History Donegal Township Westmoreland County, Pa.
From: History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
By: John N. Boucher
Published By: The Lewis Publishing Company
New York, Chicago, 1906

Donegal Township

Donegal was another of the original townships into which the county was divided by our court, at its first sitting, at Robert Hanna's, April 6, 1773. This had always been the name which designated this portion of the country, even while it was included within the limits of Bedford county. Its original boundaries were much larger than at present, for it then embraced the greater portion of Ligonier Valley. It was a very important township in the early historic days, when Fort Ligonier was one of the two all important places here in southwestern Pennsylvania. The first officers elected were John Cavenot, (who was probably the ancestor of the Cavens), as constable; Samuel Shannon and Edward McDowell as overseers of the poor; and George Glenn as supervisor.

Fayette county was taken from Westmoreland shortly after the Revolutionary war, and part of the original township of Donegal lay within its limits. In 1855 Cook township was stricken from the northern part of Donegal township. It is, therefore, bounded on the north by Cook township; on the east by Laurel Hill, that is, by the county line between Somerset and Westmoreland; on the south by Fayette county line, and on the west by Chestnut Ridge. Like all parts of Ligonier Valley, the sides touching the ranges of mountains on the east and west are rocky and abrupt, and of little value for agricultural purposes. Along the center and about the bottom of streams the surface is more even, and is well adapted to farming, which is the chief pursuit of its inhabitants. For many years, however, the lumber business has furnished employment for a great many people, and along with the lumber business, the peeling of the bark of oak and hemlock trees for use in tanning, has been a great industry. The principal streams of Donegal township are Indian Creek and Roaring Run in the southern part, and Four Mile Run in the northwestern part. The first two streams flow southward into the Youghiogheny, and the latter flows into the Loyalhanna. The township is underlaid with the Freeport seam of coal. It has also an abundance of fire clay, limestone and iron. In the early days when iron was made by charcoal, there were two furnaces built within the limits of the township. but these have long since been out of blast.

Among the old families was the Kistler family, the father. Andrew, coming from Germany to Maryland, and then moving to Donegal township in 1796. Other early settlers were Andrew Harman, who was killed by the Indians; William R. Hunter, the Millhoffs, Virsings, Shaeffer, Havses, Gettemys, Jones, Blackburns.

The turnpike from Somerset to Mt. Pleasant and West Newton passed through the township from east to west. On this turnpike was located the town of Donegal and village of Jones' Mills. Both of them are very small, and were identified with the wagon days of the old turnpike, which was largely traveled for many years. This turnpike afforded a wagon and stage route east from the headwaters of navigation at Elizabeth on the Monongahela, and at West Newton on the Youghiogheny. across the mountains to Somerset, and thence to the National Pike at Cumberland, Maryland. The pike, as we have seen before, was planked, and for a long time was known as the Plank Road. From this pike there has always been a much traveled highway leading north from Donegal through Stahlstown to Ligonier. The village of Donegal has not increased much in the last forty years. It was formerly a convergent point for the whole southern end of the valley. Here they met on preliminary parade days, rifle matches, hunting days, and to engage in all kinds of rural contests and village sports. It was also an important place in stage coach days. It is now little less than a country hamlet, though a very pretty one, and is the smallest borough in Westmoreland county. The petition for the incorporation was presented to the court in 1867, mainly through the efforts of the late William R. Hunter, a prominent merchant in Donegal at that time. The village was incorporated on the loth of August, 1867, and the first election was held on the loth day of September, at the house of Mrs. Nancy Hays. Jeremiah Wirsing was judge of the election, and Jacob Gettemy and Ely P. Fry were inspectors. William R. Hunter probably did more for Donegal borough and this community than any other man of that section. For many years he was the leading merchant of the place, and took great interest in its churches and schools and in its general advancement.

Jones Mills has been frequented a great deal by travelers in pursuit of all kinds of rural sports. It has a fine country hotel. The turnpike passed through the village, which, like Donegal, has seen its best days. It has, however, one of the best streams of water in the county, which flows directly from the "Big Springs" on Laurel Hill, a spring whose daily output is large enough to turn, and did at one time turn, an old fashioned saw mill within a few rods of its source.

It is on the limpid waters of this spring that the Pike Run Country Club located. The club owns some two hundred and fifty acres of well timbered land, and has erected a splendid club house on it. It is on the famous turnpike, and is about fourteen miles from either Mt. Pleasant, Ligonier or Somerset. The club is patronized largely by Mt. Pleasant people, but has members in Greensburg and in other sections of the county. It is in Donegal township. It was founded in 1903 and is for its age a most promising club.

The first religious denomination in Donegal township were the Presbyterians. We are unable to give the date of their organization. With a later generation came the Methodists, who probably surpass the Presbyterians in numbers. The Baptists and the Dunkards came later, the latter being mostly families who had moved to Donegal from Somerset county. Among the original settlers were many Germans, who were regularly preached to in the early days of last century by Rev. Weber, of Greensburg. He established a congregation at Donegal, which really belonged to the Mt. Pleasant charge. They were ministered to after him by Rev. Weinel, Rev. Voight and Rev. A. J. Heller. The Baptist Church was organized in Donegal on June 13, 1834, with Rev. John P. Rockefeller as pastor.

About 1801 the citizens along the banks of Four Mile Run in the northern part of Donegal township erected a school house on the farm lately belonging to David Fiscus. and James Wilson was its first teacher. It was the first school house of which we have any knowledge in the southern part of the valley. It was followed, of course, by others. The school houses were almost invariably built of unhewn logs, and the spaces between them were filled with clay. They had puncheon floors generally, but not always, for sometimes the floors were made of clay. They had clapboard roofs and a large fireplace which extended almost along the entire building. The teachers were men of limited education. If they could read, write and cipher as far as the single rule of three, and were muscularly strong enough to whip the boys, they could find employment and were regarded as good teachers4 Among the early teachers were James Wilson, Charles Johnston, James Alexander, James Henry and others. In Donegal they built two school houses of a substantial nature in 1818. Hays' School was built in 1820: Stahlstown in 1821, and Union School was built in 1828 or 1829. This last school was built by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was used during the week in the winter time for a school house, and all the year around on Sunday for church purposes.

Stahlstown is rather a thriving village eight miles south of Ligonier, on the main road leading from Ligonier to Donegal. It is not incorporated but is a very pretty and cleanly kept village.

When the common school system went into operation in 1834 the citizens of Donegal township were greatly opposed to it. The first directors were Peter Kistler, James W. Jones, William Campbell and Hugh Cavern, who were bitterly opposed to the system, and Thomas Richards and Peter Gay, who were favorable to it. The majority of the board of directors being opposed to it, the operation of the law was crippled from the beginning. Its opponents faunally yielded and laid the township off into subdistricts, levied school taxes, etc. In 1838 another vote was taken in Donegal township on the school system, and it was carried in favor of the system by a small majority. Among the leading directors from the years 1834 to 1850 were David Bell, Thomas Johnston, Simon Snyder and William Fetter, while the leading supporters of the school system were John Caven, William R. Hunter, John Weimer, John Johnston and others. The Bible was the principal text book. The examination of teachers as to their qualifications to teach was very superficial. The writer's informant has told him that in 1845 the committee appointed to examine a teacher heard him read and gave him one example in simple interest, which he solved correctly and so was allowed to teach. A great deal of progress has been made in education and church work in the last fifty years, so that the township and the borough of Donegal take rank with any rural community in our county in this direction. The township has eleven schools with three hundred and fifty five pupils enrolled.

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