McKEAN, THE GOVERNOR'S COUNTY
reprinted from the SMETHPORT CENTENNIAL
McKean County was named for one of the greatest patriots of our state in the Revolutionary period. Thomas McKean represented Delaware in the Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence. Later he was a citizen of Pennsylvania, serving as Chief Justice at one time and also three terms as governor of our State,1799-1808.
McKean was one of fourteen counties that were carved from that area of Northwestern Pennsylvania, known as the "Last Purchase", bought from the Iroquois Indians at Fort Stanwix for $10,000 in the year 1784.
As a result of this purchase the Commonwealth found its habitable area increased by nearly one-third at a cost of $10,000.
The first desire of the people of the State, through their Assembly, was to sell lands to the value of this expenditure and, of more importance, to induce families to go to this great wilderness region to live.
Less than three months after the purchase, a system of land sales was inaugurated, through land offices, that was intended to secure fair and equal distributions of lands. Priority of all applications received during the first ten days of the sales was to be determind by a lottery under the supervision of the Secetary of the Land Office.
The Legislature reduced the original cost from eighty cents an acre to fifty-three cents, and then finally in 1792 to thirteen cents an acre. This low price and the alluring prospect of a large increase in their value, reaulted in an astonishing increase in sales--cheifly to large purchases. Seven shrewd merchants as far away as Amsterdam, Holland, must have considered lands in Pennsylvania a good investment for their company, known as the Holland Land Company, bought nearly 2,000,000 acres. Ruther Jan Schimmel, one of the names of the merchants, is outstanding for its Dutch atmosphere. An abstract of title would show that these seven citizens of Netherlands owned, during the years 1816 to 1829, lands where the city of Kane is now located. Nearer at home another individual, William Bingham of Philadelphia, reputed to be Pennsylvania's wealthiest and most prominent citizen, socially and politically, sought to turn an honest penny in speculating in lands in the Last Purchase. He bought one million, one hundred and twenty-five thousand acres, a portion of which he sold to John Keating, formerly a soldier of fortune at the court of Louis of France, later a resident of the West Indies, and then of Philadelphia.
McKean County Historical Society has among its most prized possessions an original deed from Robert Morris and his wife of Philadelphia to lands in McKean County and other counties, and also a deed executed in 1796 from William bingham to Omer Talonfor lands in this county.
Francis King, an English surveyor, acting as
agent for the Keating Company, settled at Cerestown on the Oswayo Creek
near the New York State line in June of 1798. The families came into the
new country by way of Philadelphia, Asylum, Lock Haven, Driftwood and the
Early spellings of the name given the county seat varied between "Smeth" and "Smith" according to the whim of the writer. It is recorded that John Keating asked that the new town be named in honor of the de Smeths a well known banking house of Amsterdam which not only helped finance land transactions in the New World but also assisted in many of the largest European commercial enterprises of that period.
The second settlement in Mckean was made at Instanter (now known as Clermont) in the years 1809-11 by Joel Bishop , R. Beckwith and D. Comes. This area at different times also had such names as Bishop's Summit, Cooperstown, Bunker Hill and later Teutonia.
Nearer at hand, Joseph and George Otto settled at Farmers Valley in 1810, while Joseph Stull and others came to the Allegeny River valley between Larabee and Eldred in 1812. One of the chief early migrations to the new county was in October of 1815 when fifteen families from Norwich, Connecticut, by way of Norwich, N.Y. came to the Potato creek, valley and settled in and near Colegrove. The heads of families that led this migration were: Abbey, Brewer, Burdick, Burlingame, Colegrove, Comes, Gallup, Irons, Smith and Wolcott. In June of the same year a number of families headed by Foster, Stanton and Coleman came to the Canoe Place. In the western areas of the county George Morrison settled in what is now, Hamilton Township, while Philip Tome, also settled along the Allegheny at Kinzua.
All of Mckean County was in northern Pennsylvania where in the days of long ago there was a lively dispute between the colonies of Conneticut and Pennsylvania over land titles originally granted in 1662 with rather ambiguous limits to the grant. In 1681 King James game William Penn a charter to lands that were covered in part by the previous grant to Conneticut. As a result about the year 1750 enterprising settlers from Connecticut began to come to northern Pennsylvania, settling chiefly in the Wyoming Valley in what is now Luzerne County. The heirs of William Penn were unable to employ enough magistrates and sheriffs to force the Connecticut prople from their lands in Pennsylvania. The dispute was finally settled by the Pennsylvania Legislature's granting Pennsylvania titles to the lands which settlers had previously held under Connecticut grants. The most lasting effect of the attempt to extend the boundaries of New England into Pennsylvaina was the extension of New England culture into all the northern section of the State.
The first settlers of Canoe Place came with Judge Samuel Stanton who years before had left Connecticut for Wayne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, and then finally moved to McKean County. He and those who came with hiim preserved the New England traditions, even including the village "common," or public square.
A former eminet lawyer and historian of Bradford, Honorable R.B. Stone, states in his volume, "McKean, the Governor's County" that in 1796, the Connecticut -Susquehanna Company grante to three settlers, upon proff of nominal settlement, a township named Lorana. Nearby townships planned by this company were "Conde," pary of present day Foster: "Tuerrene," where now Otto and Eldred: and "Newton," which coincides with the present confines of Ceres. However, the rights of Conecticut to lands in northern Pennslyvania had been extinguished by the Trenton Decree of 1782. This did not prevent individual citizens from the New England colonies from coming to Penn's woods to make their fortunes. In fact, the Northern Tier counties were settled to a large extent by families from that section.
On the 19th of June in 1827 John F. Melvin and fourteen others including Pikes and Foster petitioned the court to divide Ceres Township into east and west portions and sked that the western part be called Bradford Township. Here we note the New England influence, as this was the name of the town in New Hampshire from whence the Melvins and others came. When the borough was incorporated in 1873, it took the name of Bradford.
About the year 1856 Judge John K. Kane and a half dozen of his Philadelphia friends purchased a tract of land in McKean and Elk counties and formed the McKean and Elk Land Company. Colonel Thomas L. Kane came to the county to inspect the property and to make plans for its development. His wife relates in "Early Reminiscences of Kane" that she came for a summer visit to Kane from Philadelphia, by way of New York City, to Olean by rail. here she took a stage as far as Smethport, staying for the night at the Bennett House. The next morning she again took stage to Ridgway by way of Clermont, Ginalsburg , and Williamsville. The family boarded with Judge William P. Wilcox that summer. The Civil War came and their plans were at a standstill. It was not until 1864 that Mrs. Kane again saw the vilage of Kane.
Any reference to the early history of Kane and vicinity would not be completed without at least a casual account of a visit of President U.S. Grant to Mckean County. Undoubtedly this vistit is the only one make by a president to the county, and it was made in response to General Kane's invitation to his friend and comrade in arms to spend a brief vacation in his home in Kane.
Needless to say, the coming of the President was a great event to Kane and the entire county. The President attended church in an old log schoolhouse, a reception was given at the Kane Mansion, and to climax the visit a fishing party was arranged to go to a stream somewhere near the Mckean-Elk County line. The rest of the story seems in the keeping with the best of "fisherman's yarns." It seems that the horse upon which the President wAs mounted attempted to roll unto the water while crossing the fairly large stream, with disatrous results to the Chief Excuative; and then when the party had started to fish just over the Elk County line, a Constable appeared and placed all the members of the party under arrest for fishing out of season. General Kane paid all the fines, $125, before Squire Parsons in Wilcoc. So much for deomarcy and the majesty of the law in the Reconstruction Period.
TRANSPORTATION IN THE EARLY DAYS
The following is an account of the hardships that faced the first families that came to McKean County in the matter of transportationas told in Miss Marie King's book entitled "Ceres."
In the year 1797 Francis King, a surveyor who had recently moved from London to Philadelphia, was employed by John Keating of that city to explore lands in the northern part of the state then owned by William Bingham of Philadelphia. At the time Fancis King lived with his family at Asylum, in Bradford County, pennsylvania. From this point on the Susquehanna River, Francis King struggled through the wilderness lying between his home and lands he was supposed to survey with only a boy of fourteen and a pack horse to carry provisions. Lost in the forest after six weeks of wandering and almost completely out of food, he was taken violently ill at the home of a poor settler somewhere near where the Sinnemahoning joins the Susquehanna. Sending the boy back home with a letter to his wife, mr. King remained for another six weeks before he was able to return to his home at Asylum. Int eh spring of 1798, mr. King and his family, consisting of his wife and seven children together with workmen, again started for his new home on the lands which had been purchased by John Keating upon his recommendation. The little party came through what is now Lock Haven, Driftwood, Emporium, Port Allegany, and finally to the mouth of the Oswayo, which they ascended six miles to a site near the present village of seres. The nearest settlement of three families was at Andover, New York. Fifty-six miles away there were two families located at Big Meadown in Tioga County. The King family arrived in Ceres late in June and immediately began to sow corn and make other plantings of garden and farm crops. A saw mill was built the first summer and a grist mill the second season. Mr. Kings work as a surveyor naturally took him away much of the time. It is related that once when the head of the family was away, Mrs. King accompanied by two Indians made the trip to Pittsburgh, bought provisions and took them home by canoe. Late in 1801 the family of seven children was left motherless int eh wilderness while the father was in Philadelphia getting supplies and settling the Land Company. He was detained by high water and the dangers of winter travel until sometime in March. Had it not been for meat brought in by the Indians, the children would have fared very poorly. This family was of the middle English class and had never been used to hardship and work befor their arrival in America in 1795.
One of the early settlers has left the following description fo the first years of his life with his family on teh edge of the frontier: "It was very lonesome for several years. People would move in, and stay a short time, and move away again.
I started with my two yoke of oxen, to go to Jersey Shore, to mill, to procure flour. I crossed Pine Creek eighty times going to, and eighty times coming from mill, was gone eighteen days, broke two axletrees to my wagon, upset twice, and one wheel came off in crossing the creek....
The Norwich pioneers who came to Potato Creek valley, and the early families who settled at Farmers Valley and the Eldred flats quite likely used the waterways as a means of transportation. Potato Creek received its name because of a canoe load of potatoes that spilled into the stream. Pioneers of the Canoe Place were accustomed to use the Allegheny River as a means to bring goods from Hamilton Point by boat up the river by "poling" up stream.
In R.B. Stone's "McKean, The Governor's County", we are told that during the first seventy-five years of the county's history all the principle streams navigable by rafts of logs were declared public highways by Act of Assembly. It is significant that many towns in this region have the word, "port", attached to their names. Thus Smeth's port was at the head of navigation on Potato Creek, and it was at the same time, according to record, "The port of entry" to the older and enterprising village of Instanter located on the highlands of Sergeant Township.
The first source of revenue available to the early settlers was the marketing of the forests of pine that grew in abundance on the hills and the valleys of the county. Hemlock and hardwood were valueless at that time. The great pine trees were cut, dragged by oxen, in sizable lengths to the nearest navigable stream, made into rafts and floated down the Allegheny to Pittsburgh, and other down river cities. Practically every man of the pioneer days was accustomed to make the annual spring drives down the river. Until the days of the railroads, it was a case of ride the rafts down stream and then "walk back". On the way back from Kane to Port Allegany was a day's journey, a mere matter of forty miles.
With the coming of the railroads in the seventies, mills were built along the streams where the remaining pine and the hemlock were cut into lumber and removed to the markets by rail. Rafting then went out of business.
However, the pioneers early brought pressure to bear on the State Assembly to provide roads so that mails and essential goods might be brought into the wilderness settlements.
The first and most important of the early roads was the East and West roads survayed pursuant to act of Assembly of 1807. The State Legsislature felt a need to connect the northern counties with the East and West road running from the Moosic Mountain near the Delware River to the city of Erie. Survayed on the date given it is probable that the road for some years was a mere trail with very few streams brigded. This road entered McKean County at Burtville, followed the Alleghany River to Canoe Place, ans thence westward through Lafayette,and down the Kinzua Valley to the village of Kinzua in Warren County. County records show the first bridge across the Allegheny in this county to have been built in 1822 at the "Red House" crossing at Canoe Place. In 1816 , the State Legislature appropiated a mere $3,000 to be distributed among the northern counties for the improvement of this road. Roosevelt Highways for the (United States 6) follows the old East and West Road for a greater part of its way across the county.
Two other trans-county roads of very early days should be mentioned although both bave long since been discontinued.
The first was the Ellicottville Road which was consructed by Joseph Ellicott, an agent for the Holland Land Company mentioned elsewhere in these data. This road was opened about 1806 from Dunnstown, opposite Lock Haven on the Susquehanna, up that river to the Sinnemahoning branch, and then to Emporium, the Big Elk Lick (Fardeau) and then over the highlands crossing Marvin Creek about seven miles from Smethport, and again over highlands and down the Tuna Valley and on to Ellicottville, New York.
The Northern part of what is now Elk County was originally a part of McKean County. In 1820, James Gilis came from Ontario, New York, to a farm near the present site of Ridgway to act as the agent for Jacob Ridway, and that time regarded as the richest man in the Commonwealth since Stephen Girad. The first concern of Gilis was some means of communication with the outside world. Under his influence and that of his patron in Phildelphia, the Kittanning-Olean Road was one hundred and then miles long and created a great excitement at the time it was surveyed and opened for use. It really amounted to little as the tides of migration moved east and west and not north and south.
Road building in pioneer days was a tremendous problem. Labor was scarce and distances were great. Road building machinery consisted of rude ploughs and inadequate scrapers drawn by ox teams. Much of the work was done by have with axes and grub-hoes. Routes must be surveyed through unknown unknown regions, foot-paths widened, streams forded at suitable points, or bridged. Swamps must be filled in, or by -passed by circutous routes. In many places roads had to be corduroyed for long distances to make them passable during the rainy season. Nor did it follow that a pioneer road once opened remained suitable for traffic. It is a matter of record in 1810 that a road opened several years previously between Emporium and Canoe Place was so grown up with underbrush that it was impassable. It was reopened in 1814.
A road unique in county annals is the "Plank Road" constructed during the days of the oil excitement by Dr. W.L. Chrisman of Eldred and know as the Eldred-Duke Center-Rixford Plank Road. In the race of rival contractors to develop new territory, heavy oil field equipment was moved over all sorts of roads and in all kinds of weather. Oil country tradition tells of horses drowning in some of the deepest mud holes along river flats. To expedite travel between the towns named, Dr. Chrisman constructed a substantial plank road with tolls at each end and at convenient places along the seven miles of the right of way. It is said that the road was never a financial success. Plank roads were constructed for constructed for shorter distances in other places in the county. These roads were covered by wonderful forests of hemlock. Planks and timbers suitable for road construction were readily available at a very low cost.
>From the earliest days of the pioneers until the present time the people of McKean County have been very much interested in road building. A modern highway map shows this county has more miles of improved road per capita than any other county in the state. In fact, the actual mileage of this area compares very favorably with urban centers with many times our population. The wealth of the townships, the needs of the oil fields, combined with a progressive program of State highway construction and maintenance have given the county a splendid system of improved roads.
The early settlers often endured privations in the way of inadequate shelter, clothing and food to the degree that life itself was often endangered. They were also cut off for weeks at a time from communication with friends and relatives in the older settlements along the Atlantic coast. The pioneer mail route in the county was established in 1816 from Olean by way of Ceres, through Coudersport to Jersey Shore. Before that time mail for the first settlement was forwarded from Philadelphia to Williamsport and than brought on to Ceres whenever a traveler happened to be coming through.
The Milesburg (Bellefonte) Smethport turnpike was incorporated in 1825 and completed in 1830. The first mail delivery over that route was by a one-horse conveyance, the operator resting hes horse while he looked after his traps set for fur-bearing animals long his route. Mail was delivered once in two weeks.
In 1839 a contract was let to Gideon Irons of Smethport to carry mail over the Milesburg-Olean route once a week for $845 per annum.
As the years passed McKean went through various stages of road building and means of transportation. The Indian path gave way to the rough highways that permitted two wheel carts, and then regular wagons. The mud of spring and fall and the snows of winter were a great handicap to those who were in a hurry. In fact, transportation was of such a nature than our ancestors just had to take their time in traveling.
On November 7, 1916, McKan County took a great step forward as it became the first county in Pennsylvania to bond itself for improved highways. The amount of the bond was $750,000 which was paid off June 15, 1951. Since 1916 other highways have been built so that today the county has 373 miles of State Highways and 213 miles of improved township roads.
Near the spot where Philip Tome camped in 1822 along the East and West Road there stands today the splendid Bradford -Mckean airport which affords apeedy transpotion of the newest type to all parts of our country. the tablet placed at the entrance to the office has this tnscripition:
Conceived in World War II as a military installation and continued as a peacetime project through combined efforts of citizens and industries who gave generously of their time to make air transportation possible in this area.
It should also be noted that a nearby tablet pays especial tribute to Ralph Zook of Bradford for his efforts in bringing this project to a successfull culmination.
COMING OF THE RAILROAD
It had been nearly seventy years since the
first settlement of the county and there had gbeen no wa y
Orlo James Hamlin received his early education at St. Paul's School, Concord, New Hampshire, where he was graduated in 1889. He then became a student at Hobart College, in Geneva, New York. Even before he completed his formal studies, Mr. Hamlin entered into the business with his father as an associate in the firm of Henry Hamlin & Son, Bankers. This enterprise later came to be known as the Hamlin Bank & Trust Company. Mr. Hamlin's broad knowledge of conditions existing in Smethport and McKean County established him in a position of leadership and confidence in the district, and he rose in the organization of the Hamlin Bank & Trust Company until he became president in 1918.
Not only does Orlo James Hamlin continue effectively to head this banking institution, but he interests himself officially in other banking and business houses. He is a director of the First National Bank of Eldred; the Great Southern Lumber Company, of Bogalusa, Louisiana; the Bogalusa Paper kcompany; the Big Indian Oil Company and the Hamlin-Tanner Oil Company. A Republican in his political views, he has extesive fraternal and civic interests, belonging to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, holding the thrity-second degree and being affiliated with the Knight Templar in the Free and Accepted Masons, and holding membership in such organizations as the Conopus Club, the Bradford Club, the Masonic Club and the Smethport Country Club. One of his very recent business interests is as a director of the Gaylord Container Corporation, Inc. He is senior warden and a regular attend at St. Luke's Protestandt Episcopal Church.
Orlo James Hamlin married, at Geneva, New York, January 4, 1899, Mirabel Depew Folger, of that place, daughter of Charles J. and Susan (Depew) Folger. The Hamlins became the parents of three children: 1. Mirabel M., Wife of Robert A. Digel (q.v.). 2. Hannah McCoy, wife of E. O'Neill Kane, 3d. 3. Susan, Wife of Lowell S. Oakes.
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Last Update January 30, 2020