This portion of
The History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania
by J. H. Battle, 1887
is made possible through the efforts of
TRANSCRIBER: Rosana J. Whitenight
The first move for the erection of Benton was made in 1845, but the Court rejected the petition
and also one of similar import in January, 1850. The importunity of the petitioners was at length effectual, and in April, 1850, the ninth township from the original area of Fishingcreek was formally erected. It was named in honor of Thomas H. Benton, then in the zenith of his power, and warmly admired by his political coadjutors in this region. The eastern boundry of Benton was formed in 1786 upon the erection of Luzerne county; its western limit was established in 1799 as the eastern line of Greenwood;
the line of separation from Fishingcreek was marked out in 1813 as the southern boundary of Sugarloaf; and the division of the latter in 1850 was effected agreeably to the terms of the petition by virtue of which Benton was erected.
Nothing of striking importance characterized the settlement of the latter township. *Benjamin Coleman bought land from Daniel McHenry about 1791, and was the first to improve what is known as the John Laubach farm. Jonathan Colley settled on Fishing creek prior to 1797, as is shown by the fact that his name appears in a list of purchasers at a vendue which occurred in that year. The first house in which he lived was built across the brook from Swartwout's mill, where an old orchard of his planting marks the place. He was formerly a resident of Norristown, and was accompanied by - Peterman and Jesse Pennington. The latter built the first saw-mill** on the waters of upper Fishing creek. Joshua Brink, from New Jersey, settled upon a farm with which his name is still associated in that locality. Robert and John Moore entered this region when they were young men and tried the experiment of keeping "bachelor's hall" on their lands at the sources of Raven and Little Pine creeks. A descendant of the former remarks that this was only a temporary expedient as they soon dissolved partnership and each began life on a individual basis.
William Eager, Samuel Rogers and John Keeler removed from Orange county, N. Y., and settled on adjoining farms. Daniel Whiteman, Peter Robinson and Jonathan Hartzel were among those who formerly lived here, but have moved to Seneca county, Ohio. Daniel Jackson improved a tract of land which embraced the site of the town of Benton. He lived upon it from 1800 to 1833, when his right of possession was successfully disputed by a rival claimant. It appeared that the lands for which Mr. Jackson held the title were situated on another Fishing creek in a distant part of the state. His house for many years comprehended all of the village of Benton that then existed. It now comprises about forty dwellings, two excellent hotels, a number of stores, a school building and two churches. Its central location in the midst of a fertile farming district and the prospect of soon becoming a rail-road point insure the continuance of its importance as an inland business town.
Having thus outlined the settlement of this valley, certain contemporary features of social and domestic life should also be noticed. The following observations of a writer of this section apply equally well to both townships included in this sketch. "It was not an uncommon thing to find a family consisting of parents and from six to a dozen children living in a house about twenty-two feet square with rooms and loft, the latter reached by a ladder. In the lower apartment were one and sometimes two beds (besides the trundle-bed, which in the day time was pushed under the other), a bureau, a table, a few chairs, benches and cooking utensils. In the chamber were the beds for
*The Penn Manor Lands here surveyed November 8, 1769, and consisted of two separate tracts of five hundred and thirty acres each. The warrantee names were James Athill and Francis Hopkinson. The warrants were issued March 6, 1770, and the returns made the 13th day of the same month. These lands were said to be "situated on a large branch of Fishing creek, eight or ten miles above the end of Fishing creek mountain, or about two miles north of the town of Benton. "Putney Common" is the name applied to this manor in the original survey.
**On the night of July 2, 1848, the waters of Fishing creek rose to an unpreceedented height, destroying this mill and inflicting much damage upon property along its course. A waterspout burst upon the mountain side near Central P. O. Trees were uprooted, huge boulders removed from their foundations, and such lesser obstacles as decayed logs and uneven surface completely obliterated. Where the full force of the deluge was experienced, the country presented the appearance of having been carefully swept. Aaron Lewis was living at this time in the valley of the creek but some distance from its channel; a jam of logs and debris diverted the stream from its former channel and placed his farm buildings at the mercy of the torrent, the violence of which swept away the foundations of his house and compelled its inmates to seek safety on the roof. Not until five o'clock in the afternoon of the next day had the waters subsided sufficiently to permit their rescue. A few rods from the site of Swartwout's mill was a similar structure owned by Isaiah Cole. It was entirely destroyed and one of the mill stones has not been found to this day.
232the larger children, surrounded with barrels, boxes and heaps of grain of various kinds. And yet, as limited as the whole concern appeared to be, there was room enough for all, so easy is it to adapt ourselves to circumstances. There were buildings of larger dimensions, better divided and more comfortably arranged, but, compared with the spacious and beautiful residences that now dot the valley in all directions, their number was insignificant. Nor was their furniture more elaborate, judging by the standard of the present. Cooking stoves began to be introduced about 1835, the old 'ten plate' serving for room stove if there was any place to put it. The great wide fireplace, with its trammels of pot-hooks and hangers, was found in every house. Here the good mother and grown up daughters - over a roaring fire made of a huge back-log, front-stick and a pile of other wood-fried the meat, baked the cakes, and boiled the mush for the family. Plain chairs, bottomed with hickory or oak splints, were the only kind used; even the roacking-chair was of the same style and material. "The wants of the people were simple and readily supplied from the circumstances that surrounded them. Within the house, the whirr of the spinning wheel and the clatter of the loom attested the requirements of assiduous industry. Inclination as well as necessity compelled the stronger members of the family to develop to their fullest extent the resources of forest and stream. Maple sugar and syrup were staple commodities. The sugar season was anticipated with the degree of interest now felt in an approaching wheat harvest. It was scarely less important, and would be equally profitable if it could be made to yield the returns realized fifty years ago.
Benton schools date from 1799, when Isaac Young opened a school in the vicinity of Benton village. Upon the close of this school another was opened in a private dwelling upon the site of Eli Mendenhall's barn, above the village. The first houses for school purposes were two in number, one being situated on West creek, and the other below the village. Hon. Alexander Colley sustained the same relation to public matters in general in this section as Philip Fritz in Sugarloaf. He was a surveyor, a school teacher, a member of the legislature, and at the time of his death, in 1881, was the last surviving member of the first school board.
The propriety of mentioning post-offices as educational influences may perhaps be questioned, but in sparsely settled districts, where it is impossible to maintain schools more than five or six months in a year, the general intelligence of the people is directly proportional to the circulation of newspapers. Postal facilities were extended to this section in about 1836, when a mail route was established from Fairmount springs to Luzerne county, to Taneyville in Lycoming, by way of Cole's creek, Campbell and Davidson. James N. Park was contractor, but Orrin Park usually carried the mail, traversing a distance of forty miles on foot, and experiencing considerable hardship in breaking roads in winter, and danger in walking foot-logs over rapid streams. Not until 1848, twelve years later, had the amount of mail matter become too great to carry on foot. July 1, 1852, the route form Pealertown (now Forks), was undertaken by Mr. Parks. Stillwater, Benton, Cole's creek, Central and Davidson were the intermediate points. Daniel Hartman was first postmaster at Benton. Raven Creek P. O. has appeared upon the files of the department since November 11, 1872, when Peter Laubach was commissioned to conduct it. C. M. Smith succeeded him March 9, 1886. During Mr. Laubach's incumbency it was on the line of the route from Muncy to Cambra. A daily mail has since been established from Stillwater via Van Camp and Cambra. July 17, 1886, R. T. Smith was appointed to take charge of Taurus Post-office on the road from
Fairmount Springs to Raven Creek. The usual difficulty was experienced in selecting a name, and the projectors were finally compelled to go beyond the pale of civilization in their search. This office is connected with Raven Creek by a tri-weekly messenger service.
The organization of religious societies in Benton did not begin untile the character of the people in other respects was practically established. The Methodist Episcopal church is represented by two churches, the Presbyterian, Church of Christ (Disciples), and Methodist Protestant by one each. The congregation last mentioned was disbanded a few years since, and the church property is about to be sold by the general conference of that denomination. The building was erected in 1872 through the exertions of the Reverence A. E. Kline, then in charge of Pine creek circuit. The Christian church at the villiage of Benton was organized about the year 1849 by John Sutton with thirty members. Robert Colley and Elias McHenry were elected elders and have served continuously in that capacity to this time, 1886. A meeting-house was built in 1856. Reverends Theobald Miller, Jacob Rodenbaugh, J. J. Harvey, J. G. Nobel, Zephaniah Ellis, E. E. Orvis, C. M. Cooper and D. M. Kinter have been pastors of this church. Mr. Ellis was the author of "The White Pilgrim," a poem widely copied by the press at that time.
The Methodist congregation at Benton village has worshiped in the fram church building erected by them in 1872, prior to which time the West creek church was occupied. A class of sixteen was formed in 1870, with William Y. Hess as leader. The place of worship of the Hamlin church was built in 1879, near the site of a similar structure built in 1845. The first class was formed about ten years previous with Charles Snyder, leader. Both congregations are embraced in Benton circuit, which formerly formed part of Bloomingdale. Reverend Gideon H. Day was the first pastor in chrge of the former after the division. Reverend John F. Brown was pastor when the Benton church was built, and H. B. Fortner when "Hamlin" was rebuilt. Revereend S. P. Boone, the present resident minister at Benton, is a native of Luzerne county and acquired his eduction at New Columbus academy and at Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston, Illinois. He was a teacher eight years prior to his entrance into the ministry. He is a man of progressive ideas and enthusiastic devotion to his work, which explains the success which has everywhere attended his efforts
Presbyterian services were probably held at Saint Gabriel's church in Sugarloaf as early as 1812; but, as no record was preserved, particulars cannot be given. In 1859 a number of persons from Cole's mills and the surround neighborhood petitioned the Presbytery of Northumberland, then in session at Berwick, for a church organization in that vicinity. In respsonse to which, John Doty, Esq., Reverends D. J. Waller and John Thomas were appointed a committee to inquire into the propriety of such action. They met at the "log church" on Friday, August 12, 1859, and proceeded to organize a church consisting of Earl Boston, Frederick Laubach, James Willson, Simon W. Tubbs, Freas Conner and others. July 1, 1872, a congregatonal meeting was held at Hamlin church, where services had been held for some time previous, as it was more convenient for many of the members. It was decided to build a new place of worship, and to change the name to "Raven Creek Presbyterian Church." Peter Laubach, Samuel Willson, Samuel Krickbaum and William R. Mathers were constituted a building committee. November 7, 1874, the completed structure was dedicated. The congregation has usually been connected with the Orangeville pastorate.
The Benton Township history was transcribed by Rosana J. Whitenight.
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