The Case of the 1894 Indiana County Judicial Election: Judge John P. Blair v. Judge Harry White

It was in 1894 when the election for judge brought about Indiana County’s most bitter, vicious, and sordid election.  The contestants were Harry White and John P. Blair.  The election results gave White a narrow margin of 87 votes (White: 4036, Blair: 3949).  Blair contested the election.  Printed below based on newspaper article is the best rendition of how the case likely proceeded and the outcome given by the Court.

On December 5, 1894, D.B. Taylor, Esq. went to Harrisburg with a petition that was signed by nearly 150 voters, asking the Governor to appoint a court to investigate the 1894 election results between Judge White and Judge Blair.  The petition sought the Governor to appoint a court consisting of three Judges closest to Indiana to sit to hear and determine which candidate is entitled to the office.

The claim was that Judge White was declared the winner by reason of false returns, and those signing the petition did not believe White received more than 3,600 legal votes, but that Blair did receive 3,949 legal votes.  In the petition it was alleged that 118 votes were taken from disqualified voters whose names were not on the ballot check lists; 148 votes were taken from persons who were at least 22 and had not paid taxes within two years; 59 votes and upwards of people who gave, or promised to give, bribes; 109 votes of persons who received bribes; and two persons under 21 voted – the claim was that all these votes went to White. 

Attorney General Hensel approved the petition on December 6 and the petition was sent to Governor Pattison.

Judge White traveled to Harrisburg on December 7 for a hearing before the Governor in the afternoon.  Judge White was represented by Lyman D. Gilbert of Harrisburg.  At the hearing, the Governor directed Attorney Gilbert to submit briefs to the Attorney General that week.  The Governor also appointed Judge Barker, of Ebensburg; Judge Doty, of Greensburg; and Judge Reyburn, of Kittanning to serve on the panel.  It was reported that White’s attorney filed an objection against Judge Reyburn as he was the brother-in-law of D.B. Taylor, the plaintiff’s attorney, but Judge White denied the claim stating:

The people of this county know all about that election.  I was fairly elected in the face of an opposition such as a candidate never before saw in Indiana County.  The opposition say that can change my majority of 87 to 349 in favor of my opponent.  In answer to that I have positive proof of several hundred illegal votes cast for Judge Blair – illegal, because the voter had not paid his taxes.  I do not believe the people of the county are in sympathy with this talked-of contest.  Of course there may have been some illegal votes cast because of technicalities, but the people will not lay to my charge the failure of election officers to comply with formalities.

Judge Blair stated that he was not pushing for the contest and knew nothing of the plans or methods of those who were backing the contest.

Court was called into session on December 21, 1894 at 10 a.m.   The first order of business was to appoint a president of the panel, to which Judge Doty was selected.  After Prothonotary Peelor read the Governor’s commissions, Attorney Taylor (for the petitioners) and Attorney Banks (for Judge White) presented their opening statements.  The attorneys present on behalf of Judge White were: Cunningham, Banks, Scott, Watson, and Keener.

Judge White, with the court’s permission, presented a statement because of the absence of an attorney who had expected to be there.  He objected to the sitting of the Honorable Calvin Reyburn, President Judge of the 33rd District, because of the circumstances.  He said in his statement, “This request is made out of no disrespect for his Honor or from want of confidence in his judicial character and integrity, but because of the surroundings.”  As mentioned above, the objection was over Judge Reyburn being the brother-in-law of D.B. Taylor, attorney for Blair.

The Judges retired to conference and upon returning to the bench Judge Doty announced that it was Judge Reyburn’s personal desire to withdraw from the board, but because of the Governor’s commission and the evident intent of the law that the three Judges closest to the Courthouse of Indiana County preside over the matter; it was decided that Judge Reyburn would remain a member of the panel.  Mr. Banks objected vigorously to the decision, but he was overruled.

Mr. Banks then made an oral motion that the petition be quashed on the grounds that it was vague and indefinite, stating that the very vagueness of the petition looked like a scheme of the petitioners to get into the ballot boxes.

Mr. Taylor responded that many of the ballot boxes had already been opened and papers extracted, and that before too much time had passed, the people of the county would know who did it.  He quoted many authorities why it was not necessary to designate who case the illegal votes an in what districts the frauds were perpetrated.

Mr. Taylor requested that counsel for petitioners not be compelled to furnish the names of those who voted illegally, and gave the reason that it would interfere in the subpoenaing of their witnesses.  Judge Barker then asked for a little more definite explanation upon which Taylor stated, “Why, your honor…I can in a very few minutes bring you absolute proof that already attempts have been made to get people out of the county until after this contest is decided.”

Mr. Cunningham then took the floor speaking at length about the vagaries of the petition and the turmoil which could result if something more definite was not presented.  He told the court, “Unless this petition states who these illegal voters are and where they voted there is not a man in Indiana County who cannot be called upon to testify. Counsel for the petitioners have unlimited power in the matter unless your honors grant a ‘bill in particular,’ asking for more definite speculations.”

After a long discussion among the Judges, they came to a conclusion with Judge Doty announcing a unanimous opinion that the petition was vague, and it needed to state who the illegal voters were, and where they voted.  The Court granted the bill, and counsel for the petitioners would have until January 1, 1895 to file their answer.

Sheriff D.C. Mack was then appointed as commissioner to collect all the ballot boxes in the county and keep them in his custody until he was called upon to deliver them to the court.

The court then adjourned until January 15, when the Judges would again convene and hear the evidence in the case.

At 9:00 a.m. on January 15, 1895 the court panel convened with Judge Doty announcing, “Well, we are ready to proceed, Mr. Taylor.”

D.B. Taylor called William Fry and Lester Ruffner, and while the court was waiting for the witnesses to be brought in, Judge White came into the court room, shook hands with the Judges on the bench, and then seated himself at counsel table.

William Fry appeared and was sworn; stated he lived near Marion and voted in Rayne Township.

            Attorney Taylor: “State whether or not any person gave you money for your vote.”

            Attorney Banks: “Just a moment; that’s objected to.”

Attorney Banks argued that in the Bill of Particulars filed by Blair had made no specifications of any voters who had received bribes.  He further attacked the Bill saying it was not signed by any person.  He said the signatures should be there and that the paper should be sworn to.

Judge Barker replied that the object of the court when they ordered the filing of the Bill was to insure there was sufficient cause for the proceedings, and if there were no objections the contestants would be allowed to amend their specifications.

Mr. Cunningham wanted to know if the Bill was amended, if the other side would have the privilege to answer it.

Judge Barker announced that the court would allow the contestants to amend their Bill and Attorney Taylor who had his paper ready handed it to the Prothonotary.

Further examination of the witness was objected to and then there were long arguments from both sides.  The argument was made by White’s attorneys that witnesses could not be made to testify to having received or given bribes.  The Blair people contended that the law said that no testimony given in a case of the kind could be used against witnesses in any future proceeding which might be brought against him and that therefore they were safe as far as incrimination was concerned.

Attorneys Cunningham and Banks contended that after a voter has sworn to his eligibility to vote, the vote should be taken and counted and if he had perjured himself or taken a bribe, the remedy was to be found in another court.  The court recessed from 11:15 to 1:30 to consider the arguments.

The court reconvened, and Judge Doty announced that the objections were overruled, and the evidence would be admitted.

In answer to the Bill of Particulars, Judge White filed on the night of January 15, claiming that there were upwards of 1,023 illegal votes were cast for John P. Blair.  The allegations were as follows: Non-residents, 34; not registered, 199; taxes unpaid, 455; under age, 7; defective ballots, 4; marked by parties not asked to assist in marking, 4; marked contrary to orders, 6; marked by persons incompetent to assist, 4; voters not naturalized, 2; promised to give valuable consideration, 47; received or agreed to receive valuable consideration, 157.  He also averred that votes of several districts should be thrown out on account of irregularities.

The court then heard testimony of 1,372 witnesses, which took up 1,541 typewritten pages.  In summary, the testimony is summarized as consisting of allegations and denials of bribery with money and/or whiskey, violations of election laws, and sundry other improprieties and questionable electioneering tactics.

It was presented that John Guffey, a prominent Democratic politician of Pittsburgh, had written a letter charging that Bennet’s liquor house had furnished Judge White with 100 packages of whiskey during the election campaign.  The owners of the establishment denied the charges.

Judge White testified on his own behalf, as a large crowd had gathered to hear his side of the story:

The contestants have produced testimony showing that I gave money during the recent campaign to a number of persons, in all about $21 [approximately $635 in today’s money].  I will explain these transactions.  I met Samuel Cooper a political friend of mine, at Gettysburg [Hillsdale] and we had some conversation about election matters.  I asked him to see a number of people for me, and to procure a driver to take me over the township.  We walked back an alley to a buggy shed, and I gave him $2.  The secrecy of the transaction was brought about by my thinking that if my opponents saw me give him the money they would put a false construction on it.  The money was for legitimate campaign expenses, and Cooper’s testimony was correct.  I have no apology to make concerning that transaction.

Clark Wilson testified that I gave him money before the election, he told the truth.  I gave him 50 cents or $1, as I have often done before, and that simple act of charity has nothing to do with the election, as Wilson also testified on the stand.

Robert McBreth came to my office to see me.  He said he had been doing some work for me, and thought there were others in his vicinity that he could get to support me.  He wanted expense money and I gave him $2.  William B. Lytle swore that I gave him $2, that is also correct.  I was down in Conemaugh Township, and he drove with me one day to see a number of people.  In the evening he got supper for me and fed my horses.  He did not want to take the money, but I said I did not wan to take his hospitality for nothing.  On a subsequent visit I gave his sister $1 for a like purpose.  He did not want to accept it, but I would not listen to a refusal.

I met William Trimble, of East Wheatfield, at a local bank.  I persuaded him to accompany me on an electioneering tour over the township.  He took care of my horse, and gave me my dinner, and for these services I gave him $5.  Austin Condron also received $5.  He was very active in my behalf, and was my friend before he received a cent from me.  It was not necessary for me to pay him anything.

David Campbell, of Heshbon, is a Democrat, but was one of my supporters all through the campaign.  He came to my office and made an arrangement whereby he was to keep me posted through correspondence.  I gave him $2 for postage and incidentals.  As the election drew near I lost his support, probably through failure of mine to answer some of his letters.

David Mardis received a dollar, but that was before the primary.  He is a very poor man, and I believed he needed it.

These instances I believe cover the amount of $21, which I am charged with having given for votes.

I never told John Nealor I would pay his back taxes if he would support me.  Three witnesses who have testified in rebuttal of that evidence heard the conversation.  I gave Alex. McCoy a dollar at Ambrose.  He was supporting me, and thought he could get some friends into line.  The dollar was given him for expenses, and not to influence his vote.

A young man, whom I have since learned was Samuel Hunter, came into my office and talked about the election.  He swore that I sent him to John H. Rochester for whiskey.  My best recollection is that I did nothing of the kind.  I did not even know that Rochester had whiskey or wine at his house, and I certainly had no claim on him other than friendship.  I never authorized Rochester to use liquor in my behalf – none whatever.

James Trindle called on me during the week of the county fair.  He knew I was an old friend of his father, and I gave him a dollar to get some dinner and may have given him some liquor.  Everybody knows that I am not a teetotaler, and I have no desire to be a hypocrite about the matter.  We had absolutely no conversation about the election.  I talked to Calvin Miller, and may have given him expenses for hauling voters to the polls.  Lewis Burnheimer is mistaken in his testimony that I promised to put him on the jury.  I never said that; I wouldn’t say it.  The same is true of the father of Miss Mary Conrad.  The young lady quoted me as saying I would put her father on the jury if he would support me.  All that I said was, ‘Tell your father to come and see me when in town;” John Lutes’s testimony was that I promised to put him on the jury if he would give me a ‘hist.’ I never made such a promise, nor did I promise to renew Porter Campbell’s note.

Myers testified that I sent him to Cashier Watt for money.  Now, I never knew Walter Myers until after the election, and the conversation he swore to positively never occurred.  Nicewonger, Myers’s companion, often called on me to borrow money, but I always told him I had none to loan.  He came to my house for money but I told him he would have to arrange matters of that kind at the bank.  Cashier Watt had no authority to pay out money for me.  Myers was in my office for money after the election.

I gave no person any money, nor made any offers or promises to influence votes.  I thought I knew what my privileges were under the law and certainly lived up to all just requirements.  There were, of course legitimate campaign expenses which were paid through the county chairman and many of the persons who came to me for money were referred to Mr. McGregor.

After Judge White’s statement, there was cross examination, which caused some wrangling on the part of the attorneys, and the Judge asked the court to protect him from insult.

The case closed on May 4, 1895 when the Court announced that there were 571 illegal votes which were thrown out, some because of election law violations, others for bribery.  In total 306 ballots for Blair were disqualified along with 265 votes for White.  The Court also stated that Judge White’s electioneering activities and expenditures were within the law.  This left White the declared winner with 3771 votes to 3643 for Blair.  The judicial opinion consisted of 35 pages of opinion, 28 pages covering points of law and 99 pages of findings of fact, this comes to a total of 162 pages.  To put this in perspective a typical United States Supreme Court case typically comes to approximately 11 pages.

So do you believe Judge White was fully within the confines of the law, or was he walking a thin hairline between lawful and unlawful?

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.”

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Harry White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

croylands2
Croylands

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost

Let’s face it: we history buffs are spoiled.  Sitting here in the present, we have the luxury of browsing through heroic successes and happy endings, a habit obliged by four centuries of positive Pennsylvania history.  But is it really those outcomes that we savor, or is it the character of the players – their vision, faith and ingenuity, win or lose?  Surely the latter.  So come with me back to Indiana County at the close of the Guilded Age for a tale of dreamers and what might have been. . . .

Marion Center’s Independent broke the news in August 1892, a coup for that town’s tiny paper.  Unnamed backers were proposing a 28-mile link between Indiana and Punxsutawney, in a corridor which had no train service at the time.  But that wasn’t the half of it: it was to be the first long-distance electric railroad in the United States!  America’s first electric trolley had debuted four years earlier in Virginia, and contiguous towns like Altoona and Hollidaysburg had been connected by electric “street railways” since 1891, but. . . cross-country?  Unheard of!

There were four challenges facing such a project from the start: technology, geography, economy and monopoly.  Then-standard DC power had to be resupplied at intervals along a line to compensate for losses during transmission, and this limited a railroad’s length outside urban power grids.  We’d have to build a generator mid-way at, say, Marion Center.  Geography ran a close second, since electric locomotives couldn’t handle grades steeper than 6%.  Ever driven between Indiana and Punxsy?  As for economics, well, remember that public works were often private works in those days, so funding for things like mass transit came not from tax dollars but from venture capital.  Six figures worth of it, in this case, which meant a lot of fundraising.  Finally, monopoly: traditional railroad companies did not take kindly to such competition, and they weren’t known for playing fair.

There were critics, of course, but we didn’t flinch.  As the Reynoldsville Star observed, “There are always those who make light of a matter and think it an impossibility, yet these very fellows are ever ready to enjoy the blessings of prosperity that result from the enterprise of energetic citizens.”  And isn’t that the difference between a critic and a dreamer?  So the backers, still anonymous, went to work.

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Electric Locomotive, 1890s

General Electric’s chief engineer arrived in early autumn and surveyed each of several possible paths.  “There are two very desirable routes which we would not have difficulty utilizing,” he told the Gazette after his inspection.  “Of course, the future depends on the reports of a civil engineer.”  He returned with just such a fellow a few weeks later.  Pittsburgh’s S.L. Tone concluded that “The grades are not so heavy that they cannot be overcome, (and) it can be done with much less work than first supposed.”  Ultimately, the route recommended was: Indiana > Kellysburg > Marion Center > Rochester Mills > Covode > Horatio > Punxsutawney.

So much for technology and geography.  How ‘bout economy?

That was a different matter.  Though low operating costs ensured a reliable profit for investors once the line was up and running, estimates of construction cost rose by 25 then 50 then 75 percent as the autumn weeks passed.  Potential investors started wavering.  Time to bring out the big guns!  The chief of those previously-anonymous backers stepped forward.  It was none other than Judge Harry White.

The idea had come to him in Beaver, of all places.  On his way there the year before, Judge White had gotten off at the wrong train station; he was transferred to Beaver Valley’s electric line for the final leg, by the end of which he’d conceived the Indiana-to-Punxsutawney project.  “With the proper energy, effort and support of our counties’ people,” he told the Gazette.  “I am sanguine of success.  I think it would be possible and politic to have at least half of the stock subscribed by citizens and farmers along the route.  If that is done, I know where the rest of the money can be secured.”

That was enough to calm the jitters.  Would-be investors and every newspaper along the route resumed their enthusiasm for what was dubbed the Electric Express.  Articles peppered with White-isms (like the archaic use of “sanguine” to mean “confident”) appeared almost daily, touting the advantages to citizens and urging farmers to grant free right-of-way.  The Messenger even printed a schedule showing that one could travel from Punxsutawney to Pittsburgh via Indiana, go shopping and return before 9:00 PM, a day-trip not possible on existing lines.  Yes, that November was truly the project’s Indian(a) Summer. . .

But winter wouldn’t be denied.  Something must have put another chill on the project, for a spate of articles denying loss of momentum appeared in December and January: interest was “not on the wane” and “only sleeping.”  This time the rallying-cries even went national, with a stories appearing in The Electrical Engineer and Electrical Age.  Ironically, the latter’s claim that the company had already been formed was the last time our chimera would be mentioned in print until 1896, save for a postmortem that spring.  The paper that first broke the story now had the last word: “We wonder if the electric railroad through this place is slumbering so soundly that it cannot be awakened,” mused the Independent.

So just what pulled the plug on the Electric Express?  No one knows.  Perhaps the investors Judge White spoke of backed out, or the $250 blocks of stock that were to have been offered to “citizens and farmers along the route” proved too expensive for most.  Then again, the combine that included Jefferson County’s Low Grade Railroad may have found a way to ensure that the switch would never be thrown.  Yet it was all academic in the end, for the second worst depression in American history struck that February.

The Panic of 1893 virtually shut down commercial credit for three years;  five hundred banks failed nationwide, dragging countless projects with them, while Coxey’s Army and the Bituminous Miners’ Strike made Pennsylvania ground zero.  So in a way, whatever stopped our Electric Express did us a favor in the end, avoiding what may well have been the last straw for local banks, landowners and investors.

We dreamed of our Electric Express one last time in November 1896.  With the Panic at last behind us, our papers again noted a push by unnamed backers and another survey, this time by engineers from Western Electric.  Though the articles were positive (and again, similarly worded), they didn’t make the front page.  Once burned, twice shy?  That caution proved wise, for the Electric Express was never heard from again.

Or was it?  The Indiana, Punxsutawney and Sagamore Street Railway Company was launched in 1907 when “trolley fever” swept America.  Okay, so it wasn’t a real cross-country railroad with electric locomotives – we loved it while it lasted.  Sometimes our children have to finish the dreams we start.

Play On: The Indiana Shakespeare Club

Under the bare headline Local Items, a birth announcement of sorts appeared in the Indiana Democrat on December 4th, 1879:

“A select literary circle is being organized in Indiana.”

Unremarkable among 53 other one-liners, the note gave no name nor even the date of birth.  Who could have guessed the newborn would grow up to be a supercentenarian honored as “the oldest social and literary organization in Indiana County”?

Notwithstanding its little-noted beginning, the Amateur Social Club (as it was first christened) had as its parents “the choice and master spirits of the age,” as Shakespeare might say.  It was conceived by Josias Young, Chairman of Indiana Normal School’s language department, and its first complement of members included the likes of State Supreme Court Justice Silas Clark, Civil War General Harry White, Congressman Summers Jack and the grandparents of future actor Jimmy Stewart (see photo).  And while its purpose was the social integration of incoming Normal School faculty and their spouses, Professor Young’s choice of Shakespeare studies as the means to that end may have been prompted by a performance of Othello put on here by Pittsburgh’s Shakespeare Club the week before.

play on
SOME ORIGINAL  MEMBERS, L to R :  Standing – Augustine Purington, Anna White, James M. Stewart, Louisa Sutton, Silas Clark, Bela B. Tiffany, Summers Jack, Agnes Porter, George W. Hood, Edward H. Wilson.   Second Row, Seated – Eliza Purington,Thomas Sutton, Clarissa Clark, Harry White, Josephine Tiffany, John McWilliams, John W. Sutton, Mary Wilson.  Front Row, Seated – Ella Sutton, Margaret Jack (?), Cordelia Barr (?), Edward Sutton.

In any case, Professor Young and twelve others became charter members when that group met at photographer Bela Tiffany’s home on November 27th; thirteen more men and women were invited to become members the following day at the Club’s first formal meeting.  That number – thirteen married couples – remained the standard complement until it was increased to sixteen couples in the 1990s.

Membership was recruited from the academic, professional and commercial sectors of Indiana society, by invitation of existing members.  The seemingly narrow “couples only” tradition was in fact a progressive provision ensuring gender-balanced point of view on the varied and sometimes controversial topics to be addressed.  Spouses sat separately to encourage independent thought, and seating arrangements changed from meeting to meeting to avoid formation of cliques.

With the exception of Christmas week, meetings were held Friday evenings during the academic year (September-April) in members’ homes or at the Tea Room on special occasions.  Hosts and topics were scheduled a year in advance and printed in the Kalendar, a booklet given to each member.  After six years, the Club had gone through Shakespeare’s entire surviving folio, so they decided to pursue instead the popular Chautauqua course of morally-based adult education.  Many members “found it too much labor,” so when the course was completed in 1889, the Club stopped meeting.  But old members decided ambition should be made of sterner stuff; the Indiana Shakespeare Club reconvened in 1890, and has continued with remarkably few changes down to the present.

Tradition and stability have promoted the Club’s longevity.  There have been just eight presidents since its formation, from the redoubtable John Sutton (served 1879-1942) to second-generation member John Barbor.  Even little things contribute; chocolate and ice water have been served at the end of each program since the beginning, a holdover from when both commodities were expensive rarities.  And the Shakespearean tradition that the show must go on is upheld by the priority given meeting-attendance: the week of 9/11, members sang the National Anthem and headed to the Apple Theater in Delmont as scheduled.  Only World War II was allowed to interrupt, with just nine meetings held during those 45 months.

Some things have changed.  Perhaps due to the acceleration of life’s pace over the last century, meetings have gone from weekly or biweekly to monthly.  Men and women no longer retire to separate rooms to socialize after meetings adjourn.  And the Shakespeare Club has had five different names since its inception as the Amateur Social Club, including 1884’s Hyperion Shakespeare Club, a probable reference to the “quest for enlightenment” described in John Keats’ The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream.  But, what’s in a name . . .?

Examining the Kalendar of a particular year in its life gives us a good idea of the Club’s character and interests.  The booklet for the 1914-15 season is titled “The World’s Mine Oyster” on the cover and closes with the Club Toast, a parody of the song Maryland: “(W)ith cult of knowledge, love and mirth….”  Every page leads off with a quote from Shakespeare, Byron, Goethe, or the like.  Each week’s topic fits within the theme for that year – itself derived from current events – and is presented in a Shakespearean context when possible.  History, travel, science and civics are mainstays.  Some examples from that year’s Kalendar:

  • Count Zeppelin and his Inventions
  • Edison and his Achievements
  • Kaiser Wilhelm as Man and Father
  • Women in the Politics of 1915
  • Shakespeare and Democracy
  • A View of Socialism
  • Commercial Morality
  • The Shakespeare Tourist in Belgium, Serbia and Germany
  • The American Melting Pot

As you can see, the war in Europe and a comparison of America’s perspective with the combatants’ was that year’s theme.  Each host had months to prepare, and guest speakers with relevant experience or knowledge could be added at the last moment.  “Magic lantern” travelogues were a Club favorite.

At present as in past, one or more field trips may be made during the year.  Most are to theatrical or concert venues within a day’s travel, but in recent years the Club has even shown up at Pirates baseball games!  Perhaps the most memorable trip was in 1959, when the group traveled in a special Pennsylvania Railroad car to New York City.  There they attended a United Nations session and were given a guided tour of that institution by Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold’s executive assistant . . . who just happened to be club-member Ralph Cordier’s brother.

The Indiana Shakespeare Club was founded with the original intent of community integration and liaison, and that function is not absent today.  Members are drawn from every segment of society, and friendships forged between members tend to be lifelong and resemble family ties.  There is even an organizational sibling of sorts; the Ingleside Club, likewise founded in the 19th century, has many a literary interest in common with the Bard’s brood, and the two sometimes host each other’s meetings.

And so it goes.  Ah, but you ask how long the light of our Shakespeare Club will shine?  Ask not, for in Indiana County as in Stratford-upon-Avon, ignorance is the only darkness.  Say rather: How far that little candle throws its beams!

(How many hidden Shakespeare quotes canst thou  find in this script?)

Indiana County Judicial System Part IV

In 1894, Judge Harry White came up for reelection; he had been on the Bench since January 1885. White was reelected, but by a narrow margin, and despite numerous efforts to put himself in a favorable light, as discussed in a previous post, Judge White had a controversial career, and he tread a thin line between ethical and unethical actions. However, White was unable to erase the memories of 1894-95, because when the election of 1904 came around, he was defeated for a third term, and never held an elective public office again. He was succeed by Stephen J. Telford who served until January 1916, when Judge Jonathan N. Langham took over his seat.

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Judge Stephen J. Telford

During the late 1800s and early part of the 1900s, Indiana County was fortunate to have the honor of having two of its native sons on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Justice Silas M. Clark (who died November 20, 1891 in office and was eulogized during a moving funeral) and Justice John P. Elkin, who after serving as Attorney General of Pennsylvania from 1899-1903, was nominated in 1904 for the PA Supreme Court, was elected and took his place on the bench in January 1905 serving until his death on October 3, 1915.

The period from 1891-1916, saw an increase in crime, due in part to a “Wild West” climate in some of the new mining towns; there were numerous murders and other crimes and disturbances. This can been seen in 1898 in Glen Campbell and in Whiskey Run in 1911 which resulted in four deaths.

By 1920 the courthouse was showing its age at 50 years old. When it was constructed, electricity and modern toilet facilities were unheard of, therefore remodeling needed to be completed at various times. In 1917, there was a $3,370 contract for public “comfort stations” to be put in in the courthouse basement. Then in 1929 it was decided to complete the basement, it was previously divided into rooms but never finished because the space was not needed. A street-level entrance to the basement was provided, which eliminated the former steps on the Sixth Street side to the first floor. The toilets on the first floor were removed and two toilets were provided in the basement, along with eight office rooms.

Another addition was begun in December 1917 and completed in the spring of 1918: the “Bridge of Sighs” connected the courtroom with the jail.

By the time the Depression hit, the courthouse needed painting and maintenance, estimated at a cost of $600; the labor was to be provided by the Civil Works Administration. Officials and attorneys contributed $290 toward the cost. Another incident during the Depression Era, was the leaning of the courthouse tower which was noticed by June 1936; an option discussed was the removal of the clock tower, but this was met with protests from citizens. Other plans during this time included the removal of the stone wall and the iron fence surrounding the courthouse, cleaning and painting the exterior, raising the roof and constructing an additional story, remodeling the interior to provide much needed office space, and the installation of an elevator. The Grand Jury approved the project, with labor to be done as a W.P.A. project. By late July, the local WPA office approved the repainting of the courthouse and jail, and Washington also gave its approval on September 11; but the commissioners cancelled the project due to the impending cold weather and the cost of scaffolding. In December the Grand Jury were presented with reconstruction plans, but postponed the matter for further study.

It was in 1923, that women began serving on juries. The Indiana Evening Gazette reported on May 1, 1923 that 73 women accepted to serve on the grand petit and traverse jurors along with 131 men. To put this in perspective Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919 and being ratified on August 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote.

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Jury Chairs 9 and 10

It was also during this period that an amusing incident occurred on January 5, 1924. The story begins when everyone in the courthouse began to cry, investigators found two rapidly emptying tear gas bombs in the corridor, and the mystery as to why everyone was crying was solved. It seems that outgoing Sheriff J.R. Richards had the bombs to use in a scattering a mob, and two practical jokers thought it would be fun to release them, that is until they were among the ones weeping. The windows and doors to the building were opened, and the gas weakened, but they had to be closed at the end of the day and the fumes began to collect again. On Sunday morning, the Lutherans, entered the building to worship in while their new church was being constructed; however, they were almost forced to leave due to the fumes.

The final era of the judicial system that we are going to look at is moving into the modern era, mostly after the 1950s through the 1980s. Starting in the 1950’s the grandeous courthouse was described as an “eye sore” and there was a proposed modernization of the building which was estimated to cost between $800,000 and $850,000, but these proposals got no further than the planning stage. Then on October 29, 1962, plans were announced to construct a new courthouse at the rear of the old courthouse, but the Gazette ran several editorials in November which disagreed with the choice of a site and urged that the Pennsylvania Railroad station site (on the corner of Eighth Street and Philadelphia) be chosen. Bids were advertised around January 1, 1965, but it wasn’t until December 7, 1966 that the Commissioners chose the PRR site.

The public got a preview of the new courthouse on June 3, 1967 when the Gazette published a picture and plans. By August the Indiana County Redevelopment Authority purchased the entire PRR property for $300,000 and transferred a portion of the property to the county for a courthouse. On December 6, the Commissioners approved a $2 million bond issue to finance the problem. Construction contracts were signed on January 3, 1968 and ground-breaking ceremonies were held on January 10. Construction continued through 1969 and by the beginning of 1970 contracts for new furnishings were awarded. The last session of court in the old courthouse was held on November 2, 1970; and on December 17 the last county office, the prothonotary, moved out and the doors were padlocked soon afterward.

The Commissioners announced on April 22, 1971 that the old courthouse would be sold in the near future. This set off a history of the old courthouse. There was an auction of the furnishing held in June. In May 1972 there was a survey related to the distribution of the courthouse with three choices: retain the buildings and the property, retain the land, sell to the highest bidder. A large majority desired to keep the old courthouse. By the end of the year the National Bank of the Commonwealth (NBOC) made a proposal to lease and restore the building for bank purposes.

Renovation work began during the summer of 1973, starting with the placement of the old courthouse on the state and national registers of historic places. An “Open House” was held on October 1974.

The new courthouse proved to be less than ideal. There were some people felt that the colonial design was inappropriate, because Indiana did not exist during that period. Moreover, the structure proved to be poorly insulated, heating cost exorbitant, and expensive corrective measures had to be taken. In 1987, at an estimated cost of $200,000, asbestos was removed.

Ground-breaking of a new jail took place on September 9, 1972 and the $1 million 3-story facility was dedicated on September 28, 1973 but not occupied until the end of October. The issue of jailbreaks did not end, and the first occurred on September 21, 1974, followed by three more on November 3. The jail was referred to as the “Ninth Street Hilton.” There were suggestions to put bars on the windows, on November 4 the Commissioners voted to proceed with the installation of bars immediately.

The justice-of-the-peace system was replaced by the District Justices, first elected in 1969 and taking office in January 1970. The first district justices were: James Lambert, Geraldine M. Wilkins, Louis J. Nocco, and Albert Cox. Mrs. Wilkins was the first Indiana County woman to hold the post of District Justice. Judy Monaco was sworn in on May 3, 1971 as the first female member of the Indiana County Bar Association and the first to be admitted to practice in the new courthouse.

Another big change during this period was the elimination of the indicting grand jury system, which was authorized by a 1973 constitutional amendment. The last Indiana County Grand Jury closed its work in December 1978.

The Indiana County Judiciary system is continually changing, with the election of new judges, new District Judges, and the admission of new attorneys to the Bar Association.

Annual Christmas Open House

Last week was a busy week at the Historical Society as the holiday season is in full swing.  On Wednesday afternoon the public was invited to join the Historical Society to view recent interviews of long-time residents of Indiana County conducted by students from IUP’s history department. It was a great afternoon as we got to experience what life was like during the first half of the 20th Century through individual stories.  These stories ranged from life in the coal towns, to time at the University, and military service. We would like to thank everyone who came out and shared the afternoon with us along with the students from IUP’s History Department who completed the interviews, and of course the residents of Indiana County who shared their memories.

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IUP Community Choir

Then on Friday evening the Historical Society welcomed the community to celebrate the Christmas Season.  The weather was perfect, as the rain held off for most of the evening. The community came together to tour the festively decorated Clark House while enjoying holiday refreshments and to tour the museum. There were even gifts in the gift shop for people to do some holiday shopping for family and friends.  Our guests enjoyed holiday music provided by the IUP Community Choir, afterwards guests made their way to the Clark House for a holiday sing along around the piano in the parlor. If you were lucky you got to have a conversation with some historical figures, including Harry and Anna White who were in the Clark House. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate the season with us and to the Evergreen Garden Club for decorating the Clark House for the holiday season.

The whites
Harry and Anna White

As a reminder the Historical Society will be closed from December 22, 2018 through January 1, 2019. We will reopen on January 2, 2019. We are excited to see what the new year holds in store, stay tuned for future events such as programs and fundraisers, or just come in to visit the museum or do some family research in our library. Whatever the reason for your visit we can’t wait to see you at the Society. We wish everyone a happy holiday season and a happy new year.

Clark House2018
Clark House

The First Hanging in Indiana County

The first hanging in Indiana County was the execution of James E. Allison for the murder of his father, Robert Allison, but a grave error was made in the guilt of the executed.

Prior to 1877, Robert lived with his family on his farm in Washington Township, but owing to fights and quarrels with his wife and children, particularly James, he left home around January 1, 1877 to live first with his sister and then his brother, Alexander. Robert’s home was about a quarter of a mile from Alexander’s home.

Robert tried to return home, but was thrown out by James, and was assaulted by him, this occurred on March 13, 1880. The assault was set for trial on June 17, 1880. The two agreed to a peaceful settlement, and the left for home with the understanding, that the dispute between them should be submitted to amiable arbitration.

The following set of facts was submitted at trial:

On the Friday following the return from court, at dusk, James Allison asked a neighbor boy to tell his father that Alonzo Allison (Robert’s son) wanted to see him at the road at dark. The boy delivered the message and returned home.

Robert immediately went to the road, and a few minutes later John Allison (another of Robert’s sons) heard shots. He ran to the road and saw James fleeing and Robert lying on the ground. Robert reported that James shot him.

Leon Smeltzer, a neighbor, heard the shots and voice which he took to be James cursing to the person to whom he was talking. John also heard shots and heard Robert yelling out that James was shooting him. Earlier in June, Alonzo overheard James threaten to shoot his father if he met him at court. Many witnesses heard Robert exclaim: “For God’s sake, don’t kill me, Jim, this time,” and after the shooting, they heard the expression, “You damned old son-of-a-b***, how do you feel now?” The last expression was recognized as James’ voice.

James did not resist arrest the following day, at which time he was working in the cornfield with the murder weapon found on his person. James was taken to the Indiana County Jail. Robert died the following Monday, June 21, 1880 at 5:00 pm.

At the September court session charges were filed against James for the murder of Robert Allison. The case was continued until March 1881, when it was tried. The trial began on March 15, 1881. The Jury consisted of: John K. Myers, James A. Black, W.S. Linsenbigler, Alfred Lovelace, William J. Elwood, James Neely, James M. Creps, William Wachob, Joseph Atkinson, William McConnell, Isaac Warner, and Valentine T. Kerr.

The District Attorney M.C. Watson, Harry White and Joseph M. Thompson presented the case for the Commonwealth, and Silas M. Clark, H.K. Sloan, and J.C. Ruffner were represented Allison. Judge Blair presided over the case.

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Silas Clark, attorney for Allison

Testimony closed on Saturday March 19, 1881. The case was argued on Monday and the jury was sent out on Monday evening. The jury remained out overnight and returned with the verdict of guilty of murder. A motion was made for a new trial and in arrest of judgment. The motions were argued on May 20, 1881; they were overruled and the James Allison was sentenced to hang.

As with any murder conviction, a writ of error was taken to the October term of the PA Supreme Court. On November 14, 1881, the opinion of the PA Supreme Court was delivered, affirming the conviction.

A record of the case was sent to Governor Hoyt who ordered the execution to take place on February 17, 1882. An application was made to the Board of Pardons sitting in Harrisburg on January 15, 1882, for a change to the sentence for life imprisonment, but that application was refused.

James was visited by all ministers of Indiana, between the time of reception of the warrant for his execution and the day set for carrying it out. They attempted to impress upon him the seriousness of his crime and the necessity for a quick and sincere repentance, but James was unmoved.

On Wednesday night, February 3, 1882, James was alone in his cell. He was heard pacing the floor and stirring the fire frequently. He only slept a short time.

On Thursday morning, the building of the scaffold for the hanging was begun. The majority of the day was spent completing it. On Thursday evening, Sheriff Jamison requested that James put on a new suit of clothes which he had gotten for him. James refused to accept the suit, despite the fact that his clothes were dirty and ragged.

That evening, James had a hearty dinner, but did not seem excited about the events of the following day. There was no explanation why there was a change of the date of the execution.

That evening the guards, H.S. (Barney) Thompson and John Sherman, stayed with James. He talked with them freely until midnight, but made no reference to the execution during the conversation. Again, James did not sleep much; at eight in the morning he had a hearty breakfast.

Later Monday morning, James was visited by his mother, Alonzo and a sister; he turned them away when they entered his cell and refused to speak with them. He told Sheriff Jamison to take them away, stating they were no friends of his.

The Sheriff selected the following as witnesses to the execution: George R. Lewis, C.C. Davis, Dr. J.K. Thompson, James Johnston, G.W. Bodenhamer, G.T. Hamilton, William McWilliams, J.A.C. Rairagh, William Mabon, Dr. W.L. Reed, J.B. Sansom, and Johnston Miller.

As was customary in the day, a crowd had gathered in front of the jail by ten a.m. It was shortly after ten, when the front door of the jail was opened and those having tickets were admitted. At four minutes before eleven, the Sheriff and his assistant went for Allison; James said he would not go. The Sheriff told Allison that he would have to order H.C. Howard and John W. Brooks, to take him to the scaffold.

The Sheriff and Henry Hall walked in front, the others followed, marching slowly in to the courtyard and up to the scaffold. Allison was visibly agitated and trembled. After a brief time, the Sheriff asked Allison whether he had anything to say why the sentence should not be executed. James stated he was not guilty. It was at that point that the execution took place and a short time later, James Allison was pronounced dead. The body was lowered, a shroud put on it, and then placed in the coffin. The crowd that had gathered in front of the jail, was given a chance to the view the corpse, which they did as they passed through the hall and out of the side entrance. The body was taken in charge by his relatives and taken to Plumcreek church for burial.

Some years later, Mary Allison, widow of Robert Allison, became quite ill. As she lay on her death bed, she confessed that on the evening of the murder, she dressed in James’ clothes and shot her husband.

The first hanging in Indiana County may have been a grave error. Was the execution a mistake? Was James Allison guilty? These are all questions that you must answer for yourself based on the facts of the case.

Allison v. Commonwealth, 99 Pa. 17 (1881).; Clarence Stephenson 175th Anniversary History.