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Pioneer Stories - David Elder

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

In April 1835, a young ten-year-old boy named David W. Elder came to Indiana County with his family. Fifty years later he described that journey as he remembered it. David traced his ancestors back to George Elder, who migrated to America from Ireland in 1750. He settled in Franklin County, moving to Center County, and then Huntingdon County. David was born on August 22, 1825.


Following is Mr. Elder’s memories as was printed in the Historical Society’s publication, Indiana County Heritage, Winter 1987. It was noted that the following was transcribed from notes in the possession of the family.


Our Journey


It was Monday about noon on the sixth day of April AD 1835, that we - that is Robert Elder and his family started on our Journey from our old home in Franklin Township, Huntingdon County Pennsylvania to our new home in Indiana County. If any inquisitive person should wish to discover the place from which we started, he will find it near the foot of Tussey Mountain, half a mile above the Village of Graysville, on a small stream called “Fowler’s Run.”


Our family consisted of Father, Mother and seven children - Jane - J. Reed - David W. - Mary Ann - Elizabeth - Robert B. - and Margaret - the children ranging in age from Eighteen years to Seven Months. Of these only four remain - J. Reed - David W. - Mary Ann - and Elizabeth.


We had been “Just a going” to start for several days but could not get ready. Even on that morning it was not certain that we would go. It had rained some, and the weather was threatening. What influence set us in motion, I know not, but about nine o'clock it was decided that we should go, and from that time all was hurry and bustle. I have little recollection of particulars. I remember that we children had our faces washed, and were fixed up as if we were going to church. I remember seeing the men carrying out heavy articles of furniture, and packing them in the bed of the four-horse wagon, that was to carry us over the mountains. I remember the crowds of neighbors, that came to see us off, and bid us Goodbye. The farewells were doubtless serious enough between grown persons, but they did not effect me. I have no recollection of feeling any regret at leaving the old place. I had only pleasant anticipation of the new sights I would see. It seemed to me like a holiday excursion. I did not realize the greatness of the change we were making. I little thought that in a few months I would be longing for the sight of the mountain top - the brook and the big willow, where I used to make whistles and flutter wheels.


Some of the men and boys came with us a considerable distance to help drive the cows, and get them trained to following the wagons. After we bypassed the church and got into the “Barrens” they gradually left us. Old George Fry drove the wagon the first day, and his son Levi, a gawky, good natured boy was the last of the boys to leave us, and would not have turned back then, but for a positive order from his father. He left reluctantly bidding us all, Goodbye.


We crossed the Little Juniata where Spruce Creek Station on the Pennsylvania Railroad now is, but here was no railroad there then. We stopped for the night in the little town of Water Street. The next morning George Fry returned home, and Uncle David Elder drove the team the rest of the Journey. We followed the Turnpike passing through Canoe Valley, and getting to Hollidaysburg in the evening. We had intended to stop there the night, but could not get accommodations for our stock, and went a mile further toward the Mountain, and stopped at the public house kept by a Dutch farmer named John Widensall. This day I first saw a Canalboat and a railroad car.


The following day we went over the Mountain on the Turnpike, and were often in sight of the cars of the Portage Railroad which then crossed the Mountain at Blair’s Gap. We lunched at the “Stone Tavern” at the summit of the Mountain. We hoped to reach Ebensburg that night, but failed to do so, and had to put up at Wherry’s - a very comfortable place, - a mile or two from Ebensburg, after driving til dark.


Early in the forenoon of the next day, we passed through Ebensburg; and here we left the “northern Turnpike,” and entered what was called the “clay pike,” leading to Indiana. As this latter road was not Macadamized, and the ground was wet, and the load heavy, the wagon now made slow progress. Stopping at a Country tavern at noon kept by an old Welshman named Griffith Rowland, we reached Strongstown, in the edge of Indiana County at dusk and put up for the night. I was so tired that I fell asleep on the bar-room floor behind the door, and was not missed, till the landlord went to close the door after all the rest had retired. There were two or three other flittings at the inn, and the landlord inquired which of them had lost a boy. The family roll was called - I was missing, and restored to my proper place.

Inn at Strongstown

It took us all the next day to get to Indiana, where we put up at the hotel now called the “Indiana House,” though it has been rebuilt since that time.


On Saturday morning we left behind us not only Macadamized roads but even Clay Pikes, and entered on the rough, hilly and muddy roads of the “Backwoods.” When we started on Monday we had hoped to reach our journey’s end by Saturday evening, but it was now plainly impossible. At noon we reached Kate Buchanan’s, the only public house between Indiana and Punxsutawney. A little before sunset we reached the house of Joseph MacPherson, an old acquaintance of my fathers. He took us in, hospitably entertained us till Monday. On Sabbath we attended Mahoning Church, where we met many of our new neighbors, and gave them notice of our coming.


On Monday morning we began the last stage of our wearisome journey. It had rained the night before, and the roads were very heavy, and the progress slow. I recollect but few of the incidents of that part of the journey. On our way we met some of the neighbors coming to meet us. We made a stop at the house of Scroggs Work. Here a path led through the woods to the Cabin. Reed was sent by that route to kindle a fire at the house, while the wagon went by a more circuitous route. The public road at that time ran directly past Scroggs Work’s house and kept its course South of, and nearly parallel with the present line of the public road and nearly one hundred yards distant therefrom.


From a point opposite where the end of the lane now is, a road, or rather a path ran up to the house, passing along nearly the same route that the lane does now. Some young men had cut a way for the wagon that morning, but a four-horse wagon was a machine unknown before in that region, and their road was too narrow. Men and boys with axes cut a wider passage, and the wagon moved forward a few rods at a time as a way was made for it. It was just about noon when we reached the house, and just a week from the time we started.


Our Home


The house stood a few feet south of the frame house now standing. It was a log cabin eighteen by sixteen feet, and a story and a half high. The longest dimension was from the lower to the upper side, although the gables faced north and south, so that the ends of the house were longer than the sides. The logs were unhewn. The roof was made of clapboards kept in place by weight poles. The door was in the south end, and the chimney in the upper side. The jambs were about six feet apart, and the chimney was on the outside. It was a wooden chimney, that is built of logs and sticks protected from the fire at the lower part by stone, and the upper part by clay. The drip of the upper half of the roof fell upon the chimney just above the mantle, and to protect it, a section of the hollow log was put under the eve to serve as a spout. The only window was in the north end, and contained six lights of eight by ten inch glass. There was no staircase, and the loft could be reached only by a ladder.


The barn stood on a little rising ground between two spring drafts about forty yards south of the house. It was a double log-cabin barn with an intervening space for a thrashing floor, though, I think there was no floor there. It had a clapboard roof with weight poles.


A little spring house built on poles with a sloped roof stood just below the Springhead.


The farm contained about ninety acres of which only about twelve acres were cleared. All the land lying westward of the present lane or road running through the farm was in woods. The flat land just below where the buildings stood was a swamp so deep that adventurous cows in the spring time seeking the grass and herbs growing there, sometimes stuck fast, and had to be pried out with rails or poles. This swamp was the abode of numerous frogs, and their music in a warm evening in spring time was deafening.


At Simpson’s the Settlement virtually ended. The public road extended no farther. An almost unbroken wilderness extended to the line of Clearfield County. A few adventurous pioneers indeed had gone into this wilderness and made improvements, and kept up communication with the settlements by bridal paths through the woods. Among these were David Brewer, William White, and James Black. In some sense these people were our neighbors, as they were compelled to depend on the people in the settlement for assistance in many things.


To the northward there was an unbroken belt of woodland extending nearly to where the Village of Marchand now stands, containing several thousand acres. This woodland was in fact an arm of the great wilderness to the east of us already mentioned. Cattle and sheep pastured on it in the summer, hogs grew fat on it in the autumn, and in some parts of it, huckleberries and rattlesnakes abounded in their season.


The people who lived beyond this belt of woodland on what we called “the Ridge” were not regarded as neighbors. We met them occasionally at church, and at the military trainings, but we did not have intimate relations with them.


It would be monotonous to describe separately the houses of the settlers. A general description will answer for all. The house was a log cabin of about the same dimensions as the one on our farm. Sometimes the logs were hewed - often they were not. Each house was a little above one story in height, and none was fully two stories. In most cases the roof was of clapboards kept in place by weight poles. Each house consisted of one room below and a loft above, which was reached by ladder. The Chimney was sometimes on the outside, and sometimes on the inside, but always had a wide fireplace. Stoves were unknown and wood the only fuel.


Scarcely any one of these houses was visible from another. Each settler had cleared a small opening around his buildings, whilst a broad belt of woodlands lay between him and his neighbor shutting out the view. It was only by climbing a hill that one could see that the country was inhabited.


The only grist mill in the neighborhood was Simpson’s. The nearest store was Henry Kinter’s near Georgeville. The nearest Post Office was “Mahoning” at which was then Ewing’s now Stewarts Mill seven miles down the Creek. It was supplied by a weekly mail carried on horseback. The only churches within ten miles were Gilgal and Mahoning, and the ministers of both churches resided outside the Congregation.


There was a little school house on the Creek Road about a quarter of a mile below Scroggs Work’s. It stood in the woods below the road. It stood in the woods below the road. It was about fifteen feet square, built of unhewn logs and had a clapboard roof. It was a story high, and the joists were high enough for a tall man to stand under them. The door was about five feet high - hung on wooden hinges and fastened with a pin. The two windows were merely widened cracks between the logs with no glass in them. The lower floor of loose boards - the upper floor of still looser boards. The fireplace consisted of three flat stones in one corner of the room - one horizontal for a hearth, and two perpendicular in the angle of the walls to serve as jambs. An opening in the floor above served as a flue, and cracks in the gable and roof furnished an exit for the smoke. The only furniture in the house was a bench made by driving four stout oak pegs into the round side of a slab about eight feet in length. Another bench was extemporized by putting one end on a log of wood on the hearth. The building had been used only for Summer School, and had to be refitted before Winter School was held in it.


David W. Eldert

April 8th 1885

Pittsburgh, PA


Notes

  1. Huntingdon, Cambria and Indiana Turnpike Road Co. incorporated on February 15, 1815, John Blair, president. Also known as the “Northern Route.”

  2. Indiana and Ebensburg Turnpike Road Co. completed Fall 1823. Width twenty-six feet, filled with clay, stone and gravel to a depth of twenty-two inches. Known as the “Clay Pike.”

  3. For many years the stage coaches from Indiana to Punxsutawney went by the old road form the present Musser Nursery to Kintersburg and from there to Home, PA.

  4. Mahoning Associate Presbyterian Church, organized 1828 on the site of the present church in East Mahoning Township.

  5. Alexander Scroggs Work (1797-1878), farmer and elder in the “Seceder” or Associate Presbyterian Church. His house is marked in the “Work District no. 3” or the 1870 map of East Mahoning Township.

  6. John Reed Elder, brother of David W. Elder.

  7. The Elder site is marked don the Beers Atlas as “J.R. Elders” and “Elders Hrs” (pg. 13).

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