Search billions of records on

History of Butler County Pennsylvania - 1883

Chapter 6 -- Internal Improvements

<<Previous Chapter | GO TO TABLE OF CONTENTS | Next Chapter>>

Transcribed by Sherry Chestnutt. For an explanation and caution about this transcription, please read this page.





[pg. 36]

Closely following the individual improvements made by the pioneers came the laying-out of public roads through the wilderness. The gradual increase in the number of these avenues of communication and the advance in their condition kept apace with the growth of the settlements and the needs of the people. At last came the era of railroads, and an effort which was tardily successful was made in Butler County to secure the advantages of the iron trail.

How great were the disadvantages under which the early settlers labored in having no direct means of communication, no roads over which teams could be driven, may be illustrated by a fact in the history of Butler County.

In the year 1807, there was no road from NEYMAN's saw-mill, about six miles northeast of Butler, to the Sugar Creek Catholic Church, just over the Armstrong County line, opposite Donegal Township. There was a mere path through the woods and over the hills. Patrick and Charles DUFFY, when they wanted to haul some boards from the mill to the church, were obliged to tax their ingenuity to invent a way in which to accomplish the work. They lashed the ends of a few boards securely at each side of the pack-saddle of their horse, and with the other ends dragging upon the ground, conveyed them along the path a distance of ten miles. In those days, nearly all of the commodities brought into the settlements were carried upon the pack-saddle.

Nevertheless, a few roads existed at the time of which we write (1807).

The road from Pittsburgh to Mercer was laid out as a State road in 1805-6, and even prior to that time the road leading directly south from Butler over the hill had been laid out, and some of the money of Robert MORRIS, who owned large bodies of land in the county, had been expended in its improvement through his agent, CUNNINGHAM.

Various county roads were authorized by the Court of Quarter Sessions upon the petitions of the people.

At the February sessions, 1804, a petition was presented for a road from Butler to Freeport and Andrew CROOKSHANK, Benjamin SERVER, John MCQUISTION, John BURKHART, John CUNNINGHAM and John NEGLEY were appointed Viewers. They made report at the May sessions. This road was opened and laid out substantially as it is now traveled.

A petition for the appointment of Viewers for a road from Butler to the Armstrong County line in the direction of Bear Creek was also presented at the February sessions of 1804. The Court appointed as Viewers William REDDICK, William KEARNS, Benjamin FLETCHER, Jacob MECHLING, William HUTCHINSON and John RAY. Their report was made at the May sessions following, and the order to open the road was issued at the September sessions of the same year.

At the same sessions, petitions were presented for roads from Butler to the Venango County Line, "at or near the house of Thomas BARREN;" from Butler to the Venango County line in the direction of Franklin; from Butler to the falls of the Slippery Rock; from Butler to Matthew WHITES (Whitestown); from Butler to the Beaver County line, nearly all of which were acted upon and Viewers appointed at the same or succeeding sessions.

[pg. 37] At the May sessions, 1804, a petition was presented for the appointment of Viewers for a road from Butler to the Mercer County line in the direction of Mercer, and at the same time a petition was presented for a road from the Mercer County line through Zelienople to the line at Butler County, near Dixon's, on the old Franklin road.

At the September sessions, 1807, for a road "from William ELLIOTT's meadow, where a cabin once stood on the line of Mercer County, to the Venango County line at William COURTNEY's plantation."

For all of these roads, Viewers were appointed and they were laid out. At the various sessions of the court from 1804 to 1828 and after, other petitions were received, and, in fact, a very large number of them, but the majority were for cross roads intersecting with the more important ones we have mentioned.

Bridges were almost as great a necessity as roads, for during the greater part of the year the streams could not be crossed without them. Hence we find early action taken to span the larger streams. The first bridge built in the county was across the Connoquenessing, south of Butler. The mode of proceeding to secure the building of a bridge was the same as for the opening of a road, and so we find that the first step toward the building of the bridge at Butler was the presentation to the Court of Quarter Sessions in 1805 of a petition entitled, "The petition of citizens for a bridge across the Connoquenessing Creek, where the road from Butler to Pittsburgh crosses the same."

The court appointed John STEWART, Edward GRAHAM, Paul MCDERMOTT, John BUCKLY, Benjamin WALLACE and David KERR Viewers on the 26th of May, 1805.

The petitioners stated that the expense would probably be $500. The bridge was built, and inspected, but the committee who made the report stated that the work was not properly performed.

The next bridge petitioned for was one "over the Connoquenessing Creek where the Bear Creek road crosses, near the salt works." This was about a mile northeast of Butler on the KEARNS farm. The petition was received in September, 1809, and in accordance with its request the court appointed as Viewers William CAMPBELL, Josiah CRAWFORD, John GILMORE, Jacob SWEENEY, John POTTS and Thomas SMITH. About this time, Harmony having begun to assume importance as a trading village, a petition was presented for the building of a bridge across the Connoquenessing upon the road from Butler to Beaver, William AYRES, Eleakim ANDERSON, Matthew WHITE, William CAMPELL and Josiah CRAWFORD were appointed Viewers; reported favorably, and the bridge was built.

The people of Buffalo Township became interest in bridge-building the next year, and the creek was spanned at a point "where a road from William ANDERSON's to the Armstrong County line intersects the road from Leonard SYLVETER's to Butler.

The Slippery Rock people also petitioned for a bridge in 1810, but for some reason or other it was not ordered built until 1812.

In 1810, a petition was presented to the court for a bridge over the Connoquenessing at ANDERSON's, the crossing of the old Franklin road, but it was not granted and the people did not obtain a bridge there until 1814.

A bridge was needed across Wolf Creek, and in 1814 a petition was presented asking for the appointment of Viewers. They were appointed and, their report being favorable, the stream was bridged where it is crossed by the Butler and Mercer road.

The next was a bridge built over the Connoquenessing between Zelienople and D. B. MULLER's, in 1815.

In 1817, the Little Connoquenessing was spanned at CHRISTY's mill.

These bridges were the most important, and placed at such points along the several streams as would afford the largest number of people facility in crossing.

What may be called the second period of road improvement began shortly prior to 1820, and resulted in the construction of turnpikes, so called, although they scarcely deserved the name.

The Butler and Pittsburgh Turnpike was the first of these improved roads. It was laid out as a turnpike in 1821 on a less direct but more easily traveled route than the old road, and was ultimately extended through to Erie by act of the Legislature. The line was apportioned off to different companies to be worked. The Butler County company was composed as follows: President, William AYERS, Esq.; Secretary, John BREDIN; Treasurer, Robert SCOTT; Directors, Jacob MECHLING, John NEGLEY, John POTTS, David MCJUNKIN, Hugh MCKEE, William BEATTY, Alexander HAGGERTY, John BROWN (of Oliver), William MCMILLEN, John BREDIN and David COURTNEY.

Upon the road which this company constructed, the first "stage coach and four" whirled into Butler (presumably "in a cloud of dust," after the manner of all the stage coaches of which we have read) in the year 1822. The line from Pittsburgh to Erie was a very important one, and extensively traveled until the stage was superceded by the iron horse.

In 1825, a contract was made by the United States Government with W. W. BELL for carrying a mail once a week between Ebensburg and Butler by way of Indiana and Kittanning.

A turnpike was completed from Butler to Kittanning in 1828. The Viewers were John GILMORE, Francis MCBRIDE, Esq., John GILCHRIST, William [pg. 38] BEATTY, James MCCURDY and Joseph BROWN, the latter of Kittanning. James E. BROWN, of Kittanning, was the surveyor, and G. W. REED and William CRISSWELL were axe men. Maj. REED is the only one of the party now living.

Other turnpikes followed. That between Butler and Freeport was constructed in 1833. In 1845, a turnpike was constructed from Butler to the Great Western (Brady's Bend) the Commissioners being David DOUGAL and G. W. REED, of Butler County, and William HART, of Armstrong; Felix NEGLEY was the surveyor.

It is probable that early road improvement was very materially stimulated by an essay which appeared in 1825 in various papers of the States, among others the Butler Sentinel, dated Philadelphia , December 20, 1824. It was signed by Matthew CAREY, Joseph HEMPHILL, Richard PETERS, Jr., Stephen DUNCAN and William STRICKLAND. The same gentlemen in their capacity as a committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature issued a series of articles on the canal policy of the State.

January 29, 1825, in accordance with the suggestions of one of the letters of the above committee, a meeting of the citizens of Butler was held at A. M. NEYMAN's to consider the construction of a canal to connect the waters of the Allegheny with the Susquehanna. John POTTS was Chairman, and Jacob MECHLING Secretary. The meeting appointed as a committee to draft a memorial to the Legislature, John GILMORE, John BREDIN, John GILCHRIST, John NEYMAN and William BEATTY. This committee issued an address, but there was nothing definite in its character.

In March, 1825, Commissioners of Canals were appointed to examine routes from the Ohio River to the Susquehanna, as follows: Albert GALLATIN, William DARLINGTON, Robert PATTERSON, John SARGENT, David SCOTT.

In Butler, John GILMORE, Jacob MECHLING, Hugh MCKEE, William GIBSON and John BREDIN constituted as a local committee for the purpose of appointing delegates to the State Convention of Internal Improvement, appointed John GILMORE and John BREDIN, and they attended the State Canal Convention, held in August, 1825.

This movement resulted in nothing so far as Butler County was concerned, and there is no need of following it farther. We have written the history thus far merely to show the thought of the time upon the important subject of internal improvements - upon means of communication with the great centers of commerce.

The Butler & Pittsburgh Plank Road Company was organized in 1851 through the joint endeavors of citizens of Butler and Allegheny Counties, and work upon the road was commenced at once. It was not completed until 1853. Samuel M. LANE was the first President of the company, but resigned a few months after election, and John N. PURVIANCE, who was elected to the position, superintended the affairs of the company until the road was finished. This was the first plank road in Butler County. Its cost was $116,000.

As far back in the history of the county as the year 1836, steps were taken which were the forerunners of the Butler Branch Railroad. In the year mentioned, there was made by State authority a survey of a route for a railroad from Freeport via Butler to New Castle, designed to make a short cut between the Pennsylvania and Erie canals. The surveyor, Charles T. WHIPPO, and his adviser and assistant, William PURVIANCE, made a report to the State authorities, and there the matter ended, and the project came to be regarded as a broad farce and humbug. Yet that survey was the foundation of the first railroad in Butler County. In 1852, Gov. TOD, of Ohio, and Mr. Perkins, President of the Cleveland & Mahoning Railroad, visited Harrisburg, asking such legislation as would lead to a connection with the Pennsylvania Central at Pittsburgh, but they returned discouraged and with nothing accomplished.

Soon after, however, Thomas S. FERNON, Senator from Philadelphia, and a practical railroad man, suggested to William HASLETT, then in the State Senate as the representative of Butler County which was a feasible route for the connection proposed by the Ohians. He suggested that if Gov. TOD would adopt that line, with an extension connecting east of Pittsburgh at Blairsville Junction, he would be likely to secure the end that he desired, and also that the long-cherished hopes of the Butler County people might be realized.

Gov. TOD was shown Mr. WHIPPO's report, and said that the route was what he and his associates wanted. As a result, followed the procurement, during the session of the Legislature for 1853, of the charter for the Northwestern Railroad Company. This organization finally went into bankruptcy, and its property and franchises passed into the possession of a new company, chartered under the name of the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company, but controlled by the Central.

Col. Thomas A. SCOTT came to William HASLETT and John H. NEGLEY, members of the General Assembly from Butler County, in 1864, to consult them regarding legislation which would concern the interests of their constituents. He desired to have passed a bill authorizing the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to abandon the canal from Freeport to Allegheny, which, under the conditions of purchase, they [pg. 39] were bound to keep in perpetual repair, and to authorize the Western Pennsylvania Company to extend their road on the canal bed to Allegheny, besides granting various other franchises.

HASLETT and NEGLEY replied that their people had been so often disappointed that they were distrustful; that the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, by means of Butler enterprise, money, credit and influence, had been graded from Blairsville to Freeport, and that Butler citizens were paying a heavy railroad tax without having a foot of railroad in their county. They then proposed the following proviso, as an addition to Col. SCOTT's bill, which he accepted and incorporated, viz.:

Provided, That the additional franchises herein granted shall not be enjoyed or exercised until an extension of the road shall be made from Freeport to the town of Butler; the same to be placed under contract for construction, to responsible parties, within two years after the passage of this act.

When the bill was called for consideration, Mr. GLASS, of Allegheny, who had it in consideration, moved to strike out the "proviso," making the remark that "if the people of Butler wanted a railroad, they might build it themselves." A lengthened and animated discussion took place, in which Mr. NEGLEY had an active and leading part. Hon. Arthur G. OLMSTEAD, of Porter; Hon. William D. BROWN, of Warren; Hon. John W. GUERNSEY, of Tioga, and Hon. Thomas J. BINGHAM, of Allegheny, by speech and action materially aided in the retention of the proviso, with a modification made at their suggestion, extending the time for completing the road from two to five years.

There was not so warm a contest over the passage of the bill in the Senate, but it met with some opposition. The able and judicious management of Senator MCCANDLESS was a great power in carrying through the Upper House the proviso, by the conditions of which Butler County finally obtained a railroad.

The railroad of whose early history we have given such an extended account was completed by the Pennsylvania Company after many difficulties and delays by the opening of the year 1871, and formally delivered into the hands of the company by the engineer, Antes SNYDER, upon the 1st of March.

It was, however, opened to travel upon January 12, 1871, and that was a memorable day in the history of Butler. An excursion was organized from Butler to Pittsburgh to celebrate the long-hoped-for and finally consummated connection of Butler with Pittsburgh and the outer world by rail.

Some three hundred invitations were sent out to people to be present and engage in this excursion. The train left Butler at 7 o'clock A. M., passed over the branch to Freeport, and thence to Pittsburgh. At the union depot in that city, a splendid repast was served and a number of speeches made in response to toasts.

Hon. Ebenezer MCJUNKIN responded to the toast, "Railways; the bonds of civilization;" Gen. John N. PURVIANCE to "Old Butler awakened to new life, and made a citizen of the world;" W. M. STEWART to "The Pennsylvania Central Railroad, the pride of our Commonwealth;" Thomas M. MARSHAL to "The old stage coach - it could not long survive Arthur MCGILL;" Samuel A. PURVIANCE to "The old Circuit Court (Butler, Clarion and Armstrong). The Court now travels by rail, but justice prefers the mud road;" Eugene FERREO to "The Butler Branch;" Lewis Z. MITCHELL to "Antes SNYDER (the engineer)-- by his skill he overcame the mountains of our county, and organized successfully the excursion in hand and the dinner just discussed."

In the afternoon, the excursionists, joined by a number of Pittsburghers, returned to Butler. At the various stations along the new line, the people turned out en masse to greet them, and at Saxon Station a cannon was fired in honor of the event.

Butler had been filled with people the night before the excursion, and a great throng greeted the incoming train. Here again a substantial repast was served. Afterward, speeches were made, as at Pittsburgh. Eugene FERREO spoke upon the "Butler Branch," as did also Mayor CALLOW, of Allegheny. Charles MCCANDLESS, Esq., spoke in response to the toast, "The Engineers of the Pennsylvania Railroad." Others who addressed the assemblage were John M. THOMPSON, Esq., of Pittsburgh, and Col. Thomas M. BAYNE.

In the evening occurred the "funeral" of the old stage coach which had been superseded by the iron horse. The huge vehicle was draped in black, and hauled by horses decorated with crape, up the hill to the cemetery. It was not actually buried, although its days of usefulness (in this field) were practically over, but a travesty of the funeral service was gone through with, and then the jovial throng who had attended the "funeral," a number of Pittsburghers and citizens of Butler, among them the stage proprietor, D. S. WALKER, returned to the village, and marched through the streets blowing tin whistles and penny trumpets.

Brief notes are appended upon the other and newer railroads which traverse portions of Butler County territory.

The Parker & Karns City Railroad Company was organized August 1, 1873, and commenced building a road between the terminal points named upon October 1, 1873. When the severe financial panic of that [pg. 40] year swept over the country, many of the stockholders were obliged to forfeit their stock, and the company would have been obliged to succumb to the pressure had not four of the citizens of Parker - Mr. Fullerton PARKER, Mr. S. D. KARNS, MR. W. C. MOBLEY and Mr. H. R. FULLERTON - come to the rescue, throwing their private means and their energies into the enterprise. They carried it to a successful completion, and the road was formally opened for business on April 8, 1874. It started with a good patronage, paid its projectors a handsome profit upon their investments, and demonstrated the practicability of narrow-gauge railroads in the oil regions.

In April, 1876, the Karns City & Butler Railroad Company was organized by the same parties interested in the above, the citizens of Millerstown and Butler also subscribing liberally for its bonds. It was opened for business in November, 1876, and continued in successful operation upon the plan of original organization until June 10, 1881, when, with the Parker & Karns City Railroad, it was consolidated with the Pittsburgh & Western Railroad.

The last-mentioned railroad company was originally organized September 7, 1877, under the name of the Pittsburgh, New Castle & Lake Erie Railroad. The early projectors of this road were Austin PIERCE, of Harmony, and Gen. James S. NEGLEY, of Pittsburgh. The road was opened between Etna and Zelienople in December, 1878. During the summer of 1879, the company became financially embarrassed owing to the general want of confidence in railroad enterprises, and their inability to market their bonds and meet their obligations. The road was sold at Sheriff's sale August 27, 1879, and purchased by Maj. A. M. BROWN, who organized the Pittsburgh & Western Railroad Company, of which Mr. James CALLERY, was President. Under the new management, and with his energy and good financiering the road was completed through Allegheny City, and from Zelienople to Wurtemberg in the summer of 1880.

In June, 1881, the Parker & Karns City, Karns City & Butler, Red Bank & Youngstown and the Pittsburgh East and West Railroads were consolidated with the Pittsburgh & Western. Mr. James CALLERY is President of this company; Mr. Solon HUMPHREYS, Vice President; Mr. A. J. THOMAS, Treasurer; Mr. E. K. HYNDMAN, General Manager, and Mr. W. C. MOBLEY, General Agent. The extension of the road has been commenced from Wurtemberg to Youngstown; from Hiawatha to Butler, and from Parker to Foxburg, and these additions, as well as the change of gauge between Allegheny and Youngstown, are now about completed.

The Shenango & Allegheny Railroad was built through Butler County in ---------. (Its officers have neglected to furnish data from which its history could be written).

A telegraph line was carried through Butler County in 1861, just ten years before the first railroad was completed within its limits. It extended from Pittsburgh to Franklin, and was called the Oil Valley Telegraph line, and was the first line of telegraphic communication to the oil regions. It was put through by Co dstream [sic] BARRY, an Englishman by birth. There being no office between Pittsburgh and Franklin, a box was fixed on one of the poles in Butler, and a repair man, Henry ZIMMERMAN, tested the current daily. In 1862, an office was opened in the LOWRY House, Butler, by A. B. GILDERSLEEVE, then of Franklin, and the pioneer operator of the oil regions. This was the first telegraph office in Butler County, and David POTTS, of Butler Borough was placed in charge of it as operator.

[End of Chapter 6--Internal Improvements: History of Butler County, Pennsylvania. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Waterman, Watkins, & Co., Chicago, 1883.]

Chapter 05--A Picture of Pioneer Life
Chapter 07--Civil History
1883 Butler County History Contents
Butler County Pennsylvania USGenWeb Homepage

Edited 17 Nov 1999, 17:15