Pennsylvania USGenWeb Archives

Clearfield County

History of Clearfield County


Lewis Cass Aldrich

published 1887


Chapter 10



This page was last updated on 23 Apr 2011










 Chapter 10












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Page 82

FROM 1810 TO 1843.

Pioneer Settlements After 1810 -Population in 1810 -The First Murder -Events of the
War of 1812-15 --Peace-Election Districts Prior to 1843 -Record of the Floods on the
West Branch -The Pumpkin Flood -Drowning of John and Ellis Graham -Gorges at the
Pee Wee’s Nest.


     DURING the early years of the present century, settlement by families in the newly created county was exceedingly slow, and every effort toward improvement was opposed by incredible hardships, privations, and toil. Upon the families who came here earlier than the year 1810, fell the brunt of the battle for colonization and existence. All honor, then, to those sturdy, determined pioneers-all honor to their families, their wives, their children, who by patient and unceasing toil laid the foundation upon which the county has since been built and enlarged by new-comers. At this time a comparatively small portion of the county had been settled, and no attempt had yet been made at improvement in the districts of the county away from the water-courses. The vast wooded country on the north and northwest was, as yet, unexplored, and only an occasional path leading into timbered districts, was known; but, as the land on the streams was gradually taken up and improved, the new immigrants were obliged to work their way into the hitherto unoccupied regions. Of the many that came, some few turned back down the river and across the county, to the more thickly settled country on the east. The early families on the east side of the county were mainly from Centre county, while those on the south and southeast came from Huntingdon and the counties beyond.






Page 83
FROM 1810 TO 1843.

Settlement began but exceedingly slow in the western part.  James Woodside, Joab Ogden, and a very few others had made homes there, but the larger streams and their valleys received the new-comers. For about two years preceding the war with Great Britain, in 1812-15, many new residents came and settled in various sections ; but during, and subsequent to that struggle, settlement and improvement by particular families became almost wholly lost in the general growth and prosperity. In 1810 the county had a population of about nine hundred, and at the end of the next decade of years it was increased nearly threefold. In 1808 there were but three election districts in the county - Chincleclamousche, Bradford, and Beccaria. Among the settlers and families that came to the county about the years 1810-15, the names of some can be given.

     Thomas Kirk came from the township of Half Moon, Centre county, and made a clearing upon which he built a cabin. His family came the year following, 1811. He died after a few years, and was buried at the old graveyard near the present county seat.

     Soon after, John Kirk, a brother of Thomas, came to the county and located on the west side, in what is now Brady township.

     The family of Lebbeus Luther came to the settlements on the river about this time, but in 1820 he left the river and moved to the locality of Luthersburg, which was named in his honor, on the old Susquehanna and Waterford turnpike. He was made agent for the Fox lands, and also kept a tavern at that place. In 1828 Lebbeus Luther was made sheriff of the county. He afterwards went to Elk county.

     Samuel Johnson made a settlement near where Pennville now stands, about the year 1810. From him has descended some of the substantial families of the county.

     George Philip Geulich came to the county in 1811, as a representative of the Allegheny Coal Company, for the purpose of examining the coal fields which were reported to be in the county. He, and a companion, remained through the winter, staying with the family of Alexander Read. On information given by Geulich, the Ringgold tract on Clearfield Creek was bought, and the company afterward purchased about four thousand acres across from the Moshannon, in the Karthaus locality. George Philip Geulich married Sarah Haney, who bore him ten children. In 1830 he was chosen county treasurer. Geulich township, in the south part of the county, was named in honor of George Philip Geulich.

     Alexander B. Reed was born in Lancaster county in 1786. At the age of twenty-five years, while at Big Island, he met John Ferguson and came with him to this county, in the winter of 1811. He made his home for a time with the family of Hugh Hall. In 1815 he married Rachel Read, and took up lands about a mile north of Hall’s place, but did not occupy it at once. The chil-




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dren born to Alexander B. and Rachel Reed were: Maria Jane, who married William Bigler, late govenor of the State; Henrietta Ann, Read A., George Latimer, William Milton, and Rebecca, who married John F. Weaver.  William Reed, father of Alexander B. Reed, did not come here until 1813.  Alexander B. was familiarly known as "Black Alex.," to distinguish him from Alexander Read, who was called "Red Alex."  The children of Maria J. (Reed) Bigler by her marriage with William Bigler, were: Reed, John W., William D., Edmund A., and Harry F.  William Bigler was elected governor in 1851.  George Latimer Reed married Sarah E. Weaver.  The children of William Reed, the father of Alexander B., were: Isabella, Jane, Sally, James, Alexander B., Betsey, Polly, and William.

     About the time that the war of 1812-15 broke out, a number of families came to the county from New Jersey, and other parts of the east. Among them was William B. Wright, who located in the vicinity of Glen Hope. One of his sons, A. K. Wright, became a prominent figure in local affairs, having held the offices of sheriff and associate judge. Another son, John W., was chosen county treasurer and justice of the peace. Benjamin B. Wright was also a prominent personage.

     Dr. Keagy, a relative *of the Wright family, came here about the same time, or soon afterward. He located about a mile below Wright’s, on the creek.


     Amasa Smith also settled near the site of the present hamlet of Janesville, and became proprietor of “ Smith’s Mills.”

     George Shaffer became one of the pioneers of the west part of the county, now Sandy township, in 1812. He had a wife and four sons - George, John, Frederick, and Michael - all of whom came here together. They settled south of Sandy Lick Creek.

     Three brothers -James, Benjamin, and Thomas Carson-located about a mile west of Luthersburg. They came from Westmoreland county in the year 1814.

     In the same year Joseph Packer located in that vicinity. He bored for salt at Luthersburg, but found none of that commodity.

     Daniel Barrett was born in Centre county. He came to this county in about the year 1813 or ‘14, and located at Curwensville. His children were : Maria, Keziah, George R., James C., Isaac L., Enoch L., Henrietta, and Philo W.

     James I. Thorn came to the mouth of Little Clear-field Creek in the year 1814 at which place he built for Robert Elder, of Half Moon, Centre county, a tavern, a saw-mill, and a woolen, or fulling-mill, as it was better known. Mr. Elder never resided in this county, but owned a tract of land and employed Thorn to erect the buildings. This was about the first fulling-mill built in the county. The children of James I. Thorn were : Joseph, George, Boswell C., Thetes P., and Hannah.





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FROM 1810 TO 1843.

     In the year 1813 the townships of Lawrence and Pike were carved out of old Chincleclamousche, and the early settlement of the families within their boundaries becomes a part of those townships.

     It was about this time that the first murder was committed within the boundaries of Clearfield county. James Monks shot and killed Reuben Giles while the latter was passing along the old State road, about three miles from Curwensville. The facts, as near as can be ascertained, are these : Giles was traveling along the highway on horseback. He was well dressed, and his
appearance indicated that he might be possessed of considerable money. He met Daniel Barrett and inquired for the nearest tavern, and was informed that he would have to turn back a distance of about one and a half miles to Nancy Ross’s. He then asked the distance to the next tavern ahead, and Mr. Barrett told him it was about three miles to the place kept by Wrigley. Giles said he thought he could get there before dark, and started on his journey. Daniel Barrett was the last man that saw Giles alive, except Monks. The latter had been in the settlement attending a shooting match, and hunting. When Giles’s body was found, suspicion rested on Monks, and a search was made for him. He was traced down the river to the Karthaus vicinity, and from thence to Milesburg. He took this unusual route in order to keep as much as possible away from the regularly traveled road, and avoid discovery. He was arrested, and tried at Bellefonte, and found guilty. In a confession made just before he
was to be hung, Monks said he waited until Giles had passed him on the road, and then shot him in the back, robbed the body and concealed it it among some logs just off the road.

     War of 1812-15. During the five years next preceeding the year 1812 the whole country was in a state of nominal peace and an era of prosperity; but still throughout these years there was gathering in the political horizon a dark cloud, which was to plunge the nation into another foreign war.

     In 1776, and the years following, America fought Great Britain for her independence, and achieved a recognition among the powers of the earth.

     In 1812 she again engaged in war against the mother country, to maintain that independence which in years past had been forcibly acquired.

     The United States had scrupulously observed the provisions of the treaty of peace made with Great Britain at the close of the Revolution. There had been maintained, too, a strict neutrality during the progress of the Napoleonic war with the British kingdom, when perhaps every consideration of gratitude should have induced a participation in it as against the mother country. For several years the aggressive acts of the British had been a subject of anxiety and regret, and feelings of animosity increased on this side of the Atlantic.  The embargo laid by Congress upon the shipping in American ports was found so injurious to commercial interests that it was repealed, and the non-intercourse act passed in its stead. In April, 1809, the English ambassador in






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Washington opened negotiations for the amicable adjustments of exisiting difficulties, and consented to the withdrawal of the obnoxious "orders in council," so far as they affected the United States, on condition that the non-intercourse act with Great Britain should be repealed.  This was agreed upon, and the president issued a proclamation announcing that, on the 10th day of June, trade with Great Britain might be resumed.  The English government, however, refused to ratify the proceedings and the minister was recalled, whereupon the president revoked his proclamation, and the non-intercourse act again became operative.

     Beside the odious acts in the British parliament, injurious and insulting in their character, the English officers claimed the right to search American vessels, seize all who were suspected of being subjects of the king, and force them into their service. Under cover of this claim the greatest outrages were perpetrated, and by it many true and loyal persons were pressed into the service of Great Britain, both against their inclination and the well-established proof of their identity.

     On the 12th of June, 1812, President James Madison sent a confidential communication to Congress, in which he recapitulated the long list of the British aggressions, and declared it the duty of Congress to consider whether the American people should longer passively submit to the accumulated wrongs and insults perpetrated by the British, and at the same time he cautioned the House to avoid entanglements in the contests and views of other powers.

     War was formally declared on the 19th day of June, 1812, but the measure was not universally sustained in some parts of the Middle and New England States. The opposing element was embraced in the Federal party, its chief ground of opposition being the fact that the country was not prepared for war. The Federalists constituted a large and influential minority of the political element of Congress, and had a considerable following in the several States not in active politics. They asked for further negotiations, and met the denunciations made by the ruling party (that is, the Democratic and Republican, for it went by both names) upon the English government, with savage and bitter attacks on Napoleon, whom they accused the majority with favoring.

     The events of the war that followed we need not recall here. There was no conflict of arms within this Commonwealth, and no hostile foot was set on Pennsylvania soil. Governor Snyder issued a call for fourteen thousand militia, and so prompt and hearty was the response, that nearly three times that number prepared and volunteered for the service.

     The results of the struggle for right and justice, over wrong and oppression, are written in the conflicts on Lake Erie, the repulse of the invaders on the Delaware, the distressing scenes on the Chesapeake, the invasion of New York, and the attempt to control the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. The battle at Plattsburg, the capture of Niagara and Oswego, the burning of Newark,





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FROM 1810 TO 1843.

the battle at Black Rock, Lundy's Lane, and the occupation of poorly defended posts on the southern and southeastern frontier, the battle at New Orleans, the withdrawal and surrender of the British forces, and the final treaty of peace, which was ratified February 17, 1815.  The Americans had fought their last battle with a foreign foe.

     Early Election Districts.-An occasional reference has been made to the early election districts of the county. These locations were fixed from time to time as settlement increased in various localities, and a statement of the places at which they were held and established, will prove of some interest.

     On the 14th day of March, 1805, an act of the General Assembly declared the whole county of Clearfield to be an election district, and provided that the electors of the county should hold their elections at the house of Benjamin Jordon.

     Beccaria and Bradford townships were formed in 1807, and in the year following they were, with a part of Half Moon township of Centre county, formed into a separate election district, and the electors were, by the act of March 28, 1808, directed to hold their elections at the house of John Gearhart, in Bradford township.

     No further changes were made until the year 1813, when, by a law passed March 29th, that part of the township of Chincleclamousche lying on the waters of the Sinnamahoning, and a large country to the westward, was formed into a separate election district, and the electors thereof were directed to hold their elections at the house of Andrew Overdorf, at the forks of the Sinnamahoning Creek.

     A division was made in the Bradford district by an act approved March 24, 1817, which provided that Beccaria township and that part of Bradford lying south of an east line, beginning at the mouth of Wheatland Run and running thence direct to the Moshannon Creek, should form a separate election district, and the elections were directed to be held at the house of John Cree, in Beccaria township. The same act also provided that the portion of Rush township in Centre county lying west of the Allegheny mountains, and that part of Bradford township in Clearfield county, lying north of a line beginning at the mouth of Wheatland Run, and running thence direct to the Moshannon, should constitute a separate district, and that the elections should be held at the house of George Smeal, in Bradford township.

     In this same year a change was made in old Chincleclamousche township, by which the place of holding elections was changed from the house of Benjamin Jordon to the house of William Bloom.

     The organization of Covington township was completed in May, 1817, but it was not made a separate election district until 1818. The electors were directed to hold their elections at the house of Hugh Biddle, esq, in that township.





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     By virtue of a law passed April 2, 1821, the township of Lawrence was declared to be a separate district, and the electors were directed to meet for election purposes at the court-house, in the town of Clearfield.

     In 1822 the township of Fox and the west part of Gibson were formed into a separate district, and the elections were held at the house of James Green, sr., in Fox township.

     The place of holding elections in Covington township was changed by the act of March 31, 1823, from the house of Hugh Biddle to the house of Jacob Maurer. The same act further provided that the freemen of Gibson township should hold their elections at the house of Levi Hicks. The west part of Gibson had heretofore been annexed to Fox township for election purposes. Pike township was also directed to hold elections therein, at the house of James Blair in Curwensville.

     In 1828, by a law passed April 14, the place of meeting for elections was changed to the house of John Kyler.


     The same year Decatur was made an election district, and the electors thereof authorized to meet at the house occupied by Abraham Goss.

     Brady township was formed into a separate district at the same time, and the place of holding elections was fixed at the house of Lebbeus Luther, at Luthersburg.

     Chest township was first authorized by the act of April 6, 1830, to hold elections therein. The freemen were directed to meet at the house of William Mahaffey, but by a law passed April 4, 183 I, the place was changed to the house of John Smith, at New Washington.

     Parts of Gibson and Fox townships which lay adjoining, were formed into a district, and elections were ordered to be held at the house of Thomas Liggett, in Gibson township. This act was also passed in 1831.

     In the year 1832 three districts were provided for. The polling place in Pike was changed from the house of James Blair to the inn kept by Isaac Chambers. Fox was directed to hold elections at John Kyler’s, and Girard was made a separate district, and authorized to hold elections at Mordecai Livergood’s.

     By the act of April 9, 1833, elections in Gibson were appointed to be held at the house of William Montgomery ; and by a further act, passed April 15, 1835, the second Tuesday in February was fixed for holding such elections.

     Jordon was made a separate district in 1835, and the house occupied by James McNiel designated as the voting place. The same act changed the place of holding elections in Beccaria township to the house of William W. Feltwell.

     The laws of 1836 made four designations: Morris township elections were to be held at the house of William M. Hunter; Burnside, at the house of John Young ; Bell, at the house of Frederick Tamyar, and Chest at the house occu-





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FROM 1810 TO 1843.

pied by James Thompson.  Burnside and Bell townships were erected in 1835, and Morris one year later, hence these were original appointments.

     In 1838 the voting place in Pike was changed to the house of John Draucker, at Curwensville; Penn township was created into a separate district and voted at the old school-house on Spencer’s Hill; Boggs was also made a separate district, and the freemen thereof voted at the house of William Merrill, in Crammondale.

     By the laws of 1840 the township of Huston was made an election district, and the house occupied by Jesse Wilson was designated as the place of meeting. By the same act Ferguson was made a separate district, and the freemen thereof were directed to meet at the house of Thomas Davis, in that township.

     The place of holding elections in Morris was changed in 1842, to the house of Josiah Hunter. At the same time Covington and Karthaus were declared to be separate election districts ; the former [to] hold meetings at the house of Jacob Maurer, and the latter at the boarding-house of the Karthaus Iron Works, being the same place used when Karthaus formed a part of Covington.

     In 1842 the polling place in Decatur was changed to the house of John Goss; and in 1843 Burnside changed to the house of Wilson Owens, and Girard to the house occupied by George B. Smith.

     The election districts formed up to this time from the erection of the county in 1804, were established by the General Assembly for the convenience of the residents of the county, and without special reference to township lines, except as new townships were created from time to time. It will be seen that, by the gradual formation of the several townships, the original Chincleclamousche township has been absorbed by the subsequent erections, so that the name is entirely lost. The creation of new townships subsequent to about 1830 were but subdivisions of the older, although the election districts were formed, in frequent instances, from parts of already established townships; and a record of election districts subsequent to about the year 1843, is incidental to the record of those townships to which they belonged, therefore further mention of them at this time is unnecessary.

     Floods on the West Branch.- It is a matter of almost annual occurrence that the waters of the West Branch and its tributaries rise to an unusual height. At the breaking up of the ice in the river in the springtime, high water is, of course, expected, and the residents and property owners along the banks make preparation for that event, and place their movable property out of the reach of any such rise in the river as may destroy or carry it away. In early days these floods were not of such frequent occurrence as of later years, and this fact is attributable to the clearing up of the timber lands. When the country was well covered with forests the rays of the sun could not as readily reach the snow lying on the ground, and it passed off moderately with the gradually increasing warmth of the season, and, as a consquence, the country was not as





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frequently subjected to a sudden rise of the waters; but since the county has been mainly stripped of its protecting forests an annual rise is expected of greater or less extent, dependent on the amount of snow lying on the ground, and the character of the season generally.  Notwithstanding the usual precautions of the people, the river sometimes rises to a height not contemplated, and a destruction of property follows.  A few of these events is the purpose of this chapter to record.

     The first occasion upon which the river rose to an extraordinary height was in the month of November, 1811. There were no bridges on the river at that time, but those across the several streams in the county were almost entirely swept away. The crops of the season had not been fully gathered, and those on the lowlands were carried away by the waters. At times the surface of the water seemed literally covered with pumpkins swept from the fields along the river, and from that fact that this was ever afterward termed the “ pumpkin flood.” This event was not single to this locality, as a like flood occurred at at the same time on the north branch of the Susquehanna, which extended far up toward the head waters of that stream, and was there known as the “ pumpkin flood.” No serious damage was done to property in the locality of the West Branch, as settlement was in its infancy, but slight as the loss was, the burden of it was felt by the struggling pioneers.

     The next great flood occurred in the fall of 1847. The river became swollen from a heavy and continued fall of rain, and reached a height nearly as great as in the pumpkin flood, At this time the damage was greater, as fences, hay stacks, chicken-coops, dams, bridges, and lumber were carried away. The Ringgold Mill, the property of Kratzer & Barrett, was lifted from its foundation on Clearfield Creek, and carried into the river, thence down to Karthaus bridge, where it became lost. On the Sinnahmahoning Creek the destruction was also great. A small house, in which was a woman and three children, was floated down stream several miles, but fortunately none were drowned.

     About Christmas time in the year 1851, there came another sudden rise in the streams. A heavy body of snow had fallen, and was followed by a warm rain, causing the river to rise very rapidly. The county seat was entirely surrounded, and as court was in session, much anxiety was created on account of the fact that those attending court were unable to reach home. Large quantities of lumber were carried away and lost at this time.

     In 1861, during the month of October, occurred another unusual rise in the river, caused by heavy rains. The damage to the crops was severe, and quantities of lumber, shingles, and other property were lost. At this time the waters were higher than in 1847. The freshet of ‘47, as it has been called, was also termed the ” pumpkin flood,” from the fact of its occurring at the time when that product was still in the fields, and all in reach of the overflowing streams were swept away. No other serious damage was done by the flood of 1847.





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FROM 1810 TO 1843.


That flood and the rise in 1811, are frequently confused by the term "pumpkin flood" applying to each.

The greatest destruction, both of property and life, was experienced in the memorable flood on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1865. This was not, by any means, confined to the country drained by the West Branch and its tributaries; in truth, the damage caused here on that occasion was as little felt as anywhere in the Middle States. The whole country of the Susquehannas, the Chenango, the Allegheny, the Ohio, the Genesee, the Delaware, and other like streams was completely inundated. On the north branch of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers the waters reached a height unequaled either before or since, and a great loss of property and life resulted. In this locality on the West Branch, bridges, dams, lumber and rafts, houses and out buildings, fences, and every movable thing in the path of the mighty torrent were swept away. John Graham, of Graham township, was drowned while trying to cross Moravian Run in order that he might save a raft. The bridge had been carried out, and Graham tried to cross on a pole. The pole broke and he was thrown into the stream. Ellis Graham, of Goshen township, was also drowned on the same day by falling into the river from a raft that he was trying to secure. There was but little rain to aggravate the flood of 1865. An unusual body of snow lay on the ground, and a very warm wind blew steadily from the south for three or four days. In its early stages this might be aptly termed an ice-flood, but the greatest height of water was reached after the ice had passed down the river.

In the spring of 1884 another destructive ice-flood occurred, by which the iron bridge built to replace the “Goodfellow bridge,” was carried off its piers and borne on the floating ice to a point nearly opposite to the Beech Creek station, where it sunk to the bottom of the river. On its passage down it struck and carried off the west part of the Market street bridge at Clearfield, and still further down struck the covered bridge leading to West Clearfield, but did not cause much damage thereto.

There have been other destructive floods on the river at various times, but these are the principal ones worthy of mention. At a bend in the river known as the “ Pee-wee’s nest,” the ice very frequently gorges and causes an overflow along the river for many miles above that point, but the country below is not often affected by it. From that cause the residents up the valley of the river are subject to almost annual floods upon their premises, resulting from the filling up of the channel at the “ Pee-wee’s nest.”





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