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History & Geography of Bradford County by Heverly
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History & Geography of Bradford County

By Clement F. Heverly

History & Geography - Table of Contents
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Columbia Township [pp.440-447]

By Clement F. Heverly

[Typed by Pat NEWELL Smith]

Columbia takes its name from the Susquehanna Company’s town of Columbia, a portion of which is included in the present township.

Geographical - Columbia, the largest western border township, comprising 1/28 of the area of Bradford county, is bounded north by Wells and South creek, east by Springfield, south by Troy and Armenia and west by Tioga county. Its surface is high and broken, being mountainous in the eastern part and southwest corner. The general slope is to the southeast, the area being drained by Sugar creek and its branches, Mill creek, Spring creek, South creek and Wolf creek. A primitive forest of hemlock, beech, birch, maple, ash, chestnut, cherry, hickory, elm, oak, basswood, cucumber, pine, poplar, and other timber covered Columbia. It was the habitat of deer, bears, panthers and wolves. Brook trout were plentiful in the streams. The township has an area of 42 square miles and was formed from Smithfield in 1813; population 864 in 1920.

History: The Pioneers - The first attempt at settlement was made in 1795 by a man named Doty, who built a log cabin and began clearing on Columbia flats. He soon left. About the same time John and Nathaniel Ballard, twin brothers, came in from Burlington, selected a claim, cleared four acres, then sold their improvement for "five dollars and a hog."

Nathaniel Morgan in 1799 came from Connecticut and located at what is now Austinville. He had previously bought the Connecticut title to 17,000 acres of land, comprising the present township of Columbia, a part of Springfield and portion of Eastern Tioga. He made a clearing, built a cabin, raised a crop of potatoes, sowed a piece of wheat, then went back for his family with whom he returned the following spring. He was also accompanied by David Watkins, Oliver Canfield, Joseph Batterson, Jeremiah Chapman, Aaron Bennett and Samuel Lamphere, whom he induced to come with him by giving them each a deed of fifty acres.

The prospects were, indeed, dreary enough when these bold pioneers settled in Columbia. It was a dense wilderness with out even a foot path in which to walk and nothing but blazed trees to guide them. They were men poor in property but rich in energy and perseverance. They immediately set to work and in a few days each had a cabin with a bark roof and ground floor. Mr. Morgan’s Connecticut title proved worthless and after years of litigation the Pennsylvania title of the Binghams was established, and he re-purchased five hundred acres of his vast tract at a bushel of wheat per acre, or its equivalent in currency. Mr. Morgan and his sons were great hunters and it is related that their peltry soon brought them enough to clear the debt. He died, 1813, being survived by his wife, Sarah, and children, James, Phineas C., and Nancy [Mrs. Amos Satterlee]. Batterson subsequently removed to Ridgebury and Lamphere to Burlington.

Oliver Canfield was from Redding, Conn., and a Revolutionary soldier who had served seven years. He located at Austinville where he died. His wife was Sally Bradley and their children, Moses B., Daniel and Miranda [Mrs. Charles Taylor].

David Watkins, who was from Connecticut, settled near Austinville. Upon arriving in the new country his worldly possessions consisted of his wife, an axe, a scythe and $7.50 in cash. He died, 1863, aged eighty-four years. His wife was Polly Seely and their children: Laura [Mrs. Philip Slade], Charry [Mrs. John Wolf], David Seeley, William B., Rebecca [Mrs. Isaac Besley], Eleida, Mial, Hannah [Mrs. Isaiah Montanye] and Mary [Mrs. John Perry].

Eli Parsons, a native of Connecticut, who had served in the Revolutionary War, in 1799, with his son, Eli, came to Columbia and began improvements near Columbia Cross Roads, on a 400-acre Connecticut tract. In the fall Mr. Parsons returned East, Eli remaining and chopping a fallow during the winter. The next year the father arrived with the family. Mr. Parsons was a tanner and currier by occupation and carried on that business as soon as he could make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime he went to clearing his land, which he purchased a second time, paying at the rate of a bushel of corn per acre. He died in 1834, aged seventy-eight years. He had married Rebecca Allen, their children being Rebecca [Mrs. John King], Eli, Henry and Lydia. By a second marriage with Huldah Kellogg, children were Daniel K., James, John, Huldah, Cynthia [Mrs. Reuben Merritt] and Achsah [Mrs. Elisha S. Goodrich].

Solomon Soper and William Rose emigrated from Vermont in 1800. Soper had a pioneer grist-mill. He died on the farm afterwards occupied by his son, Collins. His wife was Polly Carey and their children: Harriet [Mrs. Nathan Havens], Herman, Harris C., Thomas, William, Collins W., and George.

David Palmer and Abraham Weast came as settlers, 1804. Palmer stopped for a time in Burlington before locating in Columbia. He purchased and occupied the improvement commenced by Doty. Weast was a celebrated hunter. He remained only three years.

1807 - The new comers were Samuel Baldwin, Charles Keyes, Nathaniel Merritt, Calvin Tinkham and Jacob Miller. Baldwin purchased Drinker lands and became a thrifty pioneer. Keyes was a hatter by occupation but gave most attention to the improvement of his farm. Merritt was from Vermont and Tinkham from Massachusetts. Miller was a Revolutionary soldier.

1808 - Rev. Joseph Beaman, John Bixby, David R. Haswell, Asa Howe, James Lamb, John McClelland, Comfort Peters and Moses Taylor. Beaman, Haswell and Taylor were from Vermont. Howe, McClelland and Peters were Revolutionary soldiers and came from Conn., Orange county, NY, and Mass., respectively. Lamb was a Scotchman.

1809 - Sheldon Gibbs, a basket maker, who built, 1815, the first distillery in the town; he sold and removed, 1819.

1810 - Elnathan Goodrich from Delaware county, NY; 1811 - Daniel Miller; in or before 1812 - John Benson, a Revolutionary soldier from Vermont. John Peter Gernert, a German. Solomon Hakes, Asa, Phineas and Stephen Jones, Levi and Roger Soper from Connecticut.

1812 - Samuel Ballard, Oliver Besley, a French Huguenot from New York, Peter Button, Ami Collins, James Dewey, Harvey Havens, Samuel and Zacheus Hulburt, Thomas Lewis, Joseph Lillibridge, Simeon Powers, Thomas Rexford, Cyprian Stevens, Oliver Stone, Burton and Samuel Strait, Isaac and Moses Wheeler, William Webber, a Revolutionary soldier, David Watson, Daniel Woodward and Thomas Wright.

1813 - Robert Early, William Furman, a Revolutionary soldier from Massachusetts, Ebenezer Hulburt, Reuben Nash, Silas Smith, James Watson and Michael Wolf. 1814 - Ebenezer Cory, a Revolutionary soldier, George Baker from Maryland, John Havens, Philip Robbins and George Wilson. 1815 - Amos Alexander, Jabez Baldwin, a Revolutionary soldier, John Haven from New Hampshire, Dr. Stephen Fowler and John Lilley from Vermont. 1816 - John Budd, a Revolutionary soldier, Cornelius and Nicholas Mosier. 1817 - John Humphrey. 1818 - Nathan Alvord, Asa Bullock, John Calkins, Joseph Gladding, Benjamin McKean, Peleg Peckham and Philip Slade. 1819 - Kingsley and Stephen Peckham, brother, and Ebenezer Smith. 1823 - Thomas Monroe. 1827 - Levi Cornell.

In the Beginning - The first settlers found their way into Columbia by following blazed trees through the wilderness across Ulster, Smithfield and Springfield. This path was their only avenue of ingress and egress for some time. A connecting path with the Sugar creek road was the next, and in 1810 a public road was opened from East Troy. This gave an outlet down Sugar creek to the river. About 1818, the east and west thoroughfare across the state was constructed through Columbia. In 1814 the first road providing an outlet northward was opened from Columbia flats to the New York state line. Interior roads multiplied rapidly from 1813 to 1825.

The nearest neighbor of the first settlers was Reuben Mitchell in Smithfield twelve miles distant. Having no grindstone the new comers were required to go to Mitchell’s to grind their axes. The nearest stores were at Tioga Point, nearly twenty miles away, where the pioneers did their trading, paying seventy-five cents, or a bushel of wheat, for a yard of calico or factory cloth. The nearest grist mill was John Shepard’s at Milltown, twenty-one miles. To procure flour for bread, a settler would shoulder a bushel of wheat and trudge through the wilderness to Shepard’s, have his grist ground, then reloading himself, return to his family. It was a great relief from this hardship when Thomas Barber, about 1806, built a small grist mill in Sugar creek near Troy.

First Events - The first child born in Columbia was Laura, daughter of David Watkins, August, 1800; the first male child was Heman, son of Solomon Soper, born September, 1800. The first marriage was that of Charles Taylor and Mirinda, daughter of Oliver Canfield, December 29, 1807. The first death in the township was that of a child from scalding in 1810; the next, soon after, and the first adult, Mrs. Morgan, mother of Nathaniel Morgan. The first school was taught at Columbia flats, soon after 1808, in a building erected by Charles Taylor. The first preacher in the community was Elisha Rich, a Baptist about 1808. He was succeeded by Rev. Simeon Powers.

Moses Taylor built a double log house and accommodated the traveling public. The first store [a few groceries] was kept by David Watson and his principal trade was in tobacco and whiskey. The first framed house was built by Charles Keyes in 1808. The first post office was established at Sylvania with Reuben Nash, postmaster in 1818. Prior to that time the nearest place of postal communication with the outside world was Tioga Point. The first Justice of the peace was Wm. Furman, commissioned in 1812; the first constable, Rufus Pratt, 1814. The first assessment for the township was made in the spring of 1814 by Moses Wheeler, assessor; number of taxable 112, total tax $244.80; number of cows 160, horses 86, oxen 78, on sawmill, a tannery, blacksmith, carpenter and hatter.

Reminiscences - Of Abraham Weast, the hunter, it is related: "Notwithstanding his skill in woodcraft, he once lost his way in attempting to go to Mill creek and wandered in the woods for three days. Being without his gun he could kill no game and became nearly famished. Towards night of the third day he came to a turnip patch and began an attack upon those esculents to appease his hunger, when he was discovered by the owner of the vegetables, who took him to his cabin and by a judicious feeding on venison soup restored his strength."

The following is related by Phineas Chapman Morgan, the noted Nimrod of Columbia: Once he went out to watch a deer lick. That he might not be seen by the deer he climbed into a tree nearby. After patiently waiting some time a deer appeared but before he could bring his gun to his shoulder, from over his head as a flash of lightning from the sky, spring a huge panther and alighting upon its prey quickly destroyed it. Though Mr. Morgan was a brave hunter he dared not shoot and was only too glad to let the panther go his way if he would let him go his. He cautiously crawled down the tree and made his retreat, though deprived of his game that day.

Patriotism - The spirit of ‘76 was implanted by the first settlers of Columbia. Her sons, imbued with patriotism, have never faltered in devotion and response to country’s call. Record: Revolutionary War - Jabez Baldwin, John Benson, Obadiah Brown, John Budd, Oliver Canfield, Ebenezer Cory, William Furman, Asa Howe, John McClelland, Jacob Miller, Eli Parsons, Comfort Peters, Israel Pierce and William Webber. Baldwin was in the siege of Boston and the battle of Bennington; Budd was in the battle of White Plains and the taking of Ft. Montgomery. War of 1812 - Isaac Benson, John Benson, Hieronymus McClelland [killed], Burton Strait, Jeduthan Withey, Israel Pierce, Solomon Sherwood, David L. Smith. Civil War - Columbia including Sylvania furnished one hundred and twenty soldiers, of whom seven lost their lives on battlefields and fifteen died of disease. World War - Columbia and Sylvania contributed thirty-two soldiers, of whom two died.

Notable Personages who were born or lived in Columbia: Solomon Sherwood who served in the Indian wars under General St. Clair and General Wayne, captain in the war of 1812 and several terms a member of the Connecticut Assembly. Major Horace B. Strait, four terms Congressman from the 2nd Minnesota district. Stephen Fowler Wilson, state senator, twice Congressman, eleven years Judge of Tioga county, and an Associate Justice of the Supreme court of New Mexico, was born in Columbia. Elisha Sheldon Goodrich and sons, Elnathan O’Mera and Hiram P., and St. John Goodrich, all prominent in public and literary life, were early residents of the town.

Public Officials - Representatives - Dummer Lilley, Elijah G. Tracy; Associate Judge - Myron Ballard; Prothonotary - Samuel Strait; Register and Recorder - Dummer Lilley, Daniel Bradford, John Wolf; County auditors - Alden Keyes, Leander L. Gregory, Richard T. Card; Jury commissioner - B. Frank Knapp.

Sylvania Borough - "Columbia Flats" in the southern part of the township on the line of the old state road became the most thickly populated and the center of interests. With the establishment of the post office at Sylvania, 1818, the old name was dropped and the village incorporated as Sylvania borough in 1853. Its population was 215 in 1860 and 188 in 1920.

Austinville - Nathaniel Morgan’s settlement west of the center was originally known as "Cabot Hollow" and finally Austinville in honor of Augustus Austin who did much for the up building of the place. The village is next in importance to Sylvania with which it was long a rival. Iron ore was quite extensively mined near here in 1872.

Columbia Cross Roads and Snedekerville are small villages with stations on the Northern Central railroad in the eastern part of the township.