Montour County Genealogical Society

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County & Township History

Montour County, the second smallest county in Pennsylvania, was formed on May 3, 1850, with the county seat being at Danville.  Prior to that time, it was part of Columbia County, which, in turn, had been created out of the territory of Northumberland County on March 22, 1813. (Northumberland County itself was formed in 1772 from Berks and Northampton Counties).  In fact, Danville was the county seat of Columbia County until 1847 when the voters chose to move it to Bloomsburg.  It is bordered on the West and South by Northumberland County and the Susquehanna River, on the North by Lycoming County, and on the East by Columbia County. The early territory included Turbot and Chillisquaque Townships, which were eventually re-annexed to Northumberland County. There are nine townships in the County: Anthony, Cooper, Derry, Liberty, Limestone, Mahoning, Mayberry, Valley, and  West Hemlock.  The borough of Danville has been central to the county, not only as county seat but also in terms of industry, culture, and economy.
 Montour County was apparently named for Montour Ridge, which extends twenty-one miles along the Susquehanna from Northumberland to Espy.  The Ridge was named for Madame Montour, the wife of Roland Montour, war captain of the Five Nations.  A French Canadian by birth, she is said to have been carried away and adopted by some of the Five Nations warriors.  She was held in high esteem for her intelligence and role as interpreter and intermediary in the formation of treaties between the settlers and the Native Americans in the area.
 Danville, the county seat, was founded on November 26, 1774, when General William Montgomery, Revolutionary Patriot, bought 180 acres of land on the right bank of the north branch of the Susquehanna River.  The town, also once known as Montgomery’s Landing or Mahoning, was named for William’s son, Daniel.  Mr. Montgomery’s beautifully preserved stone home is presently home to the Montour County Historical Society and its collection of historical artifacts. 
 In 1854 Danville became a borough.  It has four wards divided by the now-extinct channel of the Pennsylvania Canal.  The Canal, important to the growth of Danville, was opened in 1832 and drained in 1901.  It paralleled the Susquehanna River and was used to transport freight and merchandise such as coal, pig iron, foodstuffs, salt, fireclay and lumber, as well as passenger service between Bloomsburg and Northumberland.  One may note that there was a number of churches of the same denomination established one on each side of the canal. 
 Danville was the site of a thriving iron industry from 1829 to 1850 and it was here that the first American iron “T rail” was rolled in 1845.  The Grove bothers, John and Peter, built what is believed to be the first anthracite furnace in this country in 1839.  By 1873, there were eight blast furnaces, four rail mills, as well as puddle mills, foundries and machine shops.  Among the largest was the Montour Iron Company with its associated company store and company houses.  The Danville Area Middle School is built upon the site of the “Big Mill”.  Our rich heritage is celebrated annually at the Iron Heritage Festival and the local sports teams are known as the Ironmen and the T-railers.
 Montour County boasts of a number of notable citizens.  Christopher Latham Sholes, of nearby Mooresburg, was the inventor of the first practical typewriter.  Attorney and popular storyteller James Scarlet was the commonwealth counsel for the capitol investigation commission that uncovered the 1907 graft scandal in Harrisburg.  Frank Emerson DeLong of Washingtonville was an inventor and philanthropist who founded the DeLong Hook And Eye Company.  Joseph Parry, popular Welsh musician and hymn writer (“Jesus, Lover of My Soul”), came as an eight-year-old slate picker from Wales. Integral to the Danville Stove and Manufacturing Company, known as the “Stove Works,” was Thomas Beaver, benefactor and philanthropist.  He donated the Thomas Beaver Free Library and the YMCA to the town, as well as contributing to various churches and organizations.   Beaver stoves and mailboxes were produced for over sixty years. Mrs. Abigail Geisinger, widow of George Francis Geisinger desired to give her town one of the best hospitals ever built.  The George F. Geisinger Memorial Hospital, now known as the Geisinger Medical Center, was opened two weeks ahead of schedule in September 1915 due to a typhoid epidemic.  Dr. Harold L. Foss was its capable Medical Director. 
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Anthony Township, named in honor of Judge Anthony, who was at that time president judge of the courts in the district, was formed in 1849 from Derry Township.  In the township are the villages of Whitehall and Exchange.  Early churches in Anthony Township include Derry Presbyterian (now Mennonite), White Hall Baptist, Primitive Methodist Episcopal (White Hall) and St. James Episcopal (Exchange).  Notable citizens were Col. Robert Clark, a Revolutionary war soldier present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, who settled in the township in 1792, and John Fruit, an Irishman, storekeeper and first settler of White Hall.
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Cooper Township was formed in 1850 from Mahoning Township.  Its southern boundary is the river and on the east is the Montour/Columbia County line.  The village of Grovania was named for the Grove Brothers, owners of early iron mills in Danville.  Just north of Grovania were a number of limestone kilns.  There were at one time two railroads passing from east to west through the township.  The area known as Ridgeville was situated on the old stage road.  Some of the early settlers were the Krums, the Fousts and the Cromleys.
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Derry Township, said to have been settled in 1775, and one of the oldest townships in the county, was formed in 1786 while part of Northumberland County.  Among the earliest settlers were a Mr. Brittain, Jacob Shultz, and Matthew Calvin, early settler of Washingtonville.  John Steinman built a sawmill in 1812 and John Auten built a sawmill in 1812 and a gristmill in 1814.   Washingtonville, first called “Washington” was incorporated into a borough on April 28, 1870.  However, the settlement dates back to just prior to the Revolutionary War.  The protection of the Bosley water grist and saw-mill and the surrounding settlements led to the erection of Brady’s Fort, also known as Boyle’s Fort during the latter part of the Revolutionary War.  Three churches were built in Washingtonville-the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist.  For many years, people worshiped at the old Derry Church 4 ½ miles northeast of Washingtonville.   
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Liberty Township was formed in 1816.  Among the first settlers was Col. Thomas Strawbridge, Revolutionary soldier and patriot and also brother-in-law of Gen. William Montgomery.  Co. Strawbridge was judge of the courts of Northumberland County in 1795 and established one of the first tanneries in the area in Liberty Township.  Other early settlers were Robert McWilliams, the Billmeyers, the Currys and the Simingtons.  The oldest church is the Chillisquaque Church, no longer in existence, but whose cemeteries remain.  Stephen Moore, grandson of a noted family who emigrated to Pennsylvania on the ship “Welcome” in company with William Penn, laid out the town of Mooresburg in 1806.  There was once a Catawissa Railroad depot in the village.
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Limestone Township was formed in 1816 from Derry Township.  Among the early settlers were surveyor Henry Gibson, the Davises, the Gougers, the Fulmers and Jacob Shultz.  Daniel Smack founded the village of Limestoneville in 1835.  Nearby, was a settlement called California, which was merely a cluster of homes and a schoolhouse.
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Mahoning Township was formed in 1786 while part of Northumberland County.  It was called Wyoming Township for a period of time.  The town of Danville, county seat of Montour County is located within the township.  The Danville State Hospital and the Danville and Mahoning Almshouse existed in the county from the mid 1850’s. 
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Mayberry Township, one of the youngest townships in Montour County, was formed in 1850 from Franklin Township, Columbia County.    It is separated from the main body of the county by the Susquehanna River and is the only portion of the county that runs across the river to the south.  It is bounded on the north by the river, on the east by the county line, and the south and the west by Northumberland County.  It is so named in honor of Mayberry Gearhart, descendant of William Gearhart, one of the earliest settlers of this part of the county.   The land is broken and hilly with mountainous elevations arising and extending south.  It was along Sharp Ridge, one of these elevations, that the main road from Danville passed.  The first settlements in this portion of what was then Northumberland County were made by Germans on the east side of Roaring creek.  Notable early settlers were the Voughts, Peter Osman, and the Boones.   The first church was the Methodist Episcopal Church (Sharp Ridge) and then the Lutheran Church (Vought’s) was built about 1856.  There is no village within the township. 
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Valley Township was formed in 1839 from Mahoning Township.  Phillip Maus was among the earliest settlers, having purchased land on the Mahoning Creek in May 1769 and arriving in 1782 to build his home in the wilderness.  He built a mill in 1793, providing the lumber for most of the building in the surrounding area, and eventually supplying the Danville iron furnaces.  In 1800 he erected a stone flouring-mill.  There were three early churches in the township-the Lutheran Church in Frosty Valley, the Hendricks Methodist Episcopal Church (now known as Hendrickson) and the Mausdale Church.  Mausdale is a small village near Danville, first a cluster of settlers attracted by the rich and beautiful valley and the Maus mill.   
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West Hemlock Township was formed in 1853 from Derry Township.  It is a hilly and mountainous area.  At the top of the scenic Columbia Hill was once the village of New Columbia on the Bloomsburg stage route. However the advent of the Catawissa Railroad drew growth to the area of Grovania and it is now just a collection of homes and farms.  Early settlers include George Crossley, Michael Sandel, Burtis Arnwine and Daniel Cromley.
 Sources:
Battle, J. H., History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania,  A. Warner & Co., Chicago, 1887, pp. 122-125.
Foulke, Arthur T., My Danville, Christopher Publishing House, N. Quincy, MA, 1969.
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Montour County Genealogical Society, 205 Ferry St., Danville, PA  17821  (570) 275-6177

Genealogy Room: Thomas Beaver Free Library, 2nd Floor

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This page last modified on December 15, 2014