THE EARLY SETTLEMENT OF ANTIS TOWNSHIP
By Larry D. Smith, 150th Anniversary of Blair County, PA, pages 262-269
I. Daniel Rupp’s book included a small paragraph on the village of Davidsburg. It was noted as a village west of the Brush Mountain, in Antes Township, lying along the west bank of the Little Juniata River. At that time the village was noted as containing approximately eight houses, a store, a tavern and a tan-yard.
The village of Bell’s Mills grew up around the gristmill, sawmill and store, which Edward Bell established along the Bell’s Gap Run in the east-central portion of the township about the year 1800. John Bell emigrated from Scotland in 1763 and arrived in Virginia. He then proceeded by boat to Nova Scotia. There he met and married (in 1765) Elizabeth Hunter, an immigrant from Ayrshier, Scotland. The Bells made their way southward, eventually settling in the Hartslog settlement in Huntingdon County. They resided there between 1767 and 1769. In 1767 Edward Bell was born while the family was at Hartslog settlement. John and Elizabeth bore three other children: Margaret, born in 1767 and later married to Robert Edington; Mary (or Polly), who was born in 1772 and later married Caleb Tipton; and Jane (or Elizabeth), who was born in 1774 and married John Glasgow.
About the year 1774 John Bell moved to a tract of land a mile west of the village of Water Street. While residing in that area of then-Bedford County, the Bell family had to take refuge, from time to time, at the Fort Lowry to escape Indian incursions into the region. During one such period of unrest the family stayed overnight with a neighbor, Matthew Dean. Early the next morning the Bells left the house; later that day the Dean house was attacked and the Matthew’s wife and two daughters were killed.
Edward Bell, being then at the age of twelve or so, learned shoe making while the family was seeking refuge at Fort Lowry. Edward later apprenticed to a millwright and made that his profession in later years. He would become acquainted with Jacob Isett following Jacob’s move to the vicinity of Arch Spring in Sinking Valley around 1785. It is possible that Edward learned the millwright trade from Jacob Isett.
Certain sources indicate that John Bell resided in Sinking Valley and later moved to Logan Valley. The tax assessment returns for Tyrone and later Morris Township show that the Bells resided in the vicinity of Water Street between 1787 and 1805 and not in Sinking Valley. Edward Bell was also recorded as a resident in the Morris Township, Huntingdon County tax assessments from 1795 to 1800 and then from 1805 to 1807. In the years between 1800 and 1805 he appeared in Allegheny Township.
Edward Bell married Mary Ann Martin on 02 February, 1799. Soon thereafter the Edward Bell family and the family of John Bell moved to the Pottsgrove Reservoir area. Edward purchased 100 acres of land and appeared in the 1800 tax assessment for Allegheny Township with a gristmill. By 1802 he began to claim a sawmill on his property. Edward returned to the property in Morris Township previously owned by his father and resided there from 1805 to 1807. He was engaged in the occupation of millwright during that time. Edward kept a journal and noted in it that he moved to Logan Valley on 07 April, 1807, and then he and his family and his father’s family homesteaded in the vicinity of the convergence of Bell’s Gap Run and the Little Juniata River. In the year 1807 Edward appeared on the Allegheny Township tax assessment as owning 105 acres and a sawmill. In 1809 Edward’s property was listed in the tax returns as consisting of 230 acres (100 of which he had acquired from his father) along with a gristmill and a sawmill.
Edward Bell’s father would have been seventy-four years old and his mother would have been sixty-two in the year 1807. All of Edward’s sisters would have been married and living with their husbands by that time. Since Edward had lived frequently with his parents in the past it is likely that, once more, the two families were living in close proximity, if not in the same house. The transfer from John Bell to Edward Bell in 1808, of the 100 acres, which had previously belonged to Charity Edington and her son, Samuel suggests the Bell families lived on the Philip Edington farmstead. A log house was built in 1805 as quarters for the Bell family. That structure is probably the log house located on the corner of Main and Lowther Streets in present-day Bellwood. The log house would most likely have been occupied by John and Elizabeth Bell from 1805 to 1807. Beginning in 1807 Edward Bell’s family probably lived with or near his parents. Elizabeth Bell died in 1813 and was the first person to be buried in Logan Valley Cemetery. John Bell died in 1815. After Elizabeth and John’s deaths, the Edward Bell family probably continued to occupy the log house until the Bell Mansion was completed in 1822. The mansion house was built of bricks made on the Bell farmstead. It is believed to have been the first brick house in the area. The house was built in the shape of an “L” in Georgian style. The front faced the Little Juniata River.
From 1810 to 1830 Edward Bell’s enterprises prospered. He added a distillery to his gristmill and lumbering industries. Between 1800 and 1830 he bought large quantities of wheat, which he then ground at the gristmill and shipped, to Baltimore. He hauled goods from Pittsburgh and Baltimore into the Logan Valley area. Edward also began a career as a land surveyor. He was appointed as an agent for the Morgan’s Firm, which held large tracts of mountain land. By 1829 Edward Bell was recorded in the Antis Township tax assessment with property amounting to 3,674 acres. Much of that land was in large tracts and might actually have been owned by the Morgan’s Firm.
Edward Bell was also civic minded. He served in various township positions. He was an auditor in 1814, auditor and appraiser in 1817, constable in 1815 and served as a township supervisor in 1821 and 1822.
Edward Bell and his sons built the Mary Ann Forge around 1830 on a tract purchased from Robert Edington on 30 May 1810. The iron works was named for Edward’s wife, Mary Ann (Martin). Then in 1832 the Elizabeth Furnace was constructed to the south of the forge. The furnace would have been named for Edward’s mother, Elizabeth (Hunter) Bell. Edward’s son, Martin Bell, came into possession of the Elizabeth Furnace soon after it was put into blast. In order to avoid working on Sunday, Martin devised a way to alter the stacks and bank the fires properly on Saturday night so that the furnace could be easily started up again on Monday morning. The furnace became known as Sabbath Rest because it was shut down over Sunday. In 1836 Martin also discovered how to utilize the gases, which escaped from the tunnel-head for the production of steam.
The 1850’s were a period of increased growth in the region. The Pennsylvania Railroad was being extended through this region. It threatened to take over some of the transport business, which the Juniata Canal and Portage Railroad enjoyed for the previous two decades. The question, though, was whether the route of the new railroad would be laid through the Canoe Valley, Sinking Valley or Logan Valley. The eventual decision was in favor of Logan Valley. By 1850 the rail lines had been extended from Tyrone to Bell’s Mills.
The increase in population throughout the Logan Valley region, and especially in the vicinity of the new town of Altoona, caused a certain group of residents to agitate to have the township further divided. The result was that a southern portion of Antis and a northern portion of Allegheny were removed from those townships and formed into Logan Township.
One of the businesses which was established in this region because of the accessibility of the railroad for transport was the Logan Woolen Factory. John Halfpenny, who served under the rank of colonel during the Civil War, operated the factory for roughly ten years. According to Paul Kurtz in his article for Blair County’s First Hundred Years, it was erected in 1867 to the northwest of Bell’s Mills. The date given by Mrs. J. M. Bechtol in an article, “The Builders Of Bellwood” for the Fiftieth Anniversary booklet, Bellwood Past And Present, was 1853. Regardless of the correct date that the mill was started in operation, the important point to be made is that the region possessed a variety of industries. The Logan Woolen Factory produced carpets along with its other products and was commonly referred to as the “carpet mill”.
The influx of workers to the region for employment at the iron works eventually created villages surrounding the two industrial sites. On 30 June 1877 Dr. A. K. Bell laid out the town of Bell’s Mills in the vicinity of the Edward Bell Mansion and the Antestown Post Office. The first post office in the vicinity of Bell’s Mills, known as the Antestown Post Office, was located in the old Reverend Sarvis home and was conducted by B. F. Bell during the 1850’s. The streets were surveyed to run parallel and at ninety degrees to the already existing railroad tracks. Front, First, Second, Third and Fourth Streets were run parallel to the tracks, while Cambria, Boyles and Church Streets intersected them. The town grew rapidly. By the 1880’s the town included, among its nearly five hundred inhabitants, a number of business and professional men. W. Y. Levengood and J. C. Thompson were the town’s physicians. S. Moore Jr. operated a drugstore. D. L. Wray was a merchant and the town’s postmaster at the time. William M. Bell was the proprietor of a hotel and also managed a meat market. C. Long was a butcher. The town blacksmith was Alonzo T. Estep. Thomas P. Gheer was a carpenter and John Gheer was a furniture dealer. John Gheer also served as the town’s justice of the peace. James Lowther Sr. and Thaddeus Stewart were proprietors of gristmills. James Lowther Sr. along with the Flynn Brothers owned and operated a lumber business. The sawmill they operated had a daily capacity of nearly 25,000 feet of lumber. In the fall of 1877 Mr. Lowther purchased the old Bell Mansion and the gristmill and started his occupation as miller.
On 16, May 1882 the Reverend W. W. Dunmire began publishing The Bell Independent. It was the region’s first newspaper. On 28, February 1888 a weekly newspaper, the Bellwood Bulletin, joined the Independent. The second newspaper was published by J. W. Elway.
There were four churches in the town of Bell’s Mills in 1883. Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations had been formed in the area as early 1837. The Logan’s Valley Baptist Church congregation was organized on 24, June 1837. The Presbyterian congregation was formed that same year. Paul Kurtz in the book Blair County’s First Hundred Years noted that a United Brethren Church was erected in the vicinity of the Antis Post Office in 1830. The Brethren congregation is mentioned only in the Fiftieth Anniversary booklet. It was also noted that the Lutheran congregation used the United Brethren church building for their services. Mr. Kurtz also noted that Jonathan Hopkins and Thomas Van Scoyk were the region’s first school directors in 1835; the assumption might be made that there were a school or two in the valley at that time to require the services of school directors. The valley’s first Sunday school was organized in 1826 by Samuel Martin of the Mary Ann Forge area.
On 3, October 1887 the residents of Bell’s Mills filed a petition with the Blair County Court for the incorporation of the town into a borough. The name chosen was Bellwood. The reason for the change from Bell’s Mills to Bellwood was to pay homage to the heavily wooded forests that surrounded the village. The petition was granted on 9, February 1888. The new boroughÕs council embarked on a series of projects to benefit the community. In 1892 streetlights were installed. On the 1st of August of that same year the council passed an ordinance to provide water throughout the town. In the following year telephone service was brought into the borough. On 1, July 1894 a trolley began to operate; it would continue to fill some of the borough’s transportation needs until 1936 when it was replaced by a bus service.
The borough expanded a number of times. In 1907 the Fourth and Clark Street areas were annexed to the borough. In 1908 the Lowther’s Extension, to the southwest of the original plat, was annexed. Then in 1910 the section known as ÒThe Hill” was annexed to the borough.
Mr. Kurtz, in his article on Bellwood Borough and Antis Township, which was included in the book, Blair County’s First Hundred Years, noted that “Almost in the proportion as Bellwood flowered, so the economic life of the township withered.” The iron industry was moving out of this central Pennsylvania region in favor of the growing Pittsburgh steel industry and the coalfields of western Pennsylvania. Attention shifted from the iron industry to the railroad industry. In 1873 the Bell’s Gap Narrow Gauge Railroad was built connecting Bell’s Mills and Lloydville in Cambria County. The line was widened to standard gauge in the 1880’s and extended on to Figart and Coalport. In 1891 the line reached Fordham. A branch of this railroad was extended northward and reached the town of Punxsutawney in Jefferson County. In 1892 the Bell’s Gap line and a number of other connecting lines merged to become the Pennsylvania and Northwestern Railroad. For ten years, prior to its merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1902, the line functioned as a self-contained line. The rail line primarily transported coal, but it also operated three passenger trains per day through the region. Repair shops and dispatcher offices provided employment for area residents. Three main shops (wheel, machine and blacksmith), along with a number of annexes, were constructed in 1891. There were between 160 and 200 men employed at the Bellwood Shops. As part of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Bellwood Shops continued to operate at peak capacity. During the World War I period the Bellwood Shops reached their peak of employment and production. The shops operated on a twenty-four hour schedule. The yards stretched between North First Street and Roots Crossing and were twelve tracks wide in places. The boom did not last long for Bellwood. Between 1920 and 1924 the shops were closed down as part of a merger with the Bellwood Branch and the Cresson Division, which had occurred in 1918. The closing of the shops caused the borough’s population to fall.
An independent company, the H. S. Kerbaugh Company erected the repair shops and a manufacturing plant west of the town in 1905. This was a nationally known railroad-contracting firm and employed up to 250 employees during its heyday. Kerbaugh built the immense freight classification yards for the Pennsylvania Railroad at Enola, Pennsylvania. The company also constructed state works such as reservoirs, impounding dams and state highways. Ninety-eight steam shovels were owned and utilized by the company. The most notable municipal work undertaken by the Kerbaugh Company was the Kensiceo Dam at Valhalla, New York. This $14,000,000 project was part of New York City’s water supply system. In 1919 the plant was closed when the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the property and razed the buildings. Some of the community that grew up around the shops, made up of the workers’ families has remained.
In the 1920’s the Blair Gap Water Company constructed the Tipton Reservoir to supply water to the borough. In 1935 a town sewage system was built.
The 1930’s were the beginning of a period of community projects in Bellwood. In 1928 a movement to consolidate all of the single room and private school houses throughout Antis Township and the Borough of Bellwood was begun. The movement was approved by the residents of the township and borough and in 1930 Antis Township became the first region in Blair County to possess a completely consolidated school system. The consolidation of the schools called for a new school building in which to house the entire districtÕs students. The people of the community gathered together in 1932 and helped to landscape the new school property. The spirit of community pride fostered by the school project motivated the people to hold a “Community Show” in 1934. The first show consisted of nine exhibits, but later shows would draw thousands of exhibits. In 1937 the Antis Township Community Association was incorporated. The Association helped to develop the school district’s athletic facilities and buildings. It also renovated the YM-YWCA building.
With the spread of electrical and telephone service throughout the rest of Antis Township in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, the population began to increase in the areas surrounding Bellwood. The closing of the Bellwood Shops caused some of the borough’s residents to move out of the town and into the township area south of Bellwood so that they would have less distance to travel to work at the Altoona railroad shops.
Edward Tipton had homesteaded in the northeast corner of present-day Antis Township. His descendants also settled in that region where the Tipton Run converges with the Little Juniata River. When Herman Haupt decided to sell tracts of land he named the village “Tipton”. The town plat was laid out on 21, January 1856 and contained one hundred and fifty-four lots. The village was laid out in a rectangular fashion with north-south streets named Forest, Sassafras and Spruce and east-west streets named Mulberry, Willow, Chestnut, Oak, Clearfield and Pine.
William P. Dysart, of the firm of Dysart & Lloyd, was an early resident of the village; he owned a large number of lots. Dysart & Lloyd built the Antes Forge in 1828 to the east of the site where the village would be laid out. That iron works operated until 1855 using iron ore from the farmland nearby. William Dysart also constructed a gristmill, the Cayuga Flour Mill, on the stream, which flows today through Bland Park. William’s son, Edward Dysart, lived on the family’s tract of 1,000 acres and made a living as the proprietor of a general store in the village.
The small village had three churches in its midst when the town plat was surveyed. In 1841 a Baptist Church was erected. A Presbyterian Church was erected in 1845. The Mount Zion Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed about the same time.
In 1923 Tipton became famous in the region for its racetrack. The Altoona Speedway at Tipton was the brainchild of George Long. Mr. Long organized the Altoona Speedway Association in 1921. Stock was sold to finance the project. The Association, which set about locating a suitable site for their racetrack. The site that eventually was chosen near Tipton fit all the requirements. Jack Prince was given the contract to build a wooden track, which was the type then fashionable. A wooden track composed of roughly four million board feet of lumber was laid in a large oval sixty feet wide. The track base consisted of two-by-fours standing on end. The track comprised a one and one-quarter mile course. The ends were banked at a 32-degree angle. Arrangements were made with the American Automobile Association to set up dates for race events and the first race was held on 9, September 1923. That first race was a complete success, and the Altoona Speedway at Tipton became an overnight sensation for racing enthusiasts nationwide. The cost to stage each racing event was high for the times; it rose as high as $55,000, which was a rather staggering price for the 1920’s.
The Altoona Speedway at Tipton was not destined to last long. In 1927 the A.A.A. determined that a fourteen -foot center section, the entire length of the track would have to be replaced. The two-by-fours were set on edge and nailed to two-by-twelve sills. The usual Labor Day race went for a total of 250 miles, or 200 laps around the track. The constant pounding during the raced tended to rip up bits of the wood. Small red flags would be placed in the holes to warn the drivers of dangers, but by 1927 the track had to be replaced. The repair work was completed by the following year at a cost of $30,000. The repair costs were paid by track funds, but financial problems arose in a different way. Various banking institutions had lent the Altoona Speedway Association sums of money for the initial construction of the track. Those loans had never been fully paid. The collapse of the stock market and many banks in 1929 forced the confiscation of many of the directors’ individual funds and caused many of them to declare bankruptcy. The banks could not be convinced to allow the speedway to continue operations in order to generate the dollars needed to repay the loans. The track remained closed until 1935 when an attempt was made to revive the business. The wooden track, despite the repairs made in 1928, had deteriorated from non use to the point that it was no longer safe for the races. A one-mile dirt track was built inside the wooden one. The 1936 flood added insult to injury with the string of bad luck, the track was refurbished and racing events were again held at the facility. A new circuit, the Central States Racing Association, used the track in 1938. It was considered the best of its kind in the east in the one-mile class. It continued to be used until the end of World War II.
The village of Fostoria was established in the early 1800’s, but the exact date is not known. The Geil and Freed map of 1859 shows the village situated to the north of Bell’s Mills. That atlas, which is to be assumed to be rather accurate, shows only about five dwellings in the vicinity. The atlas published by Pomeroy in 1873 showed only 18 buildings in the village, of which at least one was, a store. The book History Of Huntingdon And Blair Counties, Pennsylvania stated that Fostoria, in 1883, had about one hundred inhabitants. Africa’s history noted that Nicholas Beahm was a dealer in grain and livestock, L. Boyer was the proprietor of a meat market, David Boyle was a lime manufacturer, Samuel Miliken was a lumber dealer, Louis A. Mitten was the town carpenter and Levi Stahl operated a general merchandise store.
A spring issues from the ground just a short distance to the west of the banks of the Little Juniata River a short distance southeast of the village of Fostoria. The spring is known as Logan’s Spring. Like the valley it is situated in, Logan’s Spring was named for the Indian, Captain Logan. Captain Logan was friendly to the white settlers in this region. He was believed to have set up his wigwam in the vicinity of the spring.
In 1827 John Henshey laid out the plots for a village situated along the west bank of the Little Juniata River midway between Fostoria and Mary Ann Forge. John Henshey moved from Franklin County to Sinking Valley in 1813, where he resided and raised a family of four sons and four daughters. In 1824 John moved across Brush Mountain into Antes Township. He purchased a tract of three hundred and fifteen acres of land from the early settler, Thomas Ricketts. The tract of land Henshey purchased had previously been part of a tract sold by Christian Black to Ricketts. Mr. Black had acquired the land in the year 1792 and established his farmstead near the site traditionally held as the home of the Indian, Captain Logan. He also set up a tan yard, the vats of which were still in existence in the vicinity of the village into the 1880’s.
John Henshey named his town Davidsburg in honor of David, his son born in Sinking Valley during the same year the family had moved to Sinking Valley. David Henshey, the town’s namesake, resided on a large tract of land to the west of the village. The village attracted settlers during the first few decades of its existence. Dr. Crawford Irwin established himself as a physician in the town. He was followed, in later years, by Doctors Giles, Baldwin, Confer and Clark. J. Simpson Africa noted in his history of the region that the village at one time boasted of two taverns, three stores (apparently, general mercantiles), a tannery, two shoe shops, two tailor shops, two blacksmith shops, a wagon shop, carpenter and cabinet shops. By the 1880’s, contemporary with when his history book was published, Mr. Africa noted that the village of Davidsburg had become little more “but a quiet little hamlet, having no business interest.” The Pennsylvania Railroad diverted travelers (and the business they brought with them) from the old wagon road traveling from Bellefonte to Duncansville and the Portage Railroad.