Decoration Day 1869

May 30, 1868 was the first national commemoration of Memorial Day, when Union General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, set aside that day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.”

At the time, there was no GAR post in Indiana County, so it is uncertain how the day was celebrated in the County.  However, there is an old postcard marked “First Decoration Day in Blairsville, Pa., 1868, in Market Square at Everett House.”  Later that year, on September 15, Kearney Post No. 28, GAR, was organized in Indiana.

For a number of years it was the only veterans’ organization in Indiana County. The first post commander was Col. Daniel S. Porter.  The other officers were Henderson C. Howard, senior vice commander; John Weir, junior vice commander; William R. Black, adjutant; Geoge A. McHenry, quartermaster; Dr. Robert Barr, surgeon; Theodroe Henderson, officer of the day; and John S. Fleming, officer of the guard.

When Memorial Day (also known as Decoration Day) came on May 29, 1869, Post 28 invited the other fraternal orders in Indiana to participate.  The Committee of Arrangements, consisting of George R. Lewis, S.A. Douglass, W.R. Loughry, Charles H. Row and William S. McLain, announced the following program:

            10am – The Post will meet at its hall and march to the Presbyterian Church followed by the others orders.

            At the church – Music on the organ titled “Lincoln’s Funeral March.” Reading of Gen. Logan’s general Order No. 21, Headquarters, GAR, and General Order No. 4, Headquarters, Department of Pennsylvania.  Prayer.  “Star Spangled Banner” by the choir.  Orations by Col. D.S. Porter and the Rev. J.H. Young.  Announce the order of procession to the cemeteries. Prayer.

            11am – Form in procession and march to the cemeteries.  A string band directed by H. Hargrave will halt at the head of each grave and play an appropriate march while the procession passes by on either side of the grave, each member dropping one or more flowers on the grave.  Return to the halls of the respective orders for dismissal.

The merchants of Indiana were requested to close between 10am and noon.  “It is hoped that so far as it is possible every one will join with us in strewing the graves with flowers, or dropping a tear over those who, when their country called, did not refuse to die.  Come one, come all, and make this one day sacred to the memory of our departed comrades.”  Afterward a complete account of the Memorial Day proceedings was published in the Indiana Register and American, occupying about four columns.

From this time on, similar ceremonies took place each year, and the day was long known as Decoration Day because of the custom of decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers. There were not nearly as many soldiers’ graves to be decorated then as now, only four years after the Civil War ended, so it was feasible to arch to each individual grave.

Unlike many other communities and counties, neither Indiana nor Indiana County ever erected a monument to its Civil War soldiers, but Saltsburg did on May 31, 1876, and that monument still stands in Edgewood Cemetery.

Civil War Monument Edgewood Cemetery, Saltsburg, PA

On that day, a few minutes after 3pm, the 8th and 9th Divisions, 13th Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard, took positions around the monument.  Division officers and bands were on the east side, the rank and file on the south and west sides, and an “immense throng of civilians” on the north side of the monument.

The 8th Division band played “a solemn dirge, the melancholy notes of which seemed to impress the vast audience with the full import of the occasion.”  This was followed by a prayer by the Rev. Adam Torrence.  Simon Portser, secretary of the cemetery board, read the list of contents of a box which had been sealed in the monument.

W.I. Sterett, president of the cemetery board, announced the officers of the day, including Major Samuel Cooper, a veteran of the War of 1812, president; nine vice presidents and two secretaries.  Adjutant General James W. Latta made brief remarks and unveiled the monument.  General Harry White delivered the dedicatory address, followed by the Rev. Major Core and Col. C.W. Hazzard.  Then the band played another selection and the Rev. W.W. Woodend pronounced the benediction.

Saltsburg on this occasion did not have GAR post, but the R. Foster Robinson Post 36 was organized the following year on July 5, 1877, and was the second GAR post in Indiana County.  Findley Patch Post 137, Blairsville, organized June 20, 1881, with 99 charter members and was followed soon by John Pollock Post 219, Marion Center, on August 20, 1881.

Several other GAR posts were organized in later years.  To each of them fell the responsibility of observing Decoration Day, and the pattern in all the communities for many years was similar to the one in Marion Center in 1883:

MEMORIAL DAY as observed in Marion

“Wednesday, Memorial day, was observed with marked attention at this place.  John Pollock Post, No. 219, GAR, having made necessary arrangements, met at their hall at 9 o’clock, when details were sent to Gilgal, Mahoning and Washington.  An audience was in attendance at each place, and after performing appropriate services, they returned to this place.

“At about 2 o’clock the Post, with a large number of citizens, assembled at the hall.  At 2:30 the procession, containing from three to four hundred persons, formed and headed by the Marion Cornet Band, which discoursed suitable music, marched to the cemetery.  After the usual services by the Post, the assemblage was addressed by Squire Kinnan of Gettysburg (now Hillsdale), after which the procession marched to the M.E. Church, where after music by the choir, W.L. Stewart, Esq., of Indiana, delivered the memorial address.  The oration was well delivered and was listened to with unusual attention by the large audience.  After the services in the church, the procession again formed and marched to the hall, where the audience was dismissed.”

As the ranks of the Civil War veterans thinned and aged, the responsibility for Memorial Day was assumed for some time by the Sons of Union Veterans and by their auxiliaries and then by the American Legion, VFW, and other veterans’ organizations.

Prior to the Civil War, there were no organized veterans’ groups in Indiana County.  The GAR might, therefore, be considered the inspiration and the ancestor of our present veterans’ organizations, who have adopted much the same type of organization and in some cases naming their posts in the same way for leaders or deceased members, for example, Joseph A. Blakley Camp 227, Spanish-American War Veterans, Indiana; Richard W. Watson Post 141 American Legion, Indiana; or John W. Dutko Post 7412, VFW, Homer City.

Another notable Memorial Day took place on May 30, 1925, when the Doughboy Monument in Indiana’s Memorial Park was dedicated.

The granite shaft was donated by the Farmers Bank of Indiana and the statute by Vernon Taylor.  A parade formed at the YMCA (now the Indiana Free Library) and marched to the park.  Richard W. Watson was chief parade marshal.  At 10 a.m. John S. Fisher gave an address.  The monument was presented and dedicated by Juliet White Watson and unveiled by the Gold Star Mothers.  James W. Mack, president of Indiana Borough Council, accepted the monument.  The Boy Scout Band provided music.

Doughboy Statute in Memorial Park

Accurate figures are not available for the number of Indiana County men and women who have served in our nation’s wars, but the 73 who served in the Revolution were buried in scattered cemeteries.  Forty-four served in the War of 1812 and an unknown number in the Indian wars.  About 20 were in the Mexican War.  The Civil War or “War of the Rebellion” called upon 3,680 Indiana County citizens, who served with great distinction.  One hundred eighty-three answered the call to the Spanish-American War.  Those who were in the World War II do not seem to have been tabulated correctly.  The number of World War II form Indiana County has been estimated at more than 13,000.  The number in the Korean and Vietnam wars is not available.

Major Samuel Cooper of Saltsburg, who died December 21, 1881, may have been the last veteran of the War of 1812. When Conrad Pifer of the Rochester Mills area died January 14, 1911, he was the last veteran of the Mexican War.  John C. Featherstone of 7 South Third Street, Indiana, was said to be “the only survivor of the Indian wars in this section” when he celebrated his 86th birthday in August 1938.

Dr. W.S. Shields of Marion Center, who died September 11, 1946, was the last of the Civil War veterans.

As we carry on the tradition of Memorial Day, it might be well to heed the admonition of General Logan in his first Memorial Day order in 1868: “Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages or time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free undivided republic.”

Indiana County Ghost Stories Part I

As we enter into the spooky Halloween seasons, we thought it would be fun to share some local ghost stories that were collected by Frances Strong Helman.  They are just that stories, but as with many stories passed down through the generation there is some truth to them. These stories are reprinted as they were originally published in 1963, should you have any local “ghost stories” we would love to hear about them in the comments.

The Ghosts of Watt’s Hill

Watt’s Hill is located west of Indiana on Route 422.  As early as 1889, travelers on that section of road reported seeing strange things.

One story was that a little hunched figure could be seen several yards back from the road, and one young woman felt sure that she had seen the apparition as she rode along the road with her father when she was a very small child.

From another family came the tale about the little hunchback.  It was recalled that a family lived just at the foot of the hill, and the crippled child was a part of the household.  It was not known if he was their very own or if he were a homeless waif they allowed to share their roof.  The little fellow received very cruel treatment at their hands, and finally one day after an unmerciful beating he crawled away into the woods.  Except for the little hunched figure sometimes seen at a distance – over a period of many years – nothing more was ever known about the unfortunate little boy.

The second ghost attached to the hill always made its appearance nearer the top of the hill.  A man was hanged from a tree near that spot – some say he was a peddler.

Before 1890, a group from Indiana saw this ghostly figure.  They had driven by horse and buggy to Shelocta for supper.  It was a fine fall evening and they were in no hurry to return home, and it was after dark when they started back to the county seat, but after they were half way up Watt’s Hill the fun ended for most of the group.

They all claimed to have seen the famous ghost of the hanged man.  The young people had passed by when someone noticed “the thing.” At first a few of the couples were brave, got out of the buggies, and started walking back down the hill to investigate, or hold a consultation with the ghost.  The ghost seemed to move forward to meet them.  That was all that was needed to complete the investigation! They turned and ran back up the hill.  One of the young ladies fainted and had to be carried to her buggy near the top of the hill where she was revived.  Except for being scared they arrived home safely.

The entire group declared the ghost was eight to ten feet tall, it floated along six feet from the ground, and it was all white.  The wind seemed to blow it backwards and forwards just as the remains of the hanged man must have swayed in the breeze.

Years have passed, the route of the highway has changed, and the settlers responsible for what happened on Watt’s Hill have gone to their reward.  The ghosts of the woe-begone creatures must be satisfied for they are seen no more.

The Fiddling Ghost of Mahoning Valley

Indiana County’s musical ghost inhabits a little house at Smicksburg, in West Mahoning Township, and has been named the “fiddling ghost of Mahoning Valley.”

The story begins in the days when the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was being built through the township, soon after the turn of the century.  Two cronies came to work on the railroad and took up their abode in the little house with its high steep roof.

One of these fellows played a fiddle.  He played everywhere he was asked to play; at any neighborhood gathering he had toes tapping with his rollicking tunes.  He also played at the temporary diggings in the little house; and he played without invitation from his friend – early in the morning and late at night.  Finally, there came a day when the friend could stand no more.  When the fiddler and his companion did not show up for work some one went to the house.  The musician was found stabbed to death, his violin broken, and the companion gone, bag and baggage.

When fall arrived, strange stories were whispered about.  Yes, there was “something funny” about the little house.  A few folks swore they saw and heard the dead fiddler, and of all places – he was sitting astride the house roof.

As years rolled along it was found that on frosty nights a vapor seems to envelope the top of the house, and as an unfelt breeze clears it away the old fiddler is seen on the roof and the weird tunes are faintly heard.

As late as 1955, the old boy was heard if not seen.  It was just about Hallowen when George Swetnam aired the almost forgotten yarn in the Sunday Pittsburgh Press.  A group of students from the Dayton high school decided to visit the old house just for kicks.  The weather was exactly right, and as they came to a halt near the building, the eerie strains of a violin was heard.  Not one of them bothered to look up at the roof as they tore out of the area.  One boy fell while leaping across a ditch for a near-cut and almost broke his leg.

Without question the fiddling ghost of Mahoning Valley is the noisiest in the county.

Headless Apparitions

Two headless apparitions have been reported in the county.  The first was seen in the Starford neighborhood, out in Green Township.  This one was a traveler who walked along the road carrying his head under his arm while in the opposite hand he clutched a rolling pin.

The first man who saw him ran as fast as his legs would carry him until he reached the village store.  There he babbled incoherently about the “awful sight” until someone brought the minister who managed to quiet him, and the unbelievable story was told.

The story seemed true for soon others declared they met the headless ghost walking along the same stretch of road, still carrying his head under his arm and swinging the rolling pin.

This restless spirit must have wrought vengeance upon the proper person or persons for he is seen no more.

The second headless man made his appearance at the foot of the Trimble Hill on Route 286, between Indiana and Clymer.  It is said that this was the ghost of a murdered peddler.  He did not get busy until exactly midnight in the dark of the moon.  Then he stepped from the side of the road and grabbled the bridles of passing horses.  A sharp cut of the whip was all that was needed to throw the ghost of balance.  The writer never fails to think of the headless peddler on dark nights, but either the time has been wrong or he dislikes automobiles.

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.

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.

Rise and Fall of Timber in the Indiana County Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lumber stockpile
Lumber stockpile ready for shipment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast:

Hot rare Beef Steak

Pork Sausage-Fried potatoes

Biscuit with Apple Butter (from farmer)

Stewed Prunes-cookies

Molasses-Tea with sugar

Noon Meal-dinner:

Pork and Sauer Kraut

Fried Pork-boiled potatoes

Boiled Codfish

Peas in Beef broth

Biscuits-cookies

Raisins and rice

Apple Pie

Tea with sugar

Supper:

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

Fried Pork, potatoes boiled in their jackets

Pea Soup

Biscuit-Corn Bread

Cookies and Stewed Raisins-Mince Meat Pie

Tea with sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in a name?

What is in a name? We have so many names in Indiana County that have unique origins and reasons for being named the way they were. There is a classification of place names devised by George R. Stewart (1895-1981) a professor of English and Berkley and a native of Indiana, PA. This classification places names into ten different categories: (1) Descriptive, (2) Associative, (3) Commemorative, (4) Commendatory, (5) Incident, (6) Possessive, (7) Manufactured, (8) Shift, (9) Folk etymology, and (10) Mistake.

The first category, Descriptive Names, is one of the most basic of place names, because they are identified by a perceived quality of the place. In Indiana County, most of the names within this category are applied to hydraulic features, describing color, appearance, size, or location. These names include Big Run, Straight Run, Crooked Run, Muddy Run, Tearing Run, Roaring Run, Rock Run, Twomile Run, East Run, Yellow Creek, and Little Yellow Creek.

Some descriptive names have originated with the Indians (Native Americans). Take for example Plum Creek coming from the Delaware “Sipuas-hanne” which translates to “plumb” (straight) water. Contrast with the Delaware “Woak-hanne” – Crooked Creek.

A few names come from the description of the cultural landscape. For example, Center Township was named due to its location near the center of the County. Centerville was named for its position on the Pennsylvania Canal between Johnstown and Blairsville, and North Point was named because of its situation along the county’s northern border. However it seems that the only adjectives that have been applied to Indiana County communities are those of location; as you notice there are not any towns named “Bigvilles” or “Yellowburgs.” Littletown in Brush Valley Township was not named for size but instead for a local farmer/landowner William Little.

The second category is Associative Names. When white settlers first came to what is now Indiana County, they inherited only a few names from the Indians. This is due to the fact that there were not many sedentary Indiana populations here, instead it was hunting and trading parties passing through. Therefore the only Indian names that survived were those of larger water courses. The Indian names that were used by associating it with some nearby familiar features. Salt deposits were such associative objects; resulting names were Mahoning Creek (where there is a lick), Two Lick Creek (Nischa-honi), and Blacklick Creek (Naeska-honi). Other places were linked to indigenous flora or fauna: Cowanshannock Creek (brier stream), Kiskiminetas (plenty of walnuts), and Conemaugh (otter).

As settlers began to arrive in Indiana County, they also associated places with nature. Certain relief features became known as Turkey Knob, Buck Hill, Chestnut Ridge, and Spruce Hollow. Water courses were named for plants (Brush Creek, Brush Run, Beech Run, Pine Run, Laurel Run), animals (Bear Run, Buck Run, Goose Run), minerals (Sulphur Run, Coal Run), and for nearby landmarks (Boiling Springs Run, Sugarcamp Run). Communities have also received associative names: Cherry Tree, Gas Center, Saltsburg, Locust, Oak Tree, Pine Flats, Pineton, Brush Valley, and Spruce. Place names are also associated with local landmarks, these places include: Five Points, near the junction of five roads (there are only four now); and Purchase Line, near the line of the same name described in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix.

Indiana itself may be considered associative, based on the traditional story that the name comes from the area’s first inhabitants.

The third category is that of Commemorative Names. The purpose is for the place name to outlast the namer, these were oftentimes planners and leading citizens. In Indiana County were have Commemorative Names of four presidents – Washington (Township), Jackson(-ville), Taylor(-sville), and Grant (Township). Marion Center honors South Carolina’s Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox”’ of the American Revolution. The Pennsylvania Canal was instrumental into the vitality of the existence of early Blairsville, therefore the community thanked the Canal’s promoter, John Blair, by adopting his name. George Armstrong and George Clymer, both national figures, played important roles in the county’s early history, and are likewise commemorated by place names.

Presidents and generals are remembered in history books, but less important persons may end up being forgotten. So to preserve for posterity the memory of a noted local politician or businessman than by a commemorative place name. The place name evokes the memory of the man in local minds and once on a map, it guarantees a sort of world recognition.

Indiana County place names honor judges (Buffington, Burrell, Logan, White, Rayne), congressmen (Covode, Marchand), early settlers (Deckers Point, Elders Ridge, Strongstown), businessmen (Cramer, Beyer), and miners (Lovejoy, Claghorn, Rembrandt, Starford). In the early days, community sometimes adopted the name of its post office, which either through acclamation or self-commemoration, was often the name of the postmaster or member of his family. Today, there are few Indiana County places named for presidents than there are for postmasters and their kin: Alverda, Davis, Hillsdale, Martintown, McIntyre, Rochester Mills, and Tanoma are examples.

When new settlers came to the area, they often wanted to remember the places from where they came. At first, place names borrowed from the old country serve as preservatives for the community’s collective memory: regions like New England, tidewater Virginia, and eastern Australia are full of such names. When eight Irish families settled in East Wheatfield Township, they named their settlement for the town of Armagh in their homeland. Scottish settlers of West Wheatfield Township named their community Clyde, after a district in Scotland. Similarly, Luzerne Mines commemorates Luzerne, Switzerland, the ancestral home of the Iselin family.

Another source of place names came from the Bible. They were not mean to be solely memorials to long buried Philistine or Moabite settlements, these names are there to serve to remind settlers of religious devotion: Heshbon (Numbers 21:25-31), Ebenezer – old Lewisville – (I Samuel 7:12), and Crete (Titus 1:5-12).

The fourth category of place names comes in the form of Commendatory Names, which are selected mainly to praise the quality of life in a place in order to keep the locals content and to attract prospective settlers. Although these names are commendatory, and may or may not be truly representative of the place.

Take for example Diamondville, in Cherryhill Township, being named because the land owner viewed it as the richest – that is, the diamond – of all the pine tracts in the area. Joseph Wharton, a miner, similarly applied the name Coral to the Center Township community, claiming the local coal and clay deposits would prove to be as valuable as coral.

When the suburb of Indiana, Chevy Chase Heights, was planned in the 1920s, the intention was for it to be a restrictive neighborhood for the town’s wealthy citizens. The chosen name was commendatory, named after the Maryland neighborhood where the elite of Washington, D.C. live. However, the Depression changed the plans for the neighborhood, the named remained.

Since the 1940s, there have been many private developers who have selected commendatory names to attract new buyers to the new housing subdivisions. The communities include: Pleasant Hill, Grandview, and Sunset Acres.

The fifth category of place names are Incident Names, so named because of certain events that have occurred at a particular place that are sometimes noteworthy enough to serve as identifiers. These names in Indiana County often provide some of the most intriguing and most interesting local tales.

Our first example comes from Young Township of the creek of Whiskey Run. There are several versions of how the creek received its name; two of them are incident related. The first is that some Indians who were intoxicated on whiskey tried to kill some settlers down by the run. The settlers instead convinced the Indians to help split logs. While at work, one farmer removed the wedge from the log, thereby trapping the Indians’ hands. The settlers then killed the Indians. The second story is that the proprietors of an untaxed liquor business in nearby Reed, learned of a upcoming visit by revenuers, and before their arrival dumped the evidence (whiskey) into the creek.

Cush Cushion Creek in Green Township, is said to have received its name because Indians stole early settler John Bartlebaugh’s pig near here, shouting “Kisch Kusha!” as they ran off.

Vinegar Hill in White Township, is another place where there are several versions of its origin. One says that a man came into Indiana for supplies, including a large cask of vinegar. While on his way home, the cask broke loose, rolled down the hill, hit a rock and broke, giving the entire hill a vinegary smell for weeks.

At one time, Uniontown in Green Township, was known as both Kesslerville and Berringer. The local citizens wanted a single name, but they were indecisive about a name until one morning they woke up to find, nailed to a tree, a board with the name Uniontown. The name stuck.

Wallopsburg in Conemaugh Township, was the former name of Nowrytown, so called for a “wallop of storm” which blew through here at one time.

The sixth category of place names is possessive names. It is important to note that the Indians of this area had no concept of private ownership of land, and for this reason there were no names denoting possession. But with the arrival of the Europeans, possessive place names became common. Many examples in our county include: Barr Slope, Clarksburg, Fleming Summit, Smith, and Kintersburg. Mill proprietorship has been applied as well: Campbells Mills, Mottarns Mills, and Rochester Mills. Finally, more than half of the county’s streams have possessive names (Auld’s Run, Toms Run, Pickering Run, and Whites Run), as do many of the prominent hills (Moose Hill, Watts Hill, and Evans Roundtop).

The seventh category is manufactured names, much thought goes into the selection of a place name, but little creativity. These names usually exist in some other form already. Only a small category of manufactured names do invention and creativity play a part.

Tanoma, is reportedly the name of an Indian princess, but the name was probably created by the postmaster using the initials of his children’s first names: T for Tillie, A for Alice, NO for Norman, M for Matilda and A again for Alice.

Local residents of Mentcle originally wanted to call the post office Clement, but the state already had a Clement post office elsewhere. They were forced to choose another name, the townsfolk merely rearranged the syllables to create Mentcle.

Nolo was a descriptive creation, Nolo received its name from its location on the ridge top, where there was “no low ground around.”

The name Clune came from the old post office of Coal Run was manufactured by joining the CL from coal and the UN from Run with an E added for the sake of euphony.

The final category of place names in Indiana County is that of Shift Names. After a place receives its name, the name is sometimes applied in other forms to related places. Take for example, Blacklick which was first applied to a creek. Later the name shifted to include a community and a township along the creek’s banks. After the name Mahoning was affixed to Mahoning Creek, the tributary Little Mahoning Creek, Mahoning Reservoir and the four Mahoning Townships took the same name. Indiana itself is a shaft name, as it has been passed on from the county to the county seat.

Although this list of places names is not exhaustive, as a map of the county is filled with place names that have an interesting history behind how the name came to be. These names tell us something about the past. So the next time you are taking a Sunday Drive through the County, ask yourself how the name came to be, and if you are really interested  come visit the historical society and do some research on the township, village, body of water, etc.

Dr. Fairfield: First Principal of Indiana Normal School

Rev. Dr. Edmund Burke Fairfield was a pastor, educator, politician, theologian, diplomat, and world traveler.  He was also the first principal of the Indiana Normal School.

The Rev. Dr. Fairfield was born April 21, 1821, in Parkersburg, (West) Virginia, to the Rev. Micaiah and Hannah Wynn Fairfield.  While he was still a boy, the Fairfields moved to Troy, Ohio, where he grew up.  He attended Denison University and Marietta College before enrolling at Oberlin College.  He received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1842, and Oberlin Seminary granted him a B.D. in 1845.

As a student in the Oberlin Seminary, Fairfield was exposed to the institution’s strong emphasis on ethics and sanctification, which stressed man’s capability of reaching his highest objectives as an individual and of building a nearly perfect society on earth.  He also followed the teachings of Rev. Charles G. Finney, the great proponent of revivalistic theology.  Fairfield’s emphasis on enthusiastic preaching, the lack of which in Indiana bothered him, seems to have developed from his experiences at Oberlin.  Oberlin’s sympathy with abolition may have provided the stimulus for Fairfield’s anti-slavery views since his mother’s lineage was Virginian.  Following his graduation, he moved to Canterbury, New Hampshire, where he appears to have been ordained in both the Free Will Baptist and Congregational Churches and seems to have served both congregations.  At Canterbury he served as minister and teacher, remaining from 1845-47.  Soon he moved on to accept a charge in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  Then he entered higher education, accepting the presidency of the Free Baptist College, Spring Arbor, Michigan in 1848, which was relocated and renamed Hillsdale College in 1853.  During his 21-year tenure, Rev. Dr. Fairfield took the struggling institution and built it into a small, but respected liberal arts college.  The student enrollment grew from less than 50 to over 500 during his presidency, and he also actively raised money for the college and its endowment.

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It appears that he combined public appearances on behalf of the temperance movement with his fundraising efforts on behalf of Hillsdale in western New York in the fall of the early 1850s.  During this period, he entered politics in Michigan and helped found the Republican Party there.  From 1857 to 1859, he served in the Michigan Senate.  His first speech, “Slavery in the Territories,” attacked the extension of slavery, and it was printed for wide distribution.  In 1858, he won the election for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan and served one term.  Following the completion of his term in 1861, he devoted his attention to administering Hillsdale College, teaching, traveling, and lecturing.  When he left the presidency of Hillsdale College in 1869, he accepted the pastorate of the First Congregational Church, Mansfield, Ohio, where he remained from 1870 until April 1875.

At its March 10, 1875 meeting, the Board of Trustees of Indiana Normal School (now IUP) chose Rev. Dr. Fairfield as the institution’s first principal (president) at a salary of $2,250 per year, later raised to $4,000.  He came to Indiana with a national reputation as clergyman, educator, and lecturer, but how he came to be selected is unknown.  His previous activities in the building of Hillsdale College, in the temperance cause, and in the church certainly made him an appealing candidate.  His high salary and perquisites say a lot about the ambitions and plans for the normal school held by John Sutton and his colleagues.

Prior to moving to Indiana, Fairfield paid a visit to the town, during which he presented one of his most famous lectures, “Tent Life in Palestine.”  The lecture was given on the evening of March 24, 1875, and it drew a large crowd in the courtroom of the newly opened Indiana County Courthouse.  Admission was 25 cents per ticket, the proceeds being a benefit for the soon-to-open normal school.  The local press gave enthusiastic coverage to the event.  The Indiana Democrat reported, “if this lecture is a fair sample of his learning and ability, he is the right man in the right place. He is a pleasing off hand speaker and possessed of great descriptive powers.”  The lecture was partially drawn from Rev. Fairfield’s personal observations, for he had toured Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey as part of an extended trip to Europe and the Near East from July 1863 to June 1864.

In May, Fairfield arrived in Indiana and took up residence in the recently completed John Sutton Hall.  On May 17, the first term opened at Indiana Normal School.  Over 200 students attended, including some of Fairfield’s children.  His daughter May and his son Edward Minor were enrolled in the Classical Department of the College Preparatory Division.  His other sons George D., John M. and Charles T. attended the Model School.  May, the eldest child still at home, took courses in penmanship, drawing, natural philosophy, Latin, grammar, Greek, and American history during the 1875-76 terms.

Part of the initial staff was recruited by Rev. Fairfield.  From Mansfield, Ohio, Fairfield brought Mr. and Mrs. Rowley, who served as steward and matron of the school respectively.  Professor Hiram Collier, who taught chemistry and physics, came from the Pennsylvania College of Agriculture (no Pennsylvania State University), but before that he had served for several years on the faculty at Hillsdale.

Rev. Dr. Fairfield remained in Indiana only one year. During his tenure as principal, French was added to the curriculum.  According to the local press, Fairfield taught Latin and Greek in addition to the subjects listed in the 1875 catalogue, Mental, Moral and Political Science and the Theory and Practice of Teaching.  The first literary society was named for Rev. Dr. Fairfield, but at his request it was renamed the Erodelphian Literary Society.  During the first year two faculty members, Miss Mary Bradley and Miss Ada Kershaw, were dismissed in mid-term.  The Board of Trustees acted on complaints filed by the principal for himself and other members of the faculty.  The charges accused Misses Bradley and Kershaw of “conduct unbecoming a teacher, in interfering with the harmony of a faculty and interfering with the success of the school.”  Their appointment, for which they received two months’ salary, terminated in July 1875.  The remainder of the Fairfield tenure appears to have gone smoothly until near the very end when a delayed state appropriation caused a budgetary crisis.

During their residence in Indiana the Fairfield family participated in community affairs.  Mrs. Fairfield and their children, Mary, Emma, May, and George joined the Presbyterian Church in the fall of 1875.  Because of his ordination Rev. Fairfield could not officially join the congregation, but he undoubtedly participated in its activities.  In March 1875, Fairfield again lectured at the Court House; the subject this time was “Personal Observations of the Vienna Exposition in 1873.”

In March 1876, he announced his resignation to become the second chancellor of the University of Nebraska.  In December 1875, he had explained his reasons for leaving to his friend, Congressman James Monroe of Ohio:

Now I will tell you frankly how the matter lies in my mind.  I am here in Pennsylvania, and can stay, if I choose.  At least so it looks.  My salary is $4000, but neither Mrs. F. nor myself feel at home here. We are in the midst of little else but blue Presbyterianism.  Pennsylvania is in mts. [mountains]. The West suits me better.  But I wish simply to do the work assigned me by the master.  It looks to us as though this might be it, in connection with Nebraska Uni. [University].

Fairfield served six years as chancellor of the University of Nebraska, following which he again traveled abroad, served as pastor to several Congregational Churches, and from 1889-1893 was U.S. Consul-general in Lyons, France.  He returned to the United States and again returned to the ministry, retiring in 1900 to Oberlin, Ohio, where he continued to serve as a trustee of Oberlin College.

Although Rev. Dr. Fairfield possessed a “reputation as a political liberal and reformer,” he was a conservative in the field of education. Fairfield family tradition characterizes him as being stern and “a very strict disciplinarian,” and his philosophy bears this out.”  In his inaugural address as Chancellor of the University of Nebraska, Fairfield discussed his educational philosophy.  The American university, he believed, existed “for the study of all science; for the most liberal learning, and the most generous culture possible.”  The traditional liberal arts and sciences provided the core of a university education.  According to Fairfield, “a young man, at the end of his university education… [should be able] to make something of himself, and to do something to lift up his country and his race to a higher plane of true living.”  As was to be expected of one ordained by two churches, the chancellor believed strongly that Christian principles were basic to a university education.  Despite his religious background and his strong religious convictions, Fairfield did not believe that theology should be taught in a public institution of higher education.  Christian ethics and morals certainly belonged in public higher education, but denominational and sectarian religious views had no place there.

When the Board of Trustees of Indiana Normal School chose the Rev. Dr. Edmund Burke Fairfield as the first principal, they obviously fulfilled their apparent desire to have someone of experience, energy, strong Christian convictions, and wide learning.

George Clymer

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

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

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

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George Clymer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.F.D.

America has long prided itself in creating a classless society, one without bars to participation.  We fought a Civil War to end slavery, amended our Constitution to ensure women’s suffrage and abolished the poll tax.  But few recall that in those same days we also fought to include our country’s biggest group of outsiders, and that the uniformed heroes of that fight were the postal carriers of Rural Free Delivery.

Before the Civil War, all Americans picked up their mail at the post office.  Home delivery in cities began in 1863 and in midsize towns by 1890.  A letter could go from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia door-to-door, but . . . between farms in Indiana County?  Nope.  Both parties had to travel over miles of dirt roads to the nearest P.O. or hire a courier to do it for them.  And forget about speed it took less time for mail to get from Chicago to Boston than from Covode to Boltz.  Rural Americans thus became second-class citizens who had to “pay to play.”

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Pennsylvania’s Rural Free Delivery began in October 1896.

The obvious solution had surprisingly little support.  Expansion of mail service into the countryside was championed by the Grange, a farmer’s fraternity that began lobbying Congress in 1870.  Fearing financial disaster, politicians and the Post Office Department resisted for two decades.  But legislation was finally passed, and in 1896, Pennsylvania became the third state to establish Rural Free Delivery.

It didn’t happen all at once.  After experimental routes in Westmoreland County succeeded, applications were accepted from across the state.  Preference was given to “small towns having thickly-settled farming communities about them in a radius of four miles;” petitions had to be sponsored by a congressman and signed by the heads of at least 60 households along the proposed route.  The roads themselves had to pass inspection as being “in good condition – drained and graded, unobstructed by gates and without unbridged or unfordable streams.”  Some 20% failed first inspection.

But even before a route’s approval, it had the effect of empowering the farmers it would serve.  Congressmen realized that rural Americans were in the majority, which meant votes come election day.  Representative Summers Jack became our tireless advocate, personally examining each proposed route ahead of inspectors and “wheeling and dealing” for road improvement funds.  And our newspapers, eager for the potential boost in subscriptions, beat the editorial drum for rural delivery.

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James McKee was our county’s first RFD carrier (1899-1931)

Our county’s first RFD debuted in September 1899.  It looped out through White Township from Indiana and returned, serving 115 families spread out over 25 miles.  Its first carrier was one James McKee.  It took him and his wagon-horse Daisy six hours to finish the route in good weather.  But rain or shine, snow or mud or flood, McKee made the trip six days a week from 1899 through 1931.  A quarter-million miles without missing a day – now that’s dedication!

‘Course, you really had to be dedicated to be an RFD carrier.  A bond was required, and it was forfeit if you missed a single day.  And you’d never get rich on the $400 annual salary, which had to cover horse feed, wagon repair and blacksmith fees on top of your own living expenses.  But carriers enjoyed high social standing in the community and were even considered a “good catch.”

And not all carriers were men!  One hundred fifty of Pennsylvania’s earliest routes were “manned” by women.  Anna Devers was our county’s first.  She spearheaded the drive for approval of Blairsville’s second route in 1903, then served as its carrier for 13 years after testing highest of six applicants.  Grace Barr, who made the rounds on Grant Township’s Route #3 by car in the 1920s,  was said to be “so efficient and accommodating that a mere man was not considered” when several applied to replace her.

A rural carrier had to be something of an octopus as well.  Their wagon was in effect a mobile post office, carrying stamps, envelopes and postcards for sale.  They accepted cash for money orders to be mailed back at the P.O., and  until 1910, farmers could leave coins in the mailbox to cover postage for outgoing letters.  RFD wagons even displayed a set of signals communicating the Weather Bureau’s daily forecast, an invaluable service to farmers.  (At one point, sixteen grateful Indiana County farmers made their carrier’s life easier by mounting all their boxes on a horizontally-rotating wagon wheel atop a post at the crossroads!)

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Early RFD carriers used their own automobiles.

Success breeds success.  By 1903, each of the county’s larger boroughs had several routes serving their surrounding townships, and Star Routes those hauling mail between post offices added RFD service to homes along the way.  In 1915,  it was announced that Indiana County was so thoroughly covered that individual householders could petition for new routes directly.  And our carriers’ reputation was such that Blairsville and Indiana were chosen to host the state Rural Letter Carriers conventions of 1911 and 1914.  Their service could come at a price:  many minor post offices like those in Crete and Clyde were closed, since their towns’ populations were small enough to be served by RFDs.

Solving the greatest challenge to rural delivery had the side-effect of boosting farmers’ inclusion once again.  Our roads were, in a word, abysmal.  Horses sank in spring mud and winter snow, and wagon-wheels broke in hardened summer ruts.  The Gazette opined that “many routes may have to be abandoned” when inspectors returned, as had happened in Washington County.  To the rescue came the Good Roads Movement, a coalition of local and national interests which secured passage of our state’s Sproul Road Act and the federal Rural Post Roads Act of 1916.  Even the Great Depression contributed to the solution: Pennsylvania’s make-work Rural Roads Act appropriated 477 miles of Indiana County roads for pavement and extension as “Pinchot roads” in 1931.

The hard times of the 1930s and ‘40s brought out Americans’ adaptability, and postal employees were called upon to do their part.  To avert layoffs and route eliminations, rural carriers were required to take unpaid furloughs totaling 11 days per year from 1932 to 1934, and the maintenance allowance for automobiles was eliminated.  The uniformed troops of RFD showed their mettle again after Pearl Harbor, when carriers sold Defense Savings Stamps and accepted War Bond applications from customers.  And like police and firemen, they were given priory for tires and gas by the county Rationing Board.

The world continued to change, and so did rural delivery.  As far as can be told, faithful James McKee was our county’s last carrier to use a horse;  by 1929, the year the highest percentage of Americans were served by RFDs, autos were in use on almost all Pennsylvania routes.  As roads improved and America moved to the suburbs after WWII, route-lengths increased but the total number of rural households declined.  Yet even today, only Texas has more carriers than the Keystone State.  And it can truly be said that our farmers are second-class citizens no more.