Crawford County, Pennsylvania
History & Biography
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TITLES—DISTILLERIES—MILLS—EARLY SCHOOL—DICKSONBURG—RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS—SOCIETY.
SUMMERHILL is an interior township in the northwestern part of the county, and is bounded on the north by Spring, on the east by Hayfield, on the south by Summit, and on the west by Conneaut. As organized in 1829, it included, besides its present territory, the northern half of Summit. By act of Assembly approved April 23, 1829, the cabin of Benjamin Bearfield was made the <page 659> place for holding elections. The township is now six miles long east and west, and four north and south. Conneaut Creek, with its numerous tributaries flowing northward, waters the central and western portions, while in th eeast [sic] is a small stream flowing eastward, and in the southeast Pine Run, a tributary of Conneaut Lake, rises and flows south into the Cussewago. The old Beaver and Erie Canal crossed Summerhill, through the valley of Conneaut Creek. The soil is a clay except in the flats of the Conneaut, where it is a rich loam. It is adapted either to grain raising or to grazing. The land is rolling in the western part and level in the eastern, and springs are abundant. White oak, maple, sugar, hickory, ash and chestnut are the principal kinds of timber. The population in 1850 was 1,160; in 1860, 1,237; in 1870, 1,232; in 1880, 1,202.
The good quality of the soil and the early date of settlement are attested by the fact that twenty of the thirty-six tracts were patented by individuals before the land companies were locating claims. These individual tracts are situated mostly in the valley of Conneaut Creek, where, consequently, the first settlements in the township were made.
James McDowell is reputed the pioneer settler, coming about 1796 or 1797. He was of Scotch extraction, came from the region of the Susquehanna, and remained a life-long resident on his farm on the Conneaut, below Dicksonburg. He had five sons and two daughters, and many of their descendants are yet in the township. Daniel Myers came from the same locality about the same time and settled on the adjoining tract, near the center of the township, surveyed in the name of A. Power. He was killed while on his way home from Harmonsburg by being thrown from his horse. John Sterling, an old neighbor, soon followed to the new country, and his sons, James, Washington and Andrew became well-known property-holders. James Fetterman settled on the John Power tract, about one and a half miles southeast from Conneautville, where he remained till death in old age and where his descendants now reside. He at one time owned 1,100 acres of land. He came a young, unmarried man, and in 1798 wedded Betsy McDowell; this was the first marriage in the township.
Besides the above the following, with their families, were among the earliest settlers: Neal McKay, John McTier, Thomas Proctor, Robert McCoy, James McMillan, Daniel McMillan, Josiah McNamara, Samuel Gowdy, James Christy, Jacob Lefevre, James Scott, John Fulwiler, Benjamin Bearfield, John Dearborn, Robert Nelson and Peter and Jacob Gevin. Neal McKay was a weaver by occupation and an early Justice of the Peace in the township.c His son, Robert, was a Captain of militia in 1812, and served at Erie during the building of Perrys fleet. John McTier was a stone mason by trade, and when hewed-log-houses superseded round-log-cabins, his services in building stone chimneys made him a valuable citizen to the community. He was killed in the spring of 1826 while riding, during a terrific wind storm, by a large oak tree, which fell upon him. James, William and John Proctor, sons of Robert, were well known pioneers. Robert McCoy immigrated prior to 1798; his cabin stood about a half mile east of Conneautville, and his death occurred about 1800. His was the first burial in the McDowell Cemetery. The McMillans located in the northeastern part of the township. Daniel was killed, while cutting a tree for raccoons, by the fall of a limb. Josiah McNamara built the first tannery of the township in 1800. A few
years later he removed to Mead Township. Samuel Gowdy came a single man to the southwest corner of what is now the township, where he patented a tract. Soon alter he married Betsy Gilliland. He was quite an accession to the early settlements, for he manu- <page 660> factured the wooden plows then in use. Mr. Gowdy was Colonel of militia in 1812, and commanded his regiment at Erie during the construction of Perrys fleet. He died on the farm he settled. James Christy settled about a mile southeast from Conneautville, and remained there through life. Jacob Lefevre was both farmer and tanner, residing near Conneautville. John Fulwiler dwelt also in that vicinity; his cabin stood on what is now the Conneautville fair ground. Benjamin Bearfield was a distiller by trade. He lived about a mile northeast from Dicksonburg, and afterward moved West. John Dearborn located on the F. Johnston tract in the east part of the township, where he died and where his descendants still live. Robert Nelson was an early settler near
Conneautville. Peter and Jacob Gevin were brothers; the former lived near the center of the township.
The record of the early settlement of the Pennsylvania Population Companys land, up to 1812, is herewith given: Tract 639, wholly unsold; 640, unsold, a small improvement made in 1798 and 1799, by a settler under the company, and then given up, afterward intruded on, but soon abandoned; 641, unsold, entered upon same as 640; 642, William Conley, 100 acres, settlement completed; 643, John McDowell, November 9, 1797, 200 acres, settled under contract; 644, John Beatty, September 7, 1796, 150 acres, settled under contract; 688, John Quick, December 20, 1797, 200 acres, settlement completed under contract; 699, Andrew Helfer, November 7, 1797, 200 acres, deed delivered to Helfer October 8, 1808; 700, Andrew Helfer, 200 acres, settled under contract; 713, Shubal Luce, September 23, 1797, 100 acres, settled under contract; same tract, James McNamara, March 24, 1804, 200 acres, deed granted McNamara.
The Holland Land Companys tracts, six in number, in the eastern part of the township, were first settled under contract by the following persons, the date of contract and amount of land being given: Tract 18, Joshua Pennel and Jacob Osborne, 100 acres, August 9,1799, deed executed to Pennel November 16, 1805; Tract 22, Michael Seely, 150 acres, October 25, 1798, forfeited; Tract 26, George Friedley, September 28, 1799; Tract 30, Alexander Freeman, 150 acres, August 16, 1799, deed executed January 15, 1807; Tract 34, Alexander Freeman, 150 acres, August 16, 1799, deed executed January 15, 1807; Tract 38, Frederick Hickernell, 150 acres, August 18, 1799, deed executed January 8, 1813.
Distilleries were quite common among the pioneers, and the products of the still, after a large local demand was supplied, were sent to a foreign market. James Fetterman built the first distillery in what is now Summerhill, and John McDowell, the second. The latter after operating the still for several years, abandoned the business from a religious conviction of the wrong in manufacturing intoxicating liquors. So general was the custom of using whisky in those days that scruples of that kind seldom occurred. Jacob Myers and others also manufactured the ardent fluid.
John and Michael Winger built the first saw-mill. It stood on Conneaut Creek and was erected in 1820. George Dickson operated an early saw-mill on Conneaut Creek; he also owned a grist-mill at Dicksonburg. Lumbering was carried on extensively during the days of the canal. Charles Beebe now operates a saw-mill on Conneaut Creek and W. R. McGill owns a steam-mill in the eastern part of the township. James Beatty erected a carding machine about a mile south of Dicksonburg in 1828.
The primitive schoolhouse was a little log structure which stood on the present farm of W. C. Sterling about a half mile north of Dicksonburg. It was built about 1812, and its early teachers were: Triphosa Rugg, Samuel <page 661> Steele and Whate1y Barrett. It was used for about six years as a temple of education.
Dicksonburg is a little village located in the southern part of the township and containing about fifteen dwellings, a store, school, blacksmith shop, Methodist Church and a large grist-mill owned by J. B. McDowell. The place was on the old Beaver & Erie Canal and in early times was known as McDowells Postoffice. John Thompson and Thomas Proctor were early merchants. George Dickson built the first grist-mill. Joseph McCray erected the present one.
The Dicksonburg. Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest in the northwestern part of the county. In May, 1801, the Baltimore Methodist Episcopal Conference sent Rev. James Quinn as circuit preacher to the Pittsburgh District to form a circuit extending from Lake Erie to the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers, to be known as Erie Circuit. Mr. Quinn entered upon his itineracy [sic] with zeal, but for some reason was removed and Rev. Joseph Shackelford sent to fill out the remainder of the year. In the spring of 1802 he organized a class at the house of James McDowell in what is now Summerhill Township. James McDowell and wife, George Nelson and wife and Mrs. Johnson were its earliest members. Erie Circuit soon contained twenty appointments, requiring the minister to travel 400 miles every four weeks to fill them. The ministers of Erie Circuit until 1825 were as follows: James Quinn and J. A. Shackelford, 1801; J. Cullison, 1802; Noah Fidler, 1803; A. Hemphill, 1804; David Best and J. A. Shackelford, 1805; R R. Roberts and J. Watts, 1806; C. Reynolds, A. Daniels and T. Divers, 1807; Job Guest and W. Butler, 1808; J. Charles, J. Hanson and J. Decellum, 1809; J. Monroe, 1810; J. Watts and J. Ewing, 1811; J. Watts, .J. Gorwell and J. Graham, 1812; A. Robinson, 1813; J. Solomon and J. Graham, 1814; R. C. Hatton, 1815; C. Godard and J. P. Kent, 1816; J. P. Kent and Ira Eddy, 1817; D. D. Davidson and S. Adams, 1818; P. Green, 1819; Ira Eddy and Charles Elliott, 1820; Ezra Booth and C. Trescott, 1821; W. H. Collins, 1822; J. Summerville, 1823; J. P. Kent, 1824; N. Reeder and Z. Ragen, 1825. McDowells Class was probably attached to Meadville Circuit formed in 1826. In July, 1833, Summerhill Circuit, of Meadville District, was formed. This circuit comprised the
following classes: Conneautville, McDowells, Harmonsburg, Spring, Pierpont, Huntleys, Penn Line, Freys, Moorehouse,
Cussewago, Hickernells, Thomas, Holtons and Smiths. Theodore Stowe and Reuben Peck were the ministers. Each minister held service at each appointment once in four weeks, many of the services being held on week days. The distance traveled in making the round was about 150 miles. The journey was performed on horseback, the Bible, hymn-book and other volumes were carried in the saddle bags, and much of the study and preparation for services was made at places of entertainment and while going from one appointment to another. In 1834 the name of Summerhill Circuit was changed to Harmonsburg, and to that circuit McDowells or Dicksonburg Class now belongs. Meetings were held for many years in the cabins of the members; afterward in schoolhouses until the church was built. The membership is now about sixty.
In the extreme northeast corner of the township is the Smith Methodist Episcopal Church. A class was organized here as early as 1825, and its leading members were: Nelson Smith, a local preacher, Edmund Greenlee, Andreas Bagley, Daniel Bagley and Elisha Curtis. For many years and until the erection of the present frame building about thirty years ago, meetings were held in an old log schoolhouse. This was formerly a large society. It is now a part of Harmonsburg Circuit and has a membership of about forty.
Close to the western line of Summerhill, in the western part of Tract 713, is an Evangelical Association Church, erected in 1871 at a cost of $1,800. The class was organized with twenty-five members by Rev. James Crossman, the first pastor, in 1863. Meetings were held in a schoolhouse situated in the eastern part of Conneaut Township, until the erection of the present church edifice. Among the first members were: Minor Walton, Balser Gehr, Mrs. Lawrence, E. Stevens and Nathan Stevens. The membership is now about forty and Rev. Vogt is the Pastor. The class constitutes a part of Crawford Circuit.
Dicksonburg Council, No. 14, B. T. of T., organized October 7, 1878, with sixteen members and the following officers: F. L. Lord, S. C.; J. R. Barnes, V. C.; Horace Hammon, P. C.; Volney Johnson, Chaplain; George Procter, Secretary; William Shaw, Treasurer; Miss Libbie Barnes, Herald; R. C. Proctor, Guard; Mr. Gevin, Sentinel; Dr. Frazier, Medical Examiner. The membership is now forty-five and meetings are held each alternate Friday evening.