History of Nebraska, Forest County PA
A Lumber Town of 250 People
By E. C. Small
Donated by Pete Smith
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
"My Great Grand Mother Levada Watson Kerr's Uncle, George Watson being
in numerous business ventures with T.D. Watson and my Great Grand Father
Ross Allen Kerr contracting with Mr. Collins to build boats ,and run his
upstream boat scaffold on Tionesta Creek, I thought I'd send you a copy of
I dedicate this book to my parents, Edgar K. Small and Inez Weaver Small.
They provided me with most of the history of the people and where they lived.
Also, to the god-fearing men, women and children who lived in Nebraska and
the surrounding area.
As a boy in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, from mid-1920's through mid-1930's, every
day was an adventure, to be savored and remembered.
Lyman Cook gave me several rides in his eighteen-foot canvas canoe and even
built a miniature raft for me. Many times I stood and watched Bob Jones,
the blacksmith, hammer out a piece of white hot metal, possibly for the Sheffield
and Tionesta Railroad train.
More than a few times I rode with Ralph Wolf in the horse and muledrawn wagons.
Back at the roundhouse I would listen to Enos Blauser and Charley Harvey
swap stories about the railroad, and about who could chew snuff the longest
I would sit and listen to Claude Atwood play the mouth organ and the Jew'sharp
by the hour, or hitch a ride on the Sand T to Lamentation or Bear Creek to
catch some native trout, or maybe to Kellettville just to look around.
Often, I would go to the roundhouse and borrow the speeder or the handcar
from the siding and go for a short spin with a friend. Mostly, though, it
was the speeder that my friend and I preferred because it peddled like a
bicycle and was much easier to handle than the handcar, which required the
use of one's whole body in propelling it down the track.
A special atmosphere and place to fuel a boy's imagination was provided by
a walk through the old sawmill where big saws had hummed ten or more hours
a day, and now stood silenced. The feed mill was also a good place to crawl
and climb through and to fish from, when the creek water was up.
Probably the most lasting experience I had as a boy in Nebraska was sitting
on the store porch learning the ways of the older men and listening to stories
that were all said to have been the whole truth and nothing but.
Sometimes Jim Preston would ask me to play catch with him, when no one else
was available, to keep his arm in shape for the weekend baseball game.
Finally, a boy needs money in his pocket when he goes to the store and looks
at all the sweet things for sale.
For several years I sold the Sunday Pittsburgh Press, and for a short period,
the daily Philadelphia Inquirer.
The biggest-paying job was digging potatoes for Klinstiver for 25¢ an
This book of photos, a map, and accompanying commentary is an attempt to
preserve a record of a once thriving lumber town, and perhaps, to whet the
appetite of others for local, colorful history.
The village of Nebraska came into being about 1827, around the same time
that Robert Guiton, Sr. came to the Guitonville area. The warrant on which
the village of Nebraska stood was originally patented in the name of Gearge
Meade. In time the land became the possession of Ford sisters, Sarah Ann
and Caroline. Their mother, Ann Ford was willed 10,000 pounds by her uncle,
Thomas Walker of Nottingham, England. He gave them part of the money, and
they bought the land in and around Nebraska. It became known as Ford Mills,
after they built two saw mills and a house. The time was the late 1830's
through 1848, and in 1848 Caroline married George S. Lacy. After that the
village became known as Ford and Lacy Mills or Lacytown, depending on who
was quoting whom.
Many other structures were build in this same span of time. The Forest Hotel
was built by Pierce Porter of Warren, Pennsylvania, in 1840. It was sold
to Lewis Arner either by Green who was at Nebraska in the lumber business
or by the Lacys and Fords who owned the land it sat on. The gristmill, a
few other houses and a boarding house were built. On August 30, 1855, the
town post office was established, and the town became know as Nebraska. The
Lacy boys, sons of George S. Lacy told Andy Small when their father and mother
came back from the state of Nebraska on one of their trips, they decided
that Lacy town should be named Nebraska since they loved that state so much.
Andy Small related this story to his son, Edgar K. Small, who in turn told
the writer, Edgar C. Small.
Some time after T.D. Collins had gained full ownership of Nebraska and the
surrounding area in the late 1800's, he had oil and gas wells drilled in
Fox Creek, two and one-half miles above Nebraska toward Guitonville. He then
piped the natural gas to Nebraska. All homes, businesses and the church had
gas for heat and lighting. At times it had so much pressure it would blow
the lids off the cook stoves. At other times it was so weak one would have
to fire with wood or coal, which was really the main source of heat. Every
home in the main part of town had spring water. Most homes had their own
springs, with a trout in the same to keep the water clean of bugs. A few
houses shared springs. In Blackhole or Railroad Town a few places had wells,
due to the flat ground area. Sometime after Bob Jones became a permanent
resident of Blackhole, he piped spring water into his home and to the homes
of some of his neighbors from a spring which also supplied a stone watering
trough about halfway between Blackhole and Little Coon Crossing, a distance
of a half mile.
After seeing the names Blackhole and Railroad Town, readers will be wondering
how the names came about. One time in the early 1900's when several railroad
engines were operating, the coal smoke was quite thick in the area of the
roundhouse and that part of Nebraska. T.D. Collins, off the cuff said, "This
part of Nebraska is a black hole". The folks who lived in Nebraska proper
liked to refer to that area as Blackhole, while their over-the-creek neighbors
preferred the name, Railroad Town.
A few homes in Nebraska had bathrooms, the Collins house, F.S. Kreitler,
Wyants, and the Lyman Cook house. Lyman built his own. The concrete wall
addition for the bathroom in Lyman's house is still standing at this printing.
There may have been a couple more homes with indoor toilets, but the remaining
citizens did their best with outside privies, equipped with Sears and Roebuck
catalogues, refined paper and oil lanterns. Most of the houses were well
built, with wood siding, and some insulation. Inside walls were plastered
and covered with wallpaper. Everyone was quite proud of their living quarters,
and kept them in good condition with paint and wallpaper. Lawns were kept
neat after push lawnmowers came into being. Before that time, hand sickles
and scythes were used. There were some single-boarded houses that were
built in a hurry to take care of the people who were coming and going. Quite
often they were mostly teamsters, and if they did not get a better house
within a reasonable time, they would leave regardless of what type job they
These single boarded houses were built in two areas. One was between the
road bridge and the railroad bridge on the left side of the railroad track
going toward Nebraska proper. The other area was in Blackhole, starting at
the main road and going along the Guitonville Road toward Guitonville. (The
houses between the two bridges were torn down in the 1920's and replaced
with lumber piles. People who lived in the town for many years were forever
moving from one house to another for many reasons: larger house, closer to
the store and church, or just to be moving. Collins charged a small monthly
fee for natural gas and house rent. In the 1920's and 1930's the rent was
$8.00 per month. Some of T.D.'s long time employees got their gas for free
- Lyman Cook, Andy Small, Enos Blauser, F.X. Kreiter to name a few.
When Collins drilled the oil and gas wells at Fox Creek, he did two things.
One, as already noted was piping the natural gas to Nebraska. There,
he put the oil in steel drums and shipped it to Mayburg via the narrow gage
and S & T Railroad, to be refined at a small plant he had built. The
oil was a bright amber color, which, along with gasoline, was used in his
equipment or was for sale. The gasoline was sold out of drums at the
Nebraska Store before pump gasoline became available in the 1920's. The pump
gas was delivered by a Mr. Ditz from Fryburg; Corico, was the trade name.
The Fox Creek gasoline was so potent that at one point when Secor, the store
manager, loosened the side cap too quickly it blew 50 feet into the air,
gasoline spewing in all directions.
When the gas wells would begin filling up with salt water, a temporary derrick,
a tripod affair would be set over the well with the use of a steel cable,
a pully, and a 6" diameter bailer--variable in length--and a team of horses.
The bailer would be lowered into the well, then the team would pull it up
by going the length of the cable. When the bailer cleared the top of the
well someone would release a tongue on the bottom of the bailer to empty
Fox Creek became a noted area for hunting deer due to the earth being saturated
with saltwater. In the early 1900's Collins had a piece of land cleared between
Golinza and Guitonville where he planted apple trees. Shortly afterwards,
he hired a Mr. Hoover and his family to look after the orchard. They also
supplied hay for horses, etc. Collins' apple business thrived for a few years
then petered out. There are still apple trees in that area, probably the
offsprings of the ones Collins had planted. In the 1950's, Fred Klinstiver
was still finding some edible ones there.
During hay-making time on the "Hoover" farm, Collins and later Klinestiver
would send out a crew to harvest the hay. In 1916, Jim Thompson, E.K. "Ned"
Small, Warren "Kib" Daum, and Harry luck went to bail the hay after the cutting
was completed. The crew stayed in an old building, simply furnished
with a few chairs and a table. They slept on the floor. Ned was the cook.
The main fare of the day would often be bacon, eggs, coffee, beans and potatoes.
To break the monotony there was quite a bit of trick-playing. One such episode
came to a wet end one evening at supper, when Daum spilled coffee on luck,
and luck then threw a cup of coffee on Daum.
The hay bailer was a contraption consisting of a frame the size of a long
bail of hay with a chute at one end where the hay was stuffed in. Two large
wooden arms operated under horsepower compacted the hay. The crew would complete
the operation by tying the bails with wire. It was stated once that
the Collins' farm was a beef cattle farm. There may have been a cow or two
on the place but not a herd of cattle. The Collins' farm was also known as
the Hoover Farm because the Hoover family had been caretakers there for many
Another farm Collins owned was called the Jones' farm between Nebraska and
Guitonville not too far beyond the Melvin Moore Farm. It acquired the name
Jones due to a John Jones living there for many years rearing two sons, Curt
and Robert. The boys later spent most of their lives in Nebraska working
on the S & T Railroad. In 1909, John Jones was in charge of Collins'
log cutting in the area from Nebraska toward Guitonville. All the men who
worked in the woods were skilled at many different jobs.
The foremost was felling trees with crosscut saws and double-bitted axes.
Another job was barkpeeling. After felling the hemlock trees, a ring would
be cut around each tree at four foot intervals then peeled off in strips
with a bark spud and a bark pick, the width of which depended on the diameter
of the tree. The bark would be piled, left for several weeks and maybe months
awaiting its removal from the woods on log trains with attached bark cars.
When arriving at the S & T Railroad, the bark would be transferred to
S & T cars and shipped to tanneries in Kellettville and Sheffield to
be utilized in the tanning of hides. Hemlock was the only type of tree bark
used for this purpose.
Another special woodsman job was cutting railroad ties. For many years, chestnut
trees were used and later oak, for making ties. (After Collins had completed
his railroad system and still had a good supply of ties on hand they were
sold to other companies.) Trees not more than a foot in diameter would be
cut down by the lumberjack and skidded to a location where they could be
easily loaded onto wagons, sleds and/or railroad cars. At this location,
the trees would be debarked and shaped on two sides with broad axes or an
adz and cut into prescribed lengths for transportation.
Obtaining trees for use at the Mayburg Chemical Plant was another type of
work; trees up to 8" in diameter were cut and sometimes split then sawed
into mostly 52 inch lengths and stacked into cords for measurement before
being shipped to Mayburg. (Sometimes, large limbs from fallen trees were
also used for this purpose.) This type of cutting greatly reduced the supply
of the second and third crops of trees. Charcoal, wood alcohol, and acetone
were manufactured at Mayburg.
Many speculators in the lumber business came and went in the 1800's and early
1900's after the Lacys had begun lumbering the Nebraska area. Some who came
to the area in the middle 1800's were Alexander Gordon, Joe Green, E. Daran,
Mr. Hunt, George Watson, William Dicky, John Cobb, and W. G. McKain.
A Mr. Kepple bought a large track of timber between Nebraska and Fox Creek
and worked that area in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
Mr. Kepple had two sons named Charles and Walter. He built a boarding house,
a sawmill, and a store and named the area Keppletown, He had his lumber hauled
to Nebraska by horsedrawn wagons and sleds. There he loaded the lumber onto
S & T flat cars at Kepple Switch, named after Mr. Kepple.
In the 1890's Soloman Mitchelen built a sawmill about 11 miles below Nebraska.
Soloman's son, Howard lived in that vicinity named Mitchelen's Mill until
the 1930's. In 1896, two men by the names of Hunter and McCormick built
a mill farther down the Tionesta Creek at the mouth of Coleman Run. They
also had a bridge built across the creek to connect to the S & T Railroad.
About 1/2 mile below Nebraska there was a tiny community of four or five
houses called Skilletville. The main attraction was a large stone watering
trough where passersby often stopped to water their horses. The name Skilletville
probably came from some woman beaning her husband or boyfriend with an iron
skillet (frying pay).
During the height of the lumber and oil and gas-drilling businesses, in the
late 1800's and well into the 1900's, the courts were busy trying cases of
land encroachment and the legality of old and original land surveys. T.D.
Collins found himself many times taking the part of the plaintiff and the
defense in such disputes.
In one noted case, T.D. Collins, F.S. Kreitler, F.K. Brown and W.W. Dicky,
better known as the Watson Lands Lumber Company were the plaintiffs and L.S.
Clough and T.B. Bradley were the defense in an ejectment suit. At stake was
500 acres of virgin timber in Kingsley and Howe Townships valued at about
Watson Lands owned Warrant 5266 of the Mead survey. L.S. Clough was owner
of Mead Warrant 5282, and Mifflin Warrant 5101 and 5104. The case was based
on interference of the original surveys made in 1794 between the Mead and
Mifflin Warrants and the priority of the Mead surveys.
Each side had a battery of lawyers and surveyors. Local attorneys were Carringer
for the plaintiffs and Brown for the defense. Judge Frank S. Thomas of Meadville
was the presiding judge. The trial lasted a week; the jury stayed out all
of Friday night and gave their verdict at 6:00 A.M. the following day in
favor of the defense. The plaintiffs immediately made a motion for a new
trial. Two months later, in November court Judge Thomas refused a new trial
on the grounds that the jury had done their very best with the facts that
were presented to them. The case then went to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
which set the trial aside. Following this move, another trial was held in
Tionesta but still no agreement was reached.
After a year or more of haggling in the county court with no concrete decision
being made, Collins, Kreitler and Brown bought L.S. Clough's land holdings
in Forest County, 40,000,000 board feet of mostly hemlock timber at a price
of $290,000, the largest sale ever in Forest County. Collins got one-half
of the sale, Kreitler and Brown received one-fourth each. This provided the
material needed to build the Mayburg Chemical Plant in 1911.
All the roads in and around Nebraska were dirt until 1925 when the concrete
road was built from the Tionesta Borough line to Nebraska by a contractor
from Erie named Metz. About a year later that road was continued from Nebraska
to the Clarion County line. During the Depression, in 1932, the Pinchot Road
Program was in effect.
One of these manually pounded stone-base, tar-covered, roads was constructed
from Black Hole in Nebraska on up toward Sheffield. A while later it was
made to connect to the concrete one mentioned above. The first road
from Tionesta to Nebraska was brushed out in the 1840's.
The first use of telephones in Nebraska was strictly for business purposes,
such as the grocery store or certain workers who needed to be alerted by
telephone for messages concerning emergency calls to their jobs.
By the 1930's quite a few homes had phones, all connected to one party line.
The party line apparently made eavesdropping a favorite past time of some,
as a few humorous incidences arose from one neighbor "rubbering" on another's
call, as listening in was dubbed.
Collins' many railroad lines stretched from Tionesta to Sheffield on the
Tionesta Creek. The log trains traveled up the following streams: Big Coon
and Little Coon Creeks, Bear Creek, Lamentation and Salmon Creeks, the Branch,
Kingsley, Phelps, Logan, Blood Run, and Blue Jay Creek.
In the early 1900's the S & T Railroad was completed from Nebraska to
Sheffield. In 1911, the system was completed to Tionesta and terminated to
Tionesta in 1923. Passenger service began in 1902 and continued into the
late 1930's. Passenger and freight service combined in 1924 when the
passenger train was discontinued and only one engine was used from then on
namely------old Number 11- After many people had moved from Nebraska in the
1920's, the remaining townspeople instituted Old Home Day or Home Week. On
July 16, 1930 hundreds attended the third annual Homecoming Reunion. The
president of the planners for the get-together was Jim Thompson; E.K. (Ned)
Small acted as vice president.
On August 8, 1928, 250 people had attended one such reunion, the Kellettville
and Porky Orchestra providing musical entertainment. Another was held in
July of 1933 which more than 200 people attended. At the early homecoming
events a bountiful picnic was held on the island and usually a band from
Tionesta would help liven the scene. Ball games were held on the ball field
at Black Hole.
During the years that have followed the demise of Nebraska as a town, many
more reunions have been held at different locations around Tionesta.
On the ensuing, pages the reader will find the name, Blackman Hill describing
a road leading to the Melvin Moore farm. For those more familiar with that
area, the road is known a Nigger Hill. A black man had lived about
halfway up the hill for many years. When he died, he was given a proper burial
somewhere near where he had lived. From that time on it has been referred
to as Nigger Hill.
There were many people who lived in Nebraska and the surrounding area before
1885, and some after 1885 who are not mentioned in my book. This is not
intentional, have included all the viable facts, photos, etc, I could gather
together to give the flavor and essence of a Pennsylvania lumber town, Nebraska,
Pennsylvania the beloved town of my boyhood. Those I was unable to include
are hereby given honorable mention and an equal share of the respect and
appreciation I have for the whole Nebraska story which I have merely touched
Admiral "Kep" Davis was one of the many people who, as a boy, walked to and
from work from Tionesta to Nebraska where he helped layout the S & T
Rafting was the main source of transportation on the Tionesta Creek and the
Allegheny River before barges, boats and railroads came into use. Lumber
was shipped out on rafts, or log rafts would be assembled, tied together
and floated down the Allegheny to be delivered to customers in Pittsburgh.
Previous to moving out, the log rafts were put together just below the lower
barge yard between the railroad bridge and the road bridge about 1,000 feet
from the upper barge yard.
The last "raft" to go down the Tionesta Creek was in the early 1930's. This
big event took place when some energetic and adventure-seeking young men
and their lady friends from Tionesta went to Nebraska and built a make-shift
raft. Some of those involved in this great undertaking were Sam Haslet, Art
Covell, Wayne "Bus" Cook, and Jane and Marian Cook. It was in the spring
of the year when the water was roaring high. Everything was perfect for a
re-enactment of the Spring run of rafts to Tionesta. Some large planks, boards,
and spikes were found from excess materials lying about near the old sawmill.
Once launched, the "raft" was guided by the use of poles to move safely over
a couple whirlpools and to evade a few shore boulders. After docking at Tionesta,
some friends and relatives were awaiting to celebrate their arrival. Lou
Cook, one of the more famous river captains of the lumber town years was
among the greeters. On the tail of the happy reunion a telephone call was
received from Fred Klinstiver demanding the return of the raft material.
Part of the crew complied to Fred's request but not before Lou Cook gave
Klinestiver a piece of his mind.
Back to Pennsylvania
Trails History and Genealogy
Nebraska, Forest County - A Lumber Town of 250 People - 1828-1940
- Now A Favorite Fishing Spot - By E. C. Small - Published by the Forest
Press, First Edition.