Historical View of Clinton County, Pennsylvania by "D. S. Maynard"
Bald Eagle Township-Mill Hall Borough
This township derived its name from Bald Eagle Mountain. It is not only the oldest in Clinton county, but was originally one of the largest townships in the state, if not in the United States. When the present territory of Clinton was a part of Northumberland, the northwestern limits of that county extended to the confines of the Province, and Bald Eagle township comprised all that portion lying north and west of a line which ran not far from the present division between Clinton and Lycoming counties. Therefore its territorial area included all of that part of the State west of that line, now divided into a dozen or more counties.
In the forming of Lycoming from Northumberland, in 1795, and Centre (in part) from Lycoming, in 1800, and Clinton (in part) from Centre in 1839, and the subsequent establishment of other counties, the township was allowed to retain its identity.
When Clinton county was erected, Bald Eagle township was one of the twelve townships into which it was divided. Since that time, by the organization of additional townships in the county, its limits have been reduced, until as at present it contains but a very small proportion of its original territory. It is now bounded on the south by Lamar and Beech Creek, on the west by Beech Creek, on the north by Grugan and Colebrook, and on the east by the city of Lock Haven and Lamar.
The surface of the township is diversified by mountains, hills and streams, and to the casual observer a large portion of it presents an appearance of wild ruggedness; but closer examination shows that much of the land that appears to be utterly worthless for agricultural purposes may really be converted into productive farms. This is especially the case with the broad scope that lies between the Allegheny ridge and the western boundary of the township.
The highest lands in the township are the Bald Eagle mountain, a portion of which lies across the south end; and a spur of the Allegheny, which crosses the township form west to east near the centre. The only "bottom" lands or flats lie along the Bald Eagle Creek. They are of a rich, sandy loam, very fertile, and adapted to the cultivation of corn, wheat, tobacco and vegetables, and might be profitably used for gardening purposes. Extending along the north side of the creek the whole width of the township, there is a strip of undulating land inclining slightly toward the stream. This tract is about a mile in width and is all very fine farming land, the soil being a light shale combined with loam and sand intermixed with gravel, and especially favorable for growing cereals. This land is comprised on what is known as the "officer's survey." Lying between this tract and the Allegheny range is a region locally known as "the ridges." This section is two or three miles in width and also extends the entire distance across, and like the tract just described, continues beyond the limits of the township up the Bald Eagle Valley. "The ridges" are hills of different sizes and shapes, varying in height from one hundred to three or four hundred feet. They are separated from each other by valleys or passes, through most of which small streams are flowing. Very few of these hills have abrupt or precipitous sides; many of them are tilled, and most of them tillable to their summits. The individual hills constituting "the ridges," really form a general ridge or range, the centre or highest line of which is about midway between the Bald Eagle Creek and the Allegheny. As the elevations on the south side of this range diminish in height as they recede from its centre, so also do those on the north side, thereby forming between the so-called Bald Eagle "ridges" and the Allegheny mountain a trough or valley, the general appearance of which indicates its adaptation to agricultural purposes; protected as it is from the northern winds by the mountain at whose base it lies, and being abundantly supplied with the best of water from living springs, it is certainly highly favored, and the soil is all that could be desired, for the growth of corn, potatoes, wheat, clover, &c., it being a red shale and sandy loam.
The Allegheny ridge itself may be cultivated some distance up its southern slope, as it now is in many instances; but as the summit is approached the conglomerate rock appears, cropping from the sides and lying in loose fragments on the surface; though when the top is reached there are many places where the surface is comparatively free from rock or stones of any kind, and good farms might be made and profitably cultivated on the dividing line between the Bald Eagle and Tangascootac valleys. There is even now a farm in good state of cultivation, in Beech Creek township, near the Bald Eagle line, which lies in the very summit of the range. Another farm is also being successfully cultivated by Mr. John Reaville, on the northern slope of this mountain, at an elevation of over eight hundred feet above Lock Haven.
Lying on the north side of the Allegheny ridge is the Tangascootac region, a scope of several thousand acres, extending to another spur of the Allegheny, which forms the western boundry of the township. This region is drained by the Tangascootac creek and its tributaries, which flow into the West Branch above Farrandsville. This part of the township may literally be termed a "howling wilderness," it being almost entirely covered with timber, consisting of pine, oak and other indigenous varieties. Originally the pine greatly predominated; but the operations of lumberman have nearly exhausted the supply. This tract, which lies generally several hundred feet above the river, occupies about one-half of the area of the township. The soil of this region, as a general thing, is susceptible of cultivation; in some places it is quite sandy and gravelly, as the result of the disintegration of the sandstone and conglomerate, which abound more or less abundantly throughout the tract. The water courses of the township are the Bald Eagle Creek, crossing it near the east end; Fishing creek, which empties into the former near Mill Hall; Lusk's Run and Sugar Run, both of which rise among the "ridges" and flow into the Susquehanna a short distance above Lock haven; the Tangascootac, east and west branches, in the western part of the township; and Plunket's Run, which empties into Bald Eagle Creek near the farm of Andrew White. At one time the entire surface was covered with a dense growth of trees, consisting of pine, oak, chesnut, walnut, &c., the best quality of which has long since been manufactured into lumber. At present there is but little done in the lumbering business in the township.
The first regular authorized settlement made in Bald Eagle township under an actual government grant, was soon after the survey of the officer's tract, along the Bald Eagle Creek, in 1769; though previous to that date squatters had taken possession of different tracts in the Bald Eagle valley, and perhaps elsewhere. The first survey on the west side of the Allegheny ridge was made in 1869 or 70, to George Cooper; the land, however, was never settled upon.
In 1782 a tract containing several hundred acres, lying on the south side of Bald Eagle creek, at the mouth of Fishing Creek, was granted to Samuel Atlee. This tract, with a considerable more land, was purchased in 1796, by George Bressler, who came from Lancaster county. Bressler's purchase included nearly all the land now occupied by the village of Mill Hall, and flats extending to the bridge across the Bald Eagle near the residence of Col. Bossert. At the time Bressler took possession of his purchase there was a small mill upon it, situated upon the ground now occupied by Sanderson's mill; this was the only mill within a scope of many miles around, and is said to have been built by a man by the name of Richards, who at one time had possession of the property. In 1800, Mr. Bressler erected, near the original one, a more extensive mill, which continued in operation till 1815, when George Bressler, Jr., who had come into possession of the property by the death of his father, built another mill much larger than either of the others, connected with which it was located. About the time this mill was completed, in fact before the finishing blows were struck, it was destroyed by fire. It seems that the mill had been set in motion, and the grinding of grain had commenced, when the regularly employed miller made arrangements one evening with one of the millwrights, by the name of Lenhart, to attend the mill until midnight, as he wished to sleep till that time, the mill then being run day and night. But Lenhart fell asleep, and the hoppers becoming empty, the friction of the machinery caused it to heat to such a degree that the wooden portion of the structure ignited, and the whole was consumed in a short time, poor Lenhart perishing in the flames. Immediately after the destruction of the mill Mr. Bressler erected another on the same foundation, which still remains and is now owned by Mr. Wm. Sanderson.
In 1840 Mr. John Snodgrass, who now lives a short distance below Mill Hall, while cutting down a large oak tree, found imbedded in the wood a leaden bullet having 80 layers, or growths, over it, which would prove that the ball had been shot into the tree about the year 1760. Whether it was done by a white man or an Indian it is impossible to say. It is evident, however that at that date fire-arms were used in the Bald Eagle Valley. A man by the name of Richards, probably the same one, or one of the same family, who built the first mill on the Bald Eagle, built the house across the Bald Eagle bridge, opposite Flemington. Previous to 1800, Samuel Patterson, (colored) now living in Lock Haven, was held by Richard as a slave. Patterson was born on the property about the year 1800, his mother being at that time also in the possession of Richard, as a slave.
In 1795, James Carskaddon came from Washington township, Northumberland county, and settled upon a tract of land just west of Flemington, and now occupied by his son, the worthy and venerable Wm. Carskaddon, Jos. Bridgens, and others. This tract lies partly within the limits of the city of Lock Haven, and partly in Bald Eagle township. It was purchased by Mr. Carskaddon form the Rev. John Hoge, assignee of Lieutenant Daniel Hunsicker, to whom the tract was granted as his portion of the "officers' survey."
When Centre county was struck off from Lycoming, in 1800, the dividing line ran through the house of Mr. James Carskaddon, but he was allowed the privilege of choosing in which county he would hold citizenship, and selected Lycoming, as it was more convenient for him to attend to his business at Williamsport, the county seat of Lycoming, than at Bellefonte.
John Murphy, James Carskaddon's father-in-law, came to Bald Eagle at the same time, and lived with him many years, being over a hundred years old at the time of his death. He was a tailor by trade, and not long before he died made a coat for his grand-son, John Carskaddon.
During the "Indian war" the Bald Eagle Valley was the scene of many thrilling encounters between the whites and their savage foes. At one time a party of scouts were surprised by Indians in a cabin which stood near where the house of J. H. Berry now is, and one of their number killed, supposed to have been a Mr. Calbertson. Afterwards another party of twenty-five or thirty men were attacked near the same place by eighty-five Indians and nine of their number killed and the remainder taken off as prisoners. Mary, a sister of James Carskaddon, and for some time a member of his household, previous to which, while living in Buffalo Valley, not far from where Milton is located, was caught, with her sister Letitia, by the Indians, and taken into captivity. During one night when in camp, she managed to release herself and escape. She proceeded through the forest a short distance and secreted herself beneath a log. In a short time she was missed by her captors, who immediately began search for her. One of the Indians, going in the precise direction she had taken, mounted the log under which she was lying, and thinking to make it appear that he knew where she was hidden, called out to her to come back and they would not hurt her; that he knew where she was, at the same time looking off in the depths of the forest. Mary, being aware that he was only "making believe," remained quiet till the savage went back to camp, when she continued her flight till she reached her home. Her sister afterwards escaped also.
Many instances have been related of the cruel treatment received by the early settlers of the Bald Eagle Valley, at the hands of the Indians. Often they were surprised at night, their houses plundered, and their cattle and other live stock driven off. The lives of the settlers were endangered, and in some instances were taken. John Murdock, who settled at an early day on the farm now owned, partly by David Allen, and in part by L. Mosher, became victim to the bloodthirstiness of the savages, being killed by them near his own home.
The principal object of the Indians, however, was plunder; this they would obtain it mattered little how, having no scruples about taking innocent life, if by so doing they could the more easily accomplish their purposes and gratify their thieving propensities. This was the case except during hostilities between the two races, when murder and destruction of property was their aim and object.
In early days wild animals of various kinds were abundant, and at times very impudent. On one occasion, on Sunday, while the Carskaddon family, except the younger children, were attending church at the original "Great Island Church," an animal of some kind deliberately and coolly entered the yard surrounding the house, and seized a chicken and unceremoniously walked off with it before the eyes of the children, the oldest of whom, a mere lad, not liking the appearance and audacity of the thief, determined that he should pay for his impudence with his own life, and accordingly ran into the house and got the gun, which he fired at the unwelcome visitor, whereupon he dropped his "game" and ran howling to the woods. The report of the gun having been heard by the boy's parents while on their way home, they were prepared, on arriving, to give the boy reprimand for shooting on Sunday. On investigating the matter, the father was convinced that the animal at which his son had shot was no insignificant fox or "small game," but something the shooting of which was a justifiable act, even on Sunday. Search being made, a trace of blood was found, which, on being followed a short distance into the forest, led to the object of pursuit, which proved to be a huge panther.
On one occasion, as John Carskaddon was on his way to a neighbor's, a distance of a mile or two, he was attacked by a pack of wolves. Their appearance was so sudden, and they assailed him so furiously, that he barely had time to take his position against a tree, when he killed several of them with his gun, which he happened to have with him, before he succeeded in escaping to the house.
The first settlers of Bald Eagle township were mostly from the southeastern part of the State, several families coming from Lancaster county and a number from Chester. Among the pioneers was William Reed, who settled on Plunkett's Run, several miles back from the "flats," because the latter were too heavily timbered. He was known as "Hickory" Reed, on account of his physical "toughness." He located about the year 1776. He was the grandfather of Commissioner James David.
Others of the original settlers along the Bald Eagle were David Wilson, and Job Packer who located on the farm now owned by his grandson, Wm. Packer; Peter Spangler, who lived on the farm now owned by J. D. L. Smith, and built the stone house occupied by Mr. Smith, in 1805; John Fredericks, George and John Brown, Edward Ritchie, John Huff, Hugh and Wm. White, and J. T. McCormick. The farms belonging to these persons were in a continuous line along the north side of the Bald Eagle.
During the primitive days of the Bald Eagle settlement a case occurred which not only shows how neighbors may act the part of "Kilkenny cats," but it illustrates the saying that "the less you have to do with the law the better." It seems that one of the settlers was accused of picking the goose of another, which led to a suit at law that continued till each party was obliged to sell his farm and expend the proceeds in feeing lawyers and paying costs. It is said that the lawyers had the most profitable geese to pick of any connected with the case.
The pioneers of Bald Eagle township, like those of other localities, encountered many hardships and were subject to many privations. Economy, in some cases the most rigid, had to be practiced; privileges now so common in every-day life in the country were then unthought of; luxuries such as are now enjoyed by the masses were out of the question. In fact, the ingenuity of the parents was often severely taxed to provide food and clothing for their children. It has been said that the matrons of Bald Eagle Valley, in early times, employed themselves during the winter in spinning and weaving linen and "tow" cloth for summer use, and in the summer in manufacturing woolen fabrics for winter wear.
At the first election held in Bald Eagle township, after the organization of Clinton county, the following officers were elected: J. M. Miller, Justice of the Peace; William Fisher, Constable; George Soder and William Huff Supervisors; Levi Packer and George Williams, Overseers of the Poor; Benjamin Fredericks and David Logan, Auditors; A. Harleman, Assessor; Wm. Fearon and John Smith, Assistant Assessors; Saul McCormick, Asher Packer and George Bressler, School Directors; Thomas A. Smith, Judge of Elections; William C. Sanderson and Samuel Hayes, Inspectors; George W. Fredericks and William Clark, Fence Viewers; William L. Hoover, Township Clerk. At this time, March 20, 1840, the population was estimated to be 1178, which included the present territory of Beech Creek, that township having been taken from Bald Eagle in May, 1850. The boundary between the two townships now runs along the east line of the farm of John Welsh, about three miles below the mouth of Beech Creek.
The settlement of the "ridges" and the country along the base of the Allegheny ridge occurred several years after the part of the township along the Bald Eagle Valley was settled. Previous to 1840 that region was thinly populated. At that date Mr. John Salmon located on Plunkets Run, four or five miles above the river, after which others settled at different points, till all the land along the Run was "taken up" and converted into farms. The Yosts had settled lower down the stream before Mr. Salmon came to the place.
The valley of Sugar Run is now thickly settled along nearly its entire length, and affords many desirable farms. The prosperity of the farmers and citizens generally of the township, has been, and is, sufficient to justify the assertion that they have been equally favored with their neighbors of adjoining townships, nothing more, nothing less. No great calamities have befallen them, neither have they been superabundantly blessed with Providential favors. One instance, however, did occur in the history of the township, that partook very much of the nature of a phenomenon. In 1845, J. D. L. Smith sowed a field of oats, on that part of his farm which lies next to the canal; after they had nearly reached a full height, they were attacked on the edge along the canal by legions of army worms, which proceeded to devour every blade of grain with a greediness and voracity that knew no bounds. After marching in "solid phalanx" through the entire field, destroying everything in their advance that could be eaten, they besieged a corn field which lay next in their course, and would have destroyed the entire crop, as they did the oats, had not Mr. Smith stopped their progress by digging a ditch, into which, as they were pushing forward in their mad career, they plunged in wriggling, crawling masses. They were then killed by filling the ditch with straw and setting it on fire; it is said that millions and millions of them were thus destroyed, no further damage being done. Strange as it may appear, no other farm in the vicinity was visited by the army worm that season.
The mineral wealth of Bald Eagle township is confined almost entirely to the Tangascootac basin. Coal was discovered there in 1826, by James David, then a boy, at present one of the County Commissioners. When he first found the coal he was not aware of its nature, but supposed it to be "black lead" (plumbago), and submitted it to older and wiser persons for examination, when its character was readily determined. Further explorations proved the existence in that locality of three workable veins, varying in thickness from eighteen inches to three feet; one of them, however, was found to contain so much sulphur that it was not marketable. Many tons of it were taken out and shipped to distant points, but it was so liable to ignite when exposed to the sun in bulk, that the mining of it was abandoned as hazardous and unprofitable.
Not long after the discovery of coal on the Tangascootac slope, a company was formed and commenced mining operations. It was called the Jersey Shore Company, and was composed of the following gentlemen, citizens of Lycoming county: J. S. Wilson, Wm. Morrison, Mark Slonaker and Boyd Smith. The operations of this company did not long continue. Other companies were afterwards organized and operated at different points to a greater or less extent. The Eagleton Company, at Eagleton, the Rock Cabin, at the mines of that name, then the Tangascootac Company, made up of gentlemen from New York. Two railroads were built from the mines to Sunbury & Erie (now P. & E.) railroad, one by the Eagleton Co., the other by the Rock Cabin Co. The Tangascootac Company made a road two miles in length, from their mines, to connect with the Eagleton branch. The Rock Cabin Company sold out to the Farrandsville Company, and that Company sold to the McHenry Company, of which it is said Sir Morton Peto is a member. The property is still held by that company.
The Tangascootac Company merged into the Black Heath Co., which operated the original Tangascootac mines, and also leased a part of the Jersey Shore Company's mine, in the edge of Beech Creek township, now held by the Peacock Coal Company. Notwithstanding the large amount of capital that has been expended in mining operations in the Tangascootac region, the efforts to make the business profitable have thus far been unsuccessful, and to-day the mines, and extensive works connected with them, are in a neglected and dilapidated condition. Whatever may have been the cause of failure on the part of the different companies to make their operations profitable, it certainly was not because of quality of the coal, for that, two veins at least, was all that could be desired; neither was it owing to an insufficient quantity or any great difficulty in mining it, for the supply is inexhaustible, and easily worked. It is claimed by those who are supposed to possess the means of knowing, that the operations failed through mismanagement; others say that the exorbitant rates charged by the Penn'a. Railroad Company for shipping their coal over the P. & E. road compelled the different companies to suspend mining operations. Be that as it may, there is doubt that coal may be profitably mined in the Tangascootac region.
Iron ore, of a good quality, exists in various parts of the township, but to a greater extent in the Tangascootac region than any where else. In 1857 the Tangascootac Coal Company erected a furnace and manufactured iron from the hematite and "white" ores found on its lands, but a suspension of operations ensued soon after, as was the case with coal mining, yet sufficient was done to demonstrate the fact that an abundance of ore existed, from which could be made a good quality of iron.
Timber is found in various parts of the township, especially in the region just described.
The principal public improvements of the township are the Bald Eagle Valley the road and the Bald Eagle canal, both of which run along the Bald Eagle creek. The population of the township was 550 in 1870.
The only village in Bald Eagle township is Mill Hall borough, which is situated near the end of the township, on Fishing creek, about one mile above its confluence with the Bald Eagle. It was started in 1806, by Nathan Harvey, who came from the vicinity of Philadelphia, and erected a stone "grist" mill, which is still standing, at the upper end of the village, and a saw mill, blacksmith shop, store, hotel, and a dwelling. The name "Mill Hall" was given to the place because of the mills located there.
In 1831, George Bressler, in company with Messrs. Harvey, Wilson and Kinney, erected a furnace at the place, the ruins of which still remain on the elevation just north of the village. The ore was procured from the Bald Eagle Mountain near at hand. The undertaking proved unsuccessful financially, and the property was sold by the sheriff. In 1837 the iron works were revived by Tammany & Mitchell, but operated by them only a short time before they were compelled by adverse circumstances to abandon the enterprise. In 1844 Messrs. Reynolds & Morris took possession of the furnace and commenced operations. Reynolds soon sold his interest to David McCormick, and again the works failing to be profitable, were abandoned, but subsequently revived by a Philadelphia firm and successfully operated for a time, and finally abandoned. The property is now owned by Furst, Long & Co., of Flemington. At an early day a forge was built on the creek just above the village, and was operated for a time in connection with the furnace, and sold with it by the sheriff. It was afterwards purchased by Mr. Mann and converted into an axe factory, which proved successful, and is now operated by R. Mann & Co.
Mill Hall was decidedly a manufacturing town in its earlier days, and was considered an important point. About the time the furnace was built Saul McCormick erected a saw mill near the forge, on the opposite side of the creek. About the same time he built a starch factory on the hill, back of where the house of S. R. Stover now stands. In 1852 it was converted into a tannery. A woolen factory was established at an early period, on the creek, just above the stone mill. It was burned down and another built in its place, which was also burned and replaced by another, which still remains.
A saw mill was built by George Bressler about the year 1815, near the present residence of Mr. John Snodgrass. Afterwards a clover mill was built near it by Saul McCormick, and then a foundry was erected on the same property. The site is now occupied by the works of the Diamond Cement Company, which is engaged in the manufacture of cement from stone brought from Nittany Valley.
The first church of the place was built by the Methodist denomination in 1831. It was located on the hill south of the village, and was long since in ruins. The next church was built by the Presbyterians about the year 1840. The Methodists built another church in 1854.
The first school house in the vicinity of Mill Hall was built about the year 1815. It was located between where the R. R. depot now stands and the turnpike. The next school house was built in 1837 or 1838. The present school building was erected in 1871. The first public school in the place was taught by Jacob Hollowbush in 1837, in a little log building, which still stands just south of Mr. Gearhart's residence.
The first Sabbath school established in Mill Hall, and said to have been the first in the county, was organized by Joseph Bartles in a building which stood just above where Mann's axe factory now stands.
The first physician was Dr. Noah F. Essig, who came to the place in 1815. The first saddler's shop was started in 1825, by Armstrong Smith, with whom the present saddler, Mr. Clark, learned his trade in 1828. The first tailor shop was opened by J. P. McElrath, in 1822. A post office was established soon after the town was started. In 1850 Mill Hall became a borough. Its population at present is about 500.
At present the place is well supplied with manufactories and business places. In addition to the flouring mill, axe factory, woolen mill, cement works, before mentioned, it has two wagon shops in operation, one by G. S. Garth & Son, one by Stiver Bros., two furniture manufactories by E. H. Bartholomew and McLain Brothers, and a blacksmith shop by Daniel Wolf. The other business men are as follows: J. M. Krape and Freeman Brady, dealers in dry goods, &c.; Allen Bros., grocers; A. C. Kaufman, tinner; J. T. Hunter and Frank Ohl, shoemakers; Mr. Hunter, tailor; Freeman Brady, dentist; Mr. Patten, photographer; Dr. J. B. McCloskey, physician.
Improvements are now being made more extensively in Mill Hall than before for many years, and if they continue, the place will again become an important manufacturing point. The location is especially favorable; the water power afforded by Fishing Creek is ample for the moving of extensive machinery, and there is no reason whatever why the departed glory of the place may not be restored.