The History of the Railroad in Indiana County Part I

From the Pennsylvania Canal system, the railroad in Indiana County was born.  The Pennsylvania Canal was completed along the Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas rivers in 1829-30; however, canal transportation had some serious limitations.  During the winter months, the system had to be closed because the canal waters became frozen.  This caused a sentiment among the citizens to look for a better, more reliable, faster means of transportation.  Thus, the railroad was born.

Charles L. Schlatter, was authorized by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1839 to make surveys “for a continuous railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.  He submitted his report on January 9, 1842, which recommended a “central route” via the Juniata Valley, over the Allegheny Mountain, and then through the valley of Black Lick Creek.

On November 21, 1845, a meeting was held in Blairsville to discuss a “continuous Rail Road from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, by way of the Juniatta and Blacklick vallies.”  Another similar meeting was held on December 24, 1845 at the Indiana County Courthouse.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) was chartered by the Pennsylvania General Assembly on April 16, 1846, on the condition that it obtain $3,000,000 of subscriptions to its stock, 30 percent of which must be paid up, and had under contract 15 miles of railroad at each end of the line on on before July 30, 1847.  These terms were met and the charter was validated.  

The prospect of the railroad in the Black Lick Creek valley was influential in causing enterprises like Buena Vista and Black Lick Furnaces to locate there during 1843-1847.  An advertisement for the sale of lots in Mechanicsburg (now Brush Valley) stated it was “directly on the route intended for the CENTRAL RAILROAD.”  The PRR decided on the Conemaugh Valley route in 1848.

One of the company’s first three locomotives was named the “Indiana” and was ready for delivery in January 1850.  By December 1851, the PRR main line had been completed from Johnstown to just southwest of Latrobe.  The point nearest to Blairsville was Liebengood’s Summit (now Torrance) in Westmoreland County.  Other convenient stops were Nineveh (now Seward), New Florence, Lockport, and Bolivar.

An April 6, 1850 Act of the General Assembly, authorized PRR to construct a branch line from Liebengood’s Summit to Blairsville.  Liebengood’s Summit became known as “Blairsville Intersection.”

On July 31, 1850, the PRR directors agreed to build the branch provided the citizens of Blairsville and the vicinity subscribed $40,000 to the capital stock of the company and secured a free right-of-way and station site of three acres.  Beginning September 1, 1850, subscriptions were to be received and payable in installments of $5 per share until the full cost of $50 each share had been paid.

On December 20, 1850, Clark presented council with a diagram of the proposed depot which was to be located on a one-acre tract owned by William Maher.  Two hundred dollars was paid for the tract by deed dated February 26, 1851.

By December 10, 1851, the track was sufficiently completed that a locomotive, the “Henry Clay,” and a single coach – the first ever to enter Indiana County – came to Blairsville from the Intersection to pick up Edmund Smith and his bride for their wedding trip. 

Early in 1852, the Blairsville Branch opened for general passenger and freight traffic, but operated with horse power for a time.  A single passenger car was put in service and descended the 90-foot grade from the Intersection to a bridge over the Conemaugh River by gravity and up the grade toward Blairsville as far as its momentum would take it.  At that point, the brakes were applied, horses attached to haul the car to Blairsville where a passenger and freight station had been erected at the northeast corner of Main and Liberty streets.  The station agent also served as conductor, and after selling tickets, boarded the car and collected them.

After seeing the success of Blairsville in obtaining railroad service, the citizens of Indiana were determined to have the branch line extended to Indiana.  January 29, 1852, an act of the General Assembly, authorized extension of the Blairsville Branch north to Indiana.  

The PRR Board of Directors agreed to build in the Indiana Branch on May 28, 1852, provided the citizens subscribed $170,000 to the company’s stock (3,400 shares at $50 each) and conveyed a “clear right of way, free from all cost, together with the clear title to four acres of land at the terminus” in Indiana.  Ten percent of the stock, or $5 per share, was to be payable July 1, 1852, and another 10 percent by September 1.

James Sutton, John H. Shyrock and Thomas White were authorized to receive the installments and forward the money to PRR.  By September 8, 1852, it was found that many people had failed to pay the second installment and therefore, “the Railroad Company are holding back and refuse to take any step towards making the road.”

The issue regarding the installment issue was soon cleared up and by October 6, 1852, it was reported that the PRR engineer had arrived in Indiana.  Dr. Robert Mitchell wrote in November 1852, “Our Railroad is going on slowly and Depo (station) will be at the west side of town.”

Indiana County’s first railroad line was 2.8 miles long.  In September 1852, a “Daily Stage Line” and a “daily mail” began between Blairsville and Indiana by George Cunningham of Blairsville and James Clark of Indiana.  The train would leave from Scott’s Exchange or Gompers Hotel in Indiana every morning, except Sunday, at 7:00 a.m.  Stopping at the Exchange Hotel in Blairsville, the stage connected with the 11 o’clock westbound train and the 2 p.m. eastbound train.  Leaving Blairsville at 3:00 p.m., the traveler arrived back in Indiana at 7:00 p.m.

The Register announced January 11, 1854, that Leonard Shryock “who owns the ground upon which the depot has been located, has released, without consideration, all his interest and claim therein to the Railroad company.”

In April 1853, another issue was encountered when it was learned that there was a scarcity of iron for rails.  On August 1,1853, the Register had an item headed, “Have We a Railroad Among Us?” complaining “it were desirable that the work should progress more rapidly than it does.”  The “great demand for railroad iron” has “caused a scarcity of the article.”

By September, PRR engineer William Warnock was operating the locomotive “Henry Clay” on the branch line so far as it had been laid.  By October 1, Collins & Co. had completed grading a five-mile portion south of Indiana Borough line, but other sections were “not so far advanced.”  In December, P&T Collins advertised for 20,000 cross ties for sections between Bell’s Mills and Indiana.

Construction dragged into 1855 and by July 10 the Register lamented that the railroad was “not likely to be completed before next spring, the excuse for the delay being that sufficiency of laborers cannot be procured.”  On September 18, it was announced the laying of track had begun.

By December, the tracks had been laid as far as Phillips Mill (adjoining Homer City) and James Johnston, Jr. was running hacks twice a day from Indiana to Phillips Mill “to connect with the train on the Indiana Branch Railroad.”  The second locomotive put into service on the line was said to have been the “United States,” operated by engineer Warnock and used to haul iron and supplies for Collins & Co.

On May 27, 1856, the Indiana Branch was completed.  R.D. Walkinshaw was named conductor and Fergus Moorhead appointed ticket agent at the Indiana depot.  Regular passenger trains began operating on June 1, 1856.

On June 10, 1856 the Indiana Branch was put in full operation, with two daily passenger trains to Blairsville Intersection.

The single-track line was 18.8 miles in length and cost $310,000.

During the first week of operation there were 188 passenger tickets sold at the Indiana station.

The railroad through Western Pennsylvania continued to grow, with the North-Western Railroad being chartered on February 9, 1853, with the purpose of connecting with the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad and permit through service from Philadelphia to Chicago without going through Pittsburgh, where the citizens, at the time, were blocking Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) attempts to obtain a through right-of-way.

On September 9, 1853, Joseph Loughrey, an agent or officer of the Northwestern Railroad Company (NWRR), requested the Blairsville Borough Council to permit tracks on one or more streets of the Borough.  On September 13, Council granted a right-of-way and release for damages, provided NWRR’s tracks were located at one side of the street and not over 22 feet wide.

The first locomotive to travel this line is believed to be operated by W.C. Richey on March 16, 1854, and pulled a baggage car and three coaches loaded with officials.  The track at this time may have only been a short section, perhaps no further than from Blairsville to the point where a bridge was to be erected over the Conemaugh.

By 1858, the grading and ballasting of the line between Blairsville and the Allegheny River had been completed and the superstructure of several bridges erected, but the financial problems were so acute that work had to be suspended.

On July 5, 1859, a group of bond holders foreclosed, and the NWRR was sold for $16,000 after expending about $2,000,000.  On March 22, 1860, a new company, Western Pennsylvania Railroad (NPRR), was charged. However, before the line could be completed, the Civil War broke out and caused further postponement of the project.

By early spring of 1863, work once again resumed and it was hoped it would take only a few months to finish it.  By fall of 1863, the first passenger train ran from Blairsville as far as the west end of the wooden bridge at Saltsburg which crossed to the Westmoreland side.

The formal opening was held on July 4, 1864, with a special excursion from Blairsville.  By fall 1864, trains were running as far as the Allegheny Junction near Freeport.

On August 1, 1865, a wooden bridge over the Allegheny River was completed, and the line was completed to Allegheny City by the fall of 1866.  The PRR advanced funds to do the work and received as security a $500,000 first mortgage from WPRR.  The main office of WPRR was in Blairsville and the relationship between the two companies was very close.

The WPRR engine house and two locomotives at Blairsville were destroyed by a fire on November 19, 1865.

An Act of April 19, 1854, chartered the Mahoning & Susquehanna Railroad Company.  

On July 15, 1856, a meeting was held in Punxsutawney.  By October the Jefferson Star of Brookville reported that a corps of engineers headed by Geroge R. Eichbaum had reached Punxsutawney from Indiana.  In November, Eichbaum was said to be completing a draft of the survey and “the route is declared favorable.”

In February some extracts from the engineers’ report were published, but after this nothing more was heard of the project.

After the completion of the WPRR in 1864, there were no other railroads were completed in Indiana County until 1882.

Becoming well established in Indiana County, the PRR embarked on a program designed to eliminate competition from the Pennsylvania Canal for freight traffic.  Hauling freight by water had always been cheaper than any other method.  Over the years, the state-owned canal system had suffered mismanagement and political pork barreling.

After the first train ran from Johnstown as far as Lockport on August 25, 1851, the canal was still needed because freight had to be transferred, first at Lockport and then at Blairsville, to boats going to Pittsburgh.  Not until December 1852 was the railroad completed to Pittsburgh.

The state began efforts in 1844 to sell the canal.  By 1854, an Act of the General Assembly authorized the Governor to accept sealed bids for the main line of the canal, the minimum being set at $10,000,000.

No bids were received, and another Act, passed on May 8, 1855, directed Governor Bigler to hold a public sale, the minimum price was reduced to $7,500,000.  The Act further provided that, if the PRR was the purchaser, the price would be $8,500,000 and the railroad would be exempt from the 3-mill tax on freight tonnage.

This intent behind the tax was to protect the canal system from price gouging by the PRR.  Still, no buyer presented themselves.  On December 20, 1855, the PRR offered $7,500,000 to be paid in installments over 30 years, and provided the tonnage tax be repealed.

These terms were accepted, on the condition that the PRR pay an additional $1,500,000 for the repeal of the tax and for exemption from all other taxes. The Act of May 15, 1857, finalized the sale and on August 1, 1857, the operation of the canal was turned over to PRR.

In October, the canal railroad over the mountains was closed.  This ended canal traffic from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.  PRR President John Edgar Thompson tried to sooth people who feared the railroad intended to close the canal.  On March 17, 1863, PRR officially abandoned the canal from Johnstown to Blairsville and the next year, following the opening of the WPRR to Saltsburg in July, the rest of the canal followed.

In October and November 1865, the slackwater dam at Blairsville was removed and the railroad thereafter deliberately set about destroying almost every vestige of the canal.  The railroad did not want any possibility, however remote, of future competition from low-cost freight going by canal.

In February 1872, the canal lock in Saltsburg was torn apart.  Numerous other canal structures were systematically robbed of stone to build railroad structures.  In April 1882, the canal bed in Saltsburg was filled in and the railroad tracks were laid directly on top of the old canal tow path.

The railroad at times resorted to outright deception to accomplish its ends.  The old canal aqueduct between Lockport and the Indiana County side had been used as a wagon road of the Conemaugh River to the other for a number of years after the canal had been abandoned.

In 1888, according to James Riddell of New Florence, a party of railroad workers appeared and began digging around the piers of the aqueduct.  When local people asked what was going on, they said they were strengthening the bridge.  The truth came out that night when a loud explosion shook the people out of their beds to find the entire structure blasted into the river.

The railroad also mounted a campaign to get rid of the tonnage tax on freight.  As a result of an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the repeal of the tonnage tax by the 1857 legislature had been declared null and void.

In 1859, the PRR attempted withholding the tax but the State sued and the PA Supreme Court ruled that the accumulated tonnage taxes amounting to $850,000 must be paid.  Finally, through intensive lobbying and other means of “persuasion” the railroad succeeded in 1861 in having the tax repealed.

Shortly afterward the Civil War distracted the people’s attention and the PRR escaped taxation.

For 28 years from the time the first time the first tracks were laid to Blairsville in 1851 until 1889, no other railroad penetrated Indiana County except the PRR or its subsidiaries.

One effort to break the PRR monopoly was the Homer, Cherry Tree and Susquehanna (HC and S) railroad.  In 1867, meetings were held in Cherry Tree, Greenville (Penn Run) and Homer to discuss the idea of a railroad from Homer to Cherry Tree on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

On March 19, 1868, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that originated in the House to incorporate the HC and S Railroad Co. Robert F. McCormick, a Cherry Tree PA House Democract representing Indiana County, was one of the principal backers of the bill.

The Indiana business community was very leery of the project.  On February 2, 1871, the Progress commented on a “continual line of sleds loaded with boards” passing the Progress office, and posed the question, “Would we lose this trade if the Homer and Cherrytree road should be constructed?”

Earlier when the PRR Branch line from Blairsville to Indiana was being promoted, the Indiana people insisted that the line end in Indiana, feeling it would enhance the growth and prosperity of the town.  On February 9, the Progress admitted that “our moneyed men would not subscribe of their means to help construct” the Homer, Cherrytree and Susquehanna Railroad.

Despite this, the backers, principally from Cherry Tree, Homer and points in between, broke ground on January 31, 1871, at Homer.

By August 1871, the grading was suspended and it was reported that Mr. Bird, the chief engineer, had moved from West Indiana.  Signs of financial difficulty appeared in September 1872 when the board of directors, meeting at Pine Flats, named a committee to confer with PRR officials to obtain assistance to complete the railroad.

Another committee was named to look into the feasibility of standard gauge.  On October 30, 1873, the Progress somewhat gleefully reported on “A Little Unpleasantness” between the HC and S and some of its stockholders who were refusing to pay, and the directors were suing.

After this the project died; the PRR monopoly continued for the next 32 years.  The first full year of operation of the Indiana Branch in 1857 revealed that 13,126 passenger tickets were sold, yielding $22,844.81 in fares.  Freight shipped was 9,685,305 pounds from Indiana; 6,786,755 pounds from Blairsville; 1,868,751 from Homer; and 515,644 from Phillips’ Mill.

Total costs of operation were $23,329.23 – so the passenger receipts alone nearly met the costs, and freight income was profit.

Consumption of wood by the locomotives was 1,998 cords, and about 1,000 additional cords were sent to Pittsburgh.  About 1860 locomotives began burning coal, and by 1862 all freight locomotives were burning coal and passenger locomotives by 1864.

In 1858, the tonnage of freight increased enormously from 4,842.6 tons at the Indiana station in 1857 to 127,315 tons.

In January 1860, a “new and handsome passenger car” which was “much needed” was placed in service.  R.D. Walkinshaw, conductor on the Indiana Branch, retired about October 1860 and was succeeded by J.D. Hibbs.  Total income at the Indiana depot alone, as furnished by G.W. Sedgwick, PRR agent at Indiana, was freight $31,945.72, and passenger $10,606.36.

After the Civil War broke out, business boomed.  In January 1862, alone, 2,194 horses, 979 cattle, 4,088 sheep, and 154 mules were shipped from Indiana.  In addition, there were 1,846 tons of products including flour, grain, seeds, beans, butter and wool.

After the war, the volume continued to be high.  From January 1 to June 9, 1866, the Indiana Weekly Register said not less than 675 carloads of products were shipped, including 263 carloads of sawed lumber, 184 of bark, shooks, staves and shingles, 67 of livestock, and 181 of other freight – an average of five carloads a day.

In 1870, Railway Express deliveries were wheeled from the Indiana depot in a wheelbarrow by J.W. McCartney to the homes and business places of town.

An interesting activity in January 1871 was the cutting of ice from Black Lick Creek by PRR employees who cut and loaded 241 cars of ice which were sent mostly to Pittsburgh.

In 1875, the PRR reduced the wages of common laborers to 10 cents an hour.  This and other oppressive actions led to a violent railroad strike in 1877 centered in Pittsburgh.  Locomotives, cars, warehouses and other railroad property were burned and the governor called out the National Guard to restore order.

The United States Centennial in 1876, featured a magnificent exposition in Philadelphia, which the PRR capitalized on by selling excursion tickets to the exposition.  The first excursion from this area occurred in July with 100 person on a round-trip fare of $8.  In September there were about 900, of whom 700 left in the morning and 200 in the evening.  The Indiana Progress reported that those in the evening group had to ride box cars to the Blairsville Intersection because passenger coaches were not available.

There were 400 excursionists in October to the Centennial at a round-trip fair of $7.50 each.  Later in October and November cost $7.  By October 19 there were 1,836 tickets had been sold at Blairsville and over 1,000 at Indiana.

1877 figures of livestock shipments from Indiana were: horses 1,571, cattle 3,556, sheep 21,445, hogs 10,334, calves 551, mules 9, and poultry, three car loads.  Total value was estimated at $433,053.

Blairsville was the location of some major PRR facilities.  An 1878, engineering drawing shows an engine house 150 by 46 feet, two repair shops 126 by 30 and 123 by 40 feet, three woodsheds, a cement storehouse, paint shop, sand house, offices, etc.

In 1879, 2,000 bushels of chestnuts were shipped from Indiana. 

The G.C. Murphy Co.

Last week we explored the beginnings of the J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 store.  This week is a branch off from that story, with the focus being on the Murphy Company and John Sephus Mack.

Our story begins with George Clinton Murphy.  Mr. Murphy was born in 1868 in Indiana County, first working for his cousin – John G. McCrory.  After working for McCrory at the Jamestown, New York Store, Murphy went out on his own opening 5 & 10 cent stores.  The first 5 & 10 cent store was opened in the McKeesport area around 1900 and was built into a chain of 14 stores, which Murphy sold to Woolworth in 1904, promising that he would not open any more 5 & 10 cent stores.  However, that promise did not include opening 5, 10 and 25 cent stores; so in 1906 Murphy went back into business under G.C. Murphy Co.

Tragedy struck in April 1909, when Murphy suffered a burst appendix and died.  At the time of his death,, he had a chain of 12 variety stores doing $210,000 in sales.  His will directed that his investments – including the 388 shares of the G.C. Murphy Co. – be sold to provide yearly annuities for his family, but a public auction found no takers.  In the hands of court-appointed receivers, the company foundered.  

So enter, John G. McCrory (owner of J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 stores) and John Sephus Mack.  John was born on March 9, 1880 and served as the president of the Murphy Company.  He was the son of John M. Mack, a farmer, and Sarah Ellen Murphy, and educated in the Indiana County public schools and attended business college in Johnstown.  Mack’s career began as a stock room clerk at the McCrory Store in Johnstown (which was owned by his cousin John G. McCrory) with a weekly salary of $5.  Mack worked his way through the McCrory Company, becoming general manager in 1908.  When McCrory learned of the sale of G.C. Murphy Co. he sent Mack to McKeesport to see if Murphy’s company was worth saving.

John Sephus Mack

Mack reported back that he believed G.C. Murphy Co. should be acquired as soon as possible.  McCrory responded: “Young man, I make the decisions around here.”  Mack and Walter C. Shaw resigned from McCrory and put together their savings purchased G.C. Murphy Co. out of McKeesport, PA in 1911.  This purchase caused a rift between Mack and McCrory, and McCrory refused to speak to Mack for many years.

Mack became president and chairman of the board in 1912, and turned the failing company around and began to expand it.  The Murphy Company thrived during the Great Depression, and from 1929 to 1934 sales increased from $15.7 million to $28 million.  By 1934, there were 181 Murphy Co. stores in eleven states and Washington, D.C.

Mack and Shaw made a really good team, with Mack being known as “the architect” and Shaw “the engineer.”  The Murphy store policies also set them apart, such as the “price ceiling.”  The Murphy stores contained a second floor which featured all goods priced 25 cents to a dollar, while down below was the normal 5-to-10 cent price point.  After many years of moving back-and-forth on this policy, the company moved everything to the main floor.

Another point where Murphy seemed to succeed was establishing their stores in the industrial towns of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while their competition tended to establish coverage in the major markets like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.  Despite the Great Depression, Murphy pulled through, with an average per store sales and profits being much higher than Woolworth’s.

When Mack passed away in 1940, the chairmanship passed to his cousin Edgar Mack.  Upon Edgar’s death in 1946, the job went to Walter Shaw, Mack’s original partner in the business.  In 1951, G.C. Murphy acquired the Morris 5 & 10 cent Stores, a Bluffton, Indiana-based chain of 71 stores.  Leadership changed again in 1953, when Jim Mack, son of John Seph Mack, took over.  After 1970, G.C. Murphy Co. shifted its emphasis away from its variety stores and toward the new Murphy’s Marts, modeled after Kmart.  By April 1985, Rocky Hill of the Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores bought out Murphy’s shares and Murphys was no longer.

John Sephus Mack is a well-known name in Indiana County, with the J.S. Mack Community Park.  He became a philanthropist and community booster.  He donated the Ralph Gibson McGill Library to Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.  He bought local homes in disrepair and fixed them to rent out.  He set up a fund for the upkeep of the local cemetery.  In 1935, he established the Mack Memorial Trust Fund to Indiana Hospital as a memorial to his parents.  He directed that the income from the fund, which amounted to more than $300,000 in 1939, be devoted to the payment of hospitalization for needy residents of Brush Valley Township.  He further stipulated that the income be extended in 1941 to the remainder of Indiana County for hospitalization of the needy. 

On September 21, 1939, Mack dedicated a four-floor addition to the Indiana Hospital, which cost $115,000, and was known as the Mack Memorial Wing, also presented as a memorial to his parents.  One floor of the addition was designated for Brush Valley Township residents.  The other three floors were to be utilized as a maternity section. funded the Brush Valley Maternity Hospital, which was done in memory of his parents.  He also stocked some of his own 1700 acres with deer and buffalo.  His family farm was known as Old Home Manor.

Mack was a devout Presbyterian and decorated the main assembly room of the Murphy Company with Bible verses.  While serving on the organizing committee for a 1927 revival campaign in McKeesport, Mack met Bob Jones, Sr. the founder of Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University).  Mack was very impressed with Jones and donated money to the college; he even told Jones to “construct your buildings and send me the bill.”  Mack received an honorary degree from the college and named the library in his honor.

Mack died on September 27, 1940 at his home in Brush Valley, and was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery in Indiana, PA.

McCrory’s Five and Dime Store

A Facebook post last month about the McCrory Mansion located in Brushvalley Township, sparked some interest with questions about the owner, location, and history behind the house.  That interest has led to this series of blog posts regarding the McCrory and Mack families.

For those who have lived in or have knowledge of Indiana prior to the 1970s, you may recall the McCrory 5 & 10 cent store, this chain of stores was the creation of John Graham McCrory.  

John Graham McCrory Biography

Mr. McCrory was born in West Wheatfield Township on October 11, 1860 to James McCrory and Mary A. Murphy.  He was educated in the schools in the Brush Valley neighborhood and an academy designed for orphans of soldiers, as his father was killed in the Civil War.  During his vacations from school, he worked on local farms and as a country store clerk.  

Around the time McCrory turned 18, his father’s 88-acre farm was sold for $1,200 – which was divided three ways between himself, his mother and sister, Jennie.  Shortly thereafter he found employment in the mills of the Cambria Steel Company in Johnstown, PA.  He was soon given a position in their large general store, conducting business under the name Wood, Morrell & Company.  He worked here for approximately two years, saving his money and adding it to the profit from the sale of his father’s farm.  This began his career as a merchant.

John Graham McCrory

Mr. McCrory was also interested in churches and the cause of religion.  He was a liberal contributor, not only to church in his local community, but in other localities.  He also generously gave to the YMCA.

On April 26, 1893, McCrory married Lillie May Peters, and she died on April 16, 1902.  On December 8, 1904, McCrory married Carrie May McGill.

John G. McCrory passed away on November 20, 1943 at the age of 83 at his home in Brush Valley and is interred in the family mausoleum in the Grandview Cemetery, in Cambria County, PA.

The Beginning of J.G. McCrory Co.

 McCrory started his first 5 & 10 store in Scottdale, near Greensburg, PA, using his and Jennie’s savings along with some borrowed funds.  The store primarily sold practical, everyday pieces of merchandise which kept customers coming back, but McCrory also had some higher-priced items in the store’s inventory.  This was the humble beginning of the McCrory 5 & 10 store.

The idea for this type of store appealed to the local residents, and through the hard work of his employees, McCrory was able to keep his expenses within limits and by 1883 he was able to obtain enough capital to open a second store in DuBois, Clearfield County.  This second store was started with little to no debt, which subsequent operations were likely profitable because of this policy.  Shortly after opening the second store in DuBois, McCrory disposed of the store in Scottdale, but he reestablished a store there on December 15, 1910 – likely showing sentiment and respect for the first store.  The DuBois store was also discontinued in 1892, but it reopened on September 9, 1912.

Throughout the first ten years of McCrory’s operation, many stores were opened and closed.  His game plan was to open two or three stores each year as well as close out that many.  His goal was to make money both times.  His plan also called for having eight to twelve stores in operation at all times.  He took advantage of decreases from high to low prices on some lines of goods, but the time came when there was less of an opportunity to buy low and throw out bargains with profit.  A desire to control more stores made it necessary to discontinue handling the higher priced goods, as the chance to lose by leakage on perishable and seasonable goods became greater each time an additional store was acquired.

The business had a record of unbroken prosperity and as McCrory established a number of his stores in Pennsylvania, he found opportunity to expand into neighboring states.

In 1912, the J.G. McCrory Co. was incorporated with Mr. McCrory serving as president.  By May 1913, there were 112 stores with an annual business revenue of $8,000,000. (This would be equal to $210,414,545 today.)

Throughout the 1910s and 20s, the stores continued to grow, and by 1931 there were 280 stores in operation around the country all bearing the name of the Indiana County native.  At the time of his death, there were 203 stores open for business.

The first J.G. McCrory store in Indiana County opened on July 1, 1937, located at Seventh and Philadelphia Streets in Indiana and closed for business in January 1974.  An ad in the Indiana Evening Gazette on July 1, 1937 proudly announced: “Keep Cool In Indiana County’s Only Air-Conditioned Store McCrory’s 5-10-25 cent Store.”  This full page ad goes on to inform the public that the entire store was air conditioned for the shopper’s comfort.  And to show how much the store cared for their patrons, they stated they had installed the “latest and best equipment that money can buy.”  All the work was performed by Lightcap Electric Co., of Indiana.  They finished the ad by stating, “This daring move of ours was made because we believe in Indiana and know that the people of this entire district will be in to take advantage of McCrory’s Quality merchandise at always-low prices in a healthfully pleasant modern 5-10-25 cent store.”

Mr. McCrory was also active in real estate, and he discovered early on in his career of the close relationship between inside (or best) real estate and the up-to-date retail store and came to know that in order to locate retail stores and make each a success; he would have to acquire a correct knowledge of the city’s real estate and actual value.

Sometime in the early 1940s, McCrory dissolved his company and formed the McCrory Holding Co., which rented his properties to other stores.

McCrory’s legacy lived on through his estate in Brushvalley Township, which he and his family used as a summer home until his retirement in 1931.  After his retirement, the property was used as their full-time residence.  The estate itself expanded to 1200 acres, which was all left to McCrory’s second wife, Carrie May McGill, when he passed away.

McCrory Mansion

In 1945, Mrs. McGill opened a large portion of the property to the West Indies Mission as a rest home and headquarters, with the house being leased to the Mission in 1947.  Upon Mrs. McGill’s death, 865 acres of the property was sold to the Mission.  Unfortunately, the McCrory Mansion was destroyed by fire in August 1986.

Sketches of Indiana County Revolutionary Soldiers – Part II

John Leasure

John Leasure, son of John, was born in 1762, Sewickly settlement, Westmoreland County.  His father was an early settler in that area.

John Leasure, Jr., served as a private in the Westmoreland County Rangers, in Capt. John McClelland’s Company, and was one of the scouts sent to guard the homes of settlers along Crooked Creek in what is now western Indiana and eastern Armstrong counties.

This soldier married Jane Culbertson in the late 1790s, and lived for a time on the farm which later became the property of Benjamin Walker, Armstrong Township, Indiana County.  In 1809, they moved to the farm later occupied by their son-in-law, Samuel T. Brady, in East Mahoning Township.  The warrent, issued to Leasure and patented January 17, 1802, called for a tract of 398 acres.  John Leasure was a mighty hunter and it is said he paid for his land with the proceeds from wolf scalps.

Caldwell’s History of Indiana County gives the births and the marriage date of the couple, but the births do not check with their tombstone in Gilgal Presbyterian cemetery.  Descendants know that children were born before the marriage date in the county history, so it is assumed the printed record is incorrect and we use the dates from the tombstone.

John Leasure died December 20, 1844, in East Mahoning Township, and his wife, Jane, departed this life in 1829.

Cornelius Hutchison

Cornelius Hutchison, according to his application for pension, on August 20, 1819, was sixty-two years old.  He enlisted in the month of May 1778, at Shippensburg, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, in a company commanded by Captain Samuel Talbert, Colonel Walter Stewart’s Regiment, Pennsylvania Line; and was discharged January 15, 1781, at Trenton, NJ.  The soldier stated he participated in the battles of Monmouth, Springfield, and the blockhouse battle where General Anthony Wayne commanded.  He was also in Captain Matthew Scott’s company.

From records provided by descendants, Cornelius Hutchison was born in England in 1757; in 1786 he married Eleanor McGuire (also called Nellie), 1766-1841.  They are believed to have come to what is now Indiana County about 1796.  Cornelius Hutchison died March 10, 1832, and is buried in Hice’s graveyard, near New Florence, in Indiana County, but the location of the grave is unknown.

John Montgomery

John Montgomery for whom Montgomery Township, Indiana County, was named once owned a large tract of land within the township limits.  This Revolutionary veteran was born in 1759, in County Antrim, Ireland, and came to America in 1774.

His application for pension states he enlisted for one year in Captain Abraham Smith’s Company, Col. Irwin’s Regiment, Pennsylvania Line, in 1776; and in Captain Hout’s Company, Col. Holby’s Regiment, 1777.  He was discharged at Newburgh, NY, 1783, having participated in the battles of Three Rivers, Germantown, Brandywine, and Monmouth, and was present at the taking of Cornwallis.

Among the notes concerning John Montgomery’s service was the statement that at the end of the war he was one of General George Washington’s life guards.  On November 11, 1829, John Willson was sworn before Stewart Davis, a Blacklick Township justice of peace, that Montgomery was in Captain Smith’s Company.  Michael Mullen, also of Blacklick Township, gave an affidavit that Montgomery was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

John Montgomery died November 11, 1840, aged 81 years.  His grave in Ebenezer Presbyterian cemetery, at Lewisville, Conemaugh Township, is easily located by the large square monument.

Captain Gawin Adams

Gawin Adams and wife, Nancy Irvin Adams, natives of Ireland, first came to this locality before the Revolution, and their abode was within the present limits of Indiana borough.  However, they were forced to go back to their old home in what is now Franklin County because of Indians.

During the period they were “down east” Adams served as captain in the 2nd Company, First Battalion, Bucks County Militia, in 1780; in the fall of 1781 he was listed as captain under the command of Colonel John Keller.

After their return to what is now Indiana County, all went well until 1792, when Indians again became troublesome.  One night, while Nancy was ill and confined to her bed, the redskins arrived at the Adams cabin.  Andrew and Sally Allison with their little daughter had been warned, and were already in the Adams home.  The unwelcome visitors kept the small party in terror during the night, one whistling on his rifle charger on one side of the cabin, and another answering him in a like manner on the other side.  Young Adams and Allison held their rifles all night ready to repel the attack.  Dreading a warm reception from these hardy frontiersmen, the Indians withdrew before daybreak. In the morning the men yoked the oxen, placed Nancy Adams and her new-born daughter on a sled and hurried to Moorhead’s fort, a distance of about five miles.

Gawin Adams erected the first grist and saw mill at “Porter field” – the settlement located near Twolick Creek, where the cement bridge is under water, and the old highway started its ascent of the “Devil’s Elbow” hill.  Tradition credits the Adams family with having brought the first negroes to Indiana County.

The last home of Gawin and Nancy Adams was located near the 422 Drive-In Theatre, on the left side of the road, going east on East Pike.  He died between April 19, when his will was written, and December 12, 1818, when the will was proved, and was buried in the old Presbyterian graveyard in Indiana.  Nancy’s will was dated February 5, 1836, when she gave her age as 86 years thus establishing the year 1750 as her birth date.  The will was proved September 2, 1839.

William Neal (Niel)

William Niel was born in 1736, in Ireland, and came to America about 1760.  He first settled at Philadelphia, but soon went to Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and finally to what is now Indiana County before 1800.  He bought his first land from the estate of Daniel Cahill, and the transaction is recorded in Deed Book C, page 317, Westmoreland County.  At that time the location was given as Armstrong Township, Westmoreland County.  The date recorded was June 7, 1788.  The site of this first home on our frontier was within the present limits of Young Township.

On March 13, 1799, William Niel, of Westmoreland County, sold his tracts of land in Antrim Township, Franklin County, to George Clark of the same county.

He served as a private under Captain William Findley, First Battalion, Cumberland County Militia, in 1778, and in 1780-81, was under command of Captain William Berryhill, 8th Battalion, Cumberland County Associators and Militia.

William Niel was a surveyor and well known in this section.  His wife was Mary Reynolds of whom we have no further record.  He died in Young Township, September 8, 1813, and is buried in Bethel Presbyterian Church cemetery, in Center Township. 

John Shields

John Shields was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, August 18, 1759, but by the time of the Revolutionary War the family had migrated westward to Toboyne Township, Cumberland County (now Perry County).  He enlisted in the Cumberland County Militia at the age of 17 years, and was a corporal in the company of Captain James McClure which served in Colonel Montgomery’s Regiment of Flying Camp.  Stewart’s History of Indiana County states he served a tour as a substitute for his father, and on another occasion for a neighbor.

On August 30, 1782, John Shields and Margaret Elizabeth Marshall were married.  Their son William was born in July 1784, and the following year the little family left their home on the banks of Yellow Breeches Creek, in Cumberland County, and started for a new home west of the Alleghenies.

Their few possessions were loaded on pack horses for the journey.  Little William was placed in a creel on a horse, and on the other end the young couple placed their favorite cat and eight pounds of flax to balance him.  Once when the baby became restless, and John carried him in his arms some distance ahead of the party, the group heard him call to “hurry up, come quick!”  A half-starved panther was crouching beside the path.  Margaret relieved the father of their child, and he and another man stoned the panther to death.  They first stopped at a place near Campbell’s mill, on the bank of Blacklick creek.  There other children were born, and the mother died in 1816.  Two years later the marriage of John Shields and Elizabeth Carson took place.

Their home site was later known as Shields’ Fort.  The veteran was seven feet in height, and it is said that settlers living between block houses depended upon him to warn them of Indian movements, and that a number of them would always hurry to Shields’ cabin for protection.  Later he served in the State Militia in quelling Indian outbreaks.

His declining years were spent in the northern part of Indiana County where he died October 16, 1840.  His grave is marked in the cemetery at Washington United Presbyterian Church, in Rayne Township.

He was applying for a pension in 1833, and stated his birth date had been recorded in his father’s Bible.  His father gave the Bible to the deponent’s brother who died in the state of Ohio where he supposed the Bible remained.  The given names of father and brother were not mentioned.  His widow in her application for pension stated they were married in Center Township, October 8, 1818.  She was allowed a pension June 14, 1853, aged 73 years, and a resident of Madison Township, Armstrong County.

Hugh McIntire

Hugh McIntire was born 1754, served in the Cumberland County Associators and Militia, 8th Baattalion, 6th class, and is listed on the rolls in January 1778; and at another time was enrolled with the company of Captain William Berryhill, 3rd Company, 1st Battalion.  In 1780, he was in Lt. Daniel Smith’s Company.  Later Hugh McIntire appeared on the tax lists of Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  Franklin was once part of Cumberland County.

In 1795, the veteran bought the Indiana County homestead from Neal Murry, and the deed is recorded in Westmoreland County, Deed Book 3, page 491.  The family was forced to take refuge from Indians in a nearby blockhouse.  The original McIntire tract is now within the bounds of Blacklick township.  The soldier died in 1836, and is buried in Bethel United Presbyterian Cemetery, in Center Township.

William Work

William Work, born February 14, 1760, in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, a son of Samuel Work, served in the Cumberland County Militia, during the Revolution.  His name appears on militia roles in 1777-78-80-81-82.

In 1799, with his brother John, also a Revolutionary veteran, William Work migrated to Westmoreland County, and spent some time at the fort at the foot of Squirrel Hill, near the present location of the town of New Florence.  In 1804, the Work brothers and their families settled in Mahoning Township, in the part now known as East Mahoning.

For several years William Work taught school in the community, and is believed to have been the first school teacher in Mahoning township.  Before coming to Indiana County he was a singing master in Cumberland County.  He was influential in the organization of the Gilgal Presbyterian Church, and was enrolled with its first members.  Cancer ended his serve to the county and community on April 1, 1828, and he is buried in the Gilgal cemetery.

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.

Working Women in Indiana County

“In those days, women didn’t go out to work.”  This statement, often made when speaking of the first half of the twentieth century, was for many quite true.  It was a time when women were less likely to be involved in unions than in clubs; significantly, these were concerned less with labor and political activities than social etiquette and hygiene.  For example, the Indiana Evening Gazette reported on a 1905 club meeting where women discussed the problems of “expectorating on the streets” of Indiana.  Newspaper advertisements directed at women then were less concerned with promoting the image of a competent workwoman than with beauty and how to get rid of “sunken eyes and hallow cheeks…and the ravages of dyspepsia.”

jane leonard
Jane E. Leonard – Preceptress at Indiana Normal School

While much of this public image is true, underlying the illusion of women at leisure was the basic reality that many if not most women had to work, especially before marriage or in the widowhood.  The penury of some might be dramatized by tragic news headlines as “Woman Killed on Railroad.”  In December 1905, a 35 year old childless widow of one week was struck and killed instantly while picking coal along railroad tracks near her New Florence home.  In that very year another news release reported the tragic suicide of an unemployed manicurist, a 25 year old Blairsville “girl” [woman] who drank carbolic acid in her room at the YMCA. Of course these were exceptions, but there were many, many women who had to find work, and only a few could find employment in the two occupations generally believed to be most desirable for young women – teaching and nursing.

Other occupations were available to women in the Indiana area. Young girls from the farming community or from town often found plentiful work as cooks, waitresses, chambermaids, upstairs girls and laundry girls.  Though hard and heavy, this work was quite respectable female employment. For many years, the Normal School and the town of Indiana itself offered a large number of such jobs.  Insurance maps of the town dating from the turn of the century attest to the existence of hotels and restaurants for both mealtime and overnight guests, and at these women could find work.  Occasionally some women tested their entrepreneurial talents if they and their husbands were proprietors.  Mr. Long, a native Indianian, recalls with obvious admiration how his mother once helped in directing the West Indiana House, later the Houck Hotel.  While his father took care of the office, buying merchandise and paying bills, his mother interviewed, hired and directed the chambermaids, waitresses and cooks.  Her managerial duties were demanding for the business was extensive.  Mr. Long remembers that “…if they didn’t have 100 at noon, they thought it was a poor day.”

Work as governesses and live-in maids also existed, but its desirability naturally varied according to the attitude of individual employers.  While at times a live-in maid could be treated as a family member, she could also find it was lonely, demanding, and tiring work.  One Indiana woman remembers cooking and making bread for an entire family, while simultaneously acting as a governess for eight children, including infants.  Years later she still remembers the consternation of her employer when she asked for so high a salary – $8.00 a week.  Seamstress skill also offered extremely good employment for those with the necessary skills.  Some women were so expert that they undertook the task of outfitting entire families, perhaps even spending a week or two in homes of well to do citizens of Indiana until the season’s outfitting was done.

Less skilled jobs as “Hello Girls” or telephone operators were equally acceptable for women.  “Hello Girls” were aware that they had important jobs in maintaining communications, especially in emergencies.  When in 1904 the gas in Indiana was shut off for two hours, the news reported “Hello Girls Swamped.”  All of Indiana’s 200 switchboard plugs were flooded with calls of inquiry, the board becoming “…a veritable cobweb of connections.”  For a long time telephone operators also sounded the town fire alarm.  Mrs. Huber of Fulton Run Road, for a time an operator during the 1920s, recalls with amusement how lines were always jammed with calls from the curious asking for information about the fire.

Most of these jobs fell into traditional patterns of occupation, but occasionally even at the turn of the century female stereotypes were shattered much to the surprise of the community.  In 1904, a Miss M. Margaretta Hodge, a resident of Blairsville, was certified to practice pharmacy.  The following winter a news story in the Indiana Evening Gazette praised Mrs. DeVers, a Blairsville rural delivery carrier who was sometimes assisted by her daughter.  The article commended her for she had not missed a single day’s delivery throughout a very severe winter.  Expending the ultimate praise, the article noted that she made “…as good time as her male colleagues.”

head nurse
Head nurse’s private apartment – Indiana Normal School

As the Indiana business community expanded during the 1910s new jobs as clerks and salesgirls became available to women.  Stores such as Bon Ton, Troutmans, Luxenbergs, and McCrorys placed help wanted ads for “girls,” often specifically demanding “good girls.”  In fact in 1917 one ad for a female clerk required that she still be living at home with her parents in Indiana.  Heavier factory work also employed women of the area but only on a limited scale.  Women worked at the Dye Works, the Indiana Candy works, the Diamond Glass Company, the Macaroni Factory, the Indiana Steam Laundry, and King Razor Manufacturing Company, all during the 1910s.

Surprisingly, World War I made no perceptible impact on either the labor market or on attitudes about working women.  At most, news items urged women to do volunteer work to help the war effort.  On May 10, 1917 the Indiana Evening Gazette printed an article encouraging “girls” to make sacrifices for their country.  Here was no call for bravery, or even the study of nursing, or perhaps the replacement of draftees in the labor market.  Instead the article praised one young woman for rejecting five proposals of marriage and then encouraging her beaus to join the service.  The final admonition, “It isn’t fair to remain idle….Every woman worthy of the name will offer her services.”  Now was a call for service without pay.

While the postwar period, especially the 1920s, is touted as an era of economic and political emancipation for women, locally there appeared to be little change in basic attitudes.  The short dresses and bobbed hair of women of the county projected the image of the modern female, but both men and women continued to view women’s work as, at best, a temporary situation filling the hiatus between school and marriage.  However, while the county job market underwent no dramatic change, some companies such as the Diamond Glass Company, King Leather Company and the Indiana Textile Mills did need an increasing supply of working women.

For forty years the glass company in Indiana had been absorbing women into its work force.  During World War I, glass production had boomed.  In the 1920s the Diamond Glass Company employed almost 100 women, or girls as they were then called.  Women inspected the glass, polished, painted, and packed the product which Indianians still remember with great pride.  One former Indiana resident remembers the summer months when she and other youngsters walked across the fields from Wayne Avenue just to watch the young ladies at the factory.  Each woman with a small turn-table in front of her decorated glass with pretty leaves and flowers.  Unfortunately, this employment ended abruptly in 1931 when fire ravaged the plant.  If men found it hard to replace their jobs in those depression years, it was extremely difficult for women.  Some area employers openly discouraged married women and those under eighteen years of age from seeking jobs which men might otherwise take.

Another long standing company, the King Leather Factory, supplied much of the growing market for female workers in the 1920s.  In operation since 1910 it had produced a variety of leather items ranging from money belts to pocketbooks employing primarily women.  In the decade following the war approximately 50 to 75 women were employed at its barn-like factory on North 10th Street.  Only three men worked there; one owned the company and the other two were supervisors.  It was essentially women who produced the product.  On the lower level of the plant where the leather was stored, cutting machines were operated.  On the upper level the process was divided into different rooms where women operated electric sewing machines, stamped the product with gold lettering, and then sorted and packed the final product.

Women learned the different jobs quickly, even without past experience.  As Mrs. Zellman of Ernest remembers, even the sewing “…didn’t take much training.”  As in most firms of the time, few women aspired to managerial work, but those who had long been at the factory were sometimes assigned to supervise the training and work of the younger girls.

The atmosphere at the factory was described by a former worker as “…just like a family.”  Much credit for this was attributed to Mr. King who gave treats to the women at holidays, even joining them in song during those festive times.  In addition to the paternal atmosphere, a pleasant lunch break also stimulated the feeling of togetherness.  A newly widowed woman who lived near the factory began selling vegetable soup and crackers in her own home.  It soon became so popular that instead of bringing lunches, many women ate at her house.  They enjoyed her expanding menu of baked beans and sandwiches, as well as her hospitality.

The newest job opportunity of the Post World War I period was at what longtime residents still call the silk mill, the Indiana Textile Mill, which began operating in the late 1920s.  Probably influenced by the changing market of the Flapper Era which revealed women’s legs, silk mill produced top quality, high fashion stockings.  Unlike today’s stretch stockings, the high fashion stocking was sewn from separately woven pieces and made exactly to the size and shape of the leg.  In this company, as in the Leather Factory, the basic work force was women employed as seamers, loopers, and inspectors.  Business was so good at the silk mill that it operated on three shifts.  Former employees estimate each shift consisted of about 75 to 100 people, ¾ of them women.  Employees enjoyed working there too and felt that job conditions were good in spite of minor problems such as cotton dust from threads.  Though it was an exception for anyone to develop an allergic reaction to the silk itself, it could occur.  At least one woman’s hands became so sensitive to the material that they actually began to bleed, requiring profuse use of ointment every evening.  In spite of the pain, this woman continued to work at the silk mill for she had a family to support.

World War II dramatically reshaped the attitude of many Indianians, male and female, towards working women.  Suddenly, women were encouraged to work in civilian and especially in defense industries.  They entered the work force with renewed self-esteem for as one former defense industry supervisor notes, “They knew they were needed.”  In fact, women were so much in demand that companies such as Acme Dye in Latrobe provided buses to transport women from Indiana and Clymer to its Latrobe factory where they worked with explosive powders and bullets.

In Indiana County itself, defense industry work was soon underway at Federal Labs in Tunnelton, and at Indiana on Indian Springs Road and at the newly opened plant near South 13th Street, in the same building that had previously housed the silk mill.  Work plans for the South 13th Street plant illustrate the new trends at Federal Labs which moved quickly to mobilize the female labor force.  As William Durno, a long time superintendent there notes, the company immediately began “…gearing up for the high speed production.”  Original plans called for one shift of 64 “girls” and five men plus about 6 guards and some government employed inspectors who were usually women.  Soon this was expanded to a three shift operation.  Women worked on the production line, mixed and handled explosives and assembled hand grenades.  They did everything which once only men had done, unless restricted by state law.

shorthand students
Shorthand students at commercial college during World War I.

Indiana women quickly learned of the new opportunities available at Federal Labs and as William Durno smilingly recalls, “If they walked in breathing, we hired them.”  As far as testing goes there was only one primary question, “Are you afraid?”  A timid person was a hazard.  However, during World War II, women maintained a good safety record.  In retrospect, women don’t remember trying to conform to a Rosie the Riveter image.  It was just common sense to wear overalls and wrap one’s hair in a bandanna.  All jewelry was expressly forbidden – static electricity would set off explosives.  One person remarked that it could be difficult to convince some women to take off sentimental jewelry such as wedding rings.  Most interviewees remember that workers were well aware of hazards and quickly complied with safety regulations.  A couple of Indiana women recalled an incident in which one worker let wisps of hair show only to lose some hair and even skin when the hair got caught in the machinery.  An accident such as this was an exception.  Throughout the course of the war, there were no major injuries in Indiana County war industries.

Besides convincing both men and women of the abilities of working women, the war years were responsible for other attitudinal changes.  A new consciousness you might say, had been raised and new expectations developed.  One satisfying aspect of work was the new sense of camaraderie among the women.  Mrs. Goral of Indiana remembers that when her mother worked at a defense plant the factory women associated more even during off hours.  Another more practical change resulted in new perceptions of unions.

Many local women who worked in the early period had expressed some hostility to unions.  They perceived union leaders as either troublemakers or meddlers.  Yet the women who had become involved in the large scale concerns of war industries often discovered that tan active union was a necessary ally.

Even more significant than the satisfactions of new interests and friendships outside the home was the impact of the paycheck itself.  For many women this was the first time extra cash filled their pocketbooks and as Mrs. Ila Murdick comments, it may not have been a great deal of money “…but it was big for them.”  In fact some women dared to suggest that the monetary motivation, not patriotism, was of paramount significance at that time.  As Mrs. Mabel McQuown, herself a former defense industry employee, remarks on the primary motivation of the women, “For most it was the money.”

Yet, in this picture, basic patriotism was not to be discounted.  Though women in the county were working in different jobs and in larger numbers than ever before, their ultimate goal was the war’s end and return of the soldiers.  Again and again patriotism is mentioned as the common denominator among them.  When the war ended they knew they would be out of a job.  As one former war worker said, “I don’t think anyone felt bad about losing a job.  They were happy that the war was over.”  Mrs. Carrolton Philippi of Marion Center remembers a story of one Indiana County woman who took a job replacing a man.  She used to joke that when he returned she would gladly give up her job and then marry the returning soldier.  That was exactly what happened.

For many women giving up their jobs was achieved just as smoothly and as happily. But there were others who felt differently.  They hoped to continue to work somewhere, somehow.  Unquestionably, the 1940s had altered the consciousness of Indiana Countians just as it had nationally.  The former attitude that women should work only before marriage or in widowhood had clearly diminished, to be replaced by a new appreciation of what women could contribute to the labor force.  Surely, a contemporary might report of that period if questioned “Yes, a lot more women went to work in those days.”

Aunt Jane

“Miss Jane E. Leonard is selected for Congress Democrats of this District will give women a chance.”  This mundane headline appeared in the March 25, 1922 edition of the Indiana Democrat, and it seemed to understate the newsworthiness of an event.  It was a historic occasion.  Miss Jane E. Leonard, as the Democratic candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s Twenty-seventh Congressional District, was one of the first women to seek a national political office as a major party candidate in Pennsylvania.*  Since only ten women in the entire country ran for congressional seats as choices of major political parties in 1922, Miss Leonard attracted national attention.

Jane E. Leonard was the former preceptress of Indiana State Normal School (known today as Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)).  The former Leonard Hall on the IUP campus had memorialized her name.  She served “the Normal” from its opening in 1875 until her retirement in 1921.  Then, less than a year after her retirement and at a spry eighty-one years of age, she ran for Congress.  This episode is both more incredible and, at the same time, less incredible than it seemed at first notice.

The 1922 election was only the second national election following the enfranchisement of women by the Nineteenth Amendment.  Miss Leonard had not been that active in politics; her life was spent in education.  And at eighty-one, it was an amazing age to be launching a new career.  She was, moreover, a Democrat in an area dominated by the Republican party. Despite this, she ran extremely well, polling a far larger percentage of the votes cast than any other Democratic congressional candidate in a ten-year period.

“Aunt Jane,” as Miss Jane Leonard was affectionately known by the thousands who attended the State Normal School in Indiana, came to Indiana from the Clearfield County area.  She was born on December 27, 1840, in Leonard, Pennsylvania.  Her family was so well established in the area, that there is reflected in the vicinity’s place names – Leonard Station, Leonard House, Leonard School, and Leonard Run as well as the town itself.

It is likely that her early education was at Leonard School, a gift to the rural community from her father.  Her life-long involvement in education began at the age of fifteen when she first taught in the public schools of her native Clearfield County.  Later, desiring more advanced educational preparation, she entered Millersville State Normal School, the first institution of its kind in Pennsylvania.  Then she spent some time teaching in Lancaster County schools.  Her attainments as a student at Millersville, her teaching experiences, and her personal qualities led to Miss Leonard joining the Millersville faculty in 1868 as instructor of history and mathematics.

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Jane Leonard

In 1875, the Board of Trustees of the new State Normal School at Indiana asked Dr. J.P. Wickersham, Pennsylvania’s superintendent of education and the founder and first principal of Millersville State Normal School, to recommend a candidate for the position of preceptress and instructor of English literature.  He recommended Jane E. Leonard.

For the next forty-six years, Miss Leonard served Indiana.  When she retired in 1921 she was awarded emeritus status and given permission to continue occupying her apartment in John Sutton Hall.  As an education she always stressed that her students should be ambitious both for themselves and their communities, that they should be active and participate in their world, that they should shoulder the responsibilities offered to them, and that they should work to better the world they lived in. In that educational philosophy lie clues which make “Aunt Jane’s” political adventure less incredible than it first suggests.

Although she could not even vote in a national election until she was seventy-nine years old, Jane E. Leonard had developed an active interest in politics. She was lauded as having a wide knowledge of politics and political men.**  As a member as the Indiana community, Miss Leonard while not seen as a political firebrand, had not been politically bashful.  She was accustomed to interrupting her return from Sunday church service to impose herself on one of the local newspaper editors or political leaders in talk over the public issues.  According to the March 23, 1922 Indiana Weekly Messenger, Miss Leonard “was one of the campaigners for years for equal franchise and has campaigned also for prohibition.  She never neglects an opportunity to assail the monopolistic practices of the tariff barons and speaks for National economy, friendly relations with other nations, universal peace and human advancement.”

Her political orientation appeared foreordained.  The Indiana Weekly Messenger said bluntly, she is “a democrat by nature and it was inevitable that with the enfranchisement of women she would be found aligned from the outset with the Democratic party.”  Her affinity for involvement in her interests, an “Aunt Jane” trait, made it rather natural that she later gravitated toward political stewardship when the opportunity presented itself.  In 1922, she was chairman of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fund, devoted to soliciting monies for Wilsonian goals, chairman of the Indiana County Ladies Democratic Committee, and president of the Indiana County Democratic Women Voters League.  The octogenarian was one to give her personal time and support to those matters that personally touched her.

The challenge of being the Democratic candidate in the Twenty-seventh District’s congressional race was not a quest that she eagerly sought.  The distinguished lady had to be sought out, and, according to the Indiana Evening Gazette, “Her friends…demanding a fit representative in congress insisted that she permit her name to be used.  Miss Leonard did not make any effort for the nomination, letting her name be used but not spending a cent in a campaign or making one speech.”

The days preceding her nomination for the Democratic primary, Miss Leonard had another and very different, political interest – to secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination for Indiana’s native son John S. Fisher.  Although she was serving as the chairman of the Indiana County Ladies Democratic Committee, she strongly endorsed Fisher.  She attended the formal opening rally of his campaign in front of the Indiana County Courthouse, she wrote an open letter to the alumni of the Normal School urging their support for Fisher, and she later addressed the annual reunion meeting of the Allegheny County ISNS Alumni Association stressing the need of their support of his candidacy.  The Indiana Republican press praised her as a “grand old lady.”

While such incongruent activities might have branded Miss Leonard as a political maverick, they were in keeping with her character.  John S. Fisher, as a former Indiana Normal student, was one of “her boys” in whom she had confidence.  She declared that “Democrat though she was, she’d vote for him for governor if he’d capture the Republican nomination for that office.”  Her open support of the Republican Fisher was simply an indication that she never was and never could have been a narrow political partisan.

The primary campaign was very quiet since Miss Leonard was unopposed, and her opening political activity reflected that situation.  If any event served as a campaign kickoff it was the Democratic Ladies Tea which was held on March 30.  Miss Leonard presented the opening remarks which contained some advice on the Indiana County Democratic campaign.  The state chairman of the Women’s Democratic Committee of Pennsylvania was in attendance.  The Indiana Democrat hailed the event as “A Fine Success.”  The first public endorsement of Leonard’s candidacy, and the only known one in Indiana County, came on April 5 when the Joseph M. Blakely Camp, No. 71, United Spanish War Veterans unanimously endorsed her.  These were the only public acknowledgements in the Indiana press of the Leonard campaign prior to the May primary election.  Of course an active campaign is not required of an unopposed primary candidate.

The fall general election, however, was a different situation.  Miss Leonard’s political interests and knowledge must have suggested to her the seemingly insurmountable obstacle she was facing.  Pennsylvania in 1922 was essentially a one party state – Republican.  The Twenty-seventh Congressional District was solidly Republican, and Indiana County was rock-ribbed Republican. The primary returns reinforced this general knowledge.  In Indiana Borough, for example, only 124 Democrats bothered to vote while 1,481 Republicans cast their ballots.  In Indiana County, running unopposed, Leonard received 667 votes while a total Republican vote of 8,633 was split among three contestants.  In the fall when the voter registration for the Twenty-seventh Congressional District was announced it favored the Republicans over the Democrats, 68 percent to 23 percent.  Certainly a bleak prospect faced the novice candidate.

To make matters worse, her Republican opponent was formidable.  He was Nathan L. Strong, the incumbent Congressman from Brookville, Jefferson County.  Certainly everything was a disadvantage: Miss Leonard was running for her first elected political office, her opponent was an incumbent seeking his fourth congressional term.  She was eighty-one years of age, her opponent was sixty-three.  She was a woman, he was a man.  The odds were staggering.  There was little wonder that William K. Hutchinson, a national news correspondent, included Miss Lenard among the five feminine congressional candidates who had only “a chance in a hundred” of winning.  It could be suggested that perhaps, at least in “Aunt Jane’s” case, Hutchinson was even underestimating the odds.

It could be argued that Miss Leonard was not really a serious contender.  If newspaper advertisement is any indication, the Democrats spent little money on the campaign.  The Leonard campaign trail in Indiana County was not overly onerous.  It is possible that the Democrats, faced with the impossibility of winning the election, had conceded from the start.

Jane E. Leonard, nevertheless, seemed to use the public exposure to continue to stress ideals important to her. During her campaigning, light though it was, she worked to further her causes.  “Aunt Jane” challenged women to involve themselves in politics.  “We are in politics,” she declared, “and we are going to do our duty.  Our duty is to do the best we know how.”  In another instance she lectured the newly enfranchised women on “the importance of women taking the responsibilities which are now theirs with the assuming the principles of enfranchisement, an action which at the present time they are not prone to do.”  She became known for her positions on what were to her the vital issues, some of them most progressive – the inclusion of a secretary of education in the president’s cabinet, a tariff used only for revenue, measures to insure fiscal responsibility in national government, and election victories for Democratic candidates.

Miss Leonard, always bound by her principles, could not be bound by party lines.  She acclaimed the educational program of Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor William C. Sproul.  That program had been embodied in the Edmonds Act which aimed at consolidating schools, increasing aid to education, increasing aid to education, and standardizing curriculum, teachers’ qualifications, and salaries.  She publicly acknowledged that Dr. Finegan, the Republican-appointed superintendent of public of public education, had “done more to advance education in the past three years than had been accomplished in the preceding ten years.”

She apparently did not have many opportunities to express her ideals.  Her reported public appearances following the primary were at the Indiana County Congress of Women’s Clubs meeting in June and the one day Democratic County Tour in September.  It was an incident at the Cookport Fair, one of the stops on the County Tour, that permits a glimpse of “Aunt Jane” on the hustings.  One writer described the scene this way: “As she climbed aboard the hay wagon, the veteran educator carried her 83 [sic] years as though they were a mere 50.  She had a sprightly step and her voice was strong as she urged the assembled voters to support the Democratic candidates from top to bottom.”

Given the light campaigning effort, given the political realities, the November election results were surprising.  The eighty-one year old, former educator carried 37 percent of the vote in the Twenty-seventh Congressional District to her opponent’s 54 percent, and 30 percent in Indiana County to his 55 percent.  The popular vote was 18,682 to 12,927 and 5,071 to 2,764 respectively.  A loss by a landslide, yes, but a comparably minor landslide.  In 1920, Strong’s victory was 66 percent to 25 percent in the District and 70 percent to 16 percent in the County; in 1924 Strong would win by 59 percent to 18 percent and 59 percent to 13 percent.  The neophyte, maiden politician had done remarkably well.

The full story of Miss Leonard’s relative success rests more in events outside of the Twenty-seventh Congressional District since the Pennsylvania Republican party that year had been severely splintered by internal struggles.  The election of 1922, nevertheless, was a surprising story, and “Aunt Jane” really fared no worse than any of the other nine female candidates who were running for Congress – they all lost (even Alice M. Robertson, the incumbent congresswoman from Oklahoma).

Miss Jane E. Leonard, an Indiana institution as an educator, probably considered herself to be continuing her educational goals as a politician in teaching by example the duty of personal responsibility and active participation, expounding one’s convictions and ideals, and attempting to better the world.  If there was a loser in the 1922 election, it was not “Aunt Jane.”  Her “political whirl” was the giving of a practical lesson – she was engaged, as always, in educating.

*Ellen D. Davis was, in the same election, running for the congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s Second District.

** The “Indiana legend” that James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States, had proposed marriage to Miss Leonard has no basis in historical fact.

George Clymer

George Clymer was frequently described by his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention of 1781 as a diffident man who could work effectively behind the scenes.  He worked effectively for the American revolutionary cause, as he was one of only eight Americans to have signed both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787.  For Indiana Countians, Clymer’s political career stirs special interest because he is a fellow Pennsylvanian and he donated the land upon which our county seat was built.

Clymer was one of the wealthiest men who signed the Constitution.  At his death, his family was reputed to own as much as two million acres of Pennsylvania land.  These vast holdings caused many of his contemporaries to label him as a land speculator rather than a statesman.  His involvement in the formation of Indiana County, after it was carved out of Westmoreland County in 1803, demonstrates both his savvy for land speculation and his interest in the development of Pennsylvania.

Clymer owned large tracts of land in Indiana County along Twolick Creek near present day Clymer Borough.  In order to make this land more valuable, Clymer and his wife, the former Elizabeth Meredith, generously donated 250 acres to the newly appointed Indiana County Commissioners to sell in lots for Indiana Borough.  The proceeds therefrom were used to erect a courthouse, jail and other public buildings that once stood at the corner of Philadelphia and North Sixth Streets.  Although there is no record of Clymer ever visiting Indiana County, he did travel through western Pennsylvania on his way to Fort Pitt during the Revolution, and he rode as far as Bedford during the Whiskey Rebellion.

clymer
George Clymer

Clymer’s dedication to the growth of Pennsylvania and the new county can be attributed to his family history.  His ancestors on both sides of his family had arrived in Philadelphia from England by 1700, and by the Revolution the family had become economically prosperous.  Clymer’s early years in Philadelphia, however, were marked by tragedy.  His mother died one year after his birth, and his father died by his seventh birthday.  Thereafter, his mother’s sister and her wealthy husband, William Coleman, formally adopted him.

Clymer enjoyed many luxuries while living in the Coleman household.  He was educated formally in his uncle’s extensive library, eventually graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration in law and literature.  During these years he also clerked at his uncle’s business.  The early foundation prepared him to become a widely respected financial advisor to the federal government in his later years.  It was not, however, until his marriage in 1766 that he became active in politics.

Clymer’s father-in-law, in addition to introducing him to young George Washington from Virginia with whom Clymer was destined to develop a lifelong friendship, made him a partner in the family’s enormously profitable coffee and tea import business.  When, therefore, the British began imposing harsh taxes on the import of tea, Clymer and other colonists similarly employed rebelled against the Crown.  Clymer served as Chairman of the Philadelphia Tea Committee, successfully persuading merchants all over Philadelphia to refuse to import tea with the British tax stamp on it.

In 1776 Clymer became a Captain in General Cadwalader’s “silk stocking” regiment and on July 7, 1775, he became one of the Continental Congress’ first treasurers.  He immediately exchanged all his English specie for Continental Currency.  This act so enraged the British that after the Battle of Brandywine, British troops made a special detour to burn Clymer’s estate in Chester County.

After the Revolution, Clymer was elected to the Confederation Congress, but by 1786 he advocated that a new body must convene to correct the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.  In his view unless Congress were given jurisdiction over commerce and finance, the government would collapse.  It was in this spirit that he joined the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia during the sweltering summer of 1787.

After the first meeting, the 55 delegates (the eldest was Ben Franklin at age 80) swore themselves to secrecy, sealed the windows in Independence Hall and began to draft a new constitution.  Most details and compromises were handled in the various committees.  Here Clymer excelled.  Well respected for his business acumen, he sat on the financial affairs committees, lobbying for a strong national government.  His influence can be found in the famous commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress sweeping power over the nation’s commerce.

After the convention, Clymer, as a member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, spearheaded the movement to ratify the Constitution in the Pennsylvania Congress.  Even though most members opposed the ratification, Clymer succeeded in his goal by using clever maneuvers.  When the vote came up, Clymer personally saw to it that not enough of the opposition could be present to out vote him.

When the new Constitution had been ratified by all the states, Clymer was elected in November 1788 to serve in the first session of the United States House of Representatives.  He served in the House until 1791 when he was appointed Supervisor of Internal Revenue for Pennsylvania.  He resigned, however, shortly before the culmination of the Whiskey Rebellion and went on to serve under his long time associate, President George Washington, as collector of excise taxes.  Later, Washington asked him to be one of the three commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokee Indians in Georgia.  This assignment was to be his last public act.  Thereafter, he retired and served as the first president of the First Bank of Philadelphia.  He also became the first president of the Philadelphia Academy of Arts.  He died in January 1813, and was buried in Friends Meeting burial grounds, Trenton, New Jersey.

Although historians may rank Clymer’s achievements at a more modest level than those of Jefferson, Washington or Madison, he deserves, nevertheless, to be considered among the pre-eminent political leaders of the revolutionary era.  His prodigious record of public services evidences his dedication to the ongoing success of the American republic.

Silas M. Clark

One of the most distinguished citizens of Indiana was Silas Moorhead Clark. He was born January 18, 1834 in Plum Creek Township, Armstrong County. He was the son of James and Ann Moorhead Clark and came from a long line of notable ancestors on both his parent’s sides. On his maternal side was his great grandfather, the pioneer, Fergus Moorhead. Mr. Moorhead was one of the first persons to settle near Indiana in 1772. It was in 1777 that Fergus was captured by Indians and taken to Canada during the Revolution. Not long after, Mrs. Moorhead, while alone in the wilderness, gave birth to Fergus Moorhead, Jr., Silas Clark’s grandfather. His paternal great grandfather, Captain James Clark, was among the defenders of Hannastown when it was attacked in 1782 by Indians and Canadians and burned it to the ground.

The Man behind the House: Silas Clark
Silas M. Clark

Silas and his family moved to Indiana when Silas was about a year old. His father was in business for 37 years as a tannery operator and held the offices of school director and justice of the peace. Silas only received a basic education in the public schools; at the age of 14 he began attending the Indiana Academy, which was the first institution of learning equivalent to a high school. His classmates included: Matthew S. Quay, who later became Pennsylvania’s Republic “boss,” and Harry White, later serving as judge and Congressman. Not only was Clark studying at the Academy, he also worked on his father’s farm and carried the mail for a year between Indiana and Blairsville.

Once his education was complete at the Indiana Academy, Mr. Clark entered Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Washington County (now known as Washington & Jefferson College). In 1852 at the age of 18 he graduated fifth in a class of sixty people. Following graduation, he became a teacher at the Indiana Academy, for two terms, instructing 45 young men.

It was in 1854 that Mr. Clark began the study of law at the office of William M. Stewart, an Indiana attorney who later became Solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1856, Clark founded, along with Joseph M. Thompson and John F. Young, a Democratic newspaper, The Democratic Messenger. After a few months, Clark sold his interest in the paper, which later became the Indiana Messenger.

In September 1857, at age 23, Clark was admitted to the Indiana County Bar and the following year he became a junior partner of attorney Stewart. The firm of Stewart & Clark was said to have had the “largest and most lucrative practice in Indiana County.” The partners are believed to have never had a written agreement and never had a disagreement. Their association continued for sixteen years until 1873 when Stewart moved to Philadelphia; Clark continued the practice alone. His office was in the Edward Nixon house, North Sixth Street, which is now the Delaney automobile lot.

Clark’s next move was into the political world, being elected to Indiana Borough Council in 1859, and he was reelected in 1861 and 1865. In 1869, he was elected a school director for the borough and continued to hold this position for many years. It was said, “To his [Clark] judgement and energy are the public schools (of Indiana) are largely indebted for their prosperity.”

His law practice quickly attained a reputation as “a strong and logical reasoner and an eloquent advocate.” His personal inclination was to shun litigation wherever possible and settle cases peaceably out of court. It is claimed that Clark never sued anyone himself nor was he sued by anyone. Much can be said about Clark as a lawyer by the following quote, “Whether arguing questions of law before a court or questions of fact before a jury, the strong points of his case were so forcibly presented that the weak ones were likely to be lost altogether.”

In his personal life, Clark married Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead on April 26, 1859. She was not related to Silas’ mother’s line.

The Family behind the House
Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead Clark

Clark’s political career continued, on July 4, 1862 while in Harrisburg attending a State Democratic Convention, he was elected chairman of the Indiana County Democratic Committee. Now during this time, the Civil War was raging, and many people looked upon Democrats with suspicion as “Secessionists” and “Copperheads” allied with their rebellious brethren in the South. Clark made a proposal that both Republicans and Democrats of Indiana County, who had previously announced public meetings for the same day, cancel the meetings and campaign without political meetings; Clark pointed out that “the present is indeed no time for partisan strife.” The Republican candidate for Congress, was Clark’s law partner, William M. Stewart. But Clark received no reply to his proposal, so he suggested a joint meeting of both parties, but I.M. Watt, the Republican chairman, declined to consider either idea.

As Clark’s professional and political career prospered, he began the erection of his mansion in 1869. During construction, a newspaper item in October mentioned that he had been struck on the head by a failing brick and he was somewhat stunned for a few hours. The location of the home was on the site of the old academy, where Clark had attended as a boy, and had burned in 1864. The house was said to cost $12,000 and was completed in 1870. It was during this time that, without his knowledge, Clark was nominated by some friends at the State Democratic Convention for Justice for the State Supreme Court. He received forty or fifty votes, but the choice of the Convention was Cyrus L. Pershing.

This was just the beginning of Clark’s career in the judicial-political sphere. In 1871, he was unanimously chosen as the Democratic candidate for President Judge of the Tenth Judicial District – consisting of Armstrong, Indiana, and Westmoreland Counties – but Clark was defeated by James A. Logan of Greensburg. Logan was a solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and on Election Day trains were sent out along the PRR lines in the three-county area to haul voters to their polling places free of charge. Even though these tactics were employed, Logan only had a majority of some 400 votes. In the years that followed Clark declared “Judge Logan was a good, able and just judge.” By this time, Attorney Clark was considered one of the best attorneys in Indiana County.

Clark did not give up running for office, he was successfully elected on October 8, 1872 as a delegate from the 24th Senatorial District to the Convention which framed a new Pennsylvania Constitution. As a member of the Convention, he was named to a committee to make rules for governing the Convention; he also served on the Declaration of Rights Committee, Committed on Private Corporations, and the Revision and Adjustment Committee.

Again in 1874 Clark was nominated for the State Supreme Court, receiving 41 votes, but he was once again defeated with the nod going to W.J. Woodward.

Clark continued to be active in both business and politics. He was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis in 1876, in which Samuel J. Tilden for President. It was said “Silas M. Clark is not one of those men who avoid politics as a filthy pool in which honest men should not dabble. He holds it the right and duty of every good citizen to vote; he recognizes that good men should not shirk their share in party management.” In 1879, he was elected to serve as president of the First National Bank. He also served several terms as president of the Indiana County Agricultural Society.

In 1882, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania, unanimously chose him as its nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Following the Election of November 7, 1882, the entire Democratic ticket has been elected. Clark was elected, and surprising had won Indiana County, breaking a rule since the days of Andrew Jackson that no Democrat could carry the county.

Once the Indiana County Court adjourned on December 23, 1882, the members of the Bar organized and passed resolutions “highly complimentary of the character and ability of Judge Silas M. Clark” who severed his long connection with the county attorney’s association. On December 28, General White entertained the members of the Bar and other guests at an evening party in honor of the Supreme Justice-elect. The following day, Clark left to take his seat on the bench of the high court, with a salary of $8,000 per year.

Clark was highly esteemed on the bench, “his opinions, always brief, were couched in the simplest and choicest language, and were as readily understood by laymen as by lawyers.” Clark was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Lafayette College in 1886. However, there was sorrow during his term as Justice, with the death of his wife, Clara, on January 17, 1887.

Following the death of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Morrison R. Waite in 1888, many Pennsylvania newspapers pointed to Justice Clark as being qualified for his replacement. However, this was not meant to be.

Clark House
Silas M. Clark House

Late in September 1891, while holding court in Pittsburgh, he suffered from a large carbuncle on the back of his neck, but he continued to sit on the Bench until early November when he was obliged to come home. His physicians could not do much and gave up all hope of his recovery. On November 20, he lapsed into a coma and died about 9:15 p.m. at the age of 57.

Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian Church Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm on November 23; this was a remarkable demonstration of respect and affection, and it is likely that Judge Clark would not have wanted all this fuss. The Courthouse was draped in black; business establishments were closed until 4:00. John Sutton Hall was also draped in black and the bell tolled during the services. The church was overflowing, every available seat upstairs and down was occupied, there were many standing in every possible space, and there were more than a hundred waiting outside. At 11:20 a.m. a special train arrived in Indiana carrying Governor Pattison and five of Clark’s fellow judges, plus attorneys, county and state officials and other judges. At the conclusion of the service, the processional to the cemetery was delayed permitting Normal School faculty and students to file by for a last farewell. Afterwards, hundreds of others who had been patiently waiting outside walked silently past. Justice Silas M. Clark’s final resting place in Oakland Cemetery is marked by a simple stone bearing the words “S.M. Clark.” This was fitting for such a humble man as Silas.

In 1893, a boy’s dormitory was built on the Normal School campus, and it was named “Clark Hall,” in Silas’ honor. After it burned in 1905, another was erected and rededicated on January 12, 1907. After an “open house,” there was a ceremony held in the chapel of John Sutton Hall where a large portrait of Justice Clark, festooned with carnations, hung on the wall above the rostrum. Attorney J. Wood Clark, a son of Clark, presided.

Members of the Clark family continued to reside in the house until 1915 when J. Wood Clark moved to Pittsburgh. The house was rented to F.M. Fritchman, General Superintendent of the R&P Coal Company, until January 19, 1917, when the surviving Clark heirs sold the house to the County Commissioners for $20,000 less $1,000 which was donated by the heirs. The intention was for the house to be a veteran’s memorial and so it was known for years as “Memorial Hall.” It served various veterans’ groups, patriotic organizations, the Red Cross during World War I and II, as civil defense headquarters, and the Historical Society; it was also used as a polling place.

The Clark House continues to serve the community as a museum for the Historical Society. It serves as a “time capsule” a look into the past to see how the Clarks would have lived. Come visit us for one of the many events held at the Clark House or set up a tour of the Clark House to learn more about this fascinating and interesting house.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

What a debut!  The biggest star in the history of American entertainment was born onstage at the Fourteenth Street Theater in New York on October 24, 1881.  Though she died in obscurity some fifty years later in Hollywood, most radio, film and TV greats to this very day acknowledge their debt to the star whose stage name was Voix de Ville . . . “Vaudeville.”

An eclectic mix of music, comedy, drama, dancing and circus-style acts, vaudeville was developed as a family-friendly alternative to the more bawdy saloon and burlesque entertainment of our post-Civil War era.  The secret of its longevity lay in both the ever-changing variety of its acts and the invention of the theatrical circuit by vaudeville promotor Benjamin Keith.  Acts would get their start in the catch-as-catch-can world of small venues, and if successful, were signed to a contract by one of the national circuits.  The 400 theater Keith Circuit, ancestor of RKO Pictures, was the biggest.

Vaudeville came late to Indiana County.  At first our towns just weren’t big enough to be worth a troupe’s while; after all, Voix de Ville meant “voice of the city.”  Besides, nearby Punxsutawney had more full-size theaters than our entire county AND was on a circuit.  But as our population grew in the 1890s, professional acts began to be hired for charity events, private functions and even the County Fair.  The curtain went up on big-time vaudeville here on September 6, 1899, when the Gazette announced: “The theatrical season in Indiana will be opened by the Russell Brothers Vaudeville Company, which will play Library Hall.  The troupe numbers 29 people and carries its own brass band and orchestra.”

Located behind where Indiana’s post office now stands, Library Hall (later called the Auditorium) was one of just two venues large enough to host such a full-size troupe.  Einstein’s Opera House in Blairsville, “unquestionably the largest and best theater in the county” when it opened in 1904, was the other.  So even counting the tent-shows that occasionally passed through, Indiana County vaudeville remained sparse until a certain technology changed everything….

Silent films became available to small towns about 1905, and they began to form an unexpected symbiosis with vaudeville here almost immediately.  Public demand for “flickers” caused the opening of at least eight nickelodeons (movie theaters) between 1906 and 1913, and even roller-rinks showed films after hours.  Managers needing to fill the rewind-time between films began hiring non-circuit vaudevilleans to share the bill.  It worked.  From tiny Dreamland to the spacious Globe, business boomed, and THAT caught the big boys’ attention.  The Keith, Nixon and Polock circuits started booking acts that fit on our nickelodeons’ stages (Dreamland’s was only 10’x15’) and sent the bigger ones to Einstein’s and the Auditorium.  The golden age of Indiana County vaudeville had begun.

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Ad for vaudeville at Indiana’s  Star Theater (1909)

The sheer number of entertainment choices was now staggering, a sudden increase analogous to the coming of cable TV in the 1980s.  On any weeknight through 1918, an Indianan could see six vaudeville acts between three movies at one of up to five theaters . . . all for a dime.  To name just a few: The Lilliputians, midget acrobats; Harry Martine, the Juggling Jester; The Rockwell Minstrels; The Great Lamar, King of Handcuffs; Fairy Plum, the Dancing Comedienne;  Crighton and his Trained Roosters; The Mysterious Henrello; The Four Mirrors, mimics;  Valmore the Human Orchestra.

Vaudeville even did its patriotic duty in 1917 when our boys enlisted to go “Over There,” as vaudvillean George M. Cohan’s song put it.  Troops of the 110th Infantry, sent to train at Fort Lee, were entertained there by troupes hired from the Keith Circuit.

You may recall from a previous article that our county was a morally stringent place in those days.  There were no Sunday shows, nor any alcohol backstage or front.  Ads went to great lengths to assure the public of a vaudeville act’s good character.  A typical 1916 Gazette review found the Sunny South Company’s show to be “good, clean comedy . . . free from any suggestion of vulgarity.”

The one big gap in vaudeville’s character was its caricatures: ethnic and racial stereotypes formed the core of many a vaudeville comedy routine.  But there were also ethnic circuits from which small town immigrant groups sometimes hired acts for special occasions.  Heilwood’s Star Theater hosted just such a “Yiddisher troupe” during the 1916 Jewish War Sufferers fund drive, and Il Patriota gushed proudly when maestro Pietro Pastori played the Strand.

Then came Intermission.  The Colonial and the aged Auditorium closed in early 1919.  National circuits, learning of the Auditorium’s pending demolition, had withdrawn all future Indiana County bookings well in advance for want of a large enough anchor theater (Einstein’s had closed in 1916), and the remaining nickelodeons found it hard to attract independent acts.  Vaudeville all but vanished from the county for five long years.

Ritz
Heilwood’s Town Hall hosted vaudeville shows.

Two full-size modern theaters rose to fill the void in 1924: the 1,200 seat Ritz and the 1,100 seat Indiana, within a block of each other on Philadelphia in our county seat.  National circuits resumed bookings, finally sending us their biggest and best thanks to the opulent new movie palaces and some theatrical mergers.  From Blairsville’s Richelieu to the Knights of Pythias Hall in Clymer, vaudeville was back!

Three years later, the old vaudeville/flickers alliance made the next great leap when vaudeville star Al Jolson appeared and sang in the 1927 film  The Jazz Singer.  But instead of benefiting both parties as the silents had, “talkies” cleared vaudeville from most movie houses nationwide by the end of 1929, and the Great Depression did the rest.

The curtain came down on professional vaudeville in Indiana County in the early 1930s.  Half the theaters on county tax rolls in 1927 had closed by 1932, and one by one, those that remained stopped featuring live variety between movie times.  The last troupe took a bow on March 19, 1932 at the Ritz in Indiana: between showings of the film High Pressure, the Vanity Fair Vaudeville Revue presented “8 BIG TIME ACTS—30 Minutes of Comedy, Singing, Dancing!”  In the corner of their Gazette ad was an unintentional but fitting obituary: Last Times Today.

There was a curtain call of sorts thereafter.  Catering to nostalgia for the good times before the Depression, some radio networks featured travelling vaudeville teams making broadcasts from local venues what we now call “remotes.”  One of those shows came to Indiana in 1935.  For three days in July, episodes of the sitcom/variety show Salt and Peanuts NBC Revue  were broadcast live from the Ritz.

And then they were gone.

Pennsylvania’s love affair with vaudeville was a passionate one, immortalized long afterwards by George Burns’ famous tag-line, “They still love me in Altoona.”  So if there are any remaining vaudevilleans out there who remember playing the Ritz . . . we still love you in Indiana!