Between 1794 and 1795, Conrad Rice settled in the Indiana area on a fair sized tract of land, part of which was later owned by the George Clymer Estate and in 1815 was sold to the Trustees of the Indiana Academy. Later, Justice Silas M. Clark bought part of this land and in 1869 began construction of his home there. But that leaves the question, who was Conrad Rice and what role did he play in Indiana’s early history.
The elder Conrad Rice was a blacksmith by trade, living in Lancaster County, PA during the early 1790s. He purchased a tract of 160 acres located in western Pennsylvania, sight unseen, from a clergyman named Smith.
Rice intended to use his new land, which cost him ten shillings per acre, for a farming enterprise. Smith represented to Rice that the land was about nine miles from Greensburg. Being 1794, knowledge of the geography of Western Pennsylvania was very vague.
Rice, and a few of his close relatives packed their belongings and in the spring of 1794 made the journey from Lancaster County to what was then Westmoreland County (at the time included Indiana County). Rice’s purpose was to improve his newly acquired land, and return to Lancaster County for the rest of his family in the fall of 1794 and bring them to his new property.
In April or May of 1794, Rice and his first group arrived at Youngstown in Westmoreland County prepared to begin improving the property. Rice had brought with him a team of horses, farming implements, a set of blacksmith tools, and other essential supplies. From Youngstown, he began to search for his land as described in his deed from Smith.
William Findley, a respected man of the law, inspected Rice’s deed carefully and from the descriptions suggested that his land was located near Two Lick Creek. Rice followed Findley’s advice, and made a tedious search for the land, which took him a week’s time to find. He finally ascertained that his land was the tract of land in present Indiana, which currently houses the Clark House and surrounding 160 acres.
In 1794, there were very few families in the present vicinity of Indiana, these families included the Moorhead family about two miles west of Rice’s location. Rice then returned to Youngstown to pick up those of his family who remained there. His intent was to return to the Indiana location and erect a cabin.
It’s important to note that because there were no roads erected at this time, on the Indiana side of the Conemaugh River, Rice had to return to Youngstown via the same path he had come. Rich supposedly met Captain Andrew Sharp at Campbell’s Mills on Black Lick Creek, there because of the difficulties he had in Sharps’ Ville, or Shelocta. Hearing Sharp’s story of unfriendly Native Americans and other hardships, Rice decided it unwise to bring his family to Indiana immediately.
Rice and his group instead went to the Ligonier Valley to a place called Centerville, where they remained through the summer and winter of 1794-95.
In the spring of 1795, Rice and the entire group returned to the plot of land in Indiana and immediately started working on constructing a temporary shelter of poles crossed over wooden forks and overlaid with a bark roof.
Only a few years prior, someone that Clergyman Smith knew had about eight acres of the land cleared, making re-clearing it much easier for Rice. There was evidence that a cabin had been built on the property by this unknown person, but it had been burned and the former occupants had fled.
During the summer of 1795, Rice and members of his family constructed a new cabin 22 by 24 feet and cleared further ground. Unfortunately, the four horses which Rice had brought with him died, the family was unable to sow fall grain. Early in the winter of 1795, Rice was able to secure a yoke of oxen and trained them for plowing so the family would be ready for the planting season in the spring of 1796.
As Rice was a blacksmith and having a full set of tools with him, a blacksmith shop was soon created to which settlers in the area needing work done could utilize Rice and his skills. There is record showing that settlers sometimes came from great distances to use Rice. One of the earliest was a member of the Barnett family from Port Barnett (near the present site of Brookville, Jefferson County). It is said that an Indian guide brough Barnett to the Rices.
From 1795-99, very few people had settled around the site of Indiana. On the farm later owned by Thomas White, Timothy O’Neil had a small improvement in 1795. George Trimble lived on the farm that was later Daniel Stannard’s farm, near what is now Stannard Avenue near the present junior high. Other early settlers included Gawin Adams, Thomas Allison, and James Kelly.
Each spring the Rice family traveled to the Crooked Creek Valley to make maple sugar, which happened to be one of the favorite hunting grounds of the Native Americans. Despite this, the Rice family never met opposition from any Native Americans. Although, the Rice family made it a practice to never both the Native Americans in their hunting or molest such stores of venison, meat, or furs the Native Americans might have left in the valley.
The Rices and other early settlers’ cabins were also in full supply of venison and other wild game meat as bears, panthers, wolves, and foxes were in abundant supply. They also frequently made extra cash or bartered material by turning in pelts from foxes and panthers. However, the game, especially wolves, often gave the early settlers cause for fear.
One of the early hunting stories from the area involve the Rices. Conrad aided his two sons, Conrad and Philip, and sometimes a hired hand, brought the coal used in blacksmithing from a coal bank on Two Lick Creek. On one occasion Philip and the hired hand had gone with a team of horses and a wagon to the coal bank for some coal. Philip carried the riffle while the hired hand drove the team.
After getting the coal, Philip took a circuit through the woods for game, and the hired hand started back with the load and wagon. Philip soon saw a large buck near the creek and fired quickly wounding the animal. The buck, although bleeding, didn’t fall but ran up the hill. So Philip reloaded his rifle and started off in the direction the animal had gone. When he was less than halfway up the hill, Philip saw the buck returning toward him at full speed followed by a large black bear. The bear went after the buck, and Philip shot the bear, the buck got away, and after a short distance, Philip shot him too.
Conrad’s farming and blacksmith businesses prospered well through the early 1800s. Conrad Rice died in 1823 and was buried in the German Lutheran portion of the cemetery (now Memorial Park). Rice’s contributions to Indiana County’s history should not be forgotten as he was one of the first pioneers to settle in the area; he braced the unknown and survived.