Area History, Chapter 7, by Beverley Bittner [guest post]

Corry’s First Mayor.

By Beverley Bittner, From the autumn, 1979 issue of Reminiscence.

Many men and women walked across the pages of our history in the early days, leaving footprints for historians to ponder over for all time. Familiar names include: Michael Hare, Call and Rihue.

Nothing is known of Call and Rihue, while Hare was famed for his longevity and military exploits. Others include: Amos Heath, who came to our area in 1795; Alexander McDowell, who surveyed the area in 1799; and Amos Harrington, who purchased ninety-three acres from the Holland Land Company in 1858. One month later he sold sixty-six acres to Hiram Cory for $463.

Others who bought land from the Holland Land Company about that time were: Jedediah Mather, George Keppel, Darius Mead, Isaac Colegrove, and Alfred Gates.

And then there was the first mayor of Corry, W.H.L. Smith. He was described as “a large man, a lawyer by education, very positive and somewhat blunt in manners.” He came to Corry in 1861 as a representative of Samuel Downer.

Downer was a successful Boston businessman, intelligent, with a good grasp of politics and a sort of intuition into human nature. Historians say he spoke little but listened much. He showed little ego but was determined to get ahead in the world even as a young man.

In the 1830s Downer was a salesman of high quality whale oil for spindles used in New England textile mills. Industry was expanding. Downer hired two salesmen to help him, paying them fifty percent of their sales. He was soon wealthy and continued to expand his business interests. He began to use kerosene for spindle oil.

When Downer heard about the first successful oil well in Titusville in 1859, he got at idea. If he could build a refinery near the oil fields, he would possess an advantage over his rivals in the oil business.

Downer sent W.H.L. Smith to scout out the land. Corry was a junction of two railroads. Except for a few scattered farmhouses, the only building was a small, wedge-shaped ticket office and eating house near the tracks. All around was swamp covered with huge pine and hemlock trees.

In Downer’s name, Smith purchased fifty acres of land from Hiram Cory. The fifty acres was laid out in town lots, and by Fall 1861, a frame building had been erected as an office for the Downer Oil Refinery. The first refinery was known as ‘‘the Frenchman’s.” It would grow to become the largest in the world in its time.

By Summer 1862, the Downer and Kent Oil Works and several other factories were in business. The Boston House, Gilson Hotel and many private homes were under construction to accommodate the thousands of persons flocking to the city to work or speculate in get-rich-quick schemes. Money was plentiful and real estate sold readily. Fortunes were made and lost overnight.

An old history book describes the Corry scene in 1862:

Corry is one of the wonders of the age in which we live – the creation of the combined effort of oil and steel. Some half dozen locomotives puffing and screaming, long trains of cars laden with oil, barrels standing along the tracks, one of the largest brick refineries, a large hotel, many houses give unmistakable evidence of a prosperous village where but a few months since stood the primeval forest.”

Smith lived in Corry until 1878. As a sign of the respect he enjoyed, he was elected the city’s first mayor in 1866. He served a one-year term.

“A fitting tribute,” said a historian, “after all, the city owes its existence to W.H.L. Smith.” That may be an overstatement, but Smith certainly played his part in the unfolding of Corry history.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 6, by Beverley Bittner [guest post]

Union and the War of 1812.

By Beverley Bittner, From Brown-Thompson Newspapers, January 1974.

It was a time of western expansion. Many who settled in our area soon pushed further westward. By 1811, more than half of the original settlers had left the county, believing that all who did not leave must starve.

While their fields were being cleared, the settlers were dependent on boats to bring supplies. Those who did not have money to pay for goods became indebted to the land agent. Many became so deeply in debt that they had to leave.

The clearings were all very small yet, for the first settlers did not understand how to clear land, according to “The History of Union Township” by David Wilson.

The wide extended forest induced a great deal of rainfall, Wilson wrote in 1881, and the wind could not get into the little clearings. Consequently, the frost settled down in them a month earlier in the Fall than it does now.

The roads were only paths through the woods, and there were not yet enough people to make good roads. It required a great deal of courage, hope and perseverance to enable any to stay, but fortunately for the future of the country there were those who were equal to the task, says Wilson.

Soon another trouble was to meet the struggling pioneers. A cloud was rising on the political horizon which threatened a war with Great Britain. This was the War of 1812, which, when it did come, affected every family in even our remote area.

Almost every able-bodied man was subject to the draft. Early settlers, James Gray, his brother William, and John Frampton were obliged to join Harrison’s army and participate in his memorable campaign in the Northwest.

There they met James Smiley, who four years later came to Union and took charge of the mills which had been built in 1800 by William Miles.

The troops rendezvoused at the head of Lake Erie on January 12, 1813. The hardships of that bitter winter march and fighting left William Gray in impaired health, and John Frampton dead. While in Harrison’s army, James Gray gained renown for his great strength. He was said to have lifted a cannon that no other soldier could lift.

The Militia

All able-bodied men who escaped the draft were called out to guard (Captain Oliver Hazard) Perry’s fleet while it was being built in the Erie harbor. They stayed until the fleet was completed and then were allowed to return home.

The militia was called out again that winter, ostensibly to protect the town of Erie, lest the British should cross the lake on the ice and burn it. This drafting of the men for militia duty made it very difficult for the women, who were often isolated in their cabins, for the families were far apart, and the paths not broken through the snow, and the snow often as much as two feet deep.

One family’s experience was this: Hugh Wilson was drafted with less than 24 hours notice of the time he must report. No substitute could possibly be obtained, and if he did not go at the time appointed he would be caught and shot as a deserter. He did not even have time to cut firewood for his family.

The Wilsons had at that time seven children, the oldest three being girls, and the oldest girl about fifteen.

Hannah Wilson had several cows, some young cattle and a few sheep to take care of, besides her family. Their hay was scarce and the animals had to browse for some of their food. She fed the animals what she could spare, chopped what wood she needed, and felled some basswood trees for browse, and let the animals out.

The men were away six weeks. During that time Mrs. Wilson and her children lived without seeing another human being except for a neighbor boy from three miles away who came once to see if they were all right.

An enterprising grocer

There was a great deal of controversy as to the necessity of this draft. Some felt that R. J. Reed, an Erie merchant, misrepresented the danger to Brigadier General Mead, of Meadville, in order to have the militia called out. Mr. Reed’s motive, some believed, was a large store of flour he had on hand and could not sell, except to the Army.

In support of this theory, David Wilson writes, it was argued that although the British had burned Buffalo and the village of Black Rock, yet no general would require his men to march fifty miles over a field of ice exposed to the keen winds of winter without an object.

There was no garrison and no munitions of war at Erie, nothing but Reed’s flour, and the British did not know anything about that, and there could be no object in burning the few scattering houses of a village like Erie.

Besides, the lake does not freeze over in the winter, but perhaps General Mead and the enterprising grocer did not know that, Wilson concludes.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 5, by Beverley Bittner [guest post]

Union Township: How the Pioneers Lived.

By Beverley Bittner, From the spring, 1978 issue of Reminisence.

By the 1790s the great western migration that followed the Revolutionary War had begun in earnest. The Indians had been pacified. The deep forests, game, clear rushing streams and rivers and the opportunity to live free, away from the crowded eastern seaboard attracted restless men and women to northwestern Pennsylvania.

Most arrived in the summer months, but by the time they had cleared land, built cabins, and cut trees, it was too late to plant crops. The settlers were dependent on provisions brought up rivers by barges, then carried overland. Many were in debt. Some left to seek better fortune further west, or to go back east where families and friends still lived. Only the most hardy remained in the Union (Township) area.

Those who stayed settled in and made comfortable homes for themselves by much hard work. The names are legend: Matthew Grey, John Wilson, James Grey, William Miles.

By the Fall of 1799, the first comers found themselves with corn, potatoes and vegetables grown in their little clearings. Now a new difficulty presented itself. There was not a mill within one hundred miles to grind the first crop of corn.

Some of the women knew how to make the corn into hominy, which was nutritious and palatable. They also contrived to pound their corn into meal in mortars. The mortars were generally made by cutting off the top of a solid stump, and burning the center of the stump down lower than the rim, making it the shape of a bell turned upside down. The coals were carefully dug out and the mortar was ready for use.

Leather was always in demand. Matthew Grey set up a small tannery sufficient for the needs of the area. Hides were brought to him from miles around.

Daniel Herrington set up a blacksmith shop at the foot of Ox Bow Hill and did all the work of smith for the area until Able Thompson set up the trade at Union (now Union City) in 1801. Thompson bought forty acres from William Miles and his mill was set up within a half mile of the site Miles intended to build a grist mill.

Thompson brought with him a family of five sons and two daughters. The men were all mechanics and very ingenious. Besides blacksmithing, they were also stone cutters, and out of the flinty boulders which they found in the woods, made grinders for the new mill. All the tombstones in the area which are of native stone, showed son Joel’s handiwork.

The Thompsons also for many years made all the farming and household utensils for the county, which were made of iron or steel, such as hoes, hay and manure forks, harrow pins, and plow irons, which they had to sharpen frequently. They also made the shovels and tongs which were used at every fireplace.

They had a set of moulds for running spoons, and if any of the citizens could afford pewter, Abel Thompson would make them spoons of it. Jeb, another son, preferred to work in wood and set up a shop at the mouth ofCarroU’s run, and put in a turning lathe to go by water. He made wooden bowls and many other articles, including wheels for spinning flax and wool.

Abel’s son, Caleb, became a farmer, but was also a carpenter and jointer. Charles, Abel’s fifth son, was a shoemaker.

The building of the grist mill was an important event and took many months of work. A dam was built. The race above and below the mills had to be dug, and all the logs cut and hewn by hand. The nails and spikes in the mills and all the houses built for many years were drawn out on the blacksmith’s anvil, for cut nails were not yet invented.

Besides the grist mill, William Miles constructed a saw mill at about the same time. The benefits of the mills had been enjoyed only about a year when they caught fire and burned down. This was a great calamity, not only to the people of southeastern Erie County, but also those in eastern Crawford County. All the settlers patronized the mills except those who lived nearer to Culbertson’s mill on Conneaut Lake, which was built about the same time as the Miles’ mills. Everybody believed the mills had been set on fire deliberately, but no one was ever convicted of the crime.

The mills were rebuilt and life went on.

As we go to the stores now we expect to find whatever we need or want. We seldom think of our ancestors who had to make what they needed or go without!


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 4, by Beverley Bittner [guest post]

Lowville.

By Beverley Bittner, From the Erie Times-News, August 28, 1988.

Lowville is a small settlement just north of Wattsburg at the intersection of Routes 8 and 89.

“It used to be quite an active stagecoach stop,” a former resident said. ‘‘My mother told how they used to drive cattle up Route 8 – it was a plank road then – from Union City all the way to a slaughter house on Parade Street in Erie. All they needed were two good cow dogs and two or three men. It was not until the early 1920s that Route 8 was paved,” she continued. “There was a large general store that included until the late 1890s, a post office. A dam on French Creek powered feed and cider mills and the crossroads was a station where farmers dropped off milk for the Wattsburg cheese factory.”


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.