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The Story of Woodlawn--Part One

Milestones Vol 28. No. 4

On March 2, 1754, a commission, specially appointed by the Governor of Pennsylvania to investigate the matter, reported that "Logstown, the Place where the French propose to have their Headquarters," lay within the limits of the royal grant to Wm. Penn. Thereupon the colony, which had hitherto been strangely indifferent to the safety of its western frontiers, came to the aid of Braddock's army, stranded at Frederick for want of transportation, furnished it the necessary wagons and beasts of burden to continue its campaign and, though the expedition proved a complete failure, irrevocably committed England to the struggle which was only to end with the overthrow of the French empire in America.

Logstown was Woodlawn--at least it stood on or near the spot where the town was later built. Its exact location is disputed. The east side of the river near Legionville Station, the flats at the mouth of Logstown Run, and the Jones Run hollow at Aliquippa have all been claimed for it, and perhaps the truth is that ancient Logstown occupied all three of these spots, either at the same, or different, periods.

Woodlawn is shown in this April 15 1909 photograph.

It was a place of considerable importance in its time. Lying on the border between powerful nations--the Iroquois to the north, the Delawares to the east, the Shawnees to the south and west--it belonged to no one tribe, but was considered neutral territory and resorted to by savages from far and near for purposes of trade and council. Its population was made up of stragglers from many Indian nations. The primitive commerce of the Ohio valley passed through it, while it was of so much importance as a seat of council that the stronger tribes maintained permanent representations there--a species of diplomatic corps which included within its membership many of the most influential chieftains of their time.

If history has correctly traced the course of LaSalle in 1669, it was the great French explorer who, first of white men, visited the neighborhood. He was followed by others at intervals during the next sixty years, but their names and errands have alike been lost in the shadows of the past. By the middle of the eighteenth century Logstown had become an important trading post, where French and English vied with each other for the favor of their red-skinned patrons. Hither came such men as George Croghan, Conrad Weiser, Col. Joshua Fry, Lomax Patten, Le Tort; Lowry and Cartledge; the French Joncaire and La Force; each with his loads of merchandise to barter for pelts and furs. Celeron de Bienville on August 7, 1749, paused long enough here on his way down the Ohio for the Jesuit Bonnecamp to say mass--perhaps the first religious service held in the vicinity. Christopher Gist was here in 1750, seeking a location for the Ohio Company's proposed settlement in the west; and two years later, George Washington, then on his earliest public service, waited here in vain for the Indian chiefs who were to meet him in council. As early as 1754 English traders had erected a stone building somewhere near the present Aliquippa station for storing their goods, while the French had sought the favor of the red men by constructing for their use thirty substantial dwellings at Logstown.

In the readjustment which followed the overthrow of the French and the establishment of the English at Fort Pitt, Logstown lost much of its earlier importance. In fact, for a time, it appears to have been entirely deserted. By treaty in 1768, Indian title to the lands on this side of the river was extinguished, and the following year they were opened to patent and settlement. Two warrants were immediately taken out for locations in the vicinity of Woodlawn--James McKee choosing the fields on which West Aliquippa now stands and John Gibson entering for a tract of three hundred acres at the mouth of Logstown run.

Although some doubts have been raised as to whether or not Gibson ever received a proper warrant for his land, the fact of his settlement here is undisputed. He came in 1771 and the next year, when visited by a traveling missionary named David McClure, was found living in substantial, though solitary state, having a house and a store, thirty acres of fenced and cultivated land, and no white neighbors nearer than Pittsburgh.

A humorous 1913 postcard advertising Woodlawn.

This first resident of Woodlawn deserves more than passing mention. Born at Lancaster, Pa., in 1740, as a mere boy he served with the English army during the French and Indian war. At its conclusion he attempted to set up as a trader at Fort Pitt, but his business career was cut short by his capture by the Indians while on a trip down the Ohio. Released the next year, he was for a time employed in various missions amongst the red men, in the course of one of them receiving and preserving for record the celebrated address of the Mingo chief Logan-- "I appeal to any white man----." At the opening of the Revolution he abandoned his home at Logstown to accept a commission as colonel in the Thirteenth Virginia regiment, was for a time in command of the Western department with headquarters at Fort Pitt, and after the war returned to trade at Pittsburgh. Later he became secretary of the Territory of Indiana and at one period was its acting governor. He died November 16, 1822.

In 1778, he had sold his farm at Logstown to one Matthias Slough, who, however, does not appear to have ever resided upon it. Gibson's statement, made before his death, is to the effect that Slough conveyed his interests to Mr. John McDonald, to whose heirs patents were afterwards granted by the commonwealth. Recitals in the McDonald deeds on record in Beaver County, however, claim that their title was derived from Matthias Lowman, of whom nothing further is known. The difference is of no great importance now and may be explained as a mere discrepancy in the spelling of names which are not wholly dissimilar, or it may be an interesting echo of the dispute waged in early times between the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia over the ownership of the country.

It is not surprising that the earliest pioneers should have selected the more fertile lands of the Raccoon valley in preference to the rude hills along the river. As early as 1773 George Baker settled on the creek some three miles below New Sheffield and, although once with all his family carried prisoner to Canada by the Indians, in time made his way back to his home in Beaver County, where many of his descendants still reside. Though checked for a while by the Revolution, immigration was resumed very soon after its close, being helped somewhat by the Broadhead road which in 1777 had been constructed almost along its present route to supply the garrison at Fort McIntosh (Beaver). Of those who came prior to 1790, the date of the last known Indian murder on the south side (near Frankfort Springs) we have been able to discover the names of the following early settlers in the vicinity of Woodlawn: Thomas White, whose mills on Raccoon Creek were once a famous landmark in this part of the state; Aaron Eaton, upon whose farm was built the old Hopewell Church from which the township took its name; George McElhaney, Indian scout; George Shaffer; William Maxwell; Thomas Reed; William Gordon; Robert Agnew; William Sterling; Peter Shields; Robert Beers; Robert Temple; John Johnston; ------ Wyke; George Warnock, Joseph Braden, with the boy John Douds; William Anderson, George Bruce, and James Todd.

Directly across the river from Woodlawn, in the winter of 1793-94, General Anthony Wayne organized and trained the "legion" with which he was to overthrow the Indian power in the northwest. At that time there appears to have been no settlers on this bank of the river except one dissolute character who conducted a "speak-easy" and disorderly house on Crow's Island. This exercised such evil effects upon the discipline of his men that one day Wayne caused a cannon to be trained upon it and fired, demolishing the flimsy cabin at the third shot, which was considered then a remarkable exhibition of gunnery.

Upon the organization of Beaver County, Woodlawn was included in the First Moon township; later in Hopewell. The nearest postoffice and the only one in the township, was Seventy-Six, now Independence, which was also the polling place. In 1848 Hopewell township was divided by the formation of Independence and New Sheffield, which had hitherto been known as the White Oak Flats, became the center of government.

Although never very large, New Sheffield was in those days a prosperous little village. It had a grist mill, one of the first in the neighborhood to use steam; the general store of Scott & Orr, which was also the postoffice; a blacksmith shop; two churches, Mt. Carmel and Raccoon; a school house and, later, an academy. It was on a stage coach line between Pittsburgh and Beaver and boasted a tavern for the entertainment of travelers. Warnock's woods, nearby, was a famous picnic ground for the country roundabout, and the scene of many a Fourth of July celebration. The village was the voting place for the entire township, and the center where militia musters for the neighborhood were held.

Mills, for grinding grain and sawing logs, are important factors in the development of every new country, and the abundance of waterpower made easy their locating near Woodlawn. Several were in operation about here at an early date. There was the Johnston, or Anderson, mill at New Sheffield, direct ancestor of the one still run by Bickerstaff & Kaste; Elisha Veazey's on what is known as Sheffield Terrace; Todd's, traces of which may yet be seen near Elk's Park; the saw mills of Davis and McCormick; and the one owned by McDonald near the mouth of Logstown run. Another early industry was the manufacture of sickles, two such shops being established near here before the close of the eighteenth century ---Cain & Shannon's, at Independence, and Thomson's, near New Sheffield.

But, in sketching the growth of New Sheffield, in which the country nearer the river was for many years merely an appendage, we have digressed, somewhat, from the story of Woodlawn itself. John McDonald, whom we left with title to all the land at the mouth of the run, never lived here, but in 1800 his two sons, William and Andrew, arrived to take possession of the tract. They, and their descendants, held it for more than a century, title passing direct from the McDonald family to the J. & L. Co.

How slow was the development of the country along the river front is revealed by a description of the neighborhood, given us by a gentleman who was well acquainted with it as it was fifty or sixty years ago.

"The old road from Phillipsburgh passed close along the foot of the hills. The level land between it and the river was cleared and cultivated, but the hills to the west were still covered with the original timber, and Logstown hollow was not much more than a swamp. The road leading up the run to New Sheffield followed the bed of the stream for much of the way, crossing and re-crossing it by numerous fords. It was always bad and in times of high water, impassable, but this did not cause much inconvenience since most of the travel from New Sheffield went by way of Scottsville to the steamboat landing at West Economy. There were not many houses in the neighborhood then. The Andrew McDonald homestead was near the old orchard whose remains may yet be seen at the tube mill entrance; William McDonald lived at the foot of McDonald hollow, and Captain David McDonald had a house over against the river. Farther north was Tom Christy's, Jones' and McKee's; John Dickey lived in back of the new Logstown school, and there was another small building on the McDonald farm. On the river front, where the tin mill now is, stood the Douds house and opposite it, over by the hill, the Ritchies lived. Schwartz and Sohn had farms on the hill above Plan 6 and on the opposite side of the hollow, above Plan 11, was Godfrey Miller. Farther back, between here and New Sheffield, were the Irons', the Davis', the Temples, Todds, Forsythes and Spauldings. The only houses on the road to New Sheffield, after passing McDonald's, were the old Duncan homestead at the cross roads, and Spaulding's. Mrs. Rachel McDonald kept the ferry at West Economy, and most of the travel crossed the river at that place."

Strange as may seem the idea now, considering the present relative size of the two places, Woodlawn, as a village, owes its beginnings to the diversion to it of the traffic from New Sheffield. In 1866, Dr. J. F. Cooper, who then lived on the farm which is now owned by Mr. P. M. Moore, obtained from the Pennsylvania Railroad officials the promise of a station at Legionville, provided the people on this side of the river would improve the road in New Sheffield and establish a ferry at Woodlawn. This was soon done, the work being performed as a "frolic" by the farmers of the vicinity and, with only three miles of passable road and the river between them and a railroad station, folks at New Sheffield considered themselves very near to civilization indeed.

But better things were ahead. The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad was chartered in 1877 to construct a railway from Youngstown to Pittsburgh, entering the city by way of the South Side. It is interesting to note that among the Pittsburgh firms interested in the company to the extent, at least, of being represented at its organization meetings, was that of Jones & Laughlin. Despite the panic conditions which then prevailed, the promoters succeeded in disposing of their securities, much of the stock being subscribed by farmers along the proposed line, and the road was built the following year. Logstown run was spanned by an enormous iron trestle, stretching from near the old Woodlawn Hotel building on Sheffield avenue to Plan 4, and at the southern end of this a station was located to which was given the name of Woodlawn.

Judged by the standard of the P. & L. E. today, the new railroad was a "jerkwater" of the worst type. It was single track, with but few passenger trains a day and these most uncertain and erratic in their movements. There was then no town of importance along it between Beaver and Pittsburgh, but so hungry was the new line for business that stations were established at almost every road crossing. South of the river and within the limits of Beaver County there were no less than eight-- Phillipsburgh (now Monaca), Kiasola, Stobo, Aliquippa, Aliquippa Park (at what is now called Logstown), Woodlawn, West Economy and Shannopin (now South Heights).

Soon after opening its line, the company leased Jones' Woods, now included within the J. & L. North Mills, and transformed it into a picnic ground. It soon became one of the popular pleasure resorts of Western Pennsylvania and maintained its position for almost a quarter of a century, every season bringing hundreds of excursionists from all points along the road. Its old dance pavilion, moved to a new location and remodeled at considerable expense, is still in use by the J. & L. Co. as an office building.

Meanwhile, with the station as a nucleus, the village of Woodlawn had come into being. November 18, 1877, the postoffice was established, C. I. McDonald being the first postmaster. Shortly afterwards, William Ritchie opened a store which, though under changed ownership, remained the only business house in Woodlawn until the coming of the new town. A few houses grouped themselves about the bend on Sheffield avenue, and farther north, in Logstown, another little hamlet grew up, where the public school and Lutheran church was located. In 1879 a charter was obtained for Woodlawn Academy--the substitute for our modern high school--and a building erected whose foundations may yet be seen in front of the Land Company's office. The institution did not prosper, however, and the structure was subsequently used for other purposes.

The discovery of the New Sheffield gas field brought a new season of prosperity to the farmers of the vicinity. The first well was drilled in 1884 on the farm of John Zimmerly, with results so encouraging that others quickly followed. The Phoenix Glass Company of Monaca obtained leases on much of the land now included within the borough and drilled in several places, obtaining its best results from the Todd well near Elk's Park and the one on land owned by Dr. J. C. Temple on Plan 12. C. I. McDonald had a well near the Pittsburgh Mercantile Company's building, and there were others scattered throughout the neighborhood, many of which, though with lowered pressure, are still producing.

Aliquippa was laid out in the early '90's. In October, 1892, it was granted its own postoffice and on January 22, 1894, was incorporated as a borough with a population of over 600. Several manufacturing companies had established themselves there and for several years, until overshadowed by the more rapid growth of its southern neighbor, Aliquippa was the business center of the neighborhood, and was regarded as the South Side's town of promise.