History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1895x34

History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1895

Penn Township, Chapter 34

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Transcribed by: Lexie Gallagher. For an explanation and caution about this transcription, please read this page.
Link to a sketch of Penn Township from the Atlas of Butler County, G.M. Hopkins & Co., 1874.

Surnames in this chapter are:




[p. 452]

Penn township, named, doubtless, in honor of William PENN, the founder of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was organized in 1854, when the final re-subdivision of the county into thirty-three townships was effected. The territory comprised within its boundaries formed a part of the original townships of Middlesex and Connoquenessing. The natural scenery of the township is diversified and picturesque, its surface being well watered and well drained by the Connoquenessing creek, which passes through the northwestern corner, and by Thorn creek and its tributaries, which drain the central, eastern and northeastern portions. The feeders of the east branch of Glade run drain the southern portion. Although these streams break and render the surface of [p. 453] the township uneven and, in places hilly and rugged, its soil, except close to the streams, is free from rocks, very fertile and easily cultivated. Penn is one of the purely apricultural [sic] townships of the county, and is peopled by thrifty, intelligent and progressive tillers of the soil, whose well cultivated fields and comfortable homes bespeak the industry that begets prosperity.

The coal deposits of the township, so far as developed, do not give evidence of being either as rich or extensive as those in other portions of the county, although coal mining has been carried on within its boundaries for many years. On the Alexander WELSH farm the Upper Freeport coal in its best form was found and mined for a long time, while on the LAVERY farm an opening was made in the same vein in the early days of the township's history. Openings were also made on the FISHER and KENNEDY farms. The latter, however, was opened while searching for the Lower Freeport coal, but the effort does not appear to have met with a rich reward. On the Renfrew lands, below the mouth of Thorn creek, the Coleman coal was found above the Buffalo sandstone; the Upper Freeport fifty-eight feet above the Connoquenessing creek, and the Lower Freeport two feet above that stream. Mr. RENFREW worked the three coal beds. He also burned the Freeport limestone at that point. In the northwest corner of the township the Buffalo sandstone makes an unusually massive showing in the "Town Rocks" -- detached blocks, some as large as a cottage.

The development of the Brownsdale field and of the phenomenal Bald Ridge belongs to the chapter on the Butler Oil Field, where it is given in detail. In the Bald Ridge district the Third and Fourth sands are found approaching each other in the south west until they come together, each producing and giving the great PHILLIPS and ARMSTRONG wells.

In 1873 the late David DOUTHETT discovered a native grape vine twenty-one inches in circumference on the lands of James McCANDLESS. Its branches literally covered three great oak trees. On the lands of W. M. BROWN, in the same neighborhood, a sassafras tree, measuring eight feet ten inches in circumference was in a healthy condition. In November, 1881, a golden eagle was captured here by Elijah T. PHILLIPS, that measured seven feet from tip to tip.


Robert BROWN, a native of New Jersey, was the first actual settler in this township, building a small log cabin in the wilderness in the northwestern part of the township, and tenanting it in 1797. He was the father of Methodism in this county, and a justice of the peace for a quarter of a century. He died in 1853. Clark RATHBUN, who selected a location in 1796 and built a cabin, did not occupy it until after Mr. BROWN had established his residence here. It is stated, however, that RATHBUN left two of his children, Thomas and Ruth, here to hold possession of his improvement until he could return with his family. Ruth afterwards married Robert BROWN. The other members of the family are said to have moved to Ohio before 1820.

James BOYD, a blacksmith, and George BOYD, a chairmaker, and unmarried, settled in the township shortly after BROWN and RATHBUN. George afterward purchased the RATHBUN land, in addition to the 400 acres entered upon coming [p. 454] here. James BOYD had 250 acres of land in 1803. Adam BROWN, the founder of a large family, came into this township from Middlesex about 1803. Joseph BROWN is the only one of the family named in the county records of 1803 as owning property in original Connoquenessing township. Thomas DIXON, a native of Ireland, came to this township in 1800 with his family. His son, William, accompanied him, but moved to Pittsburg, where he resided until 1819, when he returned, taught school and became one of the early justices of the peace.

John RANKIN, a native of Ireland, and a soldier of the Revolution, settled here in 1804 or 1805. He came from Maryland, raised a large family and lived to a ripe old age. His son Simon died on the home place, in 1879, aged eighty-one years. Matthew CUNNINGHAM was one of the first settlers in the eastern part of the township. He came prior to 1805, took up 300 acres of land, and passed through the usual hardships and privations of pioneer life. At his death his land was divided equally among his six children. John MAHARG who located across the line in what is now Forward township, came in about the same time, making Penn township his home until his death in 1871, at the remarkable age of 102 years. Joseph LOGAN and family settled on a tract of 300 acres in 1807, which his father, Thomas LOGAN, bought three years before. He died here in 1839, and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1850.

John DODDS, better known as Squire DODDS, came from Ireland in 1800, and in 1808 settled near Brownsdale. He served in the War of 1812. John REESE, who died in 1824, located in the MAHARG settlement. Daniel HARPER, whose daughter married David SUTTON, was a contemporary pioneer, and built his cabin here in 1807 or 1808. Thomas BARTLEY, Sr., a native of Ireland, settled here early in the century, about 1808, and Thomas BARTLEY, Jr., was born here in 1812. Robert BARTLEY, a brother, came from Ireland in 1809 or 1810, and located southeast of Brownsdale, where he had a distillery. Moses CRISPIN, who erected a saw mill on Thorn creek, in 1820, was here some years before. Jesse SUTTON came in 1820, with his family.

James MARSHALL, a native of Tyrone county, Ireland, came with his wife and eleven children to the United States in 1822. They came to Penn township in 1824. Adam WEBER, a native of Germany, settled in this township in 1831. He was one of the original members of one of the first Lutheran churches in the county. Edward W. HAYS located here the same year. Thomas ROBINSON, Sr., who died in 1863, purchased a part of the DIXON lands in 1835. Israel SEAMAN, a native of Washington county, settled in the township in 1833. A year later William FISHER came from Bucks county, Pennsylvania. William C. WALLACE, a native of Ireland, purchased 360 acres of land in this township in 1837, and began the improvement of the tract in the same year. David A. RENFREW, a native of Franklin county, settled in this township in 1840, and in 1844 erected a sawmill on his lands, to which he added a grist-mill in 1868. In June, 1882, both mills were destroyed by fire. These enterprises, preceded by Moses CRISPIN's saw mill, established in 1820, and the distilleries of Robert BARTLEY and Robert EADY, comprised the manufacturing industries of the township.

The population in 1860 was 914; in 1870, 837; in 1880, 1,131, and in 1890, 1,814. From June, 1882, to the fall of 1887, the number of inhabitants some- [p. 455] times reached 5,000, the oil men and retinue rushing in and out according to the excitement in the several fields. In January, 1894, the assessed value of real and personal property was placed at $335,114, on which a county tax of $1,340.45 and a State tax of $459.11 were levied.


One of the earliest schools in the township was presided over, at different times, by Mr. STERRETT, John BOYLE, Peter FUNSTON, William DIXON and others, all itinerant teachers well known to the early settlers of the southern part of the county. The Renfrew Academy was presided over in June, 1885, by J. C. TINTSMAN, who conducted it with success for some years. The people of this township have always taken an interest in educational matters and their "Harvest Home," "Happy Day," and other meetings have generally been given an educational turn. The township has always been noted for its literary societies and the interest manifested in them by such active spirits as Simeon NIXON, now of Butler, and others, with a talent for oratory and for argument. In 1894 there were 273 male and 211 female children of school age reported. The total revenue for school purposes, was $3,414.90, including $1,727.50, the State appropriation.

The justices of the peace for Penn township, from its organization, in 1854, to 1894, are as follows: John DODDS, 1854; John BARTLEY, 1856; William C. WALLACE, 1859; John Q. A. KENNEDY, 1860; Joel KIRK, 1861; Joseph DOUTHETT, 1865, 1870, 1875; Samuel REA, 1867; Felix W. NEGLEY, 1873; Williamson BARTLEY, 1878; George K. GRAHAM, 1879; R. M. ANDERSON, 1883; W. S. DIXON, 1884,1889; John W. KALTENBACH, 1888, 1893, and W. T. MARTIN, 1891. The justices elected for Bald Ridge District were W. S. DIXON, 1889; W. V. SEAMAN, 1890, and J. W. KALTENBACH, 1893.


The United Presbyterian Church of Brownsdale, the oldest in point of membership, is a branch of the old Union, Clinton and Butler churches. In September, 1858, the members residing in the Brownsdale neighborhood determined to have a church of their own, and , with this object in view, the following named persons joined the organization: David DOUTHETT, John DODDS, John W. MARTIN and Joseph DOUTHETT, Sr., members of the session; with Jane E. DOUTHETT, Rebecca DOUTHETT, Hannah DODDS, Margaret MARTIN, Elizabeth DODDS, James MAHARG, Catherine MAHARG, Mary DOUTHETT, William DODDS, Martha J. DODDS, Josiah DODDS, Alexander CARNAHAN, Elizabeth CARNAHAN, Benjamin DOUTHETT, Elizabeth DOUTHETT, Robert DOUTHETT, Esther DOUTHETT, David DIXON, Agnes DIXON, Mary, wife of Joseph BROWN, William M. BROWN, James K. BROWN, Margaret BROWN, Adam DODDS, Margaret DODDS, Samuel DOUTHETT and Mary DOUTHETT. The first pastor was Rev. R. M. PATTERSON, of Kittanning, who served about four years, when Rev. R. G. YOUNG came. Rev. R. P. McCLESTER, who was here from 1880 to 1890, left in June 1890, since which time the pulpit has been variously supplied. The church was erected in 1860 by Joseph RODENBAUGH, under the direction of the building committee, among whom were William M. BROWN, Benjamin DOUTHETT and John W. MARTIN. John [p. 456] B. DODDS, D. B. DOUTHETT, W. S. WIBLE, S. C. DOUTHETT and James MAHARG were elected members of the session in April, 1881, and now belong to that body. The number of members is seventy-five, while the same number is enrolled in the Sunday school.

The Methodist Episcopal Church of Thorn Creek was organized in 1837, as KENNEDY's class, with the following named members: John KENNEDY and wife, Thomas ROBINSON, Betsy CUNNINGHAM, Nancy CUNNINGHAM, Hamilton CUNNINGHAM, and Elijah and Rebecca BURKHART. Prior to 1840, a rude round log house, 20 x 26 feet in size, which was afterward called "The Temple," was erected on Hamilton CUNNINGHAM's farm; but it was not roofed for a year or two after the walls were built. Visiting preachers of the Baptist and Presbyterian beliefs looked upon "The Temple" as a Union building, and invited their followers to worship there until the Methodists, believing their hospitality abused refused its use to the preachers of other denominations. On the reorganization of the Methodist class, after the war, it was determined to build a new house, and in 1865, one was completed at a cost of $1,800. This church is in the Brownsdale charge, the pastors of which are given in the history of Forward township.

Zion Baptist Church was organized May 16, 1840, by the following members: Isaac SUTTON, Jacob SUTTON, Robert PHILLIPS, William NIXON, Stephen LUCE, John LUCE, Salmon SNOW, Martin BOYD and William McCANDLESS, with their wives, and perhaps a few others. As they had no place of worship, services were held in the house of Isaac SUTTON and others until the year 1850, when the present church building was erected. Rev. E. M. MILES was pastor from 1844 to 1846. In 1849 Rev. G. J. DINSMORE became pastor. He was a carpenter, as well as a preacher, and at once began collecting money with which to purchase materials for a church building. He did the carpenter work, and by 1850 the house was ready to hold services in, though without seats. Mr. DINSMORE remained until 1855, and his successor, Rev. Gideon SEYMOUR, came in 1861 and served until 1863. He, too, was a carpenter and completed the building, working at the bench on week days and preaching on Sunday. During his pastorate quite a number of members were added to the church. His successors have been as follows: Revs. E. WOODRUFF, 1864-67; Gabriel HUSTON, 1868-69; E. WOODRUFF, 1870-73; John TEMPLE, 1875-79; A. J. ADAMS, 1883-84, and John OWENS, the present incumbent, who came in February, 1892.

The Methodist Episcopal Church of Renfrew was organized in 1888. In November of that year, Rev. R. L. HICKMAN, then pastor at Prospect, preached to a gathering of Methodists, in a school-house at Renfrew, and added a number by conversions. A building committee was appointed composed of J. W. McALLISTER, James HAMEL and William SCHEIDEMANTLE. A sum of $369 was subscribed, but the work rested until the fall of 1889, when $400 were collected. In January, 1890, R. M. BOWSER, Wilson KENNEDY and J. DAVIDSON were added to the committee, and in February David A. RENFREW sold the society a lot for sixty dollars. In March, 1890, a church building was erected at a cost of $1,500, and was dedicated July 20, 1890.

Cemeteries.-- On the William G. DOUTHETT farm near Brownsdale is an old family cemetery, begun in 1801, when young Joseph DOUTHETT bled to death and [p. 457] was buried there. On the old DOUTHETT homestead, near the same village, is another little cemetery. There are two headstones, one to Benjamin DOUTHETT, who died in 1850, and one to Jane DOUTHETT, who died in 1847. Across the line in Forward township, on the old `Squire BROWN farm, is an old burial ground, the two headstones telling of the deaths of Stephen LUCE and Elizabeth BROWN in 1849.

The United Presbyterian cemetery has monuments to the following named old settlers: John and Hannah DODDS, who died in 1864, aged eighty-seven and eighty-nine years respectively; William DODDS, in 1872, aged fifty-nine years; Alexander HAMILTON, in 1875, aged seventy-five; Margaret, wife of Capt. John MARTIN, in 1877, aged seventy; Captain MARTIN, in 1881, aged seventy-seven; Thomas BURTON, 1882, aged eighty-three; Patrick HAMILTON, in 1883, aged seventy; Joseph DOUTHETT, in 1884, aged seventy-seven, and Rebecca, his wife; Mary, wife of Thomas BURTON, and David DOUTHETT, died in 1885, and Joseph L. BARTLEY, in 1891. Many of the old settlers rest here; but no headstones tell of their coming or their going.


Brownsdale is in the center of the BROWN-DOUTHETT settlement, and derives its name from A. M. BROWN, who established a store there in 1844. On petition of the people of that neighborhood a postoffice was established here in 1845-46, and Adam BROWN was postmaster until he joined the California Argonauts in 1849. It is said that David DOUTHETT succeeded him. In 1867 Michael NICKLASS established a blacksmith and repair shop; in 1870 J. D. MARTIN a wagon shop; in 1877 William NIXON opened another blacksmith shop; in 1880 Isaac BLAKELEY started a marble cutting yard; in 1881 G. SHORTS established himself as shoemaker, and the same year D. B. DOUTHETT entered mercantile life in the village. The United Presbyterian building, the Methodist church, just west, the schoolhouse, A. M. DOUTHETT's store, and a dozen of dwellings and tradesmen's shops, constitute the village of 1894.

Maharg was the second postoffice village established in the township, John E. MAHARG being the postmaster.

Renfrew may be called the capital of the Bald Ridge district, at one time one of the famous oil fields of the world, and to-day the possessor of many fair wells. The history of the locality begins in the thirties, when William PURVIANCE, the old surveyor of Connoquenessing township, discovered an unpatented tract of thirty acres near or adjoining his entry of 212 acres. The Connoquenessing flowed through the tract, and it appeared to the surveyor as a property worth possessing. He applied at once for a patent, and the application was granted in 1838. Two years later David A. RENFREW purchased lands and settled here, and built a saw-mill in 1844 and a grist-mill in 1868. Seeing that this tract of thirty acres was unimproved, he and a man named DODDS took possession of it, paid the taxes, made sundry improvements, and considered themselves the owners of the land. In September, 1882, their ideas on this point were rudely shaken, for it was then known that the capital of Bald Ridge was certainly an oily land, with millions in it. The heirs of William PURVIANCE appeared on the scene, and [p. 458] a legal battle to decide the true ownership resulted. Another surveyor, N. M. SLATER, of Butler, discovered an unpatented tract of six acres in 1881, and became the owner, but sold to J. D. McJUNKIN; so that between the PURVIANCE heirs, the later patentee, the occupying owners, and the owners of oil leases, it was difficult to decide in whom the title rested at the close of 1882. The matter was carried into the Butler county courts, and thence to the board of property. Senator HERR, W. H. LUSK and Miss Dott PURVIANCE represented the PURVIANCE heirs; while J. M. THOMPSON, W. D. BRANDON and Thomas ROBINSON appeared for D. A. RENFREW, Robert DODDS, Porter PHIPPS and SIMCOX & MEYERS, the improvers and occupiers. The board decided the title to be in the heirs of William PURVIANCE. The subject, however, was far from settlement, for physical and legal contests ensued until the courts finally sustained the claim of the occupiers. In April, 1883, D. A. RENFREW employed men to take possession of the house tenanted by the PURVIANCES, and a pitched battle ensued. The sheriff came upon the scene and drove off the invaders; but on the 4th of April a second and successful attack was made, in which Miss Dott PURVIANCE received serious injuries.

In January, 1882, Simeon NIXON established a restaurant, and was considered the pioneer of the village. Renfrew City was located in April, 1882, on part of the RENFREW farm, bordering on the creek. PHILLIPS Brothers began drilling on the farm at that time; while the SIMCOX & MEYERS wells close by, the McCONNELL well on the MILLER farm, and the purchase of John KALTENBACH's farm at $100 per acre and one-eighth royalty, attracted speculators and the oil world in general to the spot. By the close of August a town appeared in the wilderness. Three houses were hauled from Millerstown, Karns City and Petrolia, over the Narrow Gauge railroad, to Renfrew, and set up as a bakery, a machine shop and a livery stable. On August 23, about eighty lots were sold and twelve leased, the selling price ranging from eighty dollars to $200 each. W. W. PATTON erected the first building, for hotel or boarding house purposes; SIMCOX & CAMPBELL the second, on lot 8, half of which was the grocery store of W. W. WOOD (who came here from Bullion), until his own building would be completed, while the other half was given up to the hardware stock of the owners. John GLASS, of Millerstown, erected the third building, for the purposes of a grocery store, in the middle of August, 1882. W. H. EDWARDS' blacksmith and machine shop; the grocery store of WAHL & BISHOP; that of Fred BROWN; the livery barn of MOREHEAD & LARDIN; a livery stable, built by Levi R. McFANN; H. M. SHAW's bakery, east of Bridge street; IRELAND & HUGHES' machine shop, west side of Bridge street; Dick's Barber shop; Miss Sadie KING's restaurant, east of NIXON's "Ocean Dining Hall"; the railroad depot on the RENFREW donation; Jerry WILLIAMS' shanty, near the depot; J. E. COULTER'S; building, moved from St. Petersburg; D. W. ROBERTS' livery stable, opposite WAHL & BISHOP's store, and John McGEE's tent, were the buildings here in August and September, 1882.

F. H. BROWN was appointed postmaster in August, 1885, vice H. W. KOONCE, removed. David STEWART erected a hotel in 1884, which was burned soon after, and the present RENFREW House built. PRICE & TILLINGHAST's machine shop was opened in 1886, and carried on by the firm until 1891, when Allen C. PRICE became sole owner. R. M. BOWSER established his lumber business in 1884. John [p. 459] H. WALKER, a carpenter, came in 1887. James PATRICK, the present postmaster, established his store in 1888, and subsequently was appointed postmaster. John D. BARNHART established a boilermaker's shop in 1889. Henry J. VAN DYKE came to the village the same year, and also opened a boilermaker's shop. Both of these are still in operation. The mercantile circle in 1894 comprised S. MARKWELL, James PATRICK and A. D. SUTTON, general merchants; Dr. H. S. McCLYMONDS, druggist, and BOWSER & Son, lumber merchants.

Phillips City was a part of the wilderness in August, 1884. Early in September two oil wells, a school building and two telegraph offices were in existence. In October it was a busy little town, with Thorn creek dividing it into two parts. William GILLILAND's boarding house, Charles ROESSING's eating house, Charles WARD's boarding house, Amos SMITH's eating house and confectionery, and John DUFFORD's boarding house on the BARTLEY farm; James STEWART's dwelling, HUGHES Brothers confectionery and cigar store, William T. REDDICK's residence, George PRINGLE's residence, on the DODD's farm; the houses of Thomas JEFFRY, M. HOAGLAND, W. W. KOPE, Richard STEELE, W. G. PATTERSON, and M. BRUSHART, on the William R. PATTERSON farm, and sundry smaller buildings, completed or commenced, showed the progress of the place. The fire of December 19, 1884, originated in the accidental firing of five oil tanks, of 1,600 barrels each, and resulted in the destruction of property valued at over $11,000.

McBride City, south of Renfrew, grew up like a mushroom in February, 1885. Within a few days fifty houses were erected and 200 lots leased for new buildings. The McBRIDE City Oil Exchange Hotel was built for C. WILLOUGHBY, and many restaurants opened. Six grocery stores, two dry goods stores, three barber shops, two drug stores, two billiard halls, two livery stables, six telegraph offices, including "The Scout's Headquarters," a roller rink and other institutions known to oil towns only, were all in operation. A private one-cent mail for letters between the new city, Renfrew, and Butler, and two lines of stages were also established.

Critchlow City, which followed the PHILLIPS 125-barrel well of August, 1886, boasted of five new houses on October 7, 1886, together with Mrs. BRYAN's boarding house and Walter DICKEY's store.

[End of Chapter 34 - Penn Township: History of Butler County Pennsylvania, R. C. Brown Co., Publishers, 1895]

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