To make the early history of Williamsport more intelligible, it is deemed best to give the names of the original owners of the land lying within the present boundaries, beginning on the east and moving westward. They run in the following order:
The records show that on April 3, 1769, Paul Weitzel made application for 8, tract of 266 acres, which, according to data in the office of the city engineer, embraced what is now that portion of the city lying east of Penn street, and south of Wyoming street to the river. The warrant for this tract, however, was made to Thomas Grant, who received a patent, March 27, 1799.
What is known as the "Michael Ross tract" adjoined Grant on the west. Application for the land was made by George Gibson, April 3, 1769; he transferred his claim to Matthias Slough, February 26, 1770; Slough transferred the same to William Winter, May 2, 1786, and April 1, 1793, Winter sold to Michael Ross, who, May 7, 1794, received a patent in fee from the Commonwealth for 280 acres. In the application the tract was called "Virginia." It extended west from Penn to Hepburn streets; north to Brandon park, And south to the river. It was on a part of this land that Ross laid out the town of Williamsport.
The third tract on the west was applied for by Robert Galbraith, April 3, 1769, and it was called "Mount Joy." He disposed of his claim to Turbutt Francis, March 27, 1770, and he received a patent from the Proprietaries, June 2, 1772. It called for 300 acres. On the death of Francis his widow sold the land to Tench, Coxe, May 2, 1772, and Coxe sold it to Jonathan Mifflin, September 18, 1784; and he sold to John Hollingsworth, April 29, 1786.
The fourth tract, adjoining Mount Joy on the west, was applied for by John Nesbit, April 3, 1769; he transferred his application to Turbutt Francis May 1, 1770, and the Proprietaries granted him a patent in fee April 16,1772. Francis sold to Tench Coxe, and he sold to John Hollingsworth. This tract was called "Deer Park, "and contained 311 acres. The patents for these two tracts are the oldest covering any portion of the land lying within the city of Williamsport.
On the 3d of March, 1804, Hollingsworth exchanged these two tracts for 600 acres owned by James and William Hepburn, at Montoursville, afterwards known as the Charles Lloyd farm, the consideration being 5s. An interesting history of this exchange maybe found in Deed Book F, page 74. And it is distinctly stated in the deed that the Hepburns were to hold Deer Park and Mount Joy as "tenants in common, and not as joint tenants." These tracts covered all that portion of the city lying between what is now Hepburn and Susquehanna streets.
On the 6th of September, 1810, James and William Hepburn made amicable partition of these lands, William taking that part lying west of what is now Campbell street, and James that portion between Campbell and Hepburn on the east. The records show no further early land transactions by the Hepburns within the city limits, although they were concerned in speculations outside.
On the 1st of December, 1795, William Hepburn conveyed to Alexander Smith a tract of land called "Williamsburg," containing 157 acres and 147 perches, in consideration of $473.21. There were some buildings, a barn, and an orchard on this land, and it is supposed to have been located north of the city. Hepburn had obtained a patent for it, April 16, 1794.
All that territory lying between Susquehanna street and Lycoming creek had been surveyed on a warrant dated January 31, 1769, and a patent issued to Richard Peters, August 11, 1772, calling for 579 acres. It was called "Orme's Kirk;" and November 23, 1772, Peters sold to Turbutt Francis; January 19, 1775, Hawkins Boone purchased it. He died intestate, (killed at the battle of Fort Freeland,) and his administrators Robert Martin, Robert Arthur, and Jean Hardy sold 287½ acres to William Winter for £35O, "lawful money of Pennsylvania," July 11, 1791. William Winter died, June 29, 1794, and his executors sold the property to John Rose, October 6, 1801, for $9,200. The Rose purchase in after years came to be known as the "Grier farm," because Judge Grier married Isabella, the only daughter of John Rose, who inherited the farm. It was at the house of Mrs. Winter-which stood near the corner of Fourth and Cemetery streets-where a few sessions of court were bold in 1797, and where the hounds of Judge Wallis upset the dinner table and broke all the china dishes but two!
Amariah Sutton became the owner of that part of Orme's Kirk (287½ acres) lying next to Lycoming creek. It Was conveyed to him by Turbutt Francis, January 19, 1775, in Consideration of £210 17s, "lawful money of Pennsylvania." The patent to Francis was signed by Richard Penn, lieutenant governor. Sutton's deed is recorded at Sunbury in Book F, page 141. He was an Englishman, a brother-in-law of Winter, and settled there certainly as early as 1770. He was reputed to have had four wives and many children. His death occurred October 17, 1817. William Winter had two wives and nineteen children, and his neighbor, Judge Hepburn, had two wives and nineteen children also.
Sutton by deed dated September 3, 1808, (see Deed Book VI, page 275,) also, conveyed to Daniel Tallman, Jeremiah Tallman, William Tharp, Alexander Smith, Thomas Smith, William Collins, and John Forster, trustees of the Lycoming congregation of the Methodist Episcopal church, in consideration of $1, ten acres of ground on which to erect buildings for the accommodation of ministers of that denomination. The terms of the conveyance not being complied with, the land reverted. This ground is now occupied by the Demorest Sewing Machine Works.
Crossing Lycoming creek into what is now the Seventh ward of the city, we find that John Sutton, a nephew of Amariah, was the first owner of the land on which Newberry stands. He settled there about 1772, when the territory was known as "Indian land." Sutton staked out a claim, but during his absence, when the settlers were driven away, John Boak squatted there, but sold his right to Robert Arthur, July 10, 1776, for £35. When Sutton returned he appealed to the Fair Play committee, consisting of John Walker, Thomas Kompley, Brattan Caldwell, and James Crandon, and after hearing the case they decided, July 20, 1776, as follows: "We, the regulators of the Indian land, being met upon a case of dispute between John Sutton and John Beak, and having heard all that has been delivered in the matter between them concerning the land John Beak lived on, we do agree that John Sutton has the prior and best right of the two." The case was afterwards. arbitrated between Sutton and Beak, because John Dunlap and Dorothy Reeder put in a claim, which was disputed by Robert Arthur, and Beak was prevented from signing a release, the said Arthur claiming in right of Samuel Anderson, by a conveyance bearing date June 20, 1785. The arbitrators, after hearing the evidence. did "award and determine that John Sutton had the only just right and title of pre-emption to the land." There were six arbitrators and William Hepburn was one of the number. Arthur then signed a release to Sutton as the "assignee of Samuel Anderson," disclaiming any right to the land "from the beginning of the world. until the day of the date hereof," which was the 20th of October, 1785. This release, enabled Sutton to get a patent from the Commonwealth, September 2, 1786.
The original grant to Sutton, to be more specific, was a pre-emption warrant, dated October 26, 1785, for 300 acres, "including his improvement made before the year 1778, on the west side of Lycoming creek adjoining the same, bounded by lands of John Dunlap on the north, John Clark on the west, and Joseph Reeder on the south." The terms of the warrant were at the rate of £30 per hundred acres. At the time the warrant was granted he had a credit on the books for a payment of £90, and at the time of final settlement another credit of £6 14s 8d. The quantity of land returned was 321 3/8 acres and allowance. The consideration named in the patent is "the moneys paid by John Sutton into the receiver general's office of this Commonwealth at the granting of the warrant hereinafter mentioned, and of the sum of £6 14s 8d, lawful money since paid by him. "The £96 14s 8d was Pennsylvania currency, which reduced to dollars and cents would be about $257.98. The tract was called "New Garden."
In 1794 John Sutton employed William Ellis, the deputy surveyor, to lay out a town on his tract, which be called Newberry. A draft is recorded in the front part of Deed Book VIII, showing the lots, streets, and alloys. In a certificate Sutton declares that the plan is according to his "original proposition containing his proposals to adventurers and settlers in his said town,"and then adds in a postscript that "the two main streets Market and Diamond are fifty feet, and the street round the town thirty feet, and the alloys sixteen feet wide." He commenced the sale of lots at once. September 3, 1795, he sold one to William Ellis for £15, and on the 16th of August, 1796, one to Flavel Roan for the same price. The sales of other lots are also recorded, showing that he did a fair business for the time.
The first tavern opened in Newberry was by George Slone in 1795. It is now known as the Oberfell place. In those days it was a popular place of resort and was frequented by the prominent men of the time. Slone's old account book shows many curious entries. A "gill" cost 5½ d, and there are many charges of this kind. The old tavern was accidentally burned in 1817, but the neighbors felt the loss so, severely that they all turned in and assisted in rebuilding it.
Lying immediately south of Newberry was the town of Jaysburg. The first settler was Joseph Haines, about 1773, who made some improvements. After the land was acquired from the Indians William Paul made application for a tract. His warrant, which was dated October 26, 1785, granted him "district No. 1 of the New Purchase," and named the tract "Pleasant Grove. "Paul sold his land to Abraham Latcha, December 1, 1787; after his death his eldest son Jacob purchased the claims of the other heirs and had a town laid out early in the year 1795 by William Ellis, and named it Jaysburg. Although it was not as old as Newberry, it immediately boomed ahead in anticipation of becoming the county seat. The lots were arranged with a frontage of fifty-two feet and a depth of 208, on streets named Water, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth, running east and west; with Market and Queen running north and south. The alleys were named Church, Rising, Pine, Court, Strawberry, and Spruce. Lots were sold, £15 and £20 being the ruling price, and buildings hastily erected. For a few years the outlook was very encouraging. John Dunlap opened a tavern, shops and stores were started, and everybody expected Jaysburg would be selected for the county seat. On the 13th of August, 1796, Latcha sold a lot for 55s to John Cammings and John. Stewart, trustees, for an English school house to be erected thereon. Rooms for a jail and court house were provided and the judicial machinery was set in motion.
But when the commissioners selected Williamsport as the place for the county seat, Jaysburg immediately went into decline and soon passed away.
WILLIAMSPORT LAID OUT.
No One was more anxious for the county seat being located east of Lycoming creek than the Hepburn brothers, who owned the Mount Joy and Door Park lands. They felt that it would greatly appreciate the value of their properties and they were not mistaken, although neither of them lived to witness the great improvements that followed. Judge Hepburn manifested the deepest interest in the scheme and urged Michael Ross to have a town laid out as speedily as possible. James Hepburn lived at Northumberland and was engaged in the mercantile business. In April, 1794, the firm was Hepburn & Cowden, but it dissolved June 4th of the same year, both continuing business individually. James Hepburn died, January 14, 1817, in the seventieth year of his age. Ross did not delay a moment. He employed William Ellis and Joseph Williams to lay out the town in 1795. It is not positively known what influences were brought to bear on the commissioners appointed by the Governor to select Williamsport as the county seat, but tradition says it was openly charged that lots in the new town were conveyed to them, or their friends, for making the selection. That there was some trickery in this business there is little doubt, and Jaysburg was beaten.
The original plot of the town was a rectangular figure containing 111 acres and divided into 302 lots, with streets and alleys crossing each other at right angles. A public square, according to English custom, was set aside in the center, and it has remained to the present day. Both Newberry and Jaysburg were laid out first, but Williamsport, the youngest, won The honors. One of the surveyors was the grand-father of S. N. Williams, a well known business man of today, and his name is perpetuated by a street which passes the jail on the west side. The original bounding lines may be more clearly understood by making them correspond with modern names as follows:
All the river front between Water street (now Front street) and low water mark, West street from Front to Fourth and Hepburn, to Hartman alley, thence to Market street, thence to the line of the present Philadelphia and Erie railroad, thence to East alley, thence to Fourth street, thence to Academy street, thence to Front street, and thence to the place of beginning.
Michael Ross evidently attached great importance to the river front, for in his deeds he reserved all "fisheries and ferries" unto himself; and it is an important fact that all the land between Front street and the river belongs to his heirs today.
The first sale of lots, which took place on the 4th of July, 1796, was made the occasion for a public demonstration and an ox roast. It is likely that speeches were also made, for the fact of securing the county seat would certainly warrant a display of eloquence to assist in commemorating the event on our natal day. A large number of lots appear to have been sold, as the following abstracts from the deed books will show:
Michael Ross, gentleman, to John Adlum, July 4, 1796, lots Nos. 182 and 183, for £50, size 104 by 208 feet, on East Third street and East alley.
Also lots Nos. 288 and 289, Third street and North alley; also lots Nos. 195 and 196, on west side of East alley and Tom alley.
On same day lot No. 61, for £37 10s, on Pine street and River alley and Center alley; also on same day lot No. 10, for £50, to John Courson, on Front street and River alley.
Also on same day to William Hepburn, Esq., for £182 10s, the following lots in Williamsport; Nos. 25 and 26, on Front and Market streets and River alley; also two other lots on the north side of the Diamond and Tom alley, numbered 186, 187.
Also on the same day lot No. 65, for £37 10s, on the south side of Second street, to John Titsworth.
Also on the same day lot No. 18, for £50, to John Kidd, Front street and Pine alley.
Also on the same day lots Nos. 15 and 16, at Front and Pine streets, to Evan R. Evans of Sunbury for £100.
The sale of other lots followed in rapid succession. It has already been shown when the lots for the public buildings were sold and the peculiar circumstances surrounding the transaction.
ADDITIONS TO THE TOWN PLAT.
There have been many additions of territory since the borough and city were erected. The first was by Thomas Grant in 1815. His land lay east of the Michael Ross farm. Soon after this Andrew D. Hepburn laid out a few lots west of Hepburn street, and called his addition "West Williamsport." In 1833 Jerry Church made an addition east of Academy street. An extensive addition east of Church's was made by John F. Cowen in 1850, and another by Lloyd & Updegraff, north of Church's and west of Cowen's. Among the important additions since that date have been J. and M. DuBois's, 1852; the Woodward, Vanderbelt, Hughes, Maynard, and Willard additions, 1853; the Scoville, Gilbert, Ross, Fleming, and Anthony additions, 1854; the Campbell and Armstrong additions, by Peter Herdic, 1855 and 1865, and the Hepburn, Maynard, and Woodward additions at various dates; Youngman's addition, 1858; Thompson's additions, 1867 and 1869, and the Watson addition, by Peter Herdic in 1873.
Vallamont is a now suburban district on the northern limits of the city, which was given to it by Hon. H. C. McCormick. A syndicate of gentlemen purchased the farm belonging to the heirs of Hezekiah B. Packer in 1890 and laid it out in lots and drive ways as an addition to the city. A portion of the ground extends up the hill to the summit, affording a very fine view of the city and valley. Fine drive ways have been built along the side of the hill and over the summit, and the grounds, which are timbered, have been cleared of underbrush, making the groves' very attractive to visitors and picnic parties. Neat cottage residences will be built on the most eligible sites, and other improvements made, which will make Vallamont a very desirable place. The grounds of the Athletic Association are near by, where base ball and other sports are indulged in.
Although Michael Ross, was the founder of Williamsport, comparatively little is known of his origin. It is claimed that he was living in Philadelphia in 1772 with his mother; that on the 11th of April of that year he and his mother entered into a written agreement with Samuel Wallis to accompany him to Muncy Farms. There he served until 1779, when he was in his twentieth year. Wallis owned large bodies of land, and Ross became a surveyor's assistant. At the close of his agreement Wallis gave him a high recommendation in writing and 100 acres of land, which probably was the foundation of his future fortune.
Mrs. Ross came with her son to the West Branch valley and died within the city limits. No papers or records have ever been found to show who the father of Michael Ross was the boy who was destined to found a town in the New World. That he was born in Europe seems to be, the opinion of his descendants, but whether his mother came as a "redemptioner" to this country is unknown. His name indicates Scotch origin, and, his mother was probably German.
After acquiring the tract of 280 acres from William Winter, on which the town was afterwards laid out, Ross found it necessary to locate here. He found a log house or cabin, which had been abandoned by a squatter, on the site of the present residence of L. L. Stearns, which he occupied for several years, or until about 1800, when he built a two-story brick house, which stood on the site of the present residence of J. V. Brown, East Third street. This was the second or third brick house in the new town, and it was deemed meet and proper that the proprietor should own and occupy such a mansion.
The wife of Michael Ross was Anne, daughter of Christian Courson, whom he married about 1793. They had two sons and three daughters. Michael Rose, the father, died June 20, 1819, in the sixtieth year of his age; Anne his wife, July 31, 1818, in her fifty-fifth year. William, the eldest son, died unmarried, December 23, 1818, in his twenty-fourth year, and soon after he had graduated at a medical college as a physician; John, the second son, also unmarried, died July 6, 1838, in his Thirty-Seventh year. Of the daughters, Elizabeth, the eldest, married Peter Wykoff Vanderbelt, and died July 8, 1828, in her Thirty-Seventh year; Margaret, the second, married James H. Huling, and was instantly killed by a locomotive while she was crossing the Philadelphia and Erie railroad track at Market street, Williamsport, July 25,1872. She was eighty years old; Anna, the, third, married Maj. Charles Low, and died, January 30, 1882, in her eighty-second year.
ORIGIN OF THE NAME.
There has always been a difference of opinion between the descendants of Michael Ross and William Hepburn regarding origin of the name of Williamsport, and much has been said and written on the subject without a satisfactory conclusion. Without attempting to settle the annoying question, we offer the following remarks by Joseph H. McMinn, who has given the matter a great deal of thoughtful consideration, as the best statement of the theories that are offered, leaving the reader to take his choice as he may be impressed by the force of the narrative:
Michael Ross could not help being familiar with the long cherished scheme of the State authorities, for opening a channel for inland navigation to connect the eastern and western waters of the State by way of the Susquehanna river. The survey was made in 1790 by William Maclay, John Adlum, and Timothy Matlack, who made a voluminous report which was afterwards published by the State. No actual work was ever done excepting with occasional appropriations when some rocks were blasted out to allow the passage of arks and keel boats, until the fact was recognized that it could not be made a navigable river, after which the Pennsylvania canal was undertaken to accomplish the object by slack water navigation.
But Michael Ross lived before these latter day developments, and was a firm believer in the navigation of the river, so that he naturally expected to see his town become a United. States port of entry, and this sentiment was voiced in the familiar name given the village, "the Port," its earliest recorded name; and it may be here stated that for years after the prefix William was used, the name was written William’s Port, as two Words, and with capitals.
As to the word Williams, there is still more difference of opinion. The descendants of Michael Ross claim that the name was bestowed by him in honor of his beloved son William, for whose future he indulged the keenest ambition, and so called his town William's Port.
The friends of Judge William Hepburn claim, that as he was instrumental in having the new county erected and the county seat located, he being the State Senator from Northumberland county at the time, and the first president judge of the new county, that in recognition of his valuable services the citizens proposed to call the town Hepburn's Port, but that he modestly objected and suggested William's Port, which was finally adopted.
Again. There was a surveyor of local repute named Joseph Williams, who lived on our present High street at the intersection with the road leading to Wildwood cemetery, in a house that is yet standing, who was a highly esteemed friend of Michael Ross, and was engaged to lay out the new town. In his honor the street alongside the jail was called William's street. The descendants of Joseph Williams maintain that his name was the one prefixed to the word port to serve as the name of the town. The probability is that all three of the individuals named exercised an influence, perhaps without effort, in having the first name adopted for the modest little village that has grown into such importance as to extend over and absorb all the various localities that once aspired to the separate honor of being the county seat.
THE FIRST IMPROVEMENTS.
The first house in Williamsport was a log structure erected by James Russell in March, 1796. It stood on the corner of Third and Mulberry streets, and was 32x26 feet, the longest part fronting on Third street, and two stories in height. The first story was divided into four rooms; two rooms 15x13 feet fronting on Third street, and two, 15x11, looking northward into what was then a forest of timber. A large brick chimney ran up through the middle of the building, affording a fire place for each of the front rooms. The stairway ascended from the rear room next to what is now Mulberry street. The second story was divided into three rooms, and a large garret, which served as a store room and sleeping apartment. The house had a shingle roof put on with handmade nails. James Russell opened an "Inn" in his house, and it was the only place for some time where travelers could be entertained. This hastily constructed log building was not only the first house in Williamsport, but the first tavern, and remained as a landmark until it was destroyed by the great fire of 1871.
James Russell was an Irishman by birth and came to America in 1774. He died soon after completing his public house, leaving a young widow and six children, who conducted the inn for a short time. In 1804 she married Joseph Dumm, and they conducted the house for more than half a century. It came to be known as the "Affie Dumm House," because Miss Eva (better known as Affie) Dumm, by the second marriage, was born under the roof of the venerable "Inn," and she lived there until it was destroyed. She married a man named Auchey, but he died soon after; she was always known as Affie Dumm. She died, March 1, 1876.
After the erection of the Russell Inn other buildings soon followed. The second was on Third street nearly opposite the book store of A. D Lundy & Company. It was built in 1796 by John Moore for a hotel and was known by the sign of the White Horse. Its dimensions were 24x30 feet and two stories in height. Of course it was built of logs. Nicholas Gale and Joseph Hall were among the early landlords. About the year 1820 it was converted into a store and kept for a number of years by Ralph Elliot and his two brothers, John and Robert. Elliot sold it to Jasper Bennet, who occupied it as a store. Subsequently it was purchased by C.
D. Eberman for a tobacco manufactory, but it was consumed by the fire of August 20, 1871.
The third building, also of logs, was erected about this time on the south side of Third street, between Pine and Market square. It was two stories high with two rooms in each story. It is not remembered who the builder was, but it subsequently became the property of Joseph Foulk, and then of Jacob Welper, who sold it to David Trainer.
The fourth house in the borough was a story and a half log building erected by Jacob Hyman, on what is now the northwest corner of Mulberry street and the canal. It was constructed of small round logs, and was built in the summer of 1797.
In 1801 Mr. Hyman erected the frame of a house on a spot adjoining his cabin, with the intention of building for his family a frame house; but before it was erected, he sold the frame skeleton to Mrs. Rebecca Low who had it moved, up to the north side of Third street, between Academy and Mulberry, and there completed.
About 1798, Mrs. Heston who subsequently became the wife of William Wilson built a large log house on the north side of Third street, opposite what is now the book store of A. D. Lundy & Company. From the deeds it appears that this house and lots Nos. 23, 25, and 27 were sold by Michael Ross to Sarah Whitacre, June 6, 1799, for £40; that July 29, 1806, she sold the property to James Winter for £750; and August 9, 1809, Winter transferred it to Sarah Whitacre and Rebecca Wilson for £750. The early history of this building, with a description of the same, are given in an advertisement which appeared in the Lycoming Gazette of December 20, 1809.
SIGN OF THE FOX CHASE.
To be sold or let. - A valuable public house in the borough of Williamsport, which has been occupied as such for a number of years past, and from its extensive accommodations and valuable custom, it is certainly an object to any person who is or wishes to be engaged in a public line; a store and tavern have heretofore been kept in it by the subscriber, and latterly a tavern by James Winter. Said house is two stories high, fifty-two feet front by twenty-nine deep, a kitchen one and a half story, good cellar, well of water, garden, etc., and stabling to contain twenty-one horses. Terms of sale or lease will be made known by the subscriber, in the borough of Williamsport, and possession given the 1st of April ensuing.
December 20, 1809.
November 9, 1819, Rebecca Wilson and Benjamin Courson, executors of Sarah Whitacre, sold it to Henry Hughes for $2,000. In 1822 Hughes tore down the old log house and erected in its place the present two-story frame, which is now the property of his daughter, Mrs. Mary H. Toner, widow of Samuel Toner. The original log structure was probably the fifth house in the old borough. When kept by Mrs. Heston and subsequently by the Winter family, it was the main stopping place for the judges, lawyers and others, when court was in session. The rear part of a portion of the property is still used for stabling horses, and a public house is kept in the front part on the corner of the alley. Mrs. Toner uses the western end for a private dwelling. Henry Hughes kept a hotel for a long time in this venerable building, and he served as postmaster from April 20, 1819, to May 24, 1839, a period of over twenty years. The postoffice was in a corner of the bar room, in a little enclosure which presented a quaint appearance. The mail at that time was carried in a pair of saddle bags. Henry Hughes was a native of, County Derry Ireland, where he was born, January 23, 1782, and died in Williamsport, February 22,1846.
Some time in 1798 possibly earlier, Thomas Huston built a log house on the northwest corner of Third street and the square, and opened a tavern, which he conducted for several years. It was first known by the sign of the "Rising Sun." About 1811 Huston sold the hotel to a man named Pickle, who subsequently sold it to Jacob Heiveley, and it was afterwards known as the "Heiveley House." It was burned March 4, 1865.
The first birth in the settlement was that of William Russell, son of James Russell, keeper of the Russell Inn, born September 23, 1796. When he became a Young man he went to Canada, where he remained for thirty years, and then returned to the place of his nativity to die. The next birth was probably that of William Calvert, which occurred November 25, 1797, in Moore's tavern. At this time there were only four log houses in the town called Williamsport!
The first brick building within the original limits of the town was built in 1799 on Front street, between Market and Mulberry, by Andrew Tulloh, who used it for a short time as a law office. It is No. 31 Front street. A second story was added to it years ago. The bricks were manufactured on the banks of Grafius run where that stream crosses Hepburn street. A few months later another kiln was burned here for the brick house of Michael Ross. The second brick house within the limits was built by William Wilson, about the year 1810, on the south side of Third street, on what is now the site of the First National Bank. It was kept by Mr. Wilson as a hotel and was known by the "Sign of the Buck." Mr. Wilson was familiarly known as "Congress Billy," from the fact that he was a member of the Lower House of Congress. This house was subsequently kept by James Cummings and later by Thomas Hall. It was a popular place in early days and the leading men of the time stopped there. In April, 1842, it was burned, but was rebuilt by Mr. Hall the following year. After his death it was sold to Charles Doebler, who conducted it as the United States Hotel for some time, when he sold it to his son, Valentine S. Doebler. Under the management of "Tine," as he was familiarly called, it became the leading hotel in Williamsport. About the time of his death, (1866,) it was sold to the First National Bank, which institution still owns it.
When the borough was organized in 1806 there were sixty taxable inhabitants within its boundaries, ten of whom were single freemen, as follows: Richard Hays, James J. Nollis, John Kidd, Elias Winters, Samuel Coleman, Thomas Alexander, William F. Buyers, James Heylmun, Joseph Foulke, and Abraham Hooper. The list is certified by Joseph Foulke, who was clerk. The largest amount of tax this year was $7.70, which was paid by Michael Ross, the founder; the next was $4.25, paid by Andrew D. Hepburn. The smallest sum was four cents!
The tax duplicate for 1806-07, the first for the borough, shows that the assessment amounted to $86.70. It is important as showing the first taxable inhabitants of the town, and a transcript is herewith given: Thomas Alexander, William F. Buyers, Joseph Boone, Widow Biss, James Cummings, Elizabeth Calvert, Dr. Samuel Coleman, Robert Collins, Joseph Dumm, Amos Doan, John Doan, John Eldridge, Thomas Emmons, Joseph Foulke, Samuel E. Green, Jacob Hyman, Thomas Houston, Esq., Andrew D. Hepburn, Charles Houston, Thomas and Richard Hays, Mordecai Heylman, Conrad Haller, David Hunter, Elizabeth Freeman, John Kidd, John Levergood, William and Thomas Murray, John Murphy, James Moore, Robert McElrath, Robert McClure, Richard McEwen, Michael Ross, John Shaffer, Alexander Sloan, John Turk, Jerry Tallman, Richard Titus, Stacy Throp, Thomas Updegraff, Peter Vanderbelt, James Winter, Apollos Woodward, Jacob Waters, Ed. Wilkinson, James Watson, David Young.
In 1807 the tax amounted to $89.69½, and the following taxables were added: William Brindle, Peter Scates, Anthony Harris, Jonathan Steiner, John McConnell, Joseph Lenover, Nathan Bailey, George Strawbridge, William Pideock, John Calvert, John Murphy, and John Biss. Mordecai Heylman was the first clerk of council.
The first store east of Lycoming creek, before Williamsport was laid out, was opened by William Hepburn and Samuel E. Grier about 1790, on the Deer Park farm, at the foot of what is now Park street, near where Judge Hepburn afterwards built his brick residence, which is still standing.
William Wilson opened the first store in Williamsport in 1801. It occupied a site on Third street, at the corner of South alley. Andrew D. Hepburn was the second storekeeper. He commenced business June 2, 1802, when quite a young man. He was a son of James Hepburn, the owner of the Mount Joy tract of land on the western boundary of the town, and was born at Northumberland, March 10, 1784. He came here probably to look after the estate of his father. Andrew D. Hepburn became quite prominent in the town. He served as county treasurer from 1806 to 1808, and was frequently appointed by the court to serve on road views and as commissioner in the division of townships. In fact, the name of no one of the time appears oftener in the records. He married Martha Huston, by whom he had seven sons and four daughters. She died, February 6, 1852, and her husband followed her March 6, 1861.
The first druggist was Henry Lenhart, who, in 1815, opened a drug store on the southeast corner of Third and Pine streets, where, in 1811, he had his hat shop. There are twenty-two drug stores in the city now.
SIXTY YEARS AGO.
To show the progress that has been made it may be mentioned that in 1830 there were only ten brick buildings in Williamsport, including the courthouse. They were located as follows: Octagon building, adjoining the present residence of John B. Hall, on West Third street, which was built for an academy; the courthouse grounds had not been graded, but were inclosed by a high rough board fence, which was much dilapidated; a small brick on the corner of Pine and Willow streets; brick hotel, "Sign of the Buck," Maj. James H. Huling, proprietor, on the site of the present First National Bank; a small brick east of the hotel; two-story brick, Southwest corner of Third and Market; two-story brick on Mussina's corner, then owned by William Wilson; two-story brick on the corner now occupied by Kline's hardware store, and the little brick law office of Andrew Tulloh, on Front street. There were no three-story buildings with magnificent fronts, such as we see today; few pavements or walks were laid and pedestrians had to make their way through the streets as best they could. There were but two churches, both unfinished Pine street, and the stone church used by the German Reformed congregation. The Presbyterians hold services in the court house. Third street terminated at West street. Academy street was the eastern limit of the borough, and the woods extended to where the railroad now crosses East Third street. Buildings were scattered "and far between." A frame house stood on what is now the site of the "Old Eagle Hotel," and a small law office belonging to Robert Fleming was perched on the corner now occupied by the store of L. L. Stearns & Sons. This lot was afterwards occupied by the City Hotel, and at the time Fleming occupied it could have been bought for $300. The whole square had previously been purchased by Robert McClure for $400. Above this corner, on Pine street, there were very few buildings, and the street terminated at the Ross graveyard - all beyond this point were fields and timber. There were no public improvements, no saw or other mills nearer than Loyalsock and Lycoming creeks. The only saw mill was the one owned by Culbertson at what is now DuBoistown. It was a small affair and could only run two and three months in the year on account of water. At this time the tax laid for borough purposes was $250!
In October, 1830, Jacob L. Mussina began the jewelry business on the south side of Third street and Market square in a small frame shop. In 1831 he put up a one-story shop on Pine street, on the site of the West Branch Bank; and in 1845 he purchased a small brick building on the northeast corner of Market square, where he carried on business for thirteen years and prospered. In 1858 he took down the old building and erected the three-story brick which is still standing, and in which his son Sylvester now carries on a large jewelry business.
Mr. Mussina was a mechanical genius, a fine mathematician, a splendid workman, and greatly respected. He was of Polish origin, and was born in Aaronsburg, Centre county, Pennsylvania, April 29, 1807. Thrown upon his own resources at an early age, he learned the trade of a watchmaker, and followed it to the close. March 18, 1834, he married Jerusha P. Bailey, of Williamsport, and five sons and three daughters blessed the union. One of the sons, J. Wood, is now president of the Merchants' National Bank. When the telegraph was introduced in Williamsport Mr. Mussina became the first operator and sent the first message over the wires to Philadelphia, August 14, 1851. It contained twenty-seven words and cost thirty-seven cents. He also opened the first daguerreotype gallery in 1842. For many years he bold various positions of trust both in civil and religious lines. He was a justice of the peace for ten years, and for over thirty years trustee and secretary of the Pine Street Methodist Episcopal church, and for forty-three years he served as clerk to the return judges of the elections. He retired from business in 1866, and his death occurred January 8, 1888, in the eighty-first year of his age.
In 1831 Jacob C. Welper, noted for his eccentricities, erected a two-story stone building on what is now the site of Mayor Keller's hardware store. He had a red line about a foot wide painted around the house, just below the second story windows. This building was long used as a cigar manufactory, and it was a landmark until the march of improvement caused it to be removed for the present brick structure.
By act of April 11, 1840, Williamsport, for the first time, was authorized to have a licensed. auctioneer. Previous to this sales were conducted by any one who had tact for the business by public outcry.
On the 24th of July, 1841, John Wise, the famous balloonist, made an ascension from Williamsport which attracted the attention of the people for miles around. It was his thirtieth ascension and was witnessed by hundreds of spectators. The balloon rose gracefully to a great height and then sailed over Bald Eagle mountain and was soon lost to view. He descended in White Deer valley, landing in front of the house of Mr. Deeter, badly frightening two women, who were the only inmates. Mr. Wise succeeded in convincing them that he was not an evil spirit, when they came out and viewed the wonder. The inhabitants of the valley soon collected in force to gaze upon what was regarded as a great curiosity. After taking supper with Mrs. Shaffer the balloonist returned to Williamsport the same evening, followed by his airship on a wagon.