So Shall Ye Reap

When we think of the Industrial Revolution, big-city images usually come to mind:  belching smokestacks, grimy streets and tenements bursting with captive workers who never see the sun.  But on the farms where most 19th century Americans lived, that Revolution wore a different face and had a decidedly different effect.  Here in Indiana County, nothing embodied that difference better than the Reaper Trials of 1869.

The mechanization of American agriculture hadn’t begun in earnest until just before the Civil War.  Devices like the reaper and thresher had been invented decades earlier, but farmers were a conservative lot who looked upon them as unnecessary at best.  The price for their reluctance was severe.  Plowing, planting and harvesting were labor-intensive and mind-numbingly repetitive;  scythe-swinging reapers especially were virtual “slaves of the season.”  Yet once accepted, farming technology actually freed  an entire class of Pennsylvanians from the very bondage the Industrial Revolution had imposed on workers in other industries.

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Wood’s Reaper, one of eight models at the 1869 trial.

Why did our farmers finally accept the mechanical reaper?  Ads and travelling salesmen had little effect.  But in 1857, the United States Agricultural Society held its first “Great National Field Trial of Reapers and Mowers” in upstate New York, where a thousand farmers watched forty different reapers go head-to-head.  It was a success, so local Societies held smaller versions across America after the war.  Pennsylvania’s trials were held at the new Experimental Farms in Chester, Centre and Indiana counties.  Ours came first, in July  1869.

The Western Experimental Farm had only been in existence for a year.  In 1868, the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania had provided funds to purchase land totaling 120 acres for its creation.  The grounds were located just outside Indiana, where Fisher Auditorium and the IUP Parking Garage stand today.  It was an ideal venue for the Trials.

Eight plots of wheat were planted there that spring.  Eight manufacturers were invited, and arrangements were made for reapers arriving by rail to be offloaded directly onto the Farm.  The Trials Committee published an “open invitation to all interested parties” in county papers;  judges were selected from across Pennsylvania, and Harry White (whose efforts had landed the Experimental Farm for our county) was tapped to give the opening address.  The stage was set.

One by one, the out-of-town agents arrived and checked in at Indiana House – nice digs for a salesman!  Morning on the 14th found them assembled at the Experimental Farm with the contest judges and two hundred farmers from across the county.  Each machine was assigned one of the plots of wheat, and lots were drawn to determine starting order….

First up was the two-horse Kirby from New York.  A right-handed cutter like most of them, it impressed the judges by turning in the fastest time despite having the narrowest cutter.  “This machine, by its smooth cut and ease of draught…operated in tangled grain admirably.”  Onlooking farmers were likewise impressed.  An eighth of an acre in 15 ½ minutes?  Unheard of, even with a six-man team!

On its heels came the only PA-manufactured reaper in the bunch.  The four-horse Hoffheim had just two in harness that day, to prove it could be done. Though praised for keeping the standing and falling wheat separate, it “required the driver’s personal attention with a stick to keep the grain out of the gears.”  Next!

All but one of the remaining machines were from Ohio, starting with the Buckeye.  Best-known of the eight, it was sold in Indiana by A.M. Stewart’s Big Ware House.  This one surprised the crowd by working better in the intentionally-tangled half of its plot than in the freestanding half.  The World and Excelsior reapers followed;  the former was cited for its compactness and low torque, while the latter “did not seem to be in working order, and the committee was not satisfied….

About that time it began to rain.  Committee members, factory reps and reporters (but alas, no farmers) were treated to lunch and “many a toast” at Indiana House until the sky cleared and trials resumed.

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Manual grain-cradle scythe

Next up was the Hubbard.  Despite its back-of-the-pack 29 minute time, it was “judged satisfactory by the committee” given the field’s sodden state.  Finally there came the Aetna, which fell victim to its manufacturer’s charitable impulse/marketing strategy.  It had been donated to the Experimental Farm back in June, with the resulting publicity one-upping a flood of ads by the other seven.  But it was shipped in sections and only reassembled when Aetna’s traveling agent passed through on the day before the Trials;  he set the adjustable speed too high to handle wet grain, so it “cut fair but deposited sheaves irregularly” while turning in the second-fastest time.  The best-laid plans, eh?

If you’re keeping count, that’s just seven entries.  The Wood, a combination reaper/mower like the rest, was withdrawn and entered only in the next day’s mower trials.  The Reaper Trial results were written up and distributed, with each entry rated on criteria like adjustability, clean work, draught (torque) and speed of operation.  Rather than announcing a winner, the Agricultural Society chose to let guests come to their own conclusion – a good idea in hindsight, since an allegation of undue influence was leveled against one of the manufacturers the following week.

Several newspapers outside Indiana County covered the Trials, but our own were of two different minds on the event’s importance.  Perhaps because grain farming was most common in our southern townships, Blairsville’s Press devoted 1200 words to the technical stats and performance of each machine, then followed that up with the full text of General White’s speech on the history of the Experimental Farms.  But Indiana’s Weekly Messenger simply copied a Pittsburgh paper’s synopsis, saying “it saved us the trouble of writing up the affair ourselves.”

So, did our Trials accomplish their mission of persuasion?  A month later, the Press noted “Our farmers are showing their enterprise by buying labor-saving machinery, including a large number of Reapers and Mowers,” and the fifty mechanical reapers in our county before the trials grew to eight hundred  by 1879.  “Slaves of the season” no more, even immigrant Scots farmers abandoned their suspicion of the inneal buain.

Mission accomplished.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Almost

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

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

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

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

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Electric Locomotive, 1890s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indiana County Judicial System Part IV

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

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Judge Stephen J. Telford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jury Chairs 9 and 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indiana County Judicial System Part III

The development of the judicial system of Indiana County continued into the late 1800s and early 1900s, and it was during this period that there were many significant changes.  The old courthouse was demolished in 1868, but until the time that a new courthouse could be built, the county officials had to find temporary offices.  The prothonotary moved to a store room of Edward Nixon on North Sixth Street adjoining the old jail.  The Register and Recorder and Sheriff moved to George Bodenhamer’s “new office” in the back of Sutton & Wilson’s store which was on the south side of Philadelphia Street at the corner of Carpenter Street.

The Judges

Judge Joseph Buffington of Kittanning continued to preside over the courts of Indiana County under the old Tenth Judicial District, which comprised Armstrong, Indiana, and Westmoreland counties.  Judge Buffington continued to preside until 1871 when he resigned due to his health.  James A. Logan of Westmoreland County was appointed to fill the vacancy until the next election in October of 1871.

It was during this time that judges began to be elected to the bench.  Silas M. Clark was the Democratic candidate and the Indiana Progress reported his selection as “The Democratic Scuffle.”  The reason for this was because H.K. Sloan, who was favored for the State Senate nomination, but could not be nominated because conferees from other counties would not be happy on two district candidates coming from the same county.  Clark was confirmed on July 9 at the Democratic Conference in Pittsburgh.  The Indiana Progress reported that it was rumored that a few Republicans in Indiana contemplated voting for Clark for Judge because “he [wa]s a very clever gentleman.” In the end Clark was defeated in the district by a vote of 3,944 for Logan and 2,613 for Clark.  A possible reason for Logan’s lead was that he was solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and on election day trains were sent to haul voters to their polling places free of charge.  In later years Clark declared “Judge Logan was a good, able and just judge.”

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Judge Clark

Judge Logan served as judge until the Fortieth Judicial District was formed, which under the new Pennsylvania Constitution, consisted of Indian County alone.  The provision made counties of forty thousand people or more separate judicial districts.  In the election in November 1874, John P. Blair was the Republican nominee for judge, running against Judge Logan.  Blair was elected and took office on January 4, 1875.  When he took office there was a backlog of cases, which had been delayed for several years because the previous judges just found it impossible to keep up the case load of three counties.

The new constitution abolished the office of Associate Judge.  John K. Thompson and Peter Sutton were replaced in 1866 by T.B. Allison and Joseph Campbell, who held the office until 1871 and was succeeded by Peter Dilts, Jr. and James S. Nesbit.  Nesbit resigned in February 1874.  The last to serve as Associate Judge in Indiana County were William Irwin (who succeeded Nesbit), serving until January 1, 1875; and Peter Dilts, Jr. When his term ended in 1876.

Judge Blair left a clean docket when his term ended in 1885 and was succeeded by Harry White.  It is said that none of Judge Blair’s decisions were reversed by the higher courts, which is aspiration of many judges on the bench.  Judge White was elected in November 1884, defeating A.W. Taylor, who ran as an independent, by a vote of 4,200 to 3,787.  Judge White’s twenty-year career on the bench was controversial, even questionable; he was very active politically, and at times his political conduct was extremely partisan, undignified, and treaded a thin line between ethical and unethical actions.

New Courthouse

James Allison - Murder Trial Indiana County 1880

In 1867, two consecutive grand juries urged that a new courthouse be built, and with Court approval, they instructed the Commissioners to proceed with building a new building.  The reasoning behind this push was that the old courthouse seemed to be inadequate.  The plan was presented by Mr. Drum of Brookville, and the Commissioners adopted the plan in March 1868.  The cost was estimated to be $80,000 (to put that in perspective, that would be about $1.4 million today).  The Commissioners then requested an Act by the legislatures that would authorize the county to borrow the money to construct the new courthouse.  As with any large project, there was opposition to the construction of a new building, and there were even protests against the passage of the act, which was likely done to delay the taxation that was sure to follow to pay for the building.  Despite the opposition, the Commissioners advertised for sealed bids to be received by July 16.

On Sunday, August 9, 1868, a final religious service was held in the old structure, and demolition of the building was begun on August 11.  The contractor, J.T. Dickey, encountered financial problems, and his bondsman, Irvin McFarland, was forced to take over the contract in association with Philip Shannon, a former Jefferson County sheriff, in ordered to save himself.  There was some excavation and foundation work that occurred during the winter of 1868-69, but there was little other work completed.  In April 1869, courthouse architect, James W. Drum, moved to Indiana and work resumed.

Although work resumed, there were some other problems that arose.  On July 6, 1869, the stone cutters struck for higher wages.  It seems that one or two people took advantage of the excitement of the Fourth of July celebrations to induce the party to go into a strike.  However, about half of the force went back to work on July 7.  McFarland refused the leaders of the strike further employment.  Also, in July, a rope in the lifting apparatus broke, and a stone block weighing several tones fell and broke in two, this also caused damage to the steps at the west entrance.  The Mahoning sandstone blocks came from a quarry in the Tearing Run area near Homer City.  An advertisement on August 5, placed by McFarland, offered $2 per day for Laborers.*  The stone cutters struck again at the end of October or early November, but the cause is unknown.

The stone and brick work neared completion by August 19, 1869, and by November 3 it was thought that a few more days of good weather that the roof would be in place; however, this did not get accomplished until nearly the end of the month.  That winter, work proceeded on the interior of the building.  But there were still more problems, in February 1870 the county bond book was stolen.  The Commissioners offered a $50 reward for its return, and printed new bonds to be exchanged for the old ones.  In December 1872, James B. Work was convicted of forging County Bonds while serving as clerk to the Commissioners, and Judge Logan sentenced him to one year, eight months in the Western Penitentiary on February 2, 1873.

On May 16 and 17, 1870, a bell that weighed 2,480 pounds was placed in the tower.  It was cast in Pittsburgh by A. Fulton & Son and cost $1,017.87.  Later a large clock manufactured by the Howard Clock Co. Of Boston and Springfield, Ohio, and was installed by J.R. Reed & Co. Of Pittsburgh.  The clock faced in all four direction and a 75-pound weight operated the clock. By July 14, 1870, the scaffolding around the building was being taken down.

On September 10, 1870, the editor of the Indiana Democrat got a look at the inside of the new courthouse.  The courtroom was nearly completed at this point, although the stained glass windows that cost $1,000 were not yet installed.  The iron fence which surrounded the courthouse was completed around October 13.

The Commissioners took formal possession of the structure and settled with the contractor on December 3, 1870.  In January 1871, an accounting of the new courthouse was published: the cost of the courthouse and fitting of offices $136,093.38; furnishing $3,524.58; bell and freight $1,017.87; laying pavement around the courthouse $1,557.50; a total cost of $142,193.28.**

In the beginning the courthouse was heated by bituminous coal stoves and lighted by artificial gas manufactured in Indiana.  About 1884, the Commissioners chose to use anthracite coal, which lasted at least three years.  In April 1888, Sutton Brothers & Bell was given a contract to install a steam heating apparatus.

Jail Problems

During the mid-1800s, the old 1839 jail continued to be used, even though it had been branded “a most miserable sham” in 1866 when four prisoners escaped on March 9, 1866.  Richard Clawson, Samuel Ray and Lewis and Frederick Smith were arrested for “Outrageous Behavior” on February 16 – their behavior included drunkenness, rioting, assaulting people, and breaking into homes and damaging property.  Their escape occurred by raising a board in the floor, pushing down a stone in the cellar partition wall, entering the cellar, and then entering the street.

George Johnston escaped on February 27, 1868.  Then on July 15, 1875 six more prisoners – J.S. Lydick, David McCardle, D.L. Spealman, Archie Pounds, J.D. Reed and Hadan – escaped by cutting a hole through the plank on the top of the stone wall surrounding the jail yard.  Five more escaped in August 1876, and Jim Myers escaped in March 1877, followed by three more on May 14, 1877.  This was during Sheriff William C. Brown’s tenure, hence the jail became known as “Fort Brown.”  There were many more escapees than just those mentioned here.  In June 1880, the situation got so bad that Sheriff Daniel Ansley was forced to post a guard outside the jail day and night to secure three men who were “residents” of the jail being accused of murder.

Finally the on December 10, 1885, the Grand Jury found that jail was unfit for its intended purpose and recommended that a new jail be constructed, but not to cost more than $50,000.  Another recommendation from the Grand Jury was that the county need either employ watchmen to guard the prisoners or send them to another county.  This proposition was endorsed by another Grand Jury in March 1886.

On March 16, 1887, the plans for a new jail were published which included a residence and office for the Sheriff along with a two-story jail with a mail ward of ten cells measuring 42 x 52 feet, a female ward of two cells, 20 x 24 feet; a boys ward of two cells, 17 x 20 feet; a hospital room 20 x  22 feet; and a prisoners’ counsel room 7 x 22 feet.

The old jail was razed in April 1887.  The new jail was completed and accepted by the Commissioners on October 30, 1888 and the following day payment was authorized to Mr. Hastings, the contractor.  Total cost for the jail: $50,793.73.***

*This would be about $37 today.

**In today’s money the cost of the courthouse would be about $2.9 million.

*** In today’s money the cost of the new jail would be about $1.3 million.

Annual Christmas Open House

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

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IUP Community Choir

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

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Harry and Anna White

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

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Clark House

The First Hanging in Indiana County

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

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

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

The following set of facts was submitted at trial:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Silas Clark, attorney for Allison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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