The Automobile Comes to Indiana County

The shiny black Model T Ford clattered down the rutted road, making a racket audible a mile ahead. Started horses drawing a wagon became skittish and had to be pulled off the road until “that infernal machine” sputtered past. Children in one-room schoolhouses left their desks to catch a glimpse of one of the rare automobiles, and heard the frustrated wagon driver’s cry of “GET A HORSE!” go unheeded by the oblivious motorist fast disappearing in a cloud of dust.  The scene could have taken place almost anywhere, around the turn of the twentieth century, and is probably a fair representation of the coming of the automobile to Indiana County.

Rural Western Pennsylvania was not far behind the cities in adopting this newest product of modern science.  Two enterprising brothers, Richard and DeLoss Hetrick of Church Street, built what is thought to be the first auto in the county before any auto dealerships were established.  Clarence R. Claghorn of Wehrum registered his Locomobile auto at the County Courthouse on August 22, 1903, to become the first official driver in the area.  The Claghorn auto was one of eight vehicles listed in the county’s Register of Automobiles before the state of Pennsylvania took over the registration process in 1905.

The most popular of the early automobiles was Henry Ford’s Model T, unveiled in 1908 and costing $850.  Thanks to the introduction of the assembly line, by 1916 a Model T could be purchased for $360, a price within reach of families of modest income.  Like the Studebaker, the Oakland and other touring cars, the Model T had a collapsible canvas top with isinglass curtains, running boards along the sides, and spoked metal wheels with thin rubber tires. The hard-roofed, windowed Model T sedan introduced in the early 1920s stood seven feet talk and could reach the astonishing speed of forty miles per hour propelled by its four-cylinder, ten horsepower engine.  The motorist had to turn a metal crank at the front to start the engine, and doctors treated many cases of “starter’s arm,” a broken forearm caused by a starting crank that kicked back.

Buying a car was an event worthy of note on page one of the Indiana newspapers, even into the second decade of the century. In July 1916, it was reported that “Squire Simon Anthony of Jacksonville bought a new Ford automobile, and accompanied by Dr. W.L. Shields he headed for Clarksburg intending to learn all about the ‘critter’ on the way.”  Accidents involving automobiles were also front page news, and by September 1915, they had apparently become so common that the editor’s irritation was discernible in the terse opening of one accident report: “Carless auto drivers are making news items these days. Somebody will be killed, then a penitentiary sentence will do more to instill caution in the heads of careless drivers, than any other deterrant.”

An automobile ride was a first-rate treat, and sometimes a harrowing experience. In 1907, children and teachers from the Saltsburg Presbyterian Church were rewarded for prompt attendance at Sunday School with a ride to Clarksburg and back. Walter Jackson, writing in the Indiana Evening Gazete in 1958, recalled a “hair-raising ride” in Alex Stewart’s “sweet little, two cylinder, red Maxwell” down Seventh Street to the Fairgrounds and back, at a speed that “could not have been less than 30 miles an hour.” Jackson also described the automotive antics of J.R. Stumpf, owner of the first five-and-ten store in Indiana, who drove his new Stanley Steamer in circles in front of his store at about 10 miles per hour to attract business.

Some Indiana borough streets were paved with brick or cobblestone even before the automobile became common, but country roads were so rutted and treacherous that car owners usually put their autos up on blocks for the winter and resorted to a horse and wagon or sleigh. Many times farmers were asked to hitch their horses to cars mired to the axles in mud, and summer motoring required dustcoats, gloves, goggles, and hats (and veils for the ladies) for protection from the dust. The paving of major roads in Pennsylvania began with the establishment of the state Highway Department in 1906, but the big push did not come until the mid-1920s.

Indiana’s John P. Elkin, state Supreme Court justice, spoke before a 1913 state Good Roads Convention in favor of a $50 million bond for improving and rebuilding Commonwealth highways. Another advocate of better roads and favorable legislation for the motor-owning public was the Indiana Auto Club, established in 1914 and chartered by the American Automobile Association in 1928. Officers of the organization in 1916 were C.M. Lingle, president; C.K. Sutton, secretary; and J.R. Richards, treasurer.

In 1925, there were 1,600,000 licensed drivers in Pennsylvania, and nearly as many registered motor vehicles. The move was on nationwide for more and better roads, and the Indiana Democrat published a regular column headed “Good Roads” which featured items with titles like “Prosperity Will Follow Improved Road System.” Hard-surfaced roads were built to outlying communities, and because of better roadways county farmers found it easier to send milk, wool and other produce to Pittsburgh by the mid-1920s. Unimproved roads, however, remained in a deplorable condition, and the problems they sometimes caused motorists supported the argument for better roads. In 1925, a salesman reported that he had to be hauled out of mudholes five times in one trip form Marion Center to Punxsutawney, at a total cost of $18.

By the 1920s several auto dealerships had been established in Indiana, and they offered a wide variety of makes and models.  Among the earliest was the Indiana Motor Company, and later R.H. Fleming Buick, which, when it began business in 1908, was one of the first Buick dealers in the country.  Sutton-Miller Ford, today’s McGill Motors, opened in 1911 on South Sixth Street, and Indiana Sales and Service sold Studebakers.  The Essex, the Franklin and the Hudson could be bought from R&S Motors, while the Indiana Whippet Garage advertised the Willys-Knight touring coach for $995. As roads improved and people began to see that the automobile was useful for more than a summer touring vehicle, the sale of closed models – sedans – increased, and more automobiles were out and about in all weather.

Once the automobile was purchased, maintaining it and keeping the gas tank full were not as easy in the early years of the century as they are today.  Opportunities to buy gasoline were few and far between, so many motorists kept an extra can full of gas with them.  Before gas stations became common in the mid-1920s, auto dealers, in addition to serving the autos they sold, sold oil and pumped gasoline from rolling carts.  The 1926 Indiana City Directory carried advertisements for several gasoline retailers, including Stewart’s Gasoline – Service Station, near the Fairgrounds, which sold Pennzoil products.  The West Indiana Service Station, at 1501 Philadelphia Street, sold not only Sinclair gas and oil and Firestone tires, but also ice cream, soft drinks and tobacco.  And the C.H. Shaw Hillcrest Service Station on Marion Road urged customers who had never had one of their “barbecue sandwiches” to “drive out and get one.” By this time gasoline was available at 27,000 retailers across the state, and a gallon of Atlantic high test could be had for twenty-seven cents. The average motorist spent $101 annually on fuels and lubrication, according to a state survey.

Public use of motor vehicles kept pace with private use. In 1925, a bus service was initiated between Indiana and Punxsutawney, with the trip taking one and a half hours. The Indiana Express Agency, which delivered railroad freight, switched from horse-drawn wagons to motor trucks in 1930. The Indiana Fire Company bought a Federal motor fire engine in 1915 and a Packard in 1918, while the Clymer Fire Company paid $12,500 for a 750-gallon Seagrave Pumper Truck in 1923.

With heavy trucks, buses, and more automobiles than ever traveling the roads, the need for improved roadways became urgent. The late 1920s and early 1930s saw a boom in road construction, and M. Bennett and Sons of Indiana was responsible for many miles of improved roads in Pennsylvania. Michael Bennett and his five sons had begun their construction business in 1903, and they were the recipients of some of the first contracts let by the state Highway Department: Saltsburg Road, from Indiana borough running toward Saltsburg, and the Creekside Road beginning at Ninth Street. Under Edward Bennett, Sr., the firm completed more than 100 paving projects in Pennsylvania, as well as several in New York and Maryland, and it was at one time the largest construction company in the State. Bennett, who later became a state senator, was instrumental in bringing the state District 10 highway barns to Indiana in 1928-30.  By 1931, the five counties in District 10 boasted 3,025 miles of improved roads, and hundreds of miles of macadam “Pinchot roads” were laid in the area by the Bennett firm under Governor Gifford Pinchot and his successor, George Earle.

With the 1930s came the Great Depression, but roadbuilding went on and auto owners kept driving. State figures showed 1,419,484 automobiles registered in Pennsylvania in 1933, with 10,930 in Indiana County. The Indiana Patriot noted in June 1930, that “Indiana’s parking problem, while not a problem yet, will certainly assume large proportions before long. . . . Limited parking time on Philadelphia Street would be a present move in the right direction.” The city fathers decided in 1940 to try parking meters as a means of controlling congestion downtown; the experiment worked so well that meters became a permanent fixture after that time.

The automobile’s increasing dominance meant the decline of other, older institutions in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1936, the Robinsteen Collar and Leather Company, which had made horse collars at Third and Philadelphia Streets for many years, was closed. At its peak it employed sixty-five men, and in 1929 did $65,000 worth of business. Better roads, mass production of automobiles, and the Depression made inevitable the closing of the Indiana Street Railways trolley company in 1933 after twenty-six years of operation; the same factors heralded the departure of the last Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train from the Indiana depot in April of 1940.

Sinclair Gas Station, Clymer, PA, 1950s

When the automobile’s good points are weighed against its bad points, the result is nearly even, and people have learned to live with the disadvantages in return for the convenience. The same paved roads that hastened the decline of the blacksmith and the passenger train gave the newly mobile public better access to business in town and helped the farmer get his produce in for sale. The automotive age has brought traffic accidents and has increased air pollution, but at the same time it has brought economic benefits, some of which can be seen here in Indiana County: the McCreary Tire and Rubber Company (now Specialty Tire) was established in 1915, has grown into an important manufacturer of automobile tires and other rubber products employing several hundred persons. The automobile is the vehicle of a faster-moving lifestyle, a way of life that has left the horse and buggy driver behind in a slower time, helplessly shaking his fist as the Model T rattles on down the road.

Westward Ho The Migration and New Home of the Elders

On April 1835, a young ten-year-old lad named David W. Elder came to Indiana County with his family.  Fifty years later he described that journey as he remembered it.

David traced his lineage back to George Elder, who migrated to America from Ireland in 1750, and settled in Path Valley of Franklin County.  From there he moved to Centre County and still later he settled at Spruce Creek in Huntingdon County.  Robert, son of George Elder, was born in Franklin Township, Huntingdon County, February 9, 1790.  His wife, Elizabeth, the daughter of James Reed, was born in West Township, Huntingdon County April 9, 1791.  David Elder, their son and author of these recollections, was born in Franklin Township August 22, 1825.  He was the fifth of nine children.

Little is known of the Elder family after its arrival here.  They settled in East Mahoning Township.  Robert, the father, served as township supervisor in 1846.  David and two of his siblings, John Reed and Mary, attended and subsequently taught in the school described in this memoir.  Somewhat later David prepared for the bar and practiced law in Pittsburgh.  He died November 24, 1894.

Following are the edited notes of David W. Elder, penned fifty years after his great trek.  The original notes are in the possession of the family.  Spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar remain unaltered to preserve the literary style of the period.  A contemporary traveler wishing to follow in the footsteps of the Elders would find that the following highways roughly parallel the journey of 1835: Route 45 from Graysville to Water Street; Route 22 to Ebensburg; Route 422 to Indiana; and Route 119 north to East Mahoning Township.

Our Journey

It was Monday about noon on the sixth day of April AD 1835, that we – that is Robert Elder and his family started on our Journey from our old home in Franklin Township, Huntingdon County Pennsylvania to our new home in Indiana County.  If any inquisitive person should wish to discover the place from which we started, he will find it near the foot of Tussey Mountain, half a mile above the Village of Graysville, on a small stream called “Fowler’s Run.”

Our family consisted of Father, Mother and seven children – Jane – J. Reed – David W. – Mary Ann – Elizabeth – Robert B. – and Margaret – the children ranging in age from Eighteen years to Seven Months.  Of these only four remain – J. Reed – David W. – Mary Ann – and Elizabeth.

We had been “Just a going” to start for several days but could not get ready.  Even on that morning it was not certain that we would go.  It had rained some, and the weather was threatening.  What influence set us in motion.  I know not, but about nine oclock it was decided that we should go, and from that time all was hurry and bustle.  I have little recollection of particulars.  I remember that we children had our faces washed, and were fixed up as if we were going to church.  I remember seeing the men carrying out heavy articles of furniture, and packing them in the bed of the fourhouse wagon, that was to carry us over the mountains.  I remember the crowds of neighbors, that came to see us off, and bid us Goodbye.  The farewells were doubtless serious enough between grown persons, but they did not effect me.  I have no recollection of feeling any regret at leaving the old place.  I had only pleasant anticipation of the new sights I would see.  It seemed to me like a holiday excursion.  I did not realize the greatness of the change we were making.  I little thought that in a few months I would be longing for a sight of the mountain top – the brook and the big willow, where I used to make whistles and flutter wheels.

Some of the men and boys came with us a considerable distance to help drive the cows, and get them trained to following the wagon.  After we passed the church and got into the “Barrens” they gradually left us.  Old George Fry drove the wagon the first day, and his son Levi, a gawky, good natured boy was the last of the boys to leave us, and would not have turned back then, but for a positive order from his father.  He left reluctantly bidding us all, Goodbye.

We crossed the Little Juniata where Spruce Creek Station on the Pennsylvania Railroad now is, but there was no railroad there then.  We stopped for the night in the little town of Water Street.  The next morning George Fry returned home, and Uncle David Elder drove the team the rest of the Journey.  We followed the Turnpike1 passing through Canoe Valley, and getting to Holidaysburg in the evening.  We had intended to stop there the night, but could not get accommodations for our stock, and went a mile further toward the Mountain, and stopped at the public house kept by a Dutch farmer named John Widensall.  This day I first saw a Canalboat and a railroad car.

The following day we went over the Mountain on the Turnpike, and were often in sight of the cars of the Portage Railroad which then crossed the Mountain at Blair’s Gap.  We lunched at the “Stone Tavern” at the summit of the Mountain.  We hoped to reach Ebensburg that night, but failed to do so, and had to put up at Wherry’s – a very comfortable place, – a mile or two from Ebensburg, after driving till dark.

Early in the forenoon of the next day, we passed through Ebensburg; and here we left the “northern Turnpike,” and entered what was called the “clay pike,” leading to Indiana.2  As this latter road was not Macadamized, and the ground was wet, and the load heavy, the wagon now made slow progress.  Stopping at a Country tavern at noon kept by an old Welshman named Griffith Rowland, we reached Strongstown, in the edge of Indiana County at dusk and put up for the night.  I was so tired that I fell asleep on the bar-room floor behind the door, and was not missed, till the landlord went to close the door after all the rest had retired.  There were two or three other flittings at the inn, and the landlord inquired which of them had lost a boy.  The family roll was called – I was missing, and was restored to my proper place.

It took us all the next day to get to Indiana, where we put up at the hotel now called the “Indiana House,” though it has been rebuilt since that time.3

On Saturday morning we left behind us not only Macadamized roads but even Clay Pikes, and entered on the rough, hilly and muddy roads of the “Backwoods.”  When we started on Monday we had hoped to reach our journey’s end by Saturday evening, but it was now plainly impossible.  At noon we reached Kate Buchanan’s, the only public house between Indiana and Punxsutawney.4  A little before sunset we reached the house of Joseph MacPherson, an old acquaintance of my fathers.  He took us in, hospitably entertained us til Monday.  ON Sabbath we attended Mahoning Church5, where we met many of our new neighbors, and gave them notice of our coming.

On Monday morning we began the last stage of our wearisome journey.  It had rained the night before, and the roads were very heavy, and the progress slow.  I recollect but few of the incidents of that part of the journey.  On our way we met some of the neighbors coming to meet us.  We made a stop at the house of Scroggs Work.6  Here a path led through the woods to the Cabin.  Reed7 was sent by that route to kindle a fire at the house8, while the wagon went by a more circuitous route.  The public road at the time ran directly past Scroggs Work’s house and kept its course South of, and nearly parallel with the present line of the public road and nearly one hundred yards distant therefrom.

From a point opposite where the end of the lane now is, a road, or rather a path ran up to the house, passing along nearly the same route that the lane does now.  Some young men had cut a way for the wagon that morning, but a four-horse wagon was a machine unknown before in that region, and their road was too narrow.  Men and boys with axes cut a wider passage, and the wagon moved forward a few rods at a time as a way was made for it.  It was just about noon when we reached the house, and just a week from the time we started.

The inn at Strongstown where the Elders spent their first night in Indiana County. Built around 1828 by Thomas H. Cresswell, the exterior walls are trimmed, fitted logs and have never been covered with siding. The location was at the intersection of US 422 and PA 408.

Our Home

The house stood a few feet South of the frame house now standing.  It was a log cabin eighteen by sixteen feet, and a story and a half high.  The longest dimension was from the lower to the upper side, although the gables faced North and South, so that the ends of the house were longer than the sides.  The logs were unhewn.  The roof was made of clapboards kept in place by weight poles.  The door was in the South end and the Chimney in the upper side.  The jambs were about six feet apart, and the Chimney was on the outside.  It was a wooden Chimney, that is, built logs and sticks protected from the fire at the lower part by stone, and the upper part by clay.  The drip of the upper half of the roof fell upon the Chimney just above the Mantle, and to protect it, a section of the hallow log was put under the eve to serve as a spout.  The only window was in the North end, and contained six lights of eight by ten inch glass.  There was no staircase, and the loft could be reached only by a ladder.

The barn stood on a little rising ground between two spring drafts about forty yards South of the house.  It was a double log-cabin barn with an intervening space for a thrashing floor, though, I think there was no floor there.  It had a clapboard roof with weight poles.

A little spring house built on poles with a sloped roof stood just below the Springhead.

The farm contained about Ninety acres of which only about twelve acres was cleared.  All the land lying westward of the present lane or road running through the farm was in woods.  The flat land just below where the buildings stood was a swamp so deep that adventurous cows in the spring time seeking the grass and herbs growing there, sometimes stuck fast, and had to be pried out with rails or poles.  This swamp was the abode of numerous frogs, and their music in a warm evening in Spring time was deafening…

At Simpson’s the Settlement virtually ended.  The public road extended no farther.  An almost unbroken Wilderness extended to the line of Clearfield County.  A few adventurous pioneers indeed had gone into this Wilderness and made improvements, and kept up Communication with the Settlements by bridal paths through the Woods.  Among these were David Brewer, William White, and James Black.  In some sense these people were out neighbors, and they were compelled to depend on the people in the Settlement for assistance in many things.

To the Northward there was an unbroken belt of woodland extending nearly to where the Village of Marchand now stands, containing several thousand acres.  This woodland was in fact an arm of the great Wilderness to the East of us already mentioned.  Cattle and sheep pastured on it in the Summer, hogs grew fat on it in the Autumn, and in some parts of it, huckleberries and rattlesnakes abounded in their season.

The people who lived beyond this belt of woodland on what we called “the Ridge” were not regarded as neighbors.  We met them occasionally at church, and at the military trainings, but we did not have intimate relations with them.

It would be monotonous to describe separately the houses of the Settlers.  A general description will answer for all.  The house was a log cabin of about the same dimensions as the one on our farms.  Sometimes the logs were hewed – often they were not.  Each house was a little above one story in height, and none was fully two stories.  In most cases the roof was of clapboards kept in place by weight poles.  Each house consisted of one room below and a loft above, which was recached by ladder.  The Chimney was sometimes on the outside, and sometimes on the inside, but always had a wide fireplace.  Stoves were unknown and wood the only fuel.

Scarcely any one of these houses was visible from another.  Each settler had cleared a small opening around his buildings, whilst a broad belt of woodland lay between him and his neighbor shutting out the view.  It was only by climbing a hill that one could see that the country was inhabited.

The only grist mill in the neighborhood was Simpson’s.  The nearest Store was Henry Kinter’s near Georgeville.  The nearest Post Office was “Mahoning” at what was then Ewing’s now Stewarts Mill seven miles down the Creek.  It was supplied by a weekly mail carried on horseback.  The only churches within ten miles were Gilgal and Mahoning, and the ministers of both churches resided outside the Congregation.

There was a little school house on the Creek Road about a quarter of a mile below Scroggs Work’s.  It stood in the woods below the road.  It was about fifteen feet square, built of unhewn logs and had a clapboard roof.  It was a Story high, and the joists were high enough for a tall man to stand under them.  The door was about five feet high – hung on wooden hinges and fastened with a pin.  The two windows were merely widened cracks between the logs with no glass in them.  The lower floor was of loose boards – the upper floor of still looser boards.  The fireplace consisted of three flat stones in one corner of the room – one horizontal for a hearth, and two perpendicular in the angle of the wall to serve as jambs.  An opening in the floor above served as a flue, and cracks in the gable and roof furnished an exist for the smoke.  The only furniture in the house was a bench made by driving four stout oak pegs into the round side of a slab about eight feet in length.  Another bench was extemporized by putting one end of a loose board into a crack in the wall, and resting the other end on a log of wood on the hearth.  The building had been used only for Summer School, and had to be refitted before Winter School was held in it.

Perhaps some young man of the present time may, fifty years hence, be recalling the scenes and surroundings of his youth, and noting the changes that half a century has brough about, and while peering through his spectacles from under his gray hairs, his eyes may fall upon this Manuscript; and as he turns its time-stained leaves, and reads its dim and fading leaves, and reads its dim and fading lines, he may learn something of the State of the Country a Century before.

David W. Elder

April 8th 1885

Pittsburgh, PA


1 Huntingdon, Cambria and Indiana Turnpike Road Co. incorporated in Feb. 15, 1815, John Blair, president. Also known as the “Northern Route.”

2 Indiana and Ebensburg Turnpike Road Co., completed Fall 1823.  Width twenty-six feet, filled with clay, stone and gravel to a depth of twenty-two inches.  Still remembered locally as the “Clay Pike.”

3 Charles Kenning, proprietor in 1832.

4 A list of tables in 1807 names Charles Buchanan, laborer, and John Buchanan, farmer.  Arms and White in their 1880 history of Indiana County state that the first improvement “on the site of the village” of Kintersburg was made “early in the century” by John Buchanan (p. 525).  For many years the stage coaches from Indiana to Punxsutawney went by the old road from the present Musser Nursery to Kintersburg and from there to Home, PA. It is unknown what John Buchanan’s wife’s name was.  A map in the archives of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, dated November 26, 1825 lists the following points on the road from Indiana to Punxsutawney: William McHenry on Laughrey’s run, McKee’s run, Alanson Bills, Wm Borland, John Buchanan, Crooked Creek, Machlehoe’s Mills (at two sites), Thompson’s Run, Purchase Line, Ebenezer Brady, Jeremiah Brown, Jonathan Ayers, Little Mahoning Creek, Jonathan Canan, road to Susquehanna River, William Shields, branch of Canoe Creek, James McCombs, Indiana-Jefferson line.

5 Mahoning Associate Presbyterian Church, organized 1828 on the site of the present church (at intersection of Legislative routes 32082 and 32096, East Mahoning Township).

6 Alexander Scroggs Work (1797-1878), farmer and elder in the “Seceder” or Associate Presbyterian Church.  His house is marked in “Work District No. 3” on the 1871 map of East Mahoning Township. (Beers’ Atlas of Indiana County Pennsylvania, p. 13).

7 John Reed Elder, brother of David W. Elder.

8 The Elder site is marked on the Beers’ Atlas as “J.R. Elders” and “Elders Hrs” (p. 13).