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The Smallest Parade ( Photo )
Oswayo Famous for White Pine ( Article )
Oswayo Valley Historical Society
Francis and Thomas Cole
Image23.jpg - Taken in 1894
William Francis Cole, holding flag
Payne Women - 1918
Delight Smith and Sons
Engine 30 - Oswayo, 1918
Frank & Ellen McGinnis - 1921
1918 - Harry Payne and his chickens
Francis and Thomas Coyle
William Francis Coyle, front left
William Francis Coyle
William and Margaret Coyle Family
The Oswayo Valley had one of the best and most extensive white pine forests in all Pennsylvania. The Indians had long known the region as the place of pines. The name Oswayo is the English derivative of the Seneca word “0-sa-ayeh,” meaning pine forest. This forest reached from the Allegheny below Portville to the headwaters of Oswayo Creek, overflowing into the upper valleys of the Allegheny and the Genesee.
The trees stood so close together that no underbrush could live, except an occasional clump of laurel, as they towered up to almost unbelievable heights of 100 to 150 feet. They were often four; five or even six feet in diameter at the base and the lowest branches were from 50 to 75 feet above the ground.
The first sawmill in this vast forest was that of Francis King at Ceres in 1798. It was not long until other crude mills were busily at work. Often the saw was the only metal in the mill and this merely a long band of steel with teeth cut into one edge. It worked up and down as a hand saw is used. If a log was especially large, 20 or 30 minutes were required to saw off one board.
Some logs were rafted to Pittsburgh and others were banked and rolled into the water during the spring floods to be floated down to Weston Brothers’ mill at Portville. By the time of the War of the Rebellion [Civil War] the best of the pine forests in the Oswayo Valley was gone. In 1879, there were not over 1,000 acres of virgin white pine left in the Oswayo Valley. 1889 saw the last run of pine logs down the stream to the big mills.
Early in 1829, two settlers moved into the Oswayo Valley. William Shattuck located outside the village, while Thomas Peabody constructed a cabin on the south side of the stream in what was later to become the village. John Wells came in the latter part of 1829 or early in 1830 and started a potash factory or ashery about a half mile above the village. He would haul his finished products to Rochester and exchange it for groceries, which he would sell to his neighbors.
Also in 1830, Noah Crittenden came from Springwater Township, NY, and settled within the future borough limits. He built the first sawmill in the village to manufacture pine lumber in 1845. He did not use the stream to transport his lumber; instead he hauled it 75 miles to Dansville, NY., and sold it for $7.00 a thousand. The round trip took four days.
Emphasizing the conditions under which the pioneers lived and their dependence upon others for dire necessities occurred early in the history of the village. Soon after building his cabin, Peabody was forced to go six miles to Allen’s house in Clara Township for fire to light his hearthstone. On returning he gave the cinders to his children to build the fire and went to look for his cows. Later securing the cows, he found the fire had gone out and he made the second trip to Allen’s. This time he set fire to pieces of dry wood along his trail.
By the year 1834, Sheldon Bradley was maintaining a hotel for travelers. The township assessors’ list for the same year gave the names of 13 resident taxpayers and the census of 1840 showed a population of 101. In 1840, a log schoolhouse was built and seven years later the school had been removed and William McDougall had built a store there.
The nucleus of the town had been well established in the days before the Civil War. Early settlers earned their living harvesting the white pine. Since it was of high quality, Pittsburgh and cities along the Ohio specified “Oswayo White Pine.” Several saw mills in the village cut the trees into boards and timbers to be splashed out on the high waters.
The village was first called Brindleville. Thomas Gale, one of the early settlers, is said to have had a span of brindle oxen, which was sufficiently unique to warrant the naming of the town in their honor. The name was probably fixed as Oswayo upon the establishment of the first Post Office some time prior to 1850.
The village of pre-tannery days comprised C. A. Pinneo’s steam saw mill, G. W. Tyler’s saw and shingle mills, W. Deiter’s shingle mill, the Oswayo Hotel, general stores of S. Beebe, W. Wells and W. McDougall and the grocery store of J. Haskins. There were offices for three doctors and four attorneys: W. B. Graves, W. Colegrove, H. Snath and W. M. Wilber. Smith & Jones operated a wagon and blacksmith shop; there were two boot and shoe shops, a cooper shop, an undertaker and two resident ministers.
Construction of the tannery began early in 1877 upon ten acres of land obtained from Thomas Crittenden. Sorenberger & Gray completed the tannery and started its operation but sold it to the P. H. Costello Company in 1879. The Costello Company built homes for the employees, which were later owned by the workers. Lapham & Company purchased the Costello holdings when Costello moved to North Wharton. The last owner was the Penn Tanning Company, which purchased the property in 1893. The tannery was destroyed by fire on June 20, 1903.
When the village was organized into a borough in March 1901, there were probably about 1,000 people living in the new municipality. The tannery was running to capacity and employed about 100 men. In 1899, the Pennsylvania Stave Company had built a plant below the tannery for the manufacture of barrel staves. A heading mill, employing between 70-75 men, began in 1901. More men were working in the woods getting out logs and bark for the industries.
The streets were, of course, unpaved and during periods of wet weather were nothing but knee-deep mud. However there were good board walks on each side and also two or three cross walks made of planks across Main Street allowing citizens to get from one side to the other without getting completely mired.
To the village of Oswayo belongs the credit for having the first graded school in the county. This was opened in 1866 and continued until 1876 when the building burned. Afterward the good citizens decided they preferred to have two one-teacher schools of all grades rather than require the children to walk the extra distance to a graded school. However a school was built in 1893 on the north end of School Street with four classrooms and a spacious hall. Local people were justly proud of this school and its teachers.
This interest in schools was a factor in the organization of the borough. As long as the village was part of the township, no more than two or three board members lived within the village with the remainder scattered all over the township. Under the borough all six members of the Board were residents of Oswayo where they had a common interest in the school.
They maintained a three-year high school until the mid 1920’s. After a fire the building was renovated and became a two-room school, which operated until 1947. A one-teacher school was kept until 1955 when all grades were bused to Shinglehouse as part of the Oswayo Valley School System.
The Seventh Day Baptists were the first to hold regular services in the area. Before 1834, a Mr. Avery preached the Baptist doctrine to the first settlers. The Baptists organized a building committee and had the frame of a church completed in 1877 when, for lack of funds, the building was abandoned. In 1859, the Methodist Church was built on Main Street and for over 40 years was the only church building in Oswayo. The United Brethren finally became strong enough to build a church on School Street in 1903 but the Catholic Church never materialized.
Tragedy struck the village on November 18, 1900, when fire destroyed the McGonigal House along with the hotel barns and Opera House. Four persons perished in the flames, which were credited to an over-pressure of gas.
The early 1900’s were twenty years away from such entertainment as radio and forty years from television. After supper there was little to do but sit at home and read or listen to talking machines. The Oswayo Cornet Band met every Tuesday night for rehearsals and on Friday evenings gave a concert in the Payne & Estes Hall over the store for which they charged an admission of ten cents (or whatever you were able to pay) until they earned enough for uniforms.
On other evenings the young folks paired off and strolled the sidewalks or sat in porch swings until the girl’s mother called her in. Since workdays were ten hours for six days in the week, sparking time was short as workers began their daily strife at seven the next morning.
Among the old time residents of Oswayo were: Mr. [A. B.] Payne (postmaster) and A. B. Estes, who ran the largest general store; W. W. Crittenden, local businessman who represented Potter County in the General Assembly; Walter Wells Sr., leading merchant and postmaster; John Lee, landlord of the Lee Hotel; Harry Lord, lawyer, merchant and justice of the peace; Samuel Beebe, pension attorney; Ansel Smith, lay preacher; Ernest Rice musician; Ernest Mills, druggist; and Arthur Wells, one of the later merchants, became the community’s unofficial banker and storekeeper.
Fred Blackman began printing a weekly newspaper in 1900, which he named “The Oswayo Valley Record.” The paper folded in March 1902 and the equipment was removed to Port Allegany to be used by the Argus.
The New York & Pennsylvania Railroad extended its lines to Oswayo in 1894 where it served the tannery, stave mill, the local businesses and farmers. It gave the residents a connection with the outside world as they ran four passenger trains each day. As business declined and the automobile began to usurp passenger traffic, business for the railroad fell off and the line was abandoned in June of 1936.
Oswayo probably reached its peak in population of 1000 or more during the later years of the 1890’s. Since it was then part of the township, the number of residents can only be estimated. It was not counted as a borough until 1910 and the census then showed only 382 residents. By this time the population had begun to decline rapidly as the total population for the borough and township was 700 less than the township population in 1900. The tannery had been destroyed by fire in 1903 and the stave plant, last industry, closed in 1916. By 1920 the census showed only 209 residents.
The town, which had once boasted of 20 business places on Main Street, was reduced to a village smaller than the one that existed previous to the Civil War. Some residents commute by automobile to work in other towns while others are still engaged in agriculture or logging. A State Fish Cultural Station, located above the village, now gives employment to a number of area residents.
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Last Update April 16, 2016