciousness of the nation and to pressure the federal government to create jobs.

Popular protest in Indiana County found diverse channels for expression.  The Knights of Labor, a fading factor in national protest movements, remained somewhat active in Indiana County.  For example, in February, Knights of Labor Assembly 2043 of Indiana entertained the Blacklick Assembly with refreshments and an interesting program.  The county assemblies of the Knights of Labor planned to celebrate Labor Day with a program featuring prominent labor speakers.  In September, the Blacklick Assembly reciprocated the hospitality of the Indianan Knights by hosting them for a meeting and a meal.  The Farmers’ Alliance generated more support and conducted activities.  Blacklick Township was its major stronghold.  A well attended hospital lecture in January later in the year and a giant picnic in August provided the highlight of Alliance activities.  The event featured singing, music, and speeches.  Marion Butler, president of the national Alliance, addressed the crowd.  Warren A. Gardner, the state president delivered the main speech.  He supported more coinage of silver and government ownership of the railroads.  Burrell Township and Kellysburg were other centers of Alliance activity.  Burrell Township organized a unit in January which remained active throughout the year.   Kellysburg hosted meetings, addressed by prominent speakers and welcomed a county convention which drafted resolutions in behalf of a road system, government ownership of the railroads and inflation.

While relatively few workers supported the political protest movement, more workers struck, particularly the coal miners of Glen Campbell.  In April they struck for higher wages, a demand which the operators declared they couldn’t meet.  The following month the miners dispatched a delegation to Indiana to solicit aid for the 280 strikers – a trip which raised $52.75 in donations.  The character of the strike changed with the arrival of the Coal and Iron Police.  Prior to this time, the strike had been peaceful and the strikers had the support of local professional and businessmen.  The community resented the presence of the 30 police.  Some residents cried “Down with Captain Clark who fights the poor man” while others wavered in their support for the strikers.  Conditions continued to deteriorate with the arrival of troops in late June and the presence of deputies who exchanged gun fire with strikers in early August.  Soon after this battle the strikers returned to work for the wages set by the employer.  The company refused to rehire 35 or 40 strike leaders.  In the aftermath of this strike defeat, some residents returned to political action and the Populists finished second in the 1895 election.

However, the Populist Party drew its leadership and supporters from farmers, as comparatively few workers followed the lead of the Glen Campbell miners and urban areas remained unorganized.  The former Greenback-Labor Party leaders and supporters formed a core of Populist strength.  Robert Alexander Thompson, the leading Populist in the county who served as state chairman for seven years, had been a Greenback and edited The Indiana News, a Greenback and Populist organ.  Thompson, a wholesale lumber dealer, came from a prominent and respected family.  His forbearers included Major Samuel Thompson, who obtained recognition as a leading abolitionist.

The Populist Party in Indiana County emerged from an organizational meeting held in late March 1892.  The party structure solidified in the 1894 campaign when delegates met at the Indiana Courthouse to pass resolutions and nominate candidates.  The visit of Jerome T. Ailman, the Populist candidate for governor, highlighted the campaign.  He spoke to a large audience at the GAR Hall in Black Lick where he ably presented the fundamental principles of the party.  Later he stopped in Indiana to meet with Robert Thompson.  Thomas escorted Ailman to the offices of The Indiana News where the candidate met and talked to visitors.  The election results in Indiana County surpassed the statewide performance.  Ailman won 7.5% of the county vote compared to 3% of the Commonwealth total.  In Burrell, Grant, Rayne, and Washington Townships he won more than 20% of the vote.  The role of the Populist Party in Indiana County went beyond electoral activity.  Party officials coordinated the travel plans and arranged the activities of the industrial armies.  For example, they announced the arrival of Randall’s Army and Robert Thompson went to Black Lick to plan for Randall’s visit to Indiana.

Industrial armies visited the county, although Coxey’s Army went directly from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.  Galvin’s Army, Randall’s Army and the Thomas contingent of Fry’s Army passed through Indiana County.  The arrival of Colonel Galvan’s Army in late May began the cycle of arrivals and departures of industrial armies.  The Blairsville Evening Courier provided its readers with information about the army and its leader.  The newspaper described Galvin as a well informed, quiet and earnest person with leadership ability and experience as a stone cutter.  His army was composed of American citizens of working class background who behaved in an orderly manner.  The army of 75 arrived in Blairsville on the 17th, where residents provided accommodations and donated bread, beef and coffee.  A meeting to welcome the contingent attracted an audience of almost 1,000.  They heard remarks by Galvin and a speech by Major Ward.  Ward expressed his support for the issuance of greenbacks, a graduated tax system and employment on public works for the unemployed.  The orderly and well-behaved crowd contributed about fifteen dollars to Galvin’s Army.  Randall’s Army and a contingent of Fry’s Army headed by Colonel Thomas arrived in late June.  The Randall Army reached Indiana after stops in Blairsville and Black Lick.  They marched up 7th to Philadelphia Street where their presence excited much interest from community residents.  Randall spoke at the Courthouse before an audience composed of the Kellysburg martial band and several hundred residents.  Randall, who edited a Populist newspaper, delivered an effective speech in which he condemned politicians and the accumulation of wealth.  The Thomas contingent, the last industrial army to visit Indiana County, received an enthusiastic welcome in Blairsville.  The Boy’s Brigade greeted them and residents provided provisions.  Colonel Thomas spoke in behalf of silver coinage and the protection of workers.  At the conclusion of his speech he left to deliver an address in Indiana.

The 1890s marked a major watershed in U.S. history.  By this time the USA had emerged as the world’s dominant economic power.  This new status raised urgent questions about the distribution of wealth and power.  The increasing bipolarization of society set the stage for titanic battles including the Homestead Lockout and the Pullman Boycott.  Mass movement also arose, most notably Populism and the industrial armies.  Pittsburgh and Chicago provided the major battlefields but other areas were affected.  In Indiana County some producers struggled for a better society.  Their activities reflected discontent and generated public support.  By the early 20th century, industrial capitalism became more entrenched and the public agenda narrowed.  Nevertheless, new groups, such as the Socialist Party of American, emerged to continue the struggle nationally and in Indiana County.

A Labor Trilogy Part I: The Greenback-Labor Movement in Indiana County, 1878-79

National monetary policy played a big role in national politics in the 1870s.  Toward the end of the decade Pennsylvania became a stronghold of Greenback-Labor Party sentiment.  The northern counties dependent on agriculture and lumbering proved particularly responsive.  The race for governor in 1878 illustrated support for the party in Indiana County.  It polled 30% in the county compared to 11% statewide.  Some townships registered totals in the 50% range.  The party never duplicated this showing, but the following year the county received much attention with the nomination of Peter Sutton for State Treasurer.  Sutton outdistanced the Democratic candidate in Indiana County.  James Weaver’s race for the presidency in 1880 produced disappointing results.  Nevertheless, Indiana County cast more than 1,000 votes for him, a figure matched only by Tioga County.  The count exceeded the 1,000 figure in the elections of 1881, 1882 and 1884 to rank as one of the county strongholds of the Greenback-Labor Party in the Commonwealth.

Declining farm prices and tightened credit helped to set the stage for protest movements in Pennsylvania.  The Grange gained popularity and many farmers used it to complain about the railroads.  The Depression of 1873 aggravated conditions and as late as 1878 the agriculture and lumber sectors remained unimproved.  The economic crisis buoyed the prospects of the Greenback-Labor Party which polled over one million votes in the congressional election of 1878; Pennsylvania, a stronghold of the movement, included a number of counties in which the party surpassed 30% of the total vote.

Peter Sutton
Peter Sutton, Greenback-Labor Party candidate for State Treasurer, 1879

The Indiana County party took more tangible form with its county convention in May 1878.  The twenty-four delegates included twelve representatives from Green Township.  The following month Blairsville demonstrated its interest by organizing a Greenback Club and hosting a speech by W.R. Allison, a party stalwart on July 4.  The National Labor Tribune, a leading labor newspaper published in Pittsburgh, described the Greenback-Labor Party of Blairsville as flourishing and adding to its numbers.  By July, the club held weekly meetings in the Town Hall.  Other communities also hosted Greenback-Labor meetings and other activities.   Jacksonville held a June meeting and a July 4th celebration at Pine Flats that included a dinner, speeches, reading of the Declaration of Independence and music.

The pace of campaigning intensified in September.  Local meetings continued but the emphasis shifted to larger and more dramatic activities.  The Greenback parade featured a large delegation from Green Township, the Elderton brass band and six martial drum corps.  A convention in late September attracted a sizable turnout with estimates ranging from 300 to 600.  A week before the election the party held another convention.  This activity drew a large crowd well supplied with banners and flags.  They heard a speech by the Greenback-Labor candidate for governor.

The election returns illustrated the strength of the Greenback-Labor ticket in the county as its candidate for governor polled 30% of the vote.  The party carried a number of townships, winning in Burrell, Rayne, Washington, Canoe, Green, and Grant.  It also won Homer City.  Green Township, the party stronghold in the county, produced 60% of the vote for the Greenback-Labor ticket.

Census figures for 1880 provided an occupational breakdown for areas of strong party support.  The vast majority of adults males listed themselves as farmers with their sons recorded as farm hands and their wives as keeping house.  Variations occur, however, most notably in Homer City with a population composition heavily weighted to laborers, sawmill workers and teamsters, and in Burrell Township with railroad workers, laborers (especially at the fire brick yard), coal miners and carpenters as well as the more commonplace categories of farmers and farm hands.  Washington Township included workers in the trades such as masons and carpenters and Canoe Township contained some grist mill and saw mill workers in addition to carpenters.

1879 began auspiciously for the party with a meeting of the county committee in early January.  Good news continued the following month with the entire Greenback ticket elected in Burrell Township and two Auditors victorious in Blairsville.  June featured the county convention which met at the Indiana Courthouse.  The representatives chose delegates to the State Convention and instructed them to support Peter Sutton for State Treasurer.  Sutton won the party’s nomination.  He came from one of the oldest families in the county and established a personal reputation as a well-to-do merchant and former Associate Judge of Indiana County.  The Party publicized his campaign with a biographical sketch and the party’s platform.  In his speeches Sutton condemned the current ruinous financial system.  A tremendous Greenback-Labor meeting at Marion Center in September highlighted the campaign.  The event attracted an audience of 5,000 which heard eight bands and several speakers.  The speakers encouraged laborers to join the struggle for universal justice and human rights.  Ox roasts and picnics produced large audiences and gave Sutton and other party orators an opportunity to spread their message.  Peter Sutton outpolled the Democratic candidate in Indian County and Tioga County.  He polled a statewide vote 10% of the winner’s total.  The party continued to operate in the 1880s publishing a newspaper, the Indiana Banner, and amassing vote totals of over 1,000 which compared favorably with party showings elsewhere in the state.  However, the revival of prosperity undermined the party’s appeal and the attempt to bring farmers and workers into solidarity remained relatively dormant until the revival of a more favorable climate in the 1890s.

This episode links developments in Indiana County with protest movements elsewhere in the state.  It also deepens our knowledge of a protest tradition in the county.  The role of the abolitionists and the organizing campaign of the United Mine Workers in the 1930s has received some attention, but there are other notable movements to chronicle.  The Greenback-Labor Party provided farmers and other discontented groups with a channel for expressing their discontent.  Peter Sutton’s campaign gave Indiana County voters an opportunity to support a man of recognized probity, integrity and uprightness who presented himself as “The Farmer Candidate and Mechanic’s Friend.”

Rise and Fall of Timber in the Indiana County Area

With the rapid rise in popularity of clipper ships during the early decades of the 19th century, shipbuilders along the eastern seaboard clamored for unprecedented quantities of high-grade timber. Responding to this lucrative demand, lumbering firms along the eastern seaboard dispatch experts far and wide to locate new timberlands.

One of the most astute – if not the most ethical – of these timber scouts was 46-year-old John Patchin of Sabbath Point on Lake George, New York.  A Maine firm commissioned Patchin to investigate the woodlands on the watershed of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and concurrently determine the feasibility of transporting Western Pennsylvania timbers via Pennsylvania waterways to the Chesapeake Bay.

After examining and admiring the size and texture of the dense stands of white pines on rolling lands that now encompasses Indiana, Cambria, and Clearfield Counties, Patchin, who lumbering historian Dudley Tonkin clamed “had the ability to even smell good pine,” promptly severed connections with his employer by “neglecting to file a report” on his mission.  Realizing the enormous profit potential in these untapped woodlands, he sent his two elder sons to bring the rest of the family to his new home in the wilderness (now Patchinville, a few miles north of Cherry Tree) where in 1835 he began acquiring some 10,000 acres of prime timberland, probably unaware that the low purchase price he paid was the result of Ben Franklin’s efforts some years before to prevail upon the state legislature to reduce the price per acre from 30 cents to a “half-bit” (6 ½ cents).

Others soon recognized the greenback potential of these evergreens and purchased large tracts in Banks, Canoe, Green, and Montgomery Townships.  White pines in this area were among the best in the country measuring from 2 to 5 feet in diameter and rising like a plumb line about 100 feet to the branches.  In 1882, a pine 8 feet in diameter and 120 feet tall – reputedly the largest in the state – was felled on the Graham tract in Banks County.

Among the prominent timbering pioneers were John Tonkin, Cornellius McKeage, John Chase, Nathan Croasman, Porter Kinport, Reeder King, Richard Smith and J.M. Gutherie.  But by far the most legendary figure of this era was John Patchin who acquired the envious title of “The Spar King” together with a considerable fortune by the time he died in 1863.

Patchin shrewdly conserved his own timber preferring instead to cut and market the finest trees of impoverished neighbors and absentee owners many of whom were glad to have their land cleared of timber.

Patchin’s operations are illustrated by his dealings with his impecunious neighbor, John Tonkin, to whom he paid one dollar per tree which he then felled and cut lengthwise into rectangular timbers known as spars.  Shipbuilders fastened three of these 92 feet long spars end-to-end to form a single mast which they secured to the keels of sailing vessels.  In addition to holding the sails aloft, the mast also was attached to the rigging in such a manner as to give dimensional strength to the ship thereby preventing it from breaking in two during fierce storms.  While pine spars from Western Pennsylvania were ideally suited for masts because of their ability to withstand the rigors of all extremes of weather without warping or loss of strength.

logs yellow creek
Logs ready for cutting at sawmill in vicinity of Yellow Creek.

The transporting of enormous timbers to the shipyards required considerable ingenuity and skill.  The felled trees were dragged to the riverbank by as many as eight teams of horses.  In the winter, the logs were loaded on a timber sled, designed by Patchin, and hauled to the river.  Here the poles were assembled to construct a raft.  Ten or twelve timbers were fastened together with a “lash pole” and held firmly in place with U-shaped bows to form a platform.  Three of these platforms were then coupled together to make a “half-raft” or “pup.”  When the “pups” reached the mountains below Clearfield where the river widened, two were joined in tandem to reduce the crew required to maneuver them.  Rafts varied in size, the standard ones measuring about 27 feet wide and 250-300 feet long.  Reputedly the longest raft to navigate the Susquehanna contained 142 logs and measured 2,000 feet in length.

After the completion of the “rafting in” as the construction of the raft was called, the raft was tethered to the bank with a hickory with or heavy rope.  The crew then waited for a freshet or spring flood that would enable them to launch the craft.  At the propitious time, a raftsman would “tie the raft loose” and into the current it sailed.  Occasionally, the passengers included a cow to furnish liquid nourishment and a horse on which the “captain” returned after selling his timbers.  Navigating the tortuous, and in stretches hazardous, West Branch of the Susquehanna 200 miles to Williamsport and thence south on the Susquehanna through Harrisburg to the Chesapeake Bay required a high degree of rafting skill.  A pilot, experienced and proficient in the art of handling a raft was undisputed master of the craft.  He and his helper manned the front oar which they manipulated to guide the front end of the raft while the rafters on the rear oar, known as “sternsmen,” swung the aft end in accord with orders from the pilot.  A raft frequently changed pilots below Harrisburg.

One of the most notorious danger zones on the West Branch was located at Rocky Bend and Crest Falls just below the present town of Mahaffey.  Here the river bend, studded with giant boulders, hairpins into the head of the falls where the water slopes sharply.  Successful navigation of this sector necessitated circumventing the rocks and delicately maneuvering to scrape the inside shore of a sharp curve in order to gain the proper position for a descent through the rapid falls.

This same section of the river also was the locale for the activities of legendary Joe McCreery, a powerful young giant who settled in the vicinity of Cherry Tree.  Universally acclaimed as “the best man on the river,” McCreery was commissioned to dynamite the nearby hazardous rocks out of the river.  However, this project was never completed because of insufficient funds.

During the Civil War, rafting flourished as demand zoomed for white oak which was used to replace decayed and damaged timbers in docks and wharves.  Wartime prosperity inflated the price of wood per cubic foot from 5 cents to 21 cents – a profitable development which finally tempted “Spar King” Patchin to cut down some of his own trees.

lumber stockpile
Lumber stockpile ready for shipment.

In the latter half of the 1800s the practice of “logging” came into vogue as a means of transporting timber to market.  As the name implies, this procedure consisted simply in floating free logs on waterways to a “boom,” a riverside facility for halting, storing and floating the logs to the ponds of adjoining sawmills which purchased and processed them into lumber.  The Williamsport boom which handled as many as 300 million board feet of lumber per year began operations in 1850 and soon became the lumber capital of the world.

Timbermen contracted with loggers to drive their logs to the boom.  The most successful log drivers on the West Branch were Anthony and Patrick Flynn whose partnership, formed in 1868, was awarded the logging contract with all major producers for 22 years.

A logger’s work began at the “skidway,” a sloping riverbank area, on which logs were aligned in ranks parallel to the river.  When the melted snow and spring rains swelled the streams to a level favorable for floating the logs, a team or horses at the top of the embankment was urged forward so as to strike the back log and start it rolling.  The transmitted impact quickly rolled all the logs into the water.  The loggers, armed with long pikes and waring heavy shoes with long calks on their soles to reduce slippage, then walked out on the carpet of logs to shepherd them on their journey.  The loggers were followed by two large arks or houseboats, one of which served as a cook shack and sleeping quarters while the other sheltered the horses used to haul stray logs back into the current.  “Dan,” one of Pat Flynn’s horses, made 19 trips down the Susquehanna.

As log drives were often 30 feet wide, the driver had to be constantly vigilant to avoid jams.  He would move about by jumping from log to log always being careful to avoid slipping into the water as the logs were packed so densely that he ran the danger of not getting out or being crushed to death as sometimes happened.  And when one or more logs got caught in such a way as to cause the whole drive to jam and thereby halt the flow, the logger would endeavor feverishly to break the impasse with his pike, saw, or in stubborn cases, dynamite.

Although the West Branch of the Susquehanna handled the largest volume of logging business in this part of the state, Big and Little Yellow Creeks also carried their share of logs especially during the period from 1880 to 1902.

The leading local logger for this operation was J.M. Gutherie who owned substantial coal and timber tracts adjoining the waters of Yellow Creek from “Possum Glory” (now Heilwood) to Homer City and on Two Lick below Indiana.  In 1879 his company, the Charles Improvement and Mining Company, constructed mills on the banks of Yellow at Homer City.  Gutherie also operated two mills above Homer City on Two Lick Creek and the lumber yard located on the present site of Indiana University’s Leininger dormitory at Oakland Avenue.

Gutherie’s employees, like all lumbermen of that era, worked hard from sunup to sundown for which they were paid $1 per day plus board.  Skilled laborers received $1.50 a day, while the bossman picked up the handsome sum of $3.75 to $4 per diem.   Workers who lost two hours on their job because of rain were cut half a day’s wages.

Woodsmen were quartered or “shantied” in camps or boarded with local families.  Some stayed at the West Indiana House (later the Houk Hotel) where a dollar paid for a night’s lodging together with supper and breakfast.  Single beds were available for 25 cents.  Satisfying the appetite of these active outdoorsmen posed a real challenge to the cooks including the renowned camp cook, “Russ” Ray, as revealed by the following menus:

Breakfast:

Hot rare Beef Steak

Pork Sausage-Fried potatoes

Biscuit with Apple Butter (from farmer)

Stewed Prunes-cookies

Molasses-Tea with sugar

Noon Meal-dinner:

Pork and Sauer Kraut

Fried Pork-boiled potatoes

Boiled Codfish

Peas in Beef broth

Biscuits-cookies

Raisins and rice

Apple Pie

Tea with sugar

Supper:

Boiled Salt Cod Fish – freshened in a trough below the spring

Fried Pork, potatoes boiled in their jackets

Pea Soup

Biscuit-Corn Bread

Cookies and Stewed Raisins-Mince Meat Pie

Tea with sugar

west indiana hotel
Group of loggers with their pikes pose outside the West Indiana House (later the Houck Hotel) prior to going to work at Yellow Creek.  During the latter part of the 19th century this hotel was a favorite lodging for loggers who paid a quarter a night for a single bed.

The coming of loggers to the West Branch of the Susquehanna aroused the hostility of raftsmen who claimed that the free logs and booms impeded and endangered the fleet of rafts.  However, the deeper reason lay in the resentment of native residents to “furriners” in the form of businessmen from New England and veteran French-Canadian loggers.

Raftsmen reacted by attempting to sabotage logging operations by such means as driving metal spikes into the logs so as to snarl the saw during cutting.  Loggers quickly solved this problem by peeling the logs so as to readily reveal any embedded metal objects.  Thereupon, raftsmen resorted to the extreme of ambushing a crew of log drivers along Clearfield Creek on March 30, 1857.  The loggers initiated legal action with the result that the court found eight raftsmen guilty of obstructing the stream.  After ten years of feuding, the rival lumbermen agreed to an armistice which thereafter enabled them to enjoy a peaceful co-existence.

Although most of the wood in northeastern Indiana County was logged or rafted to eastern mills, some timbermen foresaw a lucrative market on their doorstep.  The fledging village of Indiana, founded in 1816, became the county seat and its anticipated growth would require a considerable volume of lumber.  One of the early lumbermen to seize this opportunity was Richard Smith who in 1822 settled along Cushion Creek in Green township.  Here he set up a sawmill which would process 1,000 feet of one-inch boards per day.

Smith loaded the pine boards on large wagons fitted with 60-inch rear and 48-inch front wheels.  To transport the wood to Indiana, one of Smith’s four sons would rise at 5 a.m. and set off on the 20-mile trip through the forest.  Consummate skill was required to maneuver the heavy load over the dirt roads treacherously decorated with rocks, roots, ruts, and mudholes.  The wagon reached the county seat in mid-afternoon, and the boards were unloaded in the lumber concentrating yard.  Then after picking up the cash payment, about $20 per load, young Smith drove the team back at a brisk pace so as to return home about daybreak.

Smith’s sons inherited his lumber business and expanded it extensively when the Pennsylvania Railroad ran a branch line from Blairsville to Indiana in 1856.  Some idea of the profitability of these lumbering operations may be gained from the fact that one of the Smith sons was robbed of $50,000, and the next day he deposited $40,000 in an Indiana bank.

But the tall pine tracts which had seemed endless to the early settlers of Indiana County eventually were exhausted.  By the end of the nineteenth century, the once green forests were denuded, leaving a desolate graveyard of stumps.  Over 43 million board feet of lumber had been stripped form the Patchin interests alone.  And as logs and rafts disappeared from the river, lumbermen dismantled their sawmills to use the wood for barns.

In 1938, a group of gray-haired loggers recreated the bygone days by constructing “The Last Raft” which set out form McGees Mills with ten aboard on a trip to Harrisburg.  En route other old timers came aboard until there were 48.  Then at Muncy the nostalgic excursion came to a tragic end when the raft struck a bridge pier hurling 47 raftsmen into the icy waters which claimed seven victims by drowning.  A happier remembrance of the rafting and logging era was celebrated on August 22, 1955 when a large crowd joined with 20 retired rivermen, ranging in age from 85 to 95 years, in unveiling a granite memorial dedicated to the “Rafters, Loggers, Their Mothers, and Wives of Penn’s Woods.”

The Wehrum Mine Explosion

At the turn of the century, the Blacklick area prospered in a coal boom.  Yet within a few years, its fortunes reversed after a series of accidents and a large scale mining disaster.

wehrum
The town of Wehrum, c. 1918

The new coal towns on the eastern border of Indiana County appeared to be thriving at the turn of the century.  The June 22, 1904 issue of the Indiana Evening Gazette boasts, “Busy On the Blacklist, Prosperity Manifests Itself,” referring to the coal boom in that area.  The Gazette’s headline was no idle boast.  The Vinton Colliery Company of Vintondale was working at full capacity, and the Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company had recently opened its #4 mine in Wehrum and was in the process of constructing a huge, million dollar coal washing plant at its #3 mine between Vintondale and Wehrum.

Yet, within five years the Gazette had reversed its claim of prosperity for the Blacklick area and declared that the coal washing plant had never been a success.  Although it is impossible to isolate all the reasons for the more realistic appraisal of the coal fortunes along the Blacklick, mining accidents and large scale mine disasters, such as the Wehrum mine explosion of 1909, may have contributed to the new assessment.

The Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company had trouble with its #3 mine, which was to have been the center of its holdings, as early as 1904.  One May 11 of that year a “squad of foreigners,” lumped together in the 1904 Pennsylvania Department of Mines Annual Report as “Austrians,” went beyond the danger board placed at the mine heading because of poor ventilation.  The open flame quickly ignited a lethal methane explosion which instantly killed three men, John Vantroga, George Shippley, and Andrew Drubant, and fatally injured a fourth, Frantz Gresico.  According to the memory of the late Russell Dodson, a boyhood resident of the area, the #3 mine closed after the explosion, and it was still listed as idle in the state report of 1909, although the coal from it would be removed later through the Wehrum workings.  Number 3 was reopened in 1914 after the Wehrum washery burned.

By October 1904, due to an industrial slump, the #3 and #4 mines were closed.  Discharged notices were posted, and all operations but necessary maintenance were suspended.  About fifty miners of “foreign origin” found employment in Ernest, the new Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company mining town.  A few families remained in Wehrum.

wehrum plant
Lackawanna Mine #4 on the banks of Blacklick Creek, c. 1918

The town got a reprieve a year later.  The Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company abandoned its plans for making Wehrum a coking center in the Blacklick Valley because the coal was dirty and high in Sulphur even after being processed in the washery.  Instead, the coal mined at Wehrum was to be shipped to Buffalo and to be used as steam coal.  Lackawanna also sold back #1 and #2 mines in Vintondale to the Vinton Colliery Company which constructed 152 coke ovens and opened its #6 mine in 1906.  So it was that Vintondale, rather than Wehrum, became the coking center in the Blacklick valley.

In 1909, Lackawanna #4 mine employed a total of 142 inside workers, including miners, foremen, fire bosses, drivers, and runners.  Fifty-five were employed outside.  The superintendent, W.N. Johnson, was from Bernice, an eastern mining town owned by the father of Wehrum’s first superintendent, Clarence Claghorn.  A mining town named Claghorn near Heshbon was laid out in 1903-04 by Lackawana, but was abandoned in the 1904 shutdown.  Vinton Colliery reopened it in 1916, but it was a failure and closed permanently around 1924.

Wehrum’s #4 mine consisted of a shaft opening for loading and unloading the coal; the main opening was a slope of 35 percent.  The Miller (B) coal seam was about one hundred eighty feet below the surface.  The slope opening had a stairway of about five hundred steps and a rope haulway.  A second shaft opening nearby provided ventilation as a fan was placed on top of this opening.  Many miners and inspectors stated that this was one of the best ventilated mines in the area.

On April 4, 1909 the Johnstown Weekly Tribune reported that Wehrum was operating three days a week.  Due to depression in the market, a wage reduction of five percent for officials, monthly men, engineers, and pumpmen was posted on April 5.  Miners and dayment had their working time cut to three-fourth’s time.  By June the mine was working Tuesdays and Fridays.  Thus on that fateful day of June 23, 1909, the Wehrum mine was not officially working and no check was kept on the number of men entering the mine.  Men who went in were blasting down coal and getting things ready for work on Friday.  Company officials and time keepers estimated that eighty to one hundred men were in the mine on the morning of June 23.

At 7:30 a.m. a rumble shook the town.  A cloud of dust and debris was blown out of the slope.  The cage of the shaft which was sitting at the bottom was driven about one hundred feet to the top by the force of the explosion.  Miners standing outside were thrown to the ground.  The noise of the explosion was so loud that Russell Dodson heard it two miles away at #3.

John and Mike Orris, five year old twins, lived in the second house near the mine.  They said the explosion sounded like a cannon and that the women ran screaming down to the mine.  Their father, who had been given a permanent job at the mine after losing a leg in 1905, walked out about 11:30 without a scratch.

Rescue operations began immediately.  Superintendent Johnson was assisted by Charles Hower, former superintendent at Vintondale.  Joseph Williams, state mine inspector for the Tenth Bituminous District, arrived the same day to assist in the rescue and recovery of bodies.  Nine other mine inspectors were instructed to report at once to assist Mr. Williams.  Their job was to determine how many miners were killed and/or entombed in the mine and to inspect the mine thoroughly to locate the cause of the explosion.

The 9:51 train from Ebensburg had to put on extra cars to handle the rescuers and the curious.  About three hundred people gathered at the mine awaiting the news.  The Wehrum women provided baskets of sandwiches and buckets of coffee for the rescuers.  The local hotel, the Blacklick Inn, also provided excellent service for up to two hundred people during the crisis.

wehrum hotel
The hotel at Wehrum, 1926

By 1:30 p.m. most of the dead and injured had been removed from the mine.  Seventeen men were killed instantly, and sixteen others were injured, some critically.  A temporary hospital was set up in the machine shop.  Dr. Yearick, company physician, was assisted by Drs. Stricker of Nanty Glo, and Grubb of Armagh.

Most of the injured were unconscious when brought from the mine and were revived by oxygen.  The Johnstown Weekly Tribune credited Charles Hower, Frank Cloud of Cresson, and the doctors for heroically reviving almost all the miners who were not killed instantly.  Four tanks of oxygen had been rushed to Wehrum in a car driven by Frank Cook of the Johnstown Automobile Company.

A special train provided by Cresson Trainmaster Henry Taylor left Wehrum at 3:00 p.m. for Miner’s Hospital in Spangler.  The following men were sent to Spangler: P.F. Burns, William Burns, Clarence Huey, Christopher Frazier, Sam Koncha, Louis Koncha, Frank Delegram, Tony Martin, Fred Thomas, Nick Spelli, Tom Batest, and Joe Orwat.

Treated at home by Dr. Yearick were John Tobin, John Kessler, and Lee Johnson, the mine foreman and son of the superintendent.  Rose Akers, a private duty nurse from Johnstown, was hired to care for Lee Johnson.

Those killed instantly were: Lovey Louis, Italian, miner, 22 years old, married, two children; Ernest Barrochi, Italian, miner, 41, single; Domenick Lilton, Italian, miner, 21, single; Tony Batesta, Italian, miner, 20, single; Tony Totena, Italian, miner, 22, single; Charles Foldy, Slavonian, miner, 32, married, four children; A.D. Raymer, American, pumpman, 31, married, one child; George Kovac, Slavonian, trackman, 23, single; Simon Rominski, Russian, miner, 36, single; Steve Base, Polish, miner, 35, single; Kosti Sevick, Lithuanian, miner, 31, single; George Lenn, Lithuanian, miner, 34, married, three children; Joe Meniott, Italian, miner, 25, single; Mike Lilton, Italian, miner, 23, single; Alex Shaftock, Slavonian, miner, 46, married, two children; Charles Georda, Italian, miner, 22, married, one child; Charley Loray, Italian, miner, 20, single. (The spellings of the names of the miners vary from one source to another as often happened, for immigration officials and employers tended to spell the names as they sounded.)

The bodies of the dead were placed on the machine shop floor and then moved to the livery stable which became a temporary morgue.  The late Russell Dodson, age 11 at the time, recalled the rescue operation.  He said that bodies were hosed off at the stable and that the face of one Italian miner he knew was red as an apple.  This was due to the exposure to the blackdamp, a gas mixture remaining after an explosion of firedamp (combustible gas).  It is not explosive and will not support life or flame.  J.H. Krumbine, Vintondale undertaker, prepared the bodies for burial.  A wagon, making numerous trips, brought coffins from Johnstown.  The bodies were then removed to the victims’ homes for the funeral wakes.  These victims, who according to the Indiana Gazette were “all of the better class of workingmen,” were buried, for the most part, according to nationality.  The Italian miners were buried in the St. Charles Cemetery, Twin Rocks.  A marker in memory of the dead miners has been erected there by the people of Vintondale.  The rest of the victims were listed as “Hungarians” and were buried in the Roman Orthodox Cemetery on the hill above Wehrum.  A.D. Raymer, the only “American” killed, was a pumpman and also a pitcher for the local baseball team.  He was buried in Pittsburgh.  Another miner, Alex Sevecik (Kosta Sevick), was buried in Windber.

Four of the injured died later at the Spangler Hospital, raising the death toll to 21.  Frank Delegram died on June 25.  His left arm was broken in two places, and he had severe burns on his hands, face, and neck.  He had also breathed afterdamp, a toxic mixture of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen, which remains in the mine after a firedamp explosion.  William Burns, P.F. Burns, and Clarence Huey died from severe burns and exposure to afterdamp.  According to the June 25 Weekly Tribune, the injured miners in the hospital were not permitted any visitors, not even wives.

The slope entrance of the mine greatly aided in the rescue operation.  Several miners escaped through that entrance, and some lives were saved because rescuers were able to enter the mine immediately.  David Stutzman, a Vintondale miner aiding in the resuce, decided not to wait for a mine car to descend the slope.  He walked down and encountered Clarence Huey, who was exiting the mine when the explosion took place.  Huey was lying face down in one of the north headings.  He was conscious, but unable to help himself.  Other miners whom Stutzman found were George Penderd, Fred Thomas, and Lee Johnson; he helped these men to the foot of the slope.

The fan, a steam-operated Capell, was not seriously damaged; the pressure gauge chart showed that it had only stopped for a few seconds.  Consequently it was able to continue to clear the air in the five air splits in the mine, circulating 51,805 cubic feet of air per minute.

State mine inspectors examined the mine on June 24, 25 and 26.  As they entered the mine by the main slope, they found evidence of great force and flame.  At the foot of the slope was the main entry which was at a right angle to the slope and ran north and south.  The force of the explosion seemed to extend no further than one thousand feet in any direction except in #1 south entry, where it reached the heading.  The inspectors found that concrete overcasts had been blown apart, and that brick and wooden stoppings and doors had been shattered.  Mine cars were derailed, and hoses for compressed air mining machines and electric wires were scattered all over.  The force of the explosion seemed only to weaken in areas where the mine was damp.

In some areas of the mine, the water was too deep to conduct the investigation.  This was due to several of the pumps having been knocked out.  One pumpman, A.D. Raymer, died, but two others survived.  According to Russell Dodson, “old man Frazier,” the night pumpman, was coming off his twelve-hour shift.  A Mr. Wurm, also a pitcher on the baseball team, was coming on.  They were on the stairs of the slope when the mine exploded.  Mr. Dodson said that both Frazier’s and Wurm’s pants were burned off.  They recovered from their injuries, but Mr. Frazier did not return to the mine, deciding rather to run a boarding house in Wehrum.

The inspectors found evidence that dynamite had been used in the first north entry left to bring down the coal; unused dynamite and burnt fuses were found there.  They examined as much of the mine as possible and also interviewed mine personnel and survivors.  They came to an agreement as to the cause of the explosion and presented it at the formal inquest.

The Indiana Gazette reported that the mine was inspected by a group of “competent miners.”  Included in this group were John Roberts, George Blewett, and John Daly, all of Vintondale; other miners in the group were form Cardiff.  They told the Gazette that they believed that the explosion was a firedamp explosion. (Firedamp is a combustible gas, mainly methane, created by the decomposition of coal.)

The disaster attracted attention from all over the country.  The Indiana, Johnstown, and Pittsburgh daily newspapers kept staff correspondents on the scene.  Telegraphs requesting information were received from all over and a long distance telephone call was received from Toronto.

As the cleanup and mine inspections continued, rumors flew.  Many people believed that the explosion spelled the end of the mine and Wehrum.  To clear the air, Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company released a news bulletin stating that the company which constructed the washery would be developing a process to rid the Wehrum coal of its four percent sulphur handicap which hindered its coking qualities.  Also, because much of the mine was not seriously damaged in the explosion, it reopened on July 2.

Nine women were left widows and twenty-three children were orphans.  For their benefit, a large picnic was scheduled for July 5.  The December 8, 1909 Indiana Evening Gazette reports that the Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company made liberal settlements with the widows.  In addition, four lawsuits were filed in the United States Circuit Court in Pittsburgh by Attorney Lawrence B. Cook.  Tomaso and Pasquale DiBattista sued for $25,000 each for their injuries.  The widow and son of Carmine Giodamo (Charles Georda) each sued for $25,000.  The outcome of the suit is unknown.

coal washing plant
The coal washing plant at Wehrum, Lackawanna Mine #4, as it appeared c. 1910, before the fie which destroyed it in 1914.

The Indiana County coroner, Dr. J.S. Hammers, was at the scene by Wednesday evening and conducted a preliminary inquest.  Jurors viewed the bodies and rendered a verdict that the men died from injuries caused by the explosion and by suffocation from blackdamp.  A formal inquest was held on July 15 in Wehrum.  Conducting the inquest according to strict state guidelines, Dr. Hammers convened it at 8:30 p.m. in the mine offices.  The jury, by law, had to have a majority of experienced mine men.  These men were chosen early by the coroner, some having visited the scene the day after the explosion.  The jury was composed of Franklin Sansom, Indiana; Thomas Doberty, Graceton; Henry Kallaway, Edward McConville, Harry Dowler, all of Heilwood; and J. Dalton Johnson, Blacklick.

Six of the ten mine inspectors who assisted in the investigation were present.  They were Joseph Williams, Altoona; R.R. Blower, Scottdale; P.J. Walsh, Greensburg; E. Phillips, DuBois; N. Evans, Somerset; and I.S. Roby, Uniontown.  Dr. Hammers was assisted in the questioning by Mr. Roby, whose stenographer recorded the testimony.  Lackawanna Coal and Coke was represented by ex-judge Harry White in the absence of its lawyer, John Scott of Indiana.  W.A. James of Buffalo, Lackawanna’s chief engineer, was also present.

Testimony was give by approximately twenty-five mine officials, inspectors, and survivors.  Lee Johnson’s testimony was taken at his home due to his injuries.  One survivor, Mike Seafra, testified that he was blown one hundred feet through an open doorway from where he was working.  In the course of the testimony, mention was made of a small methane leak that had been discovered several months before.  S.N. Hazelett, engineer, said that it was unimportant and that the gas had dispersed before the fire bosses, whose job it is to check for gas, had reached a reading on a safety lamp.  Superintendent Johnson said that five years earlier there had been a discovery of methane when the fans had been shut down for thirteen hours.  Mine inspectors and company personnel were in agreement that this was a well-inspected mine.

The most important testimony came from Tom Batist who made a statement explaining how he and two other workers on June 22 tried to shoot down the coal with black powder.  The seam of coal was covered with fire clay, and the blast loosened a large piece of this.  Mr. Baptist used two and one-half sticks of dynamite in the same hole under the fire clay and inserted a six-foot fuse.  He, his cousin, and another miner then went fifteen to twenty yards away from the blast area to a crosscut.  When the shot went off, the room filled with flame.  Batist and his cousin somehow survived, though severely injured.  Tom Batist’s original statement was taken at the hospital by Alexander Montheith, mine inspector.  The third miner was killed instantly.

The inquest was adjourned at 11:30 p.m. and resumed the next morning.  The jury retired at 11:30 a.m. and returned with the following verdict at 2:30 p.m.: “We the jury impanel to determine the cause of death of the seventeen miners or employees of the Lackawanna Coal and Coke Co., find that their death was caused by an explosion, presumably dust in Mine #4, owned and operated by said company located at Wehrum, Indiana County, Pennsylvania on June twenty third, one thousand nine hundred nine.  Said explosion was caused by the carelessness of Thomas Bestesta [sic: Batist], a miner firing a dynamite shot, not tamped at the face of first left heading off north main heading.”

In his annual report to the state, Inspector Williams stressed that there was a lack of knowledge on the part of the miners in the proper use of explosives.  By 1909 inspectors were advocating the use of what they called permissible explosives instead of using black powder and dynamite.  Although the inspectors deplored the Wehrum disaster and Batist’s way of blasting the coal, they also commended him for his honesty in his evidence.  The inspectors believed that he was truly ignorant of what could happen after a blast like that; otherwise, he probably would not have confessed.

The mine inspectors made a list of recommendations for the Wehrum mine and any other mine in the state.  These were published on the July 19, 1909 front page of the Indiana Evening Gazette.  Some of these recommendations follow: “1. Use only permissible explosives. 2. Keep mine wet and/or dusted with calcium chloride; coal dust be removed at least once a week. 3. Non-combustible materials to be used in stemming shot holes. 4. Extreme caution should be used in handling and shooting explosives. 5. No shot should be laid deeper than the undercutting. 6. Safety lamps should be used when and where directed by law. 7. Rigid discipline should be enforced and maintained. 8. Sufficient fire bosses should be employed.”

This explosion and the loss of 21 lives continued to support the inspectors’ theory that a mine is not safe to work in “when black powder is used by ignorant men who know nothing of the dangers of coal dust.”

Although the official verdict was a dust explosion caused by the dynamite blast, there were many who believed that there was methane in that heading which was ignited by the blast.  The dust in the mine was then touched off by the methane’s exploding.

EPILOGUE

Perhaps the #3 and #4 mines were poor investments for the Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company.  Wehrum never developed as a coking center; its wooden frame washery burned in 1914.  Number 3 mine was reopened in 1915 to bring out the coal from #4 so that it could be cleaned in the large concrete washery which had been abandoned in 1904.  In 1922, the Bethlehem-Cuba Mining Company took over Wehrum when the Lackawana Steel Company merged with the Bethlehem Steel Company.  They operated the mine until 1929 when they unexpectedly closed the mine and sold the houses for the lumber.  By 1932, all that remained of Wehrum was a school, one house, a few mine sheds, a cemetery, a rock dump and a reservoir.  The reservoir was washed out in the 1977.  Wehrum is now but a memor

Harry White: General, Senator, Judge, and Master of Croylands

For a Judge in Indiana County to bear on his arms the teeth marks of bloodhounds employed to track down escaped prisoners is quite unusual, but Harry White was a most interesting person in Indiana County history.  In fact, his long and eventful career is likely unsurpassed in local annals with respect to versatility, public service, and sheer drama.

Harry White was the fourth and youngest child of Thomas and Catherine White and was born in Indiana in 1834.  His father was the distinguished Judge of the 10th Pennsylvania whose only fault, according to a lawyer friends, was that “I sometimes thought he leaned a little against me in a trial lest it would be thought that his friendship affected his fairness and impartiality on the bench.”

harry white
Harry White

Young Harry received his early education at Indiana Academy (located on the site of the Clark House) and from private tutors.  In 1850, he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) which awarded him his degree in 1854.  Although he desired to go south which one of his classmates and teach school, he yielded to his father’s request to return to Indiana and begin the study of law.  After serving a two-year apprenticeship in his father’s law office, Harry passed the bar examination administered by a special committee of three lawyers. Characteristically, he assisted in the trial of a case the day following his admission to the bar.

That same year, 1856, the Republican party emerged as a power in national politics.  Despite the fact that this was the first national election in which the 22-year-old barrister voted, he became so actively engrossed in the new party’s anti-slavery stand that he was named the first Chairman of the Republican party in Indiana County.  He made his maiden political speech in Blairsville which he followed up with such a vigorous campaign that Fremont, the Republican Presidential candidate, swept the County by a whopping majority.

Assured of a bright future, Harry White in 1860 married the lovely Anna Lena Sutton whose family occupies a prominent position in Indiana County.  They had two daughters and two sons.

Attorney White’s political zeal and prowess were noted by party leaders who marked him as a comer in the party.  In 1859-60 he entered local politics by getting himself elected to the Indiana Borough Council.  However, the outbreak of the Civil War interrupted White’s rising political stardom for four years.  Organizing a company which elected him Captain, he tendered the unit to Governor Curtin who politely rejected it.  When Captain White inquired why the Governor had not accepted his offer, Curtin replied: “I did not accept you because of the request of your father.  You know, Harry, how highly I esteem your father, and with tears in his eyes he besought me not to accept you for service as you were all he had at home.” (Harry’s sister, Juliet, had died in 1853 and his two older brothers, Richard and Alexander, had left Indiana.)

After cogitating a moment on the Governor’s explanation, Harry replied: “I am sorry to distrust my father, but I feel it my duty to go into the serve and I am going, if I have to carry a musket.”  Sensing White’s firm resolve, the Governor rejoined, “If that is the way of it I will commission you as Major of the 67th Regiment, which is struggling in recruiting at Cammacks Woods at Philadelphia.”

Upon receiving his commission, Major White proceeded to recruit and organize his regiment which went into active service during the early part of 1862.  For a while the regiment was detailed to protect the railroads around Washington, after which it was sent to Harper’s Ferry and Berryville which commanded the approaches to Virginia’s lush Shenandoah Valley, “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.”

While White was thus serving with the Union Army in Virginia, the votes of his senatorial district, which then comprised of Indiana and Armstrong Counties, elected him to the Senate of Pennsylvania.  President Lincoln granted the Major a leave of absence to attend the legislative session which convened in January 1863.  During the ensuing months, he occasionally slipped away to visit his troops, and he turned over his entire Senate salary to the Soldiers’ Relief Fund of Armstrong and Indiana Counties.

In the spring of 1863, he rejoined his regiment just before General Lee began his northern invasion which culminated in the battle of Gettysburg. White’s force marched his regiment to Winchester to reinforce General Milroy whose division was crushed and swept aside by the advance of General Richard Ewell’s corps as it surged toward Pennsylvania.  In this decisive engagement the redoubtable 9th Louisiana Tigers captured Major White.

At this stage of the war, the combatants had discontinued the practice of exchanging prisoners.  Hence, Major White was incarcerated at Libby Prison in Richmond.  Here he languished until the fall of 1863 when an agreement was reached for the exchange of surgeons.  Seeing in this ruling an opportunity to escape, White disguised himself as a surgeon and was taken aboard a flag-of-truce steamer which sailed down the James River toward City Point where the exchange was to be effected.  As the boat neared its destination, the Confederate commissioner in charge of the exchange received word that Major White was aboard disguised as a surgeon.  Thereupon he ordered the prisoners to line up and demand that Major White “come forth.” The Major manfully complied without hesitation, but contended that he had a right to employ any stratagem to escape.  The Confederate commission did not dispute this point, but nevertheless returned his charge to Libby where he was confined in a dungeon until Christmas.  Then he was transferred to the prison at Salisbury, North Carolina where he was placed in solitary confinement for the remainder of the winter.

The severe treatment meted Major White was occasioned partly by his effort to escape and partly by a political situation.  The latter centered around the equal division of the Pennsylvania Senate into “hawks” and “doves” with respect to the prosecution of the war.  As White was an avowed “hawk,” the Confederate government resorted to extreme measures to bar his escape or exchange even though the Federal government offered a captured Confederate Major General and several officers of lesser rank in return for the Indianian.

During the spring and summer of 1864, several attempts were made to move White to notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia, but each time he managed to escape only to be recaptured.  On his last escapade the Major was recaptured after 29 days by vicious bloodhounds which left deep teeth scars on his arm.  In September, after 16 months of debilitating imprisonment, Major White finally rejoined the Union Army near Atlanta by using a ruse to get out of prison and joining a group of prisoners who were being exchanged after the Atlanta campaign.

After serving briefly with General George Thomas in the Nashville campaign, Major White returned home, reaching Indiana on the night of October 5, 1864.  He quickly regained his normal vigor and early in November he attended a reception in his honor at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  Governor Curtin, the master of ceremonies on this felicitous occasion, called on the hero from Indiana to recount his harrowing experiences.

In the waning months of the war, Governor Curtin commissioned Harry White Colonel of the 67th Regiment, and upon his discharge, President Lincoln brevetted him a Brigadier General.

Returning to Indiana after Appomattox, General White zestfully re-entered the political arena.  Beginning in 1865 he served in the State Senate until 1874 at an annual salary of $1,000. As party leader in the Senate, he sponsored a number of important measures including the Evidence Act of 1869 which permitted interested parties to testify on their own behalf in court cases.  He also spearheaded the drive for a Constitutional convention which met in 1872-73 to reform and update the State Constitution.

Among Senator White’s major legislative achievements was the framing and passage in 1871 of an act which chartered and appropriated $20,000 to establish the State Normal School at Indiana (now IUP).  This grant provided the stimulus and encouragement needed to proceed with plans to purchase land and construct buildings.  For this new educational enterprise, the Senator personally lent his support to the project by attending the meeting in County Superintendent J.T. Gibson’s office at which the Normal School Association was formed. Subsequently, he generously subscribed to stock in the school and served on the Board of Trustees for over 40 years.

About this time, Senator White built Croylands, a commodious 13-room gabled, frame house.  It was erected for $6,000 on land which had belonged to White’s father; Croylands became a prominent landmark.

croylands2
Croylands

In 1872, Senator White became a candidate for Governor but lacking machine support he lost the nomination to General Hartranft.  Four years later, White was elected Congressman-at-Large from the district encompassing Armstrong, Clarion, Forest, Indiana, and Jefferson Counties.  Shortly after assuming his seat in the 45th Congress, White was appointed a “visiting statesman” to assist in the arbitration of the Hayes-Tilden election.

In Washington, Congressman White secured an appropriation for the improvement of the upper Allegheny River designed to make it navigable during all seasons.  He also served on the Burnside Military Commission which revamped the organization of the U.S. Army.  During his first time, he vigorously espoused a Constitutional amendment which would provide for the popular election of U.S. Senators at the polls, but in this he was 30 years ahead of his time.

At the age of 50, Harry White departed the national and state legislatures to run for president judge of his judicial district which covered Indiana County.  He served in this post with distinction from 1884 to 1905.  His tenure was marked by a series of controversial decisions involving the granting of liquor licenses.  As state Senator he had authored a law whereby the court received, heard, and passed on license applications.  Upon ascending to the bench, Judge White adopted the policy of deciding each case on the basis of the petitions which were filed for and against the granting of a liquor license.  The result was that he granted no such licenses during his first ten-year term, and consequently, Indiana County was without a hotel licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

The liquor interests retaliated by organizing the opposition to Judge White’s re-election, and they almost succeeded.  After winning the contested election by less than 100 votes, Judge White responded to the sentiment expressed by the voters and henceforth approved a number of liquor license applications.

Judge White left the bench in 1905 to resume, after a long interval, his successful law practice and to engage in numerous business and civic activities.  As the largest individual landowner in the county, he frequently inspected his 1,000-acre domain astride his dark mount, Croylands.  His spare figure also was a familiar sight in town where he served as president of the Indiana County Deposit Bank which his father had helped organize.  He was first Master of the Indiana Masonic Lodge No. 313 and served as the commander of the G.A.R. in Indiana.

On the morning of June 23, 1920, Harry White died at Croylands and was buried in Oakland Cemetery.  His 86-year career, which bridged two centuries, constitutes a proud and notable chapter in the history of Indiana County.