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Perry Township,
Lawrence County, Pa History



This was one of the thirteen original townships of Lawrence County, its position being the southeast corner, on the east side of Slippery Rock Creek. Owing to the creek being the boundary line, the township is somewhat triangular in shape. The surface is generally uneven, the hills rising to a height of several hundred feet above the waters of the Slippery Rock, and the valleys between them are usually narrow.

The soil is generally fertile, and the different grains and fruits which the country produces are here grown in profusion. The township is watered by numerous streams, most of which are branches of Slippery Rock Creek. The most important of the smaller streams is Camp Run, which flows in a southerly direction through the eastern portion of the township, and enters the Conoquenessing Creek in Franklin Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The stream affords considerable power. It takes its name from the fact that the settlers along it had a great many "sugar camps," the "sugar trees" standing very thick in the valley. Hickory timber was also plenty, and the name "Hickory Run" would have been just as applicable.

Along all the streams are rugged and precipitous banks, and in many places the scenery partakes of a wildness and grandeur beyond description. "Along Slippery Rock Creek the frowning bluffs rise to a height of 400 feet, their sides covered with huge fragmentary masses of sand rock and a dense growth of hemlock. Away down below, the waters of the stream rush impetuously over a rock bed, and occasionally foam and dash down a steep and narrow rapid, or tumble with angry commotion over a low ledge, each particular drop of water seemingly furiously struggling with its might to become first among its sisters whirling onward to the sea. In every spot along the Slippery Rock the scenery is delightful, and it is by no means necessary for the inhabitants of the land to go beyond its banks to find a grand culmination of nature's beauties. The gray old sandstone, with its mossy surface, occasionally shelving and forming a gloomy recess underneath, the ragged fragments, piled in reckless confusion, the somber hemlocks and humbler, though not less beautiful, laurel, the occasional dripping brooklets, their waters falling carelessly over the rocky banks, the larger stream, with its swift rushing waters dashing madly down the deep and narrow gorge, combined, make a picture worthy the pencil or brush of the artist, and one that, once seen and appreciated, is not easily forgotten."

Much of the territory along Slippery Rock Creek was leased by oil companies, and a number of wells bored, the result not always realizing expectations, however.

An Armstrong iron bridge, manufactured at New Brighton, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, was built across the creek, at the wells, about 1870, and is a strong, substantial structure.

Coal abounds throughout the township, and except where the vein approaches Slippery Rock Creek, is of an exceedingly fine quality. The upper vein averages about four feet in thickness, except as it approaches the creek, where it becomes thinner. It has been worked in a number of places to good advantage.

Iron ore is also found, in quality very rich. Below the upper coal vein is a vein of fire clay, averaging some three feet in thickness, and below that both bog and kidney ore are found.

Limestone also abounds, but owing to its lying next the iron, and being more or less impregnated with and gradually merged into it, is worth but little for burning, and is valueless for building purposes.

A large proportion of the lands in Perry Township are in what was known originally as the "Chew district." Benjamin Chew, of Philadelphia, had secured a tract of land in the southern part of what is now Lawrence County, including portions of Big Beaver, Wayne, Shenango, Slippery Rock and Perry Townships. It was surveyed into 400-acre tracts, and each settler on a tract was entitled to half for settling. The balance was sold at a small price and in quantities to suit purchasers. The Chew tract was four or five miles in width and some eight or ten miles in length.

When the territory in western Pennsylvania was first surveyed, a body consisting of eight tracts of 400 acres each-two tracts north and south, and four east and west-was put down on the surveyor's map as "depreciated lands," or lands not fit for settling. These became known as the "eight tracts," a name they still retain, and were located principally in the northern part of what is now Perry Township. As these lands are equal, if not superior, to any in the township, it is possible that the surveyors, with an instinctive knowledge of their future value, reported them in the manner they did in order to deceive settlers, and some time settle on or speculate in the tracts themselves. But if such were their designs they were speedily frustrated when the settlers began to come in and choose those tracts first of all. It is a fact that the earliest settlements in the township were made on these same "depreciated lands," and some of the best improvements today are in this locality.

EARLY SETTLEMENTS AND SETTLERS

About the year 1796 Matthew Murray settled on Tract Number Four, 200 acres, and was the first settler on the place. Mr. Murray came from Maryland, with his wife and seven children. Five children were born after he made his settlement, the first one, Thomas, very soon after they came, said to have been the first white child born on Slippery Rock Creek. Mr. Murray served in the Revolution, and was in the Light Horse under "Light Horse Harry Lee." Two of Mr. Murray's sons, Matthew and William, were out at Black Rock during the War of 18l2, and two others, James and John, were with General Harrison, at Fort Meigs and vicinity. Matthew Murray, Sr., died in 1827; his wife died in 1812 or 1813.

During the years 1797 and 1798 a number of settlers came in, and after that the filling up of the township proceeded more rapidly.

James Stewart, Robert Young, William Scott, Thomas and Marvin Christy, and Robert Stewart, came during the two years above mentioned, and settled in the same neighborhood. The Christeys and Robert Stewart settled just across in Butler County, and the others in what is now Perry Township, Lawrence County.

James Stewart came in 1798. He was originally from what was then Adams County, Pennsylvania, and for a while stopped in the valley of Pigeon Creek, Washington County. When he came to Lawrence County he located on a farm in the northern part of Perry Township. Mr. Stewart was a tall, athletic man, and could stand and jump over "anything he could lay his chin over." His father, Matthew Stewart, had served in the Revolutionary War, and though not as tall as his son, was fully as active and very quick. James Stewart's daughter, Joanna, born April 24, 1801, was the wife of William Gealey, Sr., who lived in Plain Grove Township, Lawrence County.

Robert Young was from Ireland, and he and William Scott made a settlement on the same tract. For a long time there was considerable strife between them as to which one the tract belonged to. They finally settled the dispute by dividing it, and afterwards lived amicably as neighbors. Young had made improvements near the center of the tract, and when the division was made, Scott took a strip off each side in order to allow Young to keep his improvements.

William Scott's oldest son, John, served in the War of 1812.

A peddler, named John Fulton, came in 1797, and settled on the east side of Slippery Rock Creek, at the spot where the stream is crossed by what is known as "Harris' Ford." Fulton was in some way connected with the Harris family, from whom the ford derives its name.

James Stewart, a different personage from the man already mentioned, came from Peter's Creek Valley, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and settled on the farm recently owned by Andrew Powell, in 1796 or 1797. He came with his father and mother. His father, John Stewart, served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and fought in the battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777. James Stewart was not married when he came with his parents, but some time previous to the War of 1812, he married Nancy Morrison, whose parents lived on Camp Run. John Stewart lived a number of years after the settlement, and died aged over seventy years. James Stewart served as captain in the War of 1812. He was a great hunter, and took extreme delight in the sports of the chase. He had a rifle which he called "Old Danger," which carried a ball weighing nearly an ounce.

A man named Hawkins was the original settler of the farm afterwards owned by Andrew Elliott, and later by William Curry, of Pittsburg. Hawkins must have been out previous to the year 1800. He made the first improvements on the place, sold it to Elliott, and left the country before 1812. Mr. Elliott located on the place the 2nd day of May, 1807, and in 1812 taught school in a log schoolhouse which was built on his place. The original tract, as settled by Hawkins, consisted of 200 acres.

Among the first settlers in the southern portion of the township were Charles Dobbs, William Morton, and others, who located along the line at present dividing the two counties of Beaver and Lawrence.

Job Randolph settled on Camp Run about 1805. He was at that time a young man, and was married after he came to the township. He, with his parents, when but eight years of age, came from near Princeton, N. J., the family settling first in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and afterwards removing to Beaver, now Lawrence County. His son, John Randolph, laid out the town of Princeton, naming it after the old dwelling place of the family. John Randolph was one of the first commissioners of Lawrence County.

Some time previous to the War of 1812-15, probably about 1810, Amos Pyle came with his family from Peter's Creek Valley, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The family consisted of himself, his wife and six children, and four more children were born after his settlement, making ten in all. Mr. Pyle had been here about 1807-8, and made some improvements on the place, and also built a sawmill on Camp Run. After he brought his family, he built a log grist mill on the run, on the site of the mill then owned by Caleb Pyle. Mr. Pyle's brother, Caleb Pyle, Sr., came with him, and served as a lieutenant in the War of 1812. The Pyles were originally from England, and settled first in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Amos Pyle's wife was an eye-witness of the battle of Bunker Hill, and her father, William Wright, was in the ranks of the Americans that day, fighting manfully for "Liberty and Independence. "

Edward White came early to the township, and settled on a 400-acre tract. White built a couple of small cabins and a barn, all of logs, on the tract, and then left it. A colored man, named Caesar Mercy, then got a man named Sturgeon, living in Pittsburg, to go and make further and better improvements. White returned and tried to hold the place by virtue of the improvements he had made, but Mercy's (or Sturgeon's) improvements were superior, and White had no show for at least a part of the tract.

In 1825 John Weller purchased 200 acres of Mrs. Sturgeon, and located on the land. The balance of the 400-acre tract is now, or was formerly owned by George H. Magee, William Weller, James Brandon and J. H. Mitchell.

George H. Magee, owning a part of this tract, came to the township about 1837, and purchased 200 acres of Robert Aiken, locating and residing upon it until his death. He had previously lived on the Conoquenessing Creek, in Butler County.

Robert Aiken came from the Youghiogheny Valley, seven miles above McKeesport, in April, 1804, bringing four children with him. Purchasing land of Edward White, he located upon it, near where the present residence of George H. Magee stands. Mr. Aiken raised four children after he came to the township, viz.: Robert, Margaret, John and Eliza Jane. The other children were Ann, born in 1798, at the old home on the "Yough"; James, Andrew and William. Mrs. Aiken died in 1835, aged sixty-six years, and Mr. Aiken in 1850, at the age of eighty.

Jacob Van Gorder came from New Jersey about 1806, and, settled on Slippery Rock Creek. He built a sawmill some time after he came, and some time between 1845 and 1850 erected a grist mill, which was later operated by his sons.

Elias Van Gorder, brother to Jacob, came in 1808, and settled on a farm owned by Smith, Collins & Co., a Philadelphia oil firm. He brought three or four children with him. He went to Erie in Captain Kildoo's company, during the War of 1812, and died there. This company was raised in the neighborhood, and had members from Perry, Slippery Rock, Wayne, and other townships, and probably some from Butler County.

ROADS

The first road in the township was one which was intended to run through old Harmony Village, in Butler County. Its route was from the spot where the iron bridge at the oil well now stands, through to the old Freeman farm, at the Butler County line, thence on to Harmony. It was cut through Perry Township to the county line, but was never met from the other side, and consequently was never finished. Trade went in those days almost exclusively to Harmony, and when a road was opened it was well traveled, but finally business took a start in New Castle, and was pushed so briskly that Harmony lost much of its custom, which went to New Castle, and the old road grew up to brush. A petition was afterwards circulated for a State road, which was finally viewed from New Castle to Zelienople, Butler County, and partially cut through, on a part of the same track the old road followed.

Another State road was located on nearly the same line, varying a little from it in some places, but a petition was gotten up, and the road annulled and vacated, and a road laid running from the oil works down along the hollow, up the hill past the site of the old Covenanter Church, and on to Zelienople.

The Wurtemberg and Portersville State road was laid out about the time the county of Lawrence was created, 1849-50.

Matthew Stewart built a grist mill on the "run" which flowed through his farm, very early, and a road was laid south and southwest from it, probably intended to go through to Beaver town. Part of the road is still in the "Eight Tract settlement." The old mill contained one run of stone, and succumbed to the ravages of time years ago.

MILITARY RECORD

The early comers to the township had among their number several veterans of the Revolution-those who fought to keep alive the spark of that liberty which had been so boldly asserted as the rightful possession of the colonists-and their children roused themselves to action, and preserved the honor of their country and the fame of their sires when the English aggressions brought on the struggle of 1812-15.

After that war was over and peace once more "spread her wings 'neath the banner of stars," militia organizations and volunteer rifle companies were kept up for several years.

About 1820 a rifle company called the "Rifle Hornets," or "Hornet Rifles," was organized under the law which exempted the members from further military duty after a continuous service of seven years. The company had a membership of from forty to fifty men, armed with common rifles, each furnishing his own uniform and arms. The uniform was a blue capote, or frock, with red facings and white fringe, red sash, citizen's hat with white plume, and white pants. Alexander Morrison and J. H. Van Gorder were at one time officers of this company, the former ranking as captain and the latter as second-lieutenant. The company was made up of men from the immediate vicinity.

During the War of the Rebellion, the township was largely represented. In this war of a nation's children-a war between brothers-many who entered the service from Perry were maimed for life, and others await today the final trump from the grassy graves on Southern fields, when they shall gather once more with the dear ones who mourn them.

SCHOOLS

In the fall of 1805 a schoolhouse was built of round logs just across the line in Beaver County, on land owned by William Thompson. This was the first schoolhouse in the neighborhood, but, owing to some dispute, it was burned down before it was ever occupied.

Another one was built immediately on the same site, also of round logs, and stood for a number of years. The first teacher was John Ker (or Kerr), who was living on the Sturgeon place with his mother, and owned no land. He was of Irish descent, and was not very popular, though a good-hearted man. Owing to the scarcity of teachers he was welcomed, however. His greatest fault was gross mispronunciation.

A schoolhouse was built, about 1812, on land then owned by Andrew Elliott, who was the first teacher in the building. The settlers in the neighborhood had two sites picked out for the location of the schoolhouse, and it was agreed among them that the one that had the most pupils subscribed should be the place to build it. Robert Aiken settled the matter when it came his turn to subscribe, by putting down five pupils for the Elliott location, and there the schoolhouse was built. The children who attended this school were dressed in blue linsey, and were familiarly called the "Eight-tracts Blues." Mr. Aiken was as good as his word, and sent five children.

Some time previous to the year 1808 a house was built on land owned by Samuel McElwain. It was built for a dwelling, and used for school purposes, about 1809-10. The first teacher was an Irishman named Samuel Sterrett. School was only kept in this building two or three terms.

At an early date a schoolhouse was built on the west side of Camp Run, in the Southern part of the township. A man named John Hines was probably the first teacher.

Another one was built of logs on the old Robert White farm. This was later, about 1825-26. James H. Van Gorder taught in it six months, and others taught both before and after him. It was used until 1834, when the law establishing free schools was passed, and it was abandoned.

After the school law came in force, schoolhouses were built twenty feet square, the first one being north of the old James Morton farm. Teachers at that time were scarce, and but few of them were competent, and people hired what they could get, from sheer necessity.

The second schoolhouse, under the school law, was built about 1836-37, on the State road leading from Wurtemburg to Portersville, about two and one-half miles from Wurtemburg. It was built "on the bounds of the road," and no land was leased or bought upon which to erect it. The next one was built on the Armstrong farm, but was moved to a more central location, on the Andrew Elliott land, where the present schoolhouse stands. The house is now known as the "Elliott schoolhouse." Another was built on the southeast side of the creek, at Wurtemburg, one on Camp Run, and another in the northeastern part of the township.

In 1908 there are five schools in the township, with the same number of teachers, and an enrollment of 328 pupils. Total expenditures, $2,139.28; estimated value of school property, $3,750.

CHURCHES

Mountville United Presbyterian Church was organized as an Associate or Seceder Church, in 1808 or 1810, probably by Rev. McClintock, who had preached in the neighborhood as early as 1798. After this, Associate Reformed preachers occasionally held forth in the neighborhood also, and the early meetings were held at private houses-at Mr. Young's, Mr. Scott's and other places, and, during warm weather, in barns. Among the founders of the Associate congregation were Robert Young, William Scott, Thomas Christy, Robert Aiken, John Frew, Job Randolph, James Stewart and James Vance, who were all pioneers in the settlement of the neighborhood.

About 1810 a small church was built of round logs, on land subsequently owned by Daniel Thomas, which was the farm next adjoining the John Fulton place.

The log church was used until 1822, when a frame church was erected. A more commodious edifice was erected in 1840, on the hill west of the residence of James Aiken. The ground was donated by Robert Aiken, and included four acres. Additional ground for burial purposes was subsequently purchased by the society.

The first settled pastor was Rev. Alexander Murray, who preached as early as 1809, but was probably not settled until a later date. Rev. Mr. McClintock possibly preached a few times in the old log church, as an assistant to Mr. Murray. The latter preached to the congregation until 1845, when he died, in the thirty-seventh year of his ministry. He was buried in the present graveyard.

After Mr. Murray died, the church was supplied by different ministers, until Rev. Joseph McClintock was settled, which was in 1847-48. He stayed nine years, and after him came Rev. Andrew Irons, who became unable to preach soon after he was settled, through failing health. Mr. Irons came in the spring or summer of 1857, and after his health failed had the church supplied for a while out of his own wages. He died near the close of December, 1863.

Rev. John Donaldson was the next pastor; he came in June, 1865, and ceased his labors with the congregation in 1869. After this the church was supplied until the summer of 1874, when Rev. John Patterson was called, under whose charge the church flourished. Rev. J. J. Ralston became pastor in 1889, and served with great devotion for seventeen years, when he resigned, June 26, 1906. This congregation has now been without a regular pastor for more than a year. The church has sixty-five members and the Sabbath-school an enrollment of sixty-eight. The church was named "Mountville," by Rev. Alexander Murray, soon after it was built. It had previously been known as the "Eight Tracts Church."

About 1840 a Covenanter, or Reformed Presbyterian Church was built, the first pastor of which was probably Rev. Thomas Guthrie. In 1859 this congregation removed to Wurtemburg, in Wayne Township, and organized as a United Presbyterian Society, which is still continued.

Part of the village of Wurtemburg lies in Perry Township, and the postoffice has, at different times, been kept on this side also, but is now in that portion of the Village which lies in Wayne Township. Some fine residences and one store are located in "South Wurtemburg."

The bluff on the south side of Slippery Rock Creek, at the bend opposite Wurtemburg, is 390 feet high, and very steep.


Source:   History of New Castle and Lawrence County Pennsylvania 1908, p. 287-293



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