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Lawrence County History

Excerpts from Lawrence County History

The Village of Harlansburg*

Is located on the old Pittsburg and Erie stage road, which was one of the first roads laid out in the county. This road was the main stage route, and travel over it, after the country had become partially settled, was very heavy. The first settler at the place was Jonathan Harlan, who left Chester county in 1792, and came to Allegheny county, locating in the beautiful Chartiers valley. He was in that county during the excitement caused by the "whisky insurrection" of 1794, and was in the neighborhood when Gen. John Neville's house was burnt by the insurrectionists. He came to what is now called Scott township about 1797-8, and settled four hundred acres under Dr. Peter Mowry, of Pittsburgh, including the site of the village. [Original grant to Peter Moury, Warrant Dec. 22, 1906, Survey June 9, 1807, Patented Jan 2, 1808, P-61-272.] He afterwards removed to the farm now owned by the heirs of George McCracken. While living on his first tract he laid out the town of Harlansburg in 1800, built the first house in the place, and put up a grist-mill just east of the village, on the small run which empties into Slippery Rock creek, some distance below, the mill being built probably previous to the laying out of the town. The house he built was constructed of round logs, and stood on the hill just above where the "Benard House" now stands. The house was standing until about 1840.

When Mr. Harlan came to the place he brought with him his wife and three children, and seven children were afterwards added to the number, the first one born after their settlement being a daughter, Sarah. After Mr. Harlan removed to the farm, below town, be built a second grist-mill, already mentioned.

About the same time Harlan came, Abraham and Levi Hunt made a settlement on a firm adjoining him, and Abraham Hunt, in 1802, built the first tavern in the village, the building still standing, and known as the "Benard House." It is a heavy frame structure, and was originally boarded up with "shakes." It was the first frame building for many miles around, and has been used as a tavern ever since it was erected. The Hunts afterwards removed to a farm in the neighborhood of where the Deans now live, a couple of miles west of the village.

William Elder came to Harlansburg about 1807-8, two or three years after his father, John Elder, settled in the township. He soon after opened a small general store, in a space of about five by ten feet, where the bar now is in the "Benard House." A post-office was established in the village, probably about 1811-12, and Mr. Elder also had the honor of being the first postmaster, so far as can be learned from those who remember.

John Bentley came from Chester county in 1814, and, with his wife and six children--five boys and a girl--located in the village. Robert Bentley, Esq., the oldest son, has lived within three miles of the place ever since, and is now living in the village. A log school-house was erected about 1820, and the first teacher was an Irishman named David Gourley. Before this, schools had been kept in private houses. Joseph Campbell taught a small school in his own house about 1815-16, and James McCune also kept one in his house. In the Winter of 1818, William Jack taught a school east of town, in a house which was built by John Martin for a dwelling.

During the winter of 1818-19, snow fell to the depth of twenty-six inches, and unless the snow of the present Winter equals it, the like has not been known since. So say the "old residents."

A two-story brick schoolhouse was built on the hill, in the western part of the village, in the neighborhood of 1857, and is still standing. The school has been run as a high-school most of the time since, and, at present, has an average attendance of about one hundred.


Harlansburg Churches*

A hewed-log church was built by some German families--the Richeals, Michaels and others--as early as 1799 or 1800, and stood on the lot where the present Methodist church stands. This building was afterwards--about 1800 or 1801--purchased by the Baptists.

The fire was made in the centre of the (earthen) floor, and charcoal used for fuel. There was no convenient hole in the roof through which the smoke could escape, and the air must have been rather stifling, and the ardor of the worshipers so smothered that they probably held short services. The Baptists afterwards sold their property, and it is now owned by the Methodists, while the Baptist society has a fine location in the southern part of the village, where they have a neat brick church, built about 1852-53. The present congregation numbers about one hundred. The pastor is Rev. G. Huston. The church is called "Unity." The names of the first members and pastors are not known to us, but among the early ministers was Rev. Henry Frazure, who employed a part of his time teaching school.

Among the churches of the place, next in age is the Methodist Episcopal, which was organized about 1833-34. Their first church was a frame building, put up for a dwelling by John Boyd. The society purchased it and used it for a church for ten or twelve years, and then built the frame church now occupied by them, standing on the lot formerly owned by the Baptists, from whom the Methodists purchased it. One of the first ministers who reached to the congregation was Rev. Thomas Thompson. Their present pastor is Rev. J. M. Crouch.

The third church in age was a Cumberland Presbyterian organization, which sprung up soon after the Methodist Episcopal church was built. A frame church was erected, and meetings held until about 1865, when their congregation had become so reduced by deaths and removals that an insufficient number were left to support a minister and pay necessary expenses; they sold their property to the Presbyterians, and have had no organization since. The first pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was Rev. Richard Law.

Next comes the United Presbterian Church, which, though a short distance north of the village strictly belongs to it. The congregation organized about 1851-52, and for a while held their meetings in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the village, where they were occasionally supplied. In 1855 the substantial brick church now owned by them was built, the carpenter work on the building being done by Robert Bentley, of Harlansburg. The first pastor who had charge of the congregation was Rev. D. H. A. McLean, who has supplied them occasionally after they organized and before the church was built.

Fifth and last is the Presbyterian Church. The Cumberland Presbyterians sold their property to the Presbyterians, and a new frame church was built in 1874 on the lot where the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church stood. The Presbyterians organized some time in 1875-76, and theirs is the youngest church organization in the village. [Walter McClelland and Russell McClelland and their families attended this church which, in the year 1998, is still an important part of the community.]

The population of Harlansburg is at present about two hundred, and the following are its principal business establishments and industries: three general stores, kept by Jos. A. Campbell, Kennedy Brothers, and E.J. Dean; two hotels, by James Burnside and G.W. Smith; two blacksmith shops, by John Eppinger and Frederick Leathers; two shoe shops, by Samuel Kneram and Samuel Douglas; two tailor shops, by Amanda Sterling and John Hogan; one wagon shop, by Charles Book; three chair and cabinet shops, by Washington Cunningham, W.B. Wilken and Robert Bentley; three physicians, Henry Hall, H.B. White and J.K. Pollack; one drug store, by Henry Hall; one grist-mill by Michael Jordan; one millinery establishment, by Mrs. M.J. Dean; two dressmaking establishments, and one photograph gallery. The town is situated at the base of a high hill, which shuts in the valley on the west, and the traveler approaching from that direction sees nothing of the village until he is standing almost over it, seemingly able to step at one stride among the chimney tops below him.


Lawrence County Military History, ca. 1820*

About the year 1820 there was a battalion of five uniformed companies formed in the vicinity of New Castle. James Cubbison was captain of what was called the "Pumpkintown White Coats"; Peter Mershmer was first, and James McClane, now Judge McClane, second lieutenant. The company got their title of "White Coats" from the color of their coats, which were of white flannel.

Captain James Rigby commanded a rifle company, mostly made up from the neighborhood of Mount Jackson, and largely composed of Germans.

The New Castle Guards, the crack company of the battalion, were commanded by Captain Nathaniel McElevy. The first lieutenant was Dr. Eli DeWolfe.

Captain Andrew Robinson commanded the Parkstown company, northwest of New Castle, and there was also a uniformed company in the neighborhood of Eastbrook.

In 1821 Captain James Wilson commanded a militia company in Shenango township. Joseph T. DuShane was then living in Shenango, and was commissioned first lieutenant of the company, but refused to serve.

The militia system was kept up for a number of years, and the "trainings" and "general musters" were the great days of the year, when all the valiant soldiers. from far and near, assembled to participate in the dress parade, the wonderful drill, and the "sham fight." When all the inhabitants, without regard to age, sex or religious belief, turned out to have a good time! When gingerbread, and small beer, and whisky were terribly punished, and many a weary soldier laid himself down in the friendly fence corner, to rest after the toils and fatigues of the day. On these occasions the veterans of the war of the Revolution and of 1812 "fought their battles o'er again," and the air was redolent with the smoke from belching cannon, and now and then some man a little top-heavy had his hand, or arm, or perchance his head, blown off amid the general jollification.

Occasionally there were sore heads and blackened eyes, and the excitement in the community was equal to that which followed the defeat of the British at New Orleans, or the more recent battle of Bull Run.

When the day was over, and respective companies took their way to their several neighborhoods, whence they individually dispersed for home. The grand uniform was laid aside, the musket and the sword were hung away upon the hooks, and the community was again quiet, and things went on the even tenor of their way until another year called them again to the "tented field."

Had this militia system been in force at the breaking out of the slave-holder's rebellion, the free States could have put an immense army of tolerably well-disciplined troops in the field at once, and the long and bloody war of five years' duration might possibly have been avoided. The best guarantee of peace at home and abroad is a well-organized militia system, in which every able-bodied man is subject to a certain term of service, and wherein he learns the trade of a soldier, and submits to necessary discipline.

*From History of Lawrence County 1877 and Atlas of County of Lawrence and State of Pennsylvania 1872, published by G.M. Hopkins and Company, 320 Walnut Street Philadelphia. Registered Library of Congress 1872 by G.M. Hopkins. The book was reproduced by the Woman's League of New Castle in 1978.


Reformed Presbyterian Church**

As early as 1825 a little band of "Society People," or "Covenanters," met in houses in the vicinity of New Castle. In 1834 the Rev. James Blackwood became their pastor or spiritual overseer in connection with the pastorate of neighboring similar organizations.

In 1852, shortly after the death of the Rev. Mr. Blackwood, the Rev. Thomas Hanna became their pastor and continued so for nine years. In 1863 the Rev. J. Calvin Smith became their pastor. In 1871, while under the pastoral care of Mr. Smith, they were organized into a separate congregation--January 9, 1871. The membership then was forty-one.

The Rev. S.J. Crowe, now D.D., was installed the first pastor of the new and independent organization--the first organization as a church or congregation--in 1872 and resigned in 1881. Rev. J.M. Wylie, now D.D., was installed in 1883, and resigned in 1887. He began with a membership of 101 and left 109. Rev. W.R. Laird was installed in 1888 and left in 1892, leaving a membership of 131. Rev. J.S. Martin was ordained and installed in 1893, and is still pastor, with a membership of 220. The present Sabbath attendance is 200.

Present officers: Elders--Robert Speer, T.J. Blackwood, M.W. Leslie, William McClelland [see footnote 1], T.E. Smith, J.R. Speer and O.C. Orr. Deacons--William Allen, I.C. Allen, Samuel Saklem, D.A. Byers, R.T. Galbraith, R.I. Orr, W.C. McCawn, Thomas Pattison, Mrs. D.C. Pattison, Mrs. J.R. Speer.

In 1900 a new $25,000 church building was erected, having a seating capacity of 400. The congregation is in good working order, with a junior and a senior "Y.P.S.C.E.," a Junior and a Senior Ladies' Missionary Society, and a Men's Christian Organization.


Methodist Episcopal**

(Taken in part from an article by Hon. David Sankey.)

"Methodism was planted, so to speak, in this section of country, as it has been in every rural district on this continent, by pioneer settlers. Its first appearance in the Erie Conference was in Mercer County, in the Leach settlement, in 1798. A class was formed there by two local preachers, Thomas McClelland [see footnote 2] and Jacob Gurwell, both natives of Ireland, of such persons as had come to that neighborhood and brought letters of membership with them. A settlement had been commenced there two years before by Robert R. Roberts [see footnote 4] (the father of Methodism in this part of Pennsylvania), and others. These local preachers labored in word and doctrine, in the rude log-cabins, in groves, and wherever a little group could be collected together. Soon after the formation of the class in the summer of 1798, a second class was formed, a little south of the first (of which R.R. Roberts was leader). Thomas McClelland was a member of the class first formed, and Jacob Gurwell of the second, which latter was joined by John Leach, Sr., and wife, who arrived in that settlement in 1802. The two local preachers named above took the entire watch-care of these classes and supplied them regularly with preaching for several years before the regular itinerant preachers reached them.

"In 1800 the Baltimore conference appointed Rev. P.B. Davis to the Shenango circuit; he did not, however, embrace the classes in the Roberts neighborhood within his circuit, but left them still under the care of the two local preachers residing in the place. There were eight annual conferences held in the year 1800, but there were no fixed boundary lines between them, and each preacher being at liberty to do so, attached himself to the Conference most convenient to his work.

"In 1801 the Baltimore Conference appointed Thornton Flemming to the Pittsburg district, and Joseph Shaw to Shenango Circuit. Asa Shinn was appointed to the Shenango Circuit in 1802. He will be remembered as a leader in the secession movement from the M.E. Church, out of which grew the Protestant Methodist Church, in 1828. George Askin was appointed in 1803, Joseph Hall in 1804, and R.R. Roberts in 1805. The latter, by permission of his elder, exchanged circuits with David West, in charge of the Erie Circuit, for the reason that the appointments immediately around the old log cabin built by Mr. Roberts in 1796, and into which he had taken his family and goods, were connected with the Erie Conference. Mr. Roberts had made arrangements to erect a grist-mill the next year near his rustic log farm-house, and it was on this account that he was this year sent to the Shenango Circuit. In 1806 James Reed was on the Shenango Circuit. In 1807 James Watt and Thomas Church were in charge. In 1808 James Charles. In 1809 Jacob Dowell and Eli Towne. In 1810 James Watt was appointed, he being the first preacher who extended his labors thus far south on this circuit, where the first class was formed by him that year.

"This country, as far north as Lake Erie, was embraced in the Baltimore Conference. A district of country, bounded on the east by the Allegheny Mountains, on the south by the Greenbrier Mountains of Virginia, on the west by the limits of the white settlements in what is now the State of Ohio, and on the north by Lake Erie, constituted the Monongahela District."

In 1804 William Richards [see footnote 3], a member and licensed exhorter of the M.E. Church, moved his family from Center County, Pennsylvania, and settled them on a farm near "King's Chapel," some three miles north of New Castle, and commenced holding religious meetings in his own house, where, soon after, a class was formed composed of William Richards and wife, Robert Simonton and wife, Arthur Chenowith and wife, Mary Ray, Rachel Fisher, John Burns and wife, Michael Carman and wife, William Underwood and wife, Robert Wallace and wife, Philip Painter and wife, and Rebecca Carroll. This is believed to have been the first Methodist class organized in the neighborhood of New Castle. William Richards was its first leader. At that time there were but two circuits in what is now the Erie Conference--Erie and Shenango--the former with a membership of 349, and the latter with 206--making a total of 555. The first class organized within the territory comprising the present Erie Conference was the one already mentioned at the Roberts or Leach settlement, in Mercer County, by Jacob Gurwell and Thomas McClelland, in 1798, of which R.R. Roberts was the class leader. The itinerant ministers were first introduced here in 1800.

The Pittsburg district of the Baltimore Conference then embraced the settled portions of West Virginia and what are now the Pittsburg and Erie Conferences; and the Erie and Shenango Circuits embraced all the country west of the Allegheny River and from the Ohio to Lake Erie.

There was but one quarterly meeting held on the Shenango Circuit in 1801, at which Robert R. Roberts was licensed as an exhorter, and the next year the Quarterly Conference gave him a license to preach, and he was received on trial by the Baltimore Conference, which convened in Baltimore April 1, 1802. From 1800 to 1816 the annual salary of a traveling preacher was $80 and traveling expenses, and the annual allowance of the wife $80; each child, until seventeen [sic] years of age, an annual allowance of $16; those from seven to fourteen years, $24; and no support from the Church in any other way. In 1802 the membership on the Shenango Circuit was sixty-five. No trace can be found of an organized Methodist society in New Castle prior to 1810. ...

**From 20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence County-- Richard Arnold Publishing, 1908, pages 212/213.


Footnotes to this web page:
1. Could this William McClelland (elder in 1908) be the son of Cyrus Herron McClelland and the brother of John Herron McClelland (b.1850)?
2. Could Thomas McClelland be a relative?
3. Could this William Richards (licensed exhorter for M.E.Church in 1804 who moved from Centre County, PA) be the William Richards ( who married Anne Roberts, and who was the brother of Sarah Richards ( who married Edward Roberts?
4. Could Robert R. Roberts (licensed exhorter of the M.E.Church in 1801) be an unrecorded son of Edward Roberts ( from Centre County, PA, and brother of Edward Roberts ( who married Sarah Richards? Edward Roberts ( only known children were Anne and Edward.

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