The History of Forward Township
By Tom Headley
The first inhabitants of what is now Forward were ancient peoples, Adena (1000-400 BC), Hopewell (100 BC-500 AD) and Mississippian (700-1400 AD) as evidenced by several burial mounds located within the township. In the 1700’s, Native Americans, mostly Delaware and Mingo, utilized the area as hunting grounds without permanent settlement. Beginning around 1740 French and later English began commerce with the Indians exchanging furs and skins for trade goods. In 1747, influential Virginians formed the Ohio Company and were granted large tracts of land at the “Forks of the Ohio” (today’s Pittsburgh) by the British Crown, an area also claimed by France. The first Englishman in the area was probably Christopher Gist who surveyed this region for the Ohio Company in 1750. This dispute resulted in the French & Indian War (1754-1763), much of which was fought in this area by British troops and Virginia militia under the leadership of various British Generals assisted by George Washington.
A road, built by General Braddock in 1755 from Wills Creek (today’s Cumberland, MD) to the Monongahela River provided a route for settlers to move into the region when the war ended in 1763. Although whites could not legally register property until a treaty with the Indians in 1768, a number of intrepid settlers braved Indian raids and staked claims in the rugged wilderness prior to that date. Among those were five Applegate and two Wall brothers. These seven, all related by marriage, came from Monmouth County (today’s Princeton) New Jersey and settled in Forward in 1766, after a difficult journey of almost 400 miles. They called this area “Jersey Settlement” after their previous home. In 1769 they were joined by their wives and children by which time the district had more than 25 settlers.
Registration of land claims was complicated because this area was claimed by both Virginia, by Royal Grant, and Pennsylvania, based on Indian purchase. The Mason-Dixon Line, surveyed between 1763 and 1768, only established the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland leaving the Virginia-Pennsylvania line unresolved. Remember, the state of West Virginia was not created until 1863 more than a hundred years later.
In 1769, administration of the region was in dispute since it was simultaneously Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (county seat, Carlisle) and Yohogania County, Virginia (county seat, Pittsburgh). This argument intensified with the establishment of Westmoreland County, PA (county seat, Hanna’s Town-near Greensburg) in 1773, resulting in Dunmore’s War in 1774. Virginia militia based in Pittsburgh, and Pennsylvania forces from Hanna’s Town fought pitched battles over which state had legal claim to the area now called Western Pennsylvania. In 1777, Virginia relocated the Yohogania Court House from Pittsburgh to the Andrew Heath Farm (near today’s Floreffe), directly across the river from Forward where it functioned until 1779. Some early properties in Forward have Virginia deeds. More than a few were registered in both states to be absolutely certain of ownership. The border issue was not completely resolved until 1786, after the American Revolution which allowed the uncertainty about which state had legal claim to exist for almost twenty years.
The statehood question was important. Land in this region was awarded as an inducement to those who served in the Virginia Militia during the French & Indian War meaning many settlers were from Virginia and some of these owned slaves. After years of discussion, Pennsylvania, in 1780, began the gradual process to emancipate slaves held by its residents. In 1778 Allegheny County was split off from Westmoreland County and the entire area between the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers, including today’s Forward, became Elizabeth Township. Reflecting the Virginia influence, the 1790 Federal Census for Elizabeth Township showed a population of 1600 including 21 slaves.
Ferries and Bridges
Among those early settlers was Samuel Devore who claimed land along the Monongahela River at today’s Axlelton in 1768. Devore began operating a ferry the next year carrying people and freight to the other (west) side. Another ferry was started by Joseph Parkinson operating in the opposite direction (east) toward Forward. The Glades Path, an old Indian trail beginning in Bedford, crossed the river at this location. When this trail was widened and improved in 1772 into the “Great Road”(present-day Route 136), it became the main route for thousands of settlers moving into southwestern Pennsylvania and points west well into the 1820’s. On September 18, 1784, George Washington crossed the river on Devore’s ferry during a journey to visit his lands in Washington County. Over the years, a small village developed at this location to serve those passing through the area.
In 1826, Parkinson went bankrupt and his ferry was purchased by James Manown. He had gained ownership of Devore’s ferry by marrying Cassandrew Devore Elliot, a widow whose first husband had drowned while trying to rescue their son from the river. This acquisition gave Manown control of ferry traffic in both directions giving him full control of a very busy river crossing.
In 1832, Manown and others formed the Williamsport Bridge Company. This group constructed a completely enclosed wooden toll bridge of four spans measuring 720’ long. This covered bridge which opened in 1838, it was one of only four bridges the entire length of the Mon River and provided an economic boom for both Monongahela City (renamed from Williamsport in 1837) and the small village of Carrollton located on the Forward side. In 1883 this wooden bridge caught fire and was completely consumed in a spectacular blaze. It was replaced by a four truss iron bridge in 1884 and by a three truss steel bridge in1910. A stone bridge pier of the original 1838 bridge is still visible near the mouth of Pigeon Creek on the Monongahela side of the river. The approach to these bridges was made using Liggett Ave in front of the old Axleton School. Over the years, ferry and later bridge traffic encouraged this village to grow to serve travelers as well as residents of the area. Note: The existing concrete bridge constructed in 1988 is located some distance upriver from the original bridge site.
Another ferry operated by James Perry (westbound) and Andrew McFarland (eastbound) began operating at the foot of Pangburn Hollow in the late 1760’s. During the period of maximum Virginia influence in the mid 1770’s, William Anderson and Andrew Heath operated a second ferry just downriver from this point to handle increased traffic to the Yohogania Court House located nearby. Business was considerable because the Virginia Government had decreed the “official route” of the “Great Road” be changed to this crossing from the Parkinson ferry a few miles upriver. A village (later to be known as Lock #3) established itself at this point but has virtually disappeared.
Settlers in the region cleared land and began to keep animals and raise crops to feed their families. Excess grain was distilled into whiskey and bartered to obtain staples such as salt and gunpowder which they could not produce themselves. By the 1780’s a small still was a fixture on many farms on the western frontier. In 1791, the Federal Government, seeking ways to repay the debt incurred by the American Revolution, passed a tax on whiskey which was fiercely opposed by the people along the Monongahela. The disgruntled farmers held meetings, raised a militia, terrorized Pittsburgh, and tarred and feathered tax collectors. Violence escalated and in 1794, tax collector John Neville’s house in Washington County was attacked and burned by an angry mob with several killed and many wounded. President George Washington, reacting to this challenge to Federal authority, called out several states’ militia raising an army of more than 13,000 which moved west under his personal command.
On August 14, 1794 a large rally of farmers took place at Parkinson’s Ferry (Monongahela). Albert Gallatin, from New Geneva, addressed the rebels and convinced those present to lay down their arms and peacefully submit to the law thereby avoiding armed confrontation with the approaching army. At the time of this meeting, Gallatin stayed at the home of Joseph Becket located along the river in Forward, a place which now bears his name. Albert Gallatin went on to become Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison and arraigned for the funding for the Louisiana Purchase.
When the army arrived in October the rebels could not be located however the militia did arrest twenty men who were later pardoned. Federal forces established camps in Rostraver, near Fells Church, and at the former Youghania Court House staying in the region through 1795 to ensure the peace. Troops who died in the fighting as well as two officers of the Virginia Militia who died of smallpox are buried in Lobbs Cemetery near the Court House site. The private Smith Cemetery, located just above the present Lock #3 across from the Elizabeth Baptist Church, is said to contain the remains of several men who died as a result of wounds during the attack on Gen. Neville’s home. Philip Smith, a soldier who fought in the American Revolution is also buried in this small cemetery.
In 1869 the area identified as today’s Forward was split off from Elizabeth Township. Since the earliest settlers were from New Jersey, many people in the area wanted to name it Jersey Township in their honor, the “unofficial” name for the area for more than one hundred years. Other names were discussed as well and an agreement could not be reached. To settle the question, the judge hearing the case decided to name the place Forward Township after Walter Forward. Forward, a lawyer, was a Pennsylvania legislator, served two terms in the US Congress, was appointed by President William Henry Harrison to be first Comptroller of the Treasury, and served as the 15th United States Secretary of the Treasury under President John Tyler. He was appointed Ambassador to Denmark by President Zachary Taylor and became President Judge of Allegheny County in 1851. Since Walter Forward died in 1852, he never visited the place named in his honor.
Farming was the main activity of most township residents well into the late 1800’s. Agricultural related business such as grist mills developed early. Perry’s Mill and Pangburn’s Mill both located in Pangburn Hollow as well as Applegate’s and Hayden’s on Fallen Timber Run were in operation by 1788. As land was cleared for farming, timbers were processed by local saw mills and were used by the growing boat-building industry developing along the river. Launched from the boatyard of John and Samuel Walker in Elizabeth in 1801, the “Monongahela Farmer” reached Philadelphia by way of New Orleans. The keelboat used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition was launched from Elizabeth in 1803. Boat building further expanded with the development of steamboats in the mid 1820’s and continued until after the Civil War when scarcity of timber and demand for larger boats caused this business to decline.
Coal deposits in the area were known from the earliest days, but wood was widely available and easier to use. In 1836, coal mined in Pangburn Hollow was loaded on flatboats and shipped downriver to industries in Pittsburgh, but only in small amounts.
These small mines used primitive methods to remove the coal and moved it to the riverbank by chute. The first mines with a tipple extending over the river did not appear until the late 1850’s.
In the early days, river commerce was impossible during times of low water flow. Plans were developed to construct a series of locks and dams to provide adequate water depth for year-round navigation between Pittsburgh and Brownsville. Lock #3, constructed by the Monongahela Navigation Company was located at the end of Pangburn Hollow. It was one of 4 locks opened in 1844 and operated at this point until the Federal Government constructed a new lock #3 at the current location in 1905. With reliable river shipping large mines began operating along the at many locations. The railroad came through Forward in 1881 providing another means of transportation. This same year the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal and Coke Company (“The Combine”) was formed and unified many independent mines under common ownership. It was said by the turn of the 20th century, there was a mine every mile along the Forward riverfront.
Mine expansion resulted in establishment of “company towns” and villages to provide housing and supplies to those working at the mines. Places such as Bunola, Sunnyside and Ella Hollow still exist; others such as Wenona, Milesville, Hilldale, Muttontown and Leechburg have disappeared.
The railroad station located in the village of Carrollton (Parkinson’s Ferry) was named East Monongahela by the P & LE railroad and the town became known by that name. In addition to bridge traffic, this area began to experience industrial development. In 1903 the Liggett Spring & Axle Company moved from Pittsburgh’s North Side and built a factory to manufacture buggy springs and axles. To provide raw material for this plant, the owners also constructed an adjoining foundry to supply castings. Business boomed during World War I from the manufacture of springs and axles for army vehicles. At this time the plant was reported to be the largest spring factory in the country. In 1916 the company built two rows of identical brick houses (still standing) to house their employees which became known as Axleton. With the shift to automobiles, the axle plant was separated from the foundry and began doing business as the Coshocton Iron Works engaged in the manufacture of parts for stoker furnaces. This plant later combined with others to form the Combustion Engineering Company which continued to operate the plant until the 1980’s.
Between 1870 and 1900 Forward’s population more than doubled from 1300 to 3215 as people moved to the area to work mines and supporting industries. Township population peaked in 1920 at 4932, declining to 3626 by 1930 due to mines being “worked out” and the declining economy. Interestingly, the 2000 census population of 3771 is very close to that figure.
Forward Township Today
Today’s Forward Township offers many types of residential living opportunities ranging from typical suburban housing developments to rural farm living and everything in between. A recent survey revealed most residents’ desire to maintain this semi-rural
character for the township with limited future development. Forward has the lowest population density of any municipality in Allegheny County.
The Allegheny Land Trust has taken title to 212 acres between River Hill and Elkhorn roads permanently preserving more than three miles of steeply wooded hillside along the Monongahela River
http://www.alleghenylandtrust.org/prope ... index.html
Ten farmers have enrolled more than 1200 acres in Pennsylvania’s Farmland Preservation Program ensuring their land will never be developed and remain farmland in perpetuity. Additional farmers are waiting to enroll their property. These actions will maintain open space and help preserve the existing environment.
Many small villages and communities in Forward such as Bunola, Axleton, Gallatin, Sunnyside, Manown, River Hill and Ella Hollow have maintained their own identities as mines and industries closed or relocated. Business such as Univar, Pittsburgh Tank, Ductmate, Merit Contracting and others are thriving in the industrial area along the Monongahela riverfront. Recreational opportunities are available with three marinas, Riverview Golf Course, and three municipal parks. Bunola River Road used by township residents and many from outside the community for running and cycling.