Wilmington is one of the original townships of Lawrence County, and was erected when it formed a part of Mercer County, from parts of Neshannock (Lawrence County) and Lackawannock (Mercer County) Townships, in February, 1846. Its area is about eleven thousand five hundred acres. The surface is diversified with hill and valley, wood and stream, and for agricultural purposes is generally fine. The borough of New Wilmington was created from a portion of the township, April 4, 1863, and includes between three and four hundred acres. The other villages of the township are, Fayetteville, Neshannock Falls and Lockeville (Volant post-office). Abundant water power is afforded by numerous streams, the principal ones being the Big and Little Neshannock.
The township is traversed along Big Neshannock Creek by what was the New Castle and Franklin Railway, later known as the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railway, and now a part of the Pennsylvania System. The stations upon it are Wilmington, Neshannock Falls, East Brook and Volant. The Beaver and Mercer State road was cut through about 1814, and was open for travel in a few places by 1815.
The first settler in Wilmington Township was probably William Hodge, who came up the Beaver and Shenango River in a canoe, in company with Simon Van Orsdel, in the month of February, 1797. Van Orsdel did not remain. Hodge built a cabin on his place and made a small clearing, and, in 1798 sometime, sold out to William Porter, who had come from Westmoreland County, and was the second settler in the township.
After Porter's settlement, the year 1798 witnessed a number of arrivals. James Hazlep settled the land now occupied by the borough of New Wilmington, and afterwards became the possessor of some eight
hundred acres in the vicinity. John McCrum came the same year, also James Waugh; the latter afterwards, about 1824, purchased the ground where New Wilmington now stands, and he and his sons laid out the town about that time.
Hugh Means arrived in 1800 and built a grist-mill on Little Neshannock Creek, east of what is now New Wilmington. This was the first mill in the neighborhood, and was extensively patronized, customers coming somtimes ten or twelve miles. It was then within the bounds of the newly created county of Mercer, and elections were held in it. His son, Daniel, served in the War of 1812-15, and another son, Henry, hauled supplies for the soldiers.
Hugh, Watson came from Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, in 1806, and settled near Neshannock Falls.
John Watson came in 1808, and located on a part of the same farm as Hugh Watson. His son, James Watson, came in 1809, and lived for a while with his father, and afterwards removed to the site of the village of Fayetteville, where he had purchased 185 acres of land. The first settler on this place was Thomas Sampson, who bought a claim from William Whiteside, in 1804. John Sampson purchased a piece off the same tract, east of him, and located upon it in 1805, during which year he opened what was long known as the "Backwoods Tavern," an establishment widely known in those days. The tavern was a log building, and quite a roomy structure for the time.
William Hodge, William McCrum (son of John McCrum) and Samuel Hazlep (son of James Hazlep) were in the War of 1812.
Adam Wilson came from Carlisle, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, in 1806-7, and located near Neshannock Presbyterian Church, west of New Wilmington. Mr. Wilson had two still houses on his place.
James Banks came from Juniata County in the year 1815, and on arriving in Lawrence County (then Mercer), located on the farm where he lived with his son, Andrew Banks. In 1811 he had purchased the land, 200 acres, of Hugh Johnston, paying $4.25 an acre. He was out and looked at the land in 1814, but did not locate upon it until 1815. Johnston, who had come to the place about 1808, had cleared about forty acres and built a hewed log house twenty-four feet square.
John Banks, brother of James, came out about 1818, and was afterwards elected the first member of Congress from Mercer County. He located at Mercer, and read law in the office of Mr. Sample at that place.
This village is located on the north side of Big Neshannock Creek, in the bend of the stream, and is named from the rapid in the creek near Holstein's grist-mill. Here the channel of the stream is narrowed to a considerable extent, and for some forty or fifty feet the descent is such as to create a swift rush of the waters, and, as they dash among the fragments of rock which lie in the bed of the stream, they make noise enough for the respectable waterfall. The place is a great resort for picnic parties during the summer, and the rocks bear witness to the frequency of the visits in the many names cut in them; the earliest of them reach back as far as 1826 or 1827. In a cavern or hollow beneath the rocks was accidentally found, many years ago, a stone image, some eighteen or twenty inches in length, carved to represent a chief, with all his paraphernalia, even to the imitation of his head necklace. Whether the relic of a prehistoric race, the creation of later Indians, or the hoax of a practical joker, was never ascertained.
The first schoolhouse at Neshannock Falls was built about 1835, a frame building, which was replaced by a brick structure, about 1871-72.
Thomas, John and James Wilson built a flouring mill on the Big Neshannock, about sixty rods above the present mill, in the
neighborhood of 1826-7. Before the grist-mill was built the Wilsons had erected a saw-mill, since torn away. The original dam was removed and a new one built on the same site about 1850. A new mill was built in 1841 by the same parties who built the first one, and the old one was remodeled and for a time used for a woolen factory. It was finally torn down. The new mill did a large custom and merchant business, shipping most of the flour manufactured to New Castle and Pittsburg. Thomas, John and James Wilson were sons of Adam Wilson, who settled in 1806 or 1807, near New Wilmington.
John Wilson built a paper mill about 1852, and, after running it for two years, disposed of it to J. C. Shaw, who operated it until February, 1866, when it was destroyed by fire.
Samuel Holstein built a grist-mill and a saw-mill (the saw-mill first) some time between 1835 and 1840. A woolen mill was built somewhere about the same time. The old grist-mill was finally removed and a new one built, about 1856-7, by Hugh and Thomas McConnell, for Mr. Holstein, they having the use of the mill for a term of years.
A saw-mill was built at the head of the Holstein mill-race as early as 1810-12, by Hugh Watson, and was the first one in the neighborhood. It was running for several years subsequent to 1815, but the mill and dam were both finally removed.
An iron furnace was built at Neshannock Falls about 1850-52, and belonged to W. G. & C. A. Powers, who also had the first store at this place. The furnace was operated some ten or twelve years, the ore being taken from the immediate neighborhood, and much of it from the farm of James Banks. Charcoal was exclusively used for fuel. The ore was of a good quality, said to yield sixty per cent of iron.
The country along Neshannock Creek is extensively underlaid with iron ore, and the land is necessarily cut up so much in mining it, owing to its approaching so near the surface, that it is no longer taken out. The same trouble is met with in getting out the coal; the vein is thin, also, although the coal is of an excellent quality.
Neshannock Falls post-office was established about 1864-66 with Samuel Holstein as the first postmaster. He held the office some six or seven years, when he was succeeded by J. C. Shaw. The village and postoffice bear the same name.
John C. Blevins is the proprietor of a general store, which was established twenty-six years ago. He has been postmaster for twelve years. At this place is a large grist mill, operated by John Y. Walker. Neshannock Falls Creamery is also a flourishing concern.
James Watson laid out the village of Fayetteville into thirty lots and sold them at auction, February 8, 1828. William Mays moved his house down from New Wilmington, and his was the first in the place. The next morning after erecting it in Fayetteville, he sold it to Robert Calvin, who opened a tailor shop in it. Mays was also a tailor by trade, but kept no shop.
The first school-house was a frame building, erected in 1845 by James G. Thompson. It stood on the site of the brick schoolhouse, which replaced it in 1859. The brick for the building were manufactured by David Stewart.
John Collins built the first blacksmith shop in the fall of 1830.
A man named Lord, who had previously owned a store in New Castle, came to Fayetteville in 1837 and opened a general store, which he carried on for about three or four months-from June till October-when he left. Robert Lindsay opened another store the same month in which Lord left, and conducted it a number of years, then was succeeded by Thomas Elliott.
After Fayetteville was laid out the first tavern was opened by James Morrow. It was afterwards occupied by Simon V. Hodge, Daniel Davis and Daniel McLean.
James Armstrong also kept a tavern for a while, as did William Meadow.
The Lutheran Church in the village was organized; and a frame building erected in 1854. The congregation was originally organized in New Wilmington, but no church was ever built there. When organized, the congregation consisted of about forty members. Its first pastor was Rev. J. H. Brown. A Sabbath-school was organized before the church was built, in 1852, and the first Sabbath-school was held in the Phillips' schoolhouse, south of New Wilmington. The first superintendent was William Heime.
In April, 1868, J. P. Locke came from Mercer County, Pa., purchased the grist mill from Samuel Bowan, and also bought one hundred acres of land, on a part of which he in 1872 laid out a town of some thirty lots, giving it the name Lockeville. Volant post-office was removed to the place in 1874, and from the post-office the railway station takes its name. New Castle and Franklin Railway was completed to the place in 1873. Part of the lots in the village are in Washington Township, a small corner of which is on the west side of Neshannock creek. A covered bridge was erected over the Neshannock.
A church was built by the Methodist Episcopal Society, and dedicated in the fall of 1875. Rev. Mr. Crouch was its first pastor.
John and William Graham built a store soon after the town was laid out, it being the first building erected in the new town. William Graham was the first postmaster after the office was removed to the village.
Jonathan Wilkin also opened a store, and, besides these, two shoe shops, owned by George Carr and Frank Herman; one blacksmith shop by Isaac Kirk, and two harness shops, owned by John Potter and Archibald Carr, were soon established. It in a short time grew to be a thriving and prosperous little village.
A grist mill was built on the Neshannock as early as 1810-12, and in 1815 was run by Thomas Barber. The Barber mill was changed materially, and in later days became the property of Simison Brothers.
About 1810 or 1812 a schoolhouse was built on land belonging to William Hunter, the first teacher being James White. Among the other early teachers in this building were a Mr. McCready, Hugh Watson and a Mr. Bellows.
A log schoolhouse was built about 1810-12 a quarter of a mile west of New Wilmington.
"Rich Hill" schoolhouse was built of round logs, with a cabin roof, about 1824-25. One of the first teachers was George Carlon. This schoolhouse gave place to a frame building 24x24 feet, built about 1835. The second building was put up in another part of the township, in order to accommodate all the pupils in the district, and was afterwards burned. A third building was erected near the site of the second one and stood until about 1868-70, when a substantial brick structure was erected, and used by pupils from both Wilmington and Washington Townships.
The schools in the township now number seven, with an average attendance in 1908 of one hundred and seventy-nine. The sum of $2,240 was paid seven teachers, and the total expended for school purposes was $3,187.44.
The oldest church organization in the township is the "Neshannock Presbyterian Congregation," which was organized about 1800. The first pastor was Rev. William Wick, who was ordained September 3d, 1800, in connection with Hopewell, the latter congregation being at the present village of New Bedford, in Pulaski Township. Mr. Wick was released from his charge June 30th, 1801, and the second pastor was Rev. James Satterfield, an
original member of the Erie Presbytery, and the second preacher who settled within the limits of Mercer County. He was ordained and installed by the Presbytery of Ohio, March 3d, 1802, and installed as pastor of Neshannock Congregation in connection with Moorfield, in the present limits of Mercer County. The first elders of Neshannock Church were William Jackson, Thomas Scott and Robert Stevenson. Mr. Satterfield was pastor until the early part of the year 1812. In July of that year Rev. William Matthews took charge of the church and served it till some time during the year 1815. He was succeeded by Rev. William Wood, who commenced his labors March llth, 1816. Mr. Wood preached at Hopewell, in connection with Neshannock, until July 1st, 1828, when he gave all his time to the latter. He was released January 1st, 1837, after a pastorate of twenty-one years. The next pastor was Rev. Absalom McCready, who was installed October 14th, 1839, and released in 1857. The next pastor was Rev. Robert Dickson, who was installed in 1858, and released from his charge in 1867. He was succeeded by Rev. John M. Mealy.
A number of other churches have been organized from parts of the Neshannock Congregation, among them the ones at Pulaski, Rich Hill and Unity, the latter in Crawford County. The congregation is a large one, and the church has been well supported, the organization being in prosperous condition.
The first church edifice at Neshannock was built of round logs, and was thirty feet square. The next building was of hewed logs, and was thirty by seventy feet in dimensions. This was considered a very pretentious structure for that time. A frame structure was built in 1839, being the third house the congregation had at this place. The cemetery near the old frame building contains the graves of many of the pioneers.
Rev. John M. Mealy, D.D., served the church till 1898, a pastorate of 31 years, crowned with success. Rev. Hubert Rex Johnson followed, closing in 1901 a brief but effective ministry among this people, in which his tact and winsome personality steadied the congregation through the tension and crisis growing out of the controversy over the site of the new church building. Many from the west side favored the old grounds from beauty of location and sacredness of association, others preferred to erect the temple of worship in the neighboring town of New Wilmington. Advocates of either site were tremendously in earnest, and not always discreet, and feeling ran high. But tactful leadership without and grace within were sufficient to hold them together when it was decided to build in the town; and a large and beautiful brick structure erected by the mutual toil and sacrifice of all, now stands with adjoining manse and surrounding lawn the pride of a united people.
The present pastor, Rev. Sherman A. Kirkbride, stated clerk of the Presbytery of Shenango, came in 1901 and divine blessing still attends the preached Word. The membership has grown to more than 400.
Dr. Mealy's pastorate was fruitful of missionaries, ministers and mission teachers. His eloquence and personal magnetism gave him power over young people to inspire high ideals, and largely through his influence Neshannock church has furnished far more than its normal share of missionaries, including Rev. Dr. Eugene P. Dunlap and his wife in Siam, Mrs. McCauley in Japan, Dr. Jessie Wilson Lawrence in Persia and Rev. Dr. Thomas J. Porter in Brazil. Almost 40 young ministers have gone out from this congregation to preach the gospel and more are coming on. All indebtedness on the church building-which cost about $15,000-was cancelled last year, and contributions to benevolence are constantly increasing.
Rich Hill Presbyterian Church was organized at the Spring Session of 1840, by a committee from the Presbytery of
Allegheny (now Butler). It takes its name from the tract of land on which the church is located. The lot was purchased from B. Anderson, formerly of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the owner of the tract. The original congregation consisted of about thirty members, and was made up of members from the Neshannock Congregation principally. Some came from New Castle, some from Mercer, and some from Plain Grove. The church stands on the old Beaver and Mercer State Road. This church sprung from a Sabbath-school which had flourished for some twenty-five years, holding its meetings in the old schoolhouse. They also occasionally had preaching-Rev. William Woods and Rev. John Munson occasionally holding evening meetings, some time before the church was organized. The first regular preacher of this congregation was Rev. Newton Bracken, who ministered for fifteen years. The church is in the southeastern part of Wilmington Township.
The names of those who have served as pastor of the Rich Hill Presbyterian Church since 1877 follow: Rev. Cooper, Rev. Hill, Rev. Davis, Rev. Stewart, and Rev. C. B. Wible, who is the present pastor. The church officers are: Elders, Messrs. Snyder, W. W. Drake, D. P. Welker, Reed, W. M. C. Drake, Martin and McKnight; the deacons, Messrs. Carr, Blevins, McDowell and Wilson; the trustees, Messrs. Joseph Martin, John McConnell, William Welker, Fisher, O. A. Morehead; and church treasurer, D. P. Welker. The present church membership is 178, and that of the Sabbath-school 100.
The Amish Or Omish Mennonites established a church about two miles southseat of New Wilmington. It was built in the summer of 1872, and is the only one of the kind in the county. Rev. Shem King was their first preacher, and they had about sixty members at the inception of the church.
One of the first of this denomination to settle in Lawrence County was Abraham Zook, who came in the spring of 1846. Shem King brought out his family in August, 1847. Nearly all the families were from Mifflin County Pennsylvania and settled in Hickory, Wilmington and Pulaski Townships principally, with perhaps a few in Neshannock.
New Wilmington was incorporated into a borough by Act of the Legislature, April 4, 1863, from a part of Wilmington Township. The land incorporated includes an area of between three and four hundred, acres, and extends north to the Mercer County line. The ground on which the original town stands was a 100-acre tract purchased by James Waugh, shortly before the town was laid out. New Wilmington was only made a "half borough" in 1863, and it was not until about 1872 that it became a complete borough, with all the powers pertaining to such a corporation.
The town of New Wilmington was laid out by James Waugh and sons, about 1824; and the first buildings were erected in that year. A house had been built previously by James Hazlep, the first settler in the vicinity, and was the first one in the place. James Waugh built the second one. He had settled in 1798, in what afterwards became Lackawannock Township, Mercer County.
The first house built in the newly laid out town was erected by Dr. Hindman. It was a log structure. Soon a one-story frame building was put up by Phillip Crowl. John Galloway built a tannery about 1824-25, at the east side of the village.
David Carnahan opened the first wagon shop in the place; next came J. W. H. Hazlep.
Thomas Wilson had the first saddle and harness shop, which stood at the southwest corner of the West Diamond. The first shoe shop was kept by Robert Hamilton.
The first blacksmith shop was opened by
Phillip Crowl who afterward removed to Eastbrook, in Hickory Township. The first general store in the place was opened by the Waughs about the time the town was laid out; the second by James Hazlep, subsequently sold out to J. & A. Galloway, who carried on the store for a time. Thomas Brown had the first actual tailor shop, although William McCready had done some work in that line before Brown came, but never owned a shop.
School was first held in a frame building now or recently used as a dwelling, the teacher being Robert Miller. Long before this house was built a log schoolhouse had been erected a mile west of town, about 1810-12. The two-story brick schoolhouse of more recent times was built about 1868.
Thomas Wilson kept the first hotel, about 1834, and was succeeded by Richard Hammond, who built the second hotel building about 1835. The Lawrence House was next built, and conducted for a while by a man named Weir.
James Hazlep, previously mentioned, became the possessor of some 800 acres of land in the neighborhood.
Thomas Pomeroy came to New Wilmington in 1834, and acted as justice of the peace for several years. In 1855, he was elected one of the associate judges of Lawrence County, and twice elected subseqently. He also served as county auditor, was one year-1863-on the Internal Revenue Board of Pennsylvania, and two years-1846-47-in the State Legislature.
William M. Francis came to New Wilmington from Baltimore, Md., in 1839. In February, 1841, he purchased a piece of land south of town, and built a house upon it, which was his residence for the remainder of his life. In the winters of 1858-59-60 Mr. Francis represented Lawrence County in the State Senate, and was speaker of the Senate in 1860.
James A. McLaughry came to New Wilmington from Mercer County, Pennsylvania, in 1835, and for two years taught school in the village. He was originally from Delaware County, New York, and from Wayne County, Pennsylvania, when he came to Mercer.
The New Wilmington Telephone Co., an independent concern, was organized September 19, 1905, by New Wilmington capital, and after being conducted for a year and a half, was purchased by Martha and Robert J. Totten. Mr. Totten assumed full control on May 1, 1907, and has been enjoying a steady increase of patronage for the past year and a half. The office is centrally located on Vine Street, occupying a two-story frame building. There are 100 subscribers and about forty or fifty miles of wire. Three operators take care of the calls, generally assisted by two or three sub-operators, who are learning.
R. S. Mercer & Co.'s department store of New Wilmington was organized about a year ago. This store is on Market Street, and is one of the largest in the city.
John Wright and son keep a hardware store. The business was started by the son in 1903, the father entering into the partnership with him in 1907.
Wyatt R. Campbell conducts a furniture and undertaking business. He is the only undertaker in Wilmington Township.
Norman G. Vance is the proprietor of a feed and hay market-the only one of its kind in the township.
J. Frank Williams conducts a dry goods and notion store-the largest business of its kind in the place.
The New Wilmington Bank was organized by George H. Getty, who was cashier thereof for twelve years. His son, Howell T. Getty, has held that position for the past year. The bank is a safe and conservative institution, and is a prominent and useful factor in the commercial life of the community.
George M. Robinson, with his son, has conducted the leading grocery in town for eight years.
The first United Presbyterian Church was organized as an Associate Reformed congregation somewhere about 1810 or 1812. This church was originally called "Neshannock," but that name was finally dropped, and the present "Neshannock," United Presbyterian Church is situated in the southern part of Hickory Township. The congregation at first worshiped in a rude log structure. They also for some time used the brick building occupied by the postoffice in 1877. Subsequently a substantial and commodious brick edifice was erected in the north part of town.
Rev. Alexander Murray served the congregation while they occupied the old log church. Other ministers supplied the church for a number of years, and it was not until about 1832 that their first regular pastor, Rev. Alexander Boyd, was settled. He ministered about six years. About 1840 Rev. David R. Imbrie became the pastor, and served for twenty-five years. Revs. James R. Miller, D.D., J. M. Donaldson and Rev. John H. Gibson came after. While Mr. Murray preached here he had four charges-Neshannock (New Wilmington), New Castle, Prospect (in Neshannock Township), and Wolf Creek (in Butler County).
The Second United Presbyterian Church was organized as an Associate Reformed congregation by the Presbytery of the Lakes, February 27, 1850. Rev. William A. Mehard was its first pastor. The original congregation consisted of thirty-two members. A church was built in 1852 and was used until 1862, after which time their meetings were held in the college building. A Sabbath-school was organized in 1852.
The Methodist Episcopal society was organized about 1839, and the next year the frame church was built. The building was enlarged and repaired in 1858. The first pastor of this congregation was probably Rev. Mr. Benn. Following him came Rev. Mr. Parker; then the appointment was made a double one, and Revs. Leslie and Lane were appointed. In the spring of 1843, a Sabbath-school, was organized at New Wilmington, with Robert Ramsey as its first superintendent.
New Wilmington is the seat of Westininster College, a sketch of which admirable institution may be found in another part of this work.
The postoffice at new Wilmington was established January 14, 1828, and was known as New Wilmington Postoffice, Mercer County, Pennsylvania, in which county it was then located, it being before Lawrence County was erected. Its first postmaster was John Carnahan, who was appointed January 14, 1828.
In 1850, after Lawrence County was erected the office was transferred to it.
New Wilmington is remarkable for the excellence of its sidewalks and stone pavements. This work, begun in 1874, has since been kept up, to the credit of the borough, which thus gives a favorable impression to the passing stranger. It stands well in line with other places of its size with respect to modern improvements, and the presence of the college, with its numerous students coming and going, were there no other causes, would prevent it from lapsing into a condition of stagnation, which from one cause or another, has been the fate of many other promising communities.