Silas M. Clark

One of the most distinguished citizens of Indiana was Silas Moorhead Clark. He was born January 18, 1834 in Plum Creek Township, Armstrong County. He was the son of James and Ann Moorhead Clark and came from a long line of notable ancestors on both his parent’s sides. On his maternal side was his great grandfather, the pioneer, Fergus Moorhead. Mr. Moorhead was one of the first persons to settle near Indiana in 1772. It was in 1777 that Fergus was captured by Indians and taken to Canada during the Revolution. Not long after, Mrs. Moorhead, while alone in the wilderness, gave birth to Fergus Moorhead, Jr., Silas Clark’s grandfather. His paternal great grandfather, Captain James Clark, was among the defenders of Hannastown when it was attacked in 1782 by Indians and Canadians and burned it to the ground.

The Man behind the House: Silas Clark
Silas M. Clark

Silas and his family moved to Indiana when Silas was about a year old. His father was in business for 37 years as a tannery operator and held the offices of school director and justice of the peace. Silas only received a basic education in the public schools; at the age of 14 he began attending the Indiana Academy, which was the first institution of learning equivalent to a high school. His classmates included: Matthew S. Quay, who later became Pennsylvania’s Republic “boss,” and Harry White, later serving as judge and Congressman. Not only was Clark studying at the Academy, he also worked on his father’s farm and carried the mail for a year between Indiana and Blairsville.

Once his education was complete at the Indiana Academy, Mr. Clark entered Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Washington County (now known as Washington & Jefferson College). In 1852 at the age of 18 he graduated fifth in a class of sixty people. Following graduation, he became a teacher at the Indiana Academy, for two terms, instructing 45 young men.

It was in 1854 that Mr. Clark began the study of law at the office of William M. Stewart, an Indiana attorney who later became Solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1856, Clark founded, along with Joseph M. Thompson and John F. Young, a Democratic newspaper, The Democratic Messenger. After a few months, Clark sold his interest in the paper, which later became the Indiana Messenger.

In September 1857, at age 23, Clark was admitted to the Indiana County Bar and the following year he became a junior partner of attorney Stewart. The firm of Stewart & Clark was said to have had the “largest and most lucrative practice in Indiana County.” The partners are believed to have never had a written agreement and never had a disagreement. Their association continued for sixteen years until 1873 when Stewart moved to Philadelphia; Clark continued the practice alone. His office was in the Edward Nixon house, North Sixth Street, which is now the Delaney automobile lot.

Clark’s next move was into the political world, being elected to Indiana Borough Council in 1859, and he was reelected in 1861 and 1865. In 1869, he was elected a school director for the borough and continued to hold this position for many years. It was said, “To his [Clark] judgement and energy are the public schools (of Indiana) are largely indebted for their prosperity.”

His law practice quickly attained a reputation as “a strong and logical reasoner and an eloquent advocate.” His personal inclination was to shun litigation wherever possible and settle cases peaceably out of court. It is claimed that Clark never sued anyone himself nor was he sued by anyone. Much can be said about Clark as a lawyer by the following quote, “Whether arguing questions of law before a court or questions of fact before a jury, the strong points of his case were so forcibly presented that the weak ones were likely to be lost altogether.”

In his personal life, Clark married Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead on April 26, 1859. She was not related to Silas’ mother’s line.

The Family behind the House
Clarissa Elizabeth Moorhead Clark

Clark’s political career continued, on July 4, 1862 while in Harrisburg attending a State Democratic Convention, he was elected chairman of the Indiana County Democratic Committee. Now during this time, the Civil War was raging, and many people looked upon Democrats with suspicion as “Secessionists” and “Copperheads” allied with their rebellious brethren in the South. Clark made a proposal that both Republicans and Democrats of Indiana County, who had previously announced public meetings for the same day, cancel the meetings and campaign without political meetings; Clark pointed out that “the present is indeed no time for partisan strife.” The Republican candidate for Congress, was Clark’s law partner, William M. Stewart. But Clark received no reply to his proposal, so he suggested a joint meeting of both parties, but I.M. Watt, the Republican chairman, declined to consider either idea.

As Clark’s professional and political career prospered, he began the erection of his mansion in 1869. During construction, a newspaper item in October mentioned that he had been struck on the head by a failing brick and he was somewhat stunned for a few hours. The location of the home was on the site of the old academy, where Clark had attended as a boy, and had burned in 1864. The house was said to cost $12,000 and was completed in 1870. It was during this time that, without his knowledge, Clark was nominated by some friends at the State Democratic Convention for Justice for the State Supreme Court. He received forty or fifty votes, but the choice of the Convention was Cyrus L. Pershing.

This was just the beginning of Clark’s career in the judicial-political sphere. In 1871, he was unanimously chosen as the Democratic candidate for President Judge of the Tenth Judicial District – consisting of Armstrong, Indiana, and Westmoreland Counties – but Clark was defeated by James A. Logan of Greensburg. Logan was a solicitor for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and on Election Day trains were sent out along the PRR lines in the three-county area to haul voters to their polling places free of charge. Even though these tactics were employed, Logan only had a majority of some 400 votes. In the years that followed Clark declared “Judge Logan was a good, able and just judge.” By this time, Attorney Clark was considered one of the best attorneys in Indiana County.

Clark did not give up running for office, he was successfully elected on October 8, 1872 as a delegate from the 24th Senatorial District to the Convention which framed a new Pennsylvania Constitution. As a member of the Convention, he was named to a committee to make rules for governing the Convention; he also served on the Declaration of Rights Committee, Committed on Private Corporations, and the Revision and Adjustment Committee.

Again in 1874 Clark was nominated for the State Supreme Court, receiving 41 votes, but he was once again defeated with the nod going to W.J. Woodward.

Clark continued to be active in both business and politics. He was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis in 1876, in which Samuel J. Tilden for President. It was said “Silas M. Clark is not one of those men who avoid politics as a filthy pool in which honest men should not dabble. He holds it the right and duty of every good citizen to vote; he recognizes that good men should not shirk their share in party management.” In 1879, he was elected to serve as president of the First National Bank. He also served several terms as president of the Indiana County Agricultural Society.

In 1882, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania, unanimously chose him as its nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Following the Election of November 7, 1882, the entire Democratic ticket has been elected. Clark was elected, and surprising had won Indiana County, breaking a rule since the days of Andrew Jackson that no Democrat could carry the county.

Once the Indiana County Court adjourned on December 23, 1882, the members of the Bar organized and passed resolutions “highly complimentary of the character and ability of Judge Silas M. Clark” who severed his long connection with the county attorney’s association. On December 28, General White entertained the members of the Bar and other guests at an evening party in honor of the Supreme Justice-elect. The following day, Clark left to take his seat on the bench of the high court, with a salary of $8,000 per year.

Clark was highly esteemed on the bench, “his opinions, always brief, were couched in the simplest and choicest language, and were as readily understood by laymen as by lawyers.” Clark was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Lafayette College in 1886. However, there was sorrow during his term as Justice, with the death of his wife, Clara, on January 17, 1887.

Following the death of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Morrison R. Waite in 1888, many Pennsylvania newspapers pointed to Justice Clark as being qualified for his replacement. However, this was not meant to be.

Clark House
Silas M. Clark House

Late in September 1891, while holding court in Pittsburgh, he suffered from a large carbuncle on the back of his neck, but he continued to sit on the Bench until early November when he was obliged to come home. His physicians could not do much and gave up all hope of his recovery. On November 20, he lapsed into a coma and died about 9:15 p.m. at the age of 57.

Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian Church Monday afternoon at 2:00 pm on November 23; this was a remarkable demonstration of respect and affection, and it is likely that Judge Clark would not have wanted all this fuss. The Courthouse was draped in black; business establishments were closed until 4:00. John Sutton Hall was also draped in black and the bell tolled during the services. The church was overflowing, every available seat upstairs and down was occupied, there were many standing in every possible space, and there were more than a hundred waiting outside. At 11:20 a.m. a special train arrived in Indiana carrying Governor Pattison and five of Clark’s fellow judges, plus attorneys, county and state officials and other judges. At the conclusion of the service, the processional to the cemetery was delayed permitting Normal School faculty and students to file by for a last farewell. Afterwards, hundreds of others who had been patiently waiting outside walked silently past. Justice Silas M. Clark’s final resting place in Oakland Cemetery is marked by a simple stone bearing the words “S.M. Clark.” This was fitting for such a humble man as Silas.

In 1893, a boy’s dormitory was built on the Normal School campus, and it was named “Clark Hall,” in Silas’ honor. After it burned in 1905, another was erected and rededicated on January 12, 1907. After an “open house,” there was a ceremony held in the chapel of John Sutton Hall where a large portrait of Justice Clark, festooned with carnations, hung on the wall above the rostrum. Attorney J. Wood Clark, a son of Clark, presided.

Members of the Clark family continued to reside in the house until 1915 when J. Wood Clark moved to Pittsburgh. The house was rented to F.M. Fritchman, General Superintendent of the R&P Coal Company, until January 19, 1917, when the surviving Clark heirs sold the house to the County Commissioners for $20,000 less $1,000 which was donated by the heirs. The intention was for the house to be a veteran’s memorial and so it was known for years as “Memorial Hall.” It served various veterans’ groups, patriotic organizations, the Red Cross during World War I and II, as civil defense headquarters, and the Historical Society; it was also used as a polling place.

The Clark House continues to serve the community as a museum for the Historical Society. It serves as a “time capsule” a look into the past to see how the Clarks would have lived. Come visit us for one of the many events held at the Clark House or set up a tour of the Clark House to learn more about this fascinating and interesting house.

Justice Elkin of the PA Supreme Court Decides in Favor of Brewery

The Indiana Brewery was built in 1904 by a Pittsburgh contractor, and received its first wholesaler’s license in 1905. Trouble arose three years later when the brewery applied for its annual manufacturing license.

Judge Stephen Telford, of the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas, denied the license. The reasoning behind his decision was the company was guilty of seven district offenses in violation of the liquor laws of Pennsylvania and because of the 5,000 reputable citizens of Indiana County, through petition, declared the Indiana Brewing Company unfit to have a license.

The brewery had operated throughout 1908 under a limited state license. In January 1909, Telford again denied the request for the annual manufacturing license. The case moved through the appellate system to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and in October 1909, they upheld the county court’s decision. But that was not the end of the Brewery Saga, it was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Justice Elkin wrote the majority opinion which reversed the lower courts. The reasoning, Justice Elkin wrote in his opinion that the evidence that was presented against the brewery – mainly the petitions – were not sufficient to force the closure of the brewery. The vote of the PA Supreme Court was a 4-3 vote. Justice S.L. Mestrezat wrote a strongly worded dissent which argued that the Court’s decision wrongly took away from the local court the right to grant beer licenses.

The brewery encountered further judicial problems from Telford, but it stayed in operation until the early 1920s. It is interesting to note that years prior to this decision, Justice Elkin worked for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors.

Justice Elkin: Politician, Lawyer, Community Leader

There are many professions that are held in high-esteem, one of those professions is the legal profession, and in the history of Indiana, the members of the legal profession show up frequently in the history and founding of many of the organizations and schools around the area. If you are familiar with the town of Indiana you have probably come across the Elkin Mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery, one of the focal points of the Cemetery. The name Elkin has a long history in Indiana, including having the name dedicated to one of the buildings on IUP’s campus. The story behind John Pratt Elkin is one that deserves a closer look.

John Pratt Elkin’s life began humbly as many in the early days of Indiana County; he was born January 11, 1860, in a log house in West Mahoning Township. He was the son of Francis and Elizabeth (Pratt) Elkin. The family moved to Smicksburg in 1868 where Francis opened a store and a foundry. Elkin, 8-years-old at the time helped in the store and also attended the local school. In 1873, the family moved again, this time to Wellsville, Ohio; it was here that his father and several others established a tin mill, where young John worked, but by the end of 1874, the venture failed.

elkin
Justice John P. Elkin

The family returned to Smicksburg in the fall of 1875 where John (only 15 years old) began teaching after passing his teacher’s examination, and when the school closed in the spring of 1876, he enrolled in the Indiana Normal School (now IUP). He continued teaching and his schooling in the summer months; after this he borrowed some money so that he could remain in school a full year and graduated in 1880.

After teaching for a year, John entered the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, graduating in 1884. Elkin was enrolled in a class of about one hundred twenty-nine students, and he was ranked among the leading students of his class. It was during his law school career that Elkin decided to be a candidate for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives for the Republican primary and conducted his campaign by correspondence. A week after graduation, Elkin won the nomination. It was at the same time that he married Adda Prothero, a daughter of John P. and Sarah (Clark) Prothero. Elkin won the election in November 1884 and served two terms in the House representing Indiana County in 1885 and 1887.

On September 14, 1885, Elkin was admitted to the Indiana County Bar. It was during the first session of the House in 1885, that he framed and introduced a bill to prohibit the manufacture and sale of oleomargarine (a fatty substance extracted from beef fat and used in the manufacture of margarine) and it was successfully enacted into law.

In the 1887 session, Elkin was chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Reform and worked for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Interestingly enough, in his later life as Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Elkin authored the majority opinion which enabled the Indiana Brewery Company to obtain their liquor license (see a future blog post).

Elkin also served as a delegate to the state Republican Convention in 1887. Just the previous year, he was named a trustee of the Indiana State Normal School and continued in that capacity for the rest of his life (29 years), the last 17 years he was vice president.

It was in 1887 that Elkin also began business as a partner with Henry and George Prothero, opening up mines in the Cush Creek area. Elkin always believed in the profitable operation of the coal lands. The partners also secured a railroad from Mahaffey to Glen Campbell and sold part of the coal lands to the Glenwood Coal Co.

Elkin’s political career however was not over. Elkin served for five years as chairman of the Republic State Committee and in 1898, he conducted the successful campaign of William A. Stone for governor. He was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 1899 and served until 1902. Elkin himself was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 1902, unfortunately he was defeated by Samuel W. Pennypacker.

After serving as Deputy Attorney General, he returned to Indiana County to practice law. It was in April 1904 that Elkin received the nomination for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and in November 1904 he received overwhelming support, with his majority being 425,000 votes over his Democratic opponent. On January 1, 1905, Justice Elkin began his term as associate justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in which he served until his death on October 3, 1915. Justice Elkin was also favorably considered by the President for a seat on the United State Supreme Court in 1912, but was not chosen. Justice Elkin was considered as a candidate for the United States Senate seat in 1915, but at the time Elkin was serving on the PA Supreme Court and when asked about this possibility Elkin stated “As you know I am on the bench and am out of politics. Just now I am busy writing opinions on cases before the supreme court and have no time to even think of such matters. I am out of politics.” And John P. Elkin would never return to politics.

Justice Elkin, passed away on October 3, 1915, his funeral services were attended by hundreds of people from all over the state and nation. More than 5,000 people lined the roadway in Indiana as the Elkin funeral passed, this included many students from Indiana Normal School. It was after his death that the Elkin Mausoleum was erected in Oakland Cemetery.

Elkin Mausoleum
Elkin Mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery, Indiana, PA