HISTORY OF PETERS TOWNSHIP

As written by Mary B. Roach in 1952
Copied and Updated by Boyd Caldwell Roach Jr. January 2, 1991
Additions - August 9, 1991
Copyright 2003

 

HISTORY OF PETERS TOWNSHIP
By Mary B. Roach

Peters Township was the tenth on the list of the thirteen original townships formed under the act erecting Washington County, passed March 28, 1781. The act elected trustees to divide the county into townships before July 1, 1781. The territory originally embraced in the township took in the present township, the northern part of Union Township and all that part of Allegheny County lying east of Chartiers Creek and south and west of the Monongahela River. In 1786, Dickinson Township was formed from the northern part of the township, but still remained as part of Washington County. In 1789, when Allegheny County was moved southward, Peters Township was reduced to its present boundaries. That was the same year George Washington was elected president. In 1834, Union Township was formed from Nottingham and Peters, thus reducing Peters Township to its present area.

FIRST SETTLEMENTS

Within the present limits of the township, the first tract of land taken up was called ' Benton'. It was granted on a Virginia certificate February 11, 1780 to James Matthews, being situated on the waters of Chartiers Creek and did include his original settlement made in 1774.

James Mathews died on the tract, but his widow survived several years. An early survey map indicates that 357 acres was surveyed on July 5, 1785 for Margaret Mathews in pursuance of a Virginia Certificate patent March 30, 1786. James Mathews was the great, great, grandfather of H.M. (Mac Mathews). 

James Mathews family: 
Paul - went West 
Robert - went West 
William - went West (Daughter married Andrew Crawford James - lived near Washington, PA, but settled near McMurray. Of the original tract called "Benton", part remained for many years in the family name (H.M. Mathews). 'Mac" was a school teacher in Peters Township for many years, as many in the Township still remember. The H.M. Mathews farm was in the area of the present St. Benedict Church. Members of this family still live in the area. Part of the tract passed through intermediate hands to John and William McMurray. This land was probably the home of Levi, Wallace, and Leslie McMurray. The part nearest the village was purchased by Harvey McMurray.

William Mathews' daughter married Andrew Crawford and lived in Peters Township on the farm known as the Mary Crawford farm. According to an early survey map, there was an Andrew Crawford living on a tract of land called " Crawley " consisting of 415 acres and 54 perches. This tract was patented June 12, 1786 to Andrew Crawford and bordered the Mathews property on the south. In 1952 this Mary Crawford farm was owned by Harlan German. Mr. John Holleran had also lived here for many years. The brick for the house was burned on the farm. The Crawford's are mentioned as early elders of Peters Creek Church.

The John Melloney tract, called " Petersburg " and consisted of 392 acres with a Virginia Certificate patent received September 20,1785, was located adjacent to the old high school building (At the underpass on Bebout Road). The old homestead was located on the property later owned by John Henry (Corner of Justabout Road). A portion of this property was later added to the McMurray estate. (This land is still owned by William and James McMurray). John Melloney was the great, great, great grandfather of Belle Fawcett Aggers (Mrs. Harry Aggers) and Rev. James E. Fawcett.

In 1791, James Mitchell, who had been an officer in the Revolutionary War, purchased 344 acres and 79 perches known as 'Crookston". It joined the Melloney tract eastward. This tract had been originally granted to Richard and Levi Crooks on a Virginia certificate and patented May 1, 1786. Brush Run passes through this section. The ground which the original Peters Creek Church stands on was purchased from James Mitchell for $10.00. The tract consisted of two acres and the deed gave the congregation permission to use the spring west of the Meeting House. James Mitchell was elected elder at Peters Creek in 1795. He died January 19, 1846. James Mitchell had one daughter who became the wife of John Wright of Williamsport, now Monongahela City. Mr.and Mrs. Wright settled on the Mitchell homestead. (In 1952, the Watkins family lived in this house) 

John Brackenridge owned property in Peters Township as early as 1779.  
John Brackenridge - Catherine Brackenridge 
John 
William 
Margaret 
Jane 
Agnes 
Records of November 1, 1779 show him to have sold 100 acres to James Mathews, who lived near him. 167 acres of the farm were sold to William Arthur and finally passed into the hands of Harvey McMurray. It was said that Brush Run passed through the land. A pottery was operated on this land near the old home of Harvey McMurray. The clay was brought from the Melloney farm and the business was operated by a man named Brachen. (A man named Brachen lived in the old Brown home). This business was discontinued but as early as 1830, or before, a woolen mill was established at McMurray by James and William Hannah. In 1840, the mill was remodeled and made into a flour mill by William Arthur. The mill was burned in May 1866. In 1881, Mr. Harvey McMurray rebuilt the flour mill on approximately the same site. This mill was operated until 1926. In 1946, the mill was torn down to widen the McMurray and Venetia Roads. These mills were early operated by water power and the breast of the old dam was near the Boy Scout Cabin. (Off to the right of the present Peters Twp. library). Mr. McMurray later added a saw mill to his flour business.

These settlers were of Scotch - Irish descent. The village of McMurray was early called Mesopotamia which means "Between Two Waters" This tract of land called " Mesopotamia ", covering 398 acres and 48 perches, was patented to John Brackenridge on March 26, 1799. This land bordered " Benton ", which was the Matthews tract on the north.

Anthony Dunlavy came from Ireland in 1745 and settled near Winchester, Virginia where he married. In 1772, he moved to what was supposed to be a part of Virginia. The tract of land patented to Mr. Dunlavy on May 24,1787, contained 375 acres and 43 perches and was called " The Tower". He moved to Kentucky and sold the land to John Reed and Dennis Dunlavy. Some of this land came into the possession of Harvey McMurray. (Chas. McMurray farm was part of " The Tower ").

From the Matthews property down toward Thompsonville, was a tract of land called "Oswego". The patent was granted to John Swearingen in 1790 for 350 acres. In 1796, Mr. Swearingen sold this land to Andrew Borland. In 1808, Andrew Borland sold 103 acres to Joseph Henry, who in turn sold that part to William Caldwell (Great - great grandfather of Boyd Caldwell Roach Jr.)

A saw mill on Brush Run was built by Henry Borland and later was operated by Joseph and Robert Caldwell. (Great grandfather of Boyd Caldwell Roach Jr.) This saw mill was located near the present Shaner home. A part of this Swearingen tract joining the Matthew's farm passed into the hands of Moses Hickman. (From Maplewood Drive, off Valley Brook, to St. Benedict Church). The old log house was on the farm where Dettlings lived in 1952. (Just past the present Shaner house on the left). Mr. Art Hickman was born here. (Son James Hickman married Virginia Deitz and still lives on the Hickman farm in Cecil. (Just beyond Hills Station). F. M. Roach (Grandfather of Boyd Caldwell Roach Jr.) worked as a boy for Moses Hickman and helped to drive the sheep when they moved to the present Hickman farm.

The land from the Dr. Reiter property down to where Brush Run flows into Chartiers Creek was granted to Robert Thompson by patent April 8, 1788. This tract consisted of 370 acres and 73 perches and the purchase price was 3 pounds, 1 shelling and 8 pennies. This tract was called "Tunbridge". Thompsonville was evidently named for this early settler who ran a store in the village. David Gibson purchased 136 acres of this tract and sold it to Joseph and Robert Caldwell in 1848. Later when they dissolved partnership, Robert Caldwell became sole owner of the 136 acres in 1852. Parts of the original 370 acres were sold to owners in Thompsonville and a larger portion joining McGrann acres was sold in 1839 to James Pollock and James Moore. The old house on that portion was much photographed and painted. (Last lived in by the Bioni family. Located off route 19 in the approximate area of the present Dairy Queen). The old log house on the Caldwell property was located about the site of the former Belle and Harry Aggers home on Old Washington Road north of the Old Roach Homestead.

Robert Bell purchased the tract called "Curious Bend" from Anthony Boly in 1795. He had married before coming to Peters Township and lived on this property until he died. Anthony Boly first put up a cabin near the spring house and then put up a better one where the former Bell residence stood. Robert Bell made his home in the first cabin with his wife, 5 sons and 2 daughters. Robert Bell, a son, survived a great many years. The youngest daughter married William Barr and lived on Mingo Creek.

John Moore was an early settler, locating on the land owned and occupied by his son Robert Moore. Dr. Hugh Thompson's farm was on the west side, Ephiaim Morton's (McGrann's) farm on the north side and that of Robert Guthrie bounded it on the east.

Andrew Devore was also one of the early settlers in Peters Township. He owned a large tract of land, taking it up as one of the original settlers. Actually two (2) tracts of land were involved. One tract, called " Totterdown Hill ", consisted of 405 acres and 86 perches and was patented to Andrew Devore March 8, 1788. The second adjacent tract of land was called " Difficulty " and consisted of 160 acres and 114 perches being patented to Andrew Devore on January 13, 1798. A portion of this land was later owned by James Johnston, grandfather of Lloyd Johnston who still lived on this land in 1952.

The Rev. David Phillips, a leading clergyman of the pioneer days in Peters Township, came here in 1780. He took out a warrant for land which now lies in both Allegheny and Washington Counties. The tract of land contained 390 acres under the title of "Ninevah" and was patented March 4, 1786. The land on which the Peters Creek Baptist Church stands was granted by Mr. Phillips. One thousand persons descended from this settler. David Phillips was a captain in the Revolutionary War.

Enoch Phillips came to Peters Township on April 2, 1796 and purchased 104 acres of John Allison's property, which was a part of the tract patented to Anthony Dunlavy under the title of "The Towers". Enoch Phillips resided on this land for a long period of time. He kept one of the taverns known here in the early days and was located near a forks of the road near his farm. His son, David Phillips, also kept a house of public entertainment in 1826, occupying the same house as his father. As of 1952, his son, David Phillips, still had a farm in the township living in a house built in 1814.

Wright House
Enoch Wright house

About 1765, two brothers of Scotch-Irish descent named Joshua and James Wright, came from the Cumberland valley and settled on Peters Creek. Joshua returned east and married Charity Harris (daughter of John Harris, from whom Harrisburg derived its name. Joshua purchased all the land from James, who went to Kentucky and was killed by Indians. Joshua engaged in New Orleans trade and on one of these trips, was captured by Indians and burned at the stake. (The boats were flat bottomed and square prowed) His widow married Mr. Colvin and lived on Pigeon Creek. Joshua left three (3) children, Lydia, Enoch and Agnes. Enoch Wright became a man of influence in the community and his son Joseph Wright became a Methodist minister (connected with Wright's Methodist Church at Venetia). Enoch Wright took part in the Whiskey Rebellion. He was also a justice of the peace for 30 years and later served as county commissioner and director of the poor. He supervised the first poor house in the county. Joseph wrote a dictionary and had reached the letter "M" when the manuscript was destroyed in the hurricane of 1854. He had ten (10) children. Joseph's son Joshua Wright, had that part of the original tract upon which the old homestead stood. This was on the site of the garden of the home where Mrs. Anna Williams lived in 1952.

Mrs. Reese is a direct descendent of Joshua Wright, in 1820 her great - great grandfather built the house where Charlie Wessel lived. Mrs. Reese's own is older but was bought by the family as a four room house. In 1844, an addition was built to the house.

Margaret Wright, daughter of Joseph Wright, married Dr. C. W. Townsend and lived near Bower Hill. Mary Wright married Rev. J. C. Brown of the Methodist Church. Charity married Dr. D. M. Anderson.

Before the year 1780, Colonel Joseph Beelor (Beeler) was living in Peters Township and owned a tract of land called " East Wood " and consisting of 262 acres. This tract was patented March 28, 1786 and was located of Chartiers Creek above the present (1952) residence of David G. Phillips, being later owned by Mr. Phillips and Mrs. Brown. 

Joseph was actively engaged in expeditions against the Indians, ranking as Colonel under the authority of Virginia until 1781. In 1782 and 1795, he was licensed to keep a tavern in this township. Col. Beelor lived all his life on his farm in this township. His daughters, Margaret and Mary, settled near him. His only son, Joseph Jr., lived on the farm now (1952) occupied by Robert Wilson o Little Chartiers Creek adjoining the farm of Moses Coe. He left several children to inherit his property. Each received 90 acres.

Daniel Townsend, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, purchased 350 acres and 85 perches of land from his brother-in-law, Joshua Wright, on March 17, 1790. The tract was named "The Sale". Mr. Towsend lived and died on this farm. The brick house built in 1821 and owned by Wilbur Edgar was built by Mr. Towsend's son. Elijah, having settled on the southeastern portion, died in 1871. As of 1952, the Towsend family still owned the farm. Joseph, another son, also lived on the land and married the daughter of Col. William Blackmore. Dr. C. W. Towsend was his oldest son.

Another old home, owned by Louis Groznick until 1990, was the home of Mildred McNulty's grandmother. The house was built in 1844 and was known as the Higby place.

The property just across the railroad track from the old high school was the Douglass property. The house is probably older than Peters Creek Church. At one time it was an old seminary. Each room had a high cupboard with shelves from top to bottom. The woodwork was hand carved and put together with wooden pins. At one time the road was on the other side of the house.

The property owned by Mrs. Warren Johnston, in 1952, was once the Craighead property. Two great aunts of Mr. Fay Brock lived in the house and were school teachers.

The Snodgrass property came from Mr. Snograss' mother's people. It was formerly the David G. Phillips farm.

In 1777, Samuel Park settled in Cecil Township on land adjoining Thomas Brachen. He purchased 560 acres on Chartiers Creek. His grandson, William Park, purchased 300 acres in Peters Township in 1831. In 1833 he married Jane Law. They had three (3) sons. John, the eldest, lived in Cecil Township, but Robert and James lived in Peters Township. In 1952, this Park land was the Donald Tharp home and the Anthony McNary property on McMurray Road. (The present Trinity Methodist Church area was the Tharp home).

The Brown Homestead was the home of Dr. Alex B. Brown, who was connected with Jefferson Academy in Canonsburg. (In 1952, it was the home of Carl Larson and is located at the top of the hill on Old Oak Road behind the Acura car dealer on route 19). Since Dr. Brown's health was not good, his doctor advised him to buy a farm out in the country. He purchased this home and some land from a man named Brachen, probably about the time he came to preach at Center Presbyterian Church (1841-1845; 1856-1862). The house wasn't too old when bought. Later, land was purchased from Johnston Howre, who owned the land owned by Taylor Cheeseman in 1952. (This was the land on both sides of route 19 by the present McDonald's Restaurant). The home where Franklin Gillespie lived was the William Baur property. (Off route 19 on Old Oak Road beyond Don Shaw's service station).

Daniel Bell (great-great grandfather of Peggy, Ruth Ann, and Bill Burke) bought the farm, which is now Rolling Hills Country Club on East McMurray Road, from Daniel Coe around 1812. The frame part of the house was already built, but the Bell family added the brick portion. At that time the road went past the house. Daniel Bell's two sons, Jacob and Solomon, taught school in this township. Solomon Bell ran the Academy known as "Stonewall". The old foundation was behind the old house (Former Vinnie Roach house) at the corner of Center Church Road and Jonathan Drive). It was a private school. In 1952, Levi McMurray had in his possession a copy of a Literary Society held at Center Church in 1869 by the Old Stonewall Academy. Those taking part were:

J.H.Sweeney-Thompsonville

C.J.Caldwell-Brush Run

Miss Hettie Kerr-Center

M.B.Brown

S.M.Laughlin-Thompsonville

Miss A.E.Boyce-Thompsonville

Miss M.J.Bell-Center

Miss E.J.Moore-Thompsonville

W.H.Thompson- Thompsonville

A.T.Bell-Thompsonville

Miss R.T.Young-Herriotsville

J.T.McGrann-Thompsonville

J.Gilkison-Thompsonville

T.M.Fife- Upper St. Clair

Maggie Morton-Thompsonville

A.B.Brown- Mrs. L.J.Sweeney- L.H.Matthews- Thompsonville

CHURCHES

PETERS CREEK U.P.

The exact date of organization is not known. The Scotch-Irish settlers first worshipped in Canonsburg. In 1775, Rev. Matthew Henderson was called by three (3) congregations, Chartiers, Buffalo and Mingo Creek. Mingo Creek and Peters Creek being the same. The first place of meeting was at Mr. Daniel Darrah's, midway between Mingo Creek and Peters Creek, so from the location it was termed as either. Mr. Darrah offered the congregation land for a meeting house, but they accepted the offer of James Mitchell and the church was built at the present location. The first elders were James Mitchell, John McCormick, Thomas Douglass, and Neil McNeil. Rev. John Smith was called in 1796 and was pastor until 1803.

CENTER PRESBYTERIAN

The action of the Presbytery is as follows:

Bethany, April 16, 1828. A number of persons living within the bounds of the congregations of Bethel, Bethany, Chartiers, and Mingo Creek presented a memorial to Presbytery requesting permission to erect a meeting house and organize a congregation on the land of Daniel Bell to be called Center. The request was granted. Matthew B. Brown, D.D., President of Jefferson College, presided at the organization of the congregation, August 29, 1829. The first church was brick, 50 feet by 40 feet and cost $1,200. It was below the present church near where the former sexton's (Geary family) house was located. The sexton's house was located at approximately the same location as the present minister's house. The old part of the present church was built in 1851. In 1925, the basement was finished and the front of the church changed to include a pulpit and two (2) side rooms. Ground was broken for a more recent addition October 20, 1947. The church property and cemetery were donated from the Bell property. In later years, the Bell heirs also gave the ground for the parking lot.

VENETIA METHODIST (Early records were lost)

The church was built by Enoch Wright in 1823. Some say it was built for all evangelical denominations and some say it was built for a Baptist church. Enoch Wright's only son, Joseph, was converted at a Methodist camp meeting and became a minister of that faith. Through him the Methodist body was willed a portion of land with the provision that it be kept free from debt and that no doctrine favoring slavery be preached there. Enoch Wright himself was a Baptist. What help Joseph received in erecting the building, and what it cost, is not known. The late T.E.Robb remembered hearing Liverton Thomas tell of sending his men over to help with the foundation. The ancestors of the Thompsons and Finleys of Finleyville are mentioned as assisting with making the brick. The church was badly damaged by the tornado of 1854. The roof was torn off and the walls spread. Long iron bolts were placed to hold the walls together. All the money for repairs was collected the day after the storm by David B. Connelly from among neighboring congregations, who subscribed promptly and liberally as a thank offering that their own churches had been spared. The church and parsonage, that was standing in 1952, were built in 1922.

VENETIA, PA. (Located at the extreme eastern section of Peters Twp)

Back in the early days, Venetia was known as Thomastown. It was named for Diverton Thomas, the great-great grandfather of Mary Loutit. Mr. Thomas kept the village tavern. He owned the land from the old post office (by McConnaughey's store) to the site of the old Venetia school or Upper Venetia as it has been called. He owned a grist mill which stood in the rear of R.F. McConnaughey's store. It was said to have been built in 1765 and in later years was owned by McConnaugheys. In recent years the old McConnaughey's Store closed and was torn down. The land and building was purchased by Fred A. Wardle who erected and now operates "The Country Store" on approximately the same location. There were a few houses at this time where Thomas McCombs Jr. lived in 1952.

There was an old log house where Tom McCombs' grandparents lived, and an old blacksmith shop. Opposite McConnaughey's store was an old log house where Miss Blanche Robb's grandparents lived. Dr. D.M. Anderson's home and the Wright homestead are down the road toward Finleyville. In 1878, the narrow gage railroad came through Venetia and the station was called Anderson for Dr. D.M. Anderson. It was one of the original Southern B & O depots. At this time the village became known as Venetia. In 1879 Dr. Anderson opened a mine. Eclipse, Cincinnati and others opened about the same time. Now Venetia became a flourishing town. Numerous trains passed through each day. Some years later the Pittsburgh Coal Company bought all of the small mines. Then the depression came and the mines closed down. People moved away, houses were torn down, and Venetia became a quiet village again.

SOME EARLY SCHOOLS IN PETERS TOWNSHIP

On April 26, 1856, a motion was made (assume by the governing body of Peters Twp.) to build five (5) school houses in the district. One (1) at Thompsonville, one (1) at or near the mouth of the late Joseph Mop's lane, and one (1) on the farm of Edward Wright at the mouth of Church Lane and Monongahela City Road.

Wright's: 1856 - motion to sell Denniston School on Jim Fife's (father of Boyd Fife) farm. Bid by Matthew McCosh to build Wright's School for $465 and 200 per perch for mason work. Thompsonville: 1856 - old building built.1907 - new building built (Still standing) Built by Joseph Laughlin for $460 and $1.87 1/2 per perch for mason work.

Five School Houses: 1. Thompsonville 2. Wrights 3. Craighead (Pleasant Valley 4. Turkeyfoot 5. Bower Hill

NOTE: A. One (1) perch equals 1 rod or 5 1/2 yards or 16 1/2 feet.

   

LINKS

Venetia, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Historical Roadside Markers

Washington County History Pages

   


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