Early Times in Union City
Grace Geer, Union City High School, 1900
“Though they are gone,
Like to the falling of a star,
Or as the flights of eagles are,
Or like the fresh spring’s gaudy hue,
Or silver drops of morning dew,
Or like a wind that chafes the flood,
Or bubbles which on water stood,
Even such is man where daily light,
Ends in the darkness of the night.
The wind blows out, the bubble dies,
The dew dries up, the star is shot,
The fight is past, and man forgot!”
Just so we are apt to forget those men who long ago came to this country and settled in Union Township. In giving the early history of Union City, it is necessary to relate some facts concerning the lives of the first settlers who made their homes in what is now Union Township.
The first persons came in1797. These were Matthew Gray and family. They had to travel up the Allegheny River and French Creek to the mouth of the South branch and from then on horseback. In those times the woods and forests were filled with wild animals and the men always went about well armed.
There was one man, an early settler, who occupied a cabin by himself. He had a blanket hung up for a door; and one day having prepared a pot of mush for his supper, he was about to begin eating when the blanket moved and the nose of one wolf protruded and then another. The man sprang for the joists above and succeeded in getting himself out of reach just as the whole pack entered and devoured his mush. After they were gone he congratulated himself that they had not gotten his bones to pick.
In the winter of 1798, the snow was two and a half feet deep and the people in the log huts were completely “snowed in.” This led to the use of snow shoes. With one of these tied under each foot, a man could walk over the deepest snow. The first settlers were all smooth shaven men, and if a man wore a mustache they called him a “Turk.”
In 1800, a man came into this country and settled on French Creek; this was William Miles, the founder of Union City. He was a native of Ireland, and after building himself a cabin for a home he built a grist and saw mill. Before the mill was built there was no way to grind the corn, but some of the women understood how to make it into hominy. They pounded the corn into meal in mortars which were made out of the stumps of trees. The mill was built on the site where the Odd Fellows block is situated. This was a great advantage for the people and they brought their grist to the mill from miles around. Roads were cut out from all of the farm houses to the mills and the grists were generally carried there on horseback. Those living on the south side were compelled to carry it when the water was low or when the stream was covered with ice.
In 1801, Abel Thompson sat up the first blacksmith shop in Union City. This was about half a mile from the mill, the two being important centers. The people of the present generation can hardly understand the magnitude of the task of building such mills at the time. It is interesting to read now persevering were the people especially when we know that all the tools with which they worked had to be made by their own hands. Even nails and spikes were not invented, and these had to be drawn out on the blacksmith’s anvil.
Mr. Abel Thompson and his sons were also stone cutters and they cut out all the stone for the mill from the flinty boulders which they found in the woods. They also made the farming and household utensils for the county. These were made of iron or steel.
William Miles built his first home in 1803. In this he lived until the year 1827. This house was a large frame building and was called the “Old Abbey.” It was torn down in 1854 to make room for Front Street which is now called First Avenue. The “Old Abbey” served many purposes in its day.
In 1829, Daniel Jones hung up a tavern sign in front of the house which was the first of its kind in Union City. In 1831, Fleming and Brewster of Erie started variety store in the Old Abbey, also the first of its kind. After Mr. Miles left the Old Abbey in 1827, he moved into the stone house which he had built and which Mr. P.G. Stranahan purchased of him in 1859. This house which still stands is the oldest in Union City, being now seventy two years old.
The clothing at this time was all home made. The women worked up the wool, carding it by hand. It was not until 1815 that the first carding machine was set up.
The first school was started in 1818 and was situated near the mill. Union City was first called Miles Mills, then Union Mills in 1863 when it became a borough, and finally Union City in 1871. The first newspaper was edited in 1865 by William C. Jackson, Esq. This paper was called Union Mills Bulletin.
The first strong impulse was given to Union by the opening of the P & E Railroad. This happy circumstance was followed by another in the summer of 1859 which may be said to have been the making of the town. This was no less an event than the development of natural oil, as an article of commerce at Titusville.
In 1862, three oil refineries and several large cooper shops were running to their fullest capacity. The completion of the Oil Creek Road during the same year diverted the oil traffic to Corry. But gradually the people overcame their disappointment in respect to the oil business and the town soon rose to be one of the most flourishing in the country.