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Hickory Township
Lawrence County, Pa History



This township, formerly a part of Mercer County, was erected from the eastern part of Neshannock Township during the winter of 1859-60. It comprises an area of about 9,800 acres, and is rich in both agricultural and mineral resources. It is watered by the Big Neshannock Creek and its tributaries, on all of which there is extensive water power. The principal branch of the Neshannock in the township is East Brook, or what was formerly known as Huttebaugh or Hettenbaugh Run. On this stream there are a number of dams, located within a comparatively short distance of each other.

The surface of the township is more or less hilly and broken, owing to the many streams which flow through it, and the summits of the highest hills or ridges are probably 300 feet above the Neshannock Creek. The creek forms the boundary between the townships of Hickory and Neshannock. The New Castle and Franklin Railway, now operated by the Pennsylvania Company, passes along the left bank of the creek, until it reaches East Brook Station, where it crosses to the other bank. "Along the creek is found some most romantic scenery. In places the channel is narrowed down to a rocky gorge, with precipitous overhanging piles or sandstone frowning upon the valley, their sides and summits covered with a dense growth of hemlock, and an occasional gloomy-looking ravine, affording greater solemnity and loneliness, which is hardly surpassed in its effect anywhere. The rock is sandstone, and generally piled up in thin and broken strata, caused by-some mighty upheaval, although in a few localities the strata are thicker and afford very good building stone. They rest usually on a lower stratum of shale, or slaty fragments, approaching the coal measures. 

"Springs are numerous and constant; timber is abundant; desirable building sites are found in almost every locality; the lover of the beautiful in nature can have his most exquisite taste gratified; the manufacturer finds every facility for promoting his business in its various branches; the health of the community is excellent; schools and churches of the best character serve to immense advantage in furthering the social, moral and intellectual standing of an already prosperous and refined people; numerous and costly improvements evince the taste and refinement of the inhabitants; the student of geology and history finds his research amply rewarded; and, taking into consideration these manifold advantages, with others we have not space to mention, the township may be classed as one of the first in the county.

Coal of an excellent quality has been found in the township, but the vein is quite thin, and on that account chiefly, not much worked. Some, however, is mined for local use, and a considerable quantity has been taken to New Castle, the glassworks at Croton formerly making use of it. This was obtained from a bank just outside the city limits on the Harlansburg road.

Iron ore of a good quality has been found in paying quantities along the Neshannock Creek, but the same disadvantages attend its development which are met with in opening the coal veins, or at least some of them. It lies generally close to the surface, and in taking it out the land is broken to a greater or less extent, rendering it unfit for agricultural purposes. On account of these drawbacks, comparatively little has been done toward bringing out in full the resources of the township in this line.

The township contains the village of Eastbrook, and the station of the same [p. 243] name on the New Castle and Franklin railway. The railway was completed in 1874, and affords ample facilities for shipping the products of the neighborhood, both agricultural and mineral.

In a few localities limestone is quarried, but is not of sufficiently good quality to be used as a building stone. A lime kiln was put in operation a number of years ago, a short distance from the city limits of New Castle, on the Harlansburg road. The stone has a bluish cast, and is by no means equal to that found in greater quantities in other portions of the United States. It has been used for fluxing purposes in blast furnaces.

Sandstone is found largely throughout the township, and is utilized for building purposes, and also ground up and used in the manufacture of window glass. The sandstone deposit forms the principal geologic foundation of Hickory Township.

The first coal-bank opened in the vicinity was worked about 1830. A coal-bank was opened on the Harlansburg road, by Michael Ryan in 1870, on land belonging to Anthony Henderson. The vein averaged about two feet in thickness, and was largely used by the Croton Glass Works. 

A considerable number of persons have been engaged in the business, and a few banks have been worked out. The coal veins increase in thickness as they trend northward, and reach the maximum thickness somewhere in the neighborhood of Stoneboro, Mercer County. They also dip to the south on about the same grade as the beds of the different streams.

EARLY SETTLEMENTS.

In the year 1798, Robert Gormley, an immigrant from Ireland, settled on the farm now owned by John H. Gormley. He had first worked for a while east of the mountains. While in the eastern part of the State, he witnessed a transaction between a Revolutionary soldier and a person to whom the soldier sold a tract of land, donated him by the State for his services during the War. The price paid for the land was a quart of whisky, the hero of Revolutionary fields considering that worth more than the land, which he said was "somewhere out West, but didn't know exactly where." The tract thus cheaply disposed of embraced 500 acres.

Mr. Gormley also purchased 500 acres, which was divided among his brothers, John and Thomas, who had followed him from Ireland. William Patton, and himself-making 120 acres each. The price paid was fifty cents per acre. Schoolhouse No. 5 is located on a part of the tract. Mr. Gormley built a hewed log house, 20 by 22 feet, in 1804, and it was considered a very remarkably fine house for the time. It stood until the fall of 1869.

Robert Gormley was married in 1807-08, to Sarah Hammond, of Washington County, and John Gormley married her sister, Elizabeth. The first birth in the Gormley family was probably that of Martha, daughter of John Gormley, about 1809. The first deaths were also in that family, two sons and a daughter dying during the year 1822. 

The first road through the neighborhood was what is known as the Harlansburg road. Previous to its being laid out, the only highways were zig-zag paths through the woods, following the best route they could around hills and across streams-the latter always being forded. Grain was carried to mill on pack-saddles, and Mr. Gormley often "packed" corn from Beavertown, where he paid a dollar a bushel for it. Wheat could not be raised to any extent for some time, on account of the great number of squirrels, deer, "ground hogs," and other animals which came into the fields and destroyed the crops. 

Deer were so tame that they would come into a wheat field in broad daylight, and had to be repeatedly driven off. Wild turkeys were also exceedingly plentiful, and in the fall of the year created sad havoc among the fields of buckwheat. [p. 244] 

Agriculture was carried on according to somewhat primitive methods. The first metal plow in the neighborhood was owned by Francis Irvin (or Irwin), and Robert Gormley had the second one. The plows in use before these had wooden mould-boards, and a paddle was carried to clean the plow at the end of every furrow. The harrows also had wooden teeth, and both plows and harrows were rude and clumsy affairs, compared with the vastly improved implements of the present, although they answered their purpose and their owners were content, knowing of no better ones. 

Robert Gormley died March 26, 1858, at the ripe old age of eighty-six years, and sleeps by the side of Sarah, his wife, in the old Neshannock graveyard, his wife having died on the 18th of June, 1853, at the age of sixty-five years. Though sixteen years her husband's junior, she made him a loving and exemplary wife for forty-four years. John Gormley died December 27, 1848, aged seventy-nine years, and his wife, Elizabeth, followed him March 27, 1858, aged seventy-four.

William Patton was originally from Ireland, and settled first in Center County, Pennsylvania. From there he came to Lawrence (then Mercer) County, and settled on a portion of the Robert Gormley tract. When he came from Center County, he had a horse and an ox harnessed together to haul his goods. Mr. Patton and the Gormleys afterward donated ten acres each to Thomas Speer, in order to get him to settle near them. Mr. Speer was from South Carolina, and came to Hickory Township about 1805-6. He lived to a very old age, and died within a few years past.

"Some time during the year 1802 Samuel McCreary came from the Buffalo Valley, in Union County, in the eastern part of the State, and located on the east side of Neshannock Creek, about two miles northwest of the present village of East-brook. He was the first settler on the place, and made the first improvements. He built a round log house, and lived in it with his wife and one child. Enoch McCreary, who was but two years of age when his father came to the county. Mr. McCreary's brother, Thomas accompanied him, and they each took up a tract of one hundred acres. Shortly after their settlement Thomas McCreary died, and his was consequently one of the first deaths in the neighborhood. Samuel McCreary was out several times to Erie during the War of 1812-15. He eventually became the owner of some 600 acres of land in the vicinity of the place where he settled, chiefly lying along the Neshannock Creek. He died shortly before the breaking out of the Southern rebellion. The McCreary were originally from Ireland, emigrating from that country at some period subsequent to the War for Independence between the American Colonies and Great Britain. He was the father of ten children. The first birth in his family after he came to Lawrence County was that of his daughter, Betsey, about 1804. In 1806, another daughter, Sarah, was born, and in 1808, a son, Thomas.

Robert Simonton, who lived for a number of years in Hickory Township, settled originally on the Shenango River, in Neshannock Township. He was out during the War of 1812, and went to Erie. He died about 1853-54, at an advanced age. John C. Wallace, also a soldier of 1812, having served as captain of militia at that time, was an early settler in the southeast part of Hickory Township. [p. 245] 

Jacob Baker settled near Mr. Wallace, in the southeast part of Hickory Township, and was a soldier of 1814. He lived in the county in the neighborhood of fifty years, a part of which time he resided in New Castle.

Abel McDowell came from Westmoreland County early, and lived for several years with his uncle, Thomas Fisher. He afterwards located in the northwest part of Hickory Township.

About 1812-15, George Hinkson came from Chester County, and located in Washington County, where he stayed until about 1817, when he removed to Belmont County, Ohio. There he lived for eleven years, or until 1828, when he again packed up his worldly goods and came back to the Keystone State, this time locating in Hickory Township, on a 500-acre tract, later owned by his son, Aaron Hinkson, and others.

All the lands in the township are "donation lands," and the fact that the territory was not settled until a comparatively late day is attributable to that circumstance. But few of the original patentees ever located in the county, and the land at that time was deemed too far away to be reached. It was not, however, until the completion of the Erie Extension Canal that the growth of any part of the western portion of the State became marked; but since that time the development has steadily and generally gone forward.

Samuel Casteel, a veteran of the second war with Great Britain, came from Allegheny County in 1816, and located near the Neshannock Creek, southeast of the present Eastbrook Station. By his industry and frugality he amassed considerable property, and when over eighty years of age, the sound of martial music, or the strains produced by a more pretentious band of brass instruments, would awaken the old military fire within him, and recall to his mind the scenes and incidents during the strife of more than sixty years before. 

Thomas Glass, John McKnight and John Stunkard came from near Pittsburg in the year 1825, and purchased a 500-acre tract. The McKnights and Stunkards still reside on the old homestead. These persons were the first actual settlers on the tract, although two or three squatters had been there before them. One of these squatters was a roving character named Chair, who did little else than hunt.   

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Source:   Hickory Township, " 20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence County Pennsylvania and Representative Citizens,
Hon. Arron L. Hazen, editor, (Chicago, Illinois: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Co., 1908),
p. 242-248.

Transcribed and submitted by Stephen Fisher



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