History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1883-28

History of Butler County Pennsylvania - 1883

Chapter 28 -- Penn Township

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Transcribed by Kim Wetzel. For an explanation and caution about this transcription, please read this page.



Illustrations And Biographies In Chapter XXVIII

p.264a-- Anderson's & Osborn's
p.264b-- Res. D.A. Renfrew
p.268a-- Simeon & Mrs. Nixon
p.268a-- John & Simeon Nixon Bio
p.271 -- Alexander Welsh Bio
p.271 -- James Anderson Bio
p.272 -- Harvey Osborn Bio
p.272 -- Joseph Logan Bio
p.773 -- David Renfrew Bio



[p. 254]

Penn Township, as a geographical division of this county, has existed only since the new organization of townships, which took place in 1854. Penn adjoins Butler Township on the south; it lies north of Middlesex, west of Jefferson and east of Forward. The southern portion of the township was originally included in Middlesex and the northern in Butler.

The natural scenery of this part of the country is rich and varied. Hills, knolls, and ridges, with intervening valleys; broad fields, smooth, neatly kept and fertile, alternating with stretches of woodland; rocky, unsubdued and wild; roads winding about the hills and through quiet, green dales, where streamlets dash over rocky bottoms and flash their clear waters in the sunlight -- all combined to form a landscape of perpetual beauty.

The largest stream that enters the township is the Connoquenessing Creek, which passes through a small portion of the northwestern corner. Its valley is deep and narrow, its banks steep, broken, and rocky. The stream next in importance is Thorn Creek, which, with its tributaries, drains all the northern, eastern and central parts of the township. This stream flows in a westerly and northwesterly course, from the eastern line of Penn to its confluence with the Connoquenessing. Its valley is narrow and winding, and extends through the least improved portion of the township.

West of the plank road and northeast of Brownsdale lies a considerable tract of elevated land, which is nearly level, but the surface of most parts of the township is uneven.

The soil varies from light sandy loam on the hilltops, to clayey in the valleys. Except in the vicinity of the streams, it is free from rocks, and easily cultivated. Penn Township is almost wholly an agricultural community. No coal has been found in paying quantities, and, until the year 1882, no important oil discoveries were made here.

The Pittsburgh & Butler Plank Road crosses this township from north to south. Brownsdale, on the western line of Penn, was the only village until the present year, when Renfrew City sprang into being.


Penn Township is now a fair and fertile region, peopled by a thrifty and prosperous community of farmers. What was it in 1797? A dense wilderness, [p.264] as unattractive and as forbidding in its aspect as any of nature's wilds ever could be. Yet the courageous pioneer had already invaded it and laid the foundation for that prosperity which is now so conspicuous. Who can fail to award the hardy pioneer a tribute of gratitude for his generous toil? He labored not for himself alone, but for the benefit of you and me and generations yet to live.

The first settlers within the present township of Penn located in the southern portion of it -- within the former limits of Middlesex Township. Probably the first log cabin was made near the southwest corner of the township. We have the statement from good authority that Clark RATHBUN had begun a clearing and erected a cabin here about the year 1796. He was followed by Robert BROWN and others, and in a few years quite a number of families were living in the neighborhood now included within Penn, Middlesex and Forward Townships.

The next point of settlement seems to have been near the southeastern corner of the township -- the BARTLEY neighborhood. From these two points, the settlers, as years advanced, proceeded to take up and occupy the southern and central portions of the township. The growth was exceedingly slow until within the last thirty or forty years, but little of the northern part of Penn had been settled, and when farms were made here it was nor by immigrants, but generally by the sons of the pioneers of this township and other parts of the county.

Most of the first settlers were Irish -- industrious, economical and thrifty; men of robust constitutions, gifted with genial natures, stout hearts, and strong arms. Later, a few New Jersey families, and some from Eastern Pennsylvania were added to the settlement. That all lived and labored well there is sufficient evidence afforded by the present prosperous condition; that the first settlers were of good stock, no one can doubt who is at all conversant with the thrift and intelligence of their descendants.

Robert BROWN was one of the very first to penetrate the wilderness once included in the present limits of Penn Township. He was born in New Jersey in 1779. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Caleb BROWN, early came to Pennsylvania and settled near Elizabethtown. After Robert established his home in Butler County, they also came here and ended their days upon the same farm. In 1797, Robert BROWN began the work of making a home in the forest, on the farm now occupied by his son Nathan, in the southwestern part of Penn Township. He lived to see a mighty change wrought in this part of the country, and died honored and respected, in 1853. He was a Justice of the Peace twenty-five years. His wife was Ruth RATHBUN. They had a family of sixteen children. Thirteen -- five sons and eight daughters -- reached mature years. The sons were Caleb, Clark, John, Robert and Nathan; the daughters Sarah, Abigail, Rhoda, Elizabeth, Ann, Clarissa, Lydia, and Caroline Matilda. Two sons, Caleb and Nathan, survive. The former, now a superannuated Methodist preacher, resides in Deerfield, Portage Co., Ohio. Nathan BROWN, born in 1816, still resides upon the old farm, the former home of his father and grandfather. He held the office of Prothonotary of Butler County from December, 1857, to December, 1860. Two of the daughters are also living -- Rhoda (HENDERSON), Harrisville, and Caroline M. (unmarried), Penn Township.

This family experienced fully all the difficulties and hardships incident to pioneers. For several years, all the grain not ground by the hand-mill had to be carried on pack-horses forty miles, though the woods, to the old ROBBINS Mill, on the Youghiogheny River to be ground. When a mill was established at Butler it proved a great blessing to the settlers. Mrs. BROWN was a lady of remarkable fortitude, capable of withstanding all the trials of her position and rearing properly her large family of children. She died in 1850.

Clark RATHBUN moved from New England to Pennsylvania, and engaged in milling at the forks of the Youghiogheny River, above Elizabethtown. Previous to 1797, he purchased a tract of land now in the southwestern part of Penn Township, erected a cabin and brought hither two members of his family, his son Thomas and his daughter Ruth. Leaving them upon the place to keep possession, he returned to Allegheny County to attend to his business of milling at ROBBINS' Mill, during the winter. Ruth (afterward Mrs. Robert BROWN) was then thirteen years old, and Thomas a year or two older. After a short stay here, Thomas became weary of living in the woods, and desired to return to his father's and attend school. The plan was talked over, and Ruth consented to it. Accordingly, he returned to his former home, and Ruth kept house alone for three months, her only company being a large, faithful dog. The nearest neighbor lived two miles from the cabin. The house was secure against wild beasts, and she had no fear of robbers. But who can fail to wonder at the magnanimous courage and self-sacrifice shown by this child? Wolves howled about her dwelling at night and all of her surroundings were of the wildest character conceivable. The following season, the RATHBUNs took up their abode on the place, lived and labored here a few years, then nearly all of the family went to Ohio, where they settled in the vicinity of Columbus. The sons were Thomas, Amos, Clark, John, Joseph, and Stephen. The daughters, [p.265] Ruth, Abigail (HUNT) and Mrs. JENKINS. John became a physician and a Methodist preacher. Stephen was also a minister of the same denomination. Joseph was a merchant, and Thomas a wealthy farmer. Clark and Amos died young.

[p.264a, sketches of J. D. ANDERSON, Mary A. ANDERSON, Harvey OSBORN, Mrs. Harvey OSBORN; residence of D. A. RENFREW]

After the departure of the RATHBUN family, George BOYD took up and occupied the farm. He was a farmer and a chair-maker. His brother James, also an early settler, was a blacksmith, and established a shop in the same neighborhood. James, a son of George, died in 1882, in Forward Township.

Another BROWN family, but not related to the one above mentioned, settled on the farm north of the Nathan BROWN place later. The father was Adam BROWN, who became a prominent farmer. He came here from Cumberland County. His sons were John, Adam, Joseph, and Thomas Ray. Of these, all except the youngest settled in Butler County, where many of their descendants still live. Thomas R. BROWN, still living, settled in Allegheny City, and was a physician and druggist. Joseph, of Forward Township, is still living, being now over eighty years of age. He is the father of A. M. BROWN, one of the leading members of the Allegheny County bar. The daughters of Adam BROWN were Elizabeth, Matilda, and Margaret. A. G. BROWN and Joseph, sons of Adam BROWN, and grandsons of Adam BROWN, Sr., are now residents of Penn Township. The old log house built by their grandfather, in its day considered one of the finest in the country, is still standing, though in a dilapidated condition; also an old English cherry tree, the seed of which was brought from the east of the mountains.

John RANKIN, a native of Ireland and a Revolutionary soldier, came to this township about 1805, moving from the State of Maryland. He made the first improvements on the place now occupied by his grandsons and lived to a ripe old age. After him his son Simon lived upon the place, and died, in 1879, at the age of eighty-one years. His sons, H. and S. J. RANKIN, are the only survivors of the family.

John DODDS, a native of Ireland, came from Cumberland County to Butler County about the year 1808, and settled in Penn Township, near the present village of Brownsdale. He moved thence to Whitestown, but returned again to this township, took up and improved the farm on which his son Adam now lives, and there ended his days. He was out three months in the war of 1812. He died in 1862. His children were James, John, Joseph, Josiah, Jessie B., William, and Adam. Jesse [sic] B. and Adam are the only survivors. Both reside in Penn Township. Josiah DODDS lived upon the place now occupied by his son John B.

John DODDS moved his goods to this county by the then usual method -- had a horse harnessed between two poles, with upright stakes in the ends of them. The lower end of the poles dragged upon the ground. This arrangement was known as the "slide car," and upon it the load was stowed as best it could be and the horse made to drag it through the almost pathless wild. He brought with him some English cherries, which he planted, and from these seeds the entire neighborhood came to be supplied with the fruit. He was a Justice of the peace many years -- a man of intelligence and fond of reading. The Pittsburgh Gazette -- always pronounced "Gazit" by him -- was his favorite newspaper.

John MAHARG, long a well-known resident of Penn Township, was a native of Ireland and emigrated to this country about the year 1801. After a few years' residence in Cumberland County, he located on the present John MARTIN place, in Forward Township, removing thence to Penn, when its entire territory was little more than a wilderness. He died in 1871, at the remarkable age of one hundred and two years. He was a man of great strength, both of mind and body, and retained until the very end of this life all his physical and mental faculties. Shortly before his death, while conversing with some of his neighbors upon religious subjects, some allusion was made to the early history of the Presbyterian Church, and thereupon Mr. MAHARG related the names of every minister who had ever preached in that church, giving frequently the texts as well as synopses of various discourses which he had held in memory for scores of years. He was a devoted adherent of the church, and ministers of the Gospel always received a hearty welcome at his house. During his later years, meetings were frequently held at his house, that he might listen to the Gospel which he so dearly loved. It is rare that men live to be centenarians, and rarer still that until the close of such a long life they retain full possession of all their faculties as Mr. MAHARG did. He lived to see men who were born after he arrived at manhood, become old and die, and most of the gray-haired associates of his later years, he could say he knew them when they were boys. It is frequently a matter of interest to us to study the changes wrought during a century, but how forcibly and vividly must they be impressed upon a mind that has lived through them all! Four of the children of John MAHARG are still living, all residents of this county -- John, James, Eliza (MILLER) and Hannah (KENNEDY).

It is said that one of the first wagons in Butler County was owned by John MAHARG. If it were in existence today, it would be a fit curiosity for a museum. It was four-wheeled, and the wheels were made, not with spokes, hubs, and felloes, but of a much more primitive pattern -- they were simply [p.266] "cuts" sawed off a huge round log. Wooden lynch pins held them in place upon wooden axles; in short, not a particle of iron was used in the construction of the entire vehicle. Instead of grease, soft soap was used as a lubricant for the axles.

The settlement had made considerable progress before any vehicles whatever were in use. Packsaddles were used to convey to market the few articles which the farmer had to sell and to bring back the few groceries he purchased. The routes of travel were but paths through the forest. When roads were first made, they were of little utility, as during a portion of the year the mud was hub-deep. They avoided low lands and extended over the highest hills, little care being taken to avoid rough places or rocks.

The present Erastus LOGAN farm is an interesting spot historically, as the fifth generation of LOGANs are now living upon it. Mr. LOGAN informs us that the farm, which is situated in what was formerly known as the CUNNINGHAM District, was purchased from the State in the year 1786, by a man named Edward BURD, who, in the year 1804, sold it to Thomas LOGAN and his wife, Agnes LOGAN, natives of Ireland, and the ancestors of the LOGAN family in this part of the country. In 1807, Thomas LOGAN sold the farm to his son, Joseph LOGAN, who, with his wife, Elizabeth, made it their home, and willed it to their son, Joseph, from whom Erastus inherited it. Joseph LOGAN, the father of Erastus, died in 1865, and his wife, Margaret, in 1863.

Among the first settlers of the eastern part of the township was Matthew CUNNINGHAM. He had 300 acres of land, which, at his death, was divided equally among his six children. Four of them sold out their interests in the property to Hamilton and James, who settled, lived and died upon the home farm. Hamilton's children were Matthew Hamilton, Mary Jane, Nancy, James, Mitchell, Sarah, Robert and Rachel. Three are living -- Nancy, James M. and Rachel (DUNBAR), all in this county.

James CUNNINGHAM died in 1863, at the age of seventy-nine. His children were as follows: Matthew, Jefferson Township; Mary (WELSH), Jefferson Township; Jane, Penn Township; Nancy (SEAMAN), dead; Elizabeth (HILL), Iowa; Robert, dead; James, Penn Township; Erastus H. and Robert W., dead; this family experienced fully all the privations and hardships of pioneer life.

Sociability and good feeling prevailed. Each settler was willing to take up his ax and help his neighbor or any new-comer whenever he saw the latter in need of his services. Let any man stand on a hill-top and shout to his nearest neighbor, "I'm going to have a log-rolling tomorrow -- come over," and the word would pass from one to another, till at the appointed hour a large force of strong men would be collected, some of them coming from miles away. Of course, vast amounts of whisky were consumed on these occasions, but we can learn of no serious results in consequence of its use. It was not "fighting whisky."

Thomas BARTLEY, born in Ireland, came to this county from Pittsburgh about 1807, and settled on the farm where his son Joseph L. now lives. This part of the township was then all in a state of nature. Mrs. B., having had no previous experience in pioneer life, was not acquainted with the inhabitants -- the natives -- of these wilds. Had she been, she would not have tried to induce a hungry-looking dog, which she saw prowling about the cabin one day, to enter, that she might tame him. She held out a stick with mush upon it, but the animal could not be coaxed nearer. When her husband returned in the evening, and she told him of the dog she had seen, he at once informed her that the dog was a wolf and not susceptible of domestication.

Thomas BARTLEY died in 1859, at the age of eighty-five. He reared a family of eight children, of whom all are living but two, viz., David, deceased; Robert, Indiana County; John, Oakland Township; William, Butler; Thomas, deceased; Annabel, Butler; Abner and Joseph L., Penn Township.

A few years later, Robert BARTLEY, a brother of Thomas, settled in the southeastern part of Penn Township. Isaiah, of Jefferson Township, is the only of his sons now living in the neighborhood.

A old settler tells the writer that while BARTLEY was running his distillery, the boys frequently gave him great annoyance, and sometimes aroused his anger. On one occasion, several of them succeeded in giving his family quite a scare. By some means, they had succeeded in obtaining a live possum, and when the family, with several of the neighbors, who were visiting them, were seated at the supper table, the boys climbed quietly upon the roof of the house and dropped the possum down the chimney, square into the big fire-place, where a good fire was blazing. The frightened animal rushed out into the room and flew madly around, his fur blazing and smoking. Consternation ensued; the women and children screamed, and all were, to say the least, much astonished. The boys were delighted at the success of their mischief and stole away to chuckle over it to their hearts' content.

Many of these Irish families were familiar with the arts of spinning and weaving, having learned them in the old country. Therefore, it was not a difficult matter to supply themselves with clothing, using as materials wool and flax. "Deer," many old residents remark, "were then as plenty as sheep are [p.267] now." It was easy under these conditions to secure plenty of fresh meat whenever it was desired, and the hides of the deer, tanned, made good leather for shoes or for buckskin breeches. Sheep had to be carefully watched and strongly penned at night, or they would fall prey to the wolves.

John POTTS settled on the present GIBSON farm, in the southwestern part of the township, early, and later disposed of the place to his brother James. The latter was quite a noted character and was especially famous for thinking that everything that Jim POTTS said or did was a little better than anybody else could do. He had a large barn -- more space by far than he could fill with hay or grain; but to keep up appearance, he would build his mows up high at the front and sides, leaving the middle empty, so that a visitor upon entering the building would receive the impression that Mr. POTTS' harvest had been a rich one.

John REESE was an early settler on land lying between the DODDS and MAHARG farms. He had no children. He probably located here as early as 1808. He died in 1824, and his body reposes along with other pioneers in the old graveyard adjacent to the Middlesex Presbyterian Church.

Daniel HARPER, about the year 1807, settled about one mile east of the plank road. His son Joseph died upon the farm in 1873.

In 1816, Thomas WELSH settled in the eastern part of Penn Township. He came from Philadelphia where for years he had followed the trade of baker. He was totally unacquainted with farming, and probably had never seen a tree cut. But he entered upon the task before him with determined spirit and lived to see his labor rewarded. At the time he came, he purchased fifteen tracts of land, including a total of fifteen hundred acres, for which he paid $1 per acre. This land now is reckoned among the best in the county. It is situated in Penn and Jefferson Townships. Mr. WELSH sold several pieces to settlers, among which were the LOGAN, HARBISON, Patrick and Joseph GRAHAM farms and others. Thomas WELSH was the father of twelve children, eight of whom reached mature years. Four are still living, viz., Thomas, Allegheny County; George, Jefferson Township; Alexander, Penn Township; James, Allegheny City.

William DIXON settled on the farm now occupied by his oldest son, James, in 1819. He died in 1864. His family consisted of nine children. Three sons and four daughters are still living, but widely scattered. DIXON had been educated for the ministry of the Episcopal Church before he left Ireland, and after coming here he taught school, gave instruction in the catechism, etc. He acted as Justice of the Peace several years. Mrs. DIXON was a model housewife, faithful and industrious. When going to the store, she always carried her knitting work, and walked and knit diligently all the way. It is stated -- but not a fact -- that she once dropped her ball of yarn, and never noticed her loss until she had unraveled three miles of thread, so busy was she with her work.

The first of the SUTTONs -- a name now quite common in this part of the county -- was Jesse SUTTON, a native of New Jersey, who settled on the present COOPER farm about 1820. A son, Jacob, lived on a part of the old homestead and died a few years ago, aged eighty-four. Isaac, another son, died on the old homestead, at the age of eighty-one. He was much respected as a citizen. He devoted much attention to bee-raising and fruit culture. The orchard, which he planted, is now the best in the township. He had no children, but continued to the day of his death planting trees for the benefit of those who live after him.

Edward W. HAYS moved from Allegheny County and settled on the farm where he now lives as early as 1831. He reared four sons and six daughters, all of whom reached mature years. The sons and two of the daughters are still living. Alexander M. HAYS, the only one of these children now living in Butler County that [sic] resided in Jefferson Township since 1868. Mr HAYS, in company with Arthur MCGILL, once owned a stage route and carried the mail from Pittsburgh to Erie many years.

Adam WEBER and his wife, Verona (VOCHT) -- the later still living -- were among the earliest German settlers in this township, having located here in 1831. Five of their sons are now living in the county, viz., Samuel, in Forward Township; Peter, in the southern part of Butler; George and Adam, in Butler County, and John, upon the old farm where his father settled; George, in Clearfield County.

Thomas ROBINSON, Sr., was of Scotch-Irish descent. He emigrated to this country in 1832, and after spending three years in Allegheny County, came to this county and purchased the eastern part of a tract of land known as the DICKSON tract. The farm had about twenty acres cleared. Mr. ROBINSON spent his winters in clearing and his summers in cultivating, until he had a well-improved farm. He was a man of decided opinions, a Whig in politics, and in religion a Methodist. He died in 1863 at the age of eighty-two. His wife died in 1861. Their children were Abraham, Sarah (RUNYAN), Mary Ann and Thomas. Only Sarah and Thomas survive. The former and her children -- nine in number -- reside in Nebraska. Thomas and his family are well-known citizens of Butler Borough. [p. 268]

William FISHER moved from Berks County in 1831, and settled on the farm where his son Richard FISHER now lives. The place was then but slightly improved. Mr. FISHER was the father of nine children. Three are now living, viz., William, in Iowa; Franklin, Centre Township; Richard, Penn Township.

William C. WALLACE came from Washington County to Butler County and lived near Glade Mills about nine years, engaged in keeping hotel. In 1847, he located upon the farm in Penn Township, where he now lives with his son William. His sons Moses and Thomas are practicing physicians in Pittsburgh.

Robert STEWART, now a resident of Penn Township, came to this county when sixteen years of age, and has since resided in the county. He is now seventy-seven years of age, has never used tobacco or strong drinks and never rode on a railroad train. In 1850, he settled upon his present farm in Penn Township. For this land he paid $10 per acre. His son, R. W. STEWART, occupies the adjoining farm. John STEWART, father of Robert, was an early settler of Worth Township.

Robert PHILLIPS came from Washington County to this county in 1845, and settled on the farm now occupied by his son, E. T. PHILLIPS. He died in 1869. He was the father of fourteen children, of whom eight are living.

Harvey OSBORN, one of the successful farmers of Penn Township, came from New Jersey to Allegheny County; thence, in 1848, to Butler County. He first located in Middlesex Township, and in 1867 on his present farm in the southern part of Penn Township.

Philip MILLER and his son, H. C. MILLER, moved from Allegheny County to Butler County, and settled in Penn Township, where H. C. MILLER now resides, in 1855.


A few of the early settlers kept bees, and among this few was William LOGAN. One summer day a young swarm left his hive, and instead of quietly alighting and allowing itself to be supplied with a hive, flew into the woods. The bees were followed, and it was found that they had taken up their abode in a tree on John WELSH's farm. As WELSH owned the tree and LOGAN the bees, the two agreed to allow the swarm to pass the summer in their chosen retreat, and in the fall they would share the honey equally. Of course all the boys in the two families knew the secret of the bee-tree, and the joint owners, fearing some mischief from this source, made many threats of summary vengeance upon any one who should be so rash as to meddle with the bees.

Time passed on, and the bee-tree became well filled with honey. One night, George WELSH, Thomas WELSH and Frank BARTLEY met by preconcerted arrangement, and determined to brave the wrath of the bee owners and fell the tree. They proceeded to the woods, and soon the silence of the night was broken by the sound of an ax wielded by skillful hands; then the tree fell with a crash almost sufficient to waken the dead. The boys expected the proprietors of the bee colony to appear upon the scene immediately, and were preparing to hasten away. But, waiting a few minutes and hearing no sounds of pursuit, they decided to secure the honey, of which there was a fine lot. Here they were in a quandary, for they had taken no tub or pails along. Meantime, the honey was running to waste; what was to be done? "Wait," said George WELSH, "I'll get a tub," and he darted off through the woods, went to the house of his brother John, and speedily returned with a tub which he had borrowed without going through the formality of asking for it. In this vessel the honey was soon deposited, and then arose another question -- where should it be hidden? At length it was decided that the WELSH boys should take it home and cover it up in the hay-mow. This was done, and the plunderers went to their beds and slept quietly.

Soon after, it was discovered by George that his father's bees had filled their hives, and were building a comb and honey beneath them on the outside. Removing this deposit and adding some of the stolen treasure to it, he continued to supply the family with honey until all had been used. His father remarked that the honey seemed to hold out remarkably well, but he suspected nothing. Meantime, John WELSH and LOGAN were puzzling over the question as to what had become of their bees. LOGAN charged John with having cut down the tree and appropriating the honey. John was indignant at this unjust accusation, for not only had his tree been cut, but his tub had been taken, and could not be found. Charges and counter-charges were made, until finally the two families ceased to be on speaking terms.

After the tub had been emptied it was carried back and left near John's house. His wife found it and brought it in one day when George happened to be sitting there. His face was sharply scrutinized, but he told no tales, and was not suspected of having been concerned in the mischief. After the LOGANs learned that the WELSHes had got their tub back again, they were more than ever convinced that it had not been stolen at all, and consequently the bitter feeling increased. Some time afterward, Mrs. John WELSH and Mrs. LOGAN chanced to meet in Pittsburgh one day, greeted each other with kisses and friendly words, and from that time onward the families were on good terms. But the question, "Who [p.269] stole the honey?" remained as much a mystery as ever, and this is the first time the important secret has ever been divulged.


Previous to the establishment of a free school system, all schools were conducted upon the tuition plan, each parent paying a certain sum porportionate to the number of scholars he sent. Schools were frequently held in deserted log cabins, or sometimes in one room of a dwelling. When schoolhouses were built, they were for use and not for comfort. We have been told by men who attended these schools that they have sat at the writing desk when the ink would freeze upon their pens, and it would be necessary to thaw it by the breath in order to continue writing. Most of the pioneer schoolhouses were built after the same pattern, and consisted of a rude structure of round logs, with a door of splits or puncheons in one end, a floor of loosely laid puncheons, a ceiling of split saplings and a roof of long shingles or "shakes," held down by weight-poles. Extending across one end of the building was a huge fire-place built of stones, with a chimney of sticks, mud, and stones surmounting it. The walls were plastered up with mud to keep the cold out -- or some of it. One log was usually cut out, and across the intervening space sticks were placed; upon these leaves of copy books, greased to make them translucent as well as capable of resisting rain, were pasted. Beneath this window was the writing desk -- a slab or puncheon held in place by pins driven into the log, and extending the whole length of the cabin. The seat underneath the writing desk was made of a log or pole, with legs at each end, elevating it so high that the pupils' feet could not reach the floor. The benches on which the scholars sat were made in the same way -- at first puncheons with legs in them; and later slabs. As years went by, the greased paper lights gave place to small panes of window glass, arranged in the space between the logs as before described. A schoolhouse of this desciption was early built in Forward Township, and in it pupils from Penn received instruction.

Probably the first schoolhouse in the township was a small log building which stood on the Jacob HARTZELL farm. Here "Master" STERRETT taught school, and a little later John BOYLE, a "terror to evil doers and little boys." FUNSTON was the name of another early teacher. The pedagogue was invariably called the "master," and he was generally true to his name, except on occasions when "barring out" or putting sulphur in the fire compelled him to make concessions. Barring out was a universal practice, and old and young delighted in seeing it carried out successfully. When the master found the door of his school room securely fastened, he knew that he must either "treat" his scholars or sign a treaty of peace agreeing to do so at some future time.

The early school teachers were Irishmen, and usually fond of showing their authority. Few are remembered who were noted for their mildness, and none can be charged with sparing the rod unduly. Reading, writing, and "figuring" were the only branches taught; few of the early pupils, or teachers, we might say, knew anything of geography or English grammar; they had never heard of it, and it was years before these useful studies were introduced into the schools. Reading was taught from the Bible or the old English Reader. Each pupil was assigned a lesson by himself, and made to recite it alone; class work was a thing unheard of.

The first schoolhouse in the eastern part of the township was a building of round logs, which stood on a corner of the Thomas BARTLEY's farm. Here Baptiste HALL, an arbitrary, authoritative master, more than suspected of being fond of whisky, swayed the rod. William DIXON also taught school here about the year 1821.

Summer schools were unusual if not unknown in early times. A term of about twelve weeks in the winter was the only educational opportunity afforded the children of the pioneers. Frequenty, too, a year went by without there being any school.


The industries of Penn Township, excepting agriculture and the oil business, are not numerous nor extensive.

The first saw-mill in the township was built by Moses CRISPIN on Thorn Creek about 1820. It was a small frame building. The mill was in operation several years, and boards obtained from it by the settlers were found to be a great convenience as well as a vast improvement upon the puncheons hitherto in use. A part of the ruins of the old mill are still visible.

Probably the first whisky made in the township came from Robert BARTLEY's still. Robert EADY, on the RIDDLE farm, also had a small distillery.

D. A. RENFREW, in 1868, built upon the Connoquenessing the first grist-mill ever erected in the township. It was known as Penn Mills. Its capacity for a day of twelve hours was about seventy bushels of wheat and one hundred and twenty bushels of chopped feed. Mr. RENFREW erected his saw-mill in 1854. These mills were burned in June, 1882, but will be at once rebuilt.

Hiram and S. J. RANKIN are the proprietors of a steam saw-mill and feed-chopping mill in the southern [p.270] part of the township. This mill was erected in 1878.

The first store in the township was started at Brownsdale in 1847. A little later, Samuel GAMBLE opened a store not far from the present SUTTON store, on the plank road. The first post office was Brownsdale, the second Maharg. John E. MAHARG was the first Postmaster at the latter office.

The first frame house in the township was probably Robert EADY's, built forty-five or fifty years ago. James DOUGLASS about the same time built the house now owned by James MARTIN.


This little hamlet, consisting of about a dozen houses, is situated among the hills of the western part of Penn Township. The place was named for A. M. BROWN, Esq., of Allegheny County, who established a store here in 1844. A post office was soon created, and Mr. BROWN appointed Postmaster. The store has continued up to the present time with several changes in proprietorship. Brownsdale now receives mail three times a week. It is a thrifty and very busy little place, considering its size. The present business interests and the date of their establishment are exhibited in the following summary:

D. B. DOUTHETT, merchant, 1881.
Michael NICKLAS, blacksmith and carriage-smith, 1867.
J. D. MARTIN, wagon shop, 1870.
RAMSEY and NIXON, blacksmiths, 1879. William NIXON began this business in 1877, and was joined by A. J. RAMSEY as partner in 1879.
Isaac BLAKELY, marble cutter, 1880.
Grafton SHORTS, shoe-maker, 1881.

Dr. C. L. CAMPBELL attends the medical practice of the vicinity.


In consequence of the Bald Ridge oil developments elsewhere mentioned, a thriving oil town has sprung up during the present year on the land of D. A. RENFREW, in the northwestern part of the township. Simeon NIXON was the pioneer settler of the place, and opened a boarding house here in January, 1882. Lots were laid out in April, and speedily a number of buildings were erected. Renfrew City has since become a railroad station; has a post office, three hotels, five stores, several groceries, and the usual industries of oil towns. It is a young but very active village.


No churches were organized in this township very early, owing to the scattered condition of the settlement. Religious meetings, however, were held at schoolhouses and in private dwellings long before any societies were formed or churches built.

Thorn Creek Methodist Episcopal Church -- Methodist meetings were occasionally held during many years, but no regular organization was effected until about 1837, when a class was formed in the eastern part of the township, at the house of John KENNEDY, consisting of John and Anna KENNEDY, Thomas ROBINSON, Betsey CUNNINGHAM, Hamilton CUNNINGHAM, Nancy CUNNINGHAM, Elijah BUCKHART, Rebecca BUCKHART, and perhaps one or two others. John KENNEDY was class leader, and held that position several years.

The name of the preacher who formed the class is not remembered. Revs. MEGOWN, COOPER, MURRAY, and WILLIAMSON were early preachers.

The class met for some years in private houses, and afterward in a log building erected for religious purposes on the southwest corner of Hamilton CUNNINGHAM's farm. This rude building was known far and wide as the "Temple," and services continued to be held in it until the present church edifice was erected. The "Temple" was a small log building, probably 20x26 feet, with low walls and seats of slabs. For some time after the walls were up, it stood without a roof. It was then completed and used by various denominations, but toward the last by the Methodists alone. Now, like other relics of pioneer days, it has disappeared.

The present Methodist Episcopal Church building, completed in 1865, is a comfortable house, in good condition, and cost about $1,800. The membership at present is about sixty, but it has been larger. In 1880, under the preaching of Rev. Sylvester LANE, quite an interesting revival occurred, which resulted in thirty-three converts.


The Baptists of the eastern part of the township had an organization over fifty years ago, but as their early records are lost, statements made by old residents must supply their place. Meetings were held for many years at the house of Stephen LUSE, who was an active member of the church; also in schoolhouses and barns.

Among the leading early members were William NIXON, James CRUTCHLOW, and Jacob SUTTON. Rev. STOUGHTON was an early preacher and labored many years in this and neighboring churches.

Not until 1850, however, did the church become sufficiently large to justify the erection of a meeting house. About that date the house now standing east of the plank road was erected, principally through the influence of Isaac SUTTON. Rev. DINSMORE was [p.271] the first preacher after the house was built. Of late years the membership has dwindled until scarcely any members remain. No regular meetings have been held for two years.


Measures were taken for the formation of this church in 1859. That year a lot was donated by Joseph DOUTHETT and a subscription paper was circulated which received the signatures of various citizens, who pledged sufficient aid to encourage the originators to go on and complete the church. A building committee was selected, consisting of Joseph DOUTHETT, John W. MARTIN, Adam DODDS, Wiliam M. BROWN, and David DOUTHETT. A neat and convenient house, 40x50 feet, was erected at a cost of about $1,500. This was completed and ready for occupancy in 1860.

Previous to the building of this church meetings were held in the NIXON Schoolhouse. The church was regularly organized during the year 1860, under Rev. William H. JAMISON, and consisted of about fifty members.

The first Elders elected were John W. MARTIN and David DOUTHETT. Joseph DOUTHETT and John DODDS, Esq., Elders, joined; the former from the Union Church, and the latter from the Clinton Church.

The following church officers were elected May 12, 1860: S. C. DOUTHETT, B. S. DOUTHETT and James MAHARG, Trustees; Joseph DOUTHETT, Treasurer.

This church is supplied in connection with the Union Church. Rev. R. M. PATTERSON, the first pastor, began his labors in 1861. Rev. R. G. YOUNG succeeded him, and the present pastor, Rev. R. P. MCCLESTER, in 1880.

The church is now in a flourishing condition with a membership of over eighty persons.


1854, John DODDS; 1856, John BARTLEY; 1859, William C. WALLACE; 1860, John Q. A. KENNEDY; 1861, Joel KIRK; 1865, Joseph DOUTHETT; 1867, Samuel REA; 1870, Joseph DOUTHETT; 1873, Felix W. NEGLEY; 1875; Joseph DOUTHETT; 1878, Williamson BARTLEY; 1879, George K. GRAHAM.



The WELSH family were of Irish extraction, and can be traced back to Thomas WELSH, who came from that country many years ago and settled in Philadelphia, where he engaged in the baking business, which he successfully followed for some years, having in the meantime married Elizabeth (WELSH). He finally concluded to engage in agricultural pursuits and removed to Penn Township, where he purchased an extensive tract of land containing 4,200 acres, where he remained until his death occurred in 1853, in his seventy-fourth year; his wife dying in 1873, when lacking but a few days of attaining the ripe old age of eighty-nine years.

They were both members of the Presbyterian Church, of which he was an Elder.

Their children are John, Sarah, Thomas, Ann, George, William, Elizabeth, Rebecca, and Alexander, who were born in Philadelphia, and Sarah, William, and James, born after coming to Butler County.

Alexander was born on February 7, 1819, and was raised on the farm, receiving only such opportunities for an education as were afforded farmers' sons at that early time. He chose farming for a business, and owns the old homestead where his father first settled.

Mr. WELSH is numbered among that class of men who do not crave office or station, but quietly pursues the even tenor of his ways, thereby escaping the annoyances and perplexities that besets those ambitious for distinction. As a farmer, he is numbered among the successful ones of his township, and daily deports himself so as to earn the respect of the community where he resides.

He was married in February, 1844, to Sarah CAMPBELL, who died leaving one child -- Rebecca J., now the wife of George K. GRAHAM, a farmer in Penn Township. In March, 1851, he married Catherine NICKEL, who died in January, 1852, and in February, 1861, he was married to Margaret Ann MCGEARY, his present wife. Having no children by his second and third marriages, he reared John A. RIFLEY, and is now providing for two children -- Alexander C. And Sarah J. MCGEARY.

Mr. and Mrs. WELSH are members of the Presbyterian Church.

A fine view of the residence can be found on another page.


In 1833, John ANDERSON, a native of Conty Down, Ireland, came from that country with his wife, Mary (DUNN), and settled in what is now Franklin Township, on a farm, where he remained until his death in August, 1866, when in his ninetieth year, his wife's death occurring in 1859, while in her eightieth year.

They were both consistent members of the Presbyterian Church, as was also their entire family. Their children were Jane and Samuel, now deceased; [p.272] Elizabeth, now Mrs. MCCULLOUGH; James D., Mary, now Mrs. ROBINSON; Margaret, now Mrs. James MARTIN, in Penn Township.

James D. ANDERSON was born March 11, 1816, and was reared on his father's farm, receiving a common school education. In 1865, he purchased a farm in Penn Township, on which he now resides. He is also a stockholder in the Butler Savings Bank, in which he has officiated as Director.

Although not an aspirant for office, he has filled nearly all the positions in the gift of his fellow townsmen, and in 1876 was elected Register and Recorder for a term of three years on the Democratic ticket in this, a Republican county, with a majority of some 600 voters, which attests the popularity of Mr. ANDERSON, who filled the office with credit to himself and his constituents.

May 24, 1842, he married Mary Ann MARTIN, who was born January 2, 1822, and is a daughter of Robert and Keziah (MCCLURE) MARTIN. Mr. MARTIN was one of the pioneers of Connoquenessing Township. He raised a company during the war of 1812.

Mr. and Mrs. ANDERSON are both active members of the Presbyterian Church, and highly honored members of the community where they reside. Their children are Robert M., a farmer in Penn Township; John F. and E. Howard, residents of Denver, Colo.; while Mary A., Elizbeth J., Emma, William C. and Florence reside at home.


Daniel OSBORN, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born January 17, 1776, and his mother, Mary (LEICH), was born April 23, 1784. Mr. Daniel OSBORN was a blacksmith by occupation, and moved from his home in New Jersey to Braddock's Field in Allegheny County, and from there to Pine Township, Allegheny County, where they remained until coming to Butler County, after their son had engaged in farming in Middlesex Township. He died January 22, 1869, and she January 10, 1857, respected by all. Their children were Usual, Eliza, Rhoda, Rachael, Oliver, Sarah A., Charles, Charity, Amanda, John and Harvey.

Harvey was born February 22, 1823, in the State of New Jersey, and received a common school education.

For nine years Mr. OSBORN was quite largely identified with some of the leading railroads of the country, having contracted for the laying of the track from Crestline to Fort Wayne on the Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad, and for three years was Superintendent of this division. He also superintended, for the company, the laying of the track from Fort Wayne to Chicago. He also laid forty-five miles of track on the Wabash & Western, and considerable on the New Albany & Salem Railroad. In 1848, he moved to a farm in Middlesex Township, and, after a time, turned his attention to merchandising, conducting a general store at Glade Mills for three years. He then erected a warehouse on his present farm in Penn township, where he now resides, and, some nine months later, or in June, 1877, when, having on hand a full stock of goods, all was destroyed by fire, entailing a loss of some $5,000. Since that time he has devoted himself almost exclusively to farming, and the energy and push which has characterized all his business enterprises, has been extended to this occupation, for Mr. OSBORN is a man who rises superior to adverse circumstances. November 29, 1854, he was married to Mary S., daughter of John and Mary (DRIGHRON) BARR, old settlers in Allegheny County. She was born October 13, 1827. Their union has been blessed with two children -- Emma J., now Mrs. Wiliam J. STEPP, and William M., who is married to Amalda KNAUF, and resides on his father's farm. Mr. and Mrs. OSBORN are both members of the Presbyterian Church.


In an early day, Joseph LOGAN came from Ireland to Penn Township, and purchased 300 acres of uncultivated land, where he remained until his death in July, 1839, aged sixty-eight years. His wife, Elizabeth, died in August, 1850, aged seventy-seven years. They did much pioneer work, and left a family of children as follows: David, Levi, Joseph, Nancy, Isabell, Mary, Barbara, and Elizabeth, now the widow of Samuel G. PURVIS, of Butler. Joseph, the third son, who died November 8, 1865, while in his fifty-second year, became possessed of one-half his father's original purchase. He married Margaret MCCANDLESS, daughter of James MCCANDLESS, one of the pioneers of Adams Township. She died August 1, 1863, while in her forty-first year.

Mr. LOGAN was a man whose chief characteristics were honesty, integrity and deep piety, which are attributes such as any man might aspire to obtain, and are qualifications which made him honored and respected by all those with whom his lot in life was cast. Such men are the bulwarks of our nation. He was an Elder in the Clinton United Presbyterian Church, and was one of the four original members and founders of the same, which is an honor to his name.

His children are Analena, now Mrs. G. H. LOVE, Erastus; Elvy, now Mrs. W. I. PUFF; Mary E., now Mrs. R. J. ANDERSON; Clorinda, now Mrs. S. J. SHAW; Sarah J., now Mrs. A. SHAW; and James C. Erastus, who married Elizabeth RENFREW, now owns the old [p.273] homestead, and is, therefore, a representative of the third generation on this farm. Although but eighteen years of age at the time of his father's demise, he took charge of the farm and occupied the double capacity of brother and father to the younger children, a responsibility few at his age would be competent to assume. He discharged this double office with remarkable ability and fidelity. He is now the father of three boys -- Joseph R. G., Samuel C., and David C., and three girls -- Edith A., Lilly B., and Emma L.


The RENFREWs date their ancestry back to Scotland, from which historic country John RENFREW came to America in 1774, being then a young man, aged seventeen years. He settled on the banks of the Connocochigue Creek, in Franklin County, State of Pennsylvania, and there built one of the first gristmills in that section, he having purchased the land on which it was located in 1778. This property is still in possession of the RENFREWs of the fourth generation, and the old stone mill first erected is still standing.

John RENFREW, who was a Revolutionary soldier, died in 1844 at the advanced age of ninety-six years. He married a Miss THOMPSON, and they became the parents of five children, as follows: Robert, Samuel, John, James and Margaret.

Samuel came in possession of the above property, and lived there until his death in 1854, while in his fifty-sixth year. He married Hannah Ann LINDSEY, who departed this life in 1821. He married Margaret ANDREW for his second wife, and they became the parents of one child, James.

By his first marriage he became the father of four boys, viz., John, who died in 1882; Robert, who died in 1875; David; and Samuel, who died in 1841.

David, the immediate subject of this sketch, was born April 30, 1817. Becoming impressed with the desirability of more extended education than was afforded at the schools in his section, he commenced the regular course in Marshall College, but ill health compelled him to abandon his intentions to graduate after attending for two years. Thinking to benefit his health, he came to Butler County in 1840, and engaged in school teaching, intending shortly to return home, but becoming acquainted with Mary L., daughter of John KIRKPATRICK, one of the pioneers of Armstrong County, whom he married May 2, 1844, he was led to change his plans for the future, and purchased a farm in Allegheny County, which was disposed of in 1848, and in 1851 he purchased and removed to a farm in Penn Township, Butler County. To this was subsequently added the farm on which he now resides, and on which, in 1854, he erected a saw-mill which was run for many years. In 1868, he erected a grist mill, which did service until burned in June, 1882. This same year, 1882, coal oil was discovered in paying quantities on his farm, where at this writing extensive operations are being pushed to develop it, while several wells already down are producing oil in considerable quantities, as will appear in the oil chapter in this volume. Renfrew City, one of the typical oil towns, is now being built on his farm, it also being one of the stations of the Pittsburgh & Western Railroad.

Mr. RENFREW has devoted himself assiduously to his private business since becoming a resident of Butler, and he is a man who has won the esteem and respect of his associates. Both Mr. and Mrs. RENFREW are consistent members of the Covananters [sic] Church. They have been the parents of children as follows: Samuel, who enlisted in 1862 in Company H, of the old Thirteenth (afterward One Hundred and Second) Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, and was killed September 19, 1864, at the battle of Opequon Creek; Agnes, now Mrs. S. MILLEN; Elizabeth, now Mrs. E. LOGAN; John, a farmer in Penn; Robert, deceased; while David, Hannah A., Kezia, Melissa, and Margaret remain at home.

James KIRKPATRICK, grandfather of Mrs. RENFREW, was a Revolutionary soldier, and settled in Armstrong County before the removal of the Indians.

A fine view of Mr. RENFREW's residence appears elsewhere.


John NIXON and family came from New Jersey to Butler County in 1812, and settled in Jackson Township, on the farm now owned by Jacob NIXON. The children of John NIXON were Evans, William, Elizabeth, Jehu, Jane, Daniel, Charles, and Jesse. Evans NIXON remained in New Jersey. Jehu NIXON was well known as a great hunter and a faithful and jovial friend. He died a few years ago. Daniel and Jesse moved to Knox County, Ohio. The latter is still living. William NIXON, the second son of John NIXON, was born in Morristown, N.J., March 4, 1797; came to this county with his parents and resided here until his death, March 24, 1881. His wife, Eunice, was born in New Jersey March 5, 1793, and died in Butler County, Penn., September 6, 1866. Simeon, the youngest of eight children of William and Eunice NIXON, was born in Butler County, December 11, 1836. Two of his sisters are living -- Nancy NIXON and Sarah Ann (BROWN). Mr. NIXON received his education in the old log schoolhouse of his district and at the Witherspoon Institute and Butler Academy. He spent his summers in farming and his winters in teaching until Fort Sumter was fired upon when he left the position he then held as teacher in the town of Fairview and helped to raise a company of Butler County volunteers -- Company H, old Thirteenth -- and served with it until the end of the term. He afterward enlisted soldiers for other regiments, and himself enlisted for three years in Company G, Sixth United States Cavalry, in which he served as a non-commissioned officer until the close of his term of enlistment.

Mr. NIXON was twice elected Auditor of Butler County, and, in 1866, was elected Register and Recorder. Since the expiration of his term of office he has resided upon his farm in Penn Township. October 25, 1875, he was married to Jennie TEMPLE. Mr. NIXON has always claimed that his courtship was longer than was necessary. He talked to the lady of his choice about three hours before he married her, and the two had never been acquainted until the evening on which the ceremony took place. The children of this union are Simeon NIXON, Jr., born August 5, 1876; John Brown NIXON, born June 3, 1878; and Thomas Paine NIXON, born August 12, 1880. Although Mr. NIXON is an infidel, he was once honored by being elected Trustee of the Methodist Camp-Meeting Association. He regarded the association as the best social institution of the neighborhood in which he lived. Simeon NIXON has always been know as an active supporter of the principles of the Republican Party. He has contributed many articles to the local press under his own signature, and the nom de plume, "Meteor", "Justice,", etc. These articles have attracted much attention on account of their vigorous style, delicate humor, and powerful satire. He was the author of "My Policy," a pamplet extensively circulated as a campaign document in 1868. His articles on "National Reform," and his sarcastic reply to its advocates were much read and commented upon by the people of this county. Mr. NIXON was a member of the National Liberal League Convention which met at Philadephia in 1876. He was the founder and secretary of the Penn Township Farmers' Club, and has favored every organization of laboring men to resist the influence of monopoly. Mr. NIXON was also the main organizer and chief manager of the Penn Township "Harvest Homes," which have been largely attended. He has always been a fast friend of the common schools, and, on 22d of February, 1876, held an intellectual fair in Butler, which was a grand success. Mrs. Jennie NIXON was born in Rockdale, Jefferson County, Penn., December 22, 1857. Her father, John TEMPLE, is a Baptist clergyman, now living in Smithfield, Ohio. He was born in Westmoreland County. Her mother was born in Ireland, and is still living.


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Chapter 27--Buffalo Township
Chapter 29--Winfield Township
1883 Butler County History Contents
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Edited 30 Nov 1999, 10:49