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).

That Gallant Company

Many histories have chronicled the events of the Civil War, but all too often the individual fighting man has been submerged beneath a deluge of grand strategies, potbellied generals, tactical evolutions, and glorious sacrifices.  “Billy Yank” of 1861-1865 counted his Civil War service as the greatest and most memorable event of his life.  Among his myriad experiences, the most frightening and influential was the initial exposure to enemy fire.  This first blooding hardened the green, romantic recruit into a mature, professional veteran who would carry the war through to its conclusion.

Indiana County provided several companies of men for the Union war effort.  Among these was Company B of the Eleventh Regiment of the Pennsylvania Reserves Division.  Raised from throughout the County in May 1861, Company B joined the Eleventh Regiment at Camp Wright, near Pittsburgh.  Company B shared the same heritage and background of the Eleventh Regiment, which was recruited entirely from that part of Pennsylvania west of the Alleghenies.  The one hundred men and four officers of the “Indiana Guards” rapidly settled into the time-honored army routine of drilling and conditioning.  Later, at Camps Tenally and Pierpont near Washington, D.C., they spent the winter of 1861 shaking down into fighting order.

Col. Samuel M. Jackson enlisted with the Eleventh as a company commander and finally became its commanding officer.

The soldiers’ dispatches home displayed the cocky confidence of untried warriors.  In August, one wrote, “Let them come, we’ll give them a warm reception.” Lieutenant Hannibal K. Sloan reported in January, “Never been in better health or better condition. Eager to meet enemy on the open ground. All seem to enjoy camp life.”

Their letters were concerned with camp life, rather than the military regimen.  Mitch, an anonymous correspondent of the Company whose letters frequently appeared in the home town newspapers, reported on August 27 from Camp Tenally, “The health of the Indiana National Guard is good.  Our rations are generally very good.  Our rations are generally very good.  The Guards have the best cook in the Regiment.” One member, however, found the army fare too coarse for his delicate palate, and complained, “Every day it is the same.  Bread, meat, coffee, and bean soup.  If you can send us some elderberries, corn, tomatoes, or anything of that sort…a little butter when the weather gets colder, would be very pleasant.”

Col. Thomas Gallagher of the Eleventh was captured at Gaine’s Mill.

Toward the end of their stay, Mitch summed up what he called the “Monastery of Camp Life;” “we have had a very pleasant time in Camp Pierpont, having enjoyed ourselves as well as could be expected of men in our condition.  Of late we have originated debating clubs, which, by the way, is a variety.”

With warm weather came the opening of a new campaign season, and Union Commander George B. McClellan opened his Peninsula Campaign aimed at Richmond and the vitals of the Confederacy.  Company B waited impatiently, fuming at having “To remain behind while other corps are welding their power to the destruction of the rebellion…the men are eager to participate in coming struggle.  They are indignant at even a hint of being held in reserve.”

On June 12, the Eleventh Regiment joined the Army of the Potomac at White House, Virginia.  Assigned to the Fifth Corps, the reserves proceeded to Beaver’s Dam Creek near Mechanicsville, where they assumed their position on the extreme right of the Union Army.  Lt. Col. Samuel Jackson wrote on June 18, “Expect a general engagement this night. Our boys anxious for the fight.”  On June 26, the Confederate commander, Robert E. Lee, initiated a flanking movement designed to crush the Union right.  In fighting that lasted until dark, the Confederates repeatedly tried the Federal entrenchments.  The Eleventh Reserves guarded the Corp’s left flank.  “From our position on picket, firing soon became heavy, and the musket balls, shells, and solid shot, were flying over our heads in greater profusion than was pleasant.”  They remained without sleep for two straight nights, and that evening they covered the withdrawal to Gaines Mill.  After a seventeen-mile night march, and a brief covering skirmish that cost Company H one man, the Eleventh passed through Union lines for what proved to be a brief respite.

Fighting continued on and off June 27, and by 3:00 p.m. the action became general as Lee again resolved to crush the Federal right.  The Eleventh had just been ordered into the fighting when Company B was detached to put handles into five hundred axes urgently needed to build fortifications.  Working near a field hospital, they were subjected to the worst possible scenes that war could muster.  Sgt. John Sutor wrote, “I will not cause you to shudder by telling you of the many horrible sights we were beheld.”  Meanwhile, Lee’s men slammed brutally against the Federal lines.  With units beginning to fragment under the incredible onslaught and unable to rejoin their regiment, Company B was formed in an attempt to stem the retreat.  Suddenly engaged in “a fight that almost beggars description,” their ranks were raked by shot and shell.  With two men killed, Company B joined the Fifth Corp’s frenzied retreat to reunite with McClellan’s Army.

Shaken by these twin defeats, McClellan withdrew to a new supply base on the James River.  He did this without the Eleventh Reserves, which had been captured at Gaines Mill.  One hundred and six survivors, primarily from Company B, were organized into two companies attached to the Seventh Reserves for the remainder of the Seven Days Campaign.

Lee continued his attempts to roll up the Army of the Potomac.  At Glendale, on June 30, the Seventh Reserves, with Indiana’s Company B, were on the right rear of the Reserve’s Division battle line.  Lee’s determined men attacked about 4:00 p.m., and the gray regiments tackled the Seventh as the sun was beginning to set, providing eerie illumination for what was one of the few true bayonet fights of the war.  The Seventh Regiment began to crumble, and in the confusion and twilight, nobody really determined what happened after that.  What is known is that the men from Indiana charged without hesitation into the fray.  Cpl. Henderson C. Howard, a six-foot giant of a man, captured a Confederate battle flag.  Pvt. James J. Oatman was knocked down by the windage of a shell and taken prisoner.  Lt. Hannibal K. Sloan wrote that “this battle, I do not think, can be exceeded for fierceness.  The butternuts were piled up in perfect heaps.”  The fight ended at nightfall in mutual exhaustion and disorganization.

Monument to the Eleventh on the Wheatfield, Gettysburg National Military Park.

Of the one hundred six men that Capt. Daniel S. Porter and Lt. Sloan had taken into action that day, nine were dead, fifteen wounded, and ten missing.  That night the battered survivors retired to Malvern Hill, where they were placed in reserve.  From here, they marched to Harrison’s Landing for a period of needed rest and recuperation.

The much desired and long awaited event had finally come.  In the vernacular of the period, they had “seen the elephant.”  Pvt. Leo Faller of the companion Seventh Reserves wrote his parents, “If any one tells you that the Rebels will not fight just tell them to come down to this neck of the country and try them on…This is the last of the fighting for that time and I hope the last altogether but if the Rebels are not satisfied I am willing to pitch in again.  Tell some of those patriotic young men…that now is the Appointed time and they should come accordingly.”

Lt. Hannibal K. Sloan proudly told Indiana, “Gen. McClellan says we have done as well as men could do, so that he will put us to the rear of his army and let us rest…probably we have seen our last battle.  I am in first rate health and spirits at present.”  Sgt. John Sutor reported on July 15, “Good deal of sickness among soldiers (but) boys are again beginning to assume their formal jovial dispositions.”

A reunion of Company B veterans.

The Indiana Guards faced further struggle at Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, but their first battle, their most arduous test, was behind them.  From this experience, they would mature into one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s “most dreaded foes…always in deadly earnest.”  On the battlefields of Gaines Mill and Glendale, their sacrifices and experiences first earned this reputation.

Canal Days

The physical evidence of the existence of a major American canal running through portions of Indiana and Westmoreland Counties is now almost entirely erased by the ravages of time, weather, and modern industrial development.  However, it is still possible to find short sections of watered canal bed, crumbling culverts which once ducted streams beneath the canal bed, and even portions of ruined locks with some of their beautifully cut stones still in place.  Other sites, which are known to have contained major canal structures, are now only remembered in the pages of old canal company records of preserved in old photographs.

In 1826, it became apparent to Pennsylvanians that a route of commerce must be opened to the west.  The successful completion of the Erie Canal in New York State had already begun to draw commerce away from Philadelphia, and with the proposed construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which it was hoped would link the rich agricultural lands of Ohio with the great port of New York City, the Pennsylvania State Legislature was forced to act.  On February 26, 1826, a bill was passed to promote a system of internal improvements establishing an “uninterrupted waterway” from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal was never a truly uninterrupted waterway, but by April 15, 1834, it was possible to travel from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh on a canal system combining manmade and natural, land and water sections.  Passengers and freight moved by steam train from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River at Columbia where they were lowered to the canal basis by means of an inclined plane railroad powered by stationary steam engines.  From this point to Hollidaysburg, the canal travelers rode in canal boats pulled by mules, along the Susquehanna River to the Juniata River, and then along the Juniata to Hollidaysburg.  At the Hollidaysburg canal boat basin, the canal boats were floated onto railroad flatcars, and hauled up and over the Allegheny Mountains by means of an inclined plane railroad powered by stationary steam engines.  This series of ten planes was known as the Allegheny Portage Railroad.  It began at Hollidaysburg and ended in the Johnstown canal boats were floated again in the canal, and pulled in canal and slackwater pools[1] following the banks of the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas, and Allegheny Rivers to Pittsburgh.

The completion of this internal improvement in a period of eight years was astounding feat.  Consider first its length: 395.19 miles.  Then ponder the problems of crossing rivers, streams, and mountains before the age of dynamite and gigantic earth movers.  Rivers and streams were crossed by means of troughs of water called aqueducts.  Mountains and steep hills were crossed by using inclined plane railroads powered by stationary steam engines which pulled the canal boats up and over these obstacles.  More gradual increases in land elevation were overcome by means of lift locks which raised or lowered canal boats from eight to twelve feet.  And finally, consider the tremendous effort required to dig a ditch over 250 miles long, five feet deep, forty feet wide at the top and twenty-seven feet wide at the bottom.  Consider also that this was done with only pick and shovel and black powder and mules, and it can be seen what a tremendous feat of engineering and pure physical effort the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal really was.  With this improvement in transportation, it was actually possible in 1841 to depart Philadelphia at 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Pittsburgh at 9:30 a.m. seven days later.

There have been a number of interesting accounts of travel on the Main Line Canal.  Outstanding among these are ones by Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Phillip H. Nicklin.  None of these give much attention specifically to Indiana County, but by drawing on old pictures and photographs, we can build on their accounts and imagine that a traveler writing in his diary in 1841, in the heyday of the canal, might have described his trip through Indiana and Westmoreland counties something like this:

June 25, 1841 After descending out of the Allegheny Mountains by the ingenious devices of the inclined planes of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, we slip into the canal basin in the village of Johnstown, and take rooms for the night at the American Hotel.  At first light we board our Marshall Company packet boat “Pennsylvania,” Captain H. H. Jeffries, at the tiller, and slip out of the basin by way of the guard lock at the west end, and we quickly move into the Conemaugh Gap slackwater.  Here we find ourselves in a deep, mountainous pass, hemmed in on the right and left by its steep walls, covered with a luxurious growth of hardwood. Not a trace of road or trail can be seen so interrupt the green of its sides.  In a short while we are told by Captain Jeffries that we will be passing out of the gap, and into Indiana County.

We leave the smooth slackwater in the gap and enter into the canal at Guard Lock 3.  The rolling hills of Indiana County spread out before us, and we are now pulling in a straight stretch of the canal at about four miles per hour, as we approach Rodger’s Mill and Lock 22 of the Ligonier Line.  Occasionally a cleared piece of farm land breaks the solid carpet of trees, and the Conemaugh flows swift and shallow on our left.  We pass by the villages of Abnerville and Centerville with Locks 20 and 18 at these places.

Just before we pass through Lock 16, our boat pauses near a number of substantial stone buildings associated with the canal company.  Here a fresh team of mules is attached to our tow line.  Without undue delay we are lowered in Lock 16, and glide smoothly over a handsome culvert of beautifully cut stone. In less than a mile’s distance we find ourselves crossing the Conemaugh on a marvelously constructed stone aqueduct supported by five elliptical stone arches.  Just over the far end of the aqueduct we are lowered in Lock 14.  Here we are in the village of Lockport in Westmoreland County.  As we pass through the town the cliffs of the Conemaugh on our right loom above the oxbow of the river and over the cornfields on the flat.  At the western edge of the town we drop in Lock 13, and we pass on through Bolivar, crossing over Tub Mill Creek on a two-arched stone aqueduct.  Ahead of us we can see a deep gap cutting through another ridge.  After going through Locks 12, 11, and 10, the gap looms even larger and more foreboding as we approach it.  Captain Jeffries explains that this is the Chestnut Ridge and that the passage through it is called Packsaddle Gap.  We quickly descend the closely spaced Locks 9, 8, 7, and 6, and find ourselves in the upper end of a slackwater.  It forms a broad expanse as smooth as glass, mirroring the steep and rocky sides of the gap.  Not a sound is heard as we pass below its towering sides, slip through Guard Lock 2 and into a short stretch of canal.  We are pulled through Lock 5 and then into another slackwater pool.  At last we burst forth from the confines of the gap into the rolling valley beyond.  With the sun low in the west, we are pulled out of the slackwater through Guard Lock 1, and again into the canal.  Next we go down Locks 4 through 1, and out through Lock 17 into the Blairsville slackwater at McGee’s Run.  We are now in the Kiskiminetas and Conemaugh section of the canal.

The thriving town of Blairsville now comes into sight through the tres surrounding the slackwater.  Opposite Blairsville we enter the canal again through Guard Lock 5, at the village of Bairdstown.  Because of commerce from the canal and from the Huntingdon-Cambria and Indiana Turnpike, Blairsville has become the largest town in Indiana County.  The warehouses by the shore of the slackwater on the Indiana County side attest to this, and the bustle of activity of men and wagons can be seen across the river in the late afternoon light.

We are now on the Westmoreland County side of the Conemaugh, slipping silently by the rolling hills.  We descend through Locks 16 through 12, and pass the villages of Social Hall and Livermore, and into the slackwater.  On our left, above the tree tops, a large mountain looms.  WE pass through Guard Lock 4, turn sharply left, and plunge directly into the mouth of a tunnel in the side of the mountain.

This tunnel, Captain Jeffries tells us, is cut through the mountain to avoid the additional four miles around it.  Although I must admit to a slight feeling of apprehension as the darkness surrounds us, he says it is a wonder of modern engineering, being 817 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 14 feet high, and cut through solid rock.  Our nighthawker lanterns show up the brickwork on the inside.  As we emerge from the confines of the tunnel, the Conemaugh River is far below us, and we cross this dizzying space by means of an aqueduct.  After crossing the aqueduct we turn sharply left and look back and find it to be much the same as the handsome aqueduct we crossed at Lockport, being supported by five elliptical arches, a magnificent and solid structure.

We are now again on the Indiana County side of the Conemaugh, passing through Locks 11 and 10 and the village of Tunnelview [now Tunnelton].  We pass the saltworks just east of the village of Saltsburg, and descend Lock 9.  As we enter the village of Saltsburg the canal channel makes a graceful curve, and we pass beneath three high bridges.  On our right is the Butler Myers boat building yard.  Captain Jeffries tells us we will make a brief stop here to change mules.  I can see a small crowd of people gathered to watch us go through the lock.

We slip into the chamber of Lock 8, and the gates are closed behind us by the lock keeper.  The tow line is detached as usual, and the tired mules are led away to the stable on our left between the river and the lock.  The fresh mules are brough up, the tow line is attached, and it seems we are ready again to proceed.  But, instead, our boat remains stationary. I wonder why we are waiting.  Maybe I will have a chance to look around a bit.

There are a number of shops and stores on our right near the lock, and I can just read their signs in the late afternoon light.  I can see Alcorn’s and Kelly’s general stores, the S.S. Jamison warehouse, fronting the boat basin below us, and Henry Blank’s bakery.

Suddenly the door of Blank’s bakery swings open, and a most singular man strides energetically out toward our waiting packet.  He speaks briefly to a man in the crowd and pats the head of a little girl as he approaches.  He carries a small valise in one hand and a paper bag under his arm.  In one energetic leap, he is on board, right beside me.

“Sorry to keep you all waiting,” he says, with a sweeping gesture of his arm that seems to encompass everyone in sight.

Then to me he says, as if he had been my friend from childhood, “And now, dear sir, you seem to look a bit weary from your long journey.  I hope you haven’t suffered unduly.”  Without a pause, but with a chuckle, he continues, “And now I am about to offer you the best ginger cookie in the world.”  Inclining his head toward mine, with an air of confidentiality, “Mr. Blank, the baker, makes them, and I just had to have some before we got underway – here, try one,” he says, extending the bag toward me.  I take one from the bag as he continues.

My same is Samuel S. Jamison,” he says, pumping my hand in greeting, “I supervise the canal form Lock 6 to Pittsburgh, and there’s been a problem with leaks in the lock at Leechburg.”

He chuckles again, but without a pause for breath, turns and looks straight at the lock keeper, and calls out in tones of mock gravity, “Mr. Hugh Kelly, you may now let the water out of the lock.”

And so Mr. Kelly does, and with a rush of water, we sink in the lock.

We wave to everyone from the bottom and everyone waves back.  Hugh Kelly opens the lower lock gates and we glide smoothly into the Saltsburg boat basin.  Our tow line slaps the water as we begin to move out into the lengthening shadows of the early evening.

What a delicious ginger cookie! What a delightful man! I turn to thank him, but he is gone into the cabin, talking with some of the other passengers who are beginning to gather around the supper table.

Here is a fine gentleman, I think, and he should go far.  But I suppose I will never know.

Leaving Saltsburg, the Loyalhanna Creek joins the Conemaugh River to become the Kiskiminetas River, and we follow its bank as the town recedes behind us.  Shortly, we cross Black Legs Creek on a wooden aqueduct and pass through Lock 7 just as the sun dips behind the trees.

The captain’s son has come into the cabin to make up the banks, as we will travel all night, arriving in Pittsburgh in the early morning.  Coalport and Locks 6 and 5 are passed in the dark; I can hear the swish of water in the lock and the ropes dragging across the deck.  Leechburg is up ahead, but I shall surely be asleep by then….

Such a trip on the canal would have been possible until about 1863 when the canal was replaced by a swifter, if less romantic, means of transportation, the railroad.  Even before the railroad posed a serious threat, the canal was in financial trouble due to inefficient operation by the state.  But by the late 1840s, so much freight and passenger business was being lost, that the Commonwealth determined to unload its financial burden.  Finally, in 1857, an agreement was reached with the Pennsylvania Railroad and the entire system was sold for $7.5 million.  The railroad, which was primarily interested in the level right-of-way across the state, began to lose the canal section by section.  The first part to cease operations was the portion from Johnstown to Blairsville.  By 1864 the remaining activity halted and the canal days, for Indiana County, were history.

[1] A smooth, calm, and quiet water created by the construction of a dam across a stream and used for navigation purposes instead of a canal channel. A guard lock is located adjacent to a dam in the stream and permits boats to pass from slack-water into the canal or from canal to slack-water.

Indiana Glass Works and Its Ware

For forty years the Indiana Glass Works was the community’s leading industry, supplying work for 200 employees, and producing distinctive glassware to a large clientele throughout the world.  Though never highly profitable the company might still be in operation today had it not suffered a costly fire at the height of the depression.

As colonial expansion spread westward, the need for glass factories near the new settlements increased since the primitive transportation methods then available rendered it difficult to ship glassware safely.  Consequently, many glassworks sprang up in Western Pennsylvania, a development abetted by the availability of raw materials, fuel, and skilled labor.  Although Pennsylvania has led the nation in glass produced since 1860, the period of greatest growth began about the turn of the century.  About this time, Indiana entered the picture by establishing a glass factory which eventually made “Indiana Glass” famous throughout the world.

It all began on New Year’s Day, 1892 when a group of Indiana’s town fathers assembled in the office of Hon. George W. Hood to discuss an exciting new business venture with Mr. Nevill, a visiting glass expert.  Mr. Nevill had patented a series of glass molds which he claimed would increase production by one-third to one-half.  He proposed to form a company which would utilize his technique to manufacture glass in Indiana.  He hoped to establish a factory in Indiana where he would not encounter the antagonism of labor unions which had opposed his labor-saving methods.

Nevill claimed that a $40,000 stock issue would furnish sufficient capital to build and equip a glass factory that eventually would hire 200 employees with a monthly payroll of about $7,000.  The local magnates were so favorably impressed by Nevill’s glowing prospectus that they immediately subscribed $12,000 to the venture, and after the Indiana Board of Trade visited a glassworks in Blairsville, the remainder of the required funds was forthcoming.  The January 20, 1892 issue of the Indiana County Gazette announced in its headline that “Both Indiana and Blairsville will have Glass Works.”  By now the optimistic entrepreneurs were negotiating for a tract of land on the old Experimental Farm in West Indiana (now the site of the University parking area adjacent to Miller Stadium).

For several months there was no news about the glassworks and rumors began circulating that the project had died aborning.  Then on May 18, the Indiana County Gazette carried a page one article stating that company officials had opened bids for the new factory.  C.E. McSparran, a West Indiana builder, submitted the lowest bid, $4,600, and was awarded the contract.

In the ensuing months, things began to hum.  Mr. Vandersaal assumed his duties as superintendent of the building; a railroad siding was completed; Mr. Nevill’s glass molds arrived; a 130-foot well was sunk to supply water; and the 80’ x 220’ building took shape.

Early in November construction was finished, and the building was thoroughly dried out by heaters for two weeks.  Then on Monday, November 14, 1892, the Indiana Glass Works staged elaborate ceremonies to inaugurate the startup of glass production.

glass factory
Indiana Glass Works Plant in Indiana

At 2:00 p.m. Judge Harry White delivered a speech to the employees and invited townspeople extolling the benefits which the new company would bring to Indiana.  Afterward the visitors entered the works to witness the fascinating operation of glass making.  The process began in the ten huge iron pots into which the workmen poured sand, lime, soda, and special coloring ingredients.  Each pot was heated in a gas fired brick kiln.  When the solid ingredients fused into a molten mass, the clear viscous glass was removed and pressed into molds or blown into the desired shapes.  The plant produced both crystal and colored glass.

The shaped glass articles were annealed in four 65-foot long heated lehrs in which the temperature gradient gradually decreased as the glass traveled from one end to the other.  After being thoroughly tempered, the glass articles were sorted, decorated, and packed for shipment.  Decorators were highly skilled artisans who received five to six dollars per day, wages which attracted many skilled and meticulous craftsmen from Bohemia.  Before long the plant employed almost 200 workers with a monthly payroll of $10,000.  A staff of eight highly paid salesmen carried samples and portfolios containing lithographs of the complete line of glassware which they displayed to prospective customers in all parts of the country.

The company’s announced policy was to produce handsome specialties that would be both ornamental and serviceable.  Designs were changed annually to meet the popular demand for new styles.  The manufactured items which in time became collectors items included:

Lampshades                                        tumblers

Sewing lamps                                      goblets

Lantern globes                                    wine glasses

Cream pitchers                                    salt and pepper bottles

Soda glasses                                        molasses jugs

Although the Indiana Glass Works constituted a definite economic asset to the community and established a reputation as a producer of quality glassware, the company’s profits proved disappointing.  Consequently, the management underwent successive changes.  The company had not been in operation long before the Northwood family, father and son, assumed control of the firm and renamed it the Northwood Company.  The Northwoods in turn were succeeded by the Dugans, father and two sons, from England who changed the name to the Dugan Glass Company.  The Dugans brought with them a number of English workers who settled in Indiana.  In 1913, the company changed names for the last time when it became the Diamond Glassware Company.

When World War I shut off imported glassware from Austria and Bohemia, the demand for American glass zoomed.  The Diamond Glassware Company shared in this prosperity running at full capacity to fill orders booked months in advance.  During this prosperous period the local firm enjoyed peaceful labor relations.  The work week was five days, most of the workmen now belonged to the union.  The plant was shut down during the month of July each year during which period the employees enjoyed a month’s vacation without pay.

After the War, the plant resumed normal operations under General Manager H. Wallace Thomas and Superintendent John Richards, Jr.  Then on Saturday afternoon, June 27, 1931, tragedy struck the company.  Early that afternoon residents in the vicinity observed smoke curling over the roof of the plant followed shortly by raging flames which burst through the roof above the decorating room.  Firemen rushed to the scene and were able to confine the damage to the frame section of the plant which housed the stock room, decorating room, and office.  Although the origin of the fire was never satisfactorily determined, several theories were advanced.  One attributed the fire to sparks from a passing train, a second ascribed it to the spontaneous combustion of oily rags while still another postulated that a smoldering spark from a freak lighting storm the previous day was the culprit.

In an interview on the day following the fire, Manager Thomas and Superintendent Richards indicated that the company’s plans for the future were indefinite, but they believed that the plant would be rebuilt.  However, the sections destroyed by fire were not reconstructed nor did the plant ever resume production.  The decision to discontinue operation doubtless was dictated by a combination of factors including a lackluster profit record, the loss in the fire of $30,000 worth of stock, increasingly sharp competition from West Virginia and Ohio firms, and the generally dismal economic outlook at the height of the Great Depression.

After standing idle for years, the main glassworks building was razed thereby drawing down the curtain on the company which had been Indiana’s leading industry for 40 years.  But though the manufacturing facilities are gone, the objects of quality craftsmanship survive.  Such are the rewards of personalized labor which unfortunately seem doomed in our increasingly computerized society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

harry white
Harry White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elders Ridge Academy

Prior to the development of public high schools, students prepared themselves for college by studying with private tutors or attending academies.  The academies were often church-related and staffed by the clergy. This was especially true in western Pennsylvania with its Scotch-Irish Presbyterian heritage.  In Indiana County alone the Presbyterians sponsored such early schools as the Indiana Academy, Jacksonville Academy, Saltsburg Academy, and Elders Ridge Academy.

In June 1839, Alexander Donaldson (1808-1889), an 1835 graduate of Jefferson College at Canonsburg and newly ordained minister at Elders Ridge, began to provide private lessons and to listen to recitation in the upper story of the log spring house which acted as the pastor’s study.  John McAdoo was his first student.  Donaldson, who had done tutoring for his alma mater following graduation, was apparently a good teacher and filled a growing demand for education in this area of Pennsylvania.  The number of his students steadily increased, but it was not until 1847 that Elders Ridge Academy was officially founded.

Donaldson continued to teach in this informal fashion for six years with no thought of starting an academy until he met John M. Barnet, a popular teacher in the common schools.  Barnett persuaded Donaldson of the need for teacher preparation and also for college preparation for people in the area.  After careful consideration and the urging of Dr. Matthew Brown, president of Jefferson College, Donaldson formally opened Elders Ridge Academy on April 16, 1847, with sixteen students and the assistance of John M. Barnett.

During the summer of 1847, Donaldson had erected at his own expense a small frame building which cost $320.  It measured twenty-six feet by twenty-four feet and resembled a common school.  Many thought that the establishment of an academy in this relatively rural setting was visionary since academies located in county seats had closed their doors.  The founder held that many of the failures could be traced to the lack of a permanent head.  At Elders Ridge, the founder acted as principal and proprietor, remaining responsible for everything concerning the school.  Donaldson always hired scholarly, well-trained assistants.  He divided the income from tuition with his assistants so that popular teachers who attracted more students thus earned more money.  Some of the assistants following J.B. Barnett were: T.B. Elder, James A. McKnight, Matthew Clark, John M. McElroy, D.W. Elder, John C. Thom, J.W. Smith, S. Kennedy, James E. Caruthers, J.H. Donaldson, F.J.C. Schneider, S.J. Craighead, A.W. McCullough, Eben B. Caldwell, G.B. Smith, S.S. Gilson, A.M. Donaldson, W.B. Donaldson, W.W. McLane, H.B. Knight, W.J. Bollman, John Brownson, R.H. Carothers, J.M. Duncan, John B. Donaldson, C.F. Gallagher, John A. Scott, G.W. Gilbert, S.M. Jack, Reverend A.J. Stewart, L.A. Frantz, and Maggie M. Elder.

The Academy was not established as a boarding school and did not encourage the enrollment of boys so young that they required constant supervision.  At first, students boarded for one dollar a week with the ten or twelve families who lived within two miles of the school.  Within ten years John Smith, Christopher Iman and John Thom erected boarding houses for the students.  The weekly rate rose gradually over the years from $1.25 to $3.50.  In the late 1880s an effort was made to introduce “boarding clubs” like those found at colleges to furnish good board at a rate of two dollars per week.

The enrollment steadily increased until 1854 with the majority of the students coming from Indiana, Cambria, Clarion, Huntingdon, Bedford, and Franklin counties.  But students from as far away as Mississippi and Louisiana enrolled in the Academy as its record of success in college preparatory work, especially for students attending Jefferson College, became more widely known.  The pre-college course was by all accounts rigorous, focusing almost exclusively on the classics and mathematics.

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church began to show an interest in having a school connected to the Blairsville Presbytery and established a committee to review applications from various area schools.  Since Elders Ridge was located within the bounds of the Blairsville Presbytery, Donaldson submitted an application.  In 1848 Elders Ridge was chosen the Blairsville Presbyterial Academy.  This meant that visitors appointed annually by the Presbytery would attend exams and advise the principal respecting the Academy’s management.  In a short time, however, the affiliation became merely a nominal one as the visitors grew more interested in other schools located within the Presbytery.  In 1856, when the Presbytery was divided and Elders Ridge and its principal were removed from Blairsville’s jurisdiction, not a word was publicly said about it.  Throughout the eight years the school had been the Blairsville Presbyterial Academy, not one dollar had been given to the school and no students had been recruited through the church’s efforts.

One of the few suggestions made by the visitors of the Presbytery in 1849 was the need for a larger building. Donaldson realized this and, in a time when other schools were multiplying, he “took the risk” and in 1850 erected a two-story brick building measuring forty-eight feet by thirty-two feet at a cost of $2,020.  The first floor had twelve feet partitioned off in front for a short hall with students’ rooms on either side.  A main hall occupied the remainder of the ground floor.  The second floor had twelve feet in front for a recitation room and the larger part was divided into two social halls which the students furnished.

elders ridge
Elders Ridge Academy

The cost of construction fell entirely on Donaldson who had to pay down $300. The remaining $1700 was paid at 6% interest over 22 years so that the cost came to $3700 for the brick building.  Including the cost of the first building, Donaldson had invested over $4,000 of his own money in the Academy.

In 1849, a women’s department was started at Elders Ridge under the charge of Martha Bracken. It was successfully carried on until 1858 when the project was abandoned because of “the extreme difficulty of procuring suitable boarding places for ladies.”  Some years later women were again admitted.

The session of 1854 began on a high note with the largest student enrollment in the Academy’s seven year history, 113 men and women, but a series of unforeseen events gave the Academy a sharp setback for the next decade.  During the summer of 1854 an epidemic of typhoid fever developed in one of the boarding houses.  The proprietor of the house, several of his friends, a student, and many neighbors died.  The students left school over a month before the end of the session, with five or six dying of the fever after they left.  The fever still raged the next session, and three-fourths of the students never returned.  Just as the Academy enrollment began to recover, the Civil War reduced it again, and there was no general increase until after 1865.

Organizations were an important influence on the students at Elders Ridge Academy.  One such organization was the Society for Religious Inquiry.  Its purpose was to promote an interest in topics of a religious and missionary character.  The other main organization was the Amphisbeteon Literary Society.  It held weekly meetings at which orations in Greek, Latin, French, and German were given.  After the Academy moved into the new brick building in 1850, the Amphisbeteon Literary Society was divided into two new societies, the Ereuneteon and the Matheteon Literary Societies.  These two societies held annual contests and at the end of each year advanced students competed for four awards of special merit: Salutatory, Latin oration, Greek oration, and Valedictory.

Donaldson also gave a book as an annual prize, at his own expense.  It was awarded by vote to the student whose general excellence of character seemed best. He awarded twenty-eight of these books which ranged in price from $1.50 to $4.00. The practice was abandoned when the Academy was given over to others to run.

In 1875, Donaldson, at the age of sixty-seven, realized that some legal way would have to be found of maintaining the Academy after his death.  He selected a self-perpetuating board of nineteen trustees from the different religious denominations in the area of Elders Ridge.  The only stipulations were that each succeeding trustee would be from the same denomination as his predecessor, that the principal would be a Presbyterian, and that any of Donaldson’s lineal descendants should be educated, one at a time, free of charge.  On July 6, 1875, he named the new board and gave the right, title, interest, and all claim to the Academy and its grounds to the Board.  The first members were: John Wherry, R.S. Townsend, A.H. Fulton, S.P. Townsend, Robert Wray, William Fritz, W.T. Wilson, R.H. Wilson, Thomas Hood, Arch McAdoo, Thomas Scott, Joseph Wilson, W.G. King, S.H. George, Samuel George, and Alexander Gray along with Donaldson and his two teaching assistants, Thomas B. Elder and S.J. Craighead.

The trustees, after accepting the conditions of the letter, re-roofing the building, made other repairs totaling $600, and re-elected Donaldson as principal.  By now the students were referring to Donaldson as “Pater” Donaldson because he always treated the students as if they were his own children. Donaldson was continually re-elected principal until 1884 when he asked to be relieved of all connection with the institution.  The trustees turned him down, but in 1885 they agreed not to re-elect him, and Thomas B. Elder replaced him as principal.

Elder had been an instructor at the Academy for nearly thirty years and had earned the nickname of “T.B.” from the students. He had graduated from the Academy in 1853 and then completed his education at Jefferson College in 1855 before returning to Elders Ridge as Donaldson’s assistant.

T.B. Elder
T.B. Elder

Eight principals succeeded Elder at the Academy: N.B. Kelly, James Gailey and his brother, W.S.A. Wilson, W.B. Elder, R.A. Henderson, Preston Urey, and Professor Smith.

On April 14, 1889, Donaldson suffered a stroke while returning home from church.  He died four days later and was buried on April 20.  He had preached fifty-one years and one Sabbath.

With the turn of the century changes in the pattern of American education, especially the expansion of public schools which drained enrollment from the more expensive private academies, meant that the days of the academies were numbered.  Elders Ridge was no exception.  The school became financially troubled and was about to be sold for debt when Lucius W. Robinson gave $3,000 to help pay off its obligations.  Robinson assumed control of the academy, agreeing to return the school to the Board of Trustees in five years if it could be made self-supporting. Robinson temporarily saved the Academy but could not restore it to its former condition.  In 1914, an act of the state legislature which provided for vocational education offered the school a graceful way to ends its history as an academy.  The Elders Ridge trustees made an arrangement with Kiskiminetas Township (Armstrong County), Young Township (Indiana County), West Lebanon and Clarksburg (two independent school districts), and the State Board of Vocational Education to finance a vocational school.  The grounds and buildings were to remain in the hands of the successors of the original trustees and were rented for $1.00 by the Vocational Board.  The school, now state controlled, had a faculty of one principal and five assistants.

Figures available to 1880 show that over 2600 students had attended Elders Ridge Academy.  No complete list of graduates and their professions exists, but a partial list suggests that they did well. Among other professions noted were: 150 ministers, nine foreign missionaries, eighty physicians, ninety admitted to the bar (at least six served on the bench), one college president, three editors, one lieutenant governor, one moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, many college and high school teachers, and numerous state senators and legislators.  Elders Ridge students included James M. Swank, editor of the Iron Age; H.T. Tourley, Pittsburgh mayor and controller; and noted scientist Charles H. Townsend.

The Academy buildings which stood as a reminder of the past were destroyed by fire. The original spring house in which the Academy began was moved to a new foundation on the corner of the Elders Ridge Vocational School grounds on August 31, 1932. It formally opened as the Academy’s museum on October 21, 1932, but only ten days later, it was levelled by a fire which also destroyed the Gymnasium.  The Academy’s brick building was renovated in 1934 and served as a grade school for Young Township and as classrooms for the Vocational School until it was destroyed by fire on February 19, 1936. Few reminders of the Elders Ridge Academy remain today, but during the second half of the nineteenth century it acted as one of the leading educational institutions of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Dr. Fairfield: First Principal of Indiana Normal School

Rev. Dr. Edmund Burke Fairfield was a pastor, educator, politician, theologian, diplomat, and world traveler.  He was also the first principal of the Indiana Normal School.

The Rev. Dr. Fairfield was born April 21, 1821, in Parkersburg, (West) Virginia, to the Rev. Micaiah and Hannah Wynn Fairfield.  While he was still a boy, the Fairfields moved to Troy, Ohio, where he grew up.  He attended Denison University and Marietta College before enrolling at Oberlin College.  He received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1842, and Oberlin Seminary granted him a B.D. in 1845.

As a student in the Oberlin Seminary, Fairfield was exposed to the institution’s strong emphasis on ethics and sanctification, which stressed man’s capability of reaching his highest objectives as an individual and of building a nearly perfect society on earth.  He also followed the teachings of Rev. Charles G. Finney, the great proponent of revivalistic theology.  Fairfield’s emphasis on enthusiastic preaching, the lack of which in Indiana bothered him, seems to have developed from his experiences at Oberlin.  Oberlin’s sympathy with abolition may have provided the stimulus for Fairfield’s anti-slavery views since his mother’s lineage was Virginian.  Following his graduation, he moved to Canterbury, New Hampshire, where he appears to have been ordained in both the Free Will Baptist and Congregational Churches and seems to have served both congregations.  At Canterbury he served as minister and teacher, remaining from 1845-47.  Soon he moved on to accept a charge in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  Then he entered higher education, accepting the presidency of the Free Baptist College, Spring Arbor, Michigan in 1848, which was relocated and renamed Hillsdale College in 1853.  During his 21-year tenure, Rev. Dr. Fairfield took the struggling institution and built it into a small, but respected liberal arts college.  The student enrollment grew from less than 50 to over 500 during his presidency, and he also actively raised money for the college and its endowment.


It appears that he combined public appearances on behalf of the temperance movement with his fundraising efforts on behalf of Hillsdale in western New York in the fall of the early 1850s.  During this period, he entered politics in Michigan and helped found the Republican Party there.  From 1857 to 1859, he served in the Michigan Senate.  His first speech, “Slavery in the Territories,” attacked the extension of slavery, and it was printed for wide distribution.  In 1858, he won the election for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan and served one term.  Following the completion of his term in 1861, he devoted his attention to administering Hillsdale College, teaching, traveling, and lecturing.  When he left the presidency of Hillsdale College in 1869, he accepted the pastorate of the First Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio, where he remained from 1870 until April 1875.

At its March 10, 1875 meeting, the Board of Trustees of Indiana Normal School (now IUP) chose Rev. Dr. Fairfield as the institution’s first principal (president) at a salary of $2,250 per year, later raised to $4,000.  He came to Indiana with a national reputation as clergyman, educator, and lecturer, but how he came to be selected is unknown.  His previous activities in the building of Hillsdale College, in the temperance cause, and in the church certainly made him an appealing candidate.  His high salary and perquisites say a lot about the ambitions and plans for the normal school held by John Sutton and his colleagues.

Prior to moving to Indiana, Fairfield paid a visit to the town, during which he presented one of his most famous lectures, “Tent Life in Palestine.”  The lecture was given on the evening of March 24, 1875, and it drew a large crowd in the courtroom of the newly opened Indiana County Courthouse.  Admission was 25 cents per ticket, the proceeds being a benefit for the soon-to-open normal school.  The local press gave enthusiastic coverage to the event.  The Indiana Democrat reported, “if this lecture is a fair sample of his learning and ability, he is the right man in the right place. He is a pleasing off hand speaker and possessed of great descriptive powers.”  The lecture was partially drawn from Rev. Fairfield’s personal observations, for he had toured Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey as part of an extended trip to Europe and the Near East from July 1863 to June 1864.

In May, Fairfield arrived in Indiana and took up residence in the recently completed John Sutton Hall.  On May 17, the first term opened at Indiana Normal School.  Over 200 students attended, including some of Fairfield’s children.  His daughter May and his son Edward Minor were enrolled in the Classical Department of the College Preparatory Division.  His other sons George D., John M. and Charles T. attended the Model School.  May, the eldest child still at home, took courses in penmanship, drawing, natural philosophy, Latin, grammar, Greek, and American history during the 1875-76 terms.

Part of the initial staff was recruited by Rev. Fairfield.  From Mansfield, Ohio, Fairfield brought Mr. and Mrs. Rowley, who served as steward and matron of the school respectively.  Professor Hiram Collier, who taught chemistry and physics, came from the Pennsylvania College of Agriculture (no Pennsylvania State University), but before that he had served for several years on the faculty at Hillsdale.

Rev. Dr. Fairfield remained in Indiana only one year. During his tenure as principal, French was added to the curriculum.  According to the local press, Fairfield taught Latin and Greek in addition to the subjects listed in the 1875 catalogue, Mental, Moral and Political Science and the Theory and Practice of Teaching.  The first literary society was named for Rev. Dr. Fairfield, but at his request it was renamed the Erodelphian Literary Society.  During the first year two faculty members, Miss Mary Bradley and Miss Ada Kershaw, were dismissed in mid-term.  The Board of Trustees acted on complaints filed by the principal for himself and other members of the faculty.  The charges accused Misses Bradley and Kershaw of “conduct unbecoming a teacher, in interfering with the harmony of a faculty and interfering with the success of the school.”  Their appointment, for which they received two months’ salary, terminated in July 1875.  The remainder of the Fairfield tenure appears to have gone smoothly until near the very end when a delayed state appropriation caused a budgetary crisis.

During their residence in Indiana the Fairfield family participated in community affairs.  Mrs. Fairfield and their children, Mary, Emma, May, and George joined the Presbyterian Church in the fall of 1875.  Because of his ordination Rev. Fairfield could not officially join the congregation, but he undoubtedly participated in its activities.  In March 1875, Fairfield again lectured at the Court House; the subject this time was “Personal Observations of the Vienna Exposition in 1873.”

In March 1876, he announced his resignation to become the second chancellor of the University of Nebraska.  In December 1875, he had explained his reasons for leaving to his friend, Congressman James Monroe of Ohio:

Now I will tell you frankly how the matter lies in my mind.  I am here in Pennsylvania, and can stay, if I choose.  At least so it looks.  My salary is $4000, but neither Mrs. F. nor myself feel at home here. We are in the midst of little else but blue Presbyterianism.  Pennsylvania is in mts. [mountains]. The West suits me better.  But I wish simply to do the work assigned me by the master.  It looks to us as though this might be it, in connection with Nebraska Uni. [University].

Fairfield served six years as chancellor of the University of Nebraska, following which he again traveled abroad, served as pastor to several Congregational Churches, and from 1889-1893 was U.S. Consul-general in Lyons, France.  He returned to the United States and again returned to the ministry, retiring in 1900 to Oberlin, Ohio, where he continued to serve as a trustee of Oberlin College.

Although Rev. Dr. Fairfield possessed a “reputation as a political liberal and reformer,” he was a conservative in the field of education. Fairfield family tradition characterizes him as being stern and “a very strict disciplinarian,” and his philosophy bears this out.”  In his inaugural address as Chancellor of the University of Nebraska, Fairfield discussed his educational philosophy.  The American university, he believed, existed “for the study of all science; for the most liberal learning, and the most generous culture possible.”  The traditional liberal arts and sciences provided the core of a university education.  According to Fairfield, “a young man, at the end of his university education… [should be able] to make something of himself, and to do something to lift up his country and his race to a higher plane of true living.”  As was to be expected of one ordained by two churches, the chancellor believed strongly that Christian principles were basic to a university education.  Despite his religious background and his strong religious convictions, Fairfield did not believe that theology should be taught in a public institution of higher education.  Christian ethics and morals certainly belonged in public higher education, but denominational and sectarian religious views had no place there.

When the Board of Trustees of Indiana Normal School chose the Rev. Dr. Edmund Burke Fairfield as the first principal, they obviously fulfilled their apparent desire to have someone of experience, energy, strong Christian convictions, and wide learning.

John Brown’s Army: The Man from Indiana County

Albert (Absalom) Hazlett was born September 21, 1837, in the area near the old “Devil’s Elbow,” Green Township, Indiana County (about six miles east of Indiana near the old, closed Route 422).  He was the sixth of eleven children.  His mother, Sarah, was born around 1814, and was a widow by July 1860.  His father, Alexander, had 40 acres worth about $100 in 1850.  He was listed as Absalom, age 12, by the census taker in 1850.  It is likely he disliked the name and adopted Albert instead.  Hazlett was five feet, eleven inches tall, genial, with a fair complexion and blond, curly hair.  Richard Hinton, an abolitionist who sympathized with John Brown, remarked that he “did not impress you unless you specially as striving to climb the golden stairs.”  It is quite apparent he had a craving for adventure.  John Brown’s daughter, Anne, said he “was a really good, kind-hearted man, with little or no education. He had always lived and grown among the roughest kind of people.  He was the least accustomed to polite living” of any of Brown’s men.

Absalom Hazlett: Abolitionist from Indiana County

Sometime during the early part of 1857, Hazlett went to Kansas where he joined a volunteer Free State military company.  In the later part of 1858 he met John Brown and joined his raiding party.  Early in 1859, he went with Brown and others escorting a group of fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada.  After accompanying Brown as far as Cleveland, they parted and Hazlett returned to Indiana County where he worked as a farm hand and wrote to Brown on May 21, “I wish it would come off soon, for I am tired of doing nothing.”  Around the early part of September, Hazlett joined the others of John Brown’s party at the Kennedy farm in Maryland, and the raid at Harper’s Ferry occurred on October 16-18, 1859.  The details of the Harper’s Ferry raid need not be retold here except to note that Hazlett, with two colored members of the Brown party, were assigned to hold the Arsenal.  When the situation worsened, Hazlett and Osborne P. Anderson managed to escape.

Anderson later wrote that after the raid he and Hazlett returned to the Kennedy farm but found it ransacked.  Since they had nothing to eat for forty-eight hours they roasted some ears of corn at night and headed north.  Because of the “hard journey and poor diet” they became

nearly famished and very much reduced in strength.  Poor Hazlett could not endure as much as I could.  With his feet blistered and sore, he gave out at last ten miles below Chambersburg.  He declared he could go no further, and begged me to go on as we should be more in danger if seen together in the vicinity of towns, that after resting that night he would throw away his rifle and go to Chambersburg, where we agreed to meet again.  The poor, young man’s face was wet with tears when we parted.

After this, Anderson saw no more of Hazlett.

On October 22, Hazlett was arrested and taken to Carlisle on the supposition that he was John E. Cook, another of Brown’s men, for whom there was a $1,000 reward.  Hazlett gave the authorities the alias “William H. Harrison.”

The story continues in the words of W.J. Shearer of Carlisle, an attorney who tried to save Hazlett from extradition to Virginia.

One Sunday morning in October, 1859 [probably October 23], I was coming up town . . . [and] passed the place where Squire Sponsler had his office, . . . I was attracted by a large crowd there.  I crossed over to learn what it all meant.  I went into the office, and there sat a tall, raw-boned man and with him were Charlie Campbell and Bill Houser, of Chambersburg.  I asked what was the matter, what they were doing. Houser said here is Cook, one of John Brown’s men.  He was in Chambersburg and slipped out and came down here, and we followed him and arrested him up the railroad.  I asked which is Cook? They said that man back there. I said no that cannot be Cook, . . . he is described as being an effeminate-looking man, with light hair and blue eyes.  This is no such man, this tall, rawboned man with hard hands, which show him to be a laborer . . . I said what are you doing with him here.  He said Squire Sponsler is writing up authority to take him down to Virginia.  And I turned to the man and said to him, do you know any lawyer here in Carlisle, and he said no.  He asked me, are you a lawyer?  I said yes.  Well, will you see that I have justice done me? I will.

Next Shearer objected to Squire Sponsler writing a commitment and the squire sent for his attorney, who informed him he did not have that authority.

Houser said it didn’t make any difference whether he gave them the authority or not, we brought him here, he said, and we will take him away.  I said I don’t believe you will.  In the meantime I had sent for Sheriff McCartney, to come up with his deputy, and when they came up I went out and told them to stand against the wall to the right of Squire Sponsler’s door.  I then went into the office; they were preparing to take that man away.  I said to Houser, if you take this man out of this office against his will, you will be put to jail for kidnapping.  He said I guess not.  That is what will be done, I said, I have the sheriff out there for that purpose.  He looked out the door and he saw Sheriff McCartney whom he knew, he asked him what he was doing there, and Sheriff McCartney says we are waiting for you and Campbell.  I had told McCartney that if they took that man out to arrest them and put them to jail, and I would make information against them for kidnapping.  Mr. McCartney says if you will promise to stand by me, I will do it, and I said I will stand by you.  They didn’t take him away, but of course Squire Sponsler had the right to put him to jail, which he did.

Shearer presented a petition for habeas corpus and was assisted at the hearing October 26 by attorneys W.J. Miller and A.B. Sharp.  A warrant from the Governor of Pennsylvania was presented, at the request of the Governor of Virginia, for the delivery of Hazlett but, since he would not be positively identified as Hazlett, he was returned to jail.  On October 29 Shearer, Miller and Sharp asked that the prisoner be discharged on the ground that his name was not Albert Hazlett but William Harrison.  Judge James H. Graham recommitted him to await a third hearing on November 6, at which time three witnesses identified him.

Shearer had asked Sheriff McCartney not to spot Hazlett for any parties from Virginia coming to see him.  Two groups failed to identify Hazlett, but on the third attempt a man from Harper’s Ferry professed to known him and was able to pick him out from a group of prisoners.  Shearer continues:

Mr. Miller went down with me the last night to spend a short time with him before he would be taken to Virginia, and we sat and talked with him until 10 o’clock in the jail. . . . When we left him, he said to me, Mr. Shearer I wish you would tell the sheriff that I would like to have a plug of tobaco [sic tobacco].  Now if it is remarkable on what small matters one’s life may depend.  Asking for that plug of tobacco cost that man his life.  As I passed out of the jail with Mr. Miller., I said to Sheriff McCartney, Mr. Hazlett said I should ask you to give him a plug of tobacco.  Well, why he did it I don’t know, but he went back and examined the man’s cell, and found the whole back of the cell out.  A blanket was hung against it, out of which he could walk whenever he wanted to do so, and Mark Scott, of Carlisle, a colored barber . . . was sent here by James Redpath, of Kansas notoriety, with a horse and buggy, and a rope ladder to help him over the wall and take him away, but McCartney went and examined his cell and finding it open in that way he put him in another cell, and that cost him his life.  Why Sheriff McCartney did that I could never understand.  The only way that I can account for it is, that Mr. McCartney thought Hazlett had not asked for tobacco, and that I only asked him this to warn him not to let this man escape, as if I, his counsel, had to do anything of the kind. I know that he wanted him to escape, that is why I could never fully understand why he went and took him out of that cell.  The reason I know he wanted him to escape is, that one day, the time of the hearing of the habeas corpus, it was late at night.  I was down at the jail the next morning and McCartney said to me, Mr. Shearer that client of yours is the most stupid man I ever saw in my life.  He says you know when I was sent down with him it was very dark, as dark as midnight under those trees in front of Judge Hepburn’s and if he had just given me a little push I would have fallen over in the gutter and hollowed murder, and he could have been out in the North Mountains in a short time . . . Mark Scott didn’t get him, he was taken to Virginia.

In early November, shortly after Hazlett’s arrest and extradition to Virginia.  The Indiana Weekly Report reported that:

. . . Albert Hazlett, one of the Harper’s Ferry insurrectionists, is a native of this county. About two years since Hazlett was arrested in this place for the larceny of a number of overcoats from the hall of the American Hotel, was admitted to bail, but forfeited the recognizance by not appearing at the time of trial.  He then left for the State of Ohio, and we believe was in Kansas a short period, and took part in the struggle between the Free State men and Missourians, and boasted that a pistol ball at one time made a furrow through his beard.  He remained in that territory . . . until the later part of July last, when he returned to this county. Being in search of employment John B. Allison, Esq. of White tp., engaged him to assist in harvesting his oats crop, and while in the employ of Mr. Allison, and at work in the field cradling, he inquired of him if he had observed the letter B on the blades of the oats and knew what it was to represent. Receiving a reply in the negative and asked to give his interpretation of the symbol, he replied that it stood for Blood, that all the oats this year bore the same impression, and the time was near at hand when it was to be shed. This aroused Mr. Allison’s curiosity and he desired to learn how it was possible that it could be construed into that light, and where and for what purpose the blood was to be shed.  Hazlett’s reply was, that he was connected with a company who were pledged to the overthrow of slavery, and that he must soon leave for the west. Mr. Allison treated the whole affair at the time as ridiculous in the extreme.  Shortly after this Hazlett left, but it was ascertained instead of going west he took the cars for the east, and nothing was known of his doings and whereabouts until we hear of his connection with Ossawatamie Brown at Harper’s Ferry, and is now on trial for insurrection, treason and murder.

            The Register also published an extract from the Johnstown Echo alleging that Hazlett, while working as a canal boatman some years earlier, had sold his employer’s boat and team but returned the money and avoided prosecution. It was also said he was connected with a gang of horse thieves but turned state’s evidence and testified against his confederates at their trial in Elmira, New York. Fearing their vengeance, he left for parts unknown.

In January 1860, another resident of Indiana County, J.E. Coulter, the postmaster, provided additional information about Hazlett’s background. In response to an inquiry from Andrew Hunter, prosecuting attorney for Virginia, seeking information or witnesses, Coulter replied:

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Hazlett remained in the Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), jail more than four months while the authorities completed preparations for his trial which finally took place during the week of February 6-10, 1860. Shearer obtained the services of Botts and Green, eminent Virginia lawyers, for Hazlett’s defense, and in Shearer’s words they “made a noble defense.”  The Richmond Enquirer reported that Botts’ closing argument took two hours, and Green spoke for three hours, “the ablest argument made since the commencement of the Harper’s Ferry Trials.” Prosecutor Hunter, writing to Virginia Governor Letcher, spoke of the “Protracted and hotly contested trial of Hazlett.” The Indiana Weekly Register followed the trial and reported that Captain Clowe, who had never seen Hazlett before, spoke with him in the jail February 8. “At that time the prisoner stated that he had not heard from his mother since his connection with the Harper’s Ferry Affair.  After the prisoner made the statement he seemed to regret it.”

Shearer heard that the jury was out all night and an acquittal or hung jury was expected, but some citizens “gathered below and howled ‘Hang him or we will hang you.’ In that way they succeeded in extorting the verdict of guilty from them.”

On February 13, Hazlett was sentenced to be hanged. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded:

I have a few words to say. I am innocent of the charge on which I have been convicted. I deny ever having committed murder, or ever having contemplated murder, or even having associated with any one with such intentions. Some of the witnesses have sworn to things which I deny, and which were positively false. For instance in reference to my beard; I have never in my life until my imprisonment to jail, allowed my beard to go more than three weeks without shaving, and all testimony therefore as to the length of my beard is false. Again, Mr. Copeland testified that I was sitting on a stool when he entered the jail cell at Carlisle, this I deny; I was sitting on a blanket, beck against the wall, and another man was on the stool . Copeland also said there were only two men in the cell: this is false, as there were four other white men in the cell with me, and we comprised all the white prisoners in the jail. Others of the witnesses made false statements, but I forgive them all. I have been treated kindly since my confinement – much better than I had expected – and I must say I think better of Virginia. I wish to also to return my thanks to the counsel who have so ably defended me; they have done more in my behalf than Northern counsel could possibly have done. I repeat I am innocent of murder but am prepared to meet my fate.

            Strong efforts were made to secure an executive pardon of commutation of the sentence. The Register reported

A petition signed by two or three hundred of our citizens, asking the pardon of Hazlett, the last of the Harper’s Ferry Insurrectionists, was circulated in this borough last week. It is hope, I that the Governor of Virginia will grant the prayer . . . the honor of the Old Dominion has already been more than vindicated.

Another petition for clemency came from Carlisle. Judge Graham at Carlisle and the attorney who represented Virginia at the Carlisle hearings both wrote letters asking Governor Letcher to pardon Hazlett. Another petition, accompanied by a letter from A.W. Taylor of Indiana, the county’s representative in the State Senate, was signed by 55 members of the Pennsylvania Senate and House.

Meantime a small group of sympathizers were meeting in Harrisburg to plot ways and means of rescuing Hazlett and Aaron D. Stevens, also condemned to die. Among the number were Richard J. Hinton, who appears to have been the organizer, Captain James Montgomery, John W. LeBarnes, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Revolvers were loaned and money contributed. It was decided to reconnoiter and gather information, so Montgomery went to the vicinity of Charles Town, and Silas C. Soule, who had a perfect Southern accent, went into the town in the guise of a drunk and disorderly Irishman and was locked in a cell of the jail. Cautiously, he conversed with Hazlett and Stevens, telling them of the planned rescue effort, but they requested that it be abandoned as impossible on account of a constant guard of eighty men around the jail at tall times. In spite of this, some of the group were still inclined to try, but heavy snows and bad weather caused them finally to give up.

Clemency was denied by Governor Letcher and Hazlett’s fate was sealed. The following letter from Hazlett to Anne Brown is evidence of his innermost thoughts:

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One of those who came to see Hazlett was Mrs. Rebecca Spring and her son from the “Socialist Union,” or Raritan Bay Union, of Eagleswood, New Jersey (now part of Perth Amboy). Afterward, Hazlett wrote to her the day before his execution:

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The brother who visited him was Jonas Hazlett, at that time a farm hand near Elders Ridge, who later moved to the vicinity of Lawrence, Kansas.  To him Albert entrusted a six-stanza poem which was afterward published in the Indiana Weekly Register:


The execution on March 16, 1860, was a carefully staged, impressive Virginia military display, as well as a gala spectacle. Twelve military companies participated. The Register noted afterward that Hazlett and Stevens

Both exhibited great firmness. There was no religious exercises at the gallows, as they persisted in refusing all the kindly offices of the ministry in their last moments. They were both Spiritualists, and had a peculiar religion of their own, which enabled them to meet their fate with cheerfulness and resignation.

            The bodies were shipped by Adams Express to Marcus Spring. He was warned of an angry mob at Perth Amboy determined to throw the caskets overboard from the boat, so it was arranged for the boat to stop at Rahway where the caskets were taken secretly to the grounds of the Socialist Union. Here funeral services were held and Hazlett and his buddy buried in the cemetery in the midst of a scraggy wood of cedars, pines and scrub oaks.

Hazlett was not completely forgotten in his home community. In 1894 Annie Brown Adams wrote Richard Hinton: “I received a letter from a lady in Indiana Co. Penn. Who had been reading [your book] also, and asking numerous questions about Albert Hazlett, giving all the information she could gather about him and his family in that region. Most unfortunately we do not know the lady’s name. Her letter, if it could be found, would probably reveal more about the Hazlett family.

In 1899, an Associated Press dispatch related that the bodies were about to be dug up because the clay was needed for a tile works at Pertch Amboy. Due to the efforts of Dr. Featherstonhaugh of Washington, D.C., and others, arrangements were made for reburial on the John Brown farm about three miles from Lake Placid, New York. Here, many miles from his native home, Hazlett rests in an unmarked grave near a large boulder surrounded by an iron fence. Eleven of his companions rest there with him.

This ends the strange story, and we are left with unanswered questions. Why didn’t his family help him? Why didn’t they have him buried in his native home soil? Hazlett’s father was dead. His mother apparently did not even write to him. One brother was the only member of the family who went to see him. In 1859, Hinton wrote to Higginson, “His brother can do nothing. They are poor, indifferent or frightened, probably all three.” When Mrs. Spring asked Hazlett who were dear to him, he evaded a direct answer, saying that “everybody that is good is dear to me.”  Yet two stanzas of his “Farewell” were addressed to his mother and a sister and a third stanza to a possible sweetheart, “My angelic maid.” Apparently nothing was provided for funeral expenses. At the first burial in Eagleswood, Stevens’ remains were conveyed to the grave in a hearse but Hazlett’s Virginia coffin was carried on a common farm wagon.  And, to return to the strange circumstance noted at the beginning, why has local and state history so totally neglected him?