Stewart Township Hall is located at 1302 Mill Run Road, Mill Run PA 15464; phone: 724-329-5671.
This township is on the eastern border of the county, the second from the south line, and on both sides of the Youghiogheny River. On the north are the townships of Dunbar and Springfield; east is Somerset County; south is Henry Clay; and south and west is Wharton. The township has within its limits the Laurel Hills and Chestnut Ridge, and its general surface presents a mountainous aspect. In the southeastern part is Sugar-Loaf Mountain, with an altitude several hundred feet greater than the surrounding hills; and in other localities are well-defined peaks. The sides of the hills are usually broken and covered with large rocks, but the summits are mainly level, somewhat of the nature of a plateau, and containing some fine farming lands. The soil is good but not strong or enduring, and but a small proportion has been brought to cultivation, the greater part of the country being yet covered with timber.
The Youghiogheny River has a tortuous course through the township, and is a rapid, turbulent stream, affording a magnificent water-power at Falls City [Ohiopyle Borough], where are a series of falls or rapids, aggregating about thirty-six feet of descent. It includes a distinct fall of sixteen feet, to which the name of "Ohio Pile" has been given. The valley of the river is narrow, and is closely environed by high hills. Its affluents from the north are Drake's, Sherman's, Bear, and Laurel Runs, all small but unfailing streams, heading in the mountains. On the opposite side the tributaries are Jonathan's Run, Great Meadow Run, with its branches, Laurel and Beaver Runs, and Cucumber Run. The latter makes a precipitous fall near its mouth, forming a beautiful cascade nearly forty feet high. These streams yield limited water-power, which has been utilized. Most of them have deep, narrow valleys, but the lower hillsides are usually quite fertile. Along these streams are many signs of prehistoric occupation, a line of earthworks being traceable all through the township. One of the largest of these forts was on Bear Run, several miles below the Ohio Pile Falls. It was circular in form, enclosed about ten acres, and was surrounded by a trench. In it, many years ago, was found, under a heap of stones, a neatly-constructed grave. It was nearly square, and about four feet in depth. The sides and bottom were lined with flagstones, forming a box-like cavity; a large skull was found enclosed, and other evidences indicated that it was the sepulchre of some mighty man among this little-known people. On Harris' Hill was another fort of large proportions, and along Meadow Run were, in the early settlement of the township, a series of earthworks so arranged that communication by signals was possible among them, plainly indicating that among these rough hills once dwelt a people of greater intelligence than that of the American Indian.
But little of the large area of Stewart was purchased for actual settlement when other parts of the county became the homes of the hardy pioneers. The lands in many instances were warranted, but were held by non-residents. These afterwards passed into other hands, a very large proportion of them becoming the property of the Hon. Andrew Stewart, who at one time owned more than half the township, and whose family yet maintains possession of many thousands of acres. These circumstances and the uninviting appearance of the country deterred a general settlement at an early period, and many of the beginnings in the township have a recent origin.
PIONEER SETTLERS. It is hard to determine who was the first permanent settler. John Stewart, a Scotch-Irishman, lived on the Elijah Mitchell place as early as 1772, and set out an orchard which bore signs of age in 1800. He was buried on his farm, and his family removed, leaving no descendants in the township. He had sons named James, Andrew, John, and Thomas. It was at the house of the latter that the old soldier, Tom Fossitt (who was said by some to have killed Gen. Braddock), died, and was buried on the present Jacob H. Rush farm, which was settled by a man named Taylor. Many years after Fossitt's death a crude headstone was erected to his memory reciting the time of his death and age.
In the same locality Paul Stull and Peter Briner settled soon after the Revolution. The latter moved to Springfield township, where he is more fully noted. In the southern part of the township, on the present Harvey Morris farm, David Askins' settled after the close of the Revolution. There is a tradition that he came from the eastern part of the State, and was on his way to the Kentucky country, which was at that time regarded as the land of promise, when he was persuaded to cast his lot among the pioneers of Fayette County. He made a tomahawk claim of ten square miles of land, and jestingly said that it was his "Little Kentucky." This, it is said, was the origin of the term as used in the township and applied to churches and schools. Askins finally limited his land claims to the Morris, Thorpe, and Mitchell farms, and on the former farm he was buried at his death. He had sons named Thomas, David, and Samuel, all of whom removed to the West soon after 1800.
Reuben Thorpe purchased one hundred and fifty acres of the Askins tract for £ 100. He was born in New Jersey in 1755, and became a weaver by trade. In the Revolution he served under the immediate command of Washington, and in 1792 came to Fayette County. He had seven sons and two daughters, namely, David, Reuben, Job, Wallace, who moved to Perry County, Ohio; James, who opened a farm on the north side of the Youghioheny, where he yet resides at an advanced age; Asa, lived on the William Taylor farm, and was the father of Andrew Thorpe, yet living in the township. Several of his sons died in the Rebellion. William, the youngest of Reuben Thorpe's sons, lived on the homestead until his death. The farm is now owned by his son, Thomas Thorpe, Esq., of Falls City. Other sons are Reuben, living west of Falls City; David, in Dakota; W. Brown, the cashier of the Butler County (Nebraska) Bank; and Elisha, who died in the army in 1863. On the old Thorpe farm was an orchard of early bearing, which was almost wholly destroyed by a storm in July, 1851. Some of the trees were taken up and carried a distance of half a mile, and nearly everything in the line of the storm was destroyed. Reuben Thorpe formerly had a public-house, and carried on a distillery in the days when the old Turkey Foot road was one of the lines of travel from Somerset to Uniontown.
The Mitchells were among the earliest settlers of Stewart. James Mitchell lived in the Kentucky district, on the farm which is now occupied by his grandson, Elijah M. His sons were Benjamin, James J., Abner, John A., and Ralph, the youngest, who left no family at his death. The first three named opened farms near the homestead, and the first two died there. Abner moved to Wisconsin about 1846. He was a Baptist minister; and James J. also served in that calling. John A., the other son, made his home in Somerset County. Thomas Mitchell, a brother of James, purchased a part of the Askins tract, which had been owned before by Moses Mercer. He had served in the Revolution, and was under Daniel Boone in Kentucky. He died about 1824. His sons were Josiah, who lost his life at the old Laurel Furnace while attempting to rescue a furnace-man who was overcome by the fire in the stack; Thomas, who removed to Illinois; John, who lived in Greene County, PA., and who was one of the greatest athletes in that part of the State; Lewis, who removed to Illinois; James H., born in 1798, and yet a citizen of the township; Elijah and Elisha, removed to Illinois. Some of these were great hunters, and had many stirring adventures with wild animals. The three daughters of Thomas Mitchell married James Spencer, William Thorpe, and Isaac Haney. The latter removed to the West; he was an early settler.
Not long after the Revolution, in which he served, John Potter, a native of New Jersey, moved to Henry Clay township, where he lived until his death in the fall of 1826. Eleven of his children grew to mature years, but all of his sons except Amos and Samuel removed to the West. The former resides in Wharton, and the latter is a well-known citizen of Stewart, and is the father of John B., George B., Charles, Amos, and Thomas T. Potter, all but Amos residing in the township. Samuel Potter was born in 1805, and as a young man was active in building mills and making other improvements, some of which are yet owned by the family.
Benjamin Leonard was reared in the family of Reuben Thorpe, and after attaining manhood made an improvement on the bottoms below the mill owned by Potter. He afterwards cleared up the farm which is now owned by his youngest son, Robert. Other sons were Eli, Amos P. (a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church), Reuben, Christmas, and Robert. Nearly all of these continue to reside in the township.
On what is well known as the Joseph Price place, Peter Briner, a German, settled about 1800, and reared a family, but removed to the West more than fifty years ago. Among his sons was Andrew, who also cleared a farm on Cucumber Run, and lived there until his death in 1861. One of his sons, Samuel, yet resides near Falls City. Joshua Briner, the oldest of Andrew's sons, resided at Uniontown at the age of eighty years. John Briner, another son, resides in Dunbar. The deep place in the Youghiogheny River near Cucumber Run, noted as abounding with fish, took its name from this family. William Williams came from Bedford County to Connellsville in 1803, but in 1830 settled in Stewart, locating on Meadow Run, where he died in 1848. He reared sons named John, Isaac, James, Samuel, William D., and Joseph, the latter two being the only ones living in the township, Joseph for the past twenty-four years being a merchant in Stewart. William Williams was one of the parties who had a contract to open the clay pike in 1810.
In the Sugar-Loaf District among the early settlers were the Shipley family, Henry McClatchey, and Henry Gilmore, all of whom removed early. Guyson Morrison came at a later day and settled on the Hall farm on the Turkey Foot road, and a mile south William Morrison made some improvements about 1830. David Woodmansee has lived in that locality since 1850, and is now one of the oldest settlers there. Garrett Hall was a settler earlier on the place yet occupied by his family. Abram Tumbly lived on the Thomas Mitchell place as early as 1790. He removed to Confluence.
North of the Youghiogheny, David Thorpe improved the James Thorpe farm as early as 1805. The Peter Tissue farm was commenced by Jacob Streight, and farther east were James Fulton, the Marietta, Zarley, and Minor families as pioneers.
CIVIL ORGANIZATION. At the October term of Court of Quarter Sessions in 1854 a petition for a new township was presented, to be composed of parts of Wharton, Henry Clay, and Youghiogheny townships, with bounds as set forth in the petition. The court appointed Thomas R. Davidson, Alexander McClean, and Daniel Downer viewers, the order for their appointment bearing date Nov. 10, 1854. The order was renewed at the June session in 1855, and continued in August of the same year. At the September court in 1855 the commissioners reported :
That having gone upon the premises and made an examination of the same, according to law, we are of the opinion that a new township should be made within the following described boundaries, viz.: Beginning at a point where the Somerset County line strikes the Youghiogheny River, thence to Garrett Hall's, at the Cold Glade Ridge; thence to Z. Luddington's tanyard, by Henry Morris' to Joseph Bodkin's; thence to the Dunbar line, near Centre Furnace; thence by the said Dunbar line to the Youghiogheny River; thence to the Springfield line, near the stone meeting-house, and thence by the Springfield line to the Somerset line, and thence by the said line to the Youghiogheny River, the place of beginning. And that the lower end of Youghiogheny struck off be added to Springfield Township."
Nov. 17,1855, the view and report were confirmed, and the new township ordered to be called Stewart, the name being given it in compliment to the Hon. Andrew Stewart. The first election after the organization of Stewart as a separate township was held at the house of Theophilus Keller, March 21, 1856 ...