John Park – Founder of Marion Center

It seems that John Park, the founder of Marion Center, has been lost to history or if not lost just temporarily forgotten by the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Park was born in 1776 in Ballywatter County Down, Ireland.  The Park family came to America in 1794, landing in one of the main ports, Philadelphia.  His father, Robert Park, taught mathematics, navigation and survey in Philadelphia; and the skill of surveying was passed on to John, who at the age of 19 came to Western Pennsylvania to survey the land that is now Marion Center for James Johnston.

A year after the arrival in Philadelphia, John Park’s father passed away, and his widow, Jane Bailey Park, married Colonel James Johnston, the same man for whom John was surveying land.

It is important to interject at this point to discuss some of the conflicting views between the settlers and the Native Americans.  Before settlers arrived in Western Pennsylvania, the Native Americans roamed the lands freely, because they had a different view of ownership and the use of the land than the settlers.  This conflict sparked many battles between the two, but much of this trouble had passed when John Park initially came into what is now Indiana County.

When John Park first arrived to survey the land in northern Indiana County, in 1795, it was described as “a trackless forest.”

In 1798, John’s stepfather received a patent for the land and John purchased a second, and it was there that they erected a log house near what is now the Marion Center Community Park.  The home was completed in 1799.  The cabin was 20 by 16 feet and was the first house north of the Purchase Line.  Among those who helped to build the home was Fergus Moorhead, the first settler in the neighboring town of Indiana. One may wonder why this spot was chosen to construct a home and the reason was that it was the location of a spring, which still today provides water for the park.

Mr. Park purchased 408 acres of land in the area and called it “Greenland,” and reportedly camped at the site of his cabin while the Native Americans resided in their wigwams on the opposite side of the run.

On February 5, 1807, John married Mary Lang, and it was at this time that he took up permanent residence.  The two had nine children: Margaret; Robert; Jane; Mary B.; James L; Ann Eliza; James Martin; John; Amanda; and Linton.

Mary Lang, John’s wife, was born April 15, 1783.  Her father was a Presbyterian minister, who immigrated to the New World from Scotland and preached his first sermon in a saw mill, which was opened at both sides.

In the early days, travel was an issue, and only two trips a year were made to the post office in Greensburg.  In 1808, a petition was presented to the Indiana County Court for the creation of a road from Brady’s Mill on Little Mahoning Creek to Sandy Lick Creek at Port Barnett east of Brookville.  John Park was a proponent of the road, and it was probably constructed around 1810.

With the improved transportation routes, additional settlers made their way to Park’s settlement.

As the community grew, Mr. Park was constantly developing new services needed by the citizens of the town and the surrounding area.  In 1810, he started a tannery, which was located on South Manor Street.  Later he erected a small animal powered grist mill, which was followed by a water powered mill in 1834 on the rear of the tannery lot.

Education being important, led to the building of a school, although it was a crude school, it had a fireplace and oiled papered windows, and was built on North Manor Street.

It was in 1842, when Mr. Park devised a plan of lots and began to sell them, priced from $16 to $30, thus marking the beginning of the town he named Marion, in honor of General Marion of Revolutionary War Fame.

The community continued to grow and develop with the second generation of the Park family.

James began the first cabinet works and carpenter shop.  He also started the first hotel in 1844 and along with his brother John they built the City Hotel in 1856.

James and Linton are credited with the first planning mill. Robert Park was a member of the first borough counsel.

The founder, John Park, only lived two years after the town was laid out, but his impetus and direction guided the community for many decades after his death on August 10, 1844.

The borough was officially incorporated on March 28, 1869.  By the turn of the 20th Century, the leaders in the community had concern for community improvement and in 1904 the water system was installed, which included a fire protection system.  It was around this time that the railroad arrived to Marion Center, which marked a turning point in the growth of the town.  Since there was easy access by rail to more distant services, the factories and mills of Marion Center found it difficult to compete.

These industries of the little community slowly dropped by the wayside, falling victim to the steam locomotive, which opened new avenues of transportation and trade.

Both John and Mary are buried in the Gilgal Presbyterian Church Cemetery in a grave located at the top of the hill marked with a stone that identifies them as the founders of Marion Center.

Small Town Spotlight: Marion Center

Marion Center is a small town in northern Indiana County, settled in 1795 by a surveyor born in Ireland named John Park.  The town was originally called “Marion” in honor of American Revolutionary War hero, General Francis Marion.  John’s youngest son was Linton Park, today he is recognized as a primitive painter with many of his works hang in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. If you want to learn more about Linton Park, come visit the society and visit our book store where we have a book “Linton Park: American Primitive” by J. Neal Griffith for $11.99.

Logging Scene with Oxen by Linton Park

Like many other small towns, Marion Center was host to many businesses, including the Marion Center Milling Company and the Marion Center Creamery.  The Creamery was established in 1888 near the intersection of East Main St. and the Deckers Point and Rochester Mills Rd.  The plant had a daily capacity of 12 tones of milk, producing 2,000 pounds of butter.  However records fail to reveal operation from 1900 until 1904 when the building burned.  Linton Park who was residing in the structure lost many of his paintings in the fire.  On January 13, 1913, work on a new creamery was begun and by April 28 it was churning 1,000 pounds of butter per day.  It was operated by William Nicoson from 1924 until the June 30, 1954 when it was purchased by the Johnstown Sanitation Dairy Co. and then closed down production.

Small glass replica of a milk bottle used for advertising for Marion Center Creamery

Winfield Scott Shields

Marion Center was also the home Doctor Winfield Scott Shields, the last veteran of the Civil War in Indiana County to die.  He was a member of Battery G, First Pennsylvania Artillery, and was the great-grandson of Corporal John Shields who served in the Revolutionary War.  He was a doctor and pharmacist and operated the Shields Drug Store in Marion Center. Mr. Shields was born February 22, 1847 and died September 12, 1946, he was 99 years old.

Marion Center is also home to the Marion Center School District which was started in 1911, the current placement of the building was built in 1929.  The faculty was headed by William A. McCreery who began teaching at Marion Center in 1925 and was elected principle in 1928 serving until 1967, when he retired.

Marion Center Basketball Players 1930-1931

If you would like more information about Marion Center visit the Historical Society or think about reading Clarence Stephenson’s book “Marion Center-East Mahoning, The Centennial Story” available for $24.95.