Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Wattsburg - a Century and a half

Contributed by Betty Matteson Rhodes


Venango Township coordinator Betty Matteson Rhodes provided the information below in 2001. It has been buried on your web master's hard drive and is being posted at this time. The article has been transcribed from the Wattsburg Boro Sesqui-Centennial 1833-1983 Commemorative Booklet. Any questions of comments concerning this article should be sent directly to Betty Matteson Rhodes.


Almost 200 years ago in 1785, to be exact, William Miles was commissioned by Governor Mifflin of Pennsylvania to survey portions of the 10th Donation District. Mr. Miles, his wife and three children, along with Mrs. Miles' sister and brother-in-law traveled to what we know now as Wayne Township by horseback and from there proceeded to survey and mark out portions of Wayne, Amity and Waterford Townships. Mrs. Miles and Mrs. Cook were the first white women to travel into this as yet unexplored area. Enroute Mrs. Cook was delivered of a child, which she cared for in Indian style carrying the child on her back while they traveled the area with the surveying part.

William Miles

William Miles

Upon completion of the surveying, Mr. Miles returned to make his report to the Governor. Miles was profuse in his admiration of the land that he had seen, and gave glowing accounts of the gentle undulating hills, the apparent fertility of the valleys and the profusion of fur bearing animals that lived in this area.

The Governor asked Miles to return to this area for further surveying and exploration. Traveling through Amity Township, he came to an area where two creeks came together to form French Creek. The area was so delightful to behold, that he cleared an area of land, built a house for dwelling, a storehouse for goods and supplies and made plans to set up a fur trading post at this splendid valley where the two creeks came together.

David Watts came to the area later in the year and being equally impressed with his son-in-laws evaluation of this area purchased 1,440 acres of land which was a portion of the land now occupied by Venango Township and Wattsburg Borough.

Mr. Miles named the clearing after his father-in-law, David Watts. Wattsburgh, as it was first called, consisted of the name Watts and burgh from the old Scotch language meaning 'borough'.

In 1809 the first major road was completed from Wattsburg to Erie, and Wattsburg was on it's way to becoming a thriving community.

In 1821 the first school was established at Wattsburg, on the site of the property now occupied by the Wattsburg Hose Company Social Hall. The school was constructed of the many woods that grew abundantly in the area.

In 1822 the first permanent bridge in Erie County was built on the west end of North Street, this bridge which lasted for many years was replaced by the first iron bridge in Erie County. Today nothing but the foundations exist to show where these two 'first' stood.

In the same year Samuel Low built the first sawmill at Wattsburg a short time later. With the abundance of water available for power, a grist mill was also erected and put into operation by Long Wells and Company.

In 1828 the first post office was erected and Lyman Robinson, a transplant from North East was made the first Postmaster. In addition to mail delivery from Erie mail now reached Wattsburg from Jamestown, NY. The mail was carried along this route by a man or a boy once a week. The route was blazed on the trees along the path that the mail took. Truly in the light of today's transportation we can still appreciate the great effort that it took to carry the mail over this twisting and winding path to Jamestown and back, in all kinds of weather.

The Borough of Wattsburg was incorporated in 1933. Part of Venango Township was incorporated into the Borough at this time. Wattsburg thus became the second borough in Erie County to be incorporated by the state of Pennsylvania.

It was natural that as a town would grow so would the need for churches to serve the religious needs of it's residents. The Presbyterians erected a church in 1826 at a cost of $1,350. This church was a natural offshoot of the Old Middlebrook Church located north of Lowville. The following year the Methodist congregation built a church at a cost of $1,400. The Baptists did not have a church of their own until 1850, when a church was built to serve their religious needs. There is no record of a church being built for the Catholic residents. It is possible that their needs were taken care of by visiting priests from Union City or Hammet.

In 1853 the Erie-Wattsburg plank road was completed. This toll road had three toll gates along the route. The toll was .31 cents for a double team and .25 cents for a single team. No prices were given for the persons traveling on horseback. This plank road continued being used till about 1865, when irate farmers descended in droves upon the toll gates and burnt them to the ground. They were never rebuilt and no one could be found to place the blame upon, so the toll road became a thing of the past.

In 1881 the first newspaper made it's appearance, the Wattsburg Chronicle being a patent paper, in which the two left hand columns had local news, and the part of the 5th and 6th pages carried news of local interest. The Wattsburg Occasional also appeared on the scene for a short period of time, it's short existence no doubt gave credence to it's name - it only appeared from time to time.

The Wattsburg Sentinel was owned and edited by Dr. S. F. Chapin and it was the longest lived paper that Wattsburg had. It later merged with a Union City paper. The editor of the paper, Dr. Chapin, was a surgeon during the war between the states and is credited with saving the life of Abraham Lincoln.

In 1882 the Wattsburg borough had three schools. A male teacher received $65 per month and two female teachers were pain $24 per month. There were 66 male students and 72 female students carried on the rolls. The cost for educating each child for a 8 month long school term was .86 cents.

Taxation at that time was much less than now, 5 mills for school and 3 mills for building etc., brought in an income of $809.35. In addition there was an appropriation from the state of $90.30. Thus the Borough and it's three schools operated on a total of $1,137.88 in taxes and appropriations for the year. Total expenses for that year was $1,203.76. History does not record how that deficit of $65.88 was met.

In 1874 a Grange was started. Wattsburg Grange stands as a proud memorial to those devoted to agrian ways of life. It now has a beautiful 2-story hall located on Main Street.

In 1875 a Masonic Blue Lodge was constituted for the Borough. In 1877 a Knights of Honor Lodge was established. The nationally known Wattsburg Fair was started in 1884. Many other Lodges and Fraternal organizations also found willing members in the Wattsburg Borough.

Wattsburg found itself as a hub serving the needs of many communities, the ever present flow of water gave rise to the erection of many water-powered mills along the West Branch. Where water power was - steam served it's purpose. In 1833 Wattsburg had: 2 planning mills; 1 sash factory; 1 handle factory; 1 furniture factory; 1 tavern; 1 dry goods store; 3 grocery stores; 4 general stores; 2 furniture stores, 1 butter market; 4 physicians; 2 attorneys; 1 photographic gallery; 1 dental office; 1 harness shop; several clothing stores; 1 roller rink; 1 undertaker; 1 wagon shop; 2 shoe shops; 4 blacksmith shops; 1 bakery; 2 justices; 1 draftsman; 1 jewelry store.

Three Stage lines were headquartered in Wattsburg: the Union City Stage, the Erie Stage; the North East Stage.

In 1891 the name of Wattsburgh was changed by governmental order to Wattsburg. The order went out that all towns with the 'h' on the burg was to drop it. Pittsburgh is the only city that managed to retain the Old Scotch spelling for the word town.

With the advent of the railroad, which chose to bypass Wattsburg and take a much longer route to Erie via Union City and Waterford to Erie and with the coming of the auto industry Wattsburg started to slow down. The death knell was sounded in the late 1920's when the town was ravaged by a savage fire which brought to ashes the main portion of the business district.

The country famous Wattsburg butter was sold a premium prices throughout the country. The advent of faster transportation did not help spread it's popularity as one might expect, but rather led to a decline in it's popularity, as dairies started to make their own product. Many of the mills suffered the same problem. Shingles made in Wattsburg were a standard feature of most new houses. The last known building to have Wattsburg shingles was the Belle Valley Grange hall, which was torn down a number of years ago.

Wattsburg, which is hemmed in on two sides by West Branch and South Branch, and the convergence of the two has no way to grow, except by the remote possibility of annexation of other lands to the Borough proper.

Wattsburg having served it's role in the development of the surrounding towns and villages, today nestles secure in the beautiful French Creek Valley surrounded by rolling hills which caused William Miles to be so attacted to it over 150 years ago.


This page was last updated on  Wednesday, February 2, 2005 .

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