History of Tioga County, Pennsylvania
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By Albert M. Loop.
This is the smallest township embraced within the limits of Tioga county. It was originally a part of the old town of Elkland, which was divided in three parts, the eastern portion assuming the name of Nelson and the western Osceola, while the central portion organized itself into a borough, retaining the old name of Elkland. Nelson is situated on the Cowanesque River, six and a half miles from its confluence with the Tioga, and embraces an area of about ten square miles. It is bounded on the north by New York, on the east by the township of Lawrence, on the south by Farmington, and on the west by the borough of Elkland, and has about 600 inhabitants. Its citizens are chiefly engaged in agricultural pursuits. There are two churches (Methodist and Presbyterian), four dry goods stores, three groceries, a saw-mill, a grist-mill, a tannery, a carding machine, three blacksmith shops, a boot and shoe shop, and a large hotel, situated on the north side of the river, of which W. A. Newcomb is the proprietor.
A fine site was purchased a few years of Charles Bottom, on which has been erected a large and commodious school building, with a capacity for seating comfortably two hundred scholars. It has three departments, under separate teachers, and here children can be instructed not only in the rudiments of a common English education, but in all the various departments of modern literature. The school is open from six to nine months per year.
In 1861, when the first call for volunteers was made, Nelson responded by sending her quota promptly to the front, and filling every subsequent call, until, out of a voting population of 100 in the aggregate, there were 30 men in the field, of whom one-third were lost by disasters incident to the contest.
The branch of the Corning, Cowanesque and Antrim Railroad having its terminus at Elkland, twelve miles from its junction with the main track at Lawrenceville, affords an easy and convenient outlet for the products of the Cowanesque Valley, which before its completion were hauled over rough roads and heavy hills to the Erie at Addison, N. Y.
The vote for township officers at the last election was thus reported in one of the county newspapers:
Supervisors--Luther Rice jr., 89; D. Bowen, 17; I. J. Mack, 59; William Meritt, 57; D. Taft, 1; B. Parks, 1; C. F. Margraff, 1. Justice of the peace--C.B. Goodrich, 87; E. B. Campbell, 54; O. F. Richards, 39. Constable--J. W. Loop, 117. School directors--J. D. Campbell, 104; M. B. Seeley, 103; E. Blackwell, 1. Assessor--J. Bottom, 114. Assistant assessors--S. G. Crandall, 110; E. Blackwell, 109. Town clerk and treasurer--F. J. Seeley, 107. Judge of election--Perry Strait, 96; Henry Mourey, 16; A. J. Howell, 1. Inspectors of election--Arthur Stevens, 56; J. S. Goodrich, 55. Auditor--M. R. Cass, 66; H. Mourey, 11; C. F. Margraff, 1; J. H. Campbell, 2.
Among the pioneers who first settled in this township were John and Hopestill Beecher, who settled on a piece of land which took their name, so that for many years after--in fact, up to the time of the division of the old town of Elkland--it continued to be known as Beecher's Island. What is known as the island is formed by the Cowanesque River and a branch of the same thrown off perhaps half a mile west of the village, which after running about a mile unites again with the parent stream.
Mrs. Abigail Beecher, wife of Hopestill Beecher, lacked only one month and two days of witnessing her one hundredth birthday. She was born in Richmond township, Berkshire county, Mass., and died in Charleston, this county, October 14th 1879. A correspondent of the Wellsboro Agitator gives the particulars of her eventful life, a few of which we copy:
At the age of 21 Miss Rathbone was married to Hopestill Beecher, and for their marriage tour they proposed a journey to and settlement in the far-off land of Tioga county, Pa. The neighbors remonstrated against such a hazardous undertaking, and tried to frighten the young bride out of such a purpose by telling her she was going among the "Pennamites," and that they were nearly all thieves and robbers and most of them had lost one or both eyes in their many brawls. But in two weeks from their marriage they started for the wilds of Pennsylvania, and after many days' journey took up their abode in the vicinity of what is now Tioga village, at that time consisting of a log tavern and two or three houses. After residing five years in Tioga Mr. Beecher purchased Beecher's Island. Here they were a long way from neighbors, and had very few privileges, social or religious. Mrs. Beecher went to Tioga on horseback and joined the Baptist church there, then just organized. She was one of the first persons baptized in Tioga county.
When she was a babe in the cradle of her Massachusetts home there was not a cleared field nor a house in Tioga county. She was three years old when Lord Cornwallis gave up his sword to General Washington. She was old enough to be interested in politics and remembered distinctly to the day of her death the election of General George Washington as the first president of the United States. Since her birth States have been organized and cities built, and railroads, steamboats, telegraphs, stoves, and the great mass of labor-saving machinery have come into being. Great denominations have arisen from small beginnings. John Wesley did not die until she was twelve years of age. Within her day foreign missions have been organized and the world filled with mission stations.
In the year 1806 Daniel Strait came up the river from Lindleytown and located upon a piece of land now known as the Hazlett farm. Here he began an improvement and resided two years, when he sold this claim to John and Samuel Hazlett and removed to Steuben county, N. Y. The property has remained in the possession of the Hazlett family ever since.
At the time referred to the woods abounded in game, and the little tributaries of the Cowanesque were full of trout. The hills were covered with an immense growth of pine and hemlock timber, white ash, basswood and hard and soft maple, and the chief employment during the long and tedious winters was in cutting and getting to the river's bank the huge giants of the forest, which were then rafted in the stream, and when the spring flood came were floated down the river to Harrisburg, Middletown, Columbia or Port Deposit, where a ready market usually awaited them; and with the money procured from the sale of their lumber the pioneers were enabled to struggle on another year. Their meat was principally procured from the forest, and a dozen or two of speckled trout could at any time be hooked in a few minutes by an expert fisherman from any of the numerous little streams which tumble down the mountain side and unite their waters with the Cowanesque.
Artemus Losey came into the township in 1830, and immediately thereafter purchased the old mills and the water power and commenced the manufacture of lumber, which he carried on successfully for many years. He was a first-class mechanic, and during his life-time at Nelson he built several carding machines, and at different times was engaged, in addition to his lumbering operations, in the manufacture and sale of organs, melodeons, and all kinds of household furniture. He was a man of energetic and active temperament, and contributed largely toward the future success and prosperity of the village. He retained his habits of industry and enterprise up to his death, which occurred in 1873. He saw-mill and other establishments originated by him are now owned and operated by his son J. T. Losey. Mr. Losey originally purchased the property of John Campbell, a gentleman of Irish descent, who bought out the Beechers when they left.
John Campbell, John and Samuel Hazlett, James and Joseph Campbell, George W. Phelps, Walter Bottom, Samuel Rathbun, John Vroman, Amariah Hammond, Richard Ellison and James Ryan were the first to make permanent settlements.
Enoch Blackwell still owns the property of his stepfather, John Campbell. Mr. Blackwell is one of the leading business men of Nelson, being a merchant as well as engaged in farming and lumbering. He was born at Jersey Shore, Lycoming county, in 1814. His father died while Enoch was a mere child, and Mr. Blackwell became the wife of John Campbell, of Beecher's Island (Nelson); thus Enoch Blackwell was brought to Nelson at a very early day in the history of the township. He was for many years a deacon in the Presbyterian church, and is now an elder. Mr. Blackwell's first wife was Miss Mary Knapp, of Wells, Pa. They were married in 1838, and she died in 1865. The next year he married Miss Caroline Lugg, by whom he had one child. She died in 1868, and in 1869 Mr. Blackwell married Ms. Caroline P. Putnam, of Tioga, a daughter of Dr. Simeon Power.
The first man who settled above Lawrence township on the Cowanesque River is believed to have been Reuben Cook, who erected a cabin somewhere on the farm of H. T. Ryan, about one and a half miles above Nelson, about the year 1800. Mr. Cook died in 1879, aged 100 years.
Dr. Albert Mortimer Loop is the oldest resident physician, having practiced his profession in the township since 1840, excepting two years spent at Rock Island, Ill., where he was elected clerk of the city and county, but was compelled by ill health to resign and return to Tioga county (in 1856). He was born in Elmira, N. Y., September 12th 1816, and married Miss Sophia J. Tremain, of Nelson. He is a staunch Democrat in politics, having voted that ticket for 42 years; and has been nominated for commissioner, representative, and associate judge. In 1880 and 1881 he was president of the county medical society. He has been a frequent contributor to the local press.
About 90 per cent of the entire area of the township has been cleared up and is now under improvement. Withing the limits of the township the river is spanned by two bridges, about a mile apart.
The first dry goods store was opened in 1830, by Hiram Beebe of Lawrenceville and Hunt Pomeroy. The first grist-mill and saw-mill was built by John Campbell.
CHURCHES AND LODGES.
Nelson Lodge I. O. O. F., No. 434, was organized February 20th 1874, with the following charter members: G. H. Baxter, William Merritt, William H. Baxter, Alvah Baxter, C. P. Wright, G. L. Hurlbut, John Hazlett, Enoch Blackwell, William Campbell and Hiram Merritt.
The following are the names of the first officers, who were duly elected and installed at the first meeting of the lodge under its new organization: N. G., George H. Baxter, V. G., William Merritt; secretary, William H. Baxter; treasurer, William Campbell.
On the night of April 9th 1880 the large building used for a store and post-office, the upper part of which was the Odd Fellows' hall, which they had fitted up handsomely, was totally burned, and the Odd Fellows lost heavily. The lodge, however, is now as prosperous as ever, having a membership of 75, and receiving new accessions at each meeting. Its stated meetings are on Friday night of each week.
A lodge of Good Templars was organized here some years ago, but, becoming disorganized, they surrendered their charter and ceased to exist as an organized body.
The first religious services were held under the auspices of the Presbyterian society, usually in private houses, barns, and subsequently school-houses. The first regular minister was Rev. Octavius Fitch. It was not until 1843 that the present Presbyterian church was erected and dedicated, Rev. Joel Jewell pastor.
Of the efforts of the early Methodists to establish a church but little
is known. The present building on the south side of the river was erected
in 1868, and the society is in a flourishing condition.