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A Brief Story of the Early History of This colorful Section in Lycoming County, Over the Tioga County Line; a Paradise for Birds and Wild Game, It Bears Beautiful Scenery and Picturesque Waterways, and Is Ever a Lure to the Nature Lover.
Mazie Sears Bodine
Have you ever been to Texas? Oh no, I do not mean that state of Texas, but a small village situated in Lycoming county, just over the Tioga county line, about four miles from Nauvoo.
If you had visited this place many, many years ago you would have found a wild and mountainous region, the knob-like hills covered with a heavy growth of pine and hemlock timber and a stream of clear, cold water flowing down a very narrow vale, the only outlet, without climbing a steep mountain side, from this deep bowl among the rugged hills. Birds, wild animals and perhaps occasionally a tribe of wandering Indians were the only occupants of the place.
But history tells us that as early as 1799 mills were erected by John Norris on the head waters of Little Pine Creek, near the present village of Texas. Norris came from Philadelphia as the representative of Benjamin Wistar Morris, who had the largest interest in the Pine Creek Land Co., and the mills here were known as “Morris Mills.” Here, also, Norris opened a school, in which he and his wife taught. The accounts of this school vary in the different histories, or there may have been two schools, but this doesn’t see probable. The history of Lycoming county says there was a school about 1806, near the present site of Texas known as “the Wilderness Seminary.” A bold venture for that period, it met with considerable success and was the only school of its kind in northern Pennsylvania. Many of the persons who helped to make history, both in Lycoming and Tioga counties were at one time enrolled in this school.
At first “Morris Mills” did not prosper as a town, but later settlers came, land was cleared and cabins built. One of the early settlers on the hill above Texas wanted glass for the windows of his cabin. He walked to Williamsport to obtain this glass, and carried it all that distance strapped on his back. He set the bundle down and a man who was helping to build the cabin dropped a hammer from the roof. It fell on the bundle of glass and broke many of the panes. But this settler was determined to have glass for windows, so he walked back to Williamsport after more.
With mills operating, the little village grew until at one time there were about twenty-five houses here. A store flourished for a while, then was given up and the settlers drove to Block House now Liberty for their supplies.
The mills were run by water power, two ponds storing the water and thus furnishing sufficient power at all times. A road had been built up one of the hills across what is now Route 84, then down Dixie Run to meet the one from Morris to Blackwells. All the sawed lumber, out-put from these mills, was hauled over this road to Blackwells and rafted down Pine Creek to the Susquehanna and so to market in Williamsport or other towns along this river. Pine shingles were also made in these mills, but most of these were taken to Block House. Last summer ‘1940’ when visiting this place, we saw a house being re-shingled and were told that the old pine shingles they were tearing off had been on the house for over sixty years.
A school house was built the children coming from far away, even from Oregon Hill. This building is still standing but has been remodeled into a dwelling house.
A hotel was opened in this small village. Here lived the men who worked in the woods and mills. At this time it was the hemlock that was being taken off the hills. Most of the pine timber had been removed long before. This house burned many years ago.
Finally a post office was established and the little village was officially christened “Texas.” A mail-boy brought the mail on horse back from English Center through Texas and Nauvoo in Block House and back again, making the trip once a week. The people of Oregon Hill, Lorenton and vicinity came down to Texas for their mail.
There is now living in Texas a man, seventy six years of age who was born and has spent his entire life in this village.
Many logs were hauled to the mills with ox teams through some of the settlers who were clearing their land also had houses. A woman, now nearly eighty-five years of age who was born and spent the early part of her life in Texas, told me that when a young girl she often helped her father haul logs to the mill. She drove a pair of colts, making three trips while he made two with the oxen.
In the very early days the settlers often heard the cries of panthers or other wild animals. Dr. Frederick Reinwald, who practiced his profession in Liberty township was killed by a panther. This tragic accident happens about four and one-half miles below Texas.
Now the mills and ponds have disappeared; the hotel and some of the houses were destroyed by fire long ago. At the present time six houses and the ruins of another remain to show where once was the busy lumbering village of Texas.
The stream flowing through the village and down the narrow valley is the head waters of Little Pine Creek and was first known by this name. Afterward it was called Zimmerman’s Creek and later Texas Creek, the name by which it is now known. Little Pine Creek, is now the stream formed by the junction of Block House and Texas Creeks. In the early days a road was built down this valley, sometimes on the mountain side high above the stream, then again down nearer to the creek level. It is a lovely forest road.
Many small villages rose among the hills of northern Pennsylvania during the lumbering era, later to be abandoned and finally to entirely disappear. One such was situated on Dixie Run, just below the present site of the CCC Camp. By the stream stood the mill, run by water power, and sawing into lumber the logs brought off the mountain sides. A few workers’ houses were clustered nearby. And this small place was called “California.”
Once, when the mill was shut down and the men all away, a small boy playing here started the mill and didn’t have the strength to shut it entirely off. I suppose he was a very frightened youngster. I asked him what he did – if he went after someone to shut it down, and he said, “No! I ran for home and it would still be going for all I know who stopped it!” It was many years before he told anyone about it. He is now eighty-five years of age, but can still see, (very distinctly) a water wheel slowly turning and hear the sound of machines running, while he, as a small boy, was flying down the road, away from a force he had started but could not stop.
The country around Texas is still wild and mountainous, but the pines and hemlocks that once covered the knob-like hills are gone. the hills are now overgrown with deciduous trees and shrubs that give them a mantle of green in summer, but reveal their rugged character in late autumn after the leaves have fallen. And the small stream still goes gurgling and laughing down the narrow vale between these hills.
If you would like to visit the site of California and the present small village of Texas follow these directions: Drive south from Wellsboro on Route 84. At the lower end of Morris, after crossing the railroad, keep right hand road down toward Blackwells.
The town of Morris also has an interesting history. As early as 1800 one Samson Babb settled here and built his cabin near the bank of the stream that now bears his name – Babb’s Creek. He purchased 450 acres of timber land from the Pine Creek Land Co. He built the first saw-mill in Morris township. This, like all early mills, was run by water power. The lumber sawed during the first year was floated down Babb’s Creek to its mouth. It was to be rafted down Pine Creek to the Susquehanna River, but a sudden flood swept it all away. This was a great disaster to the owner of the little mill, but bravely he carried on, having better luck the next year. Samson Babb was largely instrumental in getting a state road built up Pine and Babb’s Creeks and so through to Wellsboro. He died in October 1815, and was buried near his dwelling in Morris. The highway now passes over or near his grave.
Just below Morris you will pass the site of Hoytville. Here at one time was located the largest steam tannery in the world. A railroad came from Blossburg, through Arnot and on into Hoytville. Over this road hides were brought in and tanned leather shipped out. this mammoth tannery when in full operation had a capacity of 1000 sides a day, some of the hides coming from far-away South America. The tannery was long ago dismantled and torn down. The company built about one hundred houses for the use of their employees. These have also been taken down and the lumber removed. All that is now left are a few crumbling foundations, beside which there may be an old-fashioned rose or lilac bush, a mute reminder that here was once a little home where lived a woman who loved flowers. The old turn-table where the engines were turned around is still here. Some of the foundations of the tannery may still be seen, but they are nearly overgrown with shrubs and wild flowers. The tannery was on the lower side of the road, and the houses on the upper side. thus another thriving village of the lumbering era has disappeared. (This tannery used many cords of hemlock bark annually).
Not far below the site of Hoytville was at one time a place called Doane. Here another saw-mill run by water power was erected by Job Doane about 1848. This mill be operated for forty years. After his death his son, Frank Doane, operated it until it was washed away in the flood of 1889. In 1890 it was replaced by a steam-mill built on higher ground. Here near the mouth of Stony Fork Creek, Job Doane built a very large house having seventeen rooms. His son, Frank, was born in this house and lived here for many years. He now lives in Morris, and is eight-five years old. This large house was burned not many years ago. The Doane school was situated on the upper side of the main road, almost directly opposite the mouth of Stony Fork Creek. It was one of the earliest schools in Morris township, an at one time there were about eighteen houses and cabins in the vicinity, within a radius of a mile of the school, the children from these homes coming to the Doane school to learn their ABC’s. Mill, school and houses are now all gone, the great Doane place being the last one to succumb to Time’s changes.
Near here a road to the right crossing a bridge over Babb’s Creek goes up the very narrow, beautiful and picturesque Stony Fork Creek valley, finally coming to the village of Stony Fork. In a book of historical stories this stream is called “The Rocky Brand of Babb’s Creek.”
Do not turn up this valley but keeping on the main road, take the first turn to the left and go up Dixie Run. At the left of the main road near the mouth of this stream was once the famous Dixie Run camping and picnic ground. About forty or forty-five years ago several churches in the township united and held meetings here every summer. For a week or more services were held here every afternoon and evening. People came from far and near. Some brought their lunch and stayed all day, some even stayed all night, camping out among the trees. Long tables were built, also stands where candy, lemonade and cigars were sold. Everyone had a good time, visited with old acquaintance or made new ones, and were strengthened in their religious life. At other times during the summer this place was used as a picnic park. It is now grown up to small trees and brush.
When you reach the CC Camp on the Dixie Run road you will know you have passed the site of California. Nothing is now left to tell you exactly where this place was so long ago. Keep straight on up the run. This is a beautiful woodland drive, with many varieties of wild flowers along the way. When you reach the hard surface road of Route 84. go directly across it and on down a dirt road, two miles and you will drop off the mountain into the village of Texas. Here a road to the left across a bridge over Texas Creek would take you up a very steep hill and into Nauvoo. the first R. D. carrier out of Morris once had a very serious accident on this hill. His team of ponies ran away, upsetting the wagon and throwing him out. He was badly injured. When I told him I drove down this hill last summer and thought it one of the steepest hills I had ever seen, he said, “Did you have any brakes left when you got to the bottom?” Then he said that after he started driving a Ford, he often burned out the brakes on this hill. So do not try to climb out of Texas this way, but keeping to the right, follow along by Texas Creek. Soon you will pass the ruins of a large house. Here, at one time, was located the store and later the post office. This house was also the childhood home of the man who has given me many of the facts in this story. the flat at your right, before reaching this house, is the site of one of the old mill ponds. One of the mills and the hotel were on the left side of the road. Some of the houses in Texas, as you can see, were built high on the mountain side. Directly across the road from the large old house once stood a little home where a girl baby was born. She is now the wife of the man who lived in the large house when he was a small boy.
Not far below the old house you will cross the stream and from thee on down the valley Texas Creek will be on your right. This is another lovely woodland drive, and especially so in autumn when the leaves have turned to red and gold. No danger now of meeting a panther, but you might see a deer or ruffed grouse. Once there were many trout in the stream. I do not know if any can be caught there now. Along this road you will find a watering trough, and if you carry a drinking cup, you should stop and enjoy a cold, refreshing drink, the water coming from a spring on the mountain side.
When reaching the macadam road near the Block House and Texas Club, turn to the right and at the next corner turn again to the right onto Route 84. Come up over the Barrens and back through Morris to Wellsboro. Now you have had a most interesting and beautiful drive, have visited California and Texas, and only have been about thirty or thirty-five miles from your home town, if you live in Wellsboro.
Morris, Babb’s Creek, Hoytville, Doane, Stony Fork Creek, Pine Creek, Blackwells, Dixie Run, California, Texas, Texas Creek, Little Pine, The Barrens, Oregon Hill – names, interesting names. Names of places and streams that played a prominent part in the days when lumbering was carried on among these rugged but beautiful hills – this “Land of Endless Mountains.”