Fisher – The Builder – Part 2

During the first year in office, Governor Fisher mastered the details of his job and pushed passage of the legislation which he had advocated in the campaign. Early in his term, he established a habit of spending weekends at his Indiana home where he relaxed with his daughter, Mary, and son, Robert, who by now was a successful practicing lawyer.

During the early part of his term in office, the legislature passed the Corrupt Practices Act which the Governor had championed as a reform bill designed to provide stricter control over voting registration, campaign expenditures, and voting procedures. The League of Women Voters staunchly supported him in his fight for this legislation.

Governor John S. Fisher during his inaugural address outside the State Capitol on January 18, 1927.

Governor Fisher was also successful in having the legislature pass an amendment to the Administrative Code which streamlined the administrative organization and added much needed agencies such as the Department of Revenue to collect fees and taxes. The same bill also created the State Farm Products Show Commission to conduct the annual farm show. He was also gratified by the passage of the Armstrong-Quigley Bill which appropriated $450,000 for the purchase of Cook’s Forest, the largest stand of virgin pine east of the Mississippi. The state’s contribution was augmented by $200,000 raised by private citizens.

It was during this first year that gave the governor an opportunity to demonstrate his firmness and independence. Early in the session he had to fight off a strong move by party stalwarts to repeal the direct primary and return to the old convention system controlled by the bosses. Fisher staunchly opposed any such action which would remove the selection of the nominees from the people and he vigorously countered by advocating that the act be strengthened rather than repealed.

The 1927 legislature adjourned in a carnival atmosphere permeated with sneezepowder and floating balloons, and Governor Fisher commended the legislature for a job “remarkably well done,” thoughtfully adding, “I am grateful to them for the spirit of cooperation which was manifested throughout.”

The strain of the first few months in office was relieved on June 16, 1927, when Governor Fisher’s daughter, Mary, was married to Henry Tatnall Brown. The afternoon wedding was the first to be solemnized in the Executive Mansion which dated back to the Civil War. The ceremony was performed by Reverend John C. Pinkerton, Pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Indiana. The wedding was attended by 200 guests including state and national dignitaries and was the glittering social event of the season. Following the marriage, Mary lived in Haverford, and she frequently returned to the Capital to preside as official hostess at her father’s state functions.

Governor Fisher and his daughter, Mary, at the time of her marriage to Henry T. Brown on June 16, 1927. Mary Fisher was the first daughter of a governor of Pennsylvania to be married during the father’s administration since Harrisburg became the state capital. She served as official hostess for her widowed father at state functions.

Following the legislation session, the governor utilized the time to ascertain the grass roots sentiments of his constituents on the vital matters affecting their interest. While in Harrisburg he would frequently spend evenings sitting on the steps of the brownstone Executive Mansion on Front Street facing the Susquehanna River. With his shirt sleeves rolled up, he would converse informally with passers-by who cared to stop and express their views on various issues.

He also frequently hoped in his car and have his chauffeur, Victor Harlacker, drive him throughout the various areas of the state so that he could form his own firsthand impressions of conditions. Much to Victor’s consternation the Governor made a habit of picking up hitchhikers to elicit their opinions on assorted matters.

Governor Fisher traveled without fanfare and acted in his natural democratic manner. During one trip to the Bedford Springs Hotel, Fisher became upset upon discovering that Victor would not be eating at the same table with him. During one stopover at a Huntingdon hotel, he and Victor mounted adjoining stools at a lunch counter to eat a meal. One of the women at the diner recognized the Governor and was delighted when Victor, observing her interest, introduced the woman to him.

An immediate result of the Governor’s expeditions, which can still be seen today, was the erection of 4,000 signs marking the entrances to all towns and identifying scenic streams and mountains. (You have likely seen these keystone-shaped blue and gold markers.) He also involved school children in historical research by having them compile lists of names on the headstones in all of the cemeteries.

Governor Fisher tosses out the first ball to open the 1927 World Series game in Pittsburgh. That year the Pirates lost four straight to the New York Yankees.

During the 1928 presidential race, Governor Fisher served as chairman of the Pennsylvania delegation and attended the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. He strongly supported Herbert Hoover, and the convention acknowledged his role by naming him to the committee which official notified Mr. Hoover of his nomination.

The Governor’s first biennium was marked by the passage of significant legislation, a $23.5 million surplus and general prosperity, but the state was plagued by a bitter, protracted coal strike which began on April 1, 1927. The larger issues responsible for the widespread dispute between the coal miners and the companies were overproduction following World War I, increasing competition from competing fuels, discriminating freight rates, and the emergence of organized labor as a potent force in labor management relations. The specific grievance which precipitated the 1927 strike was the unilateral breaking of a wage contract known as the Jacksonville Agreement of 1924 by the Pittsburgh Coal Company which ordered a 33 per cent cut in wages which was followed by a subsequent reduction of 20 percent. The miners struck and the strike spread rapidly through the bituminous fields of western Pennsylvania. In the Pittsburgh district alone 45,000 union miners were idle.

The situation worsened when the companies evicted union miners from their homes to accommodate non-union strike breakers. To make matters worse, newspapers reported that police and guards were employed by companies to maintain law and order brutally man-handled non-union miner and their families. These incidents mounted to an emotional climax on February 10, 1928 when John Berkowski, a miner-farmer of Tyre, died following a beating by three coal company policemen.

Governor Fisher rejected appeals to intervene in the dispute for almost a year; he claimed he could not interfere unless some crime had been committed, adding, “If any move is made, the Federal Government should be the agency.” The inactivity by Governor Fisher evoked a storm of criticism spiced with accusations that he would not initiate any action inimical to the coal companies because of his former associations with the non-union Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company. Governor Fisher finally issued a call for a conference of all parties in the dispute on March 12, 1928, but he received no response.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government commissioned committees to investigate conditions in the strike-torn regions. Among the investigators were such prominent legislators as Representative Fiorello LaGuardia of New York and Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana. At Rossiter the senatorial delegation was aghast to find that an injunction had been issued which prohibited group hymn-singing. To show their displeasure at this outrage, the Senators joined the miners in defying the order by singing in a local church. Upon returning to Washington, the special Senate Committee invited Governor Fisher to testify before it, but he declined.

The strike continued until July 18, 1928 when the United Mine Workers lost their case and John L. Lewis directed each district chapter to make its own settlement. Most of the strikers returned to work without union contracts at a reduction of one-third their pre-strike wages.

Due to the strike, Governor Fisher’s image had been damaged, and he retrieved some of his popularity by singing the Mansfield Bill which corrected the gross abuses of the coal police which had engendered violent resentment among the miners, public, and press.

Fisher’s woes were not confined to the coal fields. In the political realm, he was embarrassed by the refusal of the United States Senate to seat William S. Vare following his election in 1926. Although Vare had won the senatorial race by a substantial majority, the Senate was astounded by Vare’s astronomic campaign expenditures and adamantly refused to seat him by a vote of 58 to 22.

Bowing to the inevitable, Governor Fisher searched for an alternate for Vare, coming up with Joseph R. Grundy, a wealthy Republic industrialist, who regularly contributed heavily to Republican campaign chests. Some Senators grumbled about Grundy’s appointment but the Senate eventually confirmed him in 1930. In the meantime, relations between Fisher and Grundy perceptibly cooled as the latter attempted to dominate state affairs and the selection of Republican candidates. The smoldering feud came to a head on June 9, 1930 when Grundy endeavored to oust Edward L. Martin as State Chairman of the GOP. Governor Fisher and William L. Mellon moved to counter Grundy’s action and succeeded in retaining Martin as Chairman.

Except for a few reverses and frustrations, the Fisher Administration compiled a remarkable record of accomplishment, with the Governor himself emerging in the words of the Lancaster Journal as “one of the most lovable characters who ever occupied the governor’s chair.”

The most outstanding characteristic of Governor Fisher’s tenure was the emphasis on building. He took special pride in the title “Fisher the Builder.” During his four-year term, the Fisher Administration spent $235 million on a mammoth highway program which added over 4,000 miles of new roads and also repaired and replaced innumerable old ones. At the same time the inadequate physical facilities which had housed the various state departments in Harrisburg were greatly augmented by large architecturally attractive buildings.

Governor Fisher personally campaigned for the establishment of a magnificent 9.5 acre Farm Show Building to replace the farm products show which hitherto had rented quarters in scattered locations throughout Harrisburg. Despite his absorbing interest in the building improvement program Governor Fisher unselfishly resisted all proposals to build a more imposing Executive Mansion.

The Fisher Administration also improved the facilities in mental and criminal institutions. Particular attention was devoted to expanding the state’s institutions of higher learning. The two-year normal schools were converted to four-year State Teachers’ Colleges with the attractive feature that the state would provide free tuition for students who promised to teach in Pennsylvania for at least two years following graduation.

Fisher also maintained fiscal solvency. He assumed a $98 million debt from his predecessor and left his successor with a $29 million surplus after having spent a record $635 million during his term. These heavy state expenditures greatly alleviated the unemployment problem created by the economic depression following the 1929 crash.

Governor Fisher left office on January 21, 1931; upon leaving office he confided to a friend, “I must confess to a feeling of relief…” This feeling was heartened when he returned to Indiana which gave him a hero’s welcome. A mammoth homecoming dinner was held in the Sutton dining room of the then Indiana State Teachers College where 1500 enthusiastic admirers accompanied by a band heralded his arrival by lustily chanting and playing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.” Speeches extolling his accomplishments were delivered and the following telegram from President Hoover was read:

“I have learned with deep interest of the plans to welcome the Honorable John S. Fisher back to his home town of Indiana upon completion of his term as Governor of Pennsylvania, and I will be obliged if you will use a suitable moment on this occasion to express to him my cordial congratulations on a task well done, and say to his old neighbors that I share their pride in his record of distinguished public service.”

Two days after the dinner, the Ritz Theater showed the movie “Here and There with the Governor” – a sequence of film clips taken by the Governor’s chauffeur, Victor Harlecker.

After returning to Indiana, Governor Fisher stayed with his son, Robert, and daughter-in-law, Gladys, at the family home on North Sixth Street. After fulfilling his avowed mission to be “a good governor in a good state,” he appreciatively but firmly rejected numerous urgings to continue in politics. Instead he resumed his business activities in which he was so successful earlier in his career. He was re-elected President of the Beech Creek Railroad and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Union Fire Insurance Company in Pittsburgh. This latter participation necessitated his moving to the Schenley Apartments where he lived until his death on June 25, 1940. Funeral services were held at Graystown United Presbyterian Church with interment in Greenwood Cemetery. The most fitting epitaph for this distinguished son of Indiana is the widely quoted statement that he was “the most lovable character who ever occupied the governor’s chair.” It is this characteristic by which he himself undoubtedly would like to be remembered.

Fisher – The Builder – Part 1

On Tuesday, January 18, 1927, as church bells tolled on Capitol Square in Harrisburg, the huge bronze doors of the Capitol swung open to permit a precession of dignitaries to walk down the steps to the inaugural platform where John S. Fisher, flanked by his daughter, Mary, took the oath of office as thirtieth Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The press lauded his inaugural address for its “unprecedented brevity,” Governor Fisher pledged “to apply common sense as the guide to all activities and to devote my full time, energy, and capacity to the duties of office.”

This began the governorship of Indiana’s only native son to occupy the highest elective office in Pennsylvania. John Fisher’s journey to the Executive Mansion was a tortuous one which originated on a farm in South Mahoning Township two miles north of Plumville. It was here that John Stuchell Fisher was born on May 25, 1867 to Samuel and Mariah Fisher.

Growing up, John performed the customary farm chores and walked three miles to a one-room schoolhouse at Ox Hill. John’s teachers were impressed by his aptitude and application; they therefore arranged for Fisher to further his education by working for A.W. Taylor, an eminent Indiana lawyer, while pursuing his studies at the local high school and subsequently Indiana State Normal School.

John graduated from the Normal School at the age of 19, and then secured a teaching position in the same country schoolhouse which he had attended at Ox Hill. He taught classes of 60 to 80 students for two years at the end of which he obtained a better position in a two-room school in Plumville. It was here where Fisher shared his teaching responsibilities with a young woman and former neighbor, Hapsie Miller, who also had attended Indiana State Normal School.

The 1886 graduating class of Indiana Normal School. In this picture, taken on the steps of Sutton Hall, John Fisher is the young man at the top right with his arm resting on the post ledge.

In 1891, Fisher joined the Indiana School system as a teacher and principal. During his vacations and his spare time, he studied law in the office of Samuel Cunningham, Esq., a prominent Indiana attorney. John became fascinated with the law that in 1893 he resigned his teaching position and entered into partnership with his mentor, Sam Cunningham. The new firm prospered and acquired one of the largest practices in the County.

John pressed his courtship with Hapsie Miller, and the couple was married on October 11, 1893. The couple had four children, two of whom died in infancy. Of the surviving children, Mary, born in 1898, was to become her father’s official gubernatorial hostess and Robert, born in 1894, followed in his father’s footsteps by taking up the practice of law.

John Fisher prepared to embark on what proved to be an effective and exciting career. His soft voice and quiet, unassuming manner evoked confidence and attracted followers. He was a devoted and generous husband, father, and grandfather, often babysitting with his grandchildren. He was also a dedicated Presbyterian, he was active in the church affairs lending invaluable assistance in the campaign to build the Graystone Church.

This picture of Mrs. John Fisher was taken in the living room of the Governor’s Indiana residence on North Sixth Street. Mrs. Fisher died in 1922, five years before her husband became governor.

As a lawyer and later politician, John Fisher engaged in numerous hard-fought struggles but he never harbored personal grudges against his opponents. He found relaxation after a grueling campaign in the extensive library of his Sixth Street, Indiana residence where he would steep himself in Pennsylvania history. He had an amazing retentive memory, which enabled him to recall instantly the page in a book on which he had read a certain fact. This recall facility also served him well in public life as he could immediately remember the names of people he had not seen for months or even years.

Attorney Fisher expanded his professional activities into the business world. At the turn of the century, Indiana County was booming and offered many attractive opportunities to an enterprising young man. He was legal counsellor to the New York Central Railroad, and he assisted in the purchase of coal lands in Indiana, Jefferson, and Clarion Counties. In conjunction with this work, he also helped establish settlements at Brush Valley, Clymer, Coral, Dixonville, and Jacksonville.  He was especially active in the founding and economic development of Clymer. As President of the Dixon Run Land Company, Fisher promoted the sale of real estate to commercial and private interests. Further, he was instrumental in organizing the Clymer Brick and Fire Clay Company which manufactured bricks from nearby clay deposits.

The young lawyer also entered the utility filed, and became president of the newly formed Clymer Electric Company. As the company prospered, it expanded by buying up failing municipal electric companies in and around Centre County and the enlarged organization was incorporated as the State-Centre Electric Company.

When the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York Central, failed the Railroad commissioned Fisher to reorganize it which he did under the new name of the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Corporation with its headquarters in Indiana. In recognition of this service, Fisher was elected Vice-President of the new firm.

In 1902, Fisher collaborated with a group of far-sighted  men in founding Indiana Savings and Trust Company, where he served for many years on the Board of Trustees. He was also active in the town’s civic affairs serving as Vice-President of the Indiana Hospital and Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of Indiana State Normal School (now IUP).

In 1911, New York Central offered Fisher the opportunity to become the company’s general counsel in Pennsylvania, which he accepted. Because the new duties required much of his professional attention, he resigned from private law practice. He spent much of his time in Harrisburg where he fought vigorously for the repeal of the Full Crew Act on the basis that featherbedding raised transportation costs prohibitively. His ten-year campaign against the act was eventually successful.

Despite Fisher’s extensive involvement in legal, business, and civic affairs, he still found time to participate in politics. Shortly after beginning his Indiana law practice in 1893, he became County Committeeman in his ward, and three years later he had risen to County Chairman of the Republic party. In 1900, at only age 33, he was elected to represent the 37th Senatorial District (which at the time was composed of Indiana and Jefferson Counties) in the State Senate. He served on the Appropriations, Corporation, Judicial General, Finance, Law and Order, Railroad and Municipal Affairs, Library, and Public Grounds and Building Committees.

In 1904, Senator Fisher was re-elected to his seat by a four to one majority. During his second term, he vigorously supported a bill prohibiting the employment of children under 14 in mining operations. As Chairman of the Judicial Special Committee, Fisher sponsored bills providing for primary elections and the popular election of U.S. Senators.

1907 was a crucial year in Senator Fisher’s political future. During the previous year, the state treasurer had discovered that the state treasury had been looted systematically in connection with the appropriation used to furnish the new Capitol building. The incoming governor, Edwin S. Stuart, called for a legislative investigation to uncover the culprits. Most of the senators begged not to be appointed to this distasteful task, but Fisher unhesitatingly accepted the chairmanship of the investigation committee. Fisher proceeded to conduct a fair and searching public hearings. In a 272-page report submitted to the governor at the conclusion of the investigation, the Fisher Committee pulled no punches in revealing flagrant defalcations involving millions of dollars. The report described the purchase of “a boot black stand with two chairs and four foot rests for which the state paid Contractor Sanderson $1,600 while the sub-contractor who made the stand declared the whole outfit was not worth more than $110.” Fisher’s report lead the attorney general to prosecute 14 alleged violators, all of whom were found guilty.

Senator Fisher’s courageous and vigorous prosecution of this scandal earned him the plaudits of the state’s press and catapulted him into prominence as a gubernatorial possibility. John Fisher entered the 1922 race for the Republican nomination for governor, with the powerful backing of Joseph Grundy. However, he subsequently withdrew from the eight-way race to avoid an internecine intra-party feud with the city machines. In announcing his withdrawal in Indiana, he declared: “A crisis now exists such as never before confronted the voters of Pennsylvania. Our state is in danger from the dictation of intriguing politicians. I must not add to that menace by making the situation complex and confusing but do what I can to avert it.” Fisher’s withdrawal from the race followed a deep personal bereavement in which his wife died on the operating table at Indiana Hospital.

After Fisher with drew from the 1922 race, he threw his support behind Gifford Pinchot who won the nomination and election. However, when Pinchot failed to name Fisher to his cabinet, the Senator busied himself legislatively by studying and proposing laws that would protect Pennsylvania investors from the sale of fraudulent securities which at the time was rampant in Pennsylvania.

In 1926, Fisher once again entered the race for governor. He had a strong backing from the state party chairman, Joe Grundy, Senator David Reed, and the Mellons; he headed a Fisher-Pepper ticket on which his running mate ran for the U.S. Senate. Fisher’s principal opponent was Edward Beidleman, who ran with William S. Vare, head of the infamous Vare machine in Philadelphia. The race was further complicated when the outgoing Governor Pinchot threw his hat into the Senatorial race against Pepper and Vare.

Fisher campaigned on his impressive record as a legislator, and attracted wide support from church groups of various faiths, together with businessmen, farmers, and laborers. Workingmen rallied to his banner following the publication of a letter by William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, in which he stated: “Mr. Fisher has always been a white man with all classes of labor . . . It will be found that the laboring people will never have a better governor . . . All unions always receive kindly aid and sure protection.”

Before the primary race had progressed very far, the real issues were blurred by the national debate over prohibition. Beidleman and Vare ran as “wets” while Fisher and Pepper were tagged as “drys.” In reality Fisher held moderate views with respect to drinking, respecting the rights of others to indulge, although he himself did not.

Fisher and Pepper stumped vigorously, shrewdly portraying themselves as the champions of the people against the odious city machine controlled by Vare. Fisher spoke so vehemently and frequently that the lost his voice toward the end of the campaign.

The primary was held on May 18, and early returns indicated a decisive victory for Vare over Pepper and Pinchot. However, the tally for the governorship swayed back and forth first in favor of Beidlemen and then in favor of Fisher. A week after the primary, the final count showed Fisher to be the winner by a very narrow margin of 641,934 to 626,640.

In a letter to a Harrisburg publisher, John Fisher philosophically summed up his reaction to the campaign: “It was a great deal of a cyclone that we came through. Necessarily there have been some troublesome problems left in the wake. However, I think things will clear up and I hope we may look forward to settled conditions. It has always been the practice with me to accept the results of elections with equanimity. There is always another day for the loser.”

Fisher swept the fall elections against his Democratic opponent Judge Eugene Boniwell of Philadelphia. The campaign and election proved to be much less exciting than the primary, and Fisher won by the largest margin in the state’s history: 1,102,823 to 365,280. His Lieutenant Governor was Arthur H. James, and Dr. James Keith, President of the Indiana State Normal School, was appointed to the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Political Parties of Indiana County

Indiana County has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, even voting against the state’s Democratic native son, James Buchanan, in the 1856 election. However, there has been a wide assortment of parties have challenged its dominance. These contenders have included groups such as the Greenbacks, Fair Play, and Militant Workers in addition to the loyal opposition Democratic Party.

The Contrary Countians

An Act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth crated Indiana County from parts of Westmoreland and Lycoming Counties in 1803. The Assembly directed the Governor to appoint a committee of three commissioners to supervise the infant county until a census could be taken and a new county government could be formed. It was further directed that Westmoreland County be granted temporary jurisdiction over the inhabitants until their new government would achieve separate representation at Lancaster, the capital of Pennsylvania.

Early in Indiana County’s history, their politics tended to oppose the trends of the times. From 1804 to 1816, when the Democratic party was solidly in power, Indiana County consistently voted for the Federalists in state and national elections.

In 1817, under the leadership of Joseph Heister, the Federalists in Pennsylvania almost succeeded in capturing the governorship, but in that year the voters of Indiana County had completely reversed their politics and gave the Democrat Findlay a 718 to 274 vote margin. In 1820, when Heister succeeded in his second bid for election, Indiana County was again in the Democratic camp, where it stayed all during the Federalist’s remaining years as a powerful party. For the ten years from 1817 to 1827, the Democratic party was dominant in Indiana County, but not without opposition.

The Wayward Whig

In 1821, John McCrea began a newspaper in Indiana called the Indiana and Jefferson Whig, and began to be the exponent of the Whig party. This is notable, because the influence of the Whig party was negligible in Pennsylvania politics until fourteen years later.

The Whigs stood for a tariff, a well-regulated currency, a single-term Presidency as a check on executive power, and the protection of domestic labor. The party was not very successful in its early years, and in 1826 McCrea joined the new Anti-Mason movement.

The First McCarthyites

James Moorehead, whose Indiana American newspaper later merged into the “Whig” was an early innovator, along with McCrea, of the Anti-Masonic party. The Anti-Masonic political movement began in western New York in 1826 and rapidly spread to Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Anti-Masonic politics first began in Lancaster County in 1828 with the publication of the Antimasonic Herald. However, it seems that James Moorehead’s American began speaking of the Anti-Masonic movement a year earlier, in 1827, and that the Anti-Masonic party was formed here in the same year. There were many power names listed among the Anti-Masons such as: John Quincy Adams, Horace Greeley, Francis Granger, and Thaddeus Stevens, with Stevens providing the voice of the party and the power behind the throne. Membership was chiefly derived from the Germans and the Quakers who were opposed to oath-taking rituals, the Scotch-Irish who disliked the masonic titles and rituals because it sounded too much like English aristocracy, the foreigners, the Democratic radicals, and the Whigs. Growth of the Anti-Masons in Indiana County was so rapid that by 1829 the Anti-Masonic candidate for governor, Joseph Ritner, though he was defeated statewide, was able to carry the county by an overwhelming majority (1,044 to 456) in the campaign of 1829.

In 1832, when all neighboring counties voted Democratic, Indiana County again threw its support to Ritner. In 1835 the county helped carry Ritner to the Governor’s mansion, and the Anti-Masonic party remained dominant in Indiana County until after Ritner’s defeat for re-election by David Rittenhouse Porter in 1838 when the party began to be taken over by the Whigs. But not every Indiana County Anti-Mason was destined to be made a Whig so rapidly.

Carry Me Over Jordan

In 1840, James Moorehead, the old Anti-Masonic leader, began to publish another newspaper called the Clarion of Freedom, which agitated against slavery and started the Indiana County movement of the Abolitionist party.

The Abolitionist movement began in Boston in 1831 with the founding of the Liberator, a newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison. Two years later, Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia which became the most radical faction of the Abolitionist movement, and included such notables as John Brown, Lucretia Mott, and Wendell Phillips.

Indiana County was a late-comer to the Abolitionist movement, but played an active part in it. The leadership here tended to lean toward the radical side, and the movement remained quite strong in the county for a number of years, but began to diminish with the decline of the national movement following the Christiana riots of 1851. A slave owner and a United States marshal had arrived in Christiana, Lancaster County, and demanded the return of three fugitive slaves who were hidden on a nearby farm. Instead of turning over the slaves, a mob of whites and Negro freeman attacked the authorities, killed the slave owner, and chased off the marshal. By 1854 most of the Abolitionists had become Whigs. Although they had exercised a strong voice in the county’s politics, the Abolitionists were never in control, and Indiana County remained a Whig stronghold, voting consistently for Whig Presidential candidates from 1840 to the founding of the Republican party in 1856.

The First Ku Kluxers

The real power of the Whigs ended in 1854 with the coming of the Know-Nothings. The Know-Nothings were an anti-foreign, anti-Catholic, secret political group which began in New York and Pennsylvania and spread throughout the nation. Their tenure was brief, but their influence was great. The party appealed to the popular fear of the increasing number of immigrants into the country (in the thirty years prior to 1855 over five million foreigners, mostly Roman Catholic Irish and Germans, came to the United States).

The Know-Nothing party had only been in existence since 1852, and by 1854, had swallowed up the Whigs of Indiana County as well as the rest of the state. The election of the Whig and American candidate, Pollock, to the governorship in 1854 was only technically a Whig victory. In reality it was a victory for the Know-Nothings who formed the larger part of the Whig and American alliance.

Strange Bedfellows

A strange coalition that formed the Indiana County Whig party in 1856; comprising a union of the Anti-Masons, who violently opposed secret societies, and of the Know-Nothings who were themselves members of a secret society. It was a union of the Abolitionists who demanded the immediate emancipation of the slaves and the Whigs who declined and eventually died out in large part because they were reluctant to take a stand against slavery. In 1856 that union was destined to melt into the newly-formed Republican party.

The New Order

The part of the Republican party that took control in Indiana County was the same radical faction that had seized control of the national movement and nominated John C. Fremont for President of the United State. Its platform had committed the party to the abolition of slavery, and it found support among the Whigs, Free Soilers, and some Northern businessmen and industrial interests who sought to establish economic advantages over the South. In the Presidential elections of 1856, Pennsylvania again went Democratic, but Indiana Countians voted for the Republican Fremont by more than a 2 to 1 margin over fellow-Pennsylvanian, James Buchanan. It was to be fifty-four years before the newly-formed Republican party would taste defeat in Indiana County.

A Matter of Taste

The Prohibitionist Party was formed in Indiana County in 1869, which corresponded with the formation of a national Prohibition Party in Chicago during the same year. The goal was to make it illegal to manufacture and to consume alcoholic beverages. The party never achieved widespread membership in the County. The movement reached its peak in the County during the Presidential elections of 1920 when it polled 974 votes.

Let’s Play Monopoly

In 1874, the Greenback party was established in Indiana County when Frank Smith, publisher of the Indiana National newspaper began to press for monetary reforms. The national party was started during the depression of the 1870s and consisted primarily of Midwestern and Southern farmers who wanted an inflationary money system based on silver as well as gold.

The Greenbacks consolidated with the various labor movements in 1878 to for the Greenback-Labor party. The party asked the Federal government for the same things that the Greenback party had been asking for, but also asked for labor reforms, such as the reduction of working hours and the curtailment of Chinese immigrant labor. Although the party began to die out in 1879-80 with improved economic conditions following the depression, it accounted for eighteen per cent of Indiana County’s popular vote in 1882, and in 1886 it was still the County’s fourth largest vote-getter.

Try and Try Again

The People’s, or Populist, party that was formed in 1891 was a rejuvenation of the old Greenback-Labor party of the two previous decades. The party represented disgruntled farmers and unionists who blamed the government’s tight money policies for their poor living conditions. Their platform called for the free coinage of silver and the wide issuance of paper money. Because of the high transportation costs of farm goods, the platform called also for the nationalization of the railroads, telegraph lines, and other transportation and communication facilities as well as a graduated income tax and the direct election of United States Senators. Many of the things for which the Populists fought are part of our American life today. The party didn’t take hold very well in Indiana County and during its peak in 1894 it was able to produce only 609 votes out of more than 8,000 votes cast Countywide.

“. . . From the Cradle . . .”

Another party which has never been an influencing factor in Indiana County politics is the Socialist party. It was founded at Indianapolis in 1901, it was a merger of the Social Democratic and Socialist Labor parties. The goal of the party was to achieve socialism by means of the ballot. The party vigorously opposed the entry of the United States into World War I, and declared “its unalterable opposition” to the war. As a result of the party’s anti-war campaigns, its leader, Eugene Debs, was sentenced to ten years in prison for violation of the Espionage Act.

After the 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution, the left wing of the party broke away to form the American Communist Party. As a national unit, the Socialist party reached its peak in 1920, but its life in Indiana County was much shorter, having begun to decline after the elections of 1912.

A Little Rain Must Fall

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election of 1919 was of special interest because it marked the first time in fifty-four years that the Republicans did not constitute the majority party in Indiana County. Although the Republicans won statewide, Indiana County went to the Keystone Independent candidate, William Berry, by an 18 vote margin.

The Keystone party was a marriage of Republican and Democratic party elements who rebelled against the boss-picked candidates of both sides. What is especially significant is that, although the Keystone party was organized statewide in 1910, no organized leadership existed in Indiana County until 1911 – the year after the elections in which the party was successful. Without effective leadership, the people – on their own – had turned the bosses out!

“Walk Softly”

When Theodore Roosevelt bucked the Republican organization in 1912, a ready following awaited him among the ranks of the Keystoners.  Most of the Keystoners found a home in one of the Roosevelt-led tickets in 1912, the foremost of which, in Indiana County, was the Washington party rather than the Bullmoose party.  The Washington party ticket gave Roosevelt a 2 to 1 edge over Taft, and a 3 to 1 edge over Wilson.  The combined votes of all the Roosevelt-led tickets gave him more votes than the Republicans and Democrats together.  Th Republicans, however, carried the state and county offices, and were not to lose the County in another Presidential election for another fifty-two years.

You Again!

In the midst of widespread labor unrest in 1919, many labor unions began to form political parties of their own and soon the labor leaders of several states cooperated to form the National Labor party.  It consisted almost wholly of union members, and as such, did not, at that time, have widespread voter appeal.

Recognizing the necessity of gaining allies, the party, in 1920, became the Farmer-Labor party, demanding for labor a larger voice in the management of industry and the elimination of discrimination against Negroes.  In the elections of 1920 the party’s candidate garnered only 131 votes in Indiana County, but by 1924, with “Fighting Bob” La Folette heading the ticket, the Labor party compiled 1,989 votes – only 78 less than the Democratic candidate, John Davis.  Combined with the votes of the Socialist and other tickets which La Folette headed, he was by far the second highest vote-getter in Indiana County.  In the following year the party was dissolved, and although repeated attempts were made to revive it, they met with little success.  In the elections of 1948 the party backed the Progressive candidate, giving Henry Wallace 207 votes, but from 1924 on, it ceased to be an influential factor in the politics of Pennsylvania or Indiana County.

…And Then There Were Others

Many other parties have collected votes in Indiana County, but their life spans were too short and their influence too little to warrant special research in this particular publication.  Their names and the dates of their appearance on the ballots are shown on the accompanying list.

1848 – Free Soil            
Free Democrats
1851 – Native Americans
1912 – Bull Moose            
Roosevelt Progressive            
Progressive
1856 – American1916 – Industrialist
1860 – Constitutional Union1918 – Fair Play
1882 – Independent Republican             Temperance1922 – Single Tax 1928 – Workers
1888 – Union Labor1930 – Liberal
1892 – Social Labor            
Free Silver
1932 – Communist
1934 – Industrial Labor
1896 – Jeffersonian1936 – Royal Oak
1904 – Independence1940 – Independent Government
1906 – Lincoln            
Union Labor
1942 – United Pension
1948 – Militant Workers
1910 – Workers Labor1950 – G.I.s Against Communism
INDIANA COUNTY VOTER REGISTRATIONS
(Autumn Figures) 1924 – 1968
YearRepublicanDemocraticProhibitionNon-PartisanOther
192424,7803,913321*1,535
192626,1813,580367*1,317
192827,7064,108**1,045
193229,6934,290**667
193426,5837,799*240579
193818,81713,233*128281
194021,40712,687*172242
194219,25710,872*143186
194418.6299.020*125167
194618,2148,536*121191
194818,9239,30719311911
195220,88011,940169166*
195420,04911,921159145*
195619,83615,573130178*
195819,41015,855118209*
196020,23916,720104233*
196219,85317,82084235*
196420,21215,58355254*
196820,62313,156353783
*Non-party and Prohibition party registration figures are unavailable for certain years. Since 1952, minor party registration figures have not been listed.

Socialist Women in Black Lick and Socialville

The coming of the Great Depression brought major economic and political changes to the county, as poverty and unemployment became more oppressive and pervasive, creating a situation which led some of the unemployed and their supporters to organize and protect.

The problems of the coal industry, the major business and the leading employer in the county, illustrated general conditions.  Many mines which had operated through the lean years of the 1920s had closed by 1932.  County residents also suffered when the unemployment rate reached 25.4 percent in 1932.  In that year the county fair was canceled for the first time in the twenty-five year history, because of the state of the economy.  Other indicators of the county’s economic plight included more than twenty-five thousand property liens issued by the tax collector in 1932, and more than nine hundred children unable to attend school because of a lack of clothing.

The Depression created great hardships, and county residents searched for new solutions to their problems.  The unemployed responded to this economic crisis by affiliating with national and state activities and groups and by establishing their own organizations.  When the national Bonus Army passed through Indiana County in the spring of 1932, local people gathered to cheer them on.  Father Cox’s Hunger March received a warm reception in Blairsville as they marched from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.  On the local level, the Worker’s Unemployment Council of Indiana County emerged in 1933.  The Workers Federation of Pennsylvania was also becoming active at this time.  Both groups held meetings and conducted protests highlighted by a giant action at the County Relief Board held by the Workers Federation in July 1933.  County and local unemployed groups had a diverse membership and leadership.  Socialists, including women such as Marie Widdowson and Florence McNutt, played prominent roles, through their activities.  Yet this along with the growing presence of the United Mine Workers and the Democratic Party failed to dislodge the Republican Party and the business elite from their dominant roles in Indiana County.

The Republican Party dominated politics in Indiana County prior to the mid-1930s.  This dominance reflected the realities of the state and the political power of the business community in the county.  Socialists failed to threaten this supremacy even with the opportunities provided by the Depression of the 1930s.  However, a different story unfolded in a small enclave around Black Lick and Socialville, a community named after the Socialists who lived there.  This enclave contributed many socialist candidates, hosted numerous speakers and provided a sense of community for participants in socialist activities.  Although socialist men contributed to these achievements, it was socialist women who played the pivotal roles.

Socialist Women Newspaper
Socialist candidate campaign advertisement from election of 1934.

Prior to 1930, Indiana County socialists engaged in a number of political contests.  In the election of 1912, Eugene Debs, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, polled 6% of the countywide vote, but did much better in the Black Lick and Socialville areas.  Reuben Einstein, a prominent Blairsville merchant, entered several local races, and in 1917 won 45% of the vote in a race for burgess of Blairsville.  Davis A. Palmer, a leading Black Lick merchant, ran several races for state and national offices on the Socialist Party ticket in the 1920s.

Socialists continued to run for office in the 1930s, with women joining men as candidates.  Marie Widdowson, a prominent Black Lick socialist, ran for a seat in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the 1932, 1934, and 1936 elections.  In the latter year, Florence McNutt, another key Black Lick socialist, also ran for a Pennsylvania General Assembly seat.  While they won negligible proportions of the total vote, usually 2-3% in these races, in the races for local offices they achieved more impressive results.  Florence McNutt was elected as inspector of elections in Black Lick, and Marie Widdowson became the township auditor.

Black Lick and Socialville socialists maintained contact with the Socialist Party and other progressive causes by attending state and national conferences.  Florence McNutt attended socialist conferences held in Reading and Harrisburg, while Mrs. Eugene Morton of Socialville attended a socialist conference in Reading and Marie Widdowson and Rhoda Lowman of Socialville attended a state socialist convention in Harrisburg.  Mrs. Widdowson also attended a meeting of the Worker’s Federation held in Harrisburg and a meeting of the Continental Congress of Workers and Farmers for Economic Reconstruction held in Washington, D.C.  In addition, she represented Indiana County as a delegate to a meeting of the Women’s International League for Peace held in Pittsburgh.  Florence McNutt served as a delegate to the 1932 Milwaukee Convention of the Socialist Party which nominated Norman Thomas for President.

Socialists also hosted a variety of local activities which attracted large audiences and brought outsiders to the area.  Campbell’s Mill Park, in Black Lick Township, provided the site for outdoor activities, particularly the very popular annual Labor Day basket picnics.  In 1932, party members and friends from Indiana County and surrounding counties, including Allegheny County, attended the event.  The celebration featured athletic events, speakers and a supper served to over 300 persons.  Mrs. Mary Bennett (“Grandma Bennett”) won a special prize for being the oldest person at the picnic.  On a smaller scale, the enclave received some attention when Mrs. Eugene Morton hosted a meeting of the Young People’s Socialist League’s State Executive Committee at her home in Socialville.

Campbells Mill
Campbell’s Mill Park, location of socialist gatherings in the 1930s.

In addition to these special features, local socialists organized many ongoing services and activities. Some of these activities were directly related to socialism while others were of a general progressive nature.  The socialists established a reading room on Main Street in Black Lick for the benefit of the community.  While it housed some socialist literature, it also included a wide variety of reading materials, especially those which covered current events.  Regular meetings of the Black Lick local, often held in conjunction with an active Young People’s Socialist League branch, attracted approximately forty-five participants from both Black Lick and Socialville.  At these meetings members received pamphlets from the national office and discussed national and local issues.  The Young People’s Socialist League published The Rising Sun, a newspaper which contained articles about local and national history, and political commentary often written by Florence McNutt, as well as a page of ads for local businesses.  Local socialists also devoted much of their efforts to aiding the unemployed.  Several socialists played leadership roles in unemployed groups.  For example, Florence McNutt and Marie Widdowson served on a local committee to provide relief work for the unemployed.

Socialists also participated in more informal activities which included paying one another frequent visits and periodic bingo parties.  Socialville socialists, especially Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Morton, hosted most of the bingo parties, but Black Lick socialists also held parties.  These events raised funds for the Young People’s Socialist’s League and provided entertainment for guests who often numbered from twenty-five to forty-five.  Local socialists often exchanged visits and socialized and traveled together.  A few items from the many examples in the Blairsville Dispatch illustrate some of the personal connections which linked enclave socialists.  Florene and Darius McNutt and their children and Mrs. Widdowson were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Morton in June 1932.  Later that month Mrs. Morton was a guest of the Widdowson family.  The McNutt’s, the Widdowson’s and Mrs. Morton attended a meeting sponsored by the Saltsburg socialists held the following month.  In February 1933, Mrs. McNutt and Mrs. Widdowson were guests at the Morton’s, and later that month they attended a meeting of the Federated Council of Churches in Pittsburgh.  In November 1934, the Widdowson’s were guests of the Forest T. Lowman’s of Socialville.

These activities reflected and reinforced a strong sense of community which resulted from ideological affinities and connections based on family and friendship ties.  Florence McNutt was a cousin of Marie Widdowson who was the wife of Dr. Widdowson and the daughter of Jessie Palmer, both prominent Black Lick socialists.  Mary Jane Bennett (“Grandma Bennett”) played the pivotal role in Socialville both as a co-founder of the Socialist Party in Indiana County and as a mother whose daughters helped to spearhead enclave socialism in the 1930s.  For example, one of her daughters married Forest T. Lowman, a Nash dealer in Blairsville, and both of them became prominent local socialists.  Bonds of friendship helped to form ties between Reverend Theodore Miner, the leading Socialist in Saltsburg, and Black Lick and Socialville Socialists.  He joined the Black Lick socialists when they attended major meetings in Pittsburgh, and he came to many meetings in the Black Lick area.  He and his family were guests of the Forest T. Lowman family of Socialville in July 1933.  The following month Mrs. Lowman joined Reverend Miner and his family for an evening at Campbell’s Mill Park.  In November, Reverend Miner and his family were guests of the Widdowson family.  Furthermore, a strong friendship formed between Florence McNutt and Mrs. Miner.

In the Black Lick-Socialville enclave, women served as political candidates, convention and meeting participants and organizers of social events.  More crucial, however, was their role as initiators and catalysts.  Mary Jane Bennett played that role in Socialville and Marie Widdowson in Black Lick.  She brought Dr. Widdowson and Florence McNutt into the Socialist Party.  Under her tutelage his politics shifted from a conservative Republic stance.  Florence McNutt also experienced a political awakening through discussions with Mrs. Widdowson.

A small corps of women supported by men built a movement which produced annual picnics, a reading room, an ephemeral newspaper and frequent meetings.  They attended events in other locales, and attracted speakers and spectators to their local activities.  They saw the plight of people and worked through their own channels, unemployment organizations and government agencies to alleviate their problems.  They built a sense of community which sustained and nourished them.  They offered some residents of the area a temporary alternative or supplement to mainstream politics, information and entertainment.  Even after the demise of the local Socialist Party some of the women found other outlets for their civic-mindedness, with Florence McNutt playing a crucial role in the development of the community center and the park in Black Lick.

A Labor Trilogy Party III – Socialist Surges: 1912 and 1917

The Socialist Party reached its peak strength in 1912, and in 1917 performed well in several key municipal races.  Eugene Debs offered a rallying point for many dissidents.  In Indiana County the Socialist Party achieved limited success.  However, several communities provided Debs with significant proportions of the vote in the election of 1912.  His totals in these areas ranged from 10-40% of the vote.  The Socialist Party showing in 1917 had a very different character.  The major race featured Reuben Einstein, a prominent Blairsville businessman, winning 45% of the vote for burgess in an election against a fusion candidate.  Protest activity diminished in the 1920s but Reuben Einstein remained active.  A local of the Socialist Party operated in Homer City and John Brophy provided leadership for coal miners in District 2 of the United Mine Workers.  Socialist activity revived in the 1930s as unemployed organizations emerged and workers struck and organized.

Many observers viewed socialism as a rising tide between 1910 and 1920.  Europe exhibited numerous strong socialist movements.  In Germany the socialists played a particularly important role in the national legislature.  The United States failed to duplicate this level of performance.  Nevertheless, the Socialist Party of America became an important presence.  Eugene Debs, the party’s perennial presidential candidate, became the tribute of the poor and the conscience of the nation.  The party elected candidates, held meetings and published newspapers.  Cities such as Milwaukee and Reading became socialist strongholds and Debs won 17% of the Oklahoma vote in the 1912 election.  Schisms and other problems undermined the party but it achieved a temporary revival in the municipal elections of 1917.  Morris Hillquit, the Socialist Party mayoral candidate, polled more than 20% of the vote in New York City.

The Socialist Party of Indiana County began its 1912 campaign in February.  Jack McKeown, state organizer for the party, addressed a meeting at the Court House.  The following week a mass meeting at the West Indiana House resulted in the establishment of a permanent organization.  D.R. Palmer of Black Lick served as permanent chairperson and Reuben Einstein became the secretary.  The audience chose a committee of urged socialists to continue to educate the public until socialism achieved a global triumph.  A speech by James H. Maurer highlighted the activities of the following month.  Maurer, the only socialist member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, later became president of the Pennsylvania Federation and vice presidential candidate on the tickets with Norman Thomas in the elections of 1928 and 1932.  Maurer lectured to a large audience on the topic of “How our Laws are made.”  The audience included delegations from Clymer, Dixonville, Black Lick, Creekside, and Blairsville.  The sponsors invited workingmen, farmers and decent citizens and issued a special invitation to women.  Two other socialist speakers came to Indiana in April.

The election results showed the growth of socialist sentiment since 1908.  At the national level Debs increased his vote total from 400,000 to 900,000 in 1912 as he won 6% of the ballots.  His Indiana County vote almost tripled.  He polled a little over 6% of the vote in 1912.  In some districts, however, his performance far exceeded this level.  For example, he won 11% of the vote in Montgomery Township and 12% in Blairsville.  In some coal communities he achieved his peak strength.  Glen Campbell cast 24% of its vote for Debs as did Burrell Township.  Black Lick Township No. 2 cast 18 of its 45 votes for Debs as he outdistanced Theodore Roosevelt, the runner up with 12 votes, and the other presidential candidates.

The 1917 election lacked this broad based socialist turnout.  However, the race for burgess in Blairsville offered a showcase for an unusual socialist candidate – Reuben Einstein.  Einstein opened a clothing store in 1892 and soon achieved local prominence.  The Blairsville Evening Courier described his marriage to an Oil City woman in 1894.  The article noted their honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls and the many presents received by the bride and groom.  Einstein’s involvement in socialist politics preceded the 1917 campaign.  He played a role in the 1912 election and ran for Congress on the socialist ticket in 1914, polling about 5% of the vote.  The Blairsville Courier provided little news coverage of the race for burgess, but a series of socialist party ads and letters offered readers its perspective on the issues.  The party pointed with pride to its provision for the recall of officials unfaithful to their constituents.  Municipal housekeeping received consideration as the socialists promised to watch cost sheets carefully and town water works, streets and schools in a manner beneficial to the public.  The party promised to mail a leaflet “What Is Socialism” to every Blairsville voter.  The socialist party criticized the economic system for underpaying workers and an inability to generate sufficient demand to consume what the economy produced.  The final ad written by Reuben Einstein, criticized the railroads for gouging and called for the people to own the railroads as well as industry and the natural resources.  A fundamental problem resulted from our toll gate system in which the few exercised control over the industrial life of the nation and imposed low wages and bad conditions on the workers.

The race for burgess pitted Reuben Einstein against J.W. McAnulty who ran as a fusion candidate of the Republican, Democratic and Prohibition parties.  McAnulty viewed an unequal distribution of wealth as a natural condition.  His reply to the socialists emphasized his patriotism and a condemnation of the Kaiser as an enemy of mankind.  A week before the election Einstein pointed to his wealth as qualification for public office.  He stated that he paid more taxes than any individual property owner in town and depicted that status as a strong motivation to look after the interest of the voters as well as his own.  However, McAnulty won the race for burgess by 52 votes as he carried the 2nd and 3rd wards.  Einstein won 45% of the total vote and a 30 vote margin in the 1st ward.  Protest movements in Indiana County began to fade after this defeat although Einstein remained an active socialist, and John Brophy became a rallying point for miners in the District of the United Mine Workers as he opposed John L. Lewis and supported progressive measures including the nationalization of the mines.

Protest continued in Indiana County.  However, the 20th century differed from the late 19th century.  The role of farmers receded and the activities of miners increased.  The Greenback-Labor Party and the Populist Party gave way to the Socialist Party of America.  Protest lacked a county wide constituency but in some areas it emerged and even flourished.  Glen Campbell, Black Lick and Blairsville provided continuity with earlier protest movements.  In the 1930s socialism rose again and for a time Black Lick and other areas emerged as centers of protest.  The New Deal and the United Mine Workers received most of the attention, but grass roots activities by the unemployed, workers and socialists provided channels for protest as they had in earlier movements of the 1890s and early 20th century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

harry white
Harry White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

croylands2
Croylands

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.W. Taylor: Prominent Attorney, Political Figure, Man of Affairs, and Landholder

There are so many street names in Indiana that are named for prominent people from around the County, one of those is Taylor Avenue, named for Alexander Wilson Taylor, Esq. Mr. Taylor was a prominent attorney, political figure, man of affairs, and landholder.

Alexander was born March 22, 1815 to John and Mary Wilson Taylor, in Indiana. He had strong ties to the history of Indiana; he was the grandson of Alexander Taylor, who had settled in Indiana County in 1790 on a farm on Saltsburg Road about four and one-half miles southwest of Indiana.

A.W. Taylor
A.W. Taylor

While growing up, A.W. Taylor’s father filled many important positions in Indiana including Country Treasurer (1817-18); Deputy Surveyor (1815 and 1825-27); Burgess of Indiana (1819-20), and Prothonotary (1818-21). In later years, John Taylor was a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, Associate Judge, and Surveyor General for Pennsylvania. He was also an editor and publisher of the “Indiana Free Press.”

A.W. was educated at the Indiana Academy (located on the present site of the Silas M. Clark House) and at Jefferson College. He interrupted his studies in 1836 when he moved back to Indiana to serve as a clerk in his father’s office, who at the time was Surveyor General of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1839. It was in 1839 that he entered law school in Carlisle, PA and studied there for one year. He continued his law studies at Judge Thomas White’s office and was admitted to the Indiana County Bar in 1841.

After being admitted to the bar, Taylor became a successful practicing attorney. He served as clerk of the Indiana Borough Council in 1843, 1844, and 1845. Then from 1845 until 1851, he served as Prothonotary and clerk of courts of Indiana County.

A.W. Taylor married Elizabeth Ralston, daughter of David Ralston, Esquire, on May 8, 1849.

Politically Taylor was a member of the Whig Party and he was strongly anti-slavery and took part in the establishment of the Republican Party in the 1850s, of which he remained a member until his death. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House in 1858 and 1859; while there he circulated a petition for the pardon of Absalom Hazlett at Harper’s Ferry and opposed proposals to create Pine County partially out of Indiana County territory. Taylor’s service did not stop there, he served as Burgess of Indiana in 1863. He was also chairman of a meeting to raise Civil War volunteers.

Then in 1872, he became a representative of Indiana, Westmoreland, and Fayette Counties as a Republican in the 43rd Congress where he served on the Committee on Railways and Canals. It was also in 1872 that he introduced Horace Greeley to a crowd at the Indiana County Fair.

Although not a practicing farmer, A.W. Taylor was interested in agriculture. Hence, Taylor served as President of the Indiana County Agricultural Society. In 1873, Attorney Taylor was elected Trustee of the Agriculture College of PA (a forerunner of Pennsylvania State University). Then in 1878, he served on the Board of Trustees at the Indiana Normal School.

Mr. Taylor was also a temperance advocate. It was on June 26, 1875 that he presented a lengthy argument in Court against the granting of liquor licenses. Taylor attempted to run as an independent candidate for judge but was defeated by Harry White.

It was in Mr. Taylor’s home, that John S. Fisher (future Pennsylvania governor) lived while he attended high school and Indiana Normal School. Taylor also owned an extensive amount of land, part of this land was developed into the Greenwood Cemetery beginning around May 21, 1879.

Alexander Wilson Taylor continued practicing law. In 1891, Taylor became helpless due to a paralytic stroke and was confined to his home for two years until his death on May 7, 1893.

Governor from Indiana County: John S. Fisher

Governor John S. Fisher

After completing the Indiana County-Opoly game, we realized that people had questions about some of the people that were represented throughout the game.  One of those individuals was John Stuchell Fisher, who was the only governor, to date, from Indiana County.  Mr. Fisher was born on May 25,
1867 in South Mahoning Township, near Plumville.  In his early years, Fisher attended a one-room school house at Ox Hill, then attending Indiana High from which he graduated in 1884.  He continued his education at the Indiana Normal School, graduating in 1886 from which he began teaching at the Ox Hill School for about $1 a day.

It was in 1890, that he began to study law at the law office of Samuel Cunningham, passed the bar exam and was admitted to the Indiana County Bar in August of 1893, after which he entered a partnership with Cunningham, which continued for 35 years.  John Fisher married Hapsie Miller on October 11, 1893 and she died on January 17, 1922, never knowing that her husband would become governor.

Fisher was involved in both politics and business and by 1897 was chairman of the Indian County Republican Party, and in November 1900 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate and re-elected in 1904.  As a Senator he supported legislation that prohibited the employment of children under 14 in the coal mines along with an appropriation for the Indiana Normal School in the amount of $75,000.  His second term as Senator gained him national recognition because he chaired a special Senate committee investigating the excessive costs in furnishing the new state Capitol.  The committee learned that the subcontractors and suppliers billed the state for $9 million for furnishings that actually cost only $2 million.

Fisher began his run for governor in 1922, but there were eight Republican candidates for the office so Fisher decided to withdraw.  However, four years later Fisher was once again a candidate, and he won a narrow victory in the primary but won the fall election in a landslide.  After the spring primary, 35,000 people came to Indiana to welcome Fisher home; the Indiana Evening Gazette reported in the May 25, 1926 edition: “…there was joy unconfined and hundreds of pounds of fireworks, red fire and other noisemakers were used, while thousands of peanuts and hundreds of pounds of popcorn were consumed.”

His term as governor will best be remembered by a coal strike in the spring of 1927, beginning because the Pittsburgh Coal Co. broke a 1924 wage contract and also cut miners’ wages by 33%, followed by a reduction again by 20%.  At the beginning Fisher did not intervening and then on March 12 he called for a conference of all the parties involved but no one responded.  The strike ended in July 1928, but Governor Fisher suffered a huge setback in public opinion.  In 1929, he signed the Mansfield Bill which corrected some of the abuses by the coal and iron police.”  He will be remembered as “Fisher the Builder” because while in office, 4,000 miles of highways were paved and 1,000 miles resurfaced.  October 4, 1930, Fisher returned to Indiana to dedicate the Benjamin Franklin Highway (Route 422).  He pushed for construction of the Farm Show Building in Harrisburg, and for new buildings or improvements at State teacher colleges, armory, and hospitals.  Also during his administration the state acquired the land for Cook Forest State Park.

One of the greatest accomplishments while in office was the reduction of debt.  When he became governor, Pennsylvania had a $98 million debt, by the time he left office the state had $29 million surplus.  In 1939, IUP dedicated and named Fisher Auditorium in Governor Fisher’s honor.  Governor John S. Fisher died on Jun 25, 1940 and was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery.

(Sources: Stephenson, Clarence. Indiana County man elected governor. The Indiana Gazette April 7, 1984; Wells, Randy. From Ox Hill to the governor’s mansion. The Indiana Gazette. May 16, 2000.)