Crawford County, Pennsylvania
History & Biography
BOUNDARY—LANDS—EARLY SETTLEMENTS—ORGANIZATION—POPULATION—STREAMS—RAILROADS—TOPOGRAPHY—TIMBER—INDUSTRIES—SCHOOLS—POST OFFICES—LITTLE COOLEY—FIRST SETTLERS—INDUSTRIES, ETC.—CHURCHES.
ATHENS, first in alphabetical order, was the last, or one of the last townships of Crawford County to become permanently settled. It is situated in the northeast part of the county, and is bound by Bloomfield on the north, by Rome on the east, by Steuben on the south, and by Richmond and Rockdale
on the west. The southern part is included within the Seventh Donation District, the northern part within
the Eighth Donation District. Between the two is a wedge-shaped " gore," extending east and west, and
having an average width in this township of about a fourth of a mile. It was produced by carelessness
and the consequent inaccuracy of the early surveys. While in other regions surveys sometimes
overlapped each other, causing a confusion of conflicting titles, this narrow strip or gore between the
Seventh and Eighth Districts remained unsurveyed and was without claimants. It was afterward settled
as State land. There were, however, conflicting claims to the military tracts embraced within the
township. James D. Minnis, a prominent and well-informed resident of the township, states in an
historical article that two surveys had been made, the Doe and the Herrington, which did not conform to
each other, and created litigation and much anxiety. The Nickleson heirs laid claim to a great portion of
the land, by virtue of a mortgage, alleged to have been granted them by the Commonwealth. The tracts
were advertised for sale, and great consternation prevailed, but happily for the occupants and owners of
the lands, the State intervened and protected the settlers. Many of the tracts were owned by
Revolutionary soldiers or their representatives, scattered widely throughout the Union. Some of the land
was sold at tax sale, the validity of which was afterward successfully disputed. Altogether, the
inducements for an early settlement of the land was anything but inviting. Land was abundant and
cheap throughout the then great West, and the burden of leveling the gigantic forests was seldom
assumed without some assurance that the land thus wrested, after long-continued fatiguing exertions,
from a wilderness state, could be successfully held.
It was not until 1820, or shortly before, that the face of the country showed signs of an approaching
civilization. When the first settlers came they found in the township, in a cabin buried in the heart of the
forest, a solitary white man, by name John Smith, living in lonely seclusion, with only the wandering
Indians as companions. He had fled his native land, Ireland, near the close of the last century, on
account of political disturbances, and from Pittsburgh <page 496> made his way up the Allegheny River and Oil Creek to near its source; then left the stream, and proceeding to the ravine on what was afterward the Taylor Farm, Tract 1696, he erected a cabin. He made no attempt to secure the title to land, and effected but a slight clearing. His occupation was hunting, trapping and fishing, and at long intervals he made his way to distant posts and exchanged his peltry for the few commodities of life he desired. He often hunted with the Indians who encamped in this vicinity, and became their intimate friend. When the cabins of the foremost pioneers and the incisive strokes of the woodman's ax began to
encroach upon the extensive hunting grounds, Mr. Smith, like his dusky neighbors, took his final departure for parts unknown, probably to the deeper recesses of the wilderness, to live over again his life of solitude and obscurity.
The Tract on which the cabin of the hermit stood became, about 1820, the home of Dr. Silas Taylor, a
prominent pioneer. He was born of Puritan ancestry, in Massachusetts, February 18, 1787, and removed
to Tract 1696, in the northern part of Athens, from Genesee County, N. Y., where he had been engaged in the practice of medicine. He at once commenced the labor of land improvement, and at the same time followed his profession. He was the pioneer physician of this portion of the county, his field of practice spreading over Athens, Bloomfield, Rockdale, Sparta, Richmond, Rome, Steuben and Troy. His journeys were made on horse-back through indistinct and rugged bridle paths, and were often protracted late into the night or continued for days, yet his active practice yielded scarcely more than a bare subsistence. As a citizen, Dr. Taylor took an interest in public local affairs, and did much to improve the roads and the schools of his township. He reared a large family, was a prominent member of the Methodist Class at Centreville, and after residing most of his life in Athens, died at Batavia, N. Y., June 29, 1875.
Mrs. Sarah A. Taylor, the second wife and widow of Dr. Taylor, was a notable pioneer woman. She emigrated when a little girl with her father, Theodore Scowden, from the Susquehanna to what is now
Union Township, this county, in 1800. At an early age she married Capt. John Minnis, a soldier of the
war of 1812, and settled with him in Mercer County. He was a carpenter by occupation, and his
business often detained him from home till late at night, or sometimes for days, and she was sometimes
left alone in a large unfinished cabin standing near the border of a dense and dismal forest. One
evening, after awaiting her husband's return, and he not coming, she at last retired and composed herself
to sleep. In the course of the night she was awakened by the noise of a large animal climbing the side of
the house. Soon after she heard it spring to the loft above, which was only partially furnished with a
floor. Apprehending her extreme danger, she sprang from the couch and sought to rekindle the dying
embers, and thus keep off the ferocious animal, but only a few faint sparks remained, and the growls of
the hungry intruder attested its displeasure at this procedure. Retreating to the farther end of the room,
Mrs. Minnis took refuge in a large tea-chest which fastened with a spring-lock. Remembering the fate
of Genevra, she kept her fingers between the chest and lid. An instant later the savage creature leaped
upon the box, crushing her fingers. She fainted and remained unconscious until morning, then with
difficulty withdrew from her cramped position, and finding the animal gone, hastened with her frightful
story to the nearest neighbor. The panther, for such it proved to be, had devoured a quantity of fish and
meat suspended near the fireplace from a beam. Mrs. Minnis married Dr. Taylor in 1836, and remained
a resident of Athens Township until her death, which occurred at the residence of her son, November
15, 1883. <page 497> [portrait of Geo. P. Ryan] <page 498> [blank] <page 499> Among the earliest settlers of Athens were: Abraham Wheeler, Samuel Willis, Joseph King, Elder Hutchinson, John Shaubarger, Henry Hatch, Jonah Edson and Thomas Delamater. Abraham Wheeler was born in New Hampshire August 13, 1793, and in 1819 emigrated with his family, from Genesee County, N. Y., and settled on Tract 1597 in the northern part of the township. He was a man of great determination and force, which
he expended in clearing a large farm. Late in life he removed to Sparta Township, where he died March
17, 1876, leaving a large family. Samuel Willis settled in the northern part of Tract 1695. He was
somewhat eccentric in his manners, and on that account dreaded by some of his superstitious neighbors.
Mr. Willis in a few years removed elsewhere, and Bartlett Fuller, from Whitehall, N. Y., succeeded him
in the possession of this land, and remained its occupant until his death. Joseph King settled on the
"gore," about a half mile east of Little Cooley. He died a few years later and was buried on the farm.
Mrs. Sarah King, his widow, remained a resident on the place, and there died in extreme old age. Elder
Hutchinson was one of the earliest pioneers. He settled north of Little Cooley on a tract of waste land,
which is in the Eighth Donation District, but was left unnumbered, and consequently undrawn, on
account of its marshiness. The quality of the land has since improved by clearing and drainage. Mr.
Hutchinson died here about 1837, and his descendants still occupy the farm. He was a life-long farmer
and a Presbyterian. John Shaubarger, originally from Germany, emigrated from Westmoreland County
to Tract 1324, in the south-central portion of the township. He was a rough and rugged German, well
fitted physically to cope with pioneer obstacles and endure privations. By industry he cleared a large
farm which his descendants yet possess. Jonah Edson settled on Tract 1692, in the northeast part of
Athens, prior to 1820, and remained there until his death in 1848, at a ripe old age. Henry Hatch settled
on Tract 1319 in the south part of the township, where he still resides in the vigor of a hale and hearty
Other pioneers of Athens were: Charles Loop, William McCray, Elihu Root, Michael Dobbs, Timothy
Higley, Robert Cage, Ephraim Fuller, Samuel Rice, John Vancise, Thomas Bloomfield, Luther Merchant, William Clements, James Drake and Lewis Warren, all of whom were here prior to 1836. Charles Loop came from New York State and settled on the gore about a half mile east of Little Cooley. He was an early Justice of the Peace, and moved to Erie County. William McCray, a native of Ireland, settled on Tract 1689, in the northeast portion of the township, where at his death he left two daughters and three sons. Elihu Root obtained from the State a farm in Tract 1567, in the northwest part of the township. He remained its resident until death, and was buried on the place. Michael Dobbs was born in Canada near Lake Champlain, crossed into the United States to avoid conscription in the English army, was an expert hunter and trapper, and accoutred in huntsman's garb, passed much of his time in days gone by in the pursuit of game. He still resides on his old farm on Tract 1567, settled by him in
pioneer times. Timothy Higley, who hailed from Connecticut, settled in the south part of Tract 1797, where until death he followed farming. Robert Cage, a native of Harper's Ferry, in April, 1824, settled on Tract 1718 in the northwest part of the township, where he died in August, 1869. Ephraim Fuller came, an aged man, and resided until his death, with his son-in-law, Luther Merchant, who dwelt in the northeast part of the township on Tract 1689. Samuel Rice subsequently moved to the site of Riceville. John Vancise occupied the south part of Tract 1597, and later removed to Venango County. Thomas Bloomfield, Jr., of Bloomfield Township, settled on Tract 146 in the eastern part. <page 500> William Clements occupied Tract 1735, and died at Riceville. Lewis Warren dwelt on Tract 1690, and later removed to Richmond Township.
James Drake was born in Seneca County, N. Y., December 14, 1795; served as a private in the war of 1812; married Sallie Marvin in 1818, and in 1831 purchased 100 acres in Tract 1360, this township. He
did not at once occupy it, but by contract with Ebenezer Felton, of Boston, who owned several hundred
acres in the southern part of the township, he built for him a saw and gristmill on Muddy Creek in Tract
1357. A carding-machine and blacksmith shop were also added. Mr. Drake remained in charge of
Felton's Mills about twelve years, then moved to his farm on Tract 1360, where he remained engaged in
farming until his death, January 25, 1876. Felton's Mills was an important place for a time. A
flourishing business was transacted, and employment was given to about fifteen persons, among whom
were: Levi Burdsley, Warren Terrill, Joseph Sair, Warren Fairbanks and Carlton Eaton. The mills suspended soon after Mr. Drake left them. Ebenezer Felton, the proprietor was a resident of Boston, and
spent a portion of his time in Athens Township managing his affairs.
The township was settled slowly. It was formed in 1829, the place of holding elections, by act of Assembly approved April 23, 1829, being fixed at the house of Ebenezer Felton. The original bounds
included the greater part of what is now Steuben. It is said that at the first election but twelve votes
were cast, seven of the votes constituting the Election Board. The population in 1850 was 928; in 1860,
1,192; in 1870, 1,317, and in 1880, 1,419. The township has an area of 17,156 acres, valued on the tax
duplicate of 1882 at $230,737. It is well-watered by Muddy Creek, which, flowing northwesterly with
its tributaries, drains the central and western part, and Oil Creek which flows southeasterly through the
eastern part. The Union & Titusville Railroad follows the course of the latter stream. The surface is
hilly and rolling. Along Muddy Creek some swampy land is found which has proved amenable to
drainage. The forests were composed of hemlock, pine, black oak, red oak, white oak, cherry, beech,
cucumber, white wood, soft maple, hard maple, lime or bass wood, chestnut, elm and ash. The soil is of
In early times shingles were about the only staple article of trade. They were made in large quantities and shipped by water to Pittsburgh and other cities. Quantities of black salts were then produced, and
their sale at Meadville furnished many pioneers with the means through which to pay their taxes. Lumbering is still carried on to some extent. Among the saw-mills now in operation may be mentioned Thomas Smith's water-mill on Muddy Creek, a mile above Little Cooley; Bidwell's water-mill, a mile below the village, and Stockwell's steam-mill in the northern part.
The first school in the township was taught in 1826 by Chelous Edson, in a cabin which stood in the
ravine on Tract 1692 in the northeast part of the township. Mr. Edson as teacher was followed by his wife, Miss Elvira Sizer, Joseph Langworthy, Darwin Taylor and Lydia Taylor. Six or eight years later Aaron Ellis, Columbus Edson and Charlotte Crouch were instructors. Daboll's Arithmetic, the English Reader, Webster's Spelling Book, with a little writing, embraced the course then taught. The next school was held in a log ashery on the Felton farm in 1831. Miss Wooster was the first teacher here; then Miss A. Curtis, and in 1834 Delos Crouch, a very noted teacher, gave instruction. The next school was held in the Langworthy settlement, then one was taught on Post Ridge, and afterward one at Hutchinson's, on Muddy Creek. The first good school building was erected in 1840, in the Taylor Subdistrict, through private contributions. It was clapboarded on plank, <page 501> ceiled within, and was well lighted and seated. Among the teachers of this school were: Prof. Bunham, of Rochester, N. Y., Chauncey B. Sellers, of Meadville, and James D. Minnis.
The first postoffice within the township was Taylor's Stand, established about 1830. Dr. Silas Taylor was Postmaster for twenty years, and, except several years, during which Mr. Southwick held the office,
James D. Minnis has been Postmaster since 1850. This office originally supplied Athens, Bloomfield,
Troy and parts of Richmond, Sparta and Rockdale. The mail was received once a week from Meadville,
and was carried on horseback. At first scarcely half a score of newspapers were taken throughout this
region. The postage on letters varied from 6 to 25 cents, according to the distance of their destination.
Little Cooley, the only village of the township, is located in the western part, near Muddy Creek. It contains two stores of general merchandise, two groceries, one hardware and one drug store, one hotel, a water grist-mill, a broom-handle factory, a cheese factory, two shoe shops, a wagon shop, a blacksmith shop, a United Brethren Church, a schoolhouse erected in 1884, and about twenty-five dwellings.
Charles Loop and Rev. Steele first settled here and engaged in the manufacture of shingles and tubs.
Their sojourn, however, was only temporary. Isaac A. Cummings was the first permanent settler,
commencing the demolition of the forest here about 1851. Nathan Southwick a little later opened the
first tavern. George Fleek and L. J. Drake successively pursued the same genial avocation. Mr. Drake
started the first store about 1852. Hosea Southwick a little later erected a saw-mill. He subsequently
converted it to a gristmill, which has ever since remained in operation. The growth of the settlement
gradually continued until it attained its present proportion.
The United Brethren Church at Little Cooley was formed about 1860, and among its early leading
members were: Joseph Barlow and wife, William Wright and wife, Horace Wright and wife, and William Bennett and wife. Early meetings were held in the schoolhouse until about 1867, when the present substantial house of worship was erected under the supervision of this society, many of the citizens in this vicinity, regardless of church affiliations, contributing to its construction. The society now numbers about thirty members, and is a part of French Creek Circuit, which includes four other appointments—Wilkin's and Maple Grove in Bloomfield Township, and Brown Hill and Kellogg's in Rockdale. Early pastors of this circuit were: Revs. H. Bedow, Joseph Hoyt, N. R. Luce, F. H. Herrick, Lansing McIntire, George Hill, D. C. Starkey and W. Robinson. Recently the following have filled this circuit: Rev. Lansing McIntire, 1876-77; R. Smith, 1878: N. C. Foulk, 1879-80; E. E. Belden, 1881-82;
W. H. Chiles, 1883.
The " Church of God," an Advent congregation, was organized with three members in 1855, by Elder
Charles Crawford. John Root, Alva S. Gehr and Mr. Bush were early members. The society has no
church edifice, but meets in a schoolhouse in the northwest part of the township in winter, and in the grove, " God's first temple," in summer. Elder John T. Ongley, of Bloomfield Township, is the present pastor.