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Family Histories of McKean County


Duke Center Families

The following history is submitted by Christine Irvine, some of the information was obtained from the book "History Of The Counties Of McKean, Elk, Cameron and Potter, Pennsylvania", by Michael A. Leeson, published 1890.

Otto Township

Located in the northern part of the county bordering New York State, Otto Township was an unbroken wilderness until 1842, in which year Herman Strong , who had come from Springfield, Penobscot County, Maine, located a farm at what is now called Prentiss Vale. Indian Creek rises in the northeast corner near the New York State line; Tram, North and Kansas branches of Knapp's Creek which flow together above Duke Centre, occupy the three valleys of the north, while the heads of the north branch of Cole Creek flow south by east from the southern divide, leaving the center of the township to be drained by Knapp's Creek, in the valley. The highest point in the county the summit between Indian Creek and North Branch at 2,350 feet above sea level.

Logging in Otto township started in the fall of 1849 with the opening of a mill in the valley of Knapp's Creek by Michael Leeson. In 1851, the mill and the timber land was sold to W. P. Pope and Cyrus Strong of Binghampton, NY, who cleared the streams and built dams to reserve the water, and drove the pine logs to Olean, where they built mills and manufactured for the eastern markets. In 1854, they sold out the remaining timber and mills to Borden & Co., of Fall River, Mass., since known as the Olean Lumber Company.

Many of the settler's in Otto township were neighbors of Herman Strong and Michael Leeson in Penobscot County, Maine. Soon a small schoolhouse was built which served not only teaching but also religious services. After the start of the mill in 1849, a regular postal route was established from Eldred to Bradford and in 1850, I. W Prentiss was appointed postmaster. In 1852 a Congregational church was organized, with Rev. M.W. Strickland, of Maine, as the first pastor. This church at one time had more than 30 members, but through deaths, relocations and competition became extinct.

In 1854-55, the resident taxpayers of Otto Township were: J. M. Baldwin, Nahum, Samuel Sr., and James Cyrus, Asa and Sam Baldwin, Jason W. Blanchard (owned the land of Rixford). T. J. Bryant, Cook, Borden & Co sawmill owners. John and Josiah Davis and Gordon Ellis living near Eldred. L. Ellis, James Fogle, Jesse Garey living near Keating. Orisson Grey, Milton Koons, Col. James Labree, O. Lovell, William Lovejoy, James McCord, William McCullough, Hiram Moore, Robert Moore, Arthur Prentiss, H.K. Prentiss, G.M. Prentiss, Ed S. Reed, Brad, G., Joe and William H. Spillar, George and William Plummer, John Swink, Rev. M.W. Strickland, J.S. Thompson, Henry Twambley, Coon Wagoner and Miami York. The value of their property was placed at $6,305 by Nahum Baldwin. Deacon Sprague came in January, 1856, and settled that year on his farm. John Duke arrived in about 1860 and built his mills in what was to become Duke Centre.

Duke Centre

The first house built on the site belonged to Cook, Borden & Companies and was a frame boarding house erected in May of 1856. Peter Haines and Chauncey Root were two of the earliest independent residents of Duke Centre. In February of 1878, the business houses of Duke Centre were those of Charles Duke, Huffman & Dalrymple, Swan & Bacon, O.D. Bloss & Co. and Barber Bros. By 1879 V.P Carter, president of the Duke Centre Gas Company built a second pipeline from Rixford to Duke Gentre. There were ten stores and several hotels as the oil boom was in full swing and Duke Centre was a center point. Two of the hotel's were Brown's Empire House and the McDonald House. G.F. Barton's Opera House and three churches were in operation.

The First Congregational Society of Duke Centre and Prentiss Vale was incorporated in June of 1879 with the following members: M. W. Strickland (Pastor), M.A. Strickland, L.B. Prentiss, C. L. Allen, L.S. Allen, B & H Bunker, F.W. Sprague, Mary Sprague, Joseph Gridley and J. K. Leugemors. A church building was erected in 1879, but was sold in 1884-85 and converted to a skating rink.

The First Church of Christ, Duke Centre, was incorporated in November of 1879 with John Duke, Samuel H. Brown, A.A. Trend, A. J. Applebee, Thomas Woodard and Israel Couroth as members. Their house of worship was started in 1879 but not finished until 1880. However, their first services were held in 1879 in the unfinished church.

The First Methodist Church of Duke Centre was incorporated in December of 1879 with A. R. Baker, C.G. Thomas, I. C. Schonerman, Enos Thomas, A.A. Coons, W. A Simons and James L. Van Kirk, stockholders. Among the trustees, Charles Duke and J. E. Baldwin are named.

The population of Duke Centre in 1880 at the peak of the oil boom was 2,068. Two major pipelines moved oil from the fertile wells in the old timberlands to the holding tanks in Duke Centre before they were piped to the railroads and shipment to the refinery's.

In 1881 several civic and fraternal organizations were founded. The Odd Fellows were organized in March. The Northern Start Lodge, F. & A. M. was organized with the following charter members. Charles Bunce, David J. Wilson, John V. Brown, Lucius J. Lilly, Jesse Leonard, James Green, Pyrrhus Mills, Samuel M. Jones, George Tinto, Charles C. Anderson, O.P. Irvine, Joseph Norris, William N. George. The J.H. Mullin Post No. 356, G. A. R. was organized at Rixford in July of 1883.