Montour Township, Columbia County, Pennsylvania (PA)

Montour Township

Columbia County, Pennsylvania

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Montour Township municipal offices are located at 195 Rupert Street, Bloomsburg PA 18715.
Phone: 570‑784‑4222.

Beginnings [1]

Montour Township, bearing the same name as the county beside it, lies in the sharpest bend of the Susquehanna River in its meanderings through Columbia County. The river here has ample reason to bend. In ancient geological years the stream had a straight course through what is now called "Dutch Valley" and pursued this way to the vicinity of Danville. But an obstacle was encountered at the site of Rupert in the shape of Fishing Creek, which semiannually poured a flood of water and debris into the river at right angles to its course. Ages passed and the mound of gravel slowly choked the river, which in desperation turned to the southward and aided by some upheaval of the strata that cleft a breach in the lofty hill carved a new course, which poured the waters of both streams past Catawissa and diverted the entire flow of the river into a great loop. This "plug" of gravel and sand is plainly seen along the west bank of the creek and forms a high ridge, in which for more than fifty years the surrounding towns have found an inexhaustible supply of building materials.

The bluff below Rupert is an attractive example of stratified rocks and there a complete story of the geology of the county can be read in God's own book. This is one of the scenic spots of Columbia County and is the resort of tourists from all parts of the State.

The first comers to Montour Township were from Berks County and Northampton County and their nationality gave the name to Dutch Valley. The Ruperts came first, bringing their wagons and all the household goods by way of the Reading Road and Catawissa, ferrying across the river to the spot where Rupert stands. Leonard Rupert did not long remain in the first rude cabin of logs he had erected on his arrival, but reached out into the future and built him a home of three rooms in 1788, occupying it for thirty years; it stood beside the more pretentious "Paxton" home. Rupert had the land from his father-in-law, Michael Bright, who had it from John Spohn, he in turn having obtained his patent from the proprietaries in 1769.

Among those who followed Rupert were the Tucker, Frey, Dietterich, Blecker, Hittle and Leiby families, most of whom went on into Dutch Valley, since Rupert's land included all the available soil in the angle of the creek, river and mountain.

This section of Columbia County was at first amply supplied with the news of the outside world, being on the main line between Sunbury and Wilkes-Barre. Travelers took the ferry over Fishing Creek and passed west up Dutch Valley to the regions of Danville and Sunbury, thus leaving Catawissa to the south. The route to Reading through the latter town also drew travelers across the river ferry to Rupert. Thus the town caught the travelers "going and coming." This stream of traffic was foreseen by Rupert, who opened a tavern here at an early date, and his rooms have held some of the famous men of the different periods since the opening of this region. The first ferry here was established by William Hughes, who was succeeded by a Mr. Clark. Both objected to the toll charged by Rupert for running the ferry on his lands, so Rupert started one of his own, and, of course, soon absorbed the others.

In 1829 the "North Branch" canal was built and for a time affected the traffic of the stagecoach. The work of running the canal along the hills and across the creek was of sufficient magnitude to employ the labors of many men for two years, and of course Rupert profited thereby—that is, the town as well as the man. The opening of the canal caused such a rapid growth of the town and the near country as to cause a congestion in the schools. The people vainly tried to secure adequate schools from the officials of Hemlock Township, so in 1837 they separated from the parent division and formed the township of Montour.

In the summer of 1853 the railroad bridge across the river was begun, and in September, 1854, the first train came into Rupert. The Catawissa, Williamsport & Erie Railroad Company opened an office here in that year and Wesley Fleming was appointed the first freight agent at Rupert, retaining the position for fifty years, until retired by the company on a pension. He died about 1908.

For some years the passengers for Bloomsburg took a stage at Rupert for the balance of the journey, but in 1857 the Lackawanna & Bloomsburg Road was opened to Rupert and for some months was the southern terminus. Later it was extended to Northumberland. As the only railroad point north of the river Rupert then became a place of importance, although when the first road was opened it was simply a settlement of a few houses. After that time it grew quite rapidly. This came about partly through the advent of many industries, drawn here by the fine shipping facilities.

The first result of the traffic enlargement of Rupert was the establishment, in 1861, by Isaac S. Monroe, a lumberman of Catawissa, of a factory for the manufacture of powder kegs for the Dupont Powder Company, of Wapwallopen, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware. In 1866 his son, Washington M. Monroe, was admitted as partner, and in 1879 the death of the father placed the works entirely in the control of the son. The factory turned out ninety thousand 25-pound kegs in a year, valued at $20,000, and gave employment to eleven men. It was located beside the canal locks, over the spillway, from which it took power to run an overshot wheel in summer. In winter, when the canal was emptied, the power came from a steam engine. After many years of success fire destroyed the plant, and it was not rebuilt.

The Susquehanna Slate Company, whose mines were located on Little Fishing Creek, had some time before 1871 endeavored to make paint from the refuse of the works. In that year they removed this department to Rupert to avail themselves of the shipping facilities, and the firm of Reay & Drehr took over the work. But ten days had elapsed after the building of the factory here when fire destroyed it. However, it was immediately rebuilt and ran successfully for some years, but the financial depression of 1885 caused it to close, and after selling off the stock on hand the business was discontinued in 1890.

The traffic on the canal and the industries above mentioned caused much transient trade to pass through the town, and this was catered to by the "Rupert House," kept by W. R. Tubbs, and the "Montour Hotel," of which M. Dougherty was the proprietor. The former stood near the railroad depot, and the "Montour Hotel" was located on the canal basin, opposite the coal office of Paxton & Harman. The latter buildings were incinerated in the fire which destroyed the powder keg factory.

Two stores, and a blacksmith shop kept by James Quick, were the limit of the smaller industries in the past as well as the present. Quick has been the village smith for many years.

Besides the establishments already noted, Rupert at the time of its prosperity comprised about twenty-five houses, a store, two hotels, the marble works and the coal office on the canal.

The stores at Rupert were conducted by I.M. Betz, the postmaster, and Arthur Roberts. The "Rupert Hotel" was owned by Harry J. Mensch. A. J. Duck was the local coal dealer, and there was a store at the north end of the Catawissa bridge operated by R.B. Grimes & Co.

At the eastern end of the town and in the angle of the roads leading to the old covered bridge across Fishing Creek was the home of L.H. Boody, formerly the Paxton residence, an old-fashioned brick building, but supplied with all modern conveniences. It was surrounded by spacious and well kept lawns, dotted with ancient and lofty shade trees and beautified by ornamental plants and flower beds. Beside the dwelling was an ancient log building, the identical one in which Miss Harriet Rupert held the first school. In the corner of the lawn near the creek is a stone and wood springhouse, vine draped and venerable, which adds beauty to an already charming ensemble.

Many residents of Bloomsburg recalled with pleasure the social fetes that were given in the past by Mr. Lloyd Paxton, sometimes in the mansion and sometimes on the illuminated lawn—all events of delightful memories.

Just across the creek from Rupert and within the boundaries of the town of Bloomsburg, although apparently far from that thriving town, was the "Aqueduct Mill," built by Lloyd Paxton two years before the construction of the canal, and subsequently owned by George W. Keiter, whose death put it upon the market in 1914. This mill has never lacked for waterpower, being fed from a large dam in Fishing Creek some distance above. The water was carried under the old canal and operated two turbines of 58 inches diameter each. The head of water was 8-1/2 feet, and the capacity of the mill, which was fitted with the modern roller process, was seventy-five barrels of flour daily.

Near the mill was what is known as the Reuben Hess farm, which was purchased by Mr. Keiter some years ago and later owned by the Guernseydale Stock and Fruit Farms, a corporation engaged in the dairy business, farming, raising Guernsey cattle and Duroc-Jersey swine, and fruit.

Outside of Rupert there is little to tell of in Montour Township. The iron mines and lime kilns, in the northern part, constituted the only important industry. William Neal & Sons owned them at first. Since the exhaustion of the iron ore the limestone was the only source of revenue from the property. There were a number of other small limekilns in operation along Montour Ridge on the farms of the owners.

The "White" mill, near the mouth of Hemlock Creek, was built by James Barton, son of Isaiah, about 1842. In its construction were used some of the longest timbers found in any mill in the county. Water was taken from a dam below the tailrace of the "Red" mill to operate two 15-foot overshot wheels. Caleb Barton, brother to James, took charge of this mill in 1882, introduced the roller system and replaced the old wheels with two turbines, of 35 and 45 horsepower. He also changed the name to "Montour Mills." Since his time the mill has been run by Thomas J. Barton, Elisha Drieshbach, George W. Keiter and Alfred Girton.

Religious worship had its inception in the first frame schoolhouse at Rupert, services being held there by pastors of the Bloomsburg churches until 1884. From 1869 to 1872 Revs. Bowersox, Irvin, Shuneberger and Hertz conducted Evangelical services there.

The first Methodist sermon in Rupert was delivered in the home of James Farnsworth by Rev. Mr. Creever, of Bloomsburg, in 1870. In September, 1884, the cornerstone of the Methodist church at Rupert was laid by Rev. G. W. Stevens, pastor at Buckhorn. It was completed in the following winter.

The first school in the township was held in a frame shanty once occupied by the contractors who built the canal. Harriet Rupert was the first teacher here, in 1831, but soon removed her class to a log house on her father's land nearby. Later a schoolhouse was built on the west side of the railroad, in a triangular piece of land donated by Leonard Rupert. A later school building, the third on the site, occupied the old position of the first one built for school purposes exclusively.

The population of Montour Township in 1840 was 809; in 1850, 409; in 1860, 485; in 1870, 624; in 1880, 662; in 1890, 638; in 1900, 618; in 1910, 625.

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

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