Erie County

Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister



Harbor Creek Township

The earliest location within the limits of Harbor Creek Township was made by Thomas Rees, who took up a large tract of land, long known as the Rees Reserve in 1796. He was the first surveyor in the county, having been appointed by the Population Company in 1792, but was prevented from entering regularly upon his duties until the spring of 1795, by the threats of the Indians. He did not become a resident of the township, however, until some years after. The first actual settlers were William Saltsman, Amasa Prindle and Andrew Elliott, who went in in 1797. These were followed by Hugh McCann and Alex. Brewster in 1800; by Thomas Moorhead, John Riblet and sons, John, Christian and Jacob Ebersole and the Backus family about 1801, and by Ezekiel and Benjamin Chambers in 1802. Mr. Moorhead's father, and brothers John, Robert and George, came in at intervals running from 1802 to 1806. Robert Scott, Thomas Greenwood, Robert Jack, John Shattuck, Aaron Hoag, Henry Clark, Andrew Culbertson, Thomas Bunnell and the Caldwell brothers were among the first settlers. Several of these persons were from the eastern portion of the State; the others were mainly from New England and New York. Mr. Saltsman was from Northumberland County; the Riblets and Ebersoles from Lancaster County; Mr. Clark from New England and Mr. Elliott from Ireland. The Riblets and Ebersoles were the first of the "Pennsylvania Dutch" stock that settled in the county. A man by the name of Jack was on the Jesse Ebersole place in 1802. Dr. Ira Sherwin made his location in the township in 1825. William Henry and brother settled in Mill Creek in 1803, and changed from there to Harbor Creek. The descendants of these pioneers generally occupy the land to-day. Mr. Brewster cleared thirty acres, which he abandoned and moved to Erie. Sarah Prindle was the first female child born in the township in 1799, and William Clark the first male child, in 1801. Thomas Rees was the first justice, and Thomas Greenwood and Myron Backus held the same office at an early day.

General Description
The township was one of the original sixteen established, and has retained the same limits to this day. It has an area of 20,481 acres, and is noted as having more colored population than any other in the county. The negroes are mostly descendants of three slaves who were taken in by Thomas Rees. To two of these, Robert McConnell and James Titus, upon reaching the twenty-eighth year of their age, when they became free by the emancipation act, Mr. Rees gave fifty acres of land near Gospel Hill. The Moorhead family also brought in a slave, known as Caesar, who was emancipated as above, but continued to live with his former master until his death. Harbor Creek is bounded on the north by the lake, on the east by North East and Greenfield, on the south by Greene and on the west by Mill Creek. It has a frontage on the lake of about seven miles, its east line is a trifle longer, its south line is about four and a half miles, and its west line very nearly five miles. The township is one of the wealthiest and most populous in the county, and its citizens are not surpassed as a moral, intelligent and church-going people. It maintains unusually good schools, has many neat houses and barns, and its farms, as a rule, are under a fine state of improvement. Of late years, the farmers of this section have given much attention to the culture of fruits, berries, grapes and melons, meeting with a degree of success that far exceeds their original anticipations. The First and Second Ridges extend across the entire southern portion of the township from east to west. On the First Ridge and back of it, on the second plain, the land continues quite good. From the Second Ridge south, it is broken, cold and clayey, being better suited for grazing than grain. The township contains three villages -- Wesleyville, Harbor Creek and Moorheadville -- each of which is a station on the Lake Shore and Nickel Plate Railroads. These are also the post offices of the township; through them most of the inhabitants receive their mail matter. Another post office, known as Southville, was kept up for some years, near the Cass Woolen Factory, but was abandoned about 1840. Since that period, the southern portion of the township has been without mail facilities, though a post office somewhere on the Station road would seem to be a necessity.

The population of the township has been as follows: 555, in 1820; 1,1or, in 1830; 1,843, in 1840; 2,084, in 1850; 2,033, in 1860; 1,974, in 1870, and 1,781 in 1880. The assessment in 1883 gave the following results: value of real estate, $1,114,000. Number of cows, 584; of oxen, 12; of horses and mules, 605; value of the same $58,058. Value of trades and occupations, $12,280. Money at interest, $35,744.

Creeks and Gullies
The streams of Harbor Creek are Four, Six and Twelve Mile Creeks, Elliott's Run and Scott's Run, all emptying into the lake, and McConnell Run, a branch of Four Mile Creek. Four and Six Mile Creeks head in Greene, and Twelve Mile Creek on the edge of North East and Greenfield. All the rest are wholly within the township. Elliott's Run and Scott's Run are both small, short streams; the first flows through or near Harbor Creek Village, and the second is the next stream east. They were named after two of the earliest settlers. McConnell's Run crosses the Station road a little south of Gospel Hill, and joins Four Mile Creek near the foot of the great gully. It received its name from a mulatto, who built a cabin at an early day on the bank of the stream. The great gully or gorge of Four Mile Creek, which has attracted the attention of nearly every person who has ever traveled over the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad, commences in Greene Township, and extends to very near the bridge of the Station road, about half a mile south of Wesleyville, gradually becoming shallower as it reaches its northern terminus. Its length is about six miles, and it varies in depth from fifty to a hundred and fifty feet. There are a number of mills along Four Mile Creek, in both Harbor Creek and Greene Townships. The Old Cooper Mill, near the foot of the great gulf, was once a famous landmark of the lake shore region. William Saltsman first built a saw mill at this point in 1815, and added a grist mill in 1826. These afterward became the property of William Cooper, Sr., under whose management they obtained wide reputation. Mr. Cooper bought the mill property in 1839, and rebuilt the mills in 1850. The third saw mill in the county was erected by Thomas Rees, near the mouth of the creek, on the Crowley place, in 1798, for the Population Company. In the same year, Eliphalet Beebe constructed the sloop Washington, of thirty-five tons, on the shore of the lake, near the mill, for the use of the same company, being the first sailing vessel built on the south shore of Lake Erie. The gorge of Six Mile Creek extends to within a mile or a mile and a half of the Buffalo road, and its windings must be nearly five miles long. The deepest part of the gorge is at the Clark settlement, where it is but little short of 150 feet deep, with an average width of not more than 100 feet.

There are a number of mills in the township, but the most important are the Cooper Grist, Saw and Cider Mill at Wesleyville, the Neeley Grist and Saw Mill at the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek, Dodge's handle, shingle and saw mill, Troop's basket factory and cider mill at Harbor Creek Station, and Cass' woolen mill on the head waters of Six Mile Creek, in the southeastern section. A small grist mill was erected in 1800 by James Foulk, at the fall of Six Mile Creek, near its mouth, but was only kept up a year or two. Neeley's mill was established in 1802 by Capt. Daniel Dobbins and James Foulk. Capt. Dobbins lived there with his family seven years, until their removal to Erie. The mill fell into the hands of Joseph Neeley in 1816, who did a very prosperous business until 1841. From that time the mill was run by his son-in-law, the eminent Gen. John W. McLane, until the outbreak of the war, when it was sold by Mr. Neeley. Since then it has changed proprietors several times. The mill of the Messrs. Dodge was built in the spring of 1870, and has always done a good trade. It is run by steam, which is partially created by the gas from a well on the premises. A carding and woolen mill was erected on the site of the Cass factory as long ago as 1810, and was kept up till 1841 or 1842, when Thorton, Cass & Co. purchased the property, which had run down, and built the present extensive works. The factory was carried on very successfully for some years, and is still running on a small scale. In this connection, it may be noted that there were fully twenty-five woolen factories in the county forty or fifty years ago, of which five were in Erie city or its vicinity. Joseph Backus had a grist mill, saw mill and distillery near the Cass Mill in the early years of the county. The grist mill and distillery were abandoned fifty years ago; the saw mill continued to be run till a comparatively recent period, when it, too, was left to decay. Cooper's mill at Wesleyville will be referred to in connection with that village. Troop's basket factory was started about 1878. In addition to the above, there is a large cider mill at Moorheadville. The building used as a barn, on the north side of the road, on the Joseph McCarter farm, was once a grist mill, the power of which was furnished by Elliott's Run. Joseph Backus built mills at an early date in the Backus neighborhood in the southeast. The first cargo of flour and pork shipped to New York from Erie County was taken through the Erie Canal by Joseph Neeley in 1826. The flour was made at the mill near the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek.

Roads, etc.
The main public roads are the Buffalo and the Lake, in the north portion, crossing the township from Mill Creek to North East, and the Station road, commencing at Wesleyville and running in a general southeastern course into Greenfield. The Lake road extends through the township at a distance of from a quarter to a half mile from the water, having one tier of farms between. The Buffalo road runs at an average distance of a mile and a half south of the lake. The Station road was laid out through Colt's Station to Mayville, N. Y., about 1813. The Lake Shore and Nickel Plate railroads pass through the whole width of Harbor Creek Township from east to west, and the Philadelphia & Erie road runs through about a mile of its western portion in a semi-circular direction at the gully of Four Mile Creek. The first two have stations at Wesleyville, Harbor Creek and Moorheadville. The last has no station in the township.

Near the close of the last century, the State of Pennsylvania made a donation of 2,000 acres of land in the newly purchased Triangle to Gen. William Irvine for his services in the Revolutionary war, giving him the privilege of making his own selection. In 1795, while in the county to lay out the towns of Erie and Waterford, he took up a mile along the lake from Brawley's old tavern to the Greenwood Schoolhouse, embracing the mouth of Six Mile Creek, and running back a proportionate distance. In 1830, Gen. Callender Irvine, son of William, had 800 acres surveyed on both sides of the Buffalo road, and sold it off, reserving the water power, which was still regarded as of great value. About 1848, the balance of the reserve was disposed of by Dr. William A. Irvine, son of Callender.

Four and a half miles from the Parks in Erie is the village of Wesleyville, containing three stores, three blacksmith shops, one shoe shop, one large grist mill (using both steam and water), two cider mills, a saw mill, a wind mill factory, a brick church and schoolhouse, some thirty or forty buildings, and between 150 and 200 people. Four Mile Creek runs through the village, and the Buffalo road is its main street. The schoolhouse is built upon the diamond, near the center of the village, which was donated by Gen. Kilpatrick to the public for the purpose. Wesleyville enjoys a good trade with the farmers of western Harbor Creek, Greenfield and eastern Mill Creek. The Lake Shore and Nickel Plate Railroads run just north of the place, and it is the point of intersection of the Station road with the Buffalo road. The alley on the west side of W. R. Kelley's store is the line between Harbor Creek and Mill Creek Townships. Wesleyville was laid out in 1828 by John Shadduck, who owned the farm and mill now widely known as Cooper's mill. He built a grist mill in 1823, and a saw mill two years later, both on the west bank of Four Mile Creek. It was named Wesleyville after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The Methodist Episcopal church, the only one in the village, was built by Mr. Shadduck in 1828, and rebuilt by the congregation in 1866. Mr. Shadduck's death in 1834 was a heavy blow to the place.

The Methodist Episcopal Church at Wesleyville above referred to was a moderate sized one, and at a quarterly meeting held in it late in the fall thirteen were converted. Two young men, while at work in the brickyard making the brick for the above church, were awakened and converted, one of whom subsequently became an able preacher of the Gospel. From 1830 to 1834, this appointment was on the Erie Circuit. The latter year Wesleyville Circuit was formed. The apportionment of the church at Wesleyville for the support of the preacher in 1833 was $40. P. D. Horton and T. Benn were pastors in 1834; J. C. Ridout in 1881-82-83.

Harbor Creek and Moorheadville
The village of Harbor Creek is one of the pleasantest in the county. A station was established here by the railroad company because it was half-way between Erie and North East. The village contains two stores, one hotel, a blacksmith shop, wagon shop, Dodge's shingle, handle and saw mill, Jonathan Troop's basket factory and cider mill, and 75 or 100 people. The post office at Harbor Creek was established about 1832, and was originally located some distance east of the village. It is fifteen miles from Erie to North East, and Harbor Creek is exactly midway by the Buffalo road.

Moorheadville, on the Buffalo road, half a mile north of the railroad station of the same name, is not properly a village, but a cluster of neighborly farm residences. The locality received its name from the large number of Moorheads living there. It was first settled by Thomas Moorhead, in 1800, who was soon followed by others of the family from the eastern part of the State. The first Sabbath school held in Erie County was established in 1817, at this place, by Col. James M. Moorhead and Rev. Mr. Morton, in a log schoolhouse which was removed in 1857. Moorheadville is ten and one-half miles from Erie, and four and one half from North East, by railroad.

Religious Societies
The township contains six churches, viz.: Methodist Episcopal, at Wesleyville; Presbyterian and Methodist Episcopal, at Harbor Creek Station; United Brethren, on the road up Six Mile Creek, in the Clark settlement; Baptist, at Lowry's Corners, and another Methodist Episcopal, on the Ridge road, south of the Walker settlement. The Presbyterian congregation at Harbor Creek was organized May 26, 1832, with fifty-eight members set off from the church at North East. The first building was erected half a mile east of the present site, on a piece of ground donated by Judah Colt, who owned a large farm there. It was of brick, costing $2,089, and was dedicated November 7, 1834. The present beautiful edifice was built and dedicated in 1871, at a cost of $10,000. The first Elders of the congregation were Myron Backus, Samuel Kingsbury and J. J. Moorhead. Rev. Giles Doolittle, of the North East church, supplied the congregation during the first year of its organization. Rev. George W. cleveland was installed as pastor of the new school branch August 26, 1849; continued after the re-union, and is still in charge of the congregation. There was quite a struggle between Harbor Creek and Moorheadville over the site of the new building, and when the former place was decided upon some of the congregation withdrew and attached themselves to the church at North East.

The Methodist Episcopal Church in the same village was erected in 1873, on ground donated by Rev. Noah Sullivan, at a cost of about $4,000; it was dedicated December 11 of that year by Rev. B. J. Ives, of Auburn, N. Y. For many years, Methodist preaching has been enjoyed in the village of Harbor Creek and vicinity. This appointment has been on the Wesleyville Circuit.

The South Harbor Creek Methodist Episcopal Church in the Walker and McGill neighborhood is the outgrowth of a class organized in that vicinity at an early day. An early preaching point was at Lowry's Corners, in a schoolhouse, which was the main place of worship until the building of the church in 1841 or 1842, which was dedicated by Rev. John Robinson. Erie Circuit was formed in 1830, and the first quarterly conference for the new circuit was held at Harbor Creek September 13, 1830. There were present Wilden B. Mack, Presiding Elder, Joseph A. Barrass and A. Young, circuit preachers. In 1834, Wesleyville Circuit was formed, and since that time the appointment at South Harbor Creek has been on Wesleyville Circuit; however, the word south does not appear in the minutes until 1836, yet the name Harbor Creek undoubtedly referred to the class at Lowry's Corners, as the class at Harbor Creek Station was not organized until a later day, and then for convenience' sake, many previously having been converted with that class. Among the members in 1833 may be mentioned Silas Walker and wife, Audley McGill and wife, William Allen, James Clark, David Nellis and wife, and Jesse R. Prindle and wife.

The Harbor Creek Baptist Church located at Lowry's Corners, dates back as far as 1822. It was organized in a schoolhouse near Hoag's Corners. The congregation subsequently moved o a schoolhouse at Lowry's Corners, and later erected the church there. The charge is weak, and the congregation is now without a pastor.

The United Brethren congregation in the Clark neighborhood, was organized in 1856, with a membership of about ten, by Rev. J. W. Clark; the building was erected the same year. This field of labor was then Erie mission, but one year later it became a part of Harbor Creek Circuit. J. W. Clark was pastor in 1857, in 1874-75, and in 1882-83.

Besides the above places, religious services are frequently held in the schoolhouse at Gospel Hill, on the Station road. This place received its name because most of the early citizens were Methodists who were very devoted to their religion. The graveyard on Gospel Hill has been in use for fifty-six years. The first bodies interred were those of two girls who were drowned in Six Mile Creek in 1823.

County Officers
The county officers from Harbor Creek Township have been as follows: Sheriff -- John Kilpatrick, October 28, 1855, to October 21, 1858; John W. McLane, October 21, 1858, to November 16, 1861. Register and Recorder and Clerk of the Courts -- William P. Trimble, November 10, 1857, to November 19, 1860. County Treasurer -- James Chambers, January 4, 1853, to January 6, 1855. Clerks of the Courts -- Robert S. Moorhead, January 1, 1883, to January 1, 1886 (resident of Erie when elected). County Commissioners -- James M. Moorhead, 1827 to 1830; Samuel Low, 1836 to 1840; James Chambers, 1864 to 1867. Director of the Poor -- George W. Walker, 1840 to 1843. County Surveyor -- G. W. F. Sherwin, November 12, 1866, to February 22, 1869. County Auditors -- Thomas Rees, 1821 and 1824; James Chambers, 1846; Jesse Ebersole, 1870; William P. Edwards, 1880 to 1883.

School History
Early in this century, a school was taught in the barn of Robert Hurst, which for some reason had been vacated; this was in the vicinity of the present site of Moorheadville, on the Buffalo road, and was attended by Walter Greenwood, from whom we get this information, when a small lad, as his first school. He was born in the spring of 1798. The master was Walter Patterson. School was kept here but a short time. On the Col. Moorhead farm, probably a half mile east of the Hurst barn, a log schoolhouse was built, where the next school in that settlement was taught. This house was too far for the Harbor Creek settlement, which led to the building of another house on the farm of William Wilson, on the Buffalo road, just north of the Lake Shore Railroad. In this house, among the early teachers were a Mr. Fisk and Miss Clara Cain. In 1825, at Harbor Creek settlement, Miss Elenor Burgett taught a school. Where Wesleyville now is, at a point opposite Kelley's store, there stood a schoolhouse as early at least as 1811 or 1812, the first schoolhouse erected in that neighborhood, in which school was taught by a Mrs. Burrass. Here the venerable James Chambers, who was born in 1805, learned his letters. Later teachers in this building were Nathaniel Lowry, Freeman Wing, W. Taggart and George Hampson. The schoolhouses of the township are now thirteen in number, of which all but two are brick, the material of the Shaw School being stone, and of the Owen, frame. They are as follows: On the Lake road -- Shaw, near A. Shaw's, and Crowley neighborhood. On the Buffalo road -- Wesleyville, in the village; Chambers, near Henry Chamber's; Elliott, near Harbor Creek Village; Ebersole, near Joseph Ebersole's, and Moorhead, near William Moorhead's. In other parts of the township -- Gospel Hill, near John Bunnell's; Tuttle, near John Tuttle's; Owen, near William Cass'; Williams, near Hugh Campbell's; Lowry, near the N. D. Lowry place; Backus, near Edwin Cass;. The Elliott House was built for a graded school, and is two stories in height.

The venerable James Chambers, whose home is a little east of Wesleyville, is the oldest continuous Justice of the Peace in the county, and probably in the State. He was first commissioned by Gov. Ritner in 1837, and has held the office from then to the present time, with the exception of an interval of six years, during which he served a term each as County Treasurer and County Commissioner. Aaron Hoag, one of the pioneers, who died in 1857, was always in litigation, and it is stated as a fact, that after his demise, the law business of the court suddenly dropped off twenty-five per cent. Elias Campbell died at the house of his son-in-law, Thomas E. Kendrick, October 8, 1882, aged ninety years; he emigrated to Washington Township with his mother in 1797.

The value of land in Harbor Creek ranges from $200 an acre on the lake shore plain to $30 on the high ground south. Several valuable gas wells have been drilled in the township, but most of them are now yielding little or nothing.

Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Township Histories, Chapter VI, pp. 715-723.


This page was last updated on  Saturday, September 23, 2000.

Return to Erie County Genealogy Project

2016 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project