Search billions of records on


In Cambria County

By: R. Dudley Tonkin

Extracted from:The Cambria County Historical Society Sesquicentennial Handbook '54



Most timber cruisers and estimators want to know or at least have lines marked and the corners established on a property before they start to estimate the timber.

 The part of Penn's Woods (Pennsylvania) named Cambria County is no exception to this practice. Under the Constitution of 1790 and the Law of the Commonwealth, one member of the Governor's cabinet held the office of Surveyor General. The man holding this office was a land surveyor and the men working with him were termed artisans due to their skill in the art of surveying. The office of the Surveyor General at this time was a busy place. Among its many duties was to survey and mark the lines and corners of the new counties created by the Assembly.

When the Governor sighed the Act of March 26, 1804, creating the new counties of Cambria and Clearfield, he ordered the Surveryor General to lay out these counties as outlined in the Act.

One of the most historic land marks in this part of Pennsylvania had been designated by the Assembly as the northwest corner of Cambria County. Therefore, let us turn our thoughts backward and join the party assigned by the Surveyor General to locate the corners and run the lines. We will follow them for many miles through the forest to where the leader of the party comes to a halt at a large wild black cherry standing on the west side of the Susquehanna River near the mouth of Cush Cushing Creek. The compass man walks around to the down river side of the tree where he finds three small notches, made with an ax or tomahawk, breast high and about six inches apart. The three notches tell our surveyor we are at the upriver corner of the tract of land purchased by William Penn's heirs from the Indian tribes by treaty-deed made and entered into at Fort Stanwix, New York, in 1768.

These marks have been on the tree for about thirty-six years and show their age by being partly overgrown with bark. We walk around to the Southwest side of the tree and find similar marks except that they are new and bright. Our leader tells us these new marks are the start of the Indiana-Cambria County line and were made about one-year earlier at the time of the Indiana County survey.

Our minds eye timber cruise in the early part of the nineteenth century will start from this well established corner among the tall pines where the under-story of hemlocks and hardwoods compete for the bit of sunshine breaking through the pine tops.

This imaginary trip, going back to 1804, brings to mind a real survey party working on this line in the spring of 1894. An Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature of 1893 authorized the counties of Cambria, Clearfield and Indiana to have their county surveyors jointly locate and establish the site where the famous cherry tree stood. To carry out this order, the three county surveyors met in the village of Cherry Tree to start the work. Cambria sent John Scanlan of Carrolltown, Clearfield sent Harry Byers of New Washington. The Indiana County man was John R. Caldwell of Indiana. These men organized a surveying party and made John Scanlan, Esq., one of the grand old men of Cambria County, chief of the party.

area that divides the Susquehanna and Allegheny River Watersheds. Here we find the tall pines have given way to the hemlock and hardwoods. We are at the headwater streams and valleys of North Blacklick Creek. Timber growing conditions, as set up by nature over this region, developed some of the most choice hemlock and hardwoods to be found in Pennsylvania. Our line will lead us on the western side of the North Branch of Black Lick where it meets the South Branch. From here our estimator found an almost unbroken oak forest, with yellow poplar in the coves and rich moistsoils and massive chestnut on the more dry ridges. Crossing the Conemaugh, the oak hardwood forest continued along the Cambria-Westmoreland County line to the Southwest corner of Cambria County.

Here we turn almost east through hardwoods until near Stonycreek where we meet some hemlock. Traveling up the stream we see a heavy stand of hardwood and turn east to near the present town of Scalp Level. A heavy stand of hemlock greets us on each side of the line. In some locations to the south, sugar maples take over.

We travel eastward to the corner on the top of the mountain through a hemlock hardwood stand of timber. Turning northeast at the top of the mountain on the Bedford-Cambria line, we travel through oak and chestnut. Looking westward, heavy stands of hemlock and hardwoods can be seen in the tributary valleys of the Upper Conemaugh River. Looking east we see oak and hardwoods. This type of forest continues along the Cambria-Blair line on the high levels when we reach the northeast corner of the county where it joins with Clearfield. It is interesting to note as we pass Tunnel Hill that the land elevations drop more or less to the north. Looking west the hemlocks and pines come more near the top of the ridges. Turning west at the northeast corner of Cambria we follow the Clearfield-Cambria line through an almost unbroken forest of pine and hemlock to the Cherry Tree corner. After the long trek through the forest, with our mind's eye of 1804, over the boundary lines we are anxious to see the great stands of timber in the interior of the county. The West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Chest and Clearfield Creeks head in Cambria County, flow northward and enter Clearfield on the North Cambria line. Few, if any, valleys within the state contained such a large volume of virgin timber per mile of stream. Clearfield Creek being the longest of these streams flowing to the Atlantic, heads in Munster Township among the highland hardwoods (beech, birch, cherry, chestnut, oak and poplar). Gently flowing from this high elevation to the wide valley at the foot of Loretto Hill where the hemlocks compete with the hardwoods for control of the land. This stream valley and its branches was very well timbered in its course through the county. A large percentage of the pine, poplar and hemlock was carried to market on its waters. The uppermost point for floating logs appears to have been at a small up and down saw mill dam, equipped with lift gates, near where the Cr esson-Loretto road crosses the creek. Logs were floated from here to Williamsport. Head of navigation for rafts 100 to 120 feet long was the Gates Dam near Flinton.

Chest Creek heads in Allegheny Township among the hemlocks and hardwoods. This stream flows north to Bradley Junction where it becomes a navigable stream for logs.

James Farabaugh of Loretto was the last man to put logs into Chest Creek at this point and drive (float) them to Eckenrode's Mill where others took over to keep the logs moving downstream and to market.

Eckenrode's Mill was the upstream point in the Chest Creek valley for white pine timber. This valley produced some of the largest timber within the state. As we travel downstream to within about one mile of Patton, we find some very large white oak. The king tree in this group was the finest white oak I have ever seen. It stood on the Peter Strittmatter Farm, over 60 feet to the first limb, cut in the summer of 1949 and scaled 4,300 board feet.

The next very large trees we find in the valey stood in a group across Chest Creek from the mouth of Brubaker Run at the present location of Garway Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Cambria County can jclaim the largest of these trees. One large tree, about 130 feet tall, was made into the largest ship spar ever to float on Susquehanna River waters. The measurements were as follows: This spar was standard length of spars for the rigging of America's famous clipper ships. The value of a spar was determined by the diameter 12 feet from the butt or large end. This spar was 43 inches in diameter (measured with a pair of large calipers) and 90 feet long with a 33 inch top diameter. It sold for about $500.00 or $11.60 per inch. Had this tree been cut into lumber it would have made over 6,000 feet of one inch boards.


The Susquehanna, being the third well timbered valley in the north end of the county, heads on the Strittmatter farm about one mile south of Carroltown. Flowing northward through hemlocks and hardwoods by the present towns of Bakerton and Binder where it has grown large enough to carry saw logs on its waters.

Thence on by Spangler where nature had scattered a few pines among the hemlocks. Continuing downstream we come to a famous tract of pine (Whipporwill Tract) which was cut and put afloat near the present borough of Barnesboro. The town of Emeligh took over some of the best pine land in Pennsylvania. Some very good ship spars were cut in Emeigh Run valley and rafted in Kinports Dam, head of navigation for rafts. From here to the county line (Cherry Tree Monument) was an unbroken stand of pine and hemlock. Practically all this timber went to market on the river. The timber resources of Cambria can be roughly divided into three groups as to species and locations.

The northern third of the County can be termed the pine country. Fifty percent or more of the timber was white pine. The other being equally divided between hemlock and hardwoods.

Three-fourths of this timber was carried to market on the waters of the Susquehanna River in the form of rafts of ship spars, booms, square timber, together with logs being transported by a system of floating, called log driving. This was big business for many years.

yards and a reputation among the lumber trade of the East of handling only lumber of full or extra thickness. The trade term being "cut strong." Thin cut lumber was an abomination to this Congregational deacon.

Another man made early lumbering history in Cambria County. A maine Yankee by the name of A.A. Barker settled in Carrolltown at an early date and started to manufacture and deal in shook. The material to make barrels to hold liquids in first quality white oak. It was called "Tight Cooperage Shook." He set up shook mills at many places where there was a good supply of white oak. At first the shook was hauled by wagon or sled to the canal. When the railroad was built to Ebensburg this shook dealer moved there. He worked hard - early and late - and developed a very large business as manufacturer and dealer in both tight and loose (dry) shook. He specialized in the raw materials (shook) used in hogsheads - barrels, kegs and buckets as they were used as containers for many different things in pioneer days. Like most articles of that day, they were made of the most plentiful and practical thing at hand, i.e., oak. Hoops were made by splitting a small slim sapling, called a ho op-pole, and the ends fastened together in a very ingenious manner to make a barrel hoop. No iron or steel hoops at that day.

Tight cooperage (barrels) were used in the molasses, whiskey, oil and salt (brine) meat trade. Slack or dry cooperage was used in the flour, sugar and salt trade.

It is told that Mr. Barker would walk to Winterset, load a car with shook and walk home in time for the evening meal, after which he would attend to the business of the day at his store office. He operated the mills, store and farms, made prohibition speeches, operated a station on the Underground Railroad, and left his mark for the betterment of Cambria County.

The Southern third of the County carried a high percentage of oak and hardwoods with the exception of South Fork valley of the Conemaugh River and the up-land swamp of that area. One of the largest saw mills within the county operated for many years at Sidman, cutting hemlock and hardwoods for the Williamsport firm of Pearley and Crocket. Kuntz and Goodwin operated a band mill for several years at Dunlo.

In this section of the county sugar maple came into its own in the sweets trade as well as quality lumber. Cambria County has been outdistanced by her neighbor on the south, in maple sugar products, due to the early cutting of her maple trees.

The Vintondale Lumber Company of Clearfield operated a mill, cutting about 100,000 board feet per day just over the Indiana County line with timber cut on the Blacklick Creek water shed in Cambria. In other words, Cambria timber was sawed in Indiana County.

Barker Brothers operated mills at many points - the largest being on the Blacklick. Webster Griffith, son of the cherry tree king, operated a band mill for many years, cutting about 35,000 feet per day at Cardiff, Cambria County. Small mills powered with water or steamhave been cutting over the county for the last hundred years. Their combined total output exceeds all other methods.

The tract of land on which we started to follow the surveyors by turning the clock back to the year 1804, contains 435,840 acres.

We find it to have been well timbered and on a very conservative estimate it would have cut 8,716,800,000 board feet of lumber.

One-half of this volume has throughout the years been more or less destroyed in various ways or lost by forest fires.

Small mills are estimated to account for 2,000,000,000 board feet.

Large mills in and bordering the County, 1,000,000,000 board feet.

With proper fire protection and care, the 200,000 acres or more of forest lands within the county will keep their renewable natural resources green to help make Cambria County a good place to live.

 Formatted by Clark Creery '98

Return to the Indiana County, PA Home Page