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One of the first events which led to the settlement of the unbroken forests of Tioga County was the treaty with the Indians at Fort Stanwin, N.Y., in 1774, by which Pennsylvania became the owner of the territory comprising the northern and northwestern counties of the State. At this time not a white man inhabited the domain of the Tioga County. The American scout in pursuit of the red man had penetrated the forests but not with the idea of settlement for it was Indian territory and guarded with jealousy and vigilance by the wily savage.
When settlers first began to come, it was away out west to the New Englander and away up north to those who emigrated here from the waters of the Iowa, Susquehanna and Delaware and the states of Maryland and Virginia.
The First White Settler
The first White settler within the present limits of Tioga county was John Samuel Baker a native of Bradford county, Connecticut. In the spring of 1787 he went alone into the west, passed up the Tioga and built a cabin on the open flat between the Tioga and Cowanesque rivers at their junction where the borough of Lawrenceville is now situated. His nearest neighbor was a trader by the name of Harris at Painted Post: the next, Colonel Handy, on the Chemung below Big Flats. He lived here until the spring of 1794, when he moved to Pleasant Valley, N. Y. and resided there until his death in 1842, at the age of 80 years.
The First County Seat
In 1805, only 19 years after the first white men settled in Tioga county, Wellsboro was chosen as the county seat. But courts were not held in the county until 1813 a log court-house having been erected in 1812. Previous to this the legal business of the county was transpired at Williamsport, the county seat of Lycoming.
During the latter part of 1828 the public offices of the county were on red--- and all the dockets and records were taken from the Prothonotary’s and the Register and Recorders offices together with several from the Commissioners office. This caused great excitement throughout the county. Among other arrested for the crime was an individual who though not one of the real perpetrators, had cognizance of the plot. He was induced by promise of full pardon and release to give such information as would lead to the recovery of the stolen books. By his direction they were found in the woods, where they had been concealed in a hollow log about a mile east of the court-house, sometime in February, 1829, having remained there some three months. The persons who committed the offense were never apprehended.
This excitement was not void of beneficial results. It awakened the people of the county to the necessity of erecting safer depositories for the public records. And a new court-house was built in 1835, of Tioga county sandstone and the old history, printed in 1883 from which this was copied says that after a lapse of 48 years the hand of time has scarcely made an impression upon it. Neither the frosts of winter nor the heat of summer have had any visible effect upon its walls.
Now (1943) although the court-house has been remodeled still the main part is the old original building and in spite of frost of winter and heat of summer for 60 more years the walls seem as sturdy and strong as when it was built 108 years ago.
The First Building in Wellsboro
The first building in Wellsboro erected for church services was built by Benjamin Wistar Morris, a Quaker, and stood on the left side of Central square just back of Main street. This building was pine logs hewed on one side and dovetailed at the corners. Mr. Morris assisted by his wife who was the first female settler at Wellsboro, conducted for many years the services. In 1801 or 02 Rev. Caleb Boyer and family of the state of Delaware, settled at Delmar near Wellsboro. At that time Mr. Boyer was one out of a lot of fifteen who were ordained ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church in North America. History tells us he did the first preaching for that denomination in Wellsboro and vicinity and probably in Tioga county.
The First Physician
The first physician to locate in Tioga county was Dr. William Willard. He was born in Lenox, Massachusetts and came to Tioga in February 1798 and settled on the site of the present borough of Tioga. He built a square log house which he opened as a tavern. He also opened a store, erected sawmills, and became the principal citizen and business man of the village, which grew up around him, and which, until after his death, was called "Willardsburg." He was the first postmaster of the village, serving from July 1, 180? to April 1, 1813.
The first physician to locate permanently in Wellsboro was Dr. Jeremiah Brown. He was born in Vermont, and came to Wellsboro, then a mere hamlet, about 1814.
(To Be Continued Next Week)
Wellsboro Gazette, February 11, 1943
Interesting Events of the Early Days of Tioga County
by Mazie Sears Bodine
(continued from last week)
The First Roads
The first roads in Tioga county were only trails through the wilderness. But as settlers came, bringing more and more travel over these trails, gradually they were improved and others built.
The Williamson Road passing through the eastern part of Tioga county was commenced in the spring of 1792. When the great road – it was great for the time in which it was built – was completed in 1796, it opened a country hitherto unknown and shortened the distance between Northumberland and Painted Post almost 100 miles. Williamson was so elated over the success of his enterprise that he resolved on having some kind of a jubilee at his wilderness home in Bath (the northern end of the road) in honor of the event. The story of this celebration is very interesting. History tells us a rude theatre was built in which there could be plays nightly while the festivities lasted, also a race track on which some of the finest horses of the times could be exercised.
The reader of today can scarcely comprehend the daring proposition of this bold Scotchman of nearly 150 years ago, when the country was wild and the sullenly retiring savages yet lingered on the very outskirts of this settlement. They were curious spectators of what the pale face proposed doing in the land where they had dwelt for many moons.
His project proved a grand success. For weeks the Williamson road to Bath presented on continuous procession from the south. Many of these bands of travelers were accompanied by negro slaves whose duty it was to cook for their masters and care for the horses.
The races came off in September, 1796, and lasted for several weeks. Virginia Nell, entered by Williamson, was the pride of the Marylanders and Virginians; while Silk Stocking, the winner, entered by William Dunn, was backed by New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada. There were races in the daytime and theatrical performances at night, which made one complete round of pleasure. These scenes of gaiety were among the most remarkable ever witnessed in the country, remarkable because of their occurrence in the heart of a wilderness. For many years they were a theme of conversation among those who had participated with them and enjoyed the princely hospitality of the host.
Railway Connects the Valley
For several years the Williamson Road contributed more towards the settlement of the country through which it ran than any other agency. But in 1840 the railroad came into Tioga county. It was built up the Tioga river valley and reached Blossburg in September of that year between which time and January 1, 1841. 4235 tons of coal were sent over it to market . Strap rails, laid on stringers were used, and the rolling stock was exceedingly primitive. In 1852, the strap rails were replaced by the more modern T rail, and the roadbed and equipment greatly improved. This same year a line, four miles in length, was surveyed from Blossburg to Morris Run, and opened for traffic in 1853. In 1866 a road was constructed from Blossburg to the mines on Johnson’s Creek, at what is now the village of Arnot. But it was not until 1872 that the iron horse first made its appearance at the county seat – Wellsboro. In 1882 and ’83 the Arnot and Pine Creek Company extended this road to Hoytville, where the largest tannery in the world was located. These railroads were constructed and operated by different companies until December 1884, when the control of the three lines passed into the hands of the Erie.
When the East and West State Road was built in 1806, it crossed the Williamson Road at Covington Corners. Thus north, east, south and west met at this place, whose prosperity as a landing stage and distributing point was continued for some years after the coming of the Blossburg railroad in 1840.
For nearly a half century the 12 hilly miles of the Covington road were the main avenue between Wellsboro and civilization.
In a letter written September 14, 1839, from Pike Mills, Potter county, to a friend in Columbia, Pa., the writer says: "Fix on a day when you will be at Covington and let me know in time that I may meet you there. The stage comes up from Williamsport on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays."
The road north from Wellsboro down the Crooked Creek valley met the railroad at Tioga, and while this road was the more level one, it was in very poor condition. In July of 1850 the editor of the Eagle, a newspaper printed in Wellsboro, described the road in this manner: "The present troubled road between Wellsboro and Tioga is the merest excuse for a road that can well be imagined. There is not even a passable bridge on the route, while the road is in the most shocking condition, -- some of the mud holes are from one to three feet deep."
Plank Road Beginnings
It was two years before this that a petition was circulated which asked the Legislature to incorporate a company to build a plank road between Wellsboro and Tioga. This was in February and in April the company was incorporated under the name of The Tioga and Elmira Plank Road Company. The term Tioga meaning the county. Nothing more seems to have been done until the following year in August when the opening of the books was advertised and shares were offered at $50 each but only the small sum of $2 "cash down" was required. But the distance was too great and expenses too heavy so the company was changed in March 1850 to The Wellsboro old Tioga Plank Road company. However the actual construction of the road was not begun until the spring of the following year – 1851.
In the winter of ’51 and ’52, we are told, hemlock planks were hauled from "Joe Palmer’s mill at Stony Fork." Over this rough and hilly road, three yoke of oxen hitched to the sled were able to draw a load of but 1000 feet.
Through the year of 1852 the work progressed rapidly until on November 11, the editor of the Eagle writes: "The Plank Road is being extended up Main street this week, - a single track from the tannery to the bridge at Academy Hill, about one mile in distance. The whole line from Wellsboro to Tioga village, 17 miles, will shortly be completed. The company will be able to charge toll, and the public generally will be much benefitted by having a good road on which to travel."
The surface of the road was not entirely planked over, but was divided into two tracks, one of wood and the other of earth, each 8 feet in width, the plank being 3 inches thick. As the heavier traffic would head toward Tioga, the planking was laid on the right side approaching the village. In general character, the wooden track was much like an exaggerated sidewalk.
Plank Road Financing
It was fortunate that the preparation for the wooden pavement was of permanent value, for the life of the plank proved to be of short duration. It was little more than four years before legislative sanction was obtained for covering worn-out places with gravel instead of replanking them.
The exact cost of the improvement as recorded in the Treasurer’s second report was $30,320.80. When it is noted that Wellsboro at that time had but 113 dwellings, 116 families and young and old, good and bad and indifferent a population of only 617 (Tioga being much smaller) the gravity of the undertaking is better appreciated. It is not surprising that a debt had to be incurred.
On April 18, 1953 the property was mortgaged to the Bingham Estate for $9000. This was to be repaid at the rate of $1000 a year. But the road failed to pay and so did the company and on April 12, 1848 the property was sold at Sheriff’s sale for a debt of $5429. The purchaser was Edward Bayer of Tioga and the price paid was $3000. Mr. Bayer had already invested $2000 in the company as he had bought 80 shares of stock at $25 a share.
Railroad Reaches Wellsboro
After the railroad reached Wellsboro in 1872 business fell off and the property was allowed to run down. People evaded paying the toll whenever possible and finally teamsters hauling bark to the Tioga tannery were told by their employer to crash the gate and he would be responsible for all damages. The gate was broken and the teams passed through without paying toll. But the employer was served with a summons to appear at Court. His lawyer said, "Why don’t you buy the road?" Sometime previous Mr. Bayer had gone into bankruptcy and the title to the road was in his sister-in-law’s name Miss Rosine M. Parmentler of Brooklyn, N.Y.
On March 28, 1876, for the sum of $100 the Wellsboro and Tioga Plank and Turnpike Road passed into the hands of Horace L. Stevens. The new owner was somewhat bewildered at the turn affairs had taken. He had not desire to espouse a lost cause and endeavor to exact further tribute from a reluctant public. The supervisors of the townships traversed by the road sought to know Mr. Stevens’ intentions. With the understanding that they should release his road taxes for the next two years he agreed to turn the property over to their charge.
The toll houses were not sold for varying sums and brought exactly the purchase price of the road. The legal costs were $75 the taxes remitted $60. $15 therefore was the amount paid by Mr. Stevens for the privilege of ending the unhappy contest and presenting the road to the public.
So as a castaway ended the old toll-road. But it had served the purpose for which it was built. It aided the lumbermen to get their timber to market secured to the merchants of Wellsboro and easier mode of transporting their goods from the depot at Tioga and enabled those who had begun lumbering on Pine Creek to obtain cheaper supplies for their camps. Perhaps no investment made in the count was of more benefit to the community within its influence than this plank road.
(Concluded Next Week)
Wellsboro Gazette, February 18, 1943
Interesting Events of the Early Days of Tioga County
by Mazie Sears Bodine
(Continued From Last Week)
The toll-gates were four in number. The first one below Wellsboro was situated about one mile from the village. Mr. Jacob Hall was the gate-keeper for several years. The second gate was located about three-fourths mile above Middlebury Center. Alexander Leslie, father of the late Norman B. Leslie was at one time the gate-keeper here. The third toll-gate stood near the W. S. Mitchell farm below Holidaytown. Eugene Lamb was one of the keepers at this gate. The fourth and last gate was situated just above the place where we now drive under the railroad about one mile above Tioga. A Mr. Pope was the last gate-keeper here, but at one time Benjamin Aldrich kept the gate and his wife had a millinery shop in the toll-house.
The gates were all constructed something alike. The house, where the keeper and his family lived, was built flush with the road, across which spread the roof. On the side opposite the house, the place was enclosed by a tight board siding. Underneath this structure the gate was fastened, most of them swinging inward against the side opposite the house, like any ordinary fence or barnyard gate. However, the gate in the one near Tioga was hung from the peak of the roof and drawn up by means of pulleys and windlass.
Tobacco, cigars, candy, nuts and soft drinks were kept for sale at each toll-house. A bench each side of the door tempted the summer traveler to rest a while and chat.
Avoid Paying Toll
Many stories are told of how the people tried to avoid paying toll. Sometimes, if the gate stood open they whipped the horses and tried to drive through before the gate-keeper saw them and closed the gate. Once a party of merry-makers from Wellsboro tried this at the gate near Middlebury when Mr. Leslie was gate-keeper there. He saw them coming and quickly closed the gate. But they were so near they were unable to stop the team, ran into the gate and broke the harness. When one’s destination was not too far beyond a toll-gate, they tied the horses to a nearby fence or tree and walked. Pedestrians were not charged a toll.
When Mr. Calvin Hammond was operating a sawmill at the village of Hammond which was so named in his honor he had many men driving for him – hauling lumber to Tioga and bringing back supplies of various kinds. He had an understanding with the gate-keeper that they were to pass through and the toll charged to him. Then once a month he settled for it all. Other people began saying as they passed through, "Charge it to Hammond." This was kept up for some time before Mr. Hammond found out about it.
The old mill at Hammond has been gone for many years, but the house where the mill-hands boarded is still standing. It was always called "The Mill house."
E. R. Shumway told me the following story as it was told to him by his grandfather, Luther Shumway:
"One time two girls were driving down the plank road. When reaching the toll-gate, which stood open, they asked the keeper, ‘How much is the toll? ‘Five cents,’ he replied, ‘for two men and a horse.’ ‘Well, said the one who was driving, as she slowly raised the whip, ‘these are two gals and a mare, gid-ap,’ and bringing the whip down on the mare’s back, away they went."
Toll Charges Vary
The amount of toll was changed from time to time, but I was told by Mr. Frank Starkey of Middlebury, that at one time it was 2 cents a mile for a single horse and light buggy, 3 cents for team and democrat, 4 cents for a team and lumber wagon and 5 cents if the wagon was loaded.
Mr. Starkey’s father, John Starkey, was superintendent and manager of the road for several years when the property was owned by Mr. Bayer of Tioga.
The toll for cattle was 2 cents a score, and 1 cent a score for sheep and hogs. In those early days many large herds of cattle and sheep were driven over the old plank road.
About 30 years ago the late Miss Mary B. Robinson wrote a paper about the Plank Road. This was read before the Tioga County Historical Society and later, with other historical papers, was published in book form, to be preserved by this organization. It is a very complete history of the construction and control of the road and also the interesting story of the life upon it. Much of the material for this article was copied from Miss Robinson’s paper, the book being loaned to me by George W. Williams.
Horace L. Stevens, the last owner of the road is still alive at the advanced age of 96 years. His wife, with whom I visited last fall, died in December, aged 91 years. She told me many interesting stories of long ago. When a young girl she attended at the Wellsboro Academy and was a friend of Mary, (or Mazie, as she was always called) Robinson. Mrs. Stevens’ maiden name was Nancy Bailey, she was a native of Vermont. She said she spent many happy hours with Miss Mazie at the Robinson home. Miss Mazie was also attending the Wellsboro Academy.
Mrs. Stevens told me about a small settlement called Mercereau which some of my readers may remember but I had never before heard of this place. A cluster of houses and a country store near the junction of the Plank and Elkhorn roads was so named for Mr. Mercereau who kept the store..
Mrs. Jennie Stevens, a daughter of the late John Starkey of Middlebury also helped me with material for this article. And told how, when a child, she and her classmates loved to gather at the toll gate when a circus was expected to pass by. They could stand inside the house where they felt perfectly safe, and still be very close to the elephants, camels, horses, band-wagon, etc. Indeed, they were so close to the elephants and camels that "shivers went up their backs," as these animals passed by.
When the new bridge across Crooked Creek at Middlebury was built about two years ago, a steam shovel, excavating for the abutments, uncovered some of the old plank. Robert McInroy carried one of them home, and when visiting there last fall, Mrs.. McInroy, who claims the plank, showed it to me. It is very badly worn, but isn’t it wonderful that anything at all is left, when one realizes it is nearly 100 years old? At the time of the flood in 1937, a washout along Tioga street in Wellsboro, also uncovered and exposed to view the ends of some of the old plank.
I am indebted to Mr. McInroy for material for this article, also to the Misses Hammond who took me to call on Horace l. Stevens, Mrs. Jennie Stevens and MR. and Mrs. McInroy, and told me about their father’s mill at Hammond.
Alan Deane is the proud possessor of the original book of certificates of Wellsboro-Tioga Plank Road Company. Sixty-eight of these certificates were sold, the stubs being left in the book. On the stubs are written the names of the purchasers, the date and number of shares bought. The price was $25 a share. The paper on which these certificates are printed is of excellent quality, has never turned yellow, and the printing is as bright as when it first came off the press. The printing was done and the book made by John C. Clark of Philadelphia.
Many more interesting stories might be told about the Plank Road. Stories of the stage lines, of Potter’s the well-known hostelry, where the horses were watered, while the drivers and grooms exchanged pleasantries and the latest news. George Hazlett, Mrs. Mabel Smart’s uncle, of Tioga, whose name was for many years connected with that of the road, was proprietor of a livery and stage business. There were races against time over the Plank, eight men were once driven from Wellsboro to Tioga by one team in an hour and 28 minutes.
At one time the Hazlett business had a rival in an "Air Line" of stages run by Frederick D. Bunnell. His record trip was made in one hour and 20 minutes – said to be the shortest time a team ever covered the route. Mr. Bunnell was Earl G. W. Bunnell’s grandfather.
The Plank Road is a thing of the past and now we drive an automobile over a concrete highway as we travel from Wellsboro to Tioga. But let us not forget the struggle of the early settlers of nearly 100 years ago to have what, at that time was a modern highway, from the county seat to the village of Tioga.
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