Sketches of Indiana County Revolutionary Soldiers – Part I

James Shields

James Shields enlisted in 1776 or early 1777 at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and served as a private in Captain William Chambers and Captain Pry’s companies, Colonel Moses Hazen’s Continental (called “Congress’ Own” Regiment).  He was discharged in June 1783.

He was in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in which he was wounded in the right arm; Whitemarsh, Monmouth, Horseneck, Stony Point, Brunswick and in the Siege of Yorktown.  He was wounded also in his right eyebrow at an unknown date.

He was allowed pension on application which was executed on August 4, 1819.  In 1820, he resided in Mahoning Township, Indiana County and was aged 76 years.  His wife was aged 50 years.  He had six daughters (one had two children) and a son, James.  He was still a resident of the county in 1834.

Patrick McGee

Patrick McGee was born in Londonderry, Ireland, and came to American and located in Franklin County, Pennsylvania in 1771.  He was a wheelwright and wagonmaker and engaged in that trade.

During the fight for American independence Patrick McGee served as a private in Captain John Marshall’s Company, Second Battalion, Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment, commanded by Colonel Samuel Miles, in 1776.  In 1780 and 1781, he was listed as a private in the 7th Company, First Battalion, Cumberland County Militia, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Johnston.  It is said that during one of these tours of duty he was captured by the British and confined in a prion in New York City.

After the close of the war, this Revolutionary hero came to what is now Indiana County, settling near the present village of Grafton, and a farm later owned by the Graff family, in the year 1794.  He continued his trade and engaged in farming.  He was a member of the Presbyterian church.

Patrick McGee was born in 1750, and married Esther Pilson on April 17, 1796.  He died in 1818 in Blacklick Township and was buried in the Hopewell Methodist Cemetery.  His wife, Esther, was born in 1762 and died in 1830 and was buried beside her husband.  Their grave markers were removed to the Oakland Cemetery in Indiana PA in the 1940s.

George Hice

On March 27, 1833, George Hice, a resident of Wheatfield Township, appeared before the Honorable John Young, Judge of the Common Pleas, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Hice was 68 years old.

While a resident of Fort Ligonier, Westmoreland County he joined a company of volunteer rifleman commanded by Captain Samuel Shannon.  They assembled at Sheriff Carnahan’s on August 10, 1781, commanded by Colonel Archibald Loughry; they marched via Washington, PA to Wheeling, VA.  After a stay of about two days they went down the Ohio River in boats as far as a creek called Loughry’s creek, a few miles below the mouth of the Big Miami River.  At this place on August 24, 1781, about 110 men (many having deserted between Wheeling and this place) were attacked by a large number of Indians under the command of Simon Girty, George Girty and James Girty, and an Indian called Captain Brant.  The attack was made by the Indians from the shore just as some of the boats had touched for the purpose of landing.  Thirty-eight of the men were killed and Colonel Loughry was also killed by the Indians on the same day after he had been taken prisoner.

Those not killed, including George Hice, were taken to Shawnee towns on the Big Miami.  Four days after he was taken prisoner, he ran the gauntlet with several others.  He was taken to Mawmee towns where he was detained by the Indians for about a year.  He was then taken to Detroit, given to the British and held prisoner for another four months; thence in an English vessel to Fort Erie, thence to Montreal, St. Johns, across Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga; from Ticonderoga via Albany to New York.  From New York Hice made his way through New Jersey, Reading, Harrisburg and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, finally reaching Fort Ligonier, Westmoreland County, in the month of October 1783.

Hice further stated two years and two months elapsed from the time he left home until he returned, and that he never received a written discharge or documentary evidence to establish the facts and services in this declaration before Judge Young.

He stated, “I was born in the state of New Jersey about one mile from Flemingstown in the year 1765.”  He further stated he had a record of his age at the house where he resided, that he was living a Fort Ligonier when he entered service, and moved to Wheatfield Township, Indiana County, in 1785.  Hice said he volunteered for service, that he knew Colonel Archibald Loughry, Adj. John Guthrie, Captain Samuel Shannon, Captain Robert Orr, and that he (Hice) was known to John Ligat and Thomas Clarke.

Mathias Fisher, Ligonier Township, Westmoreland County, a soldier of the same company, testified Hice’s statement was true.

A note attached to the declaration states that George Hice died November 26, 1833.

Randall Laughlin

Randal Laughlin, a native of Ireland, came to America prior to the Revolutionary War, and purchased the improvement on a large tract of land lying part in Blacklick Township and part in Center Township, in what is now Indiana County.  A small quantity of ground had already been cleared, and Laughlin erected a small cabin.

After this improvement on his tract our subject returned to Franklin County, where he had lived for a short time, and there married Elizabeth Warnock, March 10, 1777, according to records of the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church, at Mercersburg.  The couple came to their Indiana County cabin that spring intent upon peaceful progress of their land improvement.

They were sadly disappointed for the summer brought marauding bands of Indians, and they were forced to take refuge at Fort Wallace, near present Brenizer, Westmoreland County. The farmers went out sometimes in small groups to their little farms, armed with rifles.  One day Randall Laughlin found that his horses had disappeared from the fort, and believing they might have wandered back to his cabin, he asked his neighbors to go there with him.

This cabin stood on the farm in Blacklick Township, and Laughlin was accompanied by Charles Campbell, for whom Campbell’s Mills was named; Samuel Dixon, of Blacklick Township; John and Levi Gibson, brothers, whose tract adjoined Laughlin.  The Gibson families of Blacklick Township are descendants of John.

All went well until the frontiersmen reached the cabin.  There they were surprised and captured by a band of Indians, led by a Frenchman.  They were allowed to write a statement on the cabin door of what happened, then were marched away. This took place Thursday, September 25, 1777.

The captives were taken to Kittanning, thence to Detroit and delivered to the British, then to Quebec.  After a severe winter, they were finally exchanged the next fall, except for Levi Gibson who died in Canada. Laughlin arrived at Boston, October 14, 1778.

In the meantime Elizabeth Laughlin had returned to Franklin County where her husband found her.  Their first born child, a son, whom he had never seen was over a year old.

The Laughlins remained in Franklin County until the end of the war, Randall serving in the 6th Company, First Battallion, Cumberland County Militia, in 1780.

By the Act of March 25, 1805, Charles Campbell, Randall Laughlin and John Wilson were appointed to survey a grant by George Clymer, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, of 250 acres of land for the county seat of the new county – Indiana.

This pioneer and defender of freedom took an active part in the affairs of this county until his death on January 6, 1818.  He was buried in the Bethel Presbyterian Cemetery, near his home.

Elizabeth Warnock Laughlin, born 1748, survived her husband ten years, dying on January 30, 1828.

Conrad Rice

Conrad Rice, a Revolutionary solider and Indiana County pioneer, came here from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1794.  He took up the tract of land upon which Memorial Park in Indiana is located, but was unable to remain the first winter due to Indian troubles.  The Rice family spent the winter months in the Ligonier Valley, and made a permanent settlement in 1795.  The land extending south included at least a part of the old fair ground, now known as the Mack Park Recreation Center.  Rice was a blacksmith.

Devout Lutherans came to the Rice home to worship when a circuit rider found the time to visit the community.  It was probably this custom that was responsible for starting the Lutheran Cemetery (Memorial Park).  Burials were made there as early as 1803.  On January 24, 1818, Conrad Rice deeded over two acres of his land, including the little cemetery, to the Indiana County Commissioners for use of the Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.  He was buried in the cemetery in 1823.

During the Revolution Conrad Rice served as a private in the Eighth Company, Sixth Battalion, Lancaster County Militia.

John Work

Shortly after the close of the close of the Revolutionary War, many families from the eastern coast pushed further into the wilderness of western Pennsylvania.

Among these pioneers were John and William Work, sons of Samuel Work who had settled in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, prior to the Revolution.

John and William both served in the Revolution; John served as a private in Captain Jack’s Company, First Battalion, Cumberland County Militia.

In 1785, John Work married Mary Brady, of Cumberland County.  She was a daughter of Samuel Brady of the Hugh Brady family of colonial and Revolutionary fame.

The Work brothers first settled in Westmoreland County, but in less than five years moved to Mahoning Township, Indiana County.  John was one of the first Justices of Peace in Mahoning Township and one of the original elders of Gilgal Presbyterian Church.  His life was quiet and peaceful after his settlement in Indiana County, but of short duration. He was found dead in the woods after accompanying a friend part way home.  His death occurred in March 1809.

The government marker for John Work was dediated in Gilgal cemetery, Sunday October 11, 1953, by the Indiana County Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, assisted by the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Indiana Post 1989.

Peter Sutton

Peter Sutton, pioneer of the Sutton family in Indiana County, served as a private in Captain David Peter’s Company, First New Jersey Regiment from October 10, 1775 to January 11, 1776. Next is a roll dated July 1, 1778, which shows he enlisted on June 1, 1777, for nine months.  His name is on a roll dated March 23, 1779 which reports him discharged.  Peter Sutton was a member of Captain Nixon’s Company of New Jersey Horse, and his name appears on an undated muster roll. Opposite the name is the date Jan’y 27th and the remark: “Discharged April 1, 1777.” He enlisted in Captain John Walton’s Company of Light Dragoons on April 1st and was discharged December 15, 1782.  From various census records definitely established, Peter Sutton probably served throughout the Revolution – from 1775 to 1782.

Peter Sutton and wife Pheobe, came from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to Newport, the first town in Indiana County, and after Indiana was laid out they established a home at the county seat.  He built a two story log tavern at the corner of Philadelphia Street and Carpenter Avenue.  The first session of our county courts was held on the second floor of this tavern, December 1806.

Sutton died in Indiana in 1822 and   was buried in the old graveyard where Calvary United Presbyterian church now stands.  The location of the grave was lost, a memorial marker provide by the government was placed in Memorial Park.

Pioneers in Pro Football

Two Indiana County natives, both of whom attended Indiana Normal School nearly a century ago, a nationally recognized today as being among the first few professional football players.  These pioneers of today’s popular sport were John K. Brallier and Lawson Fiscus, credited by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and other researchers as being two of the first six men to get paid for their grid-iron skills in the 1890s.

The year of 1890 brought football to Western Pennsylvania as a team sport, with a number of organized amateur and school teams.  These included the Allegheny Athletic Association of Pittsburgh, Western University of Pennsylvania (which soon became the University of Pittsburgh), Indiana Normal and Kiskiminetas Schools, Greensburg and Altoona Athletic Associations, and Johnstown Athletic Club being among the foremost. The first formal football game ever played in Pittsburgh took place October 11 of that year when Allegheny AA played a team organized for the game at Western University.  AAA won, 38-0.

Within a short time, a few outstanding athletes were being paid for their football exploits.  In 1892, William (Pudge) Heffelfinger of Yale, considered the greatest football player of the era, quit the Chicago AC team during the season, was lured by a generous cash offer of the Allegheny Association to play against heated rival Pittsburgh Athletic Club in November, and is now recognized as the first “pro” Fiscus and Brallier were not far behind.

Lawson Fiscus was the older and first of the two Indiana Countians to make his mark.  He was born June 28, 1866, a son of Samuel Fiscus and his second wife Catherine, at the family farm between Indiana and Shelocta, just north of Route 422 at the point where White, Armstrong, and Washington townships meet.  Part of that farm is still owned by grandchildren of Samuel, a staunch Presbyterian also remembered for his service as an elder of Curry Run Church.

Lawson Fiscus

The Fiscus family came to Westmoreland County in the late 1760s, the pioneer moving west being Gerhard (Garrett) Fiscus, whose father sailed from Germany to Philadelphia in 1744.  Garrett served on the first grand jury west of the Alleghenies at Hannastown in 1773.  His son Abraham, a Revolutionary soldier, lived briefly in Indiana County just after 1800 before settling in Armstrong.

William Fiscus, Sr., son of Abraham served in the War of 1812.  Two of his sons, David (born about 1811) and Samuel (born in 1816), were among a number of Fiscus family members who by mid-century were Indiana County residents.  Other Fiscuses became prominent in coming years in Indiana community business and government.

One of sixteen children, Lawson attended Indiana Normal and is believed to have played football there informally, since school records indicate that a team did not represent Indiana until 1890.

In 1891, Lawson and his brother Ross joined the Allegheny team in Pittsburgh. For the 1892 season, Lawson was recruited by Princeton University, where he played guard for the powerful Tigers and achieved fame as the “Samson of Princeton” because of his strength.  Although he stood 5’ 11” and weighed 185 pounds, not big by modern standards, he was an imposing figure in those days.

In 1893, when Lawson was teaching school at South Fork, near Johnstown, he commuted first to Pittsburgh and later in the season to Greensburg to play football.  Although still technically amateur since no salaries were paid, there was at times quite liberal expense money, and “living well on trips” helped to attract former eastern college stars to supplement outstanding local athletes.

In an 1893 game for Greensburg against the highly rated Pittsburgh Athletic Club, the Greensburg Tribune observed that halfback Lawson “Fiscus put up a very good article, repeatedly bucking the centre for very good gains and tackling like a fiend.”

Competition for players among top Pittsburgh clubs and other became more intense by 1894, and Lawson Fiscus was offered twenty dollars a game plus expenses to play for Greensburg Athletic Association.  He played (and at time coached) the powerful Westmoreland County seat eleven for the next four years, joined at times by brothers Ross and Newell.

In 1895, Lawson “won the new hat offered by Brinker Brothers, popular clothiers, for the season’s first touchdown” as Greensburg AA walloped Latrobe YMCA, 25-0, at Athletic Park (where, as renamed Offutt Field, Greensburg High teams still play today).  Earlier that season, John Brallier was paid to quarterback Latrobe, but had left for Washington & Jefferson College by the time of the Greensburg game.

Newspaper game accounts that year frequently citing Lawson’s halfback ability.  In mid-October, he was offered $125 monthly, a princely salary in those days, to join the Duquesne Country & Athletic Club, another top Pittsburgh team.  But money raised locally in Greensburg kept Fiscus from accepting outside offers.

With Greensburg for his final year in 1896, Lawson was particularly outstanding Saturday afternoon, October 17, when the GAA eleven, cited by Pittsburgh papers as “perhaps the best in Western Pennsylvania,” defeated the crack Pittsburgh Athletic Club team, 14-0, for its first win over PAC.  In the first half, Lawson ran thirty yards for one touchdown (then worth four points) and tallied a second near the end of the half.  Later in the game, he ran eighty yards around left end for the third and final school of the game, “one of the longest ever on the field.”  In a return game at Pittsburgh in late November, Lawson’s runs of twenty and thirty yards featured in a scoreless tie.

Ross and Newell Fiscus, Lawson’s brothers, also attended Indiana Normal and played for Greensburg during that time.  Ross, a halfback, in 1897 he became playing coach at Geneva College.  He also attended W&J, and later was a supervisor for a Pittsburgh industrial firm.  Newell, a tackle, became a Presbyterian minister and moved to Seattle, Washington.

Lawson continued to teach school, moving to the “coal patch” community of Madison in Westmoreland County where he also got into merchandising as the operator of a company store.  In 1900, he married Ada Shumaker of Madison, where he established a reputation as a stern and effective disciplinarian in a tough mining town, undoubtedly helped by his football reputation.  From there, Lawson moved to the developing railroad own nearby at Youngwood, where he operated stores (one of which burned down in 1914), and from 1928 until 1945 served as that community’s highly respected police chief.

Lawson Fiscus died in 1949 in his eighty-third year, remembered by old timers as a rough and tumble football player who did not retreat when action in the scrimmages became roughest.  He knew little of the national recognition that was to come his way for his pioneering football achievements, and did not actively seek the glory that he had earned.

John Kinport Brallier, who did receive considerable national recognition during his lifetime, was born at Cherry Tree, December 27, 1876, the son of Dr. Emanuel Brallier, a physician, and his wife, Lucy M. Kinport Brallier.  John’s paternal grandparents were from Alsace-Lorraine in Europe, accounting for the French-sounding name.  The Kinports were prominent in Cherry Tree life, operating some stores in addition to other activity.

John’s father, Dr. Emanuel, was a native of Belsano in northern Cambria County.  He taught school at Cherry Tree, then enlisted in the Army and fought throughout the Civil War, including being present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered.  He received his medical degree in March 1868, and began practice at Cherry Tree.  Dr. Brallier served as president of the Indiana County Medical Society in 1879, as a director of the Cherry Tree Male and Female College, secretary of the public school board, and organizer of the Cherry Tree Scientific Lecture Club.

As a boy, John, one of six children, worked at one time in a glass factory.  His first recollection of football was in 1890, at the age of thirteen, when he played for the West Indian Public School team.  In 1892, as a sophomore, he was captain and right halfback on that team, whose other members were ends “Keno” Moorhead and “Crocky” Lockard, tackles “Cinderella” Hammers and “Mercy” Wiggins, guards Bill Griffith and Thad Bash, center Chris Repine, backs Bert McCluskey, Bill Sweeny, and “Howdy” Balentine; and subs Ed Mack, Frank Wood, and Bert Russell.

The year of 1893 saw the youthful athlete, while still attending the public high school, also matriculating at Indiana Normal – “so I could play on the team,” he explained.  That team, John Brallier later pointed out, “was a good rugged team with an inspiring captain in Feit, but worked under a big handicap, faculty objections that the game was too rough and should be abolished.”

Brallier quarterbacked that squad, which won three of four games.  His teammates were ends Dinsmore and Keim, tackles Story and Gourley, guards Stewart and Keener, center Feit, backs McCartney, Reed, and Samson; other squad members Pounds, Hill, Johnson, and Carson, and manager Gordon.  Left guard Alex Stewart was the father of movie star Jimmy Stewart.

For 1894, the Indiana faculty decided to emphasize football more, bought new uniforms, and arranged a better and tougher schedule of colleges and teams of former college players.  Coaches and faculty members also played on the team.  Coach Campbell, formerly of Harvard, was a guard.  Professor Wright, the other guard, had played at Haverford.  Professor Carter was a tackle.  In addition to Brallier, holdovers in 1894 included Feit, Samson, Reed, Keener, and Gourley.  Other squad members were ends Settlemeyer and captain Scott, tackle Barnhart, halfbacks Leitzell and Noble, and Matthews.

The fourth game that year was a 28-0 loss to Washington & Jefferson College, but Brallier was outstanding.  E. Gard Edwards, the W&J coach, wrote to John: “Your work at quarter in the W&J-Indiana game was very much commended by the onlookers.  We want such a man next year, and if you have any idea of going to college, even for a short time, it will be in your interest to let me know at once, so I can go to Indiana to see you.”

After further correspondence during the 1894-95 winter, Brallier agreed to go to W&J “if all expenses are paid for the entire year.”  The young football star graduated from Indiana Public High that spring and was awaiting the start of college when something happened thirty miles away at Latrobe that was to have an effect on the rest of his life.

Prior to 1895, Latrobe’s only football was pickup teams of boys home from school or former college players in the area.  That year, Latrobe YMCA decided to organize a team and play a formal schedule.  Several days before the first scheduled game, quarterback Eddie Blair, a University of Pennsylvania student when also played baseball for Greensburg, discovered that a prior baseball commitment prohibited his participation.

Latrobe manager Dave Berry had heard of Indiana Normal quarterback John Brallier.  He contacted the nearly nineteen-year-old youth at his Indiana home and offered him expenses to play for Latrobe.  John was not particularly anxious to get involved, anticipating his entrance into W&J shortly.  Finally, Berry offered ten dollars a game plus expenses for that and other games, tempting to a lad of his age.  Although the family was in satisfactory circumstances, John’s father had died in 1889, and he was conscious of his widowed mother’s task with five children.

The young quarterback arrived in Latrobe the night before the game and practiced with he team under a street light.  He later said that on his arrival in that community, “It was a thrill seeing my first paved street.”

Latrobe won that famous game played Tuesday afternoon, September 3, by a 12-0 score over Jeannette.  Brallier played well and kicked both goals after touchdown.  He played against Altoona, September 14, despite the apprehension of the W&J team manager who three days earlier wired him, “When are you coming. Want you at once – badly. Wire.”

John promptly won the W&J varsity quarterback position, and first played for the Prexies in a 32-0 triumph over Denison University, September 28.  A newspaper account stated that “Brallier, the little quarterback, is already a prime favorite.  Besides handling the ball well, he is a ‘squirmer’ of no mean merit, and keeps in the push all the time, making excellent tackles.”  Another newspaper said that “W&J have a little wonder in quarterback Brallier.”  John kicked three goals after touchdown, also, and was awarded a fine rocking chair by a Washington furniture store as the game’s best all-around player.  The ’95 W&J team won six, tied Penn State, and lost only to Pittsburgh Athletic Club.  After the season, John returned to Latrobe to play in a second game against Greensburg AA.

Before the 1896 season rolled around, John Brallier had nine different offers from schools, colleges, and athletic clubs, to play football.  Both W&J and Latrobe wanted him to return.  His services were also sought by West Virginia University, Grove City College, Kiskiminetas School, Indiana Normal, Johnstown AC, Allegheny AA, and Pittsburgh AC.

He accepted the West Virginia offer, wanting to continue his education and “the inducements were better than other schools could offer.”  Later, he wrote that “unfortunately, the football management got into financial difficulties and could not take care of their men as promised.”  Brallier and two others left after four games, one with Geneva and three with Lafayette, had been played.  He had captained the team, coached by Princeton All-American “Doggie” Trenehard.

The series with Eastern power Lafayette was unusual since three games were played on successive days at Fairmont, Parkersburg, and Wheeling.  Lafayette won all three, after which Brallier accepted a Latrobe offer to become quarterback and coach.  With him, the Westmoreland County team won a big victory over Western University of Pennsylvania (Pitt) and recorded 38-0 and 29-0 conquests of Indiana Normal.

John Brallier entered the U.S. Army, May 11, 1898, but had the good fortune to be stationed in the local area during football season.  He signed a contract with Latrobe for $150 and expenses for the season.  After three games, he joined the Pittsburgh AC team in mid-October for an increase in salary.  When that team’s season was over, he returned to Latrobe for a final game with Greensburg.

In the fall of 1899, John received a “flattering offer from the University of Pennsylvania to play quarterback.”  After briefly helping to coach Indiana Normal, he set out for eastern Pennsylvania.  But “on arriving in Philadelphia, they decided I had played so much professional ball that their amateur standing would be at stake.  Penn was trying hard to get Harvard on their schedule, and Harvard had refused on the grounds that some of Pennsylvania’s players were not of amateur standing.

He toured that city’s dental schools and decided to attend Medico-Chirurgical College, from which his older brother was graduated the year before. (Ironically, it later became part of the University of Pennsylvania.) Although John had planned to give up football for studies, pressure from the football coach and squad members changed that.  Brallier served as captain and quarterback of the school’s undefeated 1899 team, which wound up with a win over rival Jefferson Medical College when “a grand run of 90 yards by Captain Brallier just three minutes before time was up saved the day for Medico-Chi,” according to a news account.

Prior to the 1900 season, John had “a very flattering offer from the University of Maryland to take up the coaching position.”  He refused it, stating, “I was well situated and did not want to make any more changes as it interfered with my school work too much.”  At this point in life, he was almost twenty-four years old.  He captained another undefeated team at Medico-Chi in that fall’s regular schedule, and in 1901, his final year at Medico-Chi, the team he captained for the third year in a row lost only one game.  In addition to being a football star, and receiving much notice in the Philadelphia newspapers, he also played on the school’s basketball team.

With his dental diploma in hand, he turned down pro football offers for the fall of 1902 from Franklin and Oil City in northwestern Pennsylvania, and declined an offer to become an assistant to a prominent London (England) dentist.  Instead he opened his office at Latrobe, and rejoined the local team as a player-coach.  Among the games that fall were a scoreless tie with Indiana Normal and a 22-0 triumph over the Indiana First Regiment team, on which John’s brother played right tackle.  That deadlock with Latrobe was the only game the Normal eleven did not win that season of ten played.

In 1904, Dr. John Brallier married an Indiana girl, Bess Garnette Moorhead.  He retired as a player in 1907, but continued to coach local teams.  He also served twenty years as a school director, from which he retired in 1931.

After World War II, when Latrobe and Canton were among the communities competing for the planned Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dr. Brallier was given lifetime pass No. 1 for National Football Hall of Fame, Dr. Brallier was given lifetime pass No. 1 for National Football League games in recognition of his early pro status.

After retiring from dental practice, he spent part of his time in Canada and Florida.  When he died, September 17, 1960, in his eighty-fourth year, he left behind a fame for his early pro football exploits that is remembered today.

Both Lawson Fiscus and Dr. John Brallier have been inducted into the Westmoreland County Sports Hall of Fame, but their real origins were in Indiana County.

The Cookport Fair

When the school directors of Green Township in Indiana County hired Donald Patterson to be supervising principal they could not have foreseen that this energetic schoolman would establish a simple school fair which would grow into the Cookport Fair and during the next hundred years become one of the outstanding fairs in Western Pennsylvania.

Patterson’s idea of a school fair found favor with the teachers and pupils of the scattered and mainly one-room schools in his district, and on October 20, 1917, the first fair was held at centrally located Cookport.  The initial fair must have been greeted enthusiastically.  When the one-room school became too crowded with the produce from local gardens and the handiwork of pupils, the old blacksmith shop across the street was used to house the overflow.  Farm families frequently used gaily decorated wagons to transport their children to the scene.  The first fair awarded prizes for the best float, posters, and produce.  J.C. Leasure of the First National Bank of Cherry Tree procured the money for premiums.

After the success of the initial fair, plans for a second fair were quickly set.  It was to be held at Cookport on October 5, 1918.  Added to the list of features for the second fair were a stock judging contest to be conducted by County Agent John W. Warner and athletic contests under the direction of Patterson.  The exhibitors brought their displays to the Cookport schoolhouse the day before the fair, but it went no further.  An outbreak of infantile paralysis, as polio was then commonly called, forced the cancellation of the remainder of the program.

This setback did not deter the fair organizers. They quickly planned and then executed a successful fair in 1919.  The printed premium list for the Green Township Agricultural Fair, as the fair had come to be officially titled, called for it to be held at Cookport on September 20.  No premiums were to be awarded to anyone except the school children of Green Township, suggesting perhaps that the fair had already drawn attention beyond township boundaries.  No entrance fee was to be charged for exhibitors.  Ribbons were to be awarded for stock judging and athletic events while there were banners for the best float, wall display, and the school winning the largest number of premiums.  Other prizes were paid in cash in the amounts of $1.50, $1.00, and $.50. Bird houses made in that year, vegetables, fruit, needlework, baked goods, cut flowers, poultry, and rabbits qualified for the cash prizes.

The 1919 fair was not held in the school but in the Cookport Community Building, and that fact merits consideration.  In 1913 John W. Henry had built a large hall in the community to serve as a skating rink.  The site was opposite the former hotel of “Uncle” Ben Williams, founder and editor of a local newspaper, The Port Monitor.  A grist mill and a barn had to be dismantled to make way for the new entertainment establishment.  Henry, a versatile and enterprising man, also owned a sawmill and a tract of timber in the area, and he cut much of the lumber used in building the hall.  He did, however, purchase special, thick, narrow, hardwood flooring to withstand the roller skating.  When enthusiasm for roller skating lessened, Henry converted the building to a garage and sold Oldsmobile and Reo cars.  On December 26, 1917, he sold the building to William “Billy” Meekins.  The hall remained in Meekins’ hands less than two years.

During 1917 a number of local citizens conceived of the idea of purchasing the hall as a community center.  They formed the Green Township Community Association and on July 27, 1918, presented a petition for incorporation to Justice of the Peace John T. Kinnan.  The certificate was filed with the Prothonotary, advertised in both the Indiana Progress and the Indiana Messenger, reviewed, and the charter granted by the Honorable J.N. Langham, President Judge of Indiana County.  It was recorded in the Charter Book, volume D, page 272, on September 17, 1918, by J. Clair Longwill.

According to the charter, the purpose of the corporation was “to promote and enjoy educational, political, agricultural, and benevolent activities and for the pleasure and benefits of social enjoyments, amusements, and recreations except dancing and skating; and to this end to purchase and hold necesary lands in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to erect thereon suitable buildings and enclosures.”  The prohibition of dancing and skating as recreational activities suggests that some of the citizens had not warmly accepted Henry’s original use of the building and that one idea behind the charter might have been to prevent the building from returning to its original role, or even worse, being converted to a dance hall.

The new corporation issued capital stock in the amount of $2500 which was divided into 100 shares with par value of $25.  There were forty-seven shareholders at the time of incorporation.  All were men except Miss Lottie Brown and Mrs. T.H. Boucher, who, as President of the Cookport Lutheran Church Ladies Aid, represented that group’s share.  Ford B. Decker, President of the Patriotic Order Sons of America, represented that organization’s share.  The executive committee for the first year consisted of C.A. Haskins, Ford D. Decker, A.P. Stephens, F.J. Fleming, O.J. Cartwright, and G.T. Learn, all of whom lived in the Love Joy Rural Delivery Area.  C.A. Haskins served as President, H.R. Spicher was Vice President, F.B. Decker, Secretary and W.H. Buterbaugh, Treasurer.

The fair held Saturday, October 2, 1920, marked the beginning of sponsorship by the Green Township Community Association.  Premiums were for school children only, but any resident of the township was permitted to exhibit articles for show or for sale.  The fourth annual fair was extended to three days and began on September 22, 1921.  Now there were two separate lists of premiums; one for school children and a second for any resident of the township, providing they paid an entrance fee equal to ten percent of the first premium.  Horses and mules, dairy cattle, swine, sheep, poultry, and grain were included in the official list for the second category.  An enlarged float competition also testified to the growth of the fair; five classes now competed for banners: agricultural, floral, industrial, educational, and fantastical.  The school having the largest number of premiums and the best wall display also received a banner.

The old battery light plant which had illuminated the hall for roller skating was replaced in 1922 by a more efficient system which cost $800.  Thus, it was possible in 1923 to keep the fair open in the evening from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. in addition to the daylight hours.  In 1924 the fair extended the privilege of exhibiting to citizens and the adjoining townships of Pine, Cherryhill, Rayne, Grant, and Montgomery, but retained the restriction of permitting school children from only Green Township to exhibit.  A fair premium book financed by advertisers was initiated in 1925.  By this time a pattern had been fairly well established.  Schools of Green Township were closed on Friday of the fair and pupils were admitted free.  Saturday had become a day of reunion as former residents came back to join the crowds of local enthusiasts.

Beyond the happy crowds and excited school children who attended the fair, the sponsors had to deal with the reality of money.  It was not always easy.  Over the years there were financial problems.  At times the Association had to borrow from banks and from members of the Board of Directors.  Fair records report that on February 6, 1922, $200 was paid to the Indiana Red Cross, “this money having been held in trust by the Community Association.”  The records do not give us a complete story, but it is possible that this represented money which the Cookport Red Cross Auxiliary of World War I may have loaned to the fair to help meet its early needs.  Fair income came from the sale of stock, hall rental, gate receipts, commissions from entertainers, and exhibitors’ fees.  In 1923 the fair secured its first state appropriation, $251.  In 1927 fair records show a state appropriation of $723 for two years.  In 1937 fair premiums amounted to $807.50, but the state appropriation was only $575.98.  The Directors must have established a policy of paying out almost every penny they took in; in 1941 the balance in the treasury at the beginning of the year was only $4.38.  The weather also added to the job of keeping the fair financially afloat.  In 1950 extremely bad weather during the four days of the fair made it necessary to borrow to pay the premiums and the bills.  Beginning in 1927 the County Commissioners appropriated $250 annually, and in 1976 they doubled that figure.  In 1964 the fair received a state appropriation of $403.94, and harness racing funds from the state brought in another $2,000.

The fair continued to grow throughout the years.  It attained Class B status in 1974 which entitled the Association to a state appropriation of $10,000 plus one-half the cost of the premiums.  By 1976 they had grown to $11,203.35, a significant increase because of the expanding number of categories, a larger number of entries, and the increasing value of the premiums.  The value of the premiums and the increase in fair acreage has enabled the fair to receive a Class A rating.

Over its history, the fair has engaged in numerous real estate transactions and has acquired several properties.  On April 17, 1919, the Green Township Association purchased its first property, the former roller rink, from William H. Meekins and his wife for $1,510.  Two lots comprising of 1.1 and 1.62 acres respectively, were purchased from Mrs. Sarah M. Henry on November 5, 1920, for $412.50.  As the fair continued to grow, more land was needed for rides, contests, and parking.  The fair bought a parcel of land from Alva E. and Dora L. Learn on October 2, 1940, for $600.  Delbert and Ruth Montgomery sold the Association a right of way for $75 on September 20, 1960.  Nine hundred dollars was paid to Iva Pickup on July 12, 1967, for a portion of her land.  On September 17, 1967, the Association made a major purchase from Ella Henry.  It paid $7,500 to her for 2.75 acres and buildings.  Later, John McCracken bought from the fair 1.18 acres of this land including the buildings.  With the encouragement of George and Katherine Baker the fair bought at auction on July 14, 1975, the 68.036- and 103.99-acre farms on the Blair Hartman estate for $75,000.  Portions of this tract have been sold for residential and agricultural purposes only to George and Katherine Baker, Franklin P. and Catherine Woods, and Clyde and Helen Ober.  On June 30, 1976, the Association purchased property from Weldon and Helen McCoy for $300. This purchase established State Highway 240 as a boundary line for fair property.  The Association now owns approximately eighty-two acres, and with the sales of land and aid of state matching funds for improvements, the debt incurred with the purchase of the Hartman farm has been reduced to $1437.50.

The Association also erected additional buildings to meet the needs of a growing fair.  Early in the fair’s history, a cookhouse was erected so organizations could serve meals or snacks.  About the same time a poultry shed was also constructed.  The purchase of a second-hand merry-go-round in the early days of the fair prompted the construction of a building known as the Round House.  However, this delightful machine was considered unsafe all too soon and was sold at auction in 1923.  The building was then used for exhibits until 1966 when it too was condemned, sold, and dismantled.  A less charming but more utilitarian rectangular exhibit hall was built the same year and an addition was made in 1975.  A large stock barn, planned in 1945, was finally erected in the early sixties. In addition, the fair gains rents from the Hartman Farmhouse.

Entertainment at the fair has varied from local talent to nationally known performers.  The Cookport Band, quality organization under the leadership of Hoyt Keating, was paid $150 to play at the fair in 1922.  The Sheepskin Band with Clyde Lloyd, fifer, appeared for many years.  The Purchase Line, Penns Manor, Marion Center, and Harmony Joint high school bands have been engaged, as have the Penn Run Kitchen Band and the Keen Age Fun Band.  The Jaffa Temple String Band was present in 1971. Galbreath Brothers, Grove City Plaidettes, Prairie Playboys, Dutch Campbell, Doc Williams, Ed Schaughnessy, Slim Bryant, Sweet Adelines, Bob Frick, Ken and Candy Snyder, and many others have displayed their talents at one time or another.  The Dairy Princess and Queen Evergreen have added a touch of royalty.

In 1924 the fair engaged the Corey Carnival, and later either the Smith or Merle Beam carnivals regularly supplied concessions and rides.  In 1955 local groups were solicited for concessions, and the Gabrick Engineering Company of Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, furnished rides.  Horseshoe pitching contests, pet parades, log sawing contests, and horse and tractor pulls also add to the entertainment.

The growth of the fair has been evident in various ways.  In 1947 the Cambria County townships of Barr and Susquehanna were invited to become exhibitors.  In 1949 all of the residents of Indiana County were invited to exhibit.  Pupils of elementary and secondary schools in these areas could also exhibit.  The Future Farmers of America, Grange, 4-H, and elementary grade displays have added much to fair interest.  As the production of Christmas trees emerged as a major industry in the county, the fair added competition for tree growers, and ten varieties of evergreens are listed for premiums.

Since at least 1958, and perhaps earlier, a popular feature has been the awarding of gate prizes contributed by area merchants.  In 1949, a five-day fair was instituted, and in 1971, a Sunday evening worship service was instituted to open the week of events.  The week following the Labor Day week has been set for the annual celebration. By-laws were amended to increase the nine-member board of directors to thirteen in 1971.

Over the years many dedicated men and women have unselfishly promoted the interests of the Association.  Ira Reithmiller ably served as President from 1927 to 1953.  O.W. Baker was Treasurer from 1937 to 1948 and Vice-President from 1928 to 1934.  T.D. Hooley was Treasurer from 1950 to 1967.  Lewis Henry retired in 1975 as janitor and caretaker and was named an honorary director.  Mrs. Henry’s assistance was also recognized.  They had served from 1922 through 1925 and again from 1937 until retirement, a total of forty-two years. In 1975 a monument was erected on the site of the Round House with the inscription “In Memory and Honor of All Who Contributed Time and Effort to the Success of the Cookport Fair.”

None of the charter members of the Association are still living, but if we were to pose the question as to whether or not their objectives are still being fulfilled, the answer would certainly be yes.

The Story Behind Buena Vista Furnace – Part II

Financial Troubles and Closing the Furnace

The following Sheriff’s Deed dated March 30, 1850 confirms the above statement that the furnace had “ill success.”

Gawin Sutton High Sheriff of Indiana county comes into court and acknowledges his Deed to Alexander Johnston for all the right title…(etc.) of H.T. M’Lelland, E.B. M’Lelland and Stephen A. Johnston of in and to the following described real estate…containing 100 acres more or less, one half of which is improved, having thereon erected a furnace called Buena Vista, a saw mill and two dwelling houses situated partly in Brushvalley and partly in Wheatfield township…bounded on the south by Blacklick creek and by lands of William Murphy, ———- Evans, Robert McCormick and Adam Altimus: Also one other tract of land containing 232 acres, more or less, having thereon erected three dwelling houses bounded on the east by lands of said M’Lellands and Johnston, on the west by Robert McCormick, and on the south by lands of James Campbell, situate in Brushvalley township…Also one other tract of land containing 300 acres, more or less, having thereon erected seven small frame and log dwelling houses, called furnace houses, bounded on the north by Blacklick creek, on the south by lands of James Campbell, situate in Wheatfield township…Also one other tract of land being parts of two larger tracts of land being parts of two larger tracts of land containing 100 acres, more or less, having thereon erected three small dwelling houses and two log barns, about 60 acres of which are improved, bounded on the south by Blacklick creek, on the east and south by lands of Joseph and Thomas Dias, on the north by lands of said M’Lellands and Johnston Situate in the township of Brushvalley in said county. Also one other tract of land situate in Brushvalley township, containing ninety acres, more or less, bounded on the east by lands of said M’Lellands and Johnston, on the south by lands of Christy Campbell, on the west by Brush creek and on the north by lands of Barnum.  Sold as the property of H.T. M’Lelland, E.B. M’Lelland and Stephen A. Johnston for the sum of $580.50.

The total acreage conveyed by Sheriff’s Deed amounted to 822 acres.  The saw mill mentioned in the Deed is probably the one on David Peelor’s 1856 map which may have been the source of the water to power the water wheel.  The two dwelling houses mentioned in the Deed and also shown on Peelor’s map were likely the Furnace Store and Boarding House referred to in the Day Books.  The “seven small frame and log dwelling houses, called furnace houses” are shown on Peelor’s map on the south bank of Black Lick Creek opposite the furnace, although Peelor indicates only four houses at this location.  Perhaps, in the six-year interval between 1850-58, three houses were dismantled or burned.

Dr. Alexander Johnston, father of Stephen A. Johnston, who thus became owner of Buena Vista Furnace and surrounding area, was born February 21, 1790 in Huntingdon County, a son of Rev. John Johnston, Presbyterian clergyman and Revolutionary War veteran.  Dr. Johnston was educated at Pennsylvania Medical College in Philadelphia and settled at Hollidaysburg where he practiced medicine.  Some time in the 1840s he came to Armagh but practiced very little in Indiana County.  A great-great-grandson, Zan Johnston of Armagh, has the doctor’s saddle bags.

It appears, if Samuel A. Douglass clerked at Buena Vista in 1851-52, that Dr. Johnston may have continued to operate the furnace for time but, finding it unprofitable, gave it up.  His son, Stephen A. Johnston, one of the three unfortunate partners, moved to a farm in Butler County “about 1852 at the closing of the old Buena Vista furnaces,” according to an obituary notice.  He returned to Armagh later and entered the mercantile business in partnership with his father-in-law, Alexander Elliott, whose daughter, Elizabeth Elliott, he had married on February 1, 1848.

Was Elias Baker leasing the Furnace?

This is an interesting bit of speculation which has to be posed as a question because of the lack of a definitive answer.  There are several bits of circumstantial evidence which suggest that Elias Baker, a noted ironmaster of Blair County whose home in Altoona is now owned by the Blair County Historical Society, was somehow concerned in the operations at Buena Vista Furnace following the failure of the McClelland-Johnston partners.

We have already noted that three Buena Vista Furnace Day Books, or store journals, are with Baker’s other extensive business records at the Baker Mansion.  This, in itself, lends some weight to the supposition that Baker may have been leasing the furnace.  We know that Baker never owned Buena Vista Furnace, but he did own the Baker Furnace, also known as the “Indiana Iron Works” located only a few miles away at Cramer, PA.  it has also been mentioned that one of the three unfortunate partners, Elias B. McClelland, was afterward employed at Baker’s Indiana Iron Works, possibly as a founder, until as late as 1859.

After the death of Dr. Johnston, an Inventory and Appraisement of his estate revealed that he was a man of considerable substance and the largest item of his estate was a $50,000 bond of the firm “Lloyd, Baker, McCauley & Lloyd.” A published “List of Dealers in Merchandize” in 1863 shows that “Indiana Furnace – Lloyd & Co.” was assessed a $7.00 mercantile license fee.  Here we have evidence that Dr. Johnston had a heavy investment in Baker’s iron enterprises.

It would appear likely that, after acquiring ownership of Buena Vista Furnace and the surrounding tract of 822 acres, Dr. Johnston would seek for experienced persons to operate it, and that he would turn to the firm of Lloyd, Baker, McCauley & Lloyd in which he had such a large financial interest.

Why Buena Vista Failed

It seems there were three principal reasons for the failure of Buena Vista Furnace: (1) The seemingly poor supply of iron ore at Buena Vista, and the need to waggon ore at Buena Vista, and the need to waggon ore supplies from the Dilltown area or perhaps float it downstream in scows and flatboats during season of high water. (2) The location of the Pennsylvania Railrood main line in the Conemaugh Valley instead of the valley of Black Lick Creek.  (3) The use of improved methods in iron making, was rapidly outmoding the methods used at Buena Vista. (4) The decline in the price of iron.  In 1849 the average price of a gross ton of the best charcoal pig iron sank to the lowest it had ever been – $24.50 for number one foundry iron, as compared with $53.75 in 1815.

Dr. Alexander Johnston and Stephen Alexander Johnston

Dr. Alexander Johnston was born February 21, 1790 in Huntingdon County, a son of Rev. John Johnston, Presbyterian clergyman and Revolutionary War veteran.  He was educated at Pennsylvania Medical College in Philadelphia and afterward settled in Hollidaysburg, PA where he practiced medicine.  Some time in the 1840s Dr. Johnston came to Armagh, but it is believed he practiced medicine very little here.  He and his wife, Elizabeth Lowry, had five children: John Lowry, Stephen Alexander, Mary, George, and James.

Dr. Johnston died at his home in Armagh on December 15, 1874.  By comparison with present standards, it is interesting to note that the total expenses of Dr. Johnston’s funeral were $79.00.  he is buried in Hollidaysburg.  His Will provided that his entire estate be divided between his three surviving children: John, Stephen, and Jane.  The Inventory and Appraisement of his estate showed he had a tiny fortune amounting to $105,643.19 in bonds and judgment notes, plus the house in Armagh valued at $1,000 and 656.5 acres, including Buena Vista Furnace, valued at $10 per acre or $6,565.

A map of these lands was made in 1875 by Thompson McCrea for a fee of $25, and at this time the Court found that Dr. Johnston’s lands “cannot be parted and divided to and amongst the heirs…without injury to or prejudice to or spoiling the whole thereof.”  On December 158, 1875 the Court awarded both the house in Armagh and the 656.5 acres along Black Lick Creek to Stephen A. Johnston, recognizing his claim “that the shares of the other heirs in the said real estate were paid to them in the division of the personal estate” of Dr. Johnston.

Stephen Alexander Johnston, second son of Dr. Johnston, and one of the three partners who had been sold out by the Sheriff in 1850, thus came into complete possession 25 years later.  Born June 30, 1820, he had married Elizabeth Elliott February 1, 1848 during the period when he and the McClellands were getting Buena Vista Furnace in operation.  After the partners were sold out, he went to Butler County where he had a farm.  Then about 1855 he returned to Armagh and went into the mercantile business with his father-in-law, Alexander Elliott.

On February 17, 1900 Stephen A. Johnston and wife sold the Buena Vista tract of 681 acres, 63 perches, to Judge A.V. Barker of Ebensburg for $20,000.

Stephen A. Johnston died October 23, 1904, aged 84 years.  He was the principal stock holder and the last living charter member of the Farmers Bank of Indiana, organized in 1876.

The Delano Coal Company

Judge Barker was apparently acting for the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company in the purchase of the Buena Vista tract.  A 1901 news item noted that “The Lackawanna Steel Company itself, through Judge Barker, has bought over 20,000 acres of coal land in Indiana and Cambria counties during the past year.  Warren Delano and Moses Taylor, of New York, and Henry Wehrum, of Elmhurst, Lackawanna County, are the principal moving spirits in these latest developments.”  The mines and lands in and around Vintondale, Cambria County, were also purchased by the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co.  Later the Delano Coal Company was organized as a subsidiary of Lackawanna Iron & Steel and title to the Buena Vista tract vested in it.  Barker transferred title to numerous tracts in Indiana County on July 28, 1902, including a parcel designated as no. 1 conveyed to Barker from Stephen A. Johnston.  The sale to the Lackawanna Coal & Coke Co. netted Barker $141,717.

Warren Delano III was the uncle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He lived at his estate, “Steen Valetje,” at Rhinebeck-on-Hudson in the summer and in winter at a house at the corner of Park Avenue and 36th Street, New York City.

There is a source that confirms in May 1920 Warren Delano III took his sisters, his children, his nephews and nieces to see his mines in Cambria County.  It is possible that Franklin Roosevelt accompanied his uncle, but it is not known for sure.  This presents another interesting speculation.  Could it be that Franklin Roosevelt might have visited Buena Vista Furnace?

Earl E. Hewitt Sr. recalled in an interview with the author that Warren Delano often came to the Vintondale vicinity where he had some horses stabled.  He usually stayed at a hotel in Johnstown.

Mr. Delano had been educated at a military school in Brattleboro, Vermont, and graduated from Harvard University, Class of 1874.  A lover of horses, he met a tragic death on September 9, 1920 when a spirited horse he was driving in a surrey to meet a group of friends at the railroad station in Barrytown, New York, bolted into the path of the locomotive.  By a strange coincidence, Franklin D. Roosevelt that very same afternoon was officially notified at his mother’s Hyde Park estate that he had received the Democratic nomination for Vice president of the United States.

C.M. Schwerin succeeded to the presidency of the Delano Coal Co. after Mr. Delano’s death.  Financial troubles beset the company during the Depression.  In 1940 Mr. Schwerin announced that the mines at Vintondale would not reopen, but the company was later reorganized and the mines reopened.

Buena Vista Furnace Park Association

During the period of the Depression a group of civic-minded persons conceived the idea of leasing or purchasing the site of Buena Vista Furnace in order to preserve the furnace as a historical landmark, and to create a public park.  Various meetings in 1930 resulted in the election of Assemblyman Charles R. Griffith of Marion Center as president of the Association; A.A. Cresswell, Johnstown, vice president; Mrs. G.M. Dias, Johnstown, secretary; and Royden Taylor, Indiana, treasurer.  The following Board of Trustees were named: Miss Florence M. Dibert, Attorney John H. Stephens, Attorney Harry Doerr, M.D. Bearer, and John H. Waters, all of Johnstown.  Charles M. Schwab, Loretto.  Assemblyman Elder Peelor, Indiana.  Earl E. Hewitt, Indiana.  M.C. Stewart, Brush Valley.  Postmaster Harry H. Wilson, Blairsville. John c. Thomas, Homer City. R.M. Mullen, Windber. State Senator Charles H. Ealy, Somerset. Rev. C.A. Waltman, Marion Center.

It was planned to later elect two additional trustees each from Clearfield, Jefferson, Armstrong, and Westmoreland Counties.  Five additional vice presidents were also to be chosen.

At first Mr. Griffith was authorized to enter into negotiations for a lease on the land, but when application for incorporation was made before Judge J.N. Langham on January 5, 1931 the stated object of the “Buena Vista Furnace Park Association” corporation was

The purchasing, holding and rehabilitating of the old Buena Vista Furnace and maintaining the same for historical and educational purposes, and as a public park; and to this end to purchase and hold necessary lands…and erect suitable buildings and improvements thereon.

The persons making application for the charter on behalf of the Association were Elder Peelor, C.R. Griffith, Thomas Pealer, A.A. Creswell, Mrs. G.M. Dias, Royden Taylor, and E.E. Hewitt.

The estimated cost of the project was about $3,000 and it was planned to appeal to the public for funds.  An effort was also to be made through Assemblymen Griffith and Elder Peelor to obtain State financial aid.

According to Mr. Hewitt, Henry Ford had made an effort at one time to secure Buena Vista Furnace for his Greenfield Village project.  The proximity of the furnace to the railroad would have facilitated dismantling and loading on railroad cars.  Perhaps it was Henry Ford’s interest in the furnace which sparked the movement to acquire the furnace and keep it in the local area.

Mr. Hewitt tells us the Association was unable to acquire Buena Vista Furnace in spite of very commendable efforts, because of litigation involving the Delano Coal Company which at that time precluded obtaining a clear title.  Probably another factor was that in 1930-31 the Depression had gripped the entire nation and economic conditions would have made the job of raising funds almost impossible.

Gift to the Historical Society

Eventually economic conditions improved and the tangled affairs of the Delano Coal co. were straightened out.  Mr. Hewitt was later elected to the General Assembly himself, and continued to take an interest in the Buena Vista Furnace park project.  To Mr. Hewitt belongs a great deal of the credit for negotiating with the officials of the Delano Coal Co. the transfer and gift of a 5.16-acre tract, including the furnace, to the Historical Society.

The deed was prepared November 1, 1957 and states that the Delano Coal Co. organized under the laws of the state of New York, and having its principal place of business at Great Neck, Long Island, New York, has authorized Francis T. Schwerin, Vice President of the company, to execute, acknowledge, and deliver the deed.  Gas, oil, coal, and mining rights were excepted and reserved.  On November 5 Mr. Schwerin appeared in person before Mr. Sylvia P. Hagney, notary Public of Indiana, PA to formally concluded the transaction.  The Deed was recored the next day November 6.

The Story Behind Buena Vista Furnace – Part I


On February 22 and 23, 1847, United States troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor defeated a much larger Mexican force at a hard-fought battle three miles north of the hacienda of Buena Vista (Fair View).  Excitement over this event resulted in the naming of Buena Vista Furnace.  Exactly when construction of the furnace began, or when it was named, is not known.  The partners in the enterprise were Henry T. McClelland, Elias B. McClelland, and Stephen Alexander Johnston, who obtained a deed on April 29, 1847 to a tract of about 90 acres along Black Lick Creek for a consideration of $300 paid to William Jonas of Somerset County.  The deed describes the tract as being situated on both sides of Black Lick Creek.  Here on the north bank of the creek between Armagh and Brush Valley and within sight of the Route 56 highway bridge over the creek, Buena Vista Furnace was erected.

Almost nothing is known of the McClellands.  One source credits Henry McClelland with the construction of the furnace.  Elias B. McClelland was employed at Elias Baker’s “Indiana Iron Works” in East Wheatfield Township not long after he left Buena Vista Furnace.  His wife “Sallie” or Sarah had literary inclinations and wrote five short stories and a poem which were published in the Indiana Weekly Register during 1857-59.  A daughter, Ella, nearly three years old, died October 8, 1857.

Stephen Alexander Johnston, son of Dr. Alexander Johnston and Elizabeth (Lowry) Johnston, was born June 30, 1820 in or near Hollidaysburg, Blair County.  At age 12 he clerked in the store of John Bell at Bellwood, Pa.  He apparently came to Armagh with his father prior to 1847.

Buena Vista and the Central Railroad

It appears that one of the factors which decisively influenced the decision to build Buena Vista Furnace was the prospect that the route of the railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, which later was the Pennsylvania Railroad, would go through the valley of Black Lick Creek rather than the Conemaugh River.  As early as November 21, 1845 a meeting was held in Blairsville of persons “favorable to the construction of a continuous Rail Road from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, by way of the Juniatta and Blacklick, vallies, as surveyed by Col. Schlatter, and recommended to the Pennsylvania Legislature.”  Shares of stock in the proposed railroad were sold in Blairsville and Indiana during August 1846.  The next year the little village of Mechanicsburg – now Brush Valley – took advantage of what seemed like excellent prospects for a railroad to promote itself.  It had been laid out in September 1833 by John Taylor on behalf of Robert McCormick, who also owned some of the land adjoining Buena Vista Furnace.  Although Buena Vista Furnace had not yet been built at the time of the following advertisement dated February 3, 1847, it is possible McCormick may have had some advance knowledge of the plans of the McClellands and S.A. Johnston.  A sale of lots in Mechanicsburg, with six to nine months credit, was to be held April 1, 1847:

Mechanicsburg is situated in one of the best settlements in the county, and directly on the route intended for the CENTRAL RAILROAD – surrounded by IRON WORKS – it affords a first rate market for Country produce.

On March 1, 1848 a meeting of citizens of Indiana County favorable to the Black Lick route was held at the Court House in Indiana.  Archibald Stewart served as chairman of the meeting.  A Mr. Gallagher who had examined the proposed route through the Black Lick Valley reported that “the route of a Rail Road located by Mr. Roebling, principal assistant Engineer to Mr. Schlatter” was “very favorable for Rail Road purposes.”  The meeting named a committee to procure subscriptions to the stock of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company “contingent upon the adoption by that company of the route above referred to,” the newspaper report stated.  One of those named to this committee was Elias B. McClelland, one of the Buena Vista partners, and another was David Stewart, proprietor of Black Lick Furnace.

More Land Purchased

The partnership acquired additional land for their proposed operations.  On May 21, 1847 after the store on the original tract had begun to operate – and probably after furnace construction had begun – another tract of 100 acres in Brush Valley Township adjoining the first was purchased from Thomas Martin for $1,000.  This tract included Martin’s dwelling and other buildings.  On December 3, 1847 a third tract was acquired by purchase ($1,000) from Adam Altimus of Center Township.  It was described as “Situate on Blacklick Creek in Brushvalley Township…Part being in Wheatfield township.”  This brought the partnership’s land holdings to 421 acres.  Because of the need for large acreages of timber to furnish wood for charcoaling, it was necessary for furnace proprietors to have large tracts of woodland.

The Day Books

In the Baker Mansion, home of the Blair County Historical Society, are three Buena Vista Furnace Day Books which, when examined, turned out to be store journals.  “S.A. Johnston” is written on the inside cover of Day Book Number 1.  The first account is dated May 7, 1847 only nine days after the furnace tract was acquired.  Work on the furnace presumably began shortly afterward.  There are four entries under this date to Samuel Singer, William G. Stewart, Thomas Martin, and E.B. McClelland ($3.82 for alpaca, gingham, pants, ribbon, bottle of cologne, and Japan writing box).

On May 10, 1847 and numerous times thereafter were accounts marked “Boarding House,” indicating there was on the site a boarding house to accommodate the laborers.

A few selected entries from these Day Books will throw an occasional bit of light on activities in the furnace area.

June 28, 1847 “William Felton. Moving Exps. from Blacklick Furnace to Armagh. $2.00

July 10, 1847 “Improvements” including 5 shovels $1.00, 1 curry comb 19 cents, 3 door handles 94 cents, 10 doz. “Lights Glafs” (glass panes) $5.00, 4 doz. Screws 50 cents, 1 lb. “Rock Powder” 38 cents, ¼ lb. gun powder 13 cents, 5 “Norfolk Latches” 94 cents

July 12, 1847 “Boarding House” 27 food items $10.84, including 4 chickens 32 cents, 4 doz. Eggs 25 cents

August 2, 1847 “Smith Shop” 1 “Large Anville” $43.00, 1 “Large Vice” $19.50, 25 lb. “Cast Steel” $9.38, and other items. Total $76.33

September 22, 1847 H.T. McClelland. Cloth goods totaling $52.31

October 2, 1847 Boarding House “tomatos” 5 doz. 5 cents, 5 bu. Apples $1.25, 17 head cabbage 51 cents. “Paying Mrs. Underwood for washing $1.00.

October 16, 1847 “Amt. Paid Mrs. Duncan for Produce at different times $16.41

December 31, 1847 “Furnace” 1 “Jack Screw” $9.00, 1 tape line $3.00, 30 bu. oats $9.38, 12 bu. corn ears $2.70, 100 lbs. beef $4.00, 66 lb. pork $2.644, 50 lb. “Veil” $2.00

January 22, 1848 “Furnace” 1 keg white lead $3.50, 1 gal. flax seed oil 75 cents

February 29, 1848 “Furnace” Amt. Geo. S. Wike for Washin Bed Clothes for Board House $6.81

January 11, 1849 “William Felton. To Moveing Exp. From Black Lick furnace to McCormicks”

There are numerous entries in the Day Books in the names of H.T. McClelland, E.B. McClelland, and S.A. Johnston.  The two entries concerning moving expenses of William Felton suggest that his services were needed in connection with initial furnace construction in 1847 and perhaps again in connection with repairs or additional installations in 1849.  He was probably a skilled furnace craftsman, possibly a founder.

Since Elias Baker did not own Buena Vista Furnace, it is something of a puzzle how the Day Books happen to be with Baker’s other voluminous iron furnace and business records at the Baker Mansion.

Operation of the Furnace

The operation of all charcoal iron furnaces was similar.  To start the furnace in “blast” the interior of the stone stack was filled with charcoal and lighted at the top.  Al materials were carried to the furnace “tunnel-head” or opening over a bridge from the nearest embankment.  After several days, when the heated mass of charcoal had slowly dropped to the bottom, the stack was refilled with charcoal.  This time the white hot mass worked its way upward fanned by a steady blast of cold air provided by the blast machinery which now began to operate.

It appears that Buena Vista was among the last of the cold-blast in Western Pennsylvania.  Hot-blast furnaces using anthracite fuel had already come into use as early as 1840 and it was not long until the hot-blast method was adapted for use at some of the charcoal furnaces.

Although it is not known for certain, it is likely the blast of cold air at Buena Vista was furnished by blowing cylinders or tubs – an arrangement which might be described as two pairs of casks fitting one into the other as snugly as possible with leather gaskets and moving up and down alternately on a platform.  The cylinders were powered by a water wheel located between them and below the platform, a connecting rod running from each side of the water wheel to each cylinder.  An air box, made as airtight as possible, received the compressed air.  On two sides of Buena Vista Furnace are “tuyere arches” in which iron pipes leading from the air compression box were fitted.  Thus air under pressure was fed into the bottom of the furnace.

At Buena Vista the remains of the water raceway are clearly seen leading form the furnace and emptying into Black Lick Creek.  There is some reason for thinking the source of water was not Black Lick Creek, as most persons suppose.  For one thing the flow of water from the creek, supposing that it came to the furnace by a feeder, would not have had much force or power to turn the wheel.  Also there are no traces of a water channel leading from the creek to the furnace.  Further, David Peelor’s 1856 map of Indiana County (see page 12) shows a saw mill dam on the hill not far above the furnace.  It is a definite possibility that the water to power the wheel came from this source by means of a sluiceway.  One obvious advantages of this would be that the water flowing down hill would have greater force, particularly if an overshot wheel were used.

Returning to the operation of the furnace itself, as the second filling of charcoal was fanned to a white heat by the cold blast, alternate layers or “charges” of charcoal, iron ore, and limestone were added.  The slag formed by the chemical fusion of the limestone with the impurities in the ore floated on top and was ladled off from time to time.  The molten iron, being the heaviest element in the glowing mass, sank to the bottom of the furnace into a small reservoir known as the “crucible.”  About twice a day the molten metal was drawn out of the crucible through the hearth into a casting bed of sand.  At Buena Vista the hearth is the side of the furnace facing Black Lick Creek.  Here there was probably at one time a wooden shed or cast house.  The main stream of iron issuing from the hearth was called the “sow” and the side feeders “pigs,” therefore the product was commonly called “pig iron.”  It required about two tones of ore, one to two tons of charcoal, and a few shovelfuls of limestone to make a ton of pig iron.

The most skilled workman was the founder who regulated the furnace, made the sand molds, and cast the iron.  The keeper, or right-hand man to the founder, was responsible for the proper functioning of the blast equipment.  The filler kept the furnace filled with the necessary charges.  The gutterman had charge of the sand molds.  It is not yet known whether small finishing castings were made at Buena Vista.  It is hoped to do some archaeological digging on the site of the cast house to obtain an answer to this question.  Perhaps the only product was pig iron.

Buena Vista appears to have had a clerk also.  It has been reported that a Samuel A. Douglass was admitted to the Bar at the September 1851 term of Indiana County Court and for a year or more afterward clerked at Buena Vista Furnace.

Periods when the furnace was in blast, or “campaigns,” were of short duration, seldom exceeding eight or nine months of continuous operation due to the necessity of renewing the crucible and inner linings of firebrick called “boshes.”  At Buena Vista some of the firebricks from the inner bosh were removed by workmen at the site who drew them out through the hearth, causing more of the remaining inner bosh to collapse.

Buena Vista appears to have had a clerk also.  It has been reported that Samuel A. Douglass was admitted to the Bar at the September 1851 term of Indiana County Court and for a year or more afterward clerked at Buena Vista.

Source of Furnace Ingredients

The charcoal or charred wood used at Buena Vista was made by workers known as colliers who piled wood cut into fixed lengths in a large circular cone shape in a dry, level clearing.  In the center of the stack was a small “chimney”’ filled with chips and dry leaves which were lighted at the top.  Then the top was partly closed with turf and most of the stack, except for a few necessary air holes, tamped with loose earth or turf.  The colliers had to stay with the slowly smoldering pile night and day, watching it carefully to prevent flames.  After three to ten days the charcoal was raked into piles to cool.  It has been estimated an average furnace consumed 800 bushels of charcoal every 24 hours – the equivalent of 50 cords of wood.

At present it is not definitely ascertained where the limestone used at Buena Vista was obtained.  It may have been obtained locally or, since only a small quantity was needed in comparison to the other materials, it may have been waggoned from some farther distance.

The following comments regarding iron ore appear in the Pennsylvania Geological survey of 1880:

The section of Lower Barrens exposed along Black Lick between the Cambria County line and Dilltown embraces over four hundred feet of rocks, in which are included three small coal beds and several limestone layers.  Besides these, there is a band of carbonate iron ore, which ranges near the top of the section and which is known generally by the local name of the “Black Lick ore.”  This ore strantum was at one time extensively worked, supplying not only the Black Lick furnace with materials for smelting, but also the Buena Vista furnace below Dilltown, and even the Baker furnace on the Conemaugh…It ranges as a persistent deposit, varying from six inches to two feet in thickness; resting in shale it can be cheaply mined, and a sufficient amount of ore was easily obtained near at hand, for the supply of the small furnaces once dependent upon it for support.  The ore is rather coarse grained, of a bluish cast, and to all appearances rich in iron….

Buena Vista furnace stood on the right bank of Black Lick, about one-half mile below the month of Armagh run.  The ore supply at this place seems to have been inconstant and irregular, and the furnace was long ago abandoned on account of ill success.