Franklin Ellis.

History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men online

. (page 53 of 193)
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was blown out and dismantled.


This furnace, located near Haydentown, was built
about the year 1800, by Martin & Lewis. In 1810 the
property was owned by Capt. James Robinson. In
1818 it was purchased by Joseph Victor, who rebuilt
it and changed its name to Fairview. It was blown
out and abandoned about 1840.


The Mount Vernon Furnace, situated on the head-
waters of Mounts' Creek, in Bullskin township, on
the road to Lobengier's Mills, was built by Isaac
Meason. The date of its erection is not ascertained,
but an advertisement in one of the papers of that
time shows that it was in operation in July, 1800. An
inscription on a stone in the furnace-stack shows that
it was rebuilt in 1801. It was sold by Meason to
David Barnes and D. B. Long, by whom it was oper-
ated for about two years. Its final blowing out was
in 1824. The property now belongs to George E.


On Arnold's Run (later called Furnace Run), near
its mouth, in Franklin township, was the site of this
old iron-works. A forge was built at this place as
early as 1800, by Nathaniel Gibson, who not long
afterwards built the furnace. It was a small affair,
and did not prove financially successful. The prop-
erty passed to F. H. Oliphant, who repaired and
somewhat enlarged it, and named it the Franklin
Iron- Works, which were operated by him for a few
vears and then abandoned.




This furnace was located on Salt Lick Creek (now
Indian Creek), in the present township of Spring-
field. It was built in 1807 by Jackson & Gibson, the
masonry-work being done by James Taylor. In 1810
it was owned and operated by Trevor & Slater. After-
wards it became the property of Col. James Paull,
and still later was in the possession of Steele and
Doughty, who were the last to operate it. It was
blown out and discontinued in 1828.


Thomas and Joseph Gibson erected the Etna Fur-
nace in 1815, on Trump's Run, about one mile above
the borough of Connellsville, and one-third of a mile
from the Youghiogheny River. It remained in blast
for a quarter of a century, and was finally blown out
in 1840.


Near the western base of the Laurel Ridge, in the
present township of Springfield, on the north fork of
Indian Creek, was the site on which James Rogers,
Linton, and Miller built the Fayette Furnace in 1827.
Joseph and George Rogers were its later owners, and
it was kept in blast till 1840 or 1841, when it was


The last furnace that Fidelio H. Oliphant was ever \
connected with was the one that is known as the [
' Oliphant Furnace, situated about four miles south of
; Uniontown, on the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad.
This was built by him after he had disposed of his
Fairchance and Spring Hill Furnaces to Eastern pur- I
chasers. He operated the new furnace for a number ;
of years, but the enterprise proved disastrous, and his
son, Duncan Oliphant, together with his sons, took
the furnace and managed it until recently, when it
was sold to James Husted, A. B. De Saulles, Robert
Hogsett, William Beeson, A. W. Bliss, and George
C. Marshall, who are at present carrying on the busi-


The old forge to which this name was given, was
built prior to 1798 by Thomas Lewis, on land pur-
chased or contracted from Philip Jenkins, located in i
a mountain gorge on Pine Grove Run, about four
miles from Sraithfield and two miles from Wood-
bridge town, in Georges township. On the 7th of
April, 1798, Lewis mortgaged to Meshack Davis that
part of his property on which a forge had been erected. :

The various business operations of Thomas Lewis
led him into serious financial embarrassments, which
resulted in his failure in 1799, and on the 29th of
November, 1800, the forge property, with six hundred
acres of land, was sold by the sheriff to Isaac Sutton.
The forge was at that time regarded as of very little
value, and its fires were not rekindled.

Mr. Joseph Hickle, of Georges township, was told
by old Mr. Jacob Searing many years ago that he

(Searing) had been employed in digging ore for
Lewis' forge during the time of its operation, and
that the ore was carried in sacks on the backs of
horses from the places where it was dug to the forge.
It was, he said, of the kind known as " Red Short,"
and especially well adapted to the making of bar iron.
A white sandstone was used for lining the furnace.
He also related that when Lewis failed, there was on
hand at the forge about twenty tons of bar (?) iron,
worth at that time fully $100 per ton, and that during
the night before the day on which the sheriff came to
levy on the property this iron was carried away from
the forge and secretly buried in the sand at the head
of a little hollow not far distant to save it from
seizure. The story, whether true or not, began to
be circulated a few years later, and was so much
credited by many that search has frequently been
made to find the hidden iron, but without success.
At the site of the old forge there are still standing
the ruins of three stacks, but it is not probable that
all of them were ever in use. Mr. Lewis at the time
of his failure had commenced the erection of a fur-
nace near the forge, and there is little doubt that one
or more of the three stacks belonged to the projected


This furnace, which commenced operations in 1875,
is located in North Union, and is more fully men-
tioned in the history of that township.


John Gibson, of Fayette County, and Thomas
Astley, of Philadelphia, were the original proprietors
of this forge. The year in which they erected it
cannot be given with certainty, but there appears
in the Pittsburgh Oazette of 1817 an advertisement,
dated June 17th in that year, of " the Yough Forge,
situate near Connellsville, Fayette Co." It v.'as run
for many years by the original owners, and afterwards
by Thomas, Joseph, Joshua, and James Gibson (sons
of John), who operated it until 1825, when they ceased
work, and the forge was dismantled. Its site is occu-
pied by a mill built by Boyd & Davidson in 1831.


There is little if any doubt that the first rolling-
mill in Fayette County was the one erected and put
in operation by Jeremiah Pears at Plumsock, in
Menallen township. Its location was on a tract of
laud surveyed to him by Levi Stephens (an assistant
of the surveyor, Alexander McClean), May 29, 1786.
The name given to the tract by Pears was " Maiden's
Fishery," but this was changed at the Land Office
to the name " Prophetic," and the patent was issued
under that name to Pears on the 28th of November,
1789. On this tract Mr. Pears had erected a forge
prior to 1794, as is shown by the fact that the court
record of June in tliat year mentions the presentation
of a petition for the hiving out of a road " by way of
Pears' Forge to Redstone Ford."


Besides the forge, Mr. Pears had erected on his tract
a saw-mill and grist-mill, and afterwards built a slit-
ting-mill and the rolling-mill above referred to. The
latter was erected in or immediately after the year
1800. By his operations here and at the Redstone
Furnace (of which latter he was the builder and
first owner, as has been mentioned) Pears became
involved in pecuniary difficulties, and in September,
1804, a judgment was obtained against him, to satisfy
which James Allen, sli.iitr ..f Fnvtt.' C.mnty, sold,
on the 9th of DecemlKi-, l>ii:,, prars' " I'rnphitir"
tract to George Dorsey, <>( Mniioiiualiu County, Va.,
for the sum of $3015, the tract being described in
the sherifl"s deed as being in the townships of Men-
alien and Franklin, in Fayette County, and contain-
ing one hundred and twelve acres, " whereon are
erected a forge, slitting- and rolling-mill, grist-mill.

saw-mill, ai
On tlir !M
chaser o| i
sheritVV >al
min Stc-vci
the deed du

ry Imililings.

.lil. iso;, George Dorsey (the pur-
s lanil and " Rawlling Mill" at
•vc-d the same property tn Beiija-
irtitioncr of Physirk,-' tor s.-o'lo,
Mlie land, forge, sliitiii - and roll-
ing-mills as before. Two years later i Feb. 1, bsiUM
the same property was conveyed, with <]ther lands
adjoining, to Thomas Meason and Daniel Keller, for
the consideration of S5800, " embracing the Forge,
Slitting- and Eolling-Mill, and Grist- and Saw-Mills
erected on ' Prophetic' "

At the April term of .ouit in isl.'.. Isaa^' :\Ieason &
Co. obtained a judgment lor s:',4:".|j''.j a-ainst Dan-
iel Keller, and Morris Morris, then -h. rilt ..f Fay-
ette County, being directed to recover on tlir Judg-
ment, made this return: " I seized ami took in exe-
cution a certain tract or parcel of land, situate,
Ivin-, an.l bring in Meuall.n and Franklin lownsliij.s,
in the County of FayL-tte atoresaid, containing one
hundred and twelve acres and allowanee for roads,
etc., for which a patent was granted to Jerennah
Pearse, dated 28th November, 1789, and therein called
'Prophetic,' on which is erected a Forge, Rolling-
and Slilling-.Mills, ( ;rist-:\nil^, ^^aw-Mills, and other l.uildings. . . ." The property so .eized was
sold by the sherilf for syiOO to Col. Isaac .^leason,
Nov. 25, 1815.

It is stated' that at this establishment, under the
proprietorslii|.ot'Col. Mrason, was clone the pud-
dling and rolling of iron we-t of il,,- Alleghenies ;
and 'the rirrunistancrs which l.rou-lit al.out that re-
sult are related liy Samuel C. Lewis.- of Kdche.ster,
Pa,, as follows: Thomas C. Lewis (father of the nar-
rator), a Welshman, who had worked in rolling-mills
in Wales and was familiar with the proo. ss,.> of ].ud-
dling and rolling bars, left his nati\e roimiry in .Inly,
1815, and came to Amerira, lamling in Now York
He visited several iron-manufacturers in the East, and

made strong efforts to induce them to erect mills for
rolling bar iron. This he urged with many leading
irou men in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania,
but his propositions were everywhere opposed, and
rejected as visionary and impracticable, if not impos-
sible. The narration proceeds :

" He then traveled westward until he got to Con-
nellsville, Fayette Co. ; there he met Mr. Isaac Mea-
son, Sr., of Dunbar Furnace, to whom he made
known his object and business. Mr. Meason imme-
diately saw the feasibility of the enterprise, and en-
tered into an agreement with him at a certain salary
for three years, and if the mill was a, he was
then to be taken into partnership and have one-third
of the profits. The place selected for the mill was at
Upper Middletown,^ then better known as Plumsock,
on Redstone Creek, about midway between Browns-
ville and Connellsville, as Mr. Meason already had
some forges there. The erecting of that mill was at-
tended with a great deal of difficulty, as pattern-
makers and moulders were not very plenty, so that a
great deal of this work fell on Mr. Lewis, who made
nearly all the patterns. Taking everything into con-
sideration, the mill was completed in a very short
time, having been commenced some time in 1816, and
started about September, 1817. His brother came
over when the work was pretty well on, and as he
was also a first-rate mechanic, helped the work on
very much. An incident is given here, as showing
the opposition he met with in the erection of this
mill. Two iron-masters from Lancaster County, by
the names of Hughes and Boyer, rode all the way on
horseback, nearly two hundred miles, went to Mr.
Meason, and tried to convince him that it was im-
possible to roll iron into bars. Mr. Meason told them
to go and talk to Mr. Lewis about it, which they did,
and told him it was a shame for him to impose on
Mr. ileason, as it might ruin the old gentleman. Mr.
Lewis replied to Mr. Hughes, 'You know you can
eat ■?' ' Why, yes,' he knew tha,t. ' Well, how do you
know it?' He could not give a reason why, but he
knew he could eat. 'Well,' says Mr. Lewis, 'I will
tell you how you know it, — you have done it before;
and that is why I know I can roll bar iron. I have
done it befirc!' ' Very well,' said Mr. Hughes, ' go
ahead, and when you are ready to start let us know,
and we will come and see the failure.' According to
promise they did come on, but left perfectly satisfied
of its success. . . . The persons engaged in starting
the works were Thomas C. Lewis, engineer ; George
Lewis, roller and turner ; Sam. Lewis, heater ; James
Lewis, catcher. Henry Lewis was clerk in the office.
They were all brothers. . . . James Pratt worked the
refinery, and David Adams worked the puddling-

It is not ascertained how long this first puddling-

1 Swank's

■ Upper Middletowu ■

- In unarliilecun

lid out by Jeremiali Peai-s, and there waa
I property owned I'y him, and which came

coal-mining and coke manufacture.


and rolling-mill continued in operation, nor when its
fires were finally extinguished. No vestiges of it are
now remaining.

A rolling-mill (but not including a puddling-fur-
nace, as in the case of Col. Meason's establishment)
was built and put in operation by John Gibson about
the year 180.5, on the right bank of the Youghiogheny
below Connellsville. Provance McCormick, Esq., of
Connellsville, recollects this old mill as early as 180C.
Upon the death of John Gibson it passed to his heirs,
and was operated by Thomas Gibson for several years,
after which it went into disuse. The tract of land on
which this mill stood was sold by Daniel Eogers as '
administrator, and is now owned by the Pittsburgh
and Connellsville Kailroad Company, the Building
and Loan Association of Connellsville, and the John -
ston heirs.

The earliest recorded mention of the use of coal in
the region west of the Allegheny Mountains is found
in the journal kept by Col. James Burd, when, in the
fall of 17.59, he was in command of a detachment of
two hundred of the king's troops, engaged in opening
a road from Braddock's old road at Gist's plantation
(now Mount Braddock) to the Monongahela River at
the mouth of Dunlap's Creek, where it was proposed
to erect a fort, and where he did erect such a work
immediately afterwards. Having proceeded from
Gist's towards the Monongahela to a point about four 1
and a half miles from the river, he encamped there
on the evening of the 21st of September, and on the
following day moved on westward, and made in his j
journal this entry, viz. : '

" Satueiiay, Sept. 22, 1759.

"The camp moved two miles to Coal Run. This
run is entirely paved in the bottom with fine stone
coal, and the hill on the south of it is a rock of the
finest coal I ever saw. I burned about a bushel of it
on my fire."

The language of the journal shows clearly that he
was not unacquainted with the use of coal, and it is
an accepted fact that coal was mined east of the Alle-
ghenies, in Virginia, as early as the year 1760. But
there was no mining of coal west of the mountains
until 1784, when the Penns, who had been permitted '
under the Divesting Act of 1779' to retain their pro-
prietary interest in certain large tracts of land in the
State, sold rights to mine coal in the vicinity of Pitts-
burgh. This was the first coal-mining done on the
waters of the Ohio. Since that time the business has

1 On the 27th of November, 1779, the Legislature of Pennsylvania '
passed "An Act for vesting the estates of the late pi-uprietaries in this
commonwealth." By the terms of tliis act the St:ttp i .u I tip r. 1,1;^
fUO.OOO in annual payments of flom £15,000 to £:i", '
est, heginning at the close of the Revolutionary \v;i , 1 ; :
proprietarie-i their private and manor property, win. h ^^:l- m ii - II ,1
princely fortune.

increased steadily and rapidly, and untold millions
of tons of coal, mined along the Monongahela and
Youghiogheny, have been boated down the great rivers
of the Southwest to supply the country from Ohio to
Louisiana ; but by far the greater part of this vast
amount has been mined at points north of the northern
limits of Fayette Countj-, operations being of course
commenced along the lower and more accessible por-
tions of the rivers, and working slowly up the streams
as the navigation is improved or the lower supplies
become exhausted, which latter condition is very far
from being brought about yet, and will remain so for
years to come.

The coal operations on the Blonongahela will be
found mentioned in the account of the slack-water
improvements on that river and elsewhere in this
work. On the Youghiogheny a vast amount of coal-
mining has been done, and Youghiogheny coal has
been well known and highly prized in the towns and
cities on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for many
years ; but an exceedingly small proportion of the
coal sent from this river to the Southern and Western
markets has been mined in Fayette County. The
Youghiogheny Valley is barren of coal from a point
in Rostraver township, in Westmoreland County, up
the river to about the mouth of Hickman Run, in
Fayette, where commences the "Connellsville basin,"
one of the richest coal-fields in the world. But there
has never been much inducement to mine coal here
for shipment down the river, because, in the first
place, the Youghiogheny in all that part which passes
through Fayette County, and in the greater portion
of its course through Westmoreland, is not and never
has been a navigable or beatable stream, except for a
very small portion of the year, the season of freshets
and high water, and even then its navigation is diffi-
cult, not to say dangerous, for the passage of coal-
boats. This fact alone gives to the coal operators on
the lower Youghiogheny, advantages for shipment
which cannot be had in the Connellsville region, and
the absence of which has caused the mining of coal
for that purpose to be neglected here. Another cause
which has helped to produce the same result is that
the Connellsville coal is too soft for advantageous
transpcirtatif.n. while that of the lower river is harder,
and in that rusiurt better adapted for shipment.

But all the disadvantages of the Connellsville re-
gion, as above enumerated, are counterbalanced ten-
fold in another direction ; for the coal which cannot
be profitably shipped to the lower river markets is
found to be greatly superior to any other which has
yet been discovered in its adaptability to the manu-
facture of coke, and to this manufacture it has been
and is now being devoted on a scale and to an extent
that is amazing to the uninitiated, and with pecuniary
results that are surprising. It was said by Judge
Veech that " Coal, if not king, was becoming one of
the princes of the land, and its seat of empire was
the Monongahela Valley." But if coal is mighty



like Philip of Macedon, its offspring, coke, is like the
mightier Alexander, and the seat of its empire is the
Connellsville eoal basin.

In all the numerous accounts that have been written
and published in recent years having general refer-
ence to the manufacture of coke in Western Pennsyl-
vania, very little notice has been taken of its origin
and early history. What little has been said concern-
ing these particulars, though to a great extent un-
authentic and inaccurate, is generally received as
correct, and little ur no effort is made to investigate
and search out the facts. It is but natural that a
business so exceedingly remunerative as is the manu-
facture of coke at the present time should engross all
the thoughts and energies of those who are engaged
in it; that their chief attention should be given to
secure the largest possible yield of coke, making and
transporting it at the lowest possible cost, and selling
it at the highest obtainable price, without pausing to
inquire where and by whom was first produced the
article which brings them their wealth. Yet it can-
not fail to be a matter of interest to note the humble
beginnings of the business which has since grown to
such gigantic proportions. In the preparation of the
following account, which is based mainly on facts
sought out and ascertained by one who is himself in-
terested in coke manufecture,' the object in view has
been less to enter into details of the immense opera-
tions of the present time than to notice the earliest
known coke-making, the persons who were jiioneers
in it, and the subsequent attempts at its successful
application and use up to the time of the firm estab-
lishment of the business, which is now by far the
most important and valuable industrial interest of
Fayette County and a large contiguous region. It
has been stated (but not clearly proved) that coke
was made and used in the manufacture or refining of
iron in America before the war of the Revolution.
If such was the case, the credit of its first manufacture
was certainly due to Virginia, as that colony (having
commenced mining in or about 1750, as has been
noticed) was the only one which produced any coal
at that time. Therefore, if coke was actually made
in America before the Revolution, it must have been
manufactured in Virginia, or, at least, from Virginia

The earliest authenticated account of the manufac-
ture and use of coke places it at Allegheny Furnace,
in Blair County, in the year 1811. The reasons for
the failure of that attempt will be referred to here-
after. It is a fact nndenied that the first use of coke
in Fayette County was made in the refining of iron at

1 Most of tlie facta given in tliis narrative in reference to the earliest
production of colte, and the attempts made throngli many succeeding
years to use it successfully and profitaljly in iron manufacture, were fur-
nislied by Mr. George C. Marshall, of Uniontown, who lias made tlie
matter the subject of patient and persistent research, in whicti be lias
brought to light a great number of facta before unknown, but unques-
tionably authentic and reliable.

thePlumsock (Upper Middletown) Iron- Works by Col.
Isaac Meason in 1817. It has been stated by an old
resident of the county that he has an indistinct recol-
lection of the making of the coke at the place and
time named, and that it was made in ovens similar to
the "bee-hive" oven now in general use. But there
must be grave doubts as to the accuracy of this state-
ment, though it is, beyond all question, honestly
made. He has most probably in mind the old Dutch
baking-oven, but has, after the lapse of more than
sixty years, come to the belief that it was done in
ovens similar to the modern bee-hive. Coke-making
in ovens was certainlj' unknown (or at least unprac-
ticed) at that time and for years afterwards.

In Armstrong County there was a furnace built for
coke in 1819, called the " Bear Creek Furnace," be-
lieved to be then the largest furnace in the United
States. It was blown in on coke, but after a few casts
the operators found that the (cold) blast of five
pounds to the inch was insufficient for the successful
use of coke, and thereupon the original purpose was
abandoned and the furnace changed for the use of

The Howard Furnace, put in operation in the year
1830, in Blair County, and the Elizabeth Furnace,
built in the same county in 1832, were both con-
structed with a view to the use of coke, and furnaces
in Clearfield, Clinton, Lycoming, and Armstrong
Counties, Pa., erected between 183.5 and 1838, made
repeated attempts at the manufacture of coke iron,
all of which resulted in failure, from the fact that
the cold blast was used and at a very low pressure.
The iron-masters of the present time, with all their
modern appliances, immense heating surfaces, and
powerful blowers, and yet still continually striving
for " more heat and more blast," can well appreciate
the difiiculties encountered in the making of iron in
former days and by the old-time methods.

At the " Mary Ann Furnace," in Huntingdon

County, Pa., in 1835, William Firmstone made good

gray forge iron on coke made from Broad Top coal,

but continued it for only about one month. The

I Georges Creek Iron Company, of Allegheny County,

! Md., built the "Lonaconing Furnace" in 1837, and

made good foundry iron to the amount of about

seventy tons per week on coke. The Mount Savage

Company also built two blast-furnaces in 1840, and

made successful runs on coke, but up to that time

j most of the attempts to use coke in iron-making had

Online LibraryFranklin EllisHistory of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men → online text (page 53 of 193)