As we wrote in our blog “Crossing the Divide; The Challenge of Bridging Elk Creek,” the dedication of a new concrete bridge across Elk Creek was an auspicious occasion in early August 1926. On hand were over 100 dignitaries and local residents. One of those residents in attendance was George Howard, who had been asked to provide comments at the occasion.
Working with his granddaughter, Dorothy Howard, they composed the comments that George would deliver that day. Then, as the day arrived, George asked Dorothy to read his remarks to the audience. George’s comments that day would have been lost, except that fortuitously we have in our family archives the hand-written notes that Dorothy delivered on behalf of her grandfather, George. What follows below are those exact words delivered at the dedication, followed by an additional analysis of each paragraph.
What emerges is a consistent picture of the development of the area around Howard Falls, from the unbroken wilderness of the 1830s to the occasion of the improved roadway to Fairview that was dedicated in 1926.
The dedication of the bridge across Elk Creek marks the opening of a highway rich in pioneer history. A vivid contrast of modern times and the ease of conveyance today to pioneer days and their hardships were recalled by Mr. G. T. Howard, one of the oldest citizens here.
George Tuttle Howard was born November 10, 1842, at Howard Falls, the 3rd of seven children of Levi and Hannah (Taylor) Howard. As a 10-year-old, he would have witnessed the building of the first road to Fairview, which opened the region to access from the Lake Erie region.
As an adult, George operated the Howard Stone Quarry, first as an assistant to his father, Levi, and then continuing its operation into the 1900s.
Now at the dedication of the new concrete bridge across Elk Creek, he was approaching 84 years of age. He had witnessed first-hand the region’s development from an unbroken wilderness during his lifetime.
We have tried to record the stories of some of the events which mark the progress of this section. Some of the following incidents happened within the memory of Mr. Howard and some are recalled as related by his father.
George’s father, Levi Howard, was encouraged by his maternal uncle, Elijah Smith, to come to the area to quarry stone to support Elijah’s masonry business. So when stone outcroppings were discovered near what is now Howard Falls, Levi and his family settled there in 1839 to quarry that stone. Learning the trade from his father, George would continue the quarry into the early 1900s.
Jim Ryan, a noted hunter, was perhaps the first to settle in the region. He was forced, because of the lack of a road to leave his team of oxen and hand hewed wagon at the top of the bank while he went into the valley below and built a home of the logs of the dense forest there. When his home was built he let his goods down by rope.
The Ryan family from Dauphin Co, PA, was indeed one of the first to settle in the area south of Elk Creek, near Howard Falls. Many families from Dauphin County (Harrisburg) settled in the Fairview area after 1796 when the Harrisburg & Presque Isle Land Company was formed there. The purpose of the Land Company was to improve and populate the land near and adjoining Lake Erie, especially around Walnut Creek. While the settlement was not rapid, by 1802, many from Dauphin Co had relocated to the Fairview area. Then in 1805, James Ryan brought his family and settled south of Elk Creek, where Route 98 crosses the great gorge today.
On one of his trips down he encountered a huge panther in his path. The wagon was left at the top of the hill and until it decayed was more or less a landmark. The forest land was cleared and in its place today are the fertile farm lands which we see.
It is not surprising that Jim Ryan and a panther crossed paths in the early 1800s in northwestern PA. While extinct in the eastern US now, the native range of the Puma concolor before European settlement of the Americas reached from coast to coast. Known by many local common names across the continent, including cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount, and panther, intensive hunting and development resulted in the cougar populations being eliminated in eastern North America by the beginning of the 20th century.
Mr. Fletcher, a miner, was one of the next who came here. He came by way of Elk Creek, and following a branch of it came to what is now known as Howard’s Falls. Near this point he discovered a stone quarry. The discovery of stone attracted many settlers here and for many years was a booming industry.
Additional information about “Mr. Fletcher” is difficult to develop, especially with no first name. There were Fletcher in the Fairview and Elk Creek township areas at the time, but nothing more can be offered about him or his family.
More importantly, what is seen here in this recollection is that the area around Howard Falls in the early 1800s was an unbroken wilderness with no roads. Exploration of the area was by following streams south from their confluences with Elk Creek. As the region along the Lake Erie shore continued to develop, stone was needed for buildings. Outcroppings like those at Howard Falls were very valuable when they could be quarried for building stone.
Chief among those attracted by the stone were Mr. Howard’s father, Levi, and uncle, Henry, from Vermont. Because there was no bridge over Elk Creek when they came, they were obliged to come in by what is known as the Old State Road. Levi Howard bought the land to the West of the old road on which was opened the original stone quarry. Henry Howard bought a large track of land to the South. This included about 400 acres and is the land traversed by the new improved highway.
Levi and Henry Howard were encouraged to settle in the area by their maternal uncle, Elijah Smith. Elijah was a stone mason, and his services were in high demand as the Erie Extension Canal was completed to Erie. Prosperity along the canal route meant lots of new construction, requiring large quantities of cut stone. Thus the Howard boys opened the first stone quarry in the area, adjacent to Howard Falls. Building stone would be taken from their quarries for nearly 100 years to supply the building of the locks of the Canal, the Erie County Court House, the Civil War Memorial in Girard, and countless other projects throughout the region.
Notable also is the mention of Old State Road. The road was put in by the State in the 1802-04 time frame. Running from Waterford to Lexington (present-day Platea), it bisected Franklin Township east to west and was the only road into the region until about 1840. No other current-day roads existed at the time. All early settlers into northern Franklin Township indeed did have to come by Old State Road.
For more on Old State Road and other roads in Franklin Township, see our earlier blog, “The Invisible Lines of the Early Surveys through the Wilderness.“
Moses Baker, a pioneer, from New York State later bought the farm on which the quarry is now located. He was attracted to this region by the water here and was the first to cross a small bridge which had been built across Elk Creek. He came during the winter months and because of the snow and ice on the narrow bridge was forced first to help his family across and then run his horses across to keep the old fashioned sled from sliding off the bridge.
Moses Baker came to the area in about 1852, having first settled in Lake Co, Ohio in 1840, from New York. Thus, the first bridge across Elk Creek, referenced above, near where present-day Route 98 crosses, must have been built in about 1852.
For more about the two quarries at Howard Falls and on Moses Baker and his family, see our earlier blog, “Moses and Philena (Whiting) Baker.”
In order to market the stone it was necessary to build a road. Mr. Howard is one of those who helped to cut and haul logs to build a corduroy road to Fairview. Over the road was hauled the stone which was used in building the Dan Rice Monument in Girard and the floor of the Court House in Erie.
The first road to Fairview described above must have been built about 1852, for it was in that year that the Erie County Court House was constructed on West 6th Street in Erie. This is consistent with the same date that Moses Baker came to Franklin Township above.
That corduroy road to Fairview ultimately became the PA State Route 98 of today. For more on the development of that road and others that bridged Elk Creek, see our blog “Crossing the Divide; The Challenge of Bridging Elk Creek.”
In those days the wild animals and birds of the forest furnished the main items of food for the early settlers. At a point just beyond the bridge crossing Falls Run, near the Stone Quarry is a spot which is known as Deer Lick Spring. The deer came to this spot for the minerals deposited on the rocks there. Along the trails leading to this deer lick were built bough houses where the hunters concealed themselves and shot the animals.
Early maps of the area show springs in the area and several can be found today. The Deer Lick Spring mentioned above still flows just above the Falls. Its flow is consistently about 350 gallons/day.
And so we travel with an industrious people from a time when they are pioneers, suffering the hardships of a new country, building their rude homes from split logs, clearing the land from which they wrest their meager living and cutting and digging roads through a dense forest; to the present time with all our modern conveniences, peaked today by the opening of a marvelous new highway, a symbol of a civilization of which we are justly proud.
As the road to Fairview became a State highway, the funds to continue to improve it increased significantly. The new concrete bridge over Elk Creek was a significant milestone in its continued development. What once was a corduroy road built to haul stone from the Howard Stone Quarry to Fairview and beyond would eventually become the major north-south artery of today’s transportation network.
A monumental change in transportation occurred with the introduction of the Model T Ford in 1908. Almost overnight, reliable, easily maintained mass-market transportation was available to the general population. By 1927, the 15 millionth Model T Ford had rolled off the assembly line.
What followed was the Ford Model A and B, and automobile transportation as we know it today flourished. For more information on how highways and the modern automobile enabled the development of suburban living, see our blog “Howard Falls vs. Suburban Sprawl.”
Original handwritten remarks from 1926: