History of Luzerne County Pennsylvania

H. C. Bradsby, Editor
S. B. Nelson & Co., Publishers, 1893

CHAPTER XXI. (continued)


Bears the name of the immortal Col. Zebulon Butler, always the first historical and cherished name connected with that of Luzerne county. It has a superficial area of thirty-one square miles, and the larger part of, in fact nearly the entire section, is arable land—the land of plenty and the quiet of the prosperous farmer's life. It is principally a part of the Sugarloaf valley, once the name of the entire valley along the Nescopeck. Here for more than a century the farmer has gone afield and tilled the soil. Originally it was all upland and valley, covered with a dense forest, and was a prolific hunting ground; then the woodsman came and felled the trees, and the numerous early sawmills along the creek cut the timber and it was carried away to market.

Butler township was made from territory of Sugarloaf in 1839. A part of the south of the township was taken off and added to Hazle township in 1861. The belief of Stewart Pearce, who was a careful historian, and he is confirmed by Moses Compeer and others of Northampton county's Revolutionary authorities, is that John Balliett was the "solitary and alone" first comer to make a home in this beautiful valley. Pearce says he had been one of the burial party who came to bury the victims of the Sugarloaf massacre, and, seeing that place so soon after the troubles and dangers were over, came and located. But the truth is now known [p.539] that Balliett had intended to be one of the party, but was prevented by sickness from coming, that he was deeply interested in the expedition, and when the party returned he spent much time with different members thereof and made close inquiries as to what they had seen on the trip. These described to him the valley in which they had buried the dead, the beautiful Nescopeck, flowing nearly through its center, the fish, the game and the broad, smooth, level acres of land on each side, and this fired Balliett's imagination, and very wisely he determined that he would seek it out and here make a home for himself and his posterity. The results of this determination, after more than a century, are with us to-day in the numerous descendants of John Balliett in this section of the county, who are and have always been among the prominent people of Luzerne county. Balliett, with wife and two children, came here from the south or Northampton county in 1784. His possessions were packed on the one horse he possessed, and the two small children, one of whom was probably Stephen Balliett, were in beegums strapped across the horse's back, while the husband and wife trudged afoot. In another place is given an account of the memorable voyage of this avant courier of the coming hordes of men, and the writer was shown by Mr. C. F. Hill the probable spot on the side of Buck mountain where the strap broke and the children in their respective "gums" went rolling about the mountain side. John Balliett, the first day after his arrival, built, put up, erected or constructed, as you please, the first residence, home, castle or dwelling in the valley. The architecture was "simple and sublime poles leaned against a big tree and covered with brush and leaves—and here the family slept, the boys, no doubt, too tired to even have nightmare dreams that they were still fast in the "gums" and rolling and tossing about the steep mountain side. John Balliett and wife dreamed in sweet content of their future home and its abundance and happy content—brave, as were all the pioneers, as to their ability to meet and overcome the obstructions that lay in their way, the years of toil and loneliness and the inevitable deprivations and of the distance from the world's older settlements. John Balliett settled here in 1784. It has been asserted, and has so found its way into print, that G. H. Reip (sometimes written Reab) came here as a settler in 1782, two years before Balliett; that he located on the Joseph Woodring place, and that he died in 1794 and was buried in the old German church cemetery. Those that followed Balliett, whether the same or the next year, is not certain, were Benner (Harry), Shobers, Dolphs, Hill, Bachelor and Spaides. There are now numerous descendants of these pioneers still here and in other parts of the county. The name of Spaide has been and is still spelled different ways. The early chroniclers generally spelled it S-p-a-d-e, but Spaide, Spaid, Spayd and Spayde are some of the many variations. Among the early settlers were Philip Woodring, Henry Davis, Andrew Mowery and George Drum. The latter's son, Abraham Drum, was high sheriff of Luzerne county at one time. His son, George, was father of Hon. G. W. Drum, of Conyngham. This was so long a part of Sugarloaf township that the reader is referred to the list of early settlers, as given in the account of that township, for the particulars of who were here up to 1835. Pearce says that Samuel Woodring as early as 1788 built the first saw and gristmill on Nescopeck creek. Both were very small in their way; the gristmill had one set of stones, which were "home made." Other authorities say that Woodring put up his mill on the Big Nescopeck, on the mill site of Straw & Sons, in 1813. The latter is the more reasonable story, as Mr. Stephen Balliett remembers, when he was ten years old, of going to mill many miles, over to Lizard creek, to Sultz's mill. Some time after 1800 the ancient mill story might have been repeated of the settlers of Butler, where the man and ox team went to mill, and in the long way and long wait had eaten every grain of corn, the load that the cattle could haul, and had to return home for more to grind. In the meantime the wife and children, waiting and looking for the man's return, were living along by calling "the fat part meat and the lean part bread."

[p.540] There were no "roller process" mills here in the other century, no more than was there a prevalence of gout or other diseases of the rich and fashionable Four Hundred. John Balliett located on the present John Beisel farm, about one mile from the village of Drums, west.

For an account of the Indians that lived at the mouth of the Nescopeck from 1742 to 1763, and also a reference to the Scotch and Friends who settled in the lower end of the valley, see account of "Sugarloaf massacre."

Two years after John Balliett had built the first log cabin in the valley, the house and contents were burned. He rebuilt, and he was so energetic and prosperous that in a little time he built the first frame house put up in the valley.

Little Nescopeck creek runs in the southwestern part of the township. Here Redmond Conyngham—perhaps the most prominent man of the early settlers—in 1809 built his sawmill on the M. Beishline land. In 1814 he built at the same place, on the opposite side of the creek, his gristmill. In 1820 Redmond Conyngham built a small gristmill on the Big Nescopeck, on the site of Straw's sawmill.

Sawmills were one of the early necessities. The valley, in order to be made, farms had to be cleared of its heavy growth of timber, and it took many sawmills to do the work. John Cowley was one of the enterprising citizens in this line, as he had several mills along the creek.

The necessary first carding-mill was built in 1810, on the Little Nescopeck, a short distance from where is now the "Mountain Scenery" house; the neighborhood was then called Ashville. The name is now unknown. The locality of the old carding-mill may be fixed in the mind by the information that it was on the Linderman land. The first woolen-mill was put up in 1835, by Philip Drum, a short distance from the carding-mill.

The pioneer schoolhouse, built of logs, stood near what is known as the German church, and went to decay many years ago.

John Balliett was the pioneer tavern keeper.

The first merchant in this township was Henry B. Yost, in 1832, on the place now owned by D. W. Jenkins, Sr. Mr. Yost was also the pioneer postmaster. The mails were received once a week, and the name of the office was East Sugarloaf. This was previous to the formation of the township of Butler.

George Hughes' sawmill, above Straw's, was built in 1833, and is still standing. The house where William B. Doud lives, owned by Mr. Straw, was built in 1812. The first weavers here were Michael Klouse, Elias Balliett and Jacob Schauber. They all lived a little southwest of Hughesville. The oldest graveyard in this township is the one in the corner of the lot opposite the Methodist Episcopal church.

At St. John's (Hughesville), called the latter name for George Hughes, Henry Benner built his sawmill in 1836, and in 1853 George Hughes built a gristmill, and in the spring of the year commenced to turn out a superior article of flour. It was for a long time known by no other name than Hughesville, situated about three miles north of Drums. Sheide & Werner opened soon after the first store in the place, and Henry Bermer a blacksmith shop; in 1868 J. W. Woodring opened a boot and shoe shop; in 1870 Stephen Krehns opened his tavern. The Germans built their St. John's church here, and when it came to naming a postoffice, necessity compelled a change of the name from Hughesville, and so it became St. John's—quite a little trading point for the surrounding farmers. The St. John's church was organized in December, 1799.

Drums is the principal village in Butler township. It is in the heart of a rich agricultural section and is on the old State road leading from Hazleton to Wilkes- Barre, about six miles from the former, its natural trading point, and between Big and Little Nescopeck.

Honey Hole is the name of a hamlet in the east part of the township on the Nescopeck, where is quite a pond near the junction of the forks of the creek. Quite a collection of houses here and a sawmill that was one of the mills of A. Pardee & [p.541] Co. The road from Upper Lehigh passes northwest through Hell Kitchen on to Honey Hole, and from there to St. Johns (Hughesville).

The noted mine tunnel, described elsewhere, is dug through the valley to empty into the creek. It looks like a young canal, except there is a brisk current to its waters.

The "Mountain Scenery" house is built on the mountain side, and from the upper portico is presented an entrancing view of the valley and the opposite hills. A view from this point richly repays the visitor.

History of Luzerne County Pennsylvania; H. C. Bradsby, Editor
S. B. Nelson & Co., Publishers, 1893
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Updated: 17 Oct 2003