RISEN FROM THE WILDS
THE STORY OF PENFIELD, PA., CLEARFIELD COUNTY, A THRIVING LITTLE TOWN
How the Place grew from a Spot in the Wilderness and Was Developed by the Lumbering Business, Which the People Objected to for a Time - - - The Name Bestowed as Recognition of a Resident’s Aptness With the Pen - - - On the Low Grade Railroad and Marked as in Point on the Elevated Air Line. Churches, Schools, Societies and Industries.
Penfield, Pa., Nov. 26. - - - Twelve miles east of DuBois, in the Northwestern part of Clearfield County, on the Low Grade railroad, and at the head of Bennets branch of the Sinnemahoning river, is this pretty and prosperous village of 600 persons. Lucien Bird, surveyor, has discovered on several trees in the vicinity of the town marks that were made by an ax in 1729, probably by Jesuits from Canada. These indications point to the presence of white people in this region. In 1785 a State survey intended to include Bennets branch valley was made, and in 1793 a more extensive one dividing the land into 1,000 acre tracts. Jonathan B. Stewart and William Bradford took titles under the 1785 survey. Stewart’s title descended through Edwin Bird to Jesse Wilson and John S. Brockway, the latter soon selling out to Wilson. Bradford’s title came down through Dr. James Hutchinson and his sons to Gould R. Hoyt. In 1820 Wilson and Hoyt came into the wilderness that extended from Benezette,, Elk county, unbroken westward for 40 miles, cleared small spaces, built each for himself a log cabin, and began to live the lonely and perilous pioneer life where Penfield now stands. These men found a hunter’s booth, possibly built by Daniel Boone, who once visited this region, it is said, and whose name is preserved in that of the mountain range north of town. During this time other pioneers from New York and New England came into what is now Huston township and cleared small farms. Log cabins were the only dwellings. Friendly Indians called occasionally for salt. Wild animals were abundant. One night Wilson’s dog made a commotion. Jesse and his wife took the gun and a candle and went out. The dog had a panther treed near the cabin. The wife held the light and Wilson shot true.
Those early days were not entirely destitute of religious influences. The Methodist itinerant preachers visited Penfield and preached in the log school house that was one of the four buildings in the town for 25 years. The women attended service barefoot, with red bandanas for headwear. The preacher exhorted the men not to forget the candles for lighting. These were fastened with pocketknives to the walls and desks.
In 1854 Hiram Woodward, bringing 14 men, came from the Lehigh river to Bennets branch valley to cut lumber for Reading, Fisher & Co. In conjunction with John DuBois he cleared the stream of obstructions and began the industry of cutting logs and floating them to the great mills at Williamsport. This work continued for 40 years, and not less than two billion feet of lumber in logs went out of Bennets branch. The settlers, who had been burning the beautiful clear pine stuff in log heaps to get rid of it, opposed log-floating, and tried to prevent Woodward and DuBois carrying it on. In 1856 Woodward moved to Penfield and acquired the property of Wilson and Hoyt. The former’s log cabin gave place to a frame house, now a part of the Penfield hotel, and this became the headquarters for the large and prosperous lumbering operations of Woodward.
In 1873 the Low Grade railroad, from Driftwood to Red Bank, was completed. Penfield, having heretofore but a quartet of buildings, began to grow and rapidly became a considerable place. In 1882 another expansion took place. The pine having been cut from the Reading, Fisher & Co. lands, the remaining timber on 7,000 acres was sold to Hoover, Hughes & Co., of Philipsburg, who erected north of Penfield a mammoth sawmill. This plant gave employment to 200 hands and operated for 10 years, when the timber was exhausted.
The prospect of an almost limitless amount of hemlock bark attracted a tannery to Penfield, built by A. D. McKinstey, sold by him to Thomas E. Proctor, and now operated by the Elk Tanning company. This plant is still in operation. Its capacity is 500 sides of leather a day. The value of its yearly output is over $700,000. Ten thousand cords of bark yearly is required, causing the peeling of 20,000,000 feet of hemlock. Eighty hands are employed regularly, and during bark piling as many as 140. The officials are M. J. C. W. Beach, superintendent; G. J. Trosmiller, foreman of beam house; B. F. Hess, foreman of yard: Thomas B. Connelly, foreman of finishing department; William H. Carle, outside foreman; Philip E. Connely, bookkeeper, and P. W. Boyle, engineer. The employees live in comfortable housing owned by the company.
Cochran, lumbering on Mix run, Cameron county, is the senior member of the firm of Pray & Smith, Victor V. Smith, Treasurer of Huston township, being the junior partner. They conduct the general store at the tannery. D. S. Johnson, of Grantonia, Elk county, represented in the store by his son, Merritte J., and L. H. Overturf, form the firm of Johnson & Overturf, who since 1882 have conducted a general store at one of the central corners. Jesse C. Harman began in 1890 with a small grocery and restaurant. His business has expanded until he handles a large general stock, and has recently bought another store room property and dwelling. George E. Towns, hardware and furniture, has lately occupied L. Bird’s new building on Clearfield street. None of these is a country store such as one generally finds in small towns. They are above the average of much larger places than Penfield.
And then there are Dr. Reuben Smith’s drug store, Miss Etta Parker’s millinery store, Mrs. M. J. Sweler’s dry goods store, W. L. Joyce’s undertaking establishment, P. H. Elynn’s blacksmith and woodworking establishment, C. L. Sheldrake’s harness shop, J. A. Goon’s and Caspar Yetzer’s barber shops, Henry McHenry’s jewelry shop, C. A. Hammond’s and W. J. Lanich’s meat markets, Mrs. Lizzie Wickett’s oyster and confectionery parlors, L. Bird’s real estate, insurance and surveying office, in which Miss Nellie Bird is typewriter, E. L. Miller’s shoe store, G. W. Harriger’s livery stable, H. W. Brown’s photograph gallery, S. Horning’s tin shop, the dressmaking rooms of Mrs. W. D. Woodward, Sr., Mrs. W. D. Woodward, Jr., Miss Maud Sawyer and Miss Julia Hilshier, all of which shows what a thriving little business place Penfield is.
And Penfield is not without its provisions for the needs of travelers for it has two hotels, the Penfield (above) and the Union. The former is conducted by James L. Scofield and the later by Mrs. Margaret Robacker. Drs. J. H. Kline, R. Smith and W. A. Sweier attend to the physical ills of the inhabitants of Penfield and the neighboring country. Harry Allen Brown conducts the “Press.” There are legal points to be construed here as elsewhere and this business is looked after by Justices John Hackett and William W. Hoover. But law does not keep them busy, and Hackett conducts a shoemaking shop and Hoover a jewelry store in conjunction with the legal business. J. M. Daily, the Allegheny Valley railroad agent, is the oldest one on the line except one.
The post office building in Penfield a new, neat structure was erected by John W. Lucore, appointed postmaster last July. His daughter, Miss Alice, is his assistant. The orgin of the post office name is interesting. “Uncle” Gould Hoyt was a rhymester, called in those days a poet. He sent the petition for an office to the capitol written in verse, and since he was so handy with his pen the name Penfield was bestowed by the department. Past postmasters have been Gould R. Hoyt, Valentine Hevner, Hiram Woodward, Frank C. Bowman, Charles H. Coryell, John S. Radebach, Allen H. Rosenkrans, Frederick R. Scofield and Hiram Woodward, the last named serving two terms.
Penfield is not so engrossed in business as to be without a spiritual and social side. The Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and Free Methodists have church buildings, the last named denomination’s being just completed. All have Sunday schools, and the Presbyterians have a flourishing Christian Endeavor society. The pulpits are creditably filled, in the order named by Revs. David Caldwell, Jonathan Guildin and L. A. Sager. Roman Catholic services are held regularly at the home of Timothy Welch. In the large school building are four rooms in charge of Prof. J. M. Bell, principal, and Misses Mary Bird, Olive Eastman and Jennie M. Dalley. The attendance is 200 pupils. The independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and Patriotic Order Sons of America have prosperous lodges that meet in the upper room of the opera house, the lower room being used for public gatherings. There is a flourishing building and loan association in Penfield.
Politically, the town, which is a part of Huston township, is Republican. The Hoyts, Blisses, Hewitts, Bundys and Lucores and their descendants, almost without exception, are and were of this party faith. Hiram Woodward and the men, who came with him, with their progeny, are the Democratic minority practically. In 1896 the vote was: McKinley, 166; Bryan, 136. This year the Republicans polled 101 and the Democrats 99 votes.
The future of Penfield is bright. The timber will last a long time, there is coal under the land and the climate is delightful.
- - - A. H. Rosenkrans, Author
Source: The Pittsburgh Times, November 27, 1897
From: The Archives of the DuBois Area Historical Society