From The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania
By John C. French
Romances of An Old Forest Road Once Used by the Marquis de Lafayette
(The First Natural Gas Well) (By John C. French)
In 1824, the party that started from Philadelphia, by train of coaches, horses and packmules, crossed the Susquehanna and soon entered the forest along the West Branch, to view the beautiful highlands of Pennsylvania. They passed through McKean County, along the new made forest road, over the ridges and westward through Hamlin Township, and northerly through Lafayette Township, crossing the Kinzua Valley, five miles west of the great viaduct of the Eire railroad, and climbing to the crest of the range beyond, near Marshburg; thence through Hamilton Township, past the oil-field “Klondike,” of recent decades, and westerly, down the backbone ridge, to the Kinzua Village on the Allegheny River, at the confluence of Kinzua Creek and the river; then northerly to Lake Chautauqua and to Fredonia, New York, near the shore of Lake Erie, where the hotel was lit by natural gas, from the well bored in 1821.
The trip was for entertainment of the great Frenchman and to endow him with the land that bears his name, in the midst of the rich oil and gas fields that developed later, 1880-1910, and the forest road was built for that trip, alone, and seldom made use of afterward, except for short distances, here and there. The Christian Science Monitor, of Boston, recently told the story, as follows:
Marie Paul Jean Roch Yves Gilbert Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, paid three visits to America, the first in 1777, the second in 1784, and the third in 1824. Thus, nearly half a century intervened between the times of his first and last arrival. Great changes had taken place in the interval of forty-seven years. George Washington, his almost idolized commoner, was no longer here to welcome him. Adams, Jefferson and Madison, who had been numbered among his intimates in the old days, had each in turn, served in the chief magistracy of the young republic which he had helped to found. The war of 1812 had become merely an unpleasant memory. The great disturbing human factor of the period had at length been quieted on the lone island of St. Helena.
France was in a stage of transition; the revolution of 1830 was six years off. James Monroe, who was in the Battle of Brandywine with Lafayette, was no President of the United State. The area of the nation had been broadened by the acquisition of Louisiana and of other territory. The number of the states had nearly doubled since the Revolution. Settlements and villages were dotting those parts of the country that were unpeopled when Lafayette was a young man; hamlets had become towns; towns had become cities; cities had grown to amazing proportions; Washington had been founded and partly built, and the national capital had been moved there from Philadelphia. The years had had their tragedies: Hamilton had fallen at the hands of Burr, and Burr’s unbridled ambition had been his own undoing; Dorothy Payne, after becoming Mrs. Todd had become Dolly Madison, and had reigned through Jefferson’s and her husband’s administrations. She was no longer First Lady of the Land, but still held her place as “Queen of American Society.”
A new generation had come upon the scene. New leaders claimed popular attention and interest. Some of them were exceptionally able men. There were, for instance, Clay, Calhoun, Randolph and Webster. Lafayette was to lay the corner stone of Bunker Hill Monument, and to hear the great New Englander deliver, on that occasion, one of his finest orations.
The reception of Lafayette, on his last visit, was as spontaneously enthusiastic as that which Joffre and Viviani are receiving today. New York was comparatively small then, but it seemed to witnesses of the scene at the Battery, that when the guest of the nation arrived the whole population was there to welcome him. The city was decorated, much as it has been with a great display of bunting, the Stars and Stripes and the Tricolor being everywhere intertwined. The landing initiated a series of ovations which extended over the length and breadth of the country, Lafayette, in response to popular demands, made a tour through the twenty-four states then in the Union, covering almost altogether 5,000 miles. His reception in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other of the larger communities, was correspondingly as enthusiastic as that in New York. In New England, boys and girls strewed flowers in his path. He went into the small as well as the large towns. He was received with special honors by the President, with special distinction by Congress. He was presented with a purse containing $200,000 and with a township of land. He was lionized socially. From the moment of his arrival to the moment of his departure, he was the recipient of every thoughtful and delicate attention.
Early in his visit he went to Mount Vernon and paid tribute to Washington. He dedicated a monument to Baron DeKalb at Camden, S.C. and participated actively in many other functions. Those were still coaching days, and Lafayette was continually in demand at country homes. This will partly explain the number of chambers and beds in which he slept that are still to be found along the route of his travels. Whenever possible, the chambers and the bedsteads were preserved. Rooms in which Lafayette slept, beds upon which he reposed, are very plentiful in New England today. Probably most of them are genuine. One likes to think they are.
The Bunker Hill Monument cornerstone laying brought people from all parts. One account says that “everything on wheels and everything that had legs” moved toward the historic high ground in Charlestown on that day. Webster was at his best. Lafayette met and greeted many survivors of the battle. When he arose to perform his part of the ceremony the enthusiasm knew no bounds. He stood silent for minutes before the mass of cheering people. Tears coursed down his cheeks. Here was the apothesis toward which all previous manifestations of appreciation and gratitude had been tending. – Christian Science Monitor.
About the old forest road there was ever much speculation by modern nimrods, fishermen and campers, who chanced to follow it a short distance, through a forest that was primeval, previous to 1890, and many explanations of the cause for it; some said Alexander McClain built it in 1788, when the surveys of the land were first made to establish certain transit lines, by “monuments on the land,” from which to make maps and locate the streams upon certain sections, or warrants, as plotted on the maps, and given numbers, as sold.
Some called it the “Boone Road,” and believed that emigrants to Kentucky, soon after the Revolution, had constructed it to descend the Allegheny upon timber rafts, and in canoes, from Kinzua; and some called it “The French Road,” giving its origin a military bias, with the explanation that during the French and Indian war, between 1755 and 1763, the French soldiers, scouts and voyagers had cut a road, to secure supplies over, from Frenchville and other Pennsylvania towns, to support the occupation near Lake Erie, during winters when the lake was closed.
But the version of certain old men, dwelling in Lafayette Township and vicinity, in 1889, gave it as outlined in the beginning of this chapter, which the writer believed then; and has found no records that dispute it. Ordinary histories give few details of the great forest pageants of our earlier times, while often giving great space to unimportant occurrences, along the seaboard and within our great cities. It is difficult, now to decide definitely, as to the uses, of the road, here mentioned, and all of the tales of it may have been founded upon fats, in each case; for each purpose, it may have been used. Westward voyagers, in 1788, made canoes near Port Allegheny, Canoe Place, and descended the river. They traveled up the Sinnemahoning, over the divide, and down Portage Creek, to “Canoe Place.”