Civic Histories - An Anonymous Sketch of the History of Cowanshannock Township

This manuscript was found in the attic of my family's house in Rural Valley. I believe it may have been written by Hamlet Totten (1802-1891) around 1880. Illegible portions are denoted by [illeg]. Words I'm not sure I've transcribed correctly are denoted by [?]. Spelling and punctuation are presented here as they appear in the original manuscript.

In preparing this History of Cowanshannock Tp. I have not been able to gather information [illeg] limit of the Twp. and have found it difficult to obtain information such as I desired in so brief a time. I have endeavored to make this brief sketch [illeg] by omiting anything doubtful.

From a history of Western Pa. by Hickok [?] I have learned that the first settlements made in [this whole line struck out]

Armstrong County was Erected March 12th 1800. It was formed of parts of Allegheny Lycoming & Westmoreland Cos. Population in 1800 = 2399. In 1803 the town if Kittanning was laid out being the site of an old town of the same name where Gen. Armstrong defeated the Indians in 1756. By Act of 2nd March 1805 the Co was organized for political purposes.

But to speak of the early settlements of this Tp we find the tide of emigration approaching rather from the their Westmoreland Co probably the vicinity of Elderton was settled a short time before this place and some settlements were made on [illeg] Creek and along the area known as Blancko area earlier than those of our neighbor hood. The first settlement known [?] in this valley was below Patterson [illeg] as the Karnes property. No doubt made with out thought of permanency being the roughest place [illeg] the valley.

A Settlement was made as early as 1800 near where John Kirk's store now is built by James Kirkpatrick. Soon afterwards by Wm. Kirkpatrick where John Cowan now lives. A Block House or Fort was built near Kimmels (about 1 mi south east from Elderton) For protection against Indians Mr. James Kirkpatrick once found it necessary to take advantage of this fort and during a fight with the Indians had a child shot while laying in a cradle in the fort. James Simpson (remembered by many of you no doubt) settled where Mr. Anthony Gallagher now lives in 1806. Wm. Cochran where Mr. John Shaffer resides probably a short time before Simpson. Misters Schrecongost & McGaughey, John Schregocost & Peter Finley [?] (Wm. Carsons place) were among the 1st settlers. Mr. James Simpson is said to have owned the 1st wagon in the neighborhood.

The first store was brought in by John Patterson (where Robt McFarland now lives) about 1830 or 31.

Mr. John Patterson seems to have been an enterprizing man. He and his brother Findley Patterson built the Patterson Mill. At the Pattersons store Rural Valley Post Office was first established. Wm. Patterson was elected to the State Legislature in 1833. He was prominent in aiding the passage of our present Free School Law and this law being so unpopular with his constitutents he was not reelected.

Mr. Patterson was also the founder of Rural Village. He came to this place from Washington county [illeg] Woodward Mill near Elderton was the most convenient until 1822 when McBrides Mill (now Boyers) was built. The first church (the Presbyterian church) orgainzed 1835 - building erected for church and school in 1835 near Robt McFarlands.

The land on which Rural Village is erected was owned by H. Totten from the Presbyterian church east, and west from the church by John Stoops. A house was built by Mr. Allen Foster in 1827. Town laid out in 1835 by John Patterson the 1st house built by Mr. Patterson now owned by J. L Ewing Misses Reed Mrs Foster and a part of John Gourleys.

Still Houses seem to have been thought quite necessary to the early settlers. The Kirkpatricks both erected Still Houses and others were built after the [illeg] become more thickly settled. The remains of one of these houses stood until a few years ago where [illeg] Gourley now lives.

The Turn Pike leading from Kittanning to Clearfield was authorized by an act passed Feb 17 1830. The road was made a few years after and toll charged for a number of years.

I will now procede and give you a brief History of Schools, School Houses and teachers ect.

The first School House in this vicinity was built in 1822 near where John Sloan now lives. The house and in fact all school houses for some time were built of round logs. A large wood fire place in one end. The floor of puncheon or half logs with flat side up loft of same or round logs and hand daubed in the cracks. Windows were made at each side of the house by cutting out a log and pasting greased paper over for glass. This window extended the whole length of the house. The writing desks were made by driving large wooden pins in the wall projecting so that a broad board could be [illeg] on. The pupil sitting with his face to the wall - benches a lab [?] or split log with flat side up. Wood was used entirely for fuel and was supplyed by each family in turn.

It will be remembered that this was before the free schools system was in existence. The teachers pay was 50 cts per scholar per month. The teacher boarded around [illeg]. The first teacher in this school house was Mr. Wm. Borland from Indiana Co. This house was used only for a short time. A house was built on the Ormand farm another south [?] side of the creek where the road then was. The remains of this school can be seen at the present time. Kirkpatricks from Kirks store attended this school. The Fitzgerds [?] from Blacks [illeg] and the Furney [?] from Wm. Carson.

Hamlet Totten
Hamlet Totten, the possible author of this sketch.

Taking the circumference of these points and it does not seem probable that there could have been any other school perhaps within the present limits of this township.

Mr. John McClune father of Dr. McClune (Plumville) was the first teacher in this house. Hamlet Totten in 1828-1829. This house seams to have served the neighborhood up until the Free School System apeared in 1834.

After the Free Schools were adopted the following houses were built - although at different dates. One at Mr. [illeg] Blacks, Wm. McEntoshes, John L Pattersons, James Simpsons crossroads; one near James Morrows at this place there was a house erected a short time previous to the Free Schools system aforesaid a house was built about 1/2 mile east - Mr. Andrew Jewarts. One near Mr. John Hayses, Mr. Crows [?]. McGaugheys and near Salem Church. After the erection of Cowanshannock Tp. new houses were built near the same places in many instances. The Tp. was laid out and divided into 15 School Districts and 15 houses, employing 16 teachers as of the present day. No public school was had in Rural Village up until 1851. After the Presbyterian Church was built (in 1850) the brick church was used for a school house for a number of years. The first teacher was Rev. Cochran Forbes. This brick church stood on the same foundation as the School House of to-day and was erected in 1836.

Teachers salaries have varied from $10.00 to $35.00 per month. For a number of years (about 1850 to 1866) $20.60 per month; term 4 months. In 1859 a heavy frost on the 5th of June killed nearly all the crops and wages were reduced to from $12.00 to $15.00 per month but soon after again raised to their former rates.

In 1809 an Act was passed by the Legislature of the State for the education of the poor gratis. This provided for the children of the poor between the ages of 5 and 12 years. This law had one very important effect -- the brand of pauper which it stamped upon the pupil. However this continued in force until 1824 and when an act passed allowing all might be sent between the ages of 6 & 14 years for 3 years only. It was repealed in 1826 and the act of 1809 revived. This was all the provision made [?] however for the education of the young until 1831 when the basis of a more efficient School fund was made and paved the way to the adoption of our present Free School System.

And now after this brief notice of the leading persons places and events I beg leave to indulge in a few remarks. In the first place I have been deeply impressed with the fact that "life is but a span" -- "as a nap [?] that approacheth for a while and vanisheth away." Where are those of who figured conspicuously in the early settlement of this neighborhood. Swept in to the grave and forgotten. Only by unearthing the past can we learn of their existence; and only the brief space of about 75 years or less has passed away. So it will be with us in a few years. We will have passed away and be forgotten others will have taken our places and perhaps never know that we teachers figured here in this [illeg] year. Our work must be done now. Time is short therefore "whatever thou doest do quickly." No doubt at some future time even this imperfect sketch would be of great interest. What scenes may transpire in this vicinity before another 3/4 century shall have passed. I do not predict -- our valley and vicinity has never yet been defiled with the scourge of strife or war never yet has [illeg] our soil drank the blood of the white man in war but shall it remain so for the same period of time we cannot tell. One thing allow me to predict -- the historian [?] unity of the United States seventy five years hence will have a story of civil strife and war and a divided country; possibly a South a North and a West. I do not think I am indulging in a chimera but to my mind it is plain [to see] that the interest of these different portions of our country so conflict that a division must inevitably be the result. Just now a heavy strain is upon a very weak portion of our Governmental Machinery. But the efforts of good and honest men of both political parties and the overruling hand of Providence may lead us safely through.

That for the next three quarters of a century the people of this vicinity may be happy and prosperous enjoying a free government free press free schools & religious liberty and all the privileges and blessings - nay more - than those of the past - is my earnest prayer.