Crawford County, Pennsylvania
History & Biography
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ORIGINAL BOUNDARIES—PRESENT LIMITS—POPULATION—PHYSICAL FEATURES—EARLY
MILLS—LAND TITLES—EARLY SETTLERS—OTHER MILLS—FIRST
SCHOOLS—ROADS—MILLER'S STATION—CHURCH—CEMETERY—BROWN HILL.
ROCKDALE TOWNSHIP was created October 8, 1800. Its boundaries as then established were as follows: beginning at the mouth of Woodcock Creek: thence up said creek to where the same
intersects the western line of the Seventh Donation District; thence north along said line to the northwest <page 606> corner of said district; thence east along the north line of said district, ten
miles to the western line of the township of Oil Creek; thence north along said line to the northern boundary of Crawford County; thence west along said boundary to French Creek; thence down said creek by the various courses thereof to the mouth of Woodcock Creek, the place of beginning. These limits included the greater part of present Woodcock, the northern part of Richmond, the northwest corner of Athens, the western part of Bloomfield, the south part of Cambridge, and all of Rockdale that lies east of French Creek. The township was re-formed almost as it now exists in 1829, the portion west of French Creek having been part of Venango Township previous to that date. It is one of the northern townships, bounded on the north by Erie County, on the east by Bloomfield Township and a corner of Athens, on the south by Richmond and on the west by Cambridge. It contains 20,953 acres, and in 1850 had a
population of 1,086; in 1860, of 1,638; in 1870, of 1,664; in 1880, of 1,603. French Creek, by its southern and westward course separates the northwest portion from the main body of the township. Muddy Creek, a stream of considerable size, enters from the southeast and reaches French Creek a little west of the township center. Kelly's Run is its principal tributary, draining the northeast portion of the township, and entering Muddy Creek near its mouth. The valleys of the streams are low and level, and their soil a rich alluvium. Low hills rise beyond and lead to a rolling surface, the soil of which is a mixture of clay and sand. Along Muddy Creek in early
times, a marsh expanded to the distance of almost a mile. Most of this has yielded to systematic drainage, and is now excellent farming land. Hemlock, black ash, beech and maple grew in the low lands, and on higher ground the chief varieties of timber were pine and oak with a little chestnut and other growths.
A few individual tracts were entered in this township; a considerable portion consists of Holland Land tracts, but the greater part belongs to the Eighth Donation District. The first improvement was made by the Holland Company, through its agent Maj. Roger Alden. He erected a saw-mill on Kelly's Run, near the east line of Tract 124, probably as early as 1799 or 1800. It was a little flutter-wheel mill, having no gearing, and was driven by an undershot wheel. George Fetterman, then Anthony Matson operated it. The mill was used for many years, and its ruins may yet be seen.
The Holland Land Company secured tenants for its tracts in this township at an early date as shown by the following contracts for settlement, dated usually but a few days prior to actual occupancy. Tract 104, Anthony Matson, 131 acres, February 12, 1802; Tract 105, George Fetterman, 137 acres, December 21, 1798, deed executed April 3, 1806; Tract 106, Calvin Frisbee, 143 acres, November 12, 1798, deed executed June 12, 1810; Tract 107, Samuel Blair, 150 acres, November 14, 1798, annulled in 1802; Andrew Lytle same tract, 200 acres, August 11, 1803, deed executed to William Dundass, assignee; Tract 115, George Fetterman, 150 acres, December 20, 1798, claim relinquished; Tract 116, Hugh McCullough, 150 acres, November 6, 1797; Tract 117, Patrick McCullough, 150 acres, November 14, 1797, deed delivered March 12, 1807; Tract 118, Patrick McCullough, 150 acres, November 14, 1797, deed delivered; Tracts 119, 120 and 121, first sale in 1815; Tract 122, George Pack, 150 acres, March 2, 1802, deed
executed to Joseph Hackney, assignee, December 22, 1807; Tract 123, sold to Archibald Davidson, in 1805; ejectment pending in Circuit Court of the United States; Tract 124, deed executed to Roger Alden for 314 acres, February 3, 1800; Tract 135, Peter Young, 100 acres, February 4, 1802, deed executed April 8, 1807; Tract 143, Godfrey and Joseph Aberitt, 100 acres, September 10, 1796.
George Fetterman commenced his settlement in the northern part of the township, but soon after was engaged by Maj. Alden to run the company's saw-mill. He removed to the mill and remained until about 1808, when he embarked with his family and household goods in a flat-boat, and descended French Creek to parts nknown. Anthony Matson likewise had commenced an improvement in the northern part of the township, and also owned land in Erie County. He came to this region unmarried, and dwelt for a while with Fetterman at the mill. He married Patty Heatley and remained in charge of the mill for many years after the departure of his
predecessor. About 1824 he removed to the south part of Erie County, where he died. Calvin Frisbee was a resident of Erie County near the line, as was also Andrew Lytle. Samuel Blair commenced a settlement on Tract 107, but as the records show, he was obliged to vacate and remove elsewhere; William Dundass was here for a short time only. Hugh and Patrick McCullough, natives of Ireland, were among the earliest settlers. They remained on their respective tracts until death. George Pack cleared a few acres on Tract 122, and then left the
country. His assignee, Joseph Hackney, was a resident of Meadville. Archibald Davidson and the Aberitts are not remembered. Peter Young settled on Tract 135, and afterward purchased and removed to a farm on Tract 1,599, in the western part of the township near French Creek, where he remained till death. He came from the eastern part of the State, and in addition to farming, manufactured the shoes for his pioneer neighbors.
Isaac Kelly, originally from New Jersey, emigrated from Northumberland County, this State, and settled in Bloomfield Township. Soon after and in the spring of 1800, having heard of a vacant, unsurveyed body of land at the mouth of Muddy Creek, he removed to it, and a little later secured a patent for it. He was a wheelwright by trade, and manufactured chairs, spinning wheels, etc., for a time, but cleared his land and turned his attention to farming as rapidly as possible. About 1817 he erected the first grist-mill in the township, and operated it until his, death in 1832. He was a Baptist, and died leaving eight children.
Moses Heatley was one of the earliest settlers. Robert Still, who married one of his daughters, was another. Mr. Still was a "shingle weaver" or maker, splitting the shingles, then shaving them to a proper smoothness. He remained in the township till death. George Teeters made an early improvement on Tract 123, but soon moved away. Isaac Willis, a weaver, came about 1802 from the Susquehanna. His son is now a resident of the township.
William Carnahan about 1799 came from Northumberland County and settled on a tract on Muddy Creek, within the Eighth Donation District, but which was held as waste land, and not numbered on account of its marshiness. He obtained it at a nominal price, and made a small improvement on a small portion which was dry and fertile. A few years later he sold it to John Hayes and removed to Allegheny County. Mr. Hayes was a native of Delaware. Robert Hutchinson about 1812 removed from Woodcock Township to this—Hayes—tract and remained there till his death, many years later. Henry Minium, George Peiffer, Peter Stone and Jacob and
William Kepler settled early in the east part of the township on Holland land, but in view of impending litictation they removed to Woodcock Township and elsewhere.
The township settled slowly like other portions of the county where Donation land prevails.
John Hammond about 1812 settled at Brown's Hill in the southeast part, and about the same time Arthur Jervis arrived from Fayette County. Nathan Mitchell, a native of Massachusetts, in 1802 came to the <page 610> township from Canada, where he had resided four years, and settled on the east bank of French Creek near the north line of the township.
One of the earliest settlements west of French Creek was made by George Miller. He was of
German descent, and prior to 1802 emigrated from the Susquehanna Valley, and settled in the northern part of Richmond Township. About 1808 he removed to an undrawn 500 acre Donation Tract, No. 158, west of French Creek, and on which Miller's Station is located. He built his cabin on a small, rich prairie of about fifteen acres on the spot now occupied by the residence of Daniel Kelly, a short distance east of the station. Mr. Miller's mind was of a deep
religious cast, and though uneducated he resolved to preach the Gospel. He became the first pastor of a Baptist congregatian, organized in Rockdale Township in 1812, and which was subsequently removed to Cambridge. He labored as a minister for many years, and in addition engaged in farming. He was a prominent citizen, and died on his place leaving six sons and four daughters.
Alexander Anderson, John Langley and John Daniel, all Baptists, were other early settlers west of French Creek. Mr. Anderson emigrated from Scotland, and settled in Cussewago Township, but soon after removed to the George Miller tract, this township, and died of "camp fever" about 1813. John Langley came from Washington County to Cussewago Township, and about 1810 removed and settled about a half mile north of Miller's Station. A few years later he removed to Erie County. He was a Baptist. John Daniel about 1812 settled a half mile west of Miller's Station, and remained there until death. He was a farmer and a Baptist. The northwest portion of the township had few if any other settlers for a number of years afterward.
The Holland Mill remained for years the only one. About 1815 Jonas Clark erected a saw-mill at the mouth of Muddy Creek, Mr. Clark purchasing a farm of sixty acres from Isaac Kelly. The saw-mill, rebuilt, is still in operation, now owned by David O. Wing. Pine was the principal timber, cut and sawed, and much was rafted or shipped in flat-boats down the creek to Meadville and other places. Isaac Kelly, in 1817, erected the first and only grist-mill. At first he had but one pair of "rock" mill stones, but the mill was afterward enlarged and improved. It is still in operation and known as the Woodside's Mill. It is located on Kelly's Run about a mile from its mouth. Mr. Kelly was proprietor until his death in 1832. His son, Isaac Kelly, Jr., was then in charge until he sold it to the present owner, James Woodside, who has added steam-power and a saw-mill. The building is a large three-story structure, and an extensive business is here transacted. George Hoig now owns and operates a shingle, lath and saw-mill on Muddy Creek. It was erected about 1825.
Probably the first regular school in the township was taught by Miss Emeline Bidwell about 1816, in a little log-cabin which stood in the woods remote from a road, near Kelly's Run on the Kelly farm. It was a two months' term, and was attended by the Kelly children, five or six in number, A. Matson's four children, the family of Elder Miller from across French Creek and Robert Hutchinson's children. John Langley, a well educated pioneer, and John Kelly afterward taught in this building. It was not unusual for children in those times to attend schools kept four miles from their homes. Several early schools in Erie County were supported by a number of the
pioneer youth of Rockdale. As early as 1805, Mrs. George Fetterman at her cabin gave a little instruction to the children in that vicinity, but it scarcely deserved the name of school nor had it the pretentions of one.
The first road passed north and south through the township a little east of <page 611> the center, and past the old Holland Mill. It had been laid and cut out by the French from Franklin to Erie and when the first settlers arrived was easily traceable, though overgrown by underbrush. The pioneers improved and used it largely. The next road of any magnitude was the turnpike extending from Meadville to Erie. It was constructed in 1818 and passed through the northwest corner of Rockdale.
Miller's Station lies west of French Creek on the New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio Railroad, and consists of a store, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a church and several spacious residences. The first, and during its existence the only church edifice in the township, was a frame structure about 30x40 built about 1820 by the Baptist congregation, which was organized October 31, 1812, with the following constituent members: George Miller, Alexander Anderson, Isaac Kelly, John Langley, James Anderson, Sally Clark, Barbara Miller, Hannah Kelly, Elizabeth Daniel,
Christina Miller and Lydia Anderson. Services had been held in cabins prior to the erection of the church. Elder George Miller was the pastor for many years, and was succeeded by Elder Amos Williams. The membership of the church in time centered farther south, and for convenience a meeting-house was built at Cambridge. The primitive building at Miller's Station was occupied about thirty years, after which services have been conducted solely at Cambridge.
The old church stood in the present cemetery lot at Miller's Station, which was at first a
Congregational burial place. It remained a free public graveyard until 1880, when the Rockdale Cemetery Association was formed with David O. Wing, James Woodside, J. P. Kelly, D. O. Kelly and H. H. Howard as Directors. The grounds are tastefully adorned and contain nearly one and a half acres. During the summer of 1880 the handsome frame sanctuary which stands just west of the cemetery was built on land donated by Daniel Kelly. It is 32x52 in size, its cost of construction was $2,000 and it was dedicated as a union or undenominational church by ministers of several sects in February, 1881. The Trustees are James Woodside, H. W. Canfield,
E. J. Throop and F. S. Strong. A few adherents of the Free Will Baptist faith were active in its erection, and the use of the building for this denomination was stipulated for one-half the time. No congregation was organized, but services were held by the Baptists for nearly a year when they ceased. At present Rev. I. D. Darling, Methodist Episcopal minister, of Cambridge, preaches here on each alternate Sunday.
On the farm of Joseph McFadden, on the eastern side of French Creek, is a frame meeting-house, erected in 1881, at a cost of about $900. It is the property of the Zion Church, a branch of the United Brethren. The class was organized a short time prior to the building of the church, and included Joseph McFadden, William Mitchell and Levi Perkins in its original membership. Rev. David Smock was the first pastor; Rev. Andrew Ward followed, and preached two years; Rev. Smock is again in charge. The society numbers fifteen. A small class of this same denomination has met for several years in the schoolhouse, one mile west of Miller's Station.
Brown Hill Baptist Church, in the southeast part of Tract 1527, was built in 1874. The
congregation had been organized shortly before by Elder Charles Drake. Among the early members were: David Morton, Sr., David Morton, Jr., George Clark and wife, James Leonard and wife, Mrs. Ira Dean, Mrs. Simon Dean, Mrs. Lucy Mickle and Henry Mickle and wife. Elders Cyrus Shreve and Hovey have since ministered to this flock. The former closed his second pastorate in the autumn of 1883. Through deaths and removals the membership is greatly reduced, and regular services are not now held. Free- <page 612> Will Baptist services were held for many years in Mackey Hill Schoolhouse, in the northern portion of the township.
Brown Hill United Brethren Church was organized by Rev. H. Bedow, in 1860, with three members: Mrs. Rebecca Wheeler, and William Allen and wife. Among the members who soon after united with the class were: Mrs. Ira Dean, Abram Amy and wife, Samuel Smith and wife, Emery Mickle and wife and J. Jesse Sabin. Services were held in the schoolhouse until 1875, when they were transferred to the Brown Hill Baptist Church, a moiety of which has since, by purchase, become the property of the United Brethren Class. The society now numbers thirty-two, and is connected with French Creek Circuit.
A class of the same persuasion was organized in 1876 or 1877 by Rev. Lansing McIntire, and has since held meetings in the Kellogg Schoolhouse, in the southeast portion of the township. It is quite small, numbering but twelve or fifteen, and is attached to French Creek Circuit.
Jervis Methodist Episcopal Society was organized in December, 1881, by Rev. J. F. Perry, with about twenty-four members, among whom were: H. D. Bertram, Charles Bunce, Arthur Jervis, J. H. Jervis, Amasa F. Turner, William Fuller and Matthew Landers, and most of whom had previously been connected with neighboring classes. On a lot donated by Arthur Jervis, a neat, commodious frame church, 30x48, had been erected during the summer of 1881, at a cost of $1,786, on Tract 1593, in the southern part of Rockdale, and meetings were held in this
building as soon as the class was formed. The society numbers twenty-six, and is a part of Rockville Circuit.
Besides Miller's Station the only postoffice is Brown Hill. It was established about 1867, and has successively had for Postmasters: Hiram Drake, F. R. Blanchard and James Leslie. Brown Hill is a hamlet in the eastern part, and contains a store, a school, a blacksmith shop and several dwellings. Farm houses are numerous in the vicinity.