History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1895x40

History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1895

Clearfield Township, Chapter 40

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

Surnames in this chapter are:




[p. 494]

CLEARFIELD township derives its name from an Indian field discovered by the pioneers of 1798 near the Milligan settlement on Buffalo creek. Evidences of its recent cultivation by the Indians were present, and thus the name seemed appropriate upon the organization of the original township in 1804. The West branch of the Big Buffalo, the main creek, Long run, the feeders of Rough run, and the head waters of Bonny Brook, a branch of the Connoquenessing, rise in this township.

The Upper Freeport, the Darlington and the Kittanning coals are found here in abundance, the first being developed on the HUMES lands, near the oil wells, and on the KRAMER lands, and throughout that neighborhood. On the McDEVITT farm, 7,600 feet up the West branch, a deep bed of the Darlington, resting below the Freeport sandstone and seventy feet below the Upper Kittanning coal, was developed in three two-feet layers of Middle and Lower Kittanning, while farther down the streem the Deener banks offered a good coal. On a rivulet near the confluence of the West branch and Big Buffalo, three layers of Kittanning were found--the first four feet and the second and third two and a half feet each. The section showed fifteen feet of Butler sandstone, a vein of Lower Freeport coal, a body of iron ore, a layer of Butler linestone, eighty feet of sundry strata, three feet of Darlington, seventy feet of sundry strata, eleven feet of Kittanning, with shallow slate and shale divisions, and last, seventy feet of sundry stata. The bastard limestone of this township carried iron ore, which was hauled to the Winfield and Big Buffalo furnaces. On the McCLELLAND farm, near the east line, Kittanning coal was found high above the creek, and ninety feet below it a two-feet bed of Clarion coal. The first coal was mined on the MORROW farm, where the vein was eleven feet. In the southeastern corner, Mr. KERR worked in the old drift of the Winfield Furnance Company. The ferriferous limestone outcrops in many places in massive form, as the Freeport sandstone does in other localities.


The pioneers of this township were Patrick McBRIDE, Arthur, Connell and Dennis O'DONNELL, Eleanor COYLE, John COYLE, John SLATOR, James and Samuel MILLIGAN, Dennis, Andrew and Michael DUGAN, James DENNY, John McGINLEY, Hugh GALLAGHER, Charles and Michael McCUE, and Patrick and Marcus McLAUGHLIN. Others came in during the first decade of the century, so that by [p. 495] 1810 there were 288 persons constituting the pioneer circle. With the exception of the MILLIGAN family, who settled south of the present township, all selected lands within the present limits of Clearfield, and with extraordinary rapidity, reduced the wilderness to fruitful farms and made the region one of happy homes.

Patrick McBRIDE, a native of Donegal County, Ireland, led the way into the forest, in 1798, built his cabin on a 400 acre entry, 100 acres of which was donated to him by Archie McCALL, agent for the land owners, in recognition of his first and successful settlement. This pioneer died in 1848, leaving a large family. Arthur O'DONNELL, mentioned in the history of Donegal township, came from the same Irish county in 1798, with his wife and four children. Connel O'DONNELL, who is spoken of in the biographical sketches of Donegal township, arrived from Ireland shortly after, accompanied by his brother Dennis. Connell died in 1818, leaving his widow Mary to carry on the farm and raise a large family. His brother also spent his life in this county, and died in 1852. Dennis DUGAN, a native of Donegal county, Ireland located on 200 acres of land in this township in 1798, upon which he died at an advanced age. He reared a family of several children. The DUGANs were one of the first Catholic families to settle in this part of the county. John SLATOR, a soldier in the French army that assisted the American patriots in winning independence, was one of the first settlers of this township. He was also one of the pioneer Catholics of the county.

John COYLE, who came to the United States from Ireland in 1791, with his family, located here in 1800, and, thirty years later, founded the village of Coylesville. Coyle's station, in Jefferson, now known as Great Belt, was named by the West Penn Railroad Company in honor of this pioneer. During his long life he was known as a sterling, progressive citizen. Like many of the immigrants from Ireland, he was a linen weaver, and manufactured linen for the local demand, as well as for the exchange trade, --selling the product of the loom in Fayette county and bringing home salt, iron and other staple goods.

James DENNY accompanied his parents to the United States in 1794, and in 1799 came with them to this township to carve out a home for himself. He was a good shoemaker, and built up a large custom as well as a small manufacturing trade. He died here February 25, 1872, having survived his wife, Mary (O'DONNELL) DENNY, almost thirty-seven years. John McGINLEY and Hugh GALLAGHER, natives of Ireland, came in between 1800 and 1808; for we find the former assessed in the later year with 800 acres of land, one cow and a yoke of oxen, while GALLAGHER is assessed with 400 acres of land.

Many others might be mentioned here who assisted in the early development of Clearfield, such as the McLAUGHLINS, DOUGHERTYS, McFADDENS, DUFFYS, McGEES and CYPHERS. In the thirties, and down to the beginning of the Civil war, several new men came to share in the fortunes of the original settlers, such as the SIPES, McDEVITTS, FENNELLS, REILLYS, MARTINS, GREENS, THOMPSONS, SHERIDANS, McCREAS, McSHANES, LOGUES and DUFFS. This fertile township, of good farms and fine homes, tells of family successes, won by persevering toil and honesty.

The popluation of the original township in 1810, was 288; in 1820,--515; [p. 496] in 1830,--617; in 1840,--1,108 and in 1850,--1,924. After being reduced to its present limits, the population in 1860, was 869; in 1870,--847; in 1880,--999, exclusive of Coylesville's fifty-seven inhabitants, and in 1890,--841, including Coylesville. The assessed value of property, January 1, 1894, was $233,445, on which a county tax of $833.82 and a State tax of ninety dollars and seventy-six cents were levied.


The first school-house in Clearfield township was built near the Winfield line, in 1798 or 1799, by Arthur O'DONNELL, Andrew and Michael DUGAN, James and John McLAUGHLIN, Michael McCUE and James DENNY. Among the first teachers were John SMITH, who came in 1807, John WASHINGTON and J. Harrison COOK, together with other teachers named in the histories of Buffalo and Clinton townships. The second school building was erected above Coylesville, by Peter HENRY, Hugh GALLAGHER, William RECHER and the O'DONNELL family. John KENNEDY was installed as teacher. The common school system was adopted in 1835, but instead of the pioneer teachers many of their pupils aspired to wield the birch. Among them were Neil McBRIDE and William DOUGHERTY. There were six teachers employed in January, 1894. In June 1893, there were 103 male and eighty-three female children of school age reported. The total revenue for school purposes was $1,935.13, including a State appropriation of $991.58.

The justices of the peace elected in this township from 1840 to 1894 are as follows: Joseph HENRY, 1840 and 1845; John GALLAGHER, 1840 and 1850; James McCAFFERTY, 1845; James JOHNSTON, 1850; James B. KENNEDY, 1853; John McLAUGHLIN, 1854, 1859 and 1861; Arthur O'DONNELL, 1855 and 1870; Bernard SHERIDAN, 1860; John B. GALLAGHER, 1865 and 1870; W. S. SIPE, 1875 and 1880; Patrick DONOHUE, 1875; F. P. McBRIDE, 1880, 1885 and 1890; Thomas McGUCKEN, 1890, and George McGUCKEN, 1894.


St. John's Catholic Church, in its personnel, dates back to 1798, when the first Catholics of the township located in the wilderness. Prior to the building of the present chuch edifice, in 1853, the people attended St. Patrick's church on Sugar creek, Armstrong county, founded in 1806, St. Peter's at Butler, founded in 1821, or the church of St. Mary's Monastery, in Summit, erected in 1841. There were also missions or stations held here, when mass would be celebrated at stated times in the homes of the people. Mrs. Mary GREEN, who came here in 1840, relates that mass was often said in the homes of Manus DUGAN, John SHERIDAN, William McGEE, Denis DUFF, Patrick McBRIDE, Squire GALLAGHER, and in the houses of two or more of the O'DONNELLS and DENNYS. The old dwelling of John GREEN, west of Coylesville, was a favorite place with visiting priests, and often a temporary altar would be raised there.

The priests of St. John's parish since 1852 are named as follows: Father LARKIN, 1852-53; Father William POLLARD, 1853-55; Rev. R. C. CHRISTY, February, 1855-1861; Rev. Thomas QUINN, 1861-62; Rev. P. M. DOYLE, 1862-73. Father AYLWARD, appears to have been assistant priest, early in 1870, and Rev. John [p. 497] HICKEY was a regular visitor, his name often appearing on the baptismal register from 1870 to 1873. Father Patrick BROWN was appointed pastor in January, 1873, and remained until his death in July, 1888. During the last years of his administration, Rev. J. B. O'CONNOR was assistant priest. Rev. Thomas WALSH succeeded to the pastorate in 1888, and in 1889. Rev. Thomas McENRUE came. He had charge of the parish for about two years, when Rev. Henry McEVOY, the present pastor, was appointed. In the cemetery lie the remains of Father John N. DENNY, a native of this township, who died at Altoona, Pennsylvania, May 1, 1888. He was ordained at Rome in 1887, and though a young priest, was one of the noted scholars of this State. Father Patrick BROWN is also buried there. Father POLLARD, who became a celebrated preacher, died at St. Mary's Pittsburg, a few years ago.

The church building was erected in 1858, under the administration of Father LARKIN. The brick building was then a most pretentious one, being ninety feet long by forty-two wide, furnished with modern pews and good altars. In 1877 the Norman-Gothic tower was erected at a cost of about $4,000. This tower with spire, is 156 feet in height, well proportioned and worthy of a city rather than of a country parish. The main building never did present a proper skyline, so that its removal or remodelling is now proposed.

The location of the cemetery grounds is one of the most beautiful in all Clearfield. The cemetery is surveyed into regular lots and blocks, with an artistic stone cross in the center. Many old headstones and numerous modern monuments are found here, commemorating the names of members of the McBRIDE, RIVERS, GREEN, McCREA, CALLAHAN, LAUX, DUGAN, O'DONNELL, BRADY, McLAFFERTY, NUGENT, BENSON, McDONNELL, GALLAGHER, O'NEILL, McFADDEN and hundreds of other families.

St. Mary's of the Woods is the appropriate name bestowed on the private chapel at the old HICKEY homestead, near the northern line of Clearfield township. It is a family place of worship, but when Father HICKEY visits his old home, the doors are open and it becomes for all purposes a mission chapel of St. John's parish.

The English Lutheran Society, organized near Fennelton in 1857, shared in the erection of a Union church that year with the Methodists, and continued to worship there until 1861, when the two societies disbanded and lost their church building.

The Methodist Episcopal Church of Fennelton was organized in October, 1857, in a building on the Peter GRAFF farm, erected by the English Lutherans and Methodists that year as a Union church. The members were Peter FENNELL, Sr., Peter FENNELL, Jr., Margaret FENNELL, Lydia FENNELL, John SIPE, Sr., John SIPE, Jr., Margaret SIPE, Helena SIPE, Ann SIPE, John CUPP, Joseph MILLIGAN, and their wives, and Elizabeth REAGART. The pastors, in the order of service, were Revs. VENABLE, WILKINSON, RHODES, TIBBLES, SCOTT, HUGHES, D. CUPPS, Z. McKEE, ALTMAN and J. P. DOUGLASS, the pastor in 1894. During the Civil war the society dwindled to a few members, and the Union building was sold as private property. In 1880 Peter FENNELL erected a building at Fennelton, and in the [p. 498] fall of that year a revival meeting resulted in the addition of thirty-five members. In 1881 the church was reorganized by J. W. McKEE, of Butler; the old church site, then on the T. DISSNER farm, was purchased, the building reconstructed and dedicated October 9, 1881, and the society placed on a working basis. In all this labor of reorganizing a church, Mr. FENNELL was a zealous worker.

The United Presbyterian Church of Carbon Centre was organized July 15, 1878, with Henry GUMPPER, James MARTIN and Louis KREOR elders. It was incorporated March 4, 1881, the petitioners being Thomas HUMES, John MOORE, Robert MARTIN, Robert McMILLAN and Thomas S. THOMPSON. A frame house of worship was erected, which was used for meetings while the organization existed. In the records of 1891 there is no mention made of it, for some time before it went the way of other institutions of the little oil town.


Coylesville, in old Clearfield township, was brought prominently before the public in May 1830, when John COYLE, Sr., the proprietor, advertised lots for sale as surveyed by David DOUGAL. The location, on the turnpike, half way between Butler and Kittanning, and the fact that the mail stage pased that way tri-weekly, were set forth as advantages. Good land, fresh and salt water springs, coal banks and limestone outcrops, grist and saw mills and an industrious people in the vicinity were all pictured for the investor. The plat as recorded, July 14, 1838, shows the Butler and Kittanning road intersected by Plum, Cherry, Chestnut, Diamond, Strawberry, Jackson and Crab streets. The first store was opened there in the fifties, by John O'DONNELL, in the old building next to the present Gromley store. John SHRUM built a log house farther east and carried on a store for some years after O'DONNELL retired. Michael McBRIDE erected the present Gromley building after the war, and after John NOLAN built the first blacksmith shop. James SLICK succeeded NOLAN and, about six years ago, John KRESS established himself here as a blacksmith. There are now seven houses in the village, together with F.P. GORMLEY & Company's store. The first public celebration of St. Patrick's day in Butler county, was that at Coylesville in 1856, when L. S. CANTWELL delivered the oration.

Carbon Centre was the name of an oil village which sprung up, as if by magic, in 1875, when the oil development of that section begun. As early as August, 1860, John GALLAGHER reported the existence of petroleum in Clearfiild, but for over fifteen years little or no attention was paid to the discovery. The oil men came at last, and in 1875, Robert THOMPSON caused two acres to be surveyed into town lots, which he named Carbon Centre. Houses were erected in a hurry. William McCREA established a general store and many other busines(sic) enterprises were inaugurated. The United Presbyterians erected a church, the Methodists held meetings there and the little town was a busy place as long as the sands were producing oil. In April, 1883, the production fell to 150 barrels a day, the Showalter & Hardman Well, on the HECK farm, yielding ninety barrels of the total.

Fennelton may be said to date back to 1856, when Peter FENNELL with his [p. 499] son Peter, and nephews Daniel and Abram, moved into Clearfield township from Armstrong county. It is a country hamlet, boasting of a Methodist church, the general store of P. Fennel & Son, and a post-office.

Jeffersonville, near the line of Summit township, was at one time a postoffice station, but was long ago discontinued.

[End of Chapter 42 - Clearfield Township: History of Butler County Pennsylvania, R. C. Brown Co., Publishers, 1895]

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11 Jan 2000, 09:06