A Visit to Howard Falls, 1891

We cannot do better than copy from the Erie Dispatch, 1891, a description of the annual outing of the Natural History Society for some of our boldest scenery: On leaving the morning Lake Shore train at Fairview Station, Mr. G. T. Howard‘s four-horse vehicle was waiting to take the party to his residence and stone quarry at Falls Run, about six miles south of Fairview. The route lay through a pleasant farming country and over a succession of hills, rising higher and higher until an elevation was reached of several hundred feet above the surface of Lake Erie.

Elk Creek is the largest stream in Erie County, and to members of the State Geological Survey it has been the most interesting. It rises on the highlands south of Erie City and runs in a westerly direction fifteen or twenty miles to a point south of Girard, where it forms a great oxbow curve around a long narrow ridge of rocks one hundred feet in height, known as the ‘Devil’s Backbone’, and then runs north through Girard to Lake Erie. The reason Elk Creek took a westerly direction while other streams that rose near that line ran directly north into the lake is because a high ridge lies between them, running parallel with the lake shore and named by the Geological Survey, ‘First Divide’. From this watershed the rainfall on the north side runs into the lake through Mill Creek and other small streams, while the rainfall on the opposite side goes south into Elk Creek.

In this stream is the second and most important subject of interest to the geologist, in having cut a deep channel in the rocks with perpendicular walls more than one hundred feet in height, and a personal inspection of the vertical walls has been made and the result published by members of the State Geological Survey. This is also an interesting stream to sightseers. Not only are the great oxbow bend, the ‘Devil’s Backbone’, and further down the creek the ‘Devil’s Nose’, a high promontory of ashen gray rocks exhibiting that little-known mineral, cone-in-cone, jutting out from the vertical walls, but also the deep valley sloping gracefully away to the uplands which are, apparently, above the universal horizon.

Here numerous landscapes along the entire water courses are as diversified with sheep, horses, and grazing cattle, clumps of bushes and shade trees, grain fields, and farm buildings as any, perhaps, that may be seen in Northern Pennsylvania. There are many places where the air is fragrant with wild flowers, mint leaves and wintergreen spice bushes, coniferous trees, and sweet birches. After crossing Elk Creek the party soon arrived at Falls Run, and were driven into the maple grove in front of Mr. Howard‘s residence, where we were made welcome for the day. Mr. Howard showed us his creamery, ice house, and stone quarry, where we obtained many beautiful fossil shells and fossil marine plants.

“This quarry”, Mr. Howard said, “is the northern outcrop of the Pennsylvania third oil sand about five hundred feet above the surface of Lake Erie. A lady asked ‘Why is there no oil here?’ His reply was, ‘These rocks are the highest part of the strata, so hard and so fine that they can contain no oil. As the stratum dips down under the surface toward the oilfields it becomes softer and coarser and so porous that it can hold an ocean of oil.’ This corresponds with the Geological Survey. Some time was spent looking at the waterfall. It is forty feet in height and sixty feet in breadth. The water cascades beautifully over the brink and down through a dark, narrow gulch about ninety feet in depth and pours itself into Elk Creek, singing its own glad song as it goes. Near the cascade is a mineral spring, clear, cool, and tasting fairly. It is said to be very healthy. Mr. Howard is not only an intelligent farmer and dairyman and quarryman, but also an intelligent geologist. He did all he could to make our visit as pleasant as possible, and he and his family have the thanks of the entire company.

Check out more from Laura G. Sanford’s “The History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, from its First Settlement” from 1894.

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