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 Bent Rung Ladder

Another of Indiana’s bygone industries was the Bent Rung Ladder & Manufacturing Company.  It was said that at one time the products of the Company were sold extensively throughout the United States and were exported to England, Scotland, South Africa, South America, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.  The patented bent rung ladder was the invention of Edward Rowe, who organized the company in 1891.  The ladder was described as “constructed on different principles from any heretofore”

“There are no holes bored in the side pieces to weaken; there are no wedges driven into the ends of the rungs to split the sides; the side pieces are not made three times as heavy as necessary to overcome the weakness produced by the holdes…

In the center of the sides is a groove three-sixteenths of an inch and the exact width of a rung, into which groove the rung fits nicely.  Wrought iron nails hold the rungs securely clinched.”

The ends of each rung, made of either hickory or ash, were split or “bent” two ways when inserted into the groove – hence the name “Bent Rung Ladder.”

When the company was organized, those listed as partners were: R.D. Hetrick, D.A. Hetrick, W.T. Wilson, Dr. N.F. Ehrenfeld, E.A. Pennington, A.M. Hammers, John Switzer, W.F. Wettling, and Rowe.  They began in a rented an old furniture factory on Water Street, producing only ladders at first.

In 1892, the partners moved to South and Eighth streets and erected a building 50 by 80 feet.  Despite a financial depression, which followed the 1893 panic, the business continued to grow, however some of the partners dropped out at various times.

In 1897, Rowe sold his interest to J.H. Young.  In 1899, John P. Elkin purchased Young’s interest and became president of the company, which was incorporated at that time.  In 1904, when Elkin was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he sold his holdings and was succeeded as president by C.R. Smith.  W.F. Wettling, the only original remaining partners, was secretary and general manager.

In 1906, the company began to make porch swings and the Larkin Soap Co. had placed an order for 600 swings to be given as premiums.  By 1907, the company had a large plant covering approximately three acres and comprised of main factories, store houses, sheds and yards connected by switches with the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The company’s output in 1907 was 50,000 ladders and 10,000 porch swings a year.

The Company also produced step ladders, folding camp furniture, Army stretchers, sleds and the “Handy Floss Cabinet” in which silk floss “is stretched over a spring-forked holder, preventing tangling, matting or soiling and keeping all colors separate.”

In February 1908, the company purchased the plant of the Everett Manufacturing Company in Everett, Washington.

Tragedy struck on May 11, 1910, when the main factory building was destroyed by fire, but the setback was only temporary.  The building was rebuilt and manufacturing resumed.  As new modern machinery was quickly purchased and installed.  The new factory was opened shortly after the fire.

By 1914, there were as many as 50 operatives employed, but for unknown reasons, the business went into a slow decline until it closed in 1916.

The Indiana Foundries

There existed in Indiana, an industry known as a foundry, as memorialized in the name of Foundry Avenue.  There were three iron foundries in operation in Indiana at different times over a period of nearly 100 years from 1851 to 1948.  A foundry uses ingots made at another location and remelts them to make castings for things such as stove parts.  A common example in Indiana are pot-bellied stoves, or the covers to storm drains which bear the marking “Indiana Foundry Co.”

In 1851, the first foundry in Indiana was erected by William H. Choeman and Samuel George.  An advertisement appeared on June 4, 1851 that announced “Indiana Foundry is in Blast” advertising for sale cooking stoves, cannon and egg stoves, and ploughs such as Wyatt’s pattern and Caledonia’s self-sharpening.  They also announced that “all casting that may be called for will be made to order on the shortest notice.” 

The 1856 Peelor map shows the foundry on the north side of Philadelphia Street between Second and Third streets.

In June 1852, Mitchell & Boyle announced they had purchased the interest of Thomas Jacobs “in the New Foundry in Indiana Borough.”  By 1859, the East End foundry was still operating with a horse-powered fan.  It is not known how long the foundry continued, but it appears to have declined slowly and closed some time before 1880 when an item appeared in the Indiana Progress stating, “The old East End foundry presents a falling appearance.”

The second foundry was erected in 1853 by Robert Johnston and John H. Shyrock.  It was located in West Indiana on the north side of Philadelphia Street between Ninth and Tenth streets.  They built a new facility in 1855 alongside Shyrock’s steam saw mill.  The same engine that powered the saw mill also drove a fan used in blasting.  The new plant was named “Enterprise Foundry” and began operations on June 16, 1855.  The foundry produced about 10 castings each week by the four moulders and the four hands employed.

In 1856, Johnston sold his interest to James Bailey.

An 1857 ad by Bailey & Shryock listed the following available items: cook, laundry and heating stoves, large kettles, several sizes of iron pots, waffle irons, skillets, griddles, plows and plow points, iron railing, fenders and wrenches for buggies, stove pipe dampers, stone hammers, bedstead fasteners, iron stands, porch steps and scrapers, wagon boxes, and common and ornamental grates for fireplaces.

In February 1865, Burns, Convery & Co. purchased Indiana Foundry from Bailey & Shryock.  On April 13, 1868, the partnership of Patrick H. Burns, James Convery, H.J. Crouse and N. Vinroe was dissolved and the firm became Burns & Turner (James Turner).  Major Irwin McFarland became associated with the firm, and it became known as the Indiana Manufacturing Company.  At some point Turner left the plant, and McFarland became the proprietor by 1873.  Among their products were the Champion and Dexter cook stoves, and the Champion plow.  

In 1872, Burns built another foundry and employed five men.  In 1874, his brothers were associated with him being known as “P.H. Burns & Bros.”  An 1877 advertisement for “P.H. Burns & Bros.” headed “Who Sells the Best Plow?” offering to test their plows with any others made and sold in Indiana County.  The plowing had to be done within three miles of Indiana and judged by a committee of disinterested parties.  Adverse business conditions caused Burns & Bros. to sell in 1878 to E.P. Hildebrand, Thomas Sutton, and J.H. Young who reorganized as the Chill Wheel & Plow Co.

Hildebrand served as manager and employed six men to make “chill wheels” for pit wagons or coal cars, and “Uncle Sam” and “Rival” plows.  Burns worked for the new company for a while before moving to Pittsburgh.  In 1879, the Chill Wheel & Plow Co. merged with R.A. Young’s machine shop.  Young was a brother of J.H. Young.  This merger added the “Young & Carroll Hay Elevator,” a horse-operated hay fork; the “Lytle Red Staff and Diamond Dresser,” and five-horsepower steam engines to the product line.

In 1883, Thomas Sutton and his brother, John W. Sutton, bought out the other partners and began business with Hugh M. Bell as “Sutton Bros. & Bell.”  by April of 1887, the foundry and machine shops were running at full capacity.  During this transition period, the foundry was moved to a location at Oak and Tenth Streets and Burns and Clymer Avenues.

When the new jail was built in 1887, Sutton Bros. & Bell received a $15,000 contract for all ironwork, including the boilers, steam heating, water fittings, ironwork on cells, etc.

In September 1888, a 70-horse-power boiler, said to be the largest in Indiana County, was installed at the foundry.  Afterwards an advertisement headed “Mill Supplies” claimed they could “build New Machinery and do any kind of repair work.”

In July 1889, ground was broken for a new two-story foundry building.

In the years after 1870, Irvin McFarland continued to operate a competing enterprise known as the “Indiana Foundry.”  In 1876, his foundry made a canon for the citizens of Blacklick to used during the U.S. centennial and “has proven itself able to perform its work to the entire satisfaction of all.”  By 1879, there were eight employees, and the foundry was only running at half the capacity during the preceding three years.

The Indiana Times reported on March 7, 1894 that McFarland’s foundry had been shut down during the winter of 1893-94, but resumed operation on March 5, 1894 under “Smith & McCartney.”  McFarland died on November 17, 1898, and the foundry closed at either that time or some time before.

Bell sold his interest in Sutton Bros. & Bell to Edward Sellers of Oak Hall, Pa., and the name changed to the “Indiana Foundry Company.”  Sellers served as general manager.  His designs for a cutting box and land roller were added to the other castings already a part of the product line.  The Gazette announced that the company had to turn down an order from Sears, Roebuck & Co. for 180,00 pounds of farm bells “as it was impossible to manufacturer the bells at the present time,” but an order for one car load was accepted.

Indiana Foundry Co. stoves were adopted by the Pennsylvania, Lake Erie, and Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railroads for their stations and shops.  Pit wagons, frogs, switches, turnouts and car wheels were manufactured for use in the coal mines.  Other casting listed in the 1904 Gazette ad were cast iron stable mangers, ash pit and oven doors, hitch weights, sash weights, cast washers, farm bells, coal chutes, dumbbells and quoits.

In 1906, the Indiana Foundry Co. obtained a five-year contract to make sand dryers for Fox Bros. of New York City.

A account published in 1913 showed the business had increased in volume since 1900 and sand dryers were being exported to England, Europe, the West Indies, South America, and Japan.  Other produced included: boil grate bars, windlasses, cranes, tire benders, and emery stands.

In 1918, the Indiana Foundry Co. was incorporated.

During World War II, their entiere capacity was devoted to the war effort.  This included the manufacture of thousands of dirt tampers, winches and sand dryers.  In September 1942, unfortunately all the patterns were destroyed in a fire.

Production at the Indiana Foundry ceased in 1948, but orders were filled by the Cowanesque Valley Iron Works in Cowanesque, Tioga County until the plant was sold to A.J. Stahura in August 1957, and converted into “Handy Andy’s” supermarket.

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.

The Story Behind Buena Vista Furnace – Part II

Financial Troubles and Closing the Furnace

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

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

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

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

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

Was Elias Baker leasing the Furnace?

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

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

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

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

Why Buena Vista Failed

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

Dr. Alexander Johnston and Stephen Alexander Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delano Coal Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buena Vista Furnace Park Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift to the Historical Society

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

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

The Story Behind Buena Vista Furnace – Part I

Origins

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

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

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

Buena Vista and the Central Railroad

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

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

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

More Land Purchased

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

The Day Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation of the Furnace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source of Furnace Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

The Ernest Mining Plant

The story of the Ernest plant began in 1902, when officials of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Company started looking to Indiana County in search of new coal fields. In May 1903, the rails of the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railway reached the new town of Ernest, and the first coal was shipped the same month. From the early days of its existence, the Ernest plant was a marvel of engineering. In an era when most coal companies were dependent upon the lowly mule for motive power, the R&P’s new operation utilized electric motors to haul coal to the steel tipple where a system of endless chains hoisted it up a long incline into the plant for cleaning and grading.

cleaning plant
Cleaning plant, ca. 1910, featuring electric hauling system

Within three years of its opening, the plant underwent the first of several renovations as the R&P constantly searched for more efficient mining and preparation methods to produce, clean, size, and market coal. In 1906, Heyl and Patterson of Pittsburgh constructed the first washing plant. This firm had also built the original tipple and most of the buildings used for coal storage and preparation at Ernest. The Fairmont Machinery Company and McNally-Pittsburgh also did important work for the R&P as the complex at Ernest expanded.

The R&P also established a coke industry at Ernest and eventually built a battery of 278 beehive coke ovens at the plant. Coke production figures from the Ernest ovens reflect general economic trends of the first half of the twentieth century as well as the effects of the later development of more sophisticated methods of making coke. By the mid-1920s, lack of demand for coke caused the temporary shutdown of the line of coke ovens at Ernest. The plant began production again in 1929, with the addition of mechanical unloading to replace the old hand drawing method. Annual production ebbed and flowed until a World War II peak of 145,977 tons was reached.

While the manufacture of coke formed a significant part of the activities at the Ernest plant, the mining, processing, and sale of clean fuel remained the prime factor in the success of the operation. In the early days, railroads, primarily the B R & P, consumed the greatest percentage of Ernest’s coal. It was particularly desired as high grade stoker coal for passenger engines. By the mid-1920s, the original tipple had been remodeled, and a huge bin constructed for storage of clean, sized, coking coal. In the next decade, a “dry” plant for cleaning coal by air, and a “wet” plant for cleaning coal with water, were installed at Ernest to bring the operation up to date.

loaded cars
Loaded railroad cars at the coke ovens

By the beginning of World War II, the Ernest coal plant began to resemble the plant best remembered by most Indiana Countians. As the war effort increased, Ernest kept pace with a growing need for coal; and in 1945, the mining and preparation plant worked together to produce over a million tons of coal. In 1952, the McNally plant was built on the hillside behind the original site. Using a wet cleaning method to separate the coal from impurities, the McNally plant had a capacity of fifty tons per hour for coking coal. R&P later expanded this plant to clean four hundred tons per hour, and it contained all of the cleaning equipment used at Ernest.

By the early 1960s, R&P officials decided that coal could no longer be mined profitably at Ernest. In 1965, the plant was closed. Within a few years, equipment and buildings gradually disappeared from the landscape as scrap companies dismantled the mining operation that had taken over fifty years to construct. But the McNally preparation plant and the skeleton of the coking coal bin still remain on the blackened site. These, the foundations of the coke ovens, and a brick office and machine shop are all that survive of the R & P’s Ernest operations, an Indiana County landmark to remember with pride.

cleaning plant 50s
The Ernest cleaning plant operative in the 1950s

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.

Rise and Fall of Timber in the Indiana County Area

With the rapid rise in popularity of clipper ships during the early decades of the 19th century, shipbuilders along the eastern seaboard clamored for unprecedented quantities of high-grade timber. Responding to this lucrative demand, lumbering firms along the eastern seaboard dispatch experts far and wide to locate new timberlands.

One of the most astute – if not the most ethical – of these timber scouts was 46-year-old John Patchin of Sabbath Point on Lake George, New York.  A Maine firm commissioned Patchin to investigate the woodlands on the watershed of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and concurrently determine the feasibility of transporting Western Pennsylvania timbers via Pennsylvania waterways to the Chesapeake Bay.

After examining and admiring the size and texture of the dense stands of white pines on rolling lands that now encompasses Indiana, Cambria, and Clearfield Counties, Patchin, who lumbering historian Dudley Tonkin clamed “had the ability to even smell good pine,” promptly severed connections with his employer by “neglecting to file a report” on his mission.  Realizing the enormous profit potential in these untapped woodlands, he sent his two elder sons to bring the rest of the family to his new home in the wilderness (now Patchinville, a few miles north of Cherry Tree) where in 1835 he began acquiring some 10,000 acres of prime timberland, probably unaware that the low purchase price he paid was the result of Ben Franklin’s efforts some years before to prevail upon the state legislature to reduce the price per acre from 30 cents to a “half-bit” (6 ½ cents).

Others soon recognized the greenback potential of these evergreens and purchased large tracts in Banks, Canoe, Green, and Montgomery Townships.  White pines in this area were among the best in the country measuring from 2 to 5 feet in diameter and rising like a plumb line about 100 feet to the branches.  In 1882, a pine 8 feet in diameter and 120 feet tall – reputedly the largest in the state – was felled on the Graham tract in Banks County.

Among the prominent timbering pioneers were John Tonkin, Cornellius McKeage, John Chase, Nathan Croasman, Porter Kinport, Reeder King, Richard Smith and J.M. Gutherie.  But by far the most legendary figure of this era was John Patchin who acquired the envious title of “The Spar King” together with a considerable fortune by the time he died in 1863.

Patchin shrewdly conserved his own timber preferring instead to cut and market the finest trees of impoverished neighbors and absentee owners many of whom were glad to have their land cleared of timber.

Patchin’s operations are illustrated by his dealings with his impecunious neighbor, John Tonkin, to whom he paid one dollar per tree which he then felled and cut lengthwise into rectangular timbers known as spars.  Shipbuilders fastened three of these 92 feet long spars end-to-end to form a single mast which they secured to the keels of sailing vessels.  In addition to holding the sails aloft, the mast also was attached to the rigging in such a manner as to give dimensional strength to the ship thereby preventing it from breaking in two during fierce storms.  While pine spars from Western Pennsylvania were ideally suited for masts because of their ability to withstand the rigors of all extremes of weather without warping or loss of strength.

logs yellow creek
Logs ready for cutting at sawmill in vicinity of Yellow Creek.

The transporting of enormous timbers to the shipyards required considerable ingenuity and skill.  The felled trees were dragged to the riverbank by as many as eight teams of horses.  In the winter, the logs were loaded on a timber sled, designed by Patchin, and hauled to the river.  Here the poles were assembled to construct a raft.  Ten or twelve timbers were fastened together with a “lash pole” and held firmly in place with U-shaped bows to form a platform.  Three of these platforms were then coupled together to make a “half-raft” or “pup.”  When the “pups” reached the mountains below Clearfield where the river widened, two were joined in tandem to reduce the crew required to maneuver them.  Rafts varied in size, the standard ones measuring about 27 feet wide and 250-300 feet long.  Reputedly the longest raft to navigate the Susquehanna contained 142 logs and measured 2,000 feet in length.

After the completion of the “rafting in” as the construction of the raft was called, the raft was tethered to the bank with a hickory with or heavy rope.  The crew then waited for a freshet or spring flood that would enable them to launch the craft.  At the propitious time, a raftsman would “tie the raft loose” and into the current it sailed.  Occasionally, the passengers included a cow to furnish liquid nourishment and a horse on which the “captain” returned after selling his timbers.  Navigating the tortuous, and in stretches hazardous, West Branch of the Susquehanna 200 miles to Williamsport and thence south on the Susquehanna through Harrisburg to the Chesapeake Bay required a high degree of rafting skill.  A pilot, experienced and proficient in the art of handling a raft was undisputed master of the craft.  He and his helper manned the front oar which they manipulated to guide the front end of the raft while the rafters on the rear oar, known as “sternsmen,” swung the aft end in accord with orders from the pilot.  A raft frequently changed pilots below Harrisburg.

One of the most notorious danger zones on the West Branch was located at Rocky Bend and Crest Falls just below the present town of Mahaffey.  Here the river bend, studded with giant boulders, hairpins into the head of the falls where the water slopes sharply.  Successful navigation of this sector necessitated circumventing the rocks and delicately maneuvering to scrape the inside shore of a sharp curve in order to gain the proper position for a descent through the rapid falls.

This same section of the river also was the locale for the activities of legendary Joe McCreery, a powerful young giant who settled in the vicinity of Cherry Tree.  Universally acclaimed as “the best man on the river,” McCreery was commissioned to dynamite the nearby hazardous rocks out of the river.  However, this project was never completed because of insufficient funds.

During the Civil War, rafting flourished as demand zoomed for white oak which was used to replace decayed and damaged timbers in docks and wharves.  Wartime prosperity inflated the price of wood per cubic foot from 5 cents to 21 cents – a profitable development which finally tempted “Spar King” Patchin to cut down some of his own trees.

lumber stockpile
Lumber stockpile ready for shipment.

In the latter half of the 1800s the practice of “logging” came into vogue as a means of transporting timber to market.  As the name implies, this procedure consisted simply in floating free logs on waterways to a “boom,” a riverside facility for halting, storing and floating the logs to the ponds of adjoining sawmills which purchased and processed them into lumber.  The Williamsport boom which handled as many as 300 million board feet of lumber per year began operations in 1850 and soon became the lumber capital of the world.

Timbermen contracted with loggers to drive their logs to the boom.  The most successful log drivers on the West Branch were Anthony and Patrick Flynn whose partnership, formed in 1868, was awarded the logging contract with all major producers for 22 years.

A logger’s work began at the “skidway,” a sloping riverbank area, on which logs were aligned in ranks parallel to the river.  When the melted snow and spring rains swelled the streams to a level favorable for floating the logs, a team or horses at the top of the embankment was urged forward so as to strike the back log and start it rolling.  The transmitted impact quickly rolled all the logs into the water.  The loggers, armed with long pikes and waring heavy shoes with long calks on their soles to reduce slippage, then walked out on the carpet of logs to shepherd them on their journey.  The loggers were followed by two large arks or houseboats, one of which served as a cook shack and sleeping quarters while the other sheltered the horses used to haul stray logs back into the current.  “Dan,” one of Pat Flynn’s horses, made 19 trips down the Susquehanna.

As log drives were often 30 feet wide, the driver had to be constantly vigilant to avoid jams.  He would move about by jumping from log to log always being careful to avoid slipping into the water as the logs were packed so densely that he ran the danger of not getting out or being crushed to death as sometimes happened.  And when one or more logs got caught in such a way as to cause the whole drive to jam and thereby halt the flow, the logger would endeavor feverishly to break the impasse with his pike, saw, or in stubborn cases, dynamite.

Although the West Branch of the Susquehanna handled the largest volume of logging business in this part of the state, Big and Little Yellow Creeks also carried their share of logs especially during the period from 1880 to 1902.

The leading local logger for this operation was J.M. Gutherie who owned substantial coal and timber tracts adjoining the waters of Yellow Creek from “Possum Glory” (now Heilwood) to Homer City and on Two Lick below Indiana.  In 1879 his company, the Charles Improvement and Mining Company, constructed mills on the banks of Yellow at Homer City.  Gutherie also operated two mills above Homer City on Two Lick Creek and the lumber yard located on the present site of Indiana University’s Leininger dormitory at Oakland Avenue.

Gutherie’s employees, like all lumbermen of that era, worked hard from sunup to sundown for which they were paid $1 per day plus board.  Skilled laborers received $1.50 a day, while the bossman picked up the handsome sum of $3.75 to $4 per diem.   Workers who lost two hours on their job because of rain were cut half a day’s wages.

Woodsmen were quartered or “shantied” in camps or boarded with local families.  Some stayed at the West Indiana House (later the Houk Hotel) where a dollar paid for a night’s lodging together with supper and breakfast.  Single beds were available for 25 cents.  Satisfying the appetite of these active outdoorsmen posed a real challenge to the cooks including the renowned camp cook, “Russ” Ray, as revealed by the following menus:

Breakfast:

Hot rare Beef Steak

Pork Sausage-Fried potatoes

Biscuit with Apple Butter (from farmer)

Stewed Prunes-cookies

Molasses-Tea with sugar

Noon Meal-dinner:

Pork and Sauer Kraut

Fried Pork-boiled potatoes

Boiled Codfish

Peas in Beef broth

Biscuits-cookies

Raisins and rice

Apple Pie

Tea with sugar

Supper:

Boiled Salt Cod Fish – freshened in a trough below the spring

Fried Pork, potatoes boiled in their jackets

Pea Soup

Biscuit-Corn Bread

Cookies and Stewed Raisins-Mince Meat Pie

Tea with sugar

west indiana hotel
Group of loggers with their pikes pose outside the West Indiana House (later the Houck Hotel) prior to going to work at Yellow Creek.  During the latter part of the 19th century this hotel was a favorite lodging for loggers who paid a quarter a night for a single bed.

The coming of loggers to the West Branch of the Susquehanna aroused the hostility of raftsmen who claimed that the free logs and booms impeded and endangered the fleet of rafts.  However, the deeper reason lay in the resentment of native residents to “furriners” in the form of businessmen from New England and veteran French-Canadian loggers.

Raftsmen reacted by attempting to sabotage logging operations by such means as driving metal spikes into the logs so as to snarl the saw during cutting.  Loggers quickly solved this problem by peeling the logs so as to readily reveal any embedded metal objects.  Thereupon, raftsmen resorted to the extreme of ambushing a crew of log drivers along Clearfield Creek on March 30, 1857.  The loggers initiated legal action with the result that the court found eight raftsmen guilty of obstructing the stream.  After ten years of feuding, the rival lumbermen agreed to an armistice which thereafter enabled them to enjoy a peaceful co-existence.

Although most of the wood in northeastern Indiana County was logged or rafted to eastern mills, some timbermen foresaw a lucrative market on their doorstep.  The fledging village of Indiana, founded in 1816, became the county seat and its anticipated growth would require a considerable volume of lumber.  One of the early lumbermen to seize this opportunity was Richard Smith who in 1822 settled along Cushion Creek in Green township.  Here he set up a sawmill which would process 1,000 feet of one-inch boards per day.

Smith loaded the pine boards on large wagons fitted with 60-inch rear and 48-inch front wheels.  To transport the wood to Indiana, one of Smith’s four sons would rise at 5 a.m. and set off on the 20-mile trip through the forest.  Consummate skill was required to maneuver the heavy load over the dirt roads treacherously decorated with rocks, roots, ruts, and mudholes.  The wagon reached the county seat in mid-afternoon, and the boards were unloaded in the lumber concentrating yard.  Then after picking up the cash payment, about $20 per load, young Smith drove the team back at a brisk pace so as to return home about daybreak.

Smith’s sons inherited his lumber business and expanded it extensively when the Pennsylvania Railroad ran a branch line from Blairsville to Indiana in 1856.  Some idea of the profitability of these lumbering operations may be gained from the fact that one of the Smith sons was robbed of $50,000, and the next day he deposited $40,000 in an Indiana bank.

But the tall pine tracts which had seemed endless to the early settlers of Indiana County eventually were exhausted.  By the end of the nineteenth century, the once green forests were denuded, leaving a desolate graveyard of stumps.  Over 43 million board feet of lumber had been stripped form the Patchin interests alone.  And as logs and rafts disappeared from the river, lumbermen dismantled their sawmills to use the wood for barns.

In 1938, a group of gray-haired loggers recreated the bygone days by constructing “The Last Raft” which set out form McGees Mills with ten aboard on a trip to Harrisburg.  En route other old timers came aboard until there were 48.  Then at Muncy the nostalgic excursion came to a tragic end when the raft struck a bridge pier hurling 47 raftsmen into the icy waters which claimed seven victims by drowning.  A happier remembrance of the rafting and logging era was celebrated on August 22, 1955 when a large crowd joined with 20 retired rivermen, ranging in age from 85 to 95 years, in unveiling a granite memorial dedicated to the “Rafters, Loggers, Their Mothers, and Wives of Penn’s Woods.”