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


Fairfield township was the name of a division in this county while we were yet a part of Bedford county. When Westmoreland was organized Fairfield was made one of its townships by a court held at Hannastown, March 6, 1773. It then embraced the greater part of Ligonier Valley, and had within its limits Fort Ligonier. Out of its original limits have been taken most of the township of Ligonier and the whole of the township of St. Clair. It is situated in the northern part of Ligonier Valley, and is bounded on the east by Laurel Hill, on the west by Chestnut Ridge, on the north by the Conemaugh river and St. Clair township, and on the south by Ligonier township. On either side of the township, as you pass north toward the Conemaugh river, the land is hilly, and next to the mountain it is rather poor and rocky, but in the central part of the valley there are some fine streams and fertile farms, and a large part of it is underlaid with the Pittsburgh seam of coal. The better part of the land is well adapted to farming, and that has been the occupation of its inhabitants since its first settlement. There is only one incorporated borough within its limits, that of Bolivar. Some of its villages are: Lockport, on the Pennsylvania railroad; West Fairfield, in the central part of the township, and Covodeville, a much smaller place near by.

One of the first school teachers in the township was William Luther, known to the old people as "Master Luther." He was a man who used the rod unsparingly. In that early day they did not have schoolhouses, but the teachers kept school in vacant houses or lofts, or other small rooms which might be used for that purpose. There was but one regular schoolhouse in the township when the common school law went into operation. It was built in 1820. and was thereafter used exclusively for school purposes. Notwithstanding this they voted to adopt a school law in 1835 almost unanimously. Shortly after that the had seven schools in the township, but this included St. Clair township as well, for it was not stricken from Fairfield until 1856.

Fort Palmer was a very important Revolutionary fort located in the central part of the township. The date of its construction can only be approximated. Robert Knox, on March 11, 1771, conveyed the land on which the fort was built to John Palmer. On January 24, 1776, Palmer conveyed the same land to Charles Griffin by deed acknowledged before Robert Hanna, judge, etc. The tract was patented to Griffin on February 10, 1787, and in the patent it was called "Fort Palmer." The fort was therefore built while Palmer owned it, between 1771 and 1776. for otherwise it would not have taken his name. It was a stockade fort and was used during the Revolution and during the troubles with the Indians in those years. When the second fort was being constructed at Fort Ligonier, a journal was kept which refers many times to Fort Palmer. It is also often mentioned in old letters. In a letter from Colonel Archibald Lochry, (see Pa. Ach. vol. 5, p. 741) it is stated that the settlers are kept so closely in the fort (Palmer) that they can gain no subsistence from their farms. He also reports that eleven others were killed and scalped near the fort, one of whom was Ensign Woods. The journal notes on October 22, two children were killed by the Indians within two hundred yards of the fort. It was situated on land now owned by Culbertson Ramsey, about seven miles north of Ligonier.

One of the oldest churches in Ligonier Valley is the Fairfield Presbyterian Church. It dates back at least to October 7, 1786. In April 21, 1787, there was a joint call for a minister at Donegal and Wheatfield (which is now in Indiana county) and at Fairfield. Rev. James Hughes was sent to minister to them. There was no church edifice in the community, but a "tent" was used in place of a building. As early as 1790 or 1791 the Presbyterians erected a house of hewed logs. A tall pulpit seven steps high was at one side of the house. This old church remained standing until 1867. Most of the seats in an early day were such as the communicants of the church saw fit to furnish for themselves, many of them made of hewed logs. The church had no regular pastor until Rev. George Hill was sent there in 1792 as its first pastor. He was then a young man, having preached but a few months prior to that, and was ordained November 13, 1792. Rev. Samuel Porter preached the sermon, and Rev. Tames Power gave the charge. At the time he took charge of this church his district was about thirty five miles long and about eight or ten miles wide. The Fairfield church received about half of the pastor's time, the Donegal church about a third of it, and the remainder was given to the Wheatfield congregation in Indiana county, which was located between Nineveh and Armagh. About 1798 Wheatfield was given up, and was not after that connected with the Fairfield congragation. Donegal continued to be a part of the charge until 1817. Difficulties arose between them, and Donegal was dropped and annexed to the Ligonier charge. Rey. Hill was a very remarkable man, both intellectually and physically, but the severe work which he did and the long rides in cold weather told upon him, and near the close of his life his constitution became a wreck. He died June 9, 1822.

Rev. Samuel Swan was ordained to succeed him on June 17, 1824. Mr. Swan was then in his twenty fourth year. Amusing stories are told of Mr. Swan's awkwardness and of his inability to adapt himself to a country life. He could not saddle a horse, it is said, without getting the saddle on wrong end foremost, nor could he bridle his horse, but he could preach well, and worked among his people with untiring energy until 1840. By the upsetting of a wagon he was lamed for life and could not longer make the long rides which must be necessarily made in serving that charge.

Rev. James Fleming followed him, and was installed June 17, 1843. He did not succeed well with the congregation, and was released in 1846. He was followed by Rev. O. H. Miller, who was in turn released in 1848, and On July 2, 1849, Rev. William College was installed as his successor. He preached at Union, West Fairfield and Fairfield, which at that time constituted one charge. Mr. College was dismissed April 13. 1852, and in 1853 he was succeeded by Rev. J. W. Walker. Mr. Walker was an amiable gentleman and remained longer with this somewhat capricious congregation than any other save Rev. Swan. During his pastorate a new church was erected and was dedicated January 17, 1867. Rev. Walker's health forced him to resign April 28, 1869. He was succeeded by Rev. William Cunningham, who was installed February 15, 1871. The history of this church is better kept than almost any other church in the county, and these facts were taken from Rev. Alexander Donaldson's "History of Old Fairfield Presbyterian Church." The congregation in the past century has produced many young men who entered the ministry and became prominent preachers in other congregations of the Union. One of the patrons of this church was Daniel Hendricks, who lived on Hendricks' creek, and who was the uncle of Thomas Hendricks, of Indiana, who was vice president of the United States from 1885 until his death.

Rev. Dr. Donaldson has given many personal recollections of the habits of the early people in this charge, which are very interesting. He says that it was no uncommon thing that day to see persons walking a distance of nine or ten miles every Sabbath morning to attend church. The women almost always walked in their bare feet or in coarse shoes, carrying their finer shoes in their hands, and when they came near the church they would sit down by the side of the road and put on their good shoes before coming in full view of the congregation. Sometimes, he says, "One might see fifty of them all engaged in changing their shoes." "Before 1825," he says, "there was not a vehicle brought to their church. Between 1825 and 183o there were two or three 'Dearborns' and perhaps one cafriage, but not more, which came regularly to the Sunday morning service, 'the masses coming on foot.' " "Old men who were not able to walk, and young men who wished to make a great display, came sometimes on horseback. There were generally two persons on one horse, and sometimes three. On communion Sunday the people from the extreme ends of the district, and also from Donegal, Ligonier and Armagh, would come in great crowds. The most prominent figure in these congregations was Elder Robert Campbell, of Donegal, whose character and interesting life have been spoken of elsewhere in this volume.

The Union Presbyterian Church of Fairfield was organized June 2, 1841, with forty six members.

The Fairfield United Presbyterian Congregation of Ligonier Valley was composed of many Presbyterians from Scottdale and North Ireland. They were people of high integrity, of character, and devotedly attached themselves to the principles of religion very early after they settled in the valley. They were preached to as early as 1775 by preachers who passed through that section, thus helping them to form an organization, which, however, was not perfected until about 1800. The services conducted by these people were held in a tent. The word "tent" does not give us a very correct idea, for it was not made like the modern tent. It was simply a pulpit formed of logs, with a canvass covering for the minister. and sometimes the covering was made of clapboards. Nevertheless. it was always called a tent.

About 1800 the Associate Presbyterian people and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian people, with a number of families from the Presbyterian church, united themselves under the name of the Associated Presbyterian Congregation of Fairfield. Their principles were similar to the faith of the other churches, all clinging to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Longer and Shorter Catechism, etc. They had some considerable trouble with the Presbytery as to the singing of hymns. Rev. McLain was challenged by Rev. Hill, pastor of the neighboring Presbyterian Church, to discuss the psalmody question, inquiring as to what warrant they had in using only scriptural selections in singing. Both were great men of their day, and each, in the opinion of his friends, carried off the honors of the contest. Mr. McLain was afterward removed from this charge, but lived to preach for many years in Crawford county.

In 1803 Rev. John Cree was appointed to preach to these people in Ligonier Valley. He was a native of Scotland, and had been well educated before coming to America. He had preached for a time in New York City and afterwards at Rockbridge, Virginia. His time in Ligonier Valley was equally divided between Fairfield and Donegal, he living at that time in Donegal (now Cook) township, about four miles south of Ligonier. He preached in barns, in private houses, in groves, or any place where the people would meet to hear him. The place where the church now stands was a convenient spot for him to hold these meetings, for nearby was a spring of excellent water where the people could drink during the dinner hour, and there were many large trees there which afforded good shade in hot weather. It must be remembered that the services lasted nearly all day. The pastor frequently stood by a tree, and around him were dragged logs which served as seats for his hearers. This was, of course, only in the summer or warmer weather. In the winter they preached in barns or in private houses.

Rev. Cree was a strong preacher, but did not live to serve these people very long. In April. 1806, he was stricken with apoplexy and died in the fifty second year of his age. They were then for some years supplied by irregular preachers, and in February, 1814, a regular call was made out for Rev. Joseph Scrooges, who had been preaching to them for some months before. Mr. Scroggs was an extraordinary man, and some special reference must be made to his long life and interesting character.

He was born in Cumberland county and reared in part in Washington county, and from this latter home was sent to Jefferson College, at Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, where he was graduated in 1808 at the age of sixteen years. He began the study of theology under the tutorship of Dr. John Anderson, of Beaver county, and remained with him four years, at which time he was licensed to preach, and began his work in October, 1813. He first went to Vermont, intending to remain there, but shortly afterwards returned to Pennsylvania and accepted the call of the Fairfield and Donegal congregations, and was installed at the Fairfield Church, October 14, 1815, as their regular pastor. They had then partly built a log church which was nearly finished, but it was not large enough to hold the congregation on this day, and the services of installation were held. outside so that all might witness the impressive ceremony. In May, 1816, Mr. Scroggs was married to Mary Hanna, of Washington, Pennsylvania. They had ten children. Mrs. Scroggs died July 29, 1848, and he was again married in January, 1854 to Mrs. Nancy Hogg, of Canfield, Ohio. He was all his life a student, a man of scholarly attainments, keen intellect, and had, moreover, a masterly use of the English language. His high moral character placed him above reproach, and his earnest piety made him a power in any field he entered or in any cause he cared to advocate. Long before discussions arose on the question of slavery he began to preach against it, and was therefore one of the first abolition preachers in Westmoreland county. This must not be lightly passed over. He dared to lift up his voice then in behalf of the slaves when it cost something to do so. He presented a paper to the Associate Presbyterian Synod in answer to a protest against the action taken by that body in opposition to slavery by six of its highly respected members, and this paper is claimed even yet by competent judges to be one of the ablest papers ever read before any ecclesiastical body on the subject. He was opposed to the union between the Associate and the Associate Reformed Churches, but when he found the union inevitable he accepted the situation, and lwent to work under the new union, which was completed at Pittsburgh on May 26, 1858. One can scarcely appreciate the extent of his labors. For more than a half century he preached regularly in the morning, in the afternoon, and many times in the evening. Between these services he would often have to ride or drive from ten to fifteen miles, and he invariably traveled eight or ten miles before the morning service. In the early period of his ministry these journeys were made on foot or on horseback, but as he grew older he rode in a buggy or carriage. Such journeys might be easy in the summer months, but were extremely difficult and wearing upon the human constitution in the winter. Nevertheless scarcely ever did he fail in all that long period to minister to his people.

In September, 1864, the Westmoreland Presbytery met at the Fairfield Church. especially to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Scroggs' pastorate. The exercises were most interesting and profitable. The whole community abandoned their regular work and came to attend this great celebration. Addresses were delivered by Dr. Joseph Cooper, of Philadelphia; Dr. A. G. Wallace, Dr. Alexander Donaldson, and a history of the church was read by Rev. James P. Little, who had been born and reared within the congregation. Mr. Scroggs had continued his labors as pastor from father to children, and to their children and grandchildren, even to five generations, and by this time the infirmities of age were creeping fast upon him. At a meeting of the Westmoreland Presbytery, held at Turtle Creek, September 2, 1872, he tendered his resignation, and the Presbytery adopted resolutions expressive of his long and useful career. He continued to preach to his people occasionally during the following winter, and in the early spring attended a meeting of the Presbytery held at Latrobe, ten miles from his home in Ligonier. One evening in April he became thoroughly chilled, and was the next day prostrated with a severe cold. After lingering a few days he died, on April 21, 1873, in the eighty first year of his age, the sixtieth of his ministry, fifty eight of which had been spent as pastor of the one charge. The congregation erected a monument to his memory in the United Presbyterian cemetery in Fairfield township.

As we have seen, there was no church building finished when Mr. Scroggs came there to preach, although it was finished shortly afterwards. The building as near as can be determined, was begun in 1807. It stood below the present burying ground. Before the erection of this church a small log house, perhaps about twenty feet square, was used as a study house, a session house or a schoolhouse, according to the exigencies of the occasion. The fireplace was at one side, and was built up with stone jambs of mason work. It was large enough to burn a log ten feet long in it. The widows were made by cutting out a section of a log, and with sticks reaching from one log to another window sashes were formed, upon which they pasted paper saturated in grease to cover the opening and yet admit the light. The grease put on the paper made it less opaque, and also protected it from the rain and dampness on the outside. The seats were merely pieces of split logs supported by legs and without any backs. The desks used by the pupils in school were built next the wall, and the benches when drawn up to them turned the faces of all the pupils toward the wall. This gave the schoolmaster easy access to use the rod upon the backs of all his pupils. Among the books used in this school were, first of all, the Bible, which was used as a reading book or a text book for both young and old. They had then the "United States Spelling Book," "Goff's Arithmetic," and the "Shorter Catechism." The first teacher there was William Luther, and after hint came William and Joseph Elder, father and son.

The church building had on one side, three lengths of logs, the middle section being set a few feet farther out than the other portion of the wall, leaving a kind of recess on the inside of the building, in which the pulpit was placed. They began to hold services there as soon as the first logs were hewn, using them for seats. All the first churches throughout the valley were without chimneys. To have a fire at all made the place almost unendurable because of the smoke, and it was quite common to remedy this, in some degree by building a fire outside, where the people might go during recess to get warm. Long after the building was otherwise finished, a floor, seats and pulpit were added to it by a carpenter named Groovner. The seats had very high backs, so high indeed that one could scarcely see any one sitting in front of him. The pulpit was very high, and was reached by a high tier of steps. About one half as high as the pulpit and a little in front was a secondary pulpit, in which the clerk was stationed, and from which he led the singing. From all sections of the country between the Loyalhanna and the Conemaugh river the early pioneers gathered here for worship. Very few of them were well enough off to afford to come in wagons, many came on horseback, with one, two, three and sometimes, when they were small, four riding on one horse, but the greater majority came this long distance on foot. They were determined to go to church, and those who could not ride were perfectly willing to walk. Going to church afforded them a change from the monotony of their isolated country homes.

The next church building there was erected in 1849, the building committee being Thomas Smith, David Hutchinson, Andrew Graham, John Pollock and Colonel John McFarland. Nathaniel McKelvey was the contractor, and agreed to build the church for $1,200. The brick were made at a kiln nearby. This building has been repaired and remodeled several times, but is still in a comparatively good condition. Quite a number of young men have gone out from it to become ministers in the western states. Among them are the following: Revs. R. H. Pollock, J. P. Lytle, Andrew Graham, Joseph McKelvey, Joseph A. Scroggs, James D. Lytle, and others. After the death of Mr. Scroggs the congregation was ministered to by Rev. William H. Vincent, who was a man of superior education and ability.

The township has fourteen schools, with four hundred and twenty pupils enrolled.

At May sessions of the court in 1863 the town of Bolivar petitioned toe become an incorporated borough. This petition was filed on May 13th. The final order of court was made on November 25, 1863, incorporating the borough as prayed for. It is situated on the Pennsylvania railroad. Their first election was held at the office of David Coulter, on the 16th of December, 1863, and Edward Coulter was appointed to give notice of the election. The elections continued to be held at the office of David Coulter until 1870, when the court changed the place to that of the schoolhouse. Bolivar was a prominent town in the early days of railroading, and still farther back during the flatboat navigation on the river it had seen busy times. The chief industry of the place is the manufacture of fire-brick from immense deposits of fire clay which are along the Conemaugh river. It has four schools with two hundred and sixteen pupils enrolled.

The village of West Fairfield is situated on the eastern side of the township, on the road leading from Ligonier to Bolivar, or New Florence. It is a pretty little village situated on a plateau, and has long since been a sort of metropolis for the citizens of Fairfield to get their mail, buy small packages of store goods, have their horses shod, etc. The United Brethren, the Methodists and the Presbyterians have each churches there, and there are three well kept graveyards nearby. It has, moreover, two schools, and in an early day there was a select school held there each summer, of which the teachers were of a high grade of scholarship. The pupils came from the district surrounding the place for several miles in each direction.

Lockport is another small village on the Pennsylvania railroad, with a population of about one hundred and fifty. It was named Lockport because there was a canal lock there in the old canal clays. It had formerly a beautiful cut stone aqueduct which led the canal acrosss the Conemaugh river at this place. This aqueduct was removed by the Pennsylvania railroad in 1888.

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