Mercer County, Pennsylvania
1843 History of Mercer County, Pennsylvania
Submitted by Nancy Piper
Source: Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania, by Sherman Day, Philadelphia, 1843, Page 461-464
Mercer County is one of the ranges contiguous to the western boundary of the state. It was taken from Allegheny co. by the act of 12th March, 1800. Length 32 ms., breadth 26 ; area 765 sq. ms. Population in 1800, 3,228; in 1810, 8,277; in 1820, 11,681; in 1830, 19,729; in 1840, 32,873.
The principal streams are the Pymatuning or Shenango, which rises in Crawford co., and meanders in various directions through Mercer into Beaver co., where it is joined by the Neshannock, which rises in the northern end of Mercer co. These two form one of the principal branches of Beaver river. Slippery Rock cr. touches the southeastern and French cr. the northeastern corner of the co. A small lake in the northeastern part of the co. pours its waters into Sandy cr. The soil is generally fertile; the surface undulating and in some places broken, but not as much so as in the counties on the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.
The southern part of the co. is well adapted for grain; the northern for grass and pasturage. Iron ore, of the bog and kidney species, has been found in several localities, and two furnaces were wrought formerly, but have since been abandoned. Coal, of the finest quality, and limestone are abundant. Copperas has been found near Mercer in abundance, but its preparation for market was found on trial to be unprofitable. In the vicinity of Sharon, on the Pittsburg and Erie canal, exists a most valuable bed of coal of peculiar quality, between anthracite and bituminous, without the least sulphur. The finest steel, it is said, can be wrought with it without coking. It has been tried successfully for smelting iron in a common charcoal furnace. Horn's falls, on a small run about five miles south of Mercer, are said to be interesting, not so much on account of the height or quantity of the water, as from the wild, rugged, and romantic boldness with which the place abounds. The sound of the water, descending from rock to rock, the steep perpendicular bluffs, the tall trees and deep ravines, conspire to show the wildness of uncultivated nature. About three miles from Mercer are several curious caves, under an enormous bed of rocks. The entrance is horizontal, and sufficiently large for an individual to enter comfortably. After going about six or eight feet, there is a perpendicular descent for a few feet; then the passage increases and diminishes alternately, and finally opens into day on the opposite side of the hill. A cool current of air constantly issues from the mouth, and ice is found there during the whole of summer. The far-famed Neshannock or Mercer potatoes are natives of the soil of this co. There are twelve churches in the county, and special attention is paid to common-school education.
Mercer county was a wilderness until several years after the passage of the celebrated land law of April, 1792, providing for the survey and settlement of all the lands north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny rivers and Conewango creek." Soon after peace was restored to the frontier, in 1795, settlements were made extensively about the southern end of Mercer co., in the forks of Mahoning, Shenango, and Neshannock creeks; and the census of 1800 showed a population of 3,238. Mr. Benjamin Stokely, who is still living, came into the central part of the county in 1796. Mr. John Findley, who is still the county surveyor, came here first about 1801; but no general settlement was made around Mercer until the fall of the year 1806, when several families came in from Westmoreland, Allegheny, and Washington counties, and made an opening. For want of provisions they were compelled to return during the winter, only Mr. Findley and one other family remaining on the ground. In the spring they returned here with their families, and commenced a permanent settlement. Mr. Findley's neighbors at that early day were John Pugh, James Breden, John Garvin, William Alexander, Mr. Hawthorn, Mr. McCullough.
The adventures of these worthy pioneers were few, and of little general interest. The county was for many years retarded in its growth, and the actual settlers were greatly harassed, by the various and conflicting titles to land growing out of the acts of 1785, and 1792. (See Crawford county, page 259.)
Mercer, the county seat, is situated near the Neshannock cr., on elevated ground, 57 miles N. W. from Pittsburg by the turnpike. It was laid out in 1803 by John Findley, William Mortimore, and William M'Millan, trustees, on 200 acres of land, given to the county by John Hoge, of Washington co., who owned large tracts of land in the vicinity. The hill on which it is situated was formerly a dense hazle thicket. The first courts were held in an old log courthouse which stood where Mrs. Shannon now lives. The court and county officers are now accommodated in elegant public buildings of brick, surrounded by a verdant lawn planted with trees, and enclosed by a neat white fence. In 1807 there were only two or three houses in the place. In 1840 it had a population of 781. The dwellings are neat and substantial, and display a pleasing variety of architectural embellishment. Besides the county buildings, there are in the town an academy, Methodist, Union, Seceder, Old and New School Presbyterian churches; a foundry, and the usual stores and taverns. Daily lines of stages pass through on the Pittsburg and Erie turnpike.
New Castle is located on the southern boundary of the co., at the junction of Shenango and Neshannock creeks, 16 miles S. W. from Mercer, and 24 miles from the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio rivers. It was laid out about the year 1800; in 1806 it contained about 20 houses. Its population in 1840 was 611. The surrounding country is well adapted for the growth of wheat and wool. Its healthy and picturesque situation has been much admired by visiters.
The Pennsylvania canal, which is to connect Lake Erie with the Ohio river, passes through the town, and when completed, will open another channel for the rich productions of the neighborhood. Iron ore is found in abundance for 15 miles around; on the run near town, a furnace is being built, and a rolling-mill and nail factory in town. Bituminous coal, fire-clay, and quartz suitable for making glass exist in abundance in the neighboring hills. The water-power of the Neshannock and Shenango is immense; and, if all brought into use, must create a large manufacturing town. At three different points, powers may be created with a sufficiency of water, and from 16 to 28 feet fall. The town is passing the second stage in improvement, from frame buildings to brick. There are here Presbyterian, Seceder, and Methodist churches, and a "Protestant Methodist" church is organized.
West Greenville is situated in the northwestern part of the co., on the Shenango river, and is surrounded by large bodies of fine land. The Erie Extension canal passes through the town, affording every facility to commerce. There are in the immediate vicinity extensive beds of iron ore, and mines of very superior coal, which will form an important article of export to the lake. The rapid growth of the town, and the taste and beauty exhibited in its embellishments, indicate the advantages of its location. Seven years since, the population was not more than 300; it numbered in 1840,626. The Shenango river affords a very ample waterpower, which drives several large mills, and is still not all occupied. There is a foundry in the place, and an oil-mill in the vicinity. The place contains five churches, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregationalist, Associate, and "Reformed Presbyterian."
Sharon is a flourishing village on the Shenango, 14 miles west of Mercer. The Erie Extension canal passes near the village.
Pulaski is about 14 miles from Mercer, and 9 miles from New Castle on the Erie Extension canal.
Georgetown is a new and neat village, on a small branch of Sandy cr., 15 miles north of Mercer by the turnpike. It contains Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches.
New Bedford is between the Shenango and Mahoning creeks, about 10 miles N. W. from New Castle.