Attorney Earl Sackett Writes About Union City history
Attorney Earl Sackett wrote to the Union City Times editor in April 1876 with his perspective of early Union City history. His articles appeared in the Times.
The first settlers in the vicinity of Union came in the year 1796-1797 at the instigation of William Miles, who settled on the Stranahan farm in Concord. The region as called “Miles’ Settlement,” and in law was under the jurisdiction of Alleghany County, but in fact wa almost without law, gospel or boundaries!
Mr. Miles furnished provisions for his settlers by means of two keel boats that ran alternately to Pittsburgh by way of French Creek and the Allegheny River. The settlers, knowing when each boat would arrive, repaired to the landing, guided by deer paths and small streams to carry back their provisions to their bark covered shanties.
Meeting at the storehouse, they would often-as was the custom then-try some feats of strength, one of which was to upend a barrel of flour, lift a second, and set it on end of the first, and then lift a third and set it on the second. This latter part of the feat could be done but by two men in all the settlement. They were Judge Vincent of Waterford and Hugh Wilson late of Union.
Most of the settlers obtaining their provisions in this manner were so deeply in debt to Mr. Miles by the time they had acquired a title to their land by settlement that they gave him the land to pay the debt and left the country for the then “land of promise” down the river.
From 1811 to 1817, the country was so deserted that ‘wolves literally howled round the deserted habitation of men. The few remaining cattle with droves of deer luxuriated in pastures waist high in the scores of old clearings that dotted the entire country. But two families were left on the road between Union and Spring Creek in Warren County, and one of them was a renter.
The road from Union to Concord had so grown up with under brush that carriages could not pass alongside and single horsemen with great difficulty. The state, however, appropriated money to clear it out a second time.
About 1815, some emigrants came from the east and squatted for a few months or a year on some of the old farms and left for the “reserve” or “down the river.” About 1818, some more permanent settlers located in Gray’s Settlement, now Concord and on the road to Waterford. The old Union Mills, one for grinding corn and the other for sawing logs were tended by James Smiley, who with his family, resided in a house between the reservoir that covered the land where the Odd Fellows Temple and a part of the Union City Chair Company’s factory now stand, as well as by a dam in French Creek.
I well remember H.L. Church and his sons, “Rut”, Charley, and “Raz.” The father found comfort in his pipe and his sons in the checker board. One day I asked Mr. Church how often he smoked and he replied, “Once a day and that was all day.”
The other principal industry of the town was Woods & Johnson’s barrel and stave factory, located on the flat west of Main Street and north of the P & E Railroad bridge.
How many are there now who remember the great and only common carrier of the town in those days? He was known by the name of “Old Harry Thompson.” Every working day of the years we saw his three or four teams on the street and “Old Harry” on the sidewalks directing their movements.
In those days the commercial interests of the town were very limited and were confined chiefly between the P & E crossing the Main Street bridge. The terms “New York” and “Brooklyn” had not been coined. I do not well remember that the town had a board of trade or a businessmen’s association.
The Old Brick Store, so called because of its being the only brick building in the town, had just been built and was doing a grand mercantile business. It was a department store but did not know it. It was owned and run by Thomas Woods, commonly called “Brother Woods,” John Johnson, a brother of the late Gerrett B. Johnson of our city. This store was located on the corner of Main and Crooked Streets (Market), a part of which I think still remains. Why said street is called Crooked Street, I do not know, unless it is because the street is crooked. I have often wondered why your city fathers have not changed the name. Perhaps it is being preserved as a relic of 50 years ago. If so, it is about the only thing that has survived the half century.
Across the street on the site of the Johnson House stood a large two story frame building owned by G.B. Johnson, the father of “Watt” Johnson of your city who carried on a large dry goods and boot and shoe business. In after years this old building was moved back over the race to give Mr. Johnson room to build the present Johnson house block.
The hardware dealers of the town were John and Henry Landsrath who ran a hardware store in an old building that stood on the site of the present Landsrath block. I remember well that as the town filled up the street between the P & E crossing and Crooked Street to keep it out of the mud, I suppose. The buildings on both sides of Main Street seemed to sink lower and lower and many a time the cellars on the east side were filled with water.
The drug business of the town was run by “Newt” Humes on the site of the present building owned by J.S. Thompson and used by William Gates as a drug store. The old building is still standing on the west side of Main Street, north of the P & E crossing. The writer had his law office in that building for ten years more than 20 years ago.
The present fine brick building was erected by James J. Thompson about 23 years ago. I remember Mr. Thompson well. He commenced his business career with John and Henry Landsrath across the street and acquired an enviable reputation as a man of great moral value and ability. It was commonly said that Jim Thompson never forgot a thing.
The post office was kept by a man by the name of King in a little candy and news store on the North side of High Street, a few feet east of the P & E crossing. The First National Bank, Ed. D. Sunderlin, cashier, was in a little shanty a few steps further on.
On the site of the Cooper Opera House stood the Bennett House, the pioneer hotel of the town. It was run by Major Burke. It burned in 1869.
At the junction of High and Crooked Streets on the hills stood the Old Mountain House, a historic old building. It disappeared to make room for Gerrett Smith’s store. I will refer you to Gerrett for the details of the story of that old building.
Another hotel, the Petroleum House, stood on the west side of Main Street. It has been renovated time and again during the past 50 years. It is strictly fire proof and always has been so.
Another hotel, the Ward House, the best and neatest, was situated on the south side of Crooked Street on land now owned by the Union City Chair Company. It was run by Captain Ward, later by George W. Browning. Well do I remember the house. It was painted white with green outside shutters and surrounded by trees.
At this time, the P & E Railroad was in operation from Erie to Sunbury. The Erie, then called A & G.W., was being built on a six foot gauge. The Oil Creek Railroad was being built. Most every one had oil on the brain at from $9 to $12 a barrel.
Titusville was the Mecca of the oil trade and Union Mills the only shipping point. All oil had to be hauled in barrels from Titusville to Union Mills and so the road from Union Mills to Titusville was a canal of mud from fence to fence. Those were busy days for the little town of Union Mills and greenbacks were plentiful.
On the land where the Sproul & Morrow block now stands stood a wagon shop. It was owned by Daniel Brown who had two songs, James and Avery. Assisted by friends, they went into the oil business and this wagon shop was used as their Union Mills office. I remember well one day while in the office of hearing Harvey say to me, "Earl, what do you think is in that little safe?"
I replied that I did not know. He said, "There is $25,000 in greenbacks in that safe, but it won't stay there long, for oil at $9 per barrel eats up greenbacks pretty fast."
In after years while passing the place and seeing Ezra Cooper's big safe, I often thought of this little "oil safe" and its contents.
Come to think of it, this spot is very historic. It was here that the devil defied the local option law years and years ago, but Constable Frank E. Staples with his axe did the business, its occupants were arrested, convicted and sent "down the river." That was the only "blind tiger" in town. All subsequent tigers have been able to see.
How time flies! Where are the oil men of the town of those days? Summerton, Cook, Evarts, Rand, Frisbee, Landsrath, Black and many others? All have passed away.
It is in my mind that the first paper ever published in the town - and a root of the Times - was printed by William C. Jackson Esq., in his little printing office on the west side of Main Street near the Waterford Road. This little sheet was passed through many evolutions until it has reached that point where it is the best family newspaper that I know of. Now, Mr. Editor, you wonder how I know? My nae is not on your subscription list, but I have read every paper you have printed for years.
I don't want to forget to say that the town was inflicted with lawyers, then as well as now. Let me see. Who were the lawyers in those days? J.E. Fenno, commonly called "Jud" Fenno, Moses Smiley and Robert E. Stevens. The august judges were William C. Jackson, Moses Smiley and a little later on M.B. Chamberlain put on the judicial robes formerly worn by Judge Smiley. I want to say that Judge Moses Smiley was the father of your townsman, Ex-judge Dallas Smiley. He was a good lawyer and an honest man. I am glad to say that the son has inherited these same virtues.
I well remember a good story that went the rounds in those days on Lawyer Stevens. It seems that some woman had her cow killed by the cars and she employed Stevens to sue the company. He was said to have recovered $30.00 damages and applied it on his fee and then sued the woman for $2.00, the balance of his fee. Have you any lawyers there now who can beat that record?
As I remember the town had only two doctors, Drs. Jonas Humphrey, the father of your present Dr. Humphrey, whom I understand is fast becoming as distinguished as his eminent father, and Dr. Agard. These two doctors did all the business within miles of the town and people had great faith in them. I only regret that I do not remember a good story to tell on them. of course I know some of your present doctors and they have been there a long time, but they are not the old people I am writing about.
This letter is getting pretty long, but let me mention some of the old prominent citizens of the town. William Putnam, station agent from the birth of the P &E Railroad until discharged by death a few years ago. P.G. Stranahan, John D. Stranahan, and James, the joker; U.M. Waters, who run a little grocery store on the corner until he built his share of the Keystone block. No better friend had I in those days than U.M.
L.B. Hill, who kept a harness shop a little further on, and I well remember that Mr. Hill was the superintendent of the M.E. Sunday School and a fine singer. I remember one Christmas Eve when he appeared on the platform with his baby in his arms, (Mrs. M.W. Shreve) and sang a song entitled "Hang up the baby's stocking, be sure you don't forget, the dear little dimpled darling, who has never seen Christmas yet!"
By the way, does Mr. Shreve take your paper? Oh well, the baby did not remember. And Jesse Blade, jolly old Jesse, he is with you yet. I have his picture on an easel in my parlor. God bless him. If I have made any mistake in this letter, I refer you to him for correction. And there was Mr. Titus, the colored barber. Who remembers Robt. Throup, the orator? I remember that he was one of the pioneers of the Times.
Jim Summerton, he was but a boy in those days. Charley Brown, Will Blanchard, who run a furniture shop at the Main Street bridge where Miles Rogers holds forth. I remember Miles' father well. People called him "Nubbins" because he was short. Clarence Sherwood, A.W. Smiley, the story teller, Lou Rand, the inventor of making illuminating gas from coal oil, became very rich, was mayor of Minneapolis three terms, and met his death in Lake Minnetonka.