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
|At the November session of the court in 1801, Hemlock was erected out of
Mahoning township, both being then in Northumberland county. It is there-
fore one of the twelve townships embraced in Columbia county when it was
originally organized. A part of Hemlock, as at present constituted, was included
in Montour county by the provisions of the act first defining the boundary line.
The act of January 15, 1853, however, provided for a revision of the line, and
fixed the present western limits of this township.
In the earliest warrants for surveys, this region is mentioned as Wyoming
township, Northumberland county. Hemlock creek is here mentioned, but
the location is more definitely fixed by reference to Fishing creek, a larger
stream. The extreme northeast corner of the township was surveyed, in
pursuance of a warrant granted to John Nicholson, southward along Little
Fishing creek; Robert Bogard, William Oike, Philip Hahn, David Lynn and
Elizabeth Gray were the warrantees. The land at the forks of Fishing and
Hemlock creeks was surveyed for William Patterson; north of this, and east
of the Hemlock, were the tracts of Evan Owen, Michael Bright, Henry Funk,
Philip Gable, Samuel Emmitt, Sebricht Wagner, Alexander Johnson and
James Ellis. West of the Hemlock, Margaret and Daniel Ducan, Thomas
Barton, Daniel Montgomery, Nathaniel Brader, Peter Brugler, Andrew Walt-
man and John Lilly secured large tracts.
Peter Brugler entered this region about the year 1788 or 1790, being among
the first to permanently locate within the present limits of the township. His
land extended across its western end, from Frosty valley into the Liebenthal, a
deep, narrow valley, through which the west branch of Hemlock creek finds its
way. This track embraced about six-hundred acres. The house he built on
the southern slope of Frosty valley was destroyed by fire some years since. On
one occasion while out hunting, he had an adventure which illustrates how
257much the life of the pioneer sometimes depended on cautious but decisive
The ground was covered with snow to the depth of several inches. He had
followed a deer for some distance, when, on turning a hill, he came upon what
at first appeared to be an entirely different trail, but the discovery of his own
footsteps proved that he had made a circuit, and reached the same trail he had
previously traversed, and at the same instant he noticed before him in the
snow the prints of an Indian moccasin. Their contrast with his own tracks
may have caused a momentary fear, but this only intensified the keenness of his
faculties, as the certainty of his danger became conclusive. He remembered
having seen a hollow tree when he first passed over the trail. It required but
a few minutes to reach it and conceal himself within its dark recess. The
stealthy tread of the pursuing savage could be plainly heard at a short distance,
and presently his dusky form emerged from the pines into full view. Brugler
waited till his rifle was well aimed at the eye of the Indian. The sequel must
be inferred. In relating the story he never went beyond this point.
A few years after the coming of Brugler, Peter and Philip Appleman entered
the township. Peter Appleman succeeded to the ownership of part of the Dun-
can tract, but was misinformed regarding the location of his land, and built a
house before the mistake was ascertained. Margaret and Daniel Duncan, se-
cured patents for their land under date of December 17, 1774, but subsequently
disposed of both to George Clymer, a Philadelphia merchant. It was from him
that the Applemans received their titles; part of the tract was sold to Hugh
McBride, in whose family it remains to-day.
Other German families who came with the Bruglers and Applemans, or fol-
lowed them in the course of a few years, were the Ohls, Hartmans, Neyharts,
Whitenights, Leidys, Girtons, Menningers, Merles, Grubers, Yocums and
Haucks. They emigrated from the older counties of Berks and Northampton,
and the adjoining region of New Jersey across the Deleware. They journeyed
over the Broad and Little mountains by a road which has since been known as
the Lehigh and Susquehanna turnpike. Berwick was its northern terminus,
and practically the end of the journey. Sunbury and Catawissa were the points
from which supplies were first obtained. The Germans purchased their land
from the patentees; few of them received it direct from the state. These first
owners were the predecessors of the more recent land jobbers, but their profits
were in most cases merely nominal.
Henry Ohl, a soldier of the revolution, entered the township in 1804, from
New Jersey. He built a house on the land now owned by his grandson, Sam-
uel Ohl. It has long since disappeared. Ludwig Neyhart's land is now
owned by Lewis Girton. The old house was built in a hollow near where Mr.
Girton's buildings have since been erected, but nearer the springs. Michael
Menninger located his buildings on a hill above Little Fishing creek. Henry
Warrich was the owner of an adjoining tract. The house he built is still in
use on the farm of John Girton. In the Liebenthal a saw-mill was erected at
an early day, but all trace of it disappeared fifty years ago.
The township of Hemlock is, to the casual observer, almost exclusively
agricultural. The hills of the Fishing creek, the Liebenthal and Frosty valley
present nothing in appearance more striking than fields of waving grain or
forests of hemlock; but on the slope of Montour ridge, deep seams and furrows,
certainly not the water-courses of exhausted springs, arrest the attention and
awaken interest. From these drifts, however, the only mineral wealth of the
township, iron ore, has been removed until it is practically exhausted.
The first discovery of the ore was made about the year 1822 on the land of
258Robert Green, by Henry Young, a farm laborer. He noticed the peculiar
color of the ground he was plowing, and procured a pick and shovel to ascer-
tain how deep it continued so. An examination revealed its true character and
value and led to the immediate commencement of drift mining. The entire
product, until 1844, was hauled across the river to be smelted at Bittler's Es-
ther furnace and the Penn furnace. But in that year the Bloomsburg Rail-
Road and Iron Company began to operate their works, and for ten years
received nearly all the ore that was mined in Hemlock township. Since 1854
the firm of McKelvy and Neal, now William Neal and Sons, have divided the
product with them.
The company first mentioned owns the "Bank" and "Farrandsville"
farms. The latter was purchased from the Farrandsville Iron Company, which
mined several hundred tons of ore, and had it forwarded over the canal to their
works in Centre county, some time prior to 1844, but never manufactured a
ton of ore. The ore was here unloaded and forgotten, apparently, until a
few years since, when an enterprising boatman reloaded it and brought it
back to Bloomsburg. The Bloomsburg Rail-Road and Iron Company also re-
tains the ore in land purchased by them from Caleb Barton, but now owned by
Edward W. Ivey. It is land bought from Charles R. Paxson and Leonard B.
Rupert, and is the Robinson farm now owned by Daniel Yocum.
William Neal and Sons have succeeded McKelvy and Neal as lessees of
the land of Daniel, Isaac and Sylvester Pursel. A few years since, having
exhausted the surface basins, a shaft was sunk on the north side of Montour
ridge. Mining in this was is attended with so much expense as to render it
unprofitable. But for the fact that the hard ores thus obtained are needed to
mix with others of a different character, the shaft would be abandoned en-
The ore drifts of the Montour ridge have contributed largely to the
wealth and prosperity of the whole region. The villages of Buckhorn and
Wedgetown were built for a class of laborers for whom there is no longer em-
ployment. It is not probable that Hemlock township has any resources whose
development will necessitate a return of this floating population.
Seventeen years ago, however, when even the most sanguine were forced
to admit that the drifts had passed their period of most profitable production,
the bluffs on Little Fishing creek began to be looked upon as the probable
site for the opening of another industry. A quarry at this point had for years
supplied the furnaces at Bloomsburg with limestone; just above this, from the
appearance of the shale on the perpendicular surface of the bluff, Reverend
Thomas, a clergyman from Northampton county and interested in the manu-
facture of slate, conceived the idea that suitable material was here avail-
able. In the year 1869 the Thomas Slate Company, through William Milnes,
its president, purchased twenty-three acres of land along Little Fishing
creek. On this land a building was erected, valuable machinery arranged
therein, quarries opened, and the manufacture of roofing-slate and slate-man-
tels begun on an extensive scale. The fine quality and superior finish of their
mantels created an encouraging demand. But the death of Mr. Milnes caused
the suspension of the works within a few years after they were first operated.
The plant has been allowed to rust and rot for the past twelve years. There
are no indications that the manufacture will ever again be resumed, although
such an occurrence is possible, as slate of superior quality certainly exists.
The circle of local manufactures is thus narrowed to three flouring mills.
The Red Mill, built some years ago, has recently come into the possession of
I. W. McKelvy, who has enlarged and improved it. Near it there were at
259one time two establishments know respectively as Groetz's tannery and Min-
shall's fulling-mill. But the pursuits here conducted, though locally import-
ant at one time, can now be referred to only as "lost arts."
Although the village of Buckhorn has been built as the result of the dis-
covery of ore, there is associated with its name a story that begins many
years before that occurred. It is said that before any settlement had been
made in this section the antlers of a deer, fastened between the forked branches
of a white-oak sapling, marked the course of an Indian trail through this re-
gion. This tree stood on the edge of a swamp, within three miles of Cata-
wissa. When, subsequently, it became necessary for the pioneers of the up-
per Fishing creek valley and North mountain to communicate with the forts
on the Susquehanna, a path was blazed through the woods, crossing the
Indian trail at the Buckhorn tree. The sight of this tree to the weary traveler
from the distant settlement, was an assurance of his nearness to friends and
safety. Other way-marks disapeared; the blazing on thr trees became quite
indistinct; and the trees themselves succumbed to decay; but the sapling
grew apace, and gradually locked the antlers in a vise-like embrae. It
finally completely concealed them in the widening circles of its yearly growth.
The story of the buck's horn within was received with questioning credence
from the "oldest inhabitants." A few years since, a long-billed bird made
an opening to the hollow interior of the tree, revealing the antlers, and also
establishing the fact of its early usefulness and later imprisonment. It was
removed, and a part has been preserved in a museum at Allentown.
Just opposite this tree, where the house of Isaac Pursel now stands,
Vaniah Rees built the first house in the village. It was a hotel, and received
the patronage of the stage line from Bloom to Muncy. He bought land from
James and Robert Dill, and laid out the town. In 1832, twelve years after
Rees built his hotel, Hugh Allen erected another on the site of the present
one. Rees built the third house at the opposite end of the village, and in
1836 opened the first store. He subsequently built about twelve houses,
nearly one-third the present number.
Hugh Allen was the first postmaster. Noah Prentiss carried the mail
from Bloom once a week for many years. About 1850 Israel Bittler was
commissioned to carry it twice a week. In 1866 a tri-weekly service was
begun by Jacob Crawford, but not until 1883 was the daily mail established.
In 1843 Marshall Shoemaker succeeded Allen as postmaster. The office has
been in the same building ever since, except one year.
The village comprises a number of well built houses, two stores, a hotel,
carriage-shop, school-building and two houses of worship. N. Patterson Moore,
proprietor of the carriage-shop, has been justice of the peace for fifteen years.
Previous to this Jacob Harris filled the office for twenty-one years. Henry
Ohl ws the first justice of the peace in Hemlock towship after the forma-
tion of Columbia County.
The school-building, erected some years since at a cost of three thousand
five-hundred dollars, compares favorable with others of a similar character any-
where. It was originally intended that the school here conducted should be
a township high-school, but this design has never been fully carried out. Under
the principalship of Josephus Grimes, the first principal and present coutny
superintendent, and his successors, it has done much to raise the standard of
teachers and teaching throughout the entire township.
The first school in Hemlcok was opened in 1801, the same year that the
township was erected. It was held in a dwelling house on the road leading
from Buckhorn through Frosty valley. A Mr. Davidson was the first teacher.
260Another was opened shortly afterward by Thomas Vanderslice, and a third in the
Liebenthal, just within the present limits of the township. It was widely known
as a place for social gatherings and singing-schools. John Nevins was one of
its early teachers. Other old teachers were Henry Ohl, Jacob Wintersteen and
Charles Fortner. The present well-built school-houses, and the improved
methods of teaching generally pursued, certainly indicate a progress which
has kept the system abreast of the times.
It is probable that the school in Frosty valley was opened before religious
services of any kind had been held in the township. It is said the Reverend
Frederick Plitt, a German Lutheran minister from Philadelphia, followed
those of his nationality and faith across the mountains and into the valleys
where they had planted their homes. He ministered to the settlers in the
Hemlock region; his successors, Reverends Ball, Frey, Weaver and Oyer,
preached occasionally in the old school-house a short distance from Buckhorn.
The first house of worship, however, built by contributions from persons of all
denominations, but dedicated as a Methodist church, was completed int the
year 1848, and occupied a lot of ground formerly owned by John McRey-
nolds. Reverends Funk, Price and Consor, of the German Reformed, Evan-
gelical and Methodist denominations, respectively, preached in this building
in the years immediately after its erection. Only the Methodists, however,
were regularly supplied with religious services. Among the Reverend Con-
sors's successors were Reverend Hartman, Tanneyhill, Buckingham, Gearhart,
Ross, Bolton, Warren, McClure and Chilcoat.
The old church building, having been in continuous use for twenty years,
began to show indications of decay. Reverend T. O. Clees, the pastor in
1868, began to agitate the necessity of immediately replacing it by a new
structure. With characteristic energy he pushed the work to completion, and
in the following year dedicated an edifice costing seven-thousand dollars.
Thomas J. Vanderslice, John Appleman, Jacob Richart and John Kistler, trus-
tees, secured the funds for both this building and the parsonage. The latter
was erected several years later on a lot adjoining the church property. The pas-
tors of this church in recent years have been Reverends Bowman, Brittain,
Ale, Savage, and W. H. Tubbs, the present incumbent.
The Frosty valley Methodist congregation, as part of the Buckhorn cir-
cuit, has had the same pastors as the Buckhorn church, since its organization.
It worshiped in a school-house until 1869, when a substantial frame church-
building was erected on the road from Bloomsburg to Mooresburg, three
miles from Buckhorn. December 23, 1878, Elisha Brugler conveyed to Henry
Hodge, William McMichael, John Gullivre, Samuel Runsley, Peter Brugler
and Pooley, trustees, the ground on which the building had been completed
nine years before. The membership has been weakened considerable in recent
years by the removal of persons formerly at work in the mines on the Montour
Reverend William J. Eyer, the Lutheran minister mentioned above, began
to hold religious services in the old Methodist church immediately after it was
built, and continued to do so for some years. It was his successor, Reverend
E. A. Sharrets, who first organized its scattered membership into a regular con-
gregation. In the winter of 1859-1860 he held a protracted meeting which re-
sulted in the conversion of forty-three persons. The organization was effected
in the spring of 1860 and numbered sixty-three members.
In 1867 Reverend Sharrets was succeeded by Reverend J. M. Rice. Dur-
ing these seven years neither a complete organization nor regular religious serv-
ice had been maintained. Sunday, Oct. 20, 1867, a re-organization was
261effected by the election of James Emmitt and Peter Werkheiser, elders, and
George Wenner and John H. Miller, deacons. "Christ's Evangelical Lutheran
Congregatin of Buckhorn," became part of the Espy charge, and took meas-
ures to provide for the support of a regular pastor. The aggressive spirit thus
displayed was further manifested in the appointment of a committee to select
a suitable lot for a church building. One month later, at a congregational
meeting called for the purpose, the present location of the house of worship
was chosen, and James Emmitt, Peter Werkheiser, Sr., John H. Miller, Reuben
Bomboy and George Russell constituted a committee to solicit contributions for
the enterprise. On the 29th of November, 1869, the new edifice was dedicated
by Rev. E. A. Sharrets, president of the Susquehanna synod. The cost, about
five-thousand dollars, was fully provided for. Succeeding pastors have been
Reverends B. F. Selleman, H. C. Haithcox, J. M. Reimunsnyder, William
Kelley and E. A. Sharrets, who began his second pastorate April 28, 1878, and
has been in charge ever since.