History of Franklin Township

Today it is hard to imagine the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania as a remote, untraveled forest. But, in reality, this land may have once been the ancestral home to indigenous people and the original stewards of what we now call Howard Falls. In the coming years, we hope to explore and research the indigenous people of Erie County to accurately add their history to the story of Howard Falls in more detail. We hope through our commitment to the conservation of the Howard Falls, we honor all who have called the area ‘home’. For now, our story starts in the late 1700s.

On September 25, 1783, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Council passed a resolution authorizing a commission to purchase indigenous territory within the acknowledged boundaries of the state. In the following year, 1784, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix was the first agreement ever made between any indigenous nation and the newly formed United States of America. With the terms of this federal treaty, known as the Purchase of 1784, the state of Pennsylvania paid one thousand dollars to the Six Nations. For this, the Iroquois agreed to completely relocate out of Pennsylvania, with the exception of the Cornplanter Reserve. This reserve was named after Chief Cornplanter in honor of his efforts to reach a peace agreement. This area of the reserve measured eight hundred acres and followed the Allegheny River starting just below the New York state line; the land was set aside for the use of Chief Cornplanter and his descendants. The reserve remained in Native hands until the construction of the Kinzua Dam from 1960 to 1965.

Map showing various purchases from indigenous people per the 1884 History of Erie County by Samuel P. Bates

The Purchase of 1784 included the counties of Crawford, Warren, Venango, Forest, McKean, Elk, Potter, Tioga, Mercer, Lawrence, Butler, Clarion, Jefferson, and Cameron – as well as portions of Bradford, Clinton, Clearfield, Indiana, Armstrong, Lycoming, Beaver, Allegheny, and of course Erie. The purchase allowed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to offer Certificates of Depreciation to poorly paid Revolutionary soldiers, which could be used for the purchase of land, known as Depreciation Lands. However, as mentioned in Howard Falls vs Suburban Sprawl, the remoteness of Franklin Township from the main lines of travel delayed settlement compared to other areas of Northwestern Pennsylvania and specifically, Erie County.

Map of North Western Pennsylvania or The Purchase of 1784 by W.M. Guyther

In about 1802, a few adventurous parties settled on the State road when it opened, but found so little to encourage them to stay, and eventually all relocated outside the township. As late as 1835, the county remained almost an unbroken forest except for a few colonists who settled there; William and Levi Francis, from New York; James P. Silverthorn, from Girard Township; Mr. Goodban and Mr. Longley, from England; and of course, Henry Howard, from Grafton, Vermont.

It was James P. Silverthorn who circulated petitions and worked for the creation of the Township, and in 1844, Franklin Township was established out of portions of McKean, Washington, and Elk Creek Townships. It is said the name “Franklin,” comes from the patriot of the Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, at the suggestion of Honorable Judge John H. Walker. The township is exactly five miles square and contains 16,896 acres. The only village at the time was Franklin Corners, which was also the sole post office.

1884 Map of Erie County, showing Franklin Township. (Erie County Map)

In the 1884 “History of Erie County” by Samual P. Bates, he describes Franklin Township as “high, rolling land, with few of the ravines and broken ridges which prevail in the other summit townships. The soil is clay loam, varied by a few patches of gravel. Some grain is raised, but the land is best adapted for grazing and stock-raising, in which regard it is unsurpassed. Apples and some other fruits yield handsomely. But little good timber remains, and that is fast being cut off. Land varies in price from $15 to $40 an acre. The buildings are principally new, and most of the houses are nicely painted. There are several bank barns in the township.

1855 Map of Franklin Township (Erie County Maps)

Being on the top of the hills which have their bases in Washington, McKean, Fairview, Girard, and Elk Creek, numerous small streams take their rise in Franklin and flow into the creeks of those townships. Those in the north are all tributary to Elk Creek, and those in the south mainly to the Cussewago, the dividing ground being about a mile and a half south of the center. Falls Run, the most considerable in the township, starts about a mile east of a cranberry marsh southeast of Franklin Center and empties into Elk Creek in Fairview. Below the cascade at Howard’s quarry, the stream winds between high, steep, and romantic banks to its junction with Elk Creek.”

By 1900 almost all of Franklin Township had been timbered, and the old-growth forest was gone.  Nonetheless, Nature is returning wilderness to the land, and along and within the Falls Run Gorge, trees of over 100 years of age again tower toward the sky.  A future blog will explore the character of old-growth forests and what it is like to walk amongst the ‘Ancient’.  Join us on that journey.

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