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Conyngham Township

Conyngham Township, PO Box 10, Wilburton PA 17888; phone: 570-339-3930.

Beginnings [1]

Conyngham Township, the extreme southernmost township in Columbia County, was in 1856 separated from Locust Township and made a division unto itself, being named after the then presiding judge, John Nesbitt Conyngham. The session over which the Judge presided when the township was erected was the last one of his term.

Conyngham Township is in almost every respect unlike the other divisions of Columbia County. Having no railroad communication by direct route with the county seat, and separated from the rest of the county by towering and rugged mountain ranges, it is practically cut off from its sister townships. To reach the county seat the residents of Centralia are obliged to travel by one of two roundabout railroad routes, six times the distance by the direct public road. The latter road is in such a state of disrepair as to be almost impassable. In addition the heavy grades make the journey long and hazardous to the traveler. To a great degree the people are dependent on the towns in Schuylkill and Northumberland counties for supplies and interchange of social courtesies.

Conyngham Township is almost destitute of agricultural possibilities, and but for the immense coal deposits therein would have remained for indefinite years a wilderness of forest and glen. It is separated from Locust Township on the north by Little Mountain, and on the south lies Locust Mountain, whose southern slope extends into Schuylkill County. Three smaller ridges lie between these two elevations, causing the country to be cut up into alternate hills and valleys, all having an east and west trend. In the summits of these elevations lie the great anthracite coal fields, the only ones in Columbia County.

During the years when the settlers came from Berks County to the Catawissa Valley a constant stream of vehicles and horsemen poured over the mountains and through Conyngham, by way of the old Reading Road, but never a one paused to give more than a cursory view of the landscape, heaving a sigh of relief when the last declivity had been passed and the broad valley northward was revealed to sight. Little did they reck of the enormous treasures concealed within these hills and awaiting but the scratching of the surface to become available to mankind. It was more than sixty years after the Quakers passed through Conyngham Township that the mineral treasures were developed in a practical way.

Until the year 1830 Conyngham Township was a haunt for the deer, fox and other wild creatures. It was not an entirely unknown region, for the "Red Tavern," on the crest of Locust Mountain, erected by John Rhodenberger in 1804, was a famous and popular place of rest for travelers on the Reading Road. Settlers were shy of stopping longer than a night or two in this section, however, until the discovery of coal made the land valuable. Then there was an influx of settlers of much different nationalities from those of the rest of Columbia County. Perhaps no portion of the county can show so varied a list of races and nationalities as Conyngham. It is a typical mining region, with all the characteristics of such communities.

Most of the land in Conyngham Township was surveyed in 1793, but property titles had been clouded by the many warrants issued by unscrupulous owners when they found the lands underlaid with coal. Some portions of this township have been found to bear at least three separate titles from the Commonwealth. All of the titles have been settled either by agreement or by legal proceedings. The first to develop this section was the famous Stephen Girard, founder of the great college at Philadelphia. In 1830 he bought an extensive tract on Catawissa and Mahanoy Creeks from the trustees of the Bank of Philadelphia, in the hope of uncovering deposits of iron ore. He began the construction of roads and bridges and opened a few drifts, but failed to find any iron. For twenty-five years the property remained undeveloped and then the Locust Mountain Coal & Iron Company opened the Mine Run colliery. They had organized in 1842. The same year the Locust Run and Coal Ridge collieries were opened. The Hazel Dell colliery was completed in 1860 and the Centralia colliery in 1862. The Continental colliery was opened in the following year.

Notwithstanding State laws prohibiting ownership of coal mines by railroad companies it is said the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company had gradually acquired control and ownership of all the mines in Columbia County and operated them under different corporate names. This railroad owned the transportation lines into Centralia and Aristes.

The population of Conyngham Township in 1860 was 1,326; in 1870, 1,960; in 1880, 2,183; in 1890, 2,739; in 1900, 3,037; in 1910, 3,127. This is the only township that has shown a steady gain in population in late years.

  1. Historical and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, J. H. Beers & Co., 1915.
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