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Hemlock Township

Columbia County, Pennsylvania

Hemlock Township offices are located at 26 Firehall Road, Bloomsburg, PA 18715.
Phone: 570‑784‑6178.

Beginnings [1]

Early surveys included the section now embraced in Hemlock Township in what was then Wyoming Township, Northumberland County. The name of Hemlock Creek was then mentioned, and when this township was erected in 1801 the name was applied to both. It is one of the original townships included in Columbia County when the latter was formed. Part of the present territory of the township was incorporated into Montour County at first, but after the act of 1853 the part thus separated was returned.

The earliest warrantees were John Nicholson, Robert Bogard, William Eike, Philip Hahn, David Lynn, Elizabeth Gray, William Patterson, Evan Owen, Michael Bright, Henry Funk, Philip Gable, Samuel Emmitt, Sebright Wagner, Alexander Johnson, James Ellis, Daniel Duncan, Margaret Duncan, Thomas Barton, Daniel Montgomery, Nathaniel Brader, Peter Brugler, Andrew Waltman, John Lilly.

Peter Brugler was the first person to enter on and improve his land, coming here between 1788 and 1790. His land extended from the eastern part of Frosty Valley to the west branch of Hemlock Creek, and embraced about six hundred acres. He built his home on the slope of Frosty Valley, but it has long since vanished.

Peter and Philip Appleman came soon after Brugler. Through a mistake they built their house on the wrong tract, but later acquired title to this also. They occupied the Duncan tract, part of which they sold to Hugh McBride.

Other German families came soon after the above persons, emigrating from Berks and Northampton counties. They came by way of the Lehigh and Susquehanna turnpike, through its northern terminus at Berwick. Their first supplies were usually bought at Catawissa and Sunbury. Among these families were those of the Ohls, Hartmans, Neihardts, Whitenichts, Leidys, Girtons, Menningers, Merles, Grubers, Yocums and Haucks. They purchased their lands from the patentees, but few receiving title from the State.

Henry Ohl, who was a soldier of the Revolution, came in 1804. Michael Menninger located on a hill above Fishing Creek and Henry Wanich was the owner of the adjoining tract.

Hemlock Township was rich in iron ore and the mines produced a fair income for the owners of the land from which the raw material was taken, but as the years passed the operators were compelled to go deeper after the mineral and the expense of keeping the mines free of water in this region of springs became so great as to make unprofitable the further exploitation of the veins. Besides ore could be purchased from the mines at less cost than it could be mined here. This, added to the necessity of radical changes in the methods of smelting, finally caused the closing down of the furnaces and the abandonment of this once highly remunerative industry.

Though somewhat hilly Hemlock Township was a fine farming section and was cultivated to the limit, most of the forests being cleared away. A state road runs through the western end of the township towards Danville and is much used. The scenery of this part is fine and worth the trouble of the trip.

The first mill for the production of boards and timber was built at an early date in the Liebenthal—a narrow valley in which flows the west branch of Hemlock Creek, but the builder's name as well as its location are now forgotten. Other mills were later built at different points, served their purpose and passed into oblivion.

Elisha Barton came to Hemlock Township about 1781 and bought a tract of land extending from the mouth of Hemlock Creek to the site of the village of Buckhorn. He and his family lived in their wagon until their home was built. After the house was completed and several crops raised he built what was for years called the Hemlock mill, at the foot of a hill about 160 rods from the mouth of Hemlock Creek, on the north bank. In 1842 this mill was torn down by his son Isaiah and rebuilt, the name being changed to "Red Mill," from the color of the soil around it. Isaiah McKelvy in 1885 purchased the mill and installed the roller system. Later, it was held by G.W: Sterner, R.R. Ikeler and John I. Davenport.

About 1812 a mill was built on the upper waters of the north branch of Hemlock Creek by a man named Pepper. It was operated by a small overshot wheel and was similar to most of the mills of that period. William Kline was the next owner, being succeeded by Jacob Ziesloft, and the latter's daughter Maria.

The mill beside the road to Millville on the banks of Little Fishing Creek, in the northern part Hemlock Township, was built some time afterward by J. Beagle. It was a large building and one of the best equipped mills in this section, being operated by a large overshot wheel and later by a turbine, but it was subject to damage by repeated freshets and finally abandoned.

Mines for the development of limestone as flux in the furnaces and for agricultural purposes were operated at the junction of the two Fishing creeks and along the line of Frosty Valley. None of these mines is now in use.

A tannery was operated on the west bank of Fishing Creek, near Bloomsburg, by John K. Grotz from 1850 to 1870.

About the year 1822 Henry Young, a farm laborer, discovered iron ore on the farm of Robert Green, at the point where Montour Ridge is severed by the waters of Fishing Creek. The peculiar character of the soil induced him to open up a drift and have the mineral analyzed. This was the first of the mines in Hemlock Township, and the product was hauled across the river to the Esther and Penn furnaces near Catawissa. After 1844 the Bloomsburg Iron Company took the product for ten years, later owners and producers being McKelvey & Neal and William Neal & Sons, until the time when the supply of ore was exhausted.

Part of these ore fields was owned by the Farrandsville Iron Company, who shipped their product over the Pennsylvania Canal to Centre Township, but never reduced it, later purchasers smelting it at Bloomsburg. When the soft ore was exhausted a shaft was sunk on the north side of Montour Ridge in search of the hard ore, but the enterprise did not prove profitable.

Because of these iron mines and the industries in connection with them a large floating population came into the township and the villages of Buckhorn and Wedgetown came into being to cater to their wants. The loss of all of the township's industries have relegated these places to the status of small settlements.

A limestone quarry on the west bank of Little Fishing Creek had long supplied the iron furnaces with fluxing material. About 1868 a clergyman from Northampton County while visiting here noticed the shale on the sides of the bluff and was led to organize a company for the production of slate mantels and roofing material. He formed the Thomas Slate Company, bought twenty-three acres of land along the creek, built a factory and installed some machinery. Here a fine grade of slate was obtained and for a time the industry was vigorously prosecuted under the name of Susquehanna Slate Company, but in later years the death of the president of the company, William Milnes, and the poor management of his successors caused the closing of the plant and the sale of the machinery.

Hugh Allen was the first postmaster, his successors being Marshall Shoemaker, Joseph White, Charles Harris and Roy Pursel. Noah Prentiss carried the mail twice a week from 1850 to 1866, when a tri-weekly service was begun by Jacob Crawford. In 1883 the daily mail service was begun and has been continued since, despite the rural routes and the nearness of Bloomsburg.

The first justice of the peace in the township after the formation of the county was Henry Ohl, the Revolutionary soldier from New Jersey.

The first school in Hemlock Township was opened in 1801 in a dwelling on the road to Frosty Valley, a Mr. Davidson being the first teacher. Another was soon thereafter opened by Thomas Vanderslice near Little Fishing Creek, and a third in the Liebenthal near the limits of the northern end of the township. The latter became a resort for the entire neighborhood as a place for singing schools and social gatherings. Other teachers of the early days were Henry Ohl, Jacob Wintersteen and Charles Fortner.

The spot where the Vanderslice Cemetery is now located, near the banks of Little Fishing Creek, was at one time the site of a combination school and church, used by the Lutherans. Here Rev. John P. Heister preached, and Squire Ohl taught an English and German school. This church had passed out of existence and even memory by 1868.

The first religious services in the Hemlock region were held by Rev. Frederick Plitt, a Lutheran minister who came with the early settlers. The Revs. Ball, Frey, Weaver and Oyer also occasionally held services in private homes in this section. The first church building was a union edifice, dedicated by the Methodists in 1848 and located at Buckhorn, on a lot of ground owned by John McReynolds. Immediately after its erection services were alternately held by Revs. Funk, Price and Consor, of the German Reformed, Evangelical and Methodist denominations.

The Methodists were supplied regularly by Revs. Hartman, Tannehill, Buckingham, Gearhart, Ross, Bolton, Warren, McClure, W.H. Tubbs, Chilcoat, Bowman, Brittain, Ale, Savage, T. Clees, J.F. Brown, and Rev. George Martin.

The old Methodist church, having seen its best days, was torn down in 1868 and the following year an imposing two-story brick building was erected. The edifice had a bell and tower and cost $7,000. The trustees at that date were Thomas J. Vanderslice, John Appleman, Jacob Reichert, John Kistler. A few years later a fine parsonage was built nearby.

For a time after the erection of the new church in 1848 the only denomination which had regular services was the Methodist, the Lutherans being occasionally served by Revs. Ball and Weaver. The latter's first regular pastor was Rev. Mr. Frey, who was succeeded by Rev. William J. Eyer. The latter succeeded in adding a large number of members to the congregation, and in the spring of 1860 an organization was effected with a membership of sixty-three. During the Civil War the services were discontinued, but in 1867 Rev. J.M. Rice came to the field, his charge including the Espy and Millertown Churches. A reorganization was effected by the election of James Emmitt and Peter Werkheiser as elders, and George Wenner and John H. Miller as deacons.

"Christ's Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Buckhorn" then became a part of the Espy charge, and the people took steps to support a regular pastor.

In 1867 a building committee consisting of James Emmitt, Peter Werkheiser, John H. Miller, Reuben Bomboy and George Russell was appointed, and on Nov. 25, 1869, the brick building was dedicated by Rev. E. A. Sharretts. The cost was about $5,000, all of which was settled for in a short time.

After Rev. Mr. Rice the congregation was supplied occasionally by Rev. B.F. Alleman, of St. Matthew's Church, Bloomsburg, and Rev. Henry C. Heathcox, a student at Selinsgrove. In 1872 the Espy charge, composed of St. John's, Espy; Canby, at Millertown; Christ's, Buckhorn; and St. Peter's, New Columbia, called Rev. J. M. Reimensnyder to be their regular pastor. In March, 1875, he resigned and the church was without a pastor for two years. Then Rev. William Kelley accepted the charge for a year. The next pastor was Rev. E.A. Sharretts, who remained eight years. Successive pastors have been Revs. M.O.T. Sahm, A.R. Glaze, Charles W. Sechrist, Peter B. Fassold, H.W. Hilbish, W.J. Wagner, G.D. Strail and Rev. E.A. Chamberlin.

The parsonage, purchased from G.W. Hartman and remodeled in 1894, was occupied by the pastor, whose charge also included the churches at New Columbia and Frosty Valley, Montour County, and Canby and Mordansville, Columbia County.

The population of Hemlock Township in 1820 was 1,464; in 1830, 1,681; in 1840, 957; in 1850, 1,087; in 1860, 1,037; in 1870, 1,170; in 1880, 1,080; in 1890, 946; in 1900, 927; in 1910, 898.

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