History Of Renovo
In the year 1825, that part of the Allegheny mountains lying
west of Lock Haven, along the West Branch of the Susquehanna and its
tributaries was sparsely settled, only here and there at the mouth of the
streams was erected a small log tenement, as the humble home of the hardy
woodsman. – Deer and elk were daily seen pasturing in the swamps and low
lands along the river, while the howl of the wolf, the scream of the
panther, wildcat and catamount were nightly head from every mountain
About this time one William Baird left Jersey Shore and with
canoe loaded with provisions and some household goods, pushed his way 28
miles west of Lock Haven and settled on the bank of the Susquehanna river,
in a small house that had been built a short time before – with the
intention of clearing up a farm.
A few years afterward he married Miss Margaret Stout, and the
fruits of their marriage were several sons and daughters. By their untiring industry – on
teaching manhood and womanhood – they made the spot selected, by the
father, a beautiful and fertile farm, and despite the want of educational
advantages by study, became a family of scholars above the
They continued to cultivate and beautify the farm, nothing
occurring of not to change the monotony of farm life until the lumbering
interests of this region became a source of profit. This business the young men
engaged in heartily and every year were well rewarded for their hard
As the valuable resources of this region became known to men of
capital, they conceived the idea of constructing a railroad through this
valley. The preliminary
surveys were made about 1847, and some ten years thereafter the projected
road from Sunbury to Erie was put under contract, the work commenced in
the east and gradually pushed westward.
In - , 1862, the first whistle of the locomotive was head
entering Renovo, engineered by John Tomlinson. This brought the “construction
train” with material for the road and supplies for the workmen.
The old inhabitants of the place hailed this new element as a
harbinger of prosperity in as much as it would enable them to obtain not
only the comforts but as the luxuries of life in a few hours, while
heretofore only the former could be procured by the slow wagon by land or
the primitive canoe on the Susquehanna, requiring days of patient toil to
visit the nearest market town and return.
Aside from this their minds were greatly exercised with the
pleasing thought that future developments would exhibit sources of untold
wealth much of which has been already realized, indeed far beyond their
most sanguine expectations.
The Railroad, now being a fixed fact, (and thus far a grand
success), the laying of the track was pushed on towards Erie; the western
terminus of the road; and though this great enterprise was yet in its
infancy, it required no hoary prophet to foretell its rapid strides to
wealth and power. As trade
and travel sought the convenience of this thoroughfare east and west,
substantial workshops became a necessity of course.
The P. & E. R. R. Co, after a thorough canvass of this
portion of the line of road concluded to locate their machine shops, etc.,
on this “plateau,” on which was the farm of the aforementioned William
Several influential gentlemen at this juncture organized the
Philadelphia & Erie Land company, and purchased his farm transferring
all that part of it lying north of the railroad tract to the P. & E.
R. R. Co. which at once set about erecting their shops for the
accommodation of the growing interests of the road. The round house was the first
building commenced. The
foundation stone was laid in August 1863. This work was carried on under the
supervision of H. R. Campbell, a gentleman whom many will remember as
having a full supply of electricity in his composition – the
scintillations of which were often felt and seem by those around
At this time skillful and energetic mechanics and laborers were
in demand. They came from all
parts of the county by scores, and thus the work went on until the machine
shops, storehouse, offices and wood departments were completed. Those buildings are built of
brick, almost all of which were made upon the ground near the
About the time the railroad was completed through to Erie, the
site on which Renovo now stands was made the eastern terminus of the
Middle Division and Mr. J. J. Lawrence was the first Superintendent. He was a competent officer and a
genial gentleman, resigning his position in 1865, regretted by
A. M. Cleaveland was the first train-master here. Wm. H. Ginter, the first
dispatcher, and F. Petrikin, the first express and ticket agent. The latter gentleman still travels
around with his canvas covered book under his arm, attending faithfully to
the interests of the express company.
Harry Alford, as engineer, brought the first passenger train
from the east, and W. L. Forster as engineer, the first one from the
west. The latter gentleman
also ran the first engine into the round house. He is now General Forman of all
the railroad shops here.
The railroad depot was finished in the latter part of the year
1865, and for size and convenience it is hardly excelled on any road in
the State. It is 112x75 feet,
and is built of brick.
In 1869 the Pennsylvania railroad company erected the Renovo
House, a large and commodious brick hotel attached to the depot, 72x180
feet, and three stories high. – The interior is finished and furnished in
the most modern style. The
grounds around it are adorned with choice trees and shrubbery and three
attractive trout pools – all gotten up with much taste and skill. There is no better place
calculated as a summer resort than this for health and pleasure. The hotel is kept by Capt. W. H.
May, an affable and accommodating gentleman, and one who knows how to keep
a hotel. Capt. May was one of
the first settlers. He kept
the Otziuachson, the first hotel and boarding house in the town. It was erected in 1868, when there
were but three houses in the place.
In this connection I would state that the depot and hotel stand
on ground set apart for the purpose by the Land Company when the town was
laid out. They are located at
the west end of town, south of the railroad; and the enclosure contains
several acres, including the ground on which the old Baird mansion
Some time after the purchase of the farm, the Land Company
proceeded to lay out lots and named the town Renovo, a name new and novel
in the beginning but soon became a household word to many.
Early in 1864, Maj. G. J. Ball, a member of the P. & E.
Land Company, a gentleman of education and fine business capacity, was
made the agent of the company, and under his supervision they offered
their lots for sale upon such easy terms that almost every man could
establish a home for himself and family. Lots were eagerly bought and of
necessity, houses – both small and great – sprung up side by side with the
Boarding houses were erected and at once filled a little fuller
than their capacity would comfortably admit, as many now here can attest
who partook of the hospitalities of the old Renovo House in its palmy
days, when a bed for three “spooneys” was a luxury and the unlucky one who
lost his foothold at meal-time though himself fortunate if he got off with
only bruised shins and a battered head.
Almost every house in town was a boarding house as late as
1865; about this time the U.S. Hotel was built by Jacob Von Ulrich. – Here
many of the mechanics and roadmen were accommodated with board and
At this stage of prosperity and growth of the town, churches
and schools were not forgotten.
There were some men here who believed that God had something to
do with towns as well as individuals and Rev. (?) Rodall, Presbyterian
minister, assisted by some good friends, erected a small chapel on the
Common – the site is now on Fourth street – and dedicated it to God and
free schools. It was occupied
in common for a time, by the various religions elements but it soon proved
too small to accommodate all, consequently Rev, J. B. Mann of the
Methodist persuasion, who was never far behind any one else conceived the
idea of building a chapel of like dimensions, and with the aid of a few
friends of the cause, in labor and money, the building 24x80 feet, was
erected and appropriately dedicated.
The church building now stands on Seventh Street and is still used
for school purposes.
From these small beginnings the
Presbyterian and Methodist congregations grew and strengthened until 1867,
at which time they were both able to build commodious and substantial
brick churches, ornaments to our youthful town, and a credit to our
The Catholic congregation here is
quite large. They have built
a fine chapel and a beautiful residence for their pastor, and have secured
an eligible plot of ground on which they mean to build a large and elegant
Miss Brown taught the first public
school in Renovo, and Miss M. A. Heverly the second. Both these young ladies were fully
competent to teach the usual branches of learning taught in the public
schools, as well as most of the higher branches. I had the pleasure of frequently
visiting the school of the latter lady, and during those visits I noticed
that she possessed, in a high degree, that admirable faculty of governing
her pupils with a grace and ease that always commands obedience and
respect. I think that the
farthest advanced of the “strong minded” of the present day, would have
readily admitted that her education in that regard had not been
Miss Heverly is a graduate of Mt.
Washington Seminary, Md. Her
capacity to impart to the juveniles the virtue and power of a fine
education is an honorable tribute to her Alma Mater.
In the early part of 1865, the R.
R. Co. erected a row of double dwelling housed on 6th street
accommodating twelve families.
As late as the close of that year there were less than a dozen
house east of that street, now there are over two hundred. The following year they put up –
principally for the officers and foreman of the shops and road – a number
of fine and commodious dwellings in that romantic glen north of the
railroad at the base of the mountain, beside the still waters of
From this period the rapid growth
of Renovo commenced; property increased in value and soon the fields
around the town were dotted with houses and the streets were filled with
an industrious, energetic and prosperous population, numbering in 1870,
over 2,000 – at present estimated at from 2,600 to 3,000. This sufficiently indicates the
rapidity of its growth, which is more rapidly known than at any former
In the Spring of 1866, Renovo was
chartered a corporate borough, and on the (20th?) of May, the
first election for town officers was held, and the following named
The officers at this election were:
Under the administration of the
“borough fathers” of 1869 and ’70, the principal avenues and streets were
graded and board walks laid.
The ordinance passed lately by the Town Council requiring all
property holders to comply with the charter regulations in making and
keeping in repair their side walks, has been promptly acted upon by
Our old and much esteemed townsman,
Nather Sterner, has been the pioneer in putting down brick pavement. We hope our citizens will follow
his example and thereby have in front of their houses sold and substantial
The first dealers in merchandise in
Renovo were Messrs. Lowe & Munday. They started business in 1863 and
soon afterward sold out to Messrs. Newton Wells and Z. M. P. Baird – the
latter was our first Postmaster and the former is now our gentlemanly and
obliging “public functionary.” The storehouse occupied by Wells &
Baird was erected on the bank of the river in 1863 and was subsequently
moved to its present site on Erie avenue. The basement is occupied by Mr. D.
M. May and kept as a Grocery and Variety Store, while in the upper story
may be found the printing establishment of the Renovo Record and the
“sanctum sancternm” of
its gentlemanly editor.
In 1864 the firm of Wells &
Baird changed into that of Wells, Murphy and Co., and afterwards to James
Murphy & Co.
J. B. Givin & Son commenced
business here in the latter part of 1865 – the business being carried on
by George W. Givin.
About two years ago a Co-operative
store was started in the name of G. W. Sapp & Co. They now occupy the
large and beautiful storeroom under the Odd Fellows Hall. After the 1st of
January 1872, they will do business under a charter – Obtained in May last
– in the name of the “Renovo Industrial Co-operative Association, No
The stores above named keep a
general assortment of goods and are among the leading business houses of
In addition to these there are six
Dry Good, six Grocery and Confectionery stores, six Millinery and
Dress-making establishments; one Tobacco and Cigars, and two first-class
Drug Stores; three Merchant Tailors, two Bakeries; two Meat Markets, one
Store and Tin Ware establishment, one Furniture store, one Banking House,
a News Office and a large and well-selected Public Library and Reading
Room. There is a Town Hall,
an Odd Fellows Hall, a Masonic Hall, a Building and Loan Association; and
among our interesting institutions, we have a Cornet Band and although
only active a few months its members have arrived at a high degree of
proficiency in the musical art.
The town supports six graded
Schools, nine Secret Societies, three Physicians, one Lawyer, and strange
as unusual as it may seem, but one able-bodied loafer.
The Secret Societies referred to
are as follows:
This being a “Railroad town” the
inhabitants thereof are, of necessity, a working people; the substantial
growth of the town the comfortable homes established, and the wonderful
improvements made in the short period of eight years are highly creditable
to them and suggestive of determined energy and enterprise.
Nor do they intend to stop here
while there are other sources of wealth and improvement lying almost at
their doors – True, the land on the other side has been set up edgewise
and is not well calculated for farming purposes – a fact, I think, that
even Mr. Greeley would endorse without trying the experiment. The surface indications would most
likely, be sufficient evidence to satisfy his philosophical mind. Yet in the ponderous boson of
these grand old hills there are millions of wealth inviting capital and
skilled labor to develop it.
Then there are never-failing
streams of water on the borders of our borough, sufficiently large enough
to drive all kinds of manufacturing establishments. Drury’s Run on the west and
Paddy’s run on the east empty into the Susquehanna.
The derivation of these names are
not known, but were probably named in honor of the earliest settlers on
We need not look beyond this
romantic region for the sublime and magnificently beautiful natural
scenery of Spring and Autumn nor for exciting legendary tales of the olden
A story has been handed down from
the early settlers that a fierce battle was fought on the high ground,
about a mile north of this, between Revolutionary home guard and the
Indians, in which the noted chief Rattlesnake was killed.
At that early period this region
was a howling wilderness and with a few exceptions the Indian held
undisputed sway. – Here the silent tread of “Mr. Lo” was heard, on the war
path; here he bent his bow while the arrow sped with sure aim to the heart
of his victim; here too, he nimbly paddled his bark canoe on the beautiful
waters of the Susquehanna.
Where is he now? Gone in obedience to the demands of advancing civilization! No longer does the woodbine twine its wreaths around his rude wigwam; his war-whoop is here no longer heard, but on the extreme western conflues of his “native land” his is found, battling for the last remnant of his natural possessions.