Crawford County, Pennsylvania

History & Biography

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    OIL CREEK was formed in 1820.  It lies in the south-east corner of the county, bordering upon Venango and Warren counties, and contains 18,679 square acres.  The surface is broken by the deep valley of Oil Creek, which, and Little Oil Creek, are the principal streams.  The chief business carried on in the township, outside the city of Titusville, is lumbering and the interests growing out of that industry, prominent among which are, Charles Hyde’s saw and planing mill, which is situated on Little Oil Creek and is capable of sawing 8,000 feet of lumber per day, also his lath mill and sash and blind factory located at Hydetown; Lewis G. Wardin’s saw mill, situated on Little Oil Creek, one and one-half miles above Hydetown, and capable of cutting 10,000 feet of lumber per day; Shepard Knapp’s saw mill, situated on Mully Run, and capable of cutting 3,000 feet of lumber per day; Andrew J. Kerr’s saw mill, situated on Hyde Creek, with a capacity for sawing 2,000 feet of lumber per day; Patrick H. Powers’ saw and lath mill, situated at Hydetown, which gives employment to ten men and is capable of sawing 10,000 feet of lumber per day; and Silas Kerr’s steam saw mill, which is situated on road eleven, (see map,) employs six men and is capable of sawing 5,000 feet of lumber per day.
    The township is traversed by the Oil Creek & Allegheny Valley, Union & Titusville and Pennsylvania Petroleum railroads, the latter of which is under construction and all of which extend along Oil Creek within the township. 
    The population of the township (exclusive of the city of Titusville,) in 1870, was 2,041, all of whom, except one, were white, 1,768, native and 273, foreign.
    During the year ending June 3, 1872, the township, exclusive of the city, contained thirteen schools and employed fourteen teachers.  The number of scholars was 502; the average number attending school, 395; and the amount expended for school purposes, $4,842.64.

    TITUSVILLE is beautifully situated upon Oil Creek, and about the center of the south line of the township.  The city proper, or that part of it representing the principal business and popu <page 75> lation, lies upon the north bank of the Creek, from which the south bank rises abruptly.  Upon the north the valley of the Creek stretches out about a mile in width, and is terminated by a similar bluff.  For a mile to the westward and nearly three miles to the eastward, when the view is obstructed by a series oi elevated table lands, the valley presents a landscape of pleasing and varied beauty.  The western bounds of the city still exhibit evidences of the swamp which originally characterized that part of it lying west of Franklin street, but which a thorough system of drainage has transformed into eligible building sites.

    From the insignificant village of a quarter of a century ago, when it contained about two hundred inhabitants, it has rapidly grown with the development of petroleum, until today, with a population of about 10,000, it is the recognized metropolis of the oil region.  It was incorporated as a city in 1867.  In 1870 it had a population of 8,639, distributed among its four wards as follows:  in the first, 1,905; in the second, 2,334; in the third, 2,275; and in the fourth, 2,125.  The city presents an attractive and solid appearance.  Its principal streets are wide and handsomely graded, and adorned with sightly stores, mostly brick structures, and fine residences, elegant in style and elaborate in finish.  The thoroughfares are well lighted with gas and kept in good repair.  During the past year—since July, 1872—more than a mile of wooden pavement has been laid in the principal avenues, (Spring, Diamond, Franklin, Pine and Washington streets.)  It contains about a dozen churches, representing the various denominations, and has four public schools, one in each ward, two of which are large and substantial brick structures, that have cost not less than $30,000 each.  It has a public park.  It is supplied with water by the Holley system of water works, which have just been completed.  There are five banking establishments, a Board of Trade, an Oil Exchange, three newspapers, (the Herald and Courier, each published daily and weekly, and The Sunday Morning Press.)  It possesses important manufacturing interests, prominent among which are two large iron working establishments, (the Gibbs & Sterritt Manufacturing Co., and the Titusville Manufacturing Co.,) employing hundreds of men in the manufacture of engines and boilers, oil well tools, car tanks, oil tanks of immense capacity, &c.  There are other industries of less capacity, Adam Good’s brass foundry and machine shop, being among those deserving special notice.  In addition to these Titusville has eleven oil refineries.  Its hotel accommodations are second to no town or city in Western Pennsylvania.  It has an opera house, which, for size and <page 76> beauty, is not excelled in this portion of the commonwealth.  Three railroads enter the city—the Oil Creek & Allegheny Valley R. R., which connects at Corry with the Atlantic & Great Western and Philadelphia & Erie roads; the Union & Titusville R. R., which makes a similar connection at Union; and the Dunkirk, Warren & Allegheny Valley R. R., which is at present completed only to Titusville, though its prospective terminus is Oil City, to which point the road bed is nearly completed.  This number will be augmented by the Pennsylvania Petroleum R. R., when completed, and which is now in process of construction.  These roads with their connections afftord easy and rapid communication with all desirable points. 
    Titusville possesses all the advantages and attractions of a growing western city.  It has wealth and its citizens evince a fair degree of enterprise and thrift, which bespeak its future prosperity. 
    The public schools of Titusville are organized under the general school laws of the State.  They are under the immediate control of a Board of Directors consisting of eight members, two from each ward.  The term of office is two years, and one member is annually elected from each ward.  In accordance with the amended school laws a Superintendent of Public Instruction was elected June 1, 1872, who holds the office for three years.  The schools are thoroughly graded and have attained a high degree of excellence in study and discipline.  The departments are Primary, Intermediate, Grammar and High.  The school buildings consist of two new and elegant brick structures and two wooden ones, valued at $90,000.  Twenty-two teachers are employed, and the number of scholars in daily attendance is about 1,000.  The High School is the fortunate possessor of a rare and valuable cabinet of Geology, Mineralogy and Lithology, the gift of Jonathan Watson, Esq. of Titusville.  It was purchased of Prof. Henry Ward, of the University of Rochester, and put in position under his special supervision.  It is probably excelled by no cabinet in Western Pennsylvania.  The course of study pursued in the High School is thorough and complete, and affords opportunities for culture in Higher English, French, German, and Latin and Greek as far as required for admission to the best colleges in the land.

    Titusville Soldiers’ Orphan School was instituted in Titusville in 1867, and removed to its present location in 1871.  It is eligibly situated upon moderately elevated ground in East Titusville, outside the city limits.  The buildings, though incomplete, owing to the lack of funds, are projected on a scale calculated to ensure the health, comfort and convenience of its inmates.
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The rooms, especially the study, recitation and sleeping rooms, are spacious, light and airy, and their arrangement has heen made to conform with the sanitary requirements of the pupils.  An abundant and unfailing supply of pure, cold, soft water rises in springs upon the premises.  The moral and religious culture of the children is sedulously cared for, and the scholastic instruction afforded is of a superior character.  Prof. Joseph N. Beistle was the first principal.  In 1872 Mr. Gurdon S. Berry, its proprietor and founder, assumed its management.  The school has 175 State pupils besides private day scholars and boarders.  This institution is doing a noble work and is eminently worthy of the moral and pecuniary support of those who have so generously contributed of their means for the furtherance of its objects.  The management is laboring under financial embarrassments which necessarily curtail its usefulness to a very great extent.  The citizens of Titusville and vicinity owe it to themselves and the brave men whose representatives claim their charity and fostering care, to see that this asylum does not languish for want of substantial aid.

    The Young Men’s Christian Association of Titusville maintain free reading and assembly rooms in the Second National Bank Building.

    The Titusville Oil Exchange is organized to regulate the transactions in the sale and purchase of petroleum, which has become a vast and important interest in this city.

    OIL CREEK BOROUGH (Hydetown) is situated on Oil Creek, three and one-half miles above Titusville, and on the Oil Creek & Allegheny Valley and Union & Titusville railroads, and on the proposed line of the Pennsylvania Petroleum R. R.  It contains a school, three hotels, four stores, two milliner shops, a meat market, two blacksmith and wagon shops, three cooper shops and had in 1870, a population of 428.  It possesses a good water power.  It was organized as a borough in 1869.

    KERRS HILL is a hamlet located one and three-fourths miles from Titusville, and contains two churches, a school, a store, a blacksmith and wagon shop and twenty-five houses.  It derives its name from the Kerr family, who were early settlers in that locality.
    Settlement was commenced soon after the Meads and their associates located at Meadville.  Among the first settlers was Jonathan Titus, (in whose honor the city of Titusville was named,) who came here about 1790, and soon after, in company with Samuel Kerr, purchased from the Holland Land Company a tract of some 1700 acres, which is embraced in the city limits.  A temporary shanty was erected and served as a shelter for both <page 78> families until better dwellings could be built.  The house built by Mr. Titus was the first permanent residence constructed in this vicinity.  It stood in the rear of the present Ralston and Harrington Block.

    John Thompson and Wm. Fulton came here the latter part of the last century and settled at Kerrs Hill.  Fulton sold to Wm. Alcorn, who in turn sold to Andrew Kerr, a native of Ireland, who had previously settled on road 12, whence he moved to Kerrs Hill.  Previous to his settlement here Mr. Kerr had resided a short time in Huntindon county.  James Kerr, also a native of Ireland, came with his father to this country at the age of ten years, and settled below Pittsburgh.  In 1799, at the age of twenty-four, he removed to Oil Creek township, and located a tract of 500 acres, now occupied by Isaac Weed, on road 18.  He died suddenly about thirty-one years ago, being in apparent good health five minutes before he died.  John Gilson emigrated with his father, Wm. Gilson, from England to Maryland and removed thence to Bedford county in this State.  In 1800 he set out for French Creek, with the intention of settling in that locality, but having reached Oil Creek he accidentally cut his knee while chopping a tree on which to cross that stream.  He retraced his steps to Hydetown, where he met with Daniel Titus, with whom he stopped.  He subsequently settled the place now occupied by his son, John B. Gilson, and returned to Bedford county.  The following year, having then attained his majority, he removed his wife to the place he had selected, and built a log hut, which he covered with bark.  The same year (1801) his father came to this township with his family, consisting, besides John, who was the eldest, of his wife and five boys and three girls, named respectively, William, Thomas, Richard, Peter, Benjamin, Sarah, Charity and Martha.  All the girls, except Martha, are dead, and only two of the boys, Peter and Benjamin, are living.  Peter was eighty-one years old in June, 1873, and Benjamin, seventy-nine in August of that year.  Thomas Mitchell, a native of Ireland, moved here with his family, consisting of wife and four children, from Hollidaysburg, Blair county, May 6, 1803, and settled upon the place now occupied by his grand-son, Joseph Henderson.  Mr. Mitchell died April 21, 1805.  His daughter, Rebecca, now Mrs. Samuel Henderson, is still living.  She was 84 years old Jan. 22, 1874.  She was married May 17, 1814.  Her husband died April 14, 1855.  With the exception of a five years’ residence in Portland, Chautauqua county, N. Y., she has lived here since 1803.  John McIntyre settled at an early day on a tract of 400 acres, where his son, James, now lives.  He emigrated from Ireland to Juniata and removed thence to Pine Creek, Crawford county, <page 79> where he remained about two months, when he came to this township.  He died in 1813, aged forty-five years.
    The first settlement at Hydetown, was made in 1796, by Daniel and Peter Titus, brothers of Jonathan Titus.  Each took up 400 acres.  The first saw mill at this place was built by Chas. Ridgway, who came from Brownville, Fayette county, in 1797.
    An early settler in the vicinity of Titusville was Capt. Sheffield, who came here in 1816 and opened a store and trading post, which was the first in this locality.  He trafficked principally among the Indians for furs, &c., this point being on the line of march from their trading station on the Cussewago to their encampments at Sandusky, Ohio.  After conducting the business some years he sold his store and goods to Joseph L. Chase, the son of a Presbyterian minister, who came to this region in 1812.  A post office was established in 1818, and Samuel Kerr was appointed post master, a position which he filled for ten years.  It is a noteworty fact that Mr. Kerr’s commissions averaged from $1.25 to 13.75 per quarter.
    The first church here was the Oil Creek Presbyterian Church, which was organized by Rev. Amos Chase, (father of Joseph L. Chase,) who during his active life in this region formed thirty-three churches in the counties of Crawford, Venango, Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, Mercer and others in Pennsylvania, and several in the State of New York.

    In 1847, William Robinson, John M. Titus and Salmon P. Chase were appointed Commissioners to survey, define and mark out, within the tracts Nos. 27, 28, 29, 33 and 34, the boundaries of a borough to be called Titusville.  The village had at that date a population of 275, and derived its chief support from the lumber traffic carried on in this section.  Joseph Case then had a grist mill, double saw mill and a woolen mill with machinery for carding and weaving jeans.  There was also a saw mill owned by Brewer, Watson & Co.  From this period until 1859, nothing of importance, connected with the growth of the village is to be recorded.  On the 28th of August of the latter year the Drake oil well was completed and oil obtained.  This event gave an impetus to its growth which it still perpetuates, and has given it a world-wide notoriety from the development of the vast hidden wealth of the oil regions of Western Pennsylvania.  The oil from a spring on the Watson flats, a short distance below Titusville, had attracted the attention of of the early settlers, who collected and sold it as a medicine, known to commerce as “Seneca Oil;” but they little dreamed that a few feet below the surface existed a mine of wealth greater than the famed gold fields of California and Australia.  It was reserved for the prescient mind of Geo. H. Bissell, of New <page 80> York, to fathom old Mother Earth’s hidden treasures and give to the world a light with all its beneficient and civilizing influences, and a commodity whose possible value is as yet but faintly appreciated.  Mr. Bissell’s attention was first called to the subject of petroleum in 1853, in which year he saw at the office of Prof. Crosby of Dartmouth College a bottle filled with this substance which was found by Dr. Brewer of Titusville, upon his lands on Oil Creek, and given by him to Prof. Crosby.  He became greatly interested in the product and about six months afterward sent Mr. J. G. Eveleth, his partner, to Titusville.  They bought together one hundred acres in fee simple, and took one hundred and twelve acres on a lease of ninety-nine years duration, for which they paid $5,000.  These lands are situated on Oil Creek, about two and one-half miles from Titusville, and were then thought to be the principal oil lands of Pennsylvania.  In 1854, they organized The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which was the first petroleum company in the United States.  The capital was $500,000, and most of the stock was owned and retained by these gentlemen, who were the officers of the company.  The company proceeded to develope its lands by trenching them and raising the surface oil and water into vats.  The supply was limited, amounting to, perhaps, a few barrels in the season.  The oil was sold for $1.50 per gallon to parties who sold it for medicinal purposes.  In the spring of 1855, Prof. Silliman of Yale College was employed to analyze the oil, Messrs. Bissel & Eveleth furnishing the apparatus for his experiments and paying the entire cost of the analysis.  Prof. Silliman’s report, published in the fall of that year, attracted attention in New Haven, and led to the re-organization of The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company with that gentleman as its president.
    The work of trenching the lands was continued until 1858, when the question of boring an artesian well was discussed and strongly advocated by Mr. Bissell, the idea having been suggested by the fact that Mr. Kier of Pittsburgh had obtained a small quantity of oil from one of his salt wells near that city, at a depth of about 400 feet.  A want of harmony was manifested between the New York and New Haven stockholders, but after much discussion and difficulty a contract was concluded between the company and some of its members, by which the latter agreed to lease the lands for a term of years and pay to the company a royalty of twelve cents per gallon on all oil raised.  A new company was organized in New Haven, based on the aforesaid lease, and one of its members, Mr. E. L. Drake, was designated as superintendent and furnished with the necessary capital to carry out the projected idea, Mr. Drake proceeded to <page 81> Titusville and after encountering many delays and obstacles, on the 28th of August, 1859, the first vein of oil was struck and the first petroleum obtained from an artesian well, drilled on Oil Creek, in the northern border of Venango county, under the auspices of The Seneca Oil Company lessees of The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the organization of which, and the first purchase and development of lands under it, were mainly due to George H. Bissell; and through this agency Titusville was transformed from an uninviting back-woods village to a beautiful and wealthy city.

    The First Presbyterian Church of Titusville was organized as the Congregation of Oil Creek, in 1815, by Rev. Amos Chase, its first pastor, who continued his ministrations to this Society until 1830.  From 1815 to 1826, Mr. Chase labored as a missionary, dividing his time between this and other churches.  May 24, 1826, he was installed pastor of this Church, to which he devoted half his time till 1830, when the relation was dissolved.  He died at Centerville, Dec. 23, 1849, in the ninetieth year of his age, and the sixty-third of his ministry.  In 1838, the Society was incorporated by the Supreme Court and its charter recorded in the office of the Secretary of the State under the name of The Presbyterian Congregation of Oil Creek in the County of Crawford.  In 1870 the name was changed by the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County to that it now bears.  The number of members at its organization is not known, but the regular attendance numbered about 200, which is its present membership.  ”Prior to the organization religious services were conducted by the Presbyterians, and Missionaries of that denomination were sent to this place, which was then known as “Oil Creek” and sometimes as “Titus’es,” in 1802 and 1803, and again in 1807.  In 1809 it was reported to the Presbytery as being able to furnish its own supplies, and in that year communion was held in Mr. Titus’ log barn, by two Presbyterian ministers, Samuel Tait and Richard Stockton.  About ten members were present.  A church was built of round logs in 1812, but was never entirely finished.  In 1815, one constructed of hewed logs was commenced and was finished about 1823.  A framed house was begun in 1833, completed in 1834-5, and sold in 1863.  In 1864 the building of the present edifice was commenced and was completed the following year, at a cost of about $17,000.  It will seat comfortably 536 persons.  Since its completion permanent improvements to the value $3,000 have been added.  The present value of Church property, including parsonage, is about $20,000.  The present pastor is Rev. Alexander Sinclair, who was installed in the fall of 1869.—[Information furnished by Mr. Samuel Minor.

    St. James Memorial Church, (Protestant Episcopal,) at Titusville, was organized with five members, in 1862, by Rev. Henry Purdon, the first and present pastor.  The building of the church edifice was begun in 1863 and finished in 1864.  It cost $12,000 and will seat 300 persons.  The Society numbers 110 and its property is valued at $30,000.
    “This Church was erected to the memory of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Bordman, D. D., Assist. Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, who died suddenly on his way to the Oil Regions at Freeport, on the A. V. R. R., August 2, 186l.”—[Information furnished by Rev. Henry Purdon.

    The First Baptist Church of Titusville was organized with eleven members, in 1865, and erected its house of worship, which will seat 400 persons, in 1868, at a cost of $20,000.  There are 109 members who are under <page 82> the pastoral care of Rev. Andrew Murdoch, our informant.  The first pastor was Rev. — Gundy.  The Church property is valued at $25,000.  The Sunday School connected with this Church has an average attendance of 180 scholars.

    The M. E. Church, at Titusville, has 150 members.  The pastor is Rev. A. Craft.  The church edifice will seat 450 persons.  The Church property is valued at $28,000.—[We have been unable to get fuller data relative to this Society.

1 Hamilton Child, comp., Gazetteer and Business Directory of Crawford County, Pa., for 1874 (Syracuse, N.Y.: By the comp., 1874), pp. 118-19.