BOUNDARY — LANDS — EARLY SETTLEMENTS — ORGANIZATION — POPULATION — STREAMS — RAILROADS — TOPOGRAPHY — TIMBER —
INDUSTRIES — SCHOOLS — POST OFFICE — LITTLE COOLEY — FIRST SETTLERS — INDUSTRIES, ETC. — CHURCHES.
ATHENS, first in alphabetical order, was the last, or one of the last town ships of Crawford County to become permanently
settled. It is situated in the northeast part of the county. and is bound by Bloomfield on the north, by Rome on
the east, by Steuben on the south, and by Richmond and Rockdale on the west. The southern part is included within
the Seventh Donation District, the northern part within the Eighth Donation District. Between the two is a wedge-shaped
“gore,” extending east and west, and having an average width in this township of about a fourth of a mile. It was
produced by carelessness and the consequent inaccuracy of the early surveys. While in other regions surveys sometimes
overlapped each other, causing a confusion of conflicting titles, this narrow strip or gore between the Seventh
and Eighth Districts remained unsurveyed and was without claimants. It was afterward settled as State land. There
were, however, conflicting claims to the military tracts embraced within the township. James D. Minnis, a prominent
and well-informed resident of the township, states in an historical article that two surveys had been made, the
Doe and the Herrington, which did not conform to each other, and created litigation and much anxiety. The Nickleson
heirs laid claim to a great portion of the land, by virtue of a mortgage, alleged to have been granted them by
the Commonwealth. The tracts were advertised for sale, and great consternation prevailed, but happily for the occupants
and owners of the lands, the State intervened and protected the settlers. Many of the tracts were owned by Revolutionary
soldiers or their representatives, scattered widely throughout the Union. Some of the land was sold at tax sale,
the validity of which was afterward successfully disputed. Altogether, the inducements for an early settlement
of the land was anything but inviting. Land was abundant and cheap throughout the then great West, and the burden
of leveling the gigantic forests was seldom assumed without some assurance that the land thus wrested, after long-continued
fatiguing exertions, from a wilderness state, could be successfully held.
It was not until 1820, or shortly before, that the face of the country showed signs of an approaching civilization.
When the first settlers came they found in the township. in a cabin buried in the heart of the forest, a solitary
white man, by name John Smith, living in lonely seclusion, with only the wandering Indians as companions. He had
fled his native land, Ireland, near the close of the last century, on account of political disturbances, and from
Pittsburgh made his way up the Allegheny River and Oil Creek to near its source; then left the stream, and proceeding
to the ravine on what was afterward the Taylor Farm, Tract 1696, he erected a cabin. He made no attempt to secure
the title to land, and effected but a slight clearing. His occupation was hunting, trapping and fishing, and at
long intervals he made his way to distant posts and exchanged his peltry for the few commodities of life he desired.
He often hunted with the Indians who encamped in this vicinity, and became their intimate friend. When the cabins
of the foremost pioneers and the incisive strokes of the woodman’s ax began to encroach upon the extensive hunting
grounds, Mr. Smith, like his dusky neighbors, took his final departure for parts unknown, probably to the deeper
recesses of the wilderness, to live over again his life of solitude and obscurity.
The Tract on which the cabin of the hermit stood became, about 1820, the home of Dr. Silas Taylor, a prominent
pioneer. He was born of Puritan ancestry, in Massachusetts, February 18, 1787, and removed to Tract 1696, in the
northern part of Athens, from Genesee County, N. Y., where he bad been engaged in the practice of medicine. He
at once commenced the labor of land improvement, and at the same time followed his profession. He was the pioneer
physician of this portion of the county, his field of practice spreading over Athens, Bloomfield, Rockdale, Sparta,
Richmond, Rome, Steuben and Troy. His journeys were made on horse-back through indistinct and rugged bridle paths,
and were often protracted late in to the night or continued for days, yet his active practice yielded scarcely
more than a bare subsistence. As a citizen, Dr. Taylor took an interest in public local affairs, and did much to
improve the roads and the schools of his township. He reared a large family, was a prominent member of the Methodist
Class at Oentreville, and after residing most of his life in Athens, died at Batavia, N. Y., June 29, 1875.
Mrs. Sarah A. Taylor, the second wife and widow of Dr. Taylor, was a notable pioneer woman. She emigrated when
a little girl with her father, Theodore Scowden, from the Susquehanna to what is now Union Township, this county,
in 1800. At an early age she married Capt. John Minnis, a soldier of the war of 1812, and settled with him in Mercer
County. He was a carpenter by occupation, and his business often detained him from home till late at night, or
sometimes for days, and she was sometimes left alone in a large unfinished cabin standing near the border of a
dense and dismal forest. One evening, after awaiting her husband’s return, and he not coming, she at last retired
and composed herself to sleep. In the course of the night she was awakened by the noise of a large animal climbing
the side of the house. Soon after she heard it spring to the loft above, which was only partially furnished with
a floor. Apprehending her extreme danger, she sprang from the couch and sought to rekindle the dying embers, and
thus keep off the ferocious animal, but only a few faint sparks remained, and the growls of the hungry intruder
attested its displeasure at this procedure. Retreating to the farther end of the room, Mrs. Minnis took refuge
in a large tea-chest which fastened with a spring lock. Remembering the fate of Genevra, she kept her fingers between
the chest and lid. An instant later the savage creature leaped upon the box, crushing her fingers. She fainted
and remained unconscious until morning, then with difficulty withdrew from her cramped position, and finding the
animal gone, hastened with her frightful story to the nearest neighbor. The panther, for such it proved to be,
had devoured a quantity of fish and meat suspended near the fireplace from a beam. Mrs. Minnie married Dr. Taylor
in 1836, and remained a resident of Athens Township until her death, which occurred at the residence of her son.
November 15, 1883.
Among the earliest settlers of Athens were: Abraham Wheeler, Samuel Willis, Joseph King, Elder Hutchinson, John
Sbaubarger, Henry Hatch, Jonah Edson and Thomas Delamater. Abraham Wheeler was born in New Hampshire August 13,
1793, and in 1819 emigrated with his family from Genesee County, N. Y., and settled on Tract 1597 in the northern
part of the township. He was a man of great determination and force, which he expended in clearing a large farm.
Late in life he removed to Sparta Township, where he died March 17, 1876, leaving a large family. Samuel Willis
settled in the northern part of Tract 1695. He was somewhat eccentric in his manners, and on that account dreaded
by some of his superstitious neighbors. Mr. Willis in a few years removed elsewhere, and Bartlett Fuller, from
Whitehall, N. Y., succeeded him in the possession of this land, and remained its occupant until his death. Joseph
King settled on the “gore,” about a half mile east of Little Cooley. He died a few years later and was buried on
the farm. Mrs. Sarah King, his widow, remained a resident on the place, and there died in extreme old age. Elder
Hutchinson was one of the earliest pioneers. He settled north of Little Cooley on a tract of waste laud, which
is in the Eighth Donation District, but was left unnumbered, and consequently undrawn, on account of its marshiness.
The quality of the land has since improved by clearing and drainage. Mr. Hutchinson died here about 1837, and his
descendants still occupy the farm. He was a life-long farmer and a Presbyterian. John Shaubarger, originally from
Germany, emigrated from Westmoreland County to Tract 1324, in the south-central portion of the township. He was
a rough and rugged German, well fitted physically to cope with pioneer obstacles and endure privations. By industry
he cleared a large farm which his descendants yet possess. Jonah Edson settled on Tract 1692, in the northeast
part of Athens, prior to 1820, and remained there until his death in 1848, at a ripe old age. Henry Hatch settled
on Tract 1319 in the south part of the township, where he still resides in the vigor of a hale and hearty old age.
Other pioneers of Athens were: Charles Loop, William McCray, Elihu Root, Michael Dobbs, Timothy Higley, Robert
Cage, Ephraim Fuller, Samuel Rice, John Vancise, Thomas Bloomfield, Luther Merchant, William Olements, James Drake
and Lewis Warren, all of whom were here prior to 1836. Charles Loop came from New York State and settled on the
gore about a half mile east of Little Cooley. He was an early Justice of the Peace, and moved to Erie County. William
McCray, a native of Ireland, settled on Tract 1689, in the northeast portion of the township, where at his death
he left two daughters and three sons. Elihu Root obtained from the State a farm in Tract 1567, in the northwest
part of the township. He remained its resident until death, and was buried on the place. Michael Dobbs was born
in Canada near Lake Champlain, crossed into the United States to avoid conscription in the English army, was an
expert hunter and trapper, and accoutred in huntsman’s garb, passed much of his time in days gone by in the pursuit
of game. He still resides on his old farm on Tract 1567, settled by him in pioneer times. Timothy Higley, who hailed
from Connecticut, settled in the south part of Tract 1797, where until death he followed farming. Robert Cage,
a native of Harper’s Ferry, in April, 1824, settled on Tract 1718 in the northwest part of the township, where
he died in. August, 1869. Ephraim Fuller came, an aged man, and resided until his death, with his son-in-law, Luther
Merchant, who dwelt in the northeast part of the township on Tract 1689. Samuel Rice subsequently moved to the
site of Riceville. John Vancise occupied the south part of Tract 1597, and later removed to Venango County. Thomas
Bloomfield Jr., of Bloomfield Township, settied on Tract 146 in the eastern part.
William Cloments occupied Tract 1735, and died at Riceville. Lewis Warren dwelt on Tract 1690, and later removed
to Richmond Township.
James Drake was born in Seneca County, N. Y., December 14, 1795; served as a private in the war of 1812; married
Sallie Narvin in 1818, and in 1831 purchased 100 acres in Tract 1360, this township. He did not at once occupy
it, but by contract with Ebenezer Felton, of Boston, who owned several hundred acres in the southern part of the
township, he built for him a saw and grist-mill on Muddy Creek in Tract 1357. A carding-machine and blacksmith
shop were also added. Mr. Drake remained in charge of Felton’s Mills about twelve years, then moved to his farm
on Tract 1360, where he remained engaged in farming until his death, January 25, 1876. Felton’s Mills was an impbrt.
ant place for a time. A flourishing business was transacted, and employment was given to about fifteen persons,
among whom were: Levi Burdsley. Warren Terril], Joseph Sair, Warren Fairbanks and Oarlton Eaton. The mills suspended
soon after Mr. Drake left them. Ebenezer Felton, the proprietor was a resident of Boston, and spent a portion of
his time in Athens Township managing his affairs.
The township was settled slowly. It was formed in 1829, the place of holding elections, by act of Assembly approved
April 23, 1829, being fixed at the house of Ebenezer Felton. The original bounds included the greater part of what
is now Steuben. It is said that at the first election but twelve votes were cast, seven of the votes constituting
the Election Board. The population in 1850 was 928; in 1860, 1,192; in 1870, 1,317, and in 1880, 1,419. The township
has an area of 17,156 acres, valued on the tax duplicate of 1882 at $230,737. It is well-watered by Muddy Creek,
which, flowing northwesterly with its tributaries, drains the central and western part, and Oil Creek which flows
southeasterly through the eastern part. The Union & Titusville Railroad follows the course of the latter stream.
The surface is hilly and rolling. Along Muddy Creek some swampy land is found which has proved amenable to drainage.
The forests were composed of hemlock, pine, black oak, red oak, white oak, cherry, beech, cucumber, white wood,
soft maple, hard maple, lime or bass wood, chestnut, elm and ash. The soil is of good quality.
In early times shingles were about the only staple article of trade. They were made in large quantities and shipped
by water to Pittsburgh and other cities. Quantities of black salts wore then produced, and their sale at Meadyule
furnished many pioneers with the means through which to pay their taxes. Lumbering is still carried on to some
extent. Among the saw-mills now in operation may be mentioned Thomas Smith’s water-mill on4 Muddy Creek, a mile
above Little Cooloy; Bidwell’s water-mill, a mile below the village, and Stockwell’s steam-mill in the northern
The first school in the township was taught in 1826 by Chelous Edson, in a cabin which stood in the ravine on Tract
1692 in the northeast part of the township. Mr. Edson as teacher was followed by his wife, Miss Elvira Sizer, Joseph
Langworthy, Darwin Taylor and Lydia Taylor. Six or eight years later Aaron Ellis, Columbus Edson and Charlotte
Crouch were instructors. Daboll’s Arithmetic, the English Reader, Webster’s Spelling Book, with a little writing,
embraced the course then taught. The next school was held in a log ashery on the Felton farm in 1831. Miss Wooster
was the first teacher here; then Miss A. Curtis, and in 1834 Delos Crouch, a very noted teacher, gave instruction.
The next school was held in the Langworthy settlement, then one was taught on Post Ridge, and afterward one at
Hutchinson’s, on Muddy Creek. The first good school building was erected in 1840, in the Taylor Subdistrict, through
private contributions. It was clapboarded on plank, coiled within, and was well lighted and seated. Among the teachers
of this school were: Prof. Bunham, of Rochester, N. Y., Ohauncey B. Sellers, of Meadville, and James D. Minnis.
The first postofflee within the township was Taylor’s Stand, established about 1830. Dr. Silas Taylor was Postmaster
for twenty years, and, except several years during which Nr. Southwick held the office, James D. Minnis has been
Postmaster since 1850. This office originally supplied Athens, Bloomfield, Troy and parts of Richmond, Sparta and
Rockdale. The mail was received once a week from Meadville, and was carried on horseback. At first scarcely half
a score of newspapers were taken throughout this region. The postage on letters varied from 6 to 25 cents, according
to the distance of their destination.
Little Cooley, the only village of the township, is located in the western part, near Muddy Creek. It contains
two stores of general merchandise, two groceries, one hardware and one drug store, one hotel, a water grist-mill,
a broom-handle factory, a cheese factory, two shoe shops, a wagon shop, a blacksmith shop, a United Brethren Church,
a schoolhouse erected in 1884, and about twenty-five dwellings. Charles Loop and Rev. Steele first settled here
and engaged in the manufacture of shingles and tubs. Their sojourn, however, was only temporary. Isaac A. Cummings
was the first permanent settler, eommencing the demolition of the forest here about 1851. Nathan Southwick a little
later opened the first tavern. George Fleck and L. J. Drake successively pursued the same genial avocation. Mr.
Drake started the first store about 1852. Hosea Southwick a little later erected a saw-mill. He subsequently converted
it to a grist-mill, which has ever since remained in operation. The growth of the settlement gradually continued
until it attained its present proportion.
The United Brethren Church at Little Cooley was formed about 1860, and among its early leading members were: Joseph
Barlow and wife, William Wright and wife, Horace Wright and wife, and William Bennett and wife. Early meetings
were held in the schoolhouse until about 1867, when the present substantial house of worship was erected under
the supervision of this society, many of the citizens in this vicinity, regardless of church affiliations, contributing
to its construction. The society now numbers about thirty members, and is a part of French Creek Circuit, which
includes four other appoint. ments—Wilkin’s and Maple Grove in Bloomfield Township, and Brown Hill and Kellogg’s
in Rockdale. Early pastors of this circuit were: Revs. H. Bedow. Joseph Hoyt, N. B. Luce, F. H. Herrick, Lansing
McIntire, George Hill, D. C. Starkey and W. Robinson. Recently the following have filled this circuit: Rev. Lansing
McIntire, 1876-77; R. Smith, 1878: N. C. Foulk, 1879— 80; E. E. Belden, 1881—82; W. H. Chiles, 1883.
The “Church of God,” an Advent congregation. was organized with three members in 1855, by Elder Charles Crawford.
John Root, Alva S. Gehr and Mr. Bush were early members. The society has no church edifice, but meets in a schoolhouse
in the northwest part of the township in winter, and in the grove, “God’s first temple,” in summer. Elder John
T. Ongley, of Bloomfield Township, is the present pastor.