Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister

Chapter V- Pre-Historic Remains and Natural Curiosities

Many indications have been found in the county proving conclusively that it was once peopled by a different race from the Indians who were found here when it was first visited by white men. When the link of the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad from the Lake Shore road to the dock at Erie was in process of construction, the laborers dug into a great mass of bones at the crossing of the public road which runs by the rolling mill. From the promiscuous way in which they were thrown together, it is surmised that a terrible battle must have taken place in the vicinity at some day so far distant that not even a tradition of the event has been preserved. The skulls were flattened, and the foreheads were seldom more than an inch in width. The bodies were in a sitting posture, and there were no traces that garments, weapons or ornaments had been buried with them. On account of the superstitious notions that prevailed among the workmen, none of the skeletons were preserved, the entire collection as far as it was exposed being thrown into the embankment further down the road. At a later date, when the roadway of the Philadelphia & Erie road, where it passes through the Warfel farm, was being widened, another deposit of bones was dug up and summarily disposed of as before. Among the skeletons was one of a giant, side by side with a smaller one, probably that of his wife. The arm and leg bones of this native American Goliath were about one-half longer than those of the tallest man among the laborers; the skull was immensely large, the lower jawbone easily slipped over the face and whiskers of a full-faced man, and the teeth were in a perfect state of preservation. Another skeleton was dug up in Conneaut Township some years ago which was quite remarkable in its dimensions. As in the other instance, a comparison was made with the largest man in the neighborhood, and the jawbone readily covered his face, while the lower bone of the leg was nearly a foot longer than the one with which it was measured, indicating that the man must have been eight to ten feet in height. The bones of a flat head were turned up in the same township some two years ago with a skull of unusual size. Relics of a former time have been gathered in that section by the pailful, and among other curiosities a brass watch was found that was as big as a common saucer.

An ancient graveyard was discovered in 1820, on the land now known as the Drs. Carter and Dickinson places in Erie, which created quite a sensation at the time. Dr. Albert Thayer dug up some of the bones, and all indicated a race of beings of immense size.

Ancient Embankments
Equally curious are the pre-historic mounds and circles found in Wayne, Harbor Creek, Conneaut, Girard, Springfield, LeBoeuf, Venango and Fairview Townships. The principal one in Wayne Township, which is still in a fair state of preservation, is in the valley of the South Branch of French Creek, near the road from Corry to Elgin, and but a short distance east of the large springs which furnish water for the State fish-hatching establishment. It consists of a vast circle of raised earth, surrounded by a trench, from which the earth was unquestionably dug, the whole enclosing about three acres of unbroken ground. The embankment has been much flattened and reduced by the elements, but is still from one to two feet high and from three to four feet wide at the base. When the first settlers discovered it, the interior of the circle was covered with forest trees, and stumps are still to be seen on the embankment, the rings of which represent an age of several hundred years. Half a mile west, a little to the north of the road, on a slight eminence, was another and smaller circle, which has been plowed down, leaving no vestige behind.

The circles in other portions of the county are or were similar in their general features, with one exception, to the above. Those in Harbor Creek Township were situated on each side of Four Mile Creek, slightly southeast of the big curve of the Philadelphia & Erie road, on points overlooking and commanding the deep gulf of that stream. The one on the west side of the creek is still in a good state of preservation, but the other has been obliterated. The two Conneaut circles were near together, while those in Girard and Springfield, four in number, extended in a direct line from the western part of the former township to the southwestern part of the latter. One of the circles partially occupied the site of the cemetery at East Springfield. In Fairview Township, there was both a circle and a mound, the first at the mouth of Fort Run and the second at Manchester. The latter, at the close of the last century, was about six feet high and fifteen feet in diameter. Somebody had the curiosity to open it, in the hope of finding treasure, but was rewarded with nothing more than a small quantity of decomposed bones. A tree was cut on one of the embankments in Conneaut that had attained the age of 500 years. The circles in LeBoeuf and Venango were very much like those above described.

The position of some of these embankments would seem to favor the idea that they were provided for warlike purposes, while no speculation of that character is warranted by the location of others. That they were not the work of the Indians, as our fathers knew them, is the only thing of which we can be positively certain. The knowledge we possess of the red men assures us that they had neither the will nor the skill to provide such inclosures, either for defense or as places of worship. Every instinct of the mind impels us to the belief that they are the remains of a superior race to the Indians, who disappeared so completely and mysteriously that no trace of their numbers, their habits, their character, their origin, or their destiny exists in history or in tradition.

Some Strange Discoveries
Other evidences of a different population from the red men, as well as of an utterly distinct animal kingdom, have been found in the county. In the year 1825, while one Francis Carnahan was plowing along the lake shore in Harbor Creek Township, he turned up a strange looking bead, which he cleaned and carefully preserved. It fell in to the hands of L. G. Olmstead, LL. D., a traveler and archaeologist of some reputation, formerly a resident of Erie City, but later of Fort Edward, N. Y., who unhesitatingly pronounced it to be one of the celebrated "Chorean beads" of ancient Egypt, and kept it until his death as a relic of rare interest and value. Similar beads taken from tombs near the Nile are in the Egyptian collection in New York City, one other is in a like collection in Boston, and altogether, there are some thirty in the great museums of antiquity in Europe. They were employed in worship and worn as amulets, and were among the most cherished possessions of the ancient people of Pharaoh. Presuming the Harbor Creek bead to be genuine, of which Mr. Olmstead was thoroughly convinced, how came it there and what is its history? To say the least, it adds additional testimony to the proof furnished us by the mounds and circles that a race of people inhabited this section anterior to the red men, who were far in advance of them in progress and intelligence. Who they were, where they came from, and what became of them remains an unsolved problem.

The skeletons of extinct species of animals have frequently been found in the county, but perhaps the most extraordinary discovery of that nature was made near Girard Borough in the early part of May, 1880. A man in the employ of Mr. W. H. Palmer, while plowing, turned up some bones of a mammoth, which, upon investigation by scientific persons, were thought to indicate an animal fifteen feet long and from twelve to thirteen feet high. One of the teeth weighed three and a half pounds, having a grinding surface of three and a half by four inches, and pieces of the tusks led to the opinion that they must have been eight or ten feet long. The most curious feature of the case is that the animals of this class at the present day are natives of the tropics and require the equatorial heat and vegetation of the same region to enable them to reach maturity.

An equally puzzling revelation occurred some twenty-five years ago in digging a ditch on the Strong place, in Girard Township, near the Springfield line. During the work, a basswood stump was removed, and the men employed at the task were surprised to find beneath it a black ash pole nearly fourteen feet long, sharpened and burned at one end, and smoothed and rounded at the other. The pole lay in a horizontal position, four feet below the surface of the ground, where it could not have possibly placed at a recent day with out some mark remaining of its method of burial. Nothing of the sort was visible, the earth being clay, as firmly compacted as if it has been deposited on the spot at the creation of the world.

Natural Curiosities
While the county is bare of objects of striking natural interest, such as are usually to be met with in districts of a mountainous character, it still contains some curiosities that are worthy of notice. Among these are the immense "gulfs" or gullies through which the lake shore streams descend from dividing ridges in the south to the level of the lake. The gulf of Four-Mile Creek, which is partially seen from the cars of the Philadelphia & Erie road at the sharp curve a little east of Erie City, extends from near the crossing of the Station road, about half a mile south of Wesleyville, to Ripley's mill, in Greene Township, a distance in a direct line of about four miles, and by the course of the stream of about one-half more. Its depth varies from fifty to a hundred and fifty feet, with sides that are almost perpendicular at some points, and its width is from one to two hundred feet. It is very crooked and irregular, and so dark and gloomy at certain points that the rays of the sun seldom penetrate it, and the grass and leaves are covered with almost perpetual dew. The deepest part is at a spot locally known as Wintergreen Gulf, some four and a half miles southeast of Erie, which has become a popular resort, and richly repays a visit from those who delight in the sublime and curious freaks of nature's handiwork. As the creek makes its way down the "gulf" it is varied by numberless pools and waterfalls, some of which are as pretty as the imagination can conceive. The "gulf," however, is very difficult to explore, and it will only be when some enterprising person or firm establishes more convenient means of ingress and exit that its interesting features will become generally known.

The "gulf" of Six-Mile Creek, which is wholly in Harbor Creek Township, is very similar to the other, and equally deserving of a visit. It commences about half a mile south of the Buffalo road and terminates a little north of the Station road, being about the same length as the gully of Four Mile Creek. Its deepest and most picturesque point is at the Clark settlement, where the banks are not far from a hundred and fifty feet high. Gulfs of a like nature attend every one of the lake shore streams, but are less picturesque, generally speaking, than the two above named. The most interesting are those of Twelve Mile Creek, near the lake; of Sixteen Mile Creek, on the southern part of North East Township; of Twenty-Mile Creek, near the New York line; of Walnut Creek where it was crossed by the old aqueduct; of Crooked Creek, in Springfield Township, and of Elk Creek, in the southern part of Fairview Township. In the vicinity of Girard Borough, the gulf of Elk Creek broadens out into a very respectable little valley, which, with its abrupt banks, sparkling streams, richly cultivated farms, and numerous buildings, forms one of the neatest bits of scenery in the county.

On Falls Run, a small stream that flows into Elk Creek from Franklin Township, is a cascade, some fifty feet in height, which is said to be quite attractive at certain seasons. In Girard Township, south of the borough, is the "Devil's Backbone," which owes its novelty, as in the other cases mentioned, mainly to the long continued action of water. The West Branch of Elk Creek winds around the base of a ridge for about one-fourth of a mile until it reaches its point. This it suddenly turns, and then runs in the opposite direction along the same ridge. The constant washing of the base has reduced the ridge to very slender limits, so that it has a width on top, in some parts, of barely two feet. The summit being about a hundred feet above the bed of the creek, and the sides of the ridge nearly perpendicular, few persons have the courage to risk life and limb by venturing along the narrow footway.

A beautiful waterfall formerly existed on the bank of the bay at the mouth of Cascade Run, was destroyed in the building of the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad and dock, to the inexpressible regret of many admiring citizens. The mineral spring in Elk Creek Township should not be forgotten in a recital of the natural objects of interest in the county. It is situated a mile or more up Frazier's Run, a tiny stream that empties into the East Branch of Conneaut Creek at Wellsburg, and is reached through a deep, wide and peculiar gorge, which is a favorite spot in that section for picnics and camp meetings. The water is strongly impregnated with iron, and beneficial in several kinds of disease.

Neither should the glorious sunsets along the lake shore be omitted in this connection. A gentleman who has traveled over the most attractive sections of Europe informed the writer that he never saw, not even at the most renowned places along the Mediterranean, more charming and inspiring sunsets than he witnessed from the ridges back of Erie during the summer and autumn. The best elevation from which to view the setting of the sun, as well as the lake shore country in general, is from the top of Gospel Hill, south of Wesleyville, but the views may also be had from Russell Hill, between Erie and Belle Valley, from Nicholson's Hill on the road to Edinboro, and from a point on the Ridge road between Fairview and Girard.

Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Chapter V, pp. 166-172.

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