History of McKean County
J.H. Beers, Chicago, 1890
Otto Township

History of McKean County

from History of the Counties of McKean,
Elk, Cameron, and Potter, Pennsylvania
J.H. Beers, Chicago, 1890


History of Otto Township

OTTO TOWNSHIP is situated in the north part of the county. Indian creek rises in the northeast corner near the New York State line; Tram, North and Kansas branches of Knapp's creek, which flow together above Duke Centre, occupy the three canons of the north, while the heads of the north branch of Cole creek flow south by east from the southern divide, leaving the center of the township to be drained by Knapp's creek, in the valley of which the Kendall & Eldred Railroad runs. The greatest measured height is the summit of the Tide Water Pipe Line southeast of Rixford, 2,148 feet, but it is ascertained that the summit between Indian creek and North branch is 2,350 feet above tide. Up to 1879 there were no discoveries of coal or other mineral made here, save that of petroleum, and the little territory was second to none of equal extent in the production of this oil. Otto township in 1880 claimed 4,277 inhabitants. Of this number 249 resided in Kansas branch village, 145 in Fullerton, 737 in Oil Valley, 1,127 in Rixford, 136 in Prentiss Vale, 231 in Tram Hollow and 16 in Windfall village. In 1888 there were 173 Republican votes cast, 99 Democratic, 50 Prohibition and 50 United Labor, or a total of 372, indicating the population at the time to be 1,860.

The officers elected for 1890 are as follows: Supervisors, F.W. Sprague, H.T. Breese; school directors, James Fraiser, J.M. Sloan; auditor, J.T. Irvine; collector, Z. Wilson; town clerk, E.B. Cronk; constable, C.C. Amalong; justice of the peace, E.R. Nash; judge of election, First District, E.B. Cronk; inspectors, J.W. McCown, Frank Walsh; judge of election, Second District, J.J. Donley; inspectors, J.R. Martin, F.R. Burton.

The resident tax-payers of Otto township, in 1854-55 were J.M. Baldwin (who died in Maine), Nahum, Samuel, Sr., James Cyrus, Asa and Sam. Baldwin, Jason W. Blanchard (now in Wisconsin, former owner of Rixford), T.J. Bryant, Cook, Borden & Co. (saw-mill owners), John and Josiah Davis, Gideon Ellis (living near Eldred), L. Ellis, James Fogle, Jesse Garey (Keating), Orisson Grey (moved to Wisconsin), Milton Koons, Col. James Labree, O. Lovell, William Lovejoy, James McCord, William McCullough (moved to Jamestown), Hiram Moore, Robert Moore, Arthur Prentiss (still a resident) and H.K. Prentiss, G.M. Prentiss, Ed. S. Reed, Brad G., Joe and William H. Spiller, George and William Plummer, John Swink (living in Kansas), Rev. M.W. Strickland, J.S. Thompson (now in Eldred), Henry Twambley (living in Minnesota), Coon Wagoner (moved away), and Miami York (moved west). The value of their property was placed at $6,305 by Nahum Baldwin. Deacon Sprague came in January, 1856, and settled that year on his present farm.

The following from the pen of Mr. Arthur Prentiss, giving some of his reminiscences of Otto township, will be read with much interest: "The valley of Knapp's creek," says Mr. Prentiss, "now forming the greater part of Otto township, was formerly included in the township of Eldred.

It was an unbroken wilderness until 1842, in which year Herman Strong, who had come from Springfield, Penobscot Co., Me., located a farm at what is now called Prentiss Vale, although for three years before settling here he had been a resident of Farmers Valley, same county. Soon after getting fairly to work on his farm he put in operation a Yankee shingle machine, the first in the county. Through the influence of Mr. Strong, who was an old acquaintance of mine, I first came to what is now Otto township in December, 1845, having in view the purchase of the pine timber land (at the head-waters of the creek branches), and also the location of a colony of eastern farmers and lumberman. I spent several days with Mr. Strong in exploring the pine lands, and then returned home. In the spring of 1846 I again visited the spot and made further examination of the valley, as well as several other locations, but being unable to make any definite agreement for the timber land, owing to the existence of some old speculation contracts, I again returned home. The fall of the same year, however, once more found me out in this land of promise, and I succeeded in arranging with W.B. Clymer (general agent for the Bingham estate) and John King (agent for the Keating estate) for all the land we wanted. In April, 1847, I moved my family to Farmers Valley, and occupied the old Sartwell (now Goodwin) farm two years, while locating land preparatory to building a mill, etc. In the spring of 1849 I moved into a log house in the valley and began the erection of a saw-mill, which was put in operation in the fall. The heavy frame of this mill was raised without the use of whisky, probably the first so raised in the county. (No intoxicating drink was ever sold in the valley before oil was found.) In 1851 the timber land and mill were sold to W.P. Pope and Cyrus Strong, of Binghamton, N.Y., who cleared the streams, built dams to reserve the water, and drove the pine logs, Yankee fashion, to Olean, where they built mills and manufactured for the eastern market. In 1854 they sold out the remaining timber and the mills to Borden & Co., of Fall River, Mass., since known as the Olean Lumber Company. Almost all this timber land has proven to be the best oil territory in the county."

"A goodly number of settlers from the vicinity of my former residence in Penobscot county, Me., came and located on farms in my vicinity. We soon built a small school-house, in which, for years, were held school, Sabbath-school, religious services, etc. We had only a winter sled road from the river, a distance of about three miles, but it was not long before we made a wagon road, spending about $1,000, $500 of which were appropriated by the county. Soon after starting business we procured the establishment of a special post-office, which continued as such for about fifteen years, when a regular mail route from Eldred to Bradford was put in operation. I.W. Prentiss was appointed postmaster in 1850, and held the office about two years, since which time I have held the office. Since the discovery of oil, two other offices have been established. In 1852 (I think, as all records were destroyed by fire) a Congregational church was organized, with Rev. M.W. Strickland, from Maine, as first pastor. This church at one time had more than thirty members, but through deaths, removals and other causes is now almost extinct. Most of the early settlers were Old Line Democrats, but they were soon converted to anti-slavery Whigs or Republicans, and at one election, near the commencement of the war of the Rebellion, the eighty or so voters gave a unanimous Republican vote. At the outbreak of that war almost all of our men, liable to military duty, volunteered, and I think only two were drafted. We sent nearly fifty soldiers in all, of whom about twenty lost their lives. Probably no other township with the same number of voters furnished and lost an equal number of men during that struggle."

Benjamin Bunker came in 1852, and was engaged in lumbering and milling until 1884, when he moved to Minnesota, where he died in 1889. John Duke came here about the time of the Civil war, and built the present mills after that struggle.

This township, like the adjoining one of Foster, has suffered considerably from fire, and on one occasion was storm-stricken. The storm of November, 1879, destroyed the new church building at Rixford, and a number of derricks there, at Dallas, and at other points.

The Rixford fire of May 9, 1880, occasioned by a gas explosion, destroyed seventy-five buildings, forming the business center of the town, in less than two hours, and burned up 70,000 barrels of oil and forty rigs…The United Lines Tank 714, completed in July, 1880, on the McKean farm, one mile south of State Line, burst August 4, 1880, and 20,747 barrels of oil cut a channel down to the creek…United Lines Tank 738, opened on the McKean farm, 200 rods northeast of Babcock depot, August 11, was struck by lightening August 28, 1880, and 26,597 barrels of oil burned up…The bush fires around Rixford began on August 31, 1881, near Baker's trestle, and spread rapidly, destroying twenty-four rigs and consuming large quantities of oil…The fires around Bordell in September, 1881, destroyed forty-six rigs and 3,900 barrels of oil. This fire spread over 250 acres…The fire on the Loop farm on the north branch of Indian creek, resulted in the destruction of oil at Hardison & Kribb's wells.

In 1826 Joshua Barnes and Barnabas Pike built a fluter saw-mill at State Line.

The State Line Chapel Association was incorporated March 8, 1887, in order to build a house for Methodist worship. The names of the petitioners are C. Beaton, N.J. Warren, E.H. Crook, D. Bleakslee, A.R. Wagner and S.E. Humphrey.

The E.A.U. of Rixford was established in March, 1876, with seventy members. The officers chosen were J. Fraser, Mrs. D. Pearsall, John Jack, Mrs. E.E. Brown, Miss L. Love, J.B. Nutting and J.W. Martin.

The accidental shooting of Fred Sprague, a boy aged seventeen years, took place at McAdoo's engine-house, near Duke Centre, in October, 1888. It appears he and Dallas Thompson stepped into the engine house to see the well starting up. Young Sprague grounded his gun, but, slipping through a crack in the floor, it was discharged, the shot entering his liver and causing his death.


The first house built on the site was Cook, Borden & Co.'s frame boarding house, erected in May, 1856. Peter Haines, another pioneer, died before the oil era, and Chauncey Root resided on the site of Duke Centre before the war. The settlement of the Bunkers is noticed above, and also the coming of John Duke. In February, 1878, the business houses of Duke Centre were those of Charles Duke, Huffman & Dalrymple, Swan & Bacon, O.D. Bloss & Co., and Barber Bros.

When V.P. Carter, who, as president of the Duke Centre Gas Company, built the second gas line known in this county in 1879 (from Rixford to Duke Centre), found at Duke Centre that year John, Thomas and Charles Duke, with Randall, afterward postmaster, the Spragues and Baldwins and others. There were ten store buildings and several hotels, among which was Brown's Empire House and the McDonald House; G.F. Barton conducted his Opera House, while three church buildings existed, Mr. Sprague building the Congregational and John Duke the Church of Christ. The lot for the Congregational society was secured, and a room over Barton's Opera House was being fitted up for the Good Templars. William H. Randall was appointed first postmaster, having previously carried a penny-post between Eldred and Duke Centre. He served until 1885, when the late postmaster, P.L. Golden, was appointed. W.H. Randall was re-appointed in July, 1889. Prior to 1878 the office of this section was at Prentiss Vale.

The population of Duke Centre, in 1880, was 2,068. In 1888 there were eighty-five Republican, forty-four Democratic, nine Prohibitionist and fifteen Labor-Union votes cast, or a total of 153. Multiplying by six, as in the case of Bradford, the population is found to be 918.

The charter election for the borough of Duke Centre was held February 15, 1881. M.M. McElwain received 214 votes, and William Williams 166, for burgess; A.H. Low received 287 votes, and John M. Lyman 38, for justice. Henry Fitzsimmons, Charles Duke, E.M. Reardon, B.M. Moulton and J.W. Flynn, were elected members of council; John Duke received 302, and A.M. Boyd 198 votes, for auditor, three years' term; and George Fisher was elected for short term; J.C.B. Stivers, Joseph Norris, W.I. Lewis and Monroe Henderson, were elected school directors; A.N. Heard, assessor; A.A. Coon, overseer of the poor; J.L. Thomas, constable; George Tinto, high constable; John Mills, judge of elections, and C.S. Colt, inspector of elections. R.T. Salvage was elected burgess in 1882, the total vote cast being eighty-two; John Needham, in 1883; W.B. Graves, in 1884-85, when G.F. Barton was elected justice; Robert Shaffer, in 1886, with W.H. Randall, justice; W.D. Singleton, 1887-88, with A. Wheeler, justice, and J.S. Moody, justice in 1888. The charter is not now observed.

The Duke Centre Gas Company was incorporated in November, 1879, with T. Kemper, V.P. Carter and John J. Robarts, trustees, and Daniel Dodge and J.N. Brown, unofficial subscribers. Mr. Carter is present president. The company operates forty-five wells, of which twenty-seven are their own.

The first bank at Duke Centre was carried on by H.O. Roberts in 1879. The banking business of the section has been conducted by Charles Duke from 1883 to the present time. The First Congregational Society of Duke Centre and Prentiss Vale was incorporated in June, 1879, with the following named stockholders: M.W. Strickland, M.A. Strickland, L.B. Prentiss, C.L. Allen, L.S. Allen, B. & H. Bunker, F.W. Sprague, Mary Sprague, Joseph Gridley and J.K. Leugemores. A church building was erected in 1879, which was sold in 1884-85, and converted into a skating rink.

The First Church of Christ, Duke Centre, was incorporated in November, 1879, with John Duke, Samuel H. Brown, A.A. Trend, A.J. Applebee, Thomas S. Woodward and Israel Couroth, members. That year the work of building a house of worship commenced. It was completed in 1880, although services were held within it in 1879. The First Methodist Church of Duke Centre was incorporated in December, 1879, with A.R. Baker, C.G. Thomas, I.C. Schonerman, Enos Thomas, A.A. Coons, W.A. Simons and James L. Van Kirk, stockholders. Among the trustees Charles Duke and J.E. Baldwin are named. The church building is still used.

The Odd Fellows organized March 25, 1881, with the following named members: S. Frankenstein, W.N. George, John Sharpe, A.A. Averill, Henry L. Raymond, A.N. Heard, J.R. McKinzie, John McGee, A.J. Watkin, Morris Shear, Thomas Buchanan, David Greenberg, Benjamin Kempner, P. Mills, F.J. Fox. The names of past grands are A.J. Watkin, A.N. Heard, J. Sharpe, George Hancock, N. Fair, J.R. McKinzie, R.D. Henderson, John Needham, John McEwen, James Rickerson, A.H. Stuart, J.I. Dunn, E. Koonse, George Williams and J.I. Painter. The names of secretaries are A.J. Watkin, R.D. Henderson, A.W. Terrill, J.V. Brown, N. Fair, J. McEwen and J.I. Painter. The present number of members is 53; value of property, $450, and date of building is 1884.

J.H. Mullin Post, No. 356, G.A.R., was organized at Rixford by W.W. Brown July 30, 1883, and participated in the decoration of Lamphier's grave, he being the only soldier of the Revolution buried in McKean county. The charter members were H.G. Allen, Eighty-fifth New York; C.D. Andrus, One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New York; S.C. Andrus, First Ohio Artillery; D. Adams, Seventy-eighth Pennsylvania; H.T. Breese, Fourteenth Missouri; E.J. Baldwin, Second New York Cavalry; J.E. Baldwin, One Hundred and Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers; W.P. Baldwin, Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania; John V. Brown, One Hundred and Forty-ninth Pennsylvania; Clark Brown, Eighth New York; H.P. Black, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry; T.R. Burton, Navy; H.K. Burton, Fifty-Eighth Pennsylvania Infantry; C.M. Brace, Twenty-first New York Cavalry; W.P. Bair, One Hundred and Third Pennsylvania; Fred Curtis, Seventy-first New York Infantry; M.G. Dennis, Two Hundred and Eleventh Pennsylvania; James Fraser, __________; S.M. Fletcher, One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Pennsylvania; H. Trummon, First New York Dragoons; A. Glines, Thirteenth New York Artillery; L.J. Lilly, Second Pennsylvania Artillery; A.N. Loop, Two Hundred and Eleventh Pennsylvania; G. Lancomer, One Hundred and Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania; A.H. Low, Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania; E.W. Mullin, One Hundred and Thirty-seventh New York; J.S. Pittinger, of the Sixty-fourth New York (joined in 1886), N. Moore, Fourth New York Artillery; N.L. Moore, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry; J. Moore, Fifty-first Pennsylvania; F.T. McEvoy, Thirteenth New Jersey Cavalry; U. Moore, Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania; H.A. McGraw, Twenty-third New York; J.D. McGee, Eleventh I. Battery, Pennsylvania; J.W. Martin, Tenth Pennsylvania Cavalry; G.W. Potter, Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry; S. Peterman, Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania; H. Peterson, Fifth New York Artillery; A.T. Rence, Sixty-third Pennsylvania; Henry Riley, Eleventh New York Cavalry; R.P. Shields, One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Pennsylvania; Samuel Stives, Twenty-seventh New York Artillery; F. Shrout, Fourteenth Virginia Infantry; G.W. Salmon, One Hundred and Forty-fifth Pennsylvania; W.M. Smith, Eighty-second Pennsylvania; Owen Slayman, One Hundred and Forty-second Pennsylvania. On June 15, 1885, headquarters were moved to Duke Centre. Nelson Moore was first commander, with N.L. Moore, adjutant. In 1885 W.P. Black was adjutant and J.E. Baldwin commander, succeeded in 1886 by F.T. McEvoy and M.G. Dennis, respectively; James Fraser was commander in 1887, and H.M. Black in 1888. In the latter year E.B. Cronk was appointed adjutant and served in 1889 with C.R. Hatch, commander. Mr. Cronk served in the Fourth New York Heavy Artillery. The present membership is fifty-nine.

Northern Star Lodge, F. & A.M. was organized about nine years ago with the following named members: Charles Bunce, David J. Wilson, John V. Brown, Lucius J. Lilly, Jesse R. Leonard, James Green, Pyrrhus Mills, Samuel M. Jones, George Tinto, Charles C. Anderson, O.P. Irvine, Joseph Norris, William N. George. The past masters are Charles Bunce, William N. George, John V. Brown, Joseph Norris, Lucius J. Lilly, William H. Randall, John S. Greer, F.W. Sprague and John E. Baldwin. The R.T. and A.O.U.W. of Duke Centre completed their building in June, 1883.

In July, 1889, there were no less than thirty-one Equitable Aid Unions in this county, and at one time the county union of McKean was the only county organization of the order in the world. These county meetings are not required by the supreme law, but McKean County Union originated in the fertile brain of John T. Irvine, of Duke Centre, grand secretary and accountant of the grand union of Pennsylvania.

Contributed by Maureen M. (Buckley) Lee