The last few days have been a welcome relief from the winter weather of February and early March. Thursday morning, I stood at my living room window and looked out over the hills to the east, all the way to the mountains of the east in Clearfield County. There was very little trace of white, only on an occasional southern slope away from the sun’s rays. Before my eyes were the grassy slopes of my great-grandparents that they called home many years ago.
The Grant Family legend tells of those great-grandparents Lewis and Rachel’s arrival in Snyder Township in 1852. They left Philadelphia about this time in the early spring by train to Bellefonte, then traveled by stagecoach to Luthersburg, and walked the rest of the way. My grandfather James (for whom I was named) was 7 years old. His brothers Charles and William were 18 and 12. They came here following in the footsteps of Rachel’s sister Susannah Matthews who had come “out west” with her husband Charles a few years earlier.
I can only imagine what they found on this new land of forested hills and meadows. While staying with their relatives, their top priority was likely focused on getting a garden of some sort underway to provide a future food supply, and then building a primitive home before cold weather set in. With a plentiful supply of trees everywhere, the neighbors would have pitched in to help and before fall, a log cabin was ready for occupancy. A lilac bush was planted by the door for good luck. We still trim grass over the depression in the ground where the cabin stood, and enjoy the fragrance of the lilacs every spring.
It wasn’t too long after their arrival that the country was plunged into the great Civil War. According to Kate Scott’s 1888 History of Jefferson County, a draft notice for the army went out in July of 1863 requesting that Snyder Township provide 24 men. The names of Charlie and Billy Grant were drawn from the wheel, and they reported for active duty. Although it was unusual for the men drafted to actually serve, these two boys went off to war. Many others paid their way out of service, or found a substitute to take their place, or came up with some excuse to be exempted from service. Those who went, served the cause of the north well.
I don’t know anything about their time at war, but both returned to the farm. Charlie married and moved further west to Spartansburg. Billy continued to live in the log cabin until his death, and worked on the farm. As James grew to manhood, he also helped to develop the farm. He must have found time to travel a little since he got acquainted with Caroline Graham of Cartwright (up on the Shawmut Road in Elk County). They were married in 1873 and must have lived around Clarion for a short time. We have a note, stored in our museum closet, where Grandfather wrote home to say how he longed for some butter for his bread but couldn’t afford to buy it. I suspect it wasn’t long until he was back on the farm. Farmers never had a lot of money, but they always managed to have good food on the table.
James and Caroline had three children: Minnie who married Bob Holt from Sugar Hill; Charlie who stayed on the farm forever; and Howard (my dad) who also farmed but worked at the Brockway Post Office for many years (and he knew everybody in town). The Grant kids went to school at the Frost School, located near the Whelpley farms on the ridge now known as the eastern branch of Horizon Drive. They had a path across the hollow, upstream from the Girl Scout’s Camp Curry Creek, and trudged through sunshine or rain or mud or snow to school each day. According to Kate Scott, a preaching place had also been established in the Frost School and the Grants were listed as members of this little Methodist congregation. Another family note told how Great-Grandmother Rachel Grant’s sister had sent five dollars to her from Philadelphia. She’d heard that Rachel didn’t go to church because she couldn’t afford a proper hat.
My grandfather built a house with a firm foundation and strong frame that still stands on the farm now, having been totally remodeled in recent times by our son, Tim. In order to make ends meet, farmers in the early 1900s had to find ways to supplement their income. Few items were purchased with cash at the store. Most things were done by some type of barter using home-made or home-grown things from the farm. The Grants always had a couple of cows for milk and meat, a few chickens for eggs and meat, and a few hogs to provide ham, bacon, side meat, and lard.
They also had a coal bank in the hollow for digging coal to deliver to town by wagon or sled, a maple grove to tap for sugaring each spring, and a loom to make carpet in their spare time. They planted a fine orchard with apple varieties that would continue to ripen throughout the season, some of which are still producing today. Most of the neighbors did the same things, and they shared the bounty. On nice days, they’d all get together on the porch to visit. They walked up and down the roads, or rode on horseback or behind horses in buggies and hacks – all ways that made conversation easy with neighbors along the way. They would stop and “sit a spell” at the drop of a word.
The community life thrived for many years as neighbors gathered together to work their teams of horses, to help plant and harvest the crops, and to put up new timber-frame barns or other buildings as needed. Everybody worked together, much as we see of the local Amish families today. These days, the modern forms of entertainment tend to keep many of us indoors; new tools and equipment make it possible for us to be independent and we don’t have to call on our neighbors for help; and a more plentiful supply of money allows us to do whatever we want. I do know most of the people who live along my country road, but it’s mainly a “passing” acquaintance as they go by in their cars, or as we meet on the highway. I haven’t sat on most of their porches, nor have most of them sat on mine.
After my grandfather died on April 29, 1915, a lengthy obituary was published in the Brockwayville Record that said a lot about life in his day, “The Grant family located in Snyder Township and cleared a large farm south of town along the Beechtree Road (no Arch existed back then) which has been known as the Grant homestead and where the deceased lived until the time of his death. Mr. Grant followed farming practically all his life and he was considered one of the leading men of the township. He made no pretense of desiring to shine in the limelight of publicity, but rather preferred the quiet and peacefulness of his own fireside, surrounded by those who knew him best and loved him most.
It continues, “He was public spirited and always took an interest in the affairs of his district, and while he never sought nor would he accept public office, he never failed to do his part for the general good of the community. Coming to this section when a virgin forest covered a great area in Jefferson and the surrounding counties, Mr. Grant became a factor in the development of the country and had a part in shaping and putting into actual motion the great work that transformed Western Pennsylvania from a vast wilderness to a progressive and busy industrial center.”
That’s the way it was for the hardy pioneers before the turn of the century, for the hard-working people through the middle of the 1900s, and into the earlier part of my generation. Have we now lost this interest and enthusiasm today? Are people looking out for themselves only? Are we too concerned with tales of danger when getting involved in the lives of our neighbors and community? Do we know and look out for our neighbors? Does anybody really know or care who lives along our Arch Street? I still do!