PORT PERRY AND TURTLE CREEK
By Wm. S. Heath
At first glance, the reader will wonder why the history of Port Perry and Turtle Creek should be incorporated in this work, and why it in any way would be associated with the Fiftieth Anniversary of Braddock; but in the perusal of the same, one will find that a history of Braddock would be incomplete unless this chapter were included, as both Port Perry and Turtle Creek are closely allied with, and associated in, the making of Braddock; so many of the former citizens of Port Perry now being Braddock residents.
It is a strange coincidence that Mr. George H. Lamb, Chairman of the Historical Committee, would select the undersigned for this important task, I only having been a resident of this vicinity since 1898, and it naturally would seem to be the proper course to select a resident of each of these places to write the facts, or near facts, concerning their history. Yet, the selection of myself to do this work, seems not inappropriate for the following reasons:
I was born in the Monongahela Valley, this county, as was also my father, Samuel J. Heath, my grand-father, Captain Samuel Heath, and my great grand-father, Robert Heath, who was the son of Samuel Heath, who acquired two tracts of lands from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania called "Battletown" and "The Dart". These papers I have in my possession. My great grand-father's brother, Samuel Heath, Jr., was born in Old Fort Pitt, (where the Indians had chased his father's family), on August 1st, 1773, and on the day he was twenty-one years of age, August 1st 1794, he was with the crowd who mustered in Braddock's Field in the Whiskey Insurrection. My great great grand-fathers farm, (a portion of which we yet own), was near Monongahela City and Mingo Creek and Church, the very center of the Whiskey Rebellion.
I am indebted for much of my information in compiling these chapters, to the History of Allegheny County, as published by A. Warner & Company in 1889, and the Memoir and Recollections of J. B. Corey, our much esteemed fellow citizen, and to many kind friends, who have been unstinted in their efforts to aid me.
Versailles Township was one of the original seven townships into which the County of Allegheny was divided and it extended from the mouth of Turtle Creek along the Northerly side of the Monongahela River up to the mouth of the Youghiogheny River and thence up the Youghiogheny River to Crawford's Run; Thence by the line of the County to the mouth of Brush Creek; thence down Turtle Creek to the mouth. The immediate cause of the division of Versailles Township was the growth of the two villages of Port Perry and Coultersville, at the opposite extremes of its territory, and in September 1869 by decree of Court, the Townships of North and South Versailles were erected out of Versailles Township. Later, viz: July 3, 1875, by decree of Court, the second precinct of South Versailles was erected into the Township of Versailles.
Port Perry is situated at the mouth of Turtle Creek in North Versailles Township on the Monongahela River. It was originally known as Pieriestown, so called after a man named Pieries who owned the land there, and laid out the first plan of lots. Colonel Miller afterwards bought the Pieries holdings and the Fritchman farm and laid out a new plan of the same place. The name was, in 1850, changed to Port Perry. I note (J. B. Corey's Memoir) that in 1840 there were eight families in the village of Pieriestown. One history states that while it is a comparatively old town, its appearance has not improved with age and truly as has been well said by George H. Lamb, Librarian at Braddock, Pa., Port Perry is a victim of prosperity. Towns usually improve with age, but Port Perry as a town has been practically obliterated by the growth of great industries as the years have gone by. In J. B. Corey's Memoir we find that his father brought his family to Port Perry on the occasion of having secured, in company with his brother, the contract to erect the lock and dam known as No. 2, for the Monongahela Navigation Company, J. K. Moorehead being president of the Company. The work on the dam was started in the year 1840. J. B. Corey was then about eight years old. At the present time he is nearly eleven times that age and in comparatively good health. I saw him on the streets of Braddock as this was being written, greeting old and new acquaintances with a vim that was surprising in one of his great age.
The location of the Town at the mouth of Turtle Creek and on the Monongahela River seems to be the natural one, and in the year 1840 Port Perry was a town composed of eight families, as above stated, and the site of the present town of Braddock was covered with its original forest; and while Braddock to-day looks down upon Port Perry with irony, yet the demolition of Port Perry helped to make Braddock and vicinity.
Of the business carried on in Port Perry prior to 1840, not much can be learned but that of mining coal. One of the first coal mines was located at Port Perry, the coal being floated down the river in flat boats. Coal mines along the river began to flourish after the building of No. 2 lock and dam, and navigation was brisk, when the river was navigable. The Monongahela river was first navigated by steam in 1825, and then only when the river was high. A boat store was located in Port Perry, where they used to furnish supplies to the boats and it became a favorite Post Office for the rivermen to get their mail. Some of the packets that used to navigate the river here, were the Luzerne, Colonel Bayard, Elector, Chieftain, Elisha Bennett, Fayette, Albert Gallatin, W. J. Snowden, Elizabeth, Germania, Geneva, James G. Blaine and James F. Woodward, the fastest of all these being the Elizabeth. They were all side wheel steamers except the Snowden and it was a stern wheel boat and was too large to operate in the swift currents of high water. The boat Tom Schriver operated between Pittsburgh and West Newton on the Youghiogheny River. Transportation by way of these boats was heavy both in passengers and freight and many of the early citizens of Port Perry followed the river in one capacity or another.
A Post Office was established in Port Perry in 1850 and this was the occasion of the change in the name from Pieriestown to Port Perry. The first Postmaster was John McCloskey appointed by President Polk. He served until 1861 when John Craig, brother-in-law of George T. Miller was appointed by President Lincoln. Craig died in 1864 and John Russell, brother of James A. Russell of Braddock, was appointed to take his place. He served until 1868, and was followed by Jackson Young (1868-1885) when J. K. Wood was appointed Postmaster by Grover Cleveland. J. L. Porter was appointed by President Harrison in 1889. He served until the inauguration of President Cleveland for his second term; Mrs. C. McCue was then appointed and served until President McKinley was inaugurated in 1897 when Samuel Davidson was named Postmaster, who served until January 1902 when P. Stucki was appointed Postmaster by President Roosevelt. At his decease his daughter Mrs. M. C. Toner was made Postmistress April 20th, 1903, and is still serving her country in that capacity. P. Stucki, the father of Mrs. M. C. Toner emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1857 settling in Port Perry, and it is stated that for forty-one continuous years their home was never vacant at night.
The first church in Port Perry -- the Methodist Episcopal, to the best information obtainable, was built about the year 1848, and seems to have had its beginning from a Sabbath School that was started by Mrs. Corey, the mother of J. B. Corey. It seems that Mrs. Corey built better than she knew for many citizens have told me that the little brick church was the scene of all their entertainments and gatherings and helped to make Port Perry for them the garden spot of the world. The Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad which passes through Port Perry was opened in 1857 and at that time the road only extended to Port Perry and the trains went up around to Brinton and thence to Pittsburgh over the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The line of the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad was extended from Port Perry to Pittsburgh in 1861 and was built by William J. Morrison. This road is now owned and operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. The Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad now operated by the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad was opened in 1883. The main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad is connected with the Monongahela division of the same road by a bridge across the river at Port Perry. It passes over the town from the mouth of the tunnel. This tunnel has now been done away with. [incorrect] The Union Railroad also by a bridge connects the Edgar Thomson Steel Works with the Duquesne and Homestead Steel Works. It is claimed and no doubt it is true that the heaviest tonnage in the world passes through Port Perry, and the encroachments of the railroads with their tracks and yards have all but annihilated the town. James A. Russell who came to Braddock in 1862 says that at that time, Port Perry was larger than Braddock, and people went from Braddock to Port Perry, to buy their groceries, etc. The McCloskey Coal Works were then located in the upper end of Port Perry and the same were operated by John McCloskey who was the father of Mrs. Timothy E. Kenney of Holland Avenue, Braddock, Pa. Col. Wm. L. Miller was the big man of Port Perry and owned the store which supplied the steamboats, and was called the boat store. George T. Miller operated the saw-mill, and at the time of the Civil War 1861-1865 Miller made about two million gun stocks at this mill. He also had extensive boat yards and used the saw-mill for that purpose, and also for reducing logs into building material. About fifty per cent of all coal boats on the Monongahela River were built in these docks. Car shops for building Railroad cars were in operation for some few years, also a pump shop for making wood pumps, for use on coal boats did a good business. A cooper shop producing barrels had an extensive trade as well as did the stone quarries on the hill side near the town. Abraham Moore, father-in-law of Thomas George, opened the first quarry for the purpose of filling in the first dam with stone.
John King operated a blacksmith shop. The lock master at No. 2 dam and locks always resided in the town of Port Perry. The first lock master was John Derrickson, who served from 1849 to 1856. The next lock master was Captain B. L. Wood, 1856 until his death in 1872, when he was succeeded by his son Charles W. Wood. During the administration of the latter the locks and dams were sold to the United States Government. C. W. Wood was succeeded by Edward Finnin a brother of John T. Finnin, note-teller in the First National Bank of Braddock, Pa. He in turn was succeeded by James A. Sweeney, and he by the present lock masse' Robert McGreevey. The first physicians were Doctor Snodgrass and Doctor Oliver.
Mr. A. P. Aiken who resides in Mills Ave., Braddock, Pa. states that in the early sixties the population of Port Perry was about thirty five hundred people. It will require a little thought on our part at the present time to believe this possible, but Mr. Aiken's word is as good as his bond and the facts of his statement were by me confirmed, from other old residents. Mr. Aiken also states that there were thirteen saloons which did a flourishing business in the town. That the mud at the upper end of the town was black, at the lower end yellow, and at Hamburg a little settlement near the border of Port Perry it was red; the color of the mud on a man's shoes denoting where he got his whiskey.
Walter R. Collins, an old resident of Port Perry, now residing in Braddock and a member of the Grand Army of The Republic, moved to Port Perry in 1867, it being the time that about fifty feet in the center of the old dam had broken out. He was employed in rebuilding the dam, under Squire Richard Harrison. They completed the work that summer and then he opened a bakery business in Port Perry, he therefore being the first baker in this community. Madge Struble was ticket agent for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and as an assistant she had Wilson Marks, a man well known to many in this district. She afterwards married Wilson Marks. Mr. Marks's father Philip was employed as watchman at the old Port Perry trestle. One of Mr. Collins's friends who resided in Port Perry was Thomas J. Lewis afterwards Justice of the Peace in Braddock, and the father of Frank E. Lewis, employed in newspaper work in Braddock. The Lewis home in Port Perry was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company while they were putting the tunnel through Miller's hill in order to connect with their main line in Brinton. The assistant engineer or superintendent of this work was Charles M. Schwab now of the Bethlehem Steel Company. A coping stone on the face of the tunnel slipped and crushed to death, the foreman, a Mr. Miller. His widow is still living in Braddock. Mr. Collins's father-in-law, Gilbert Stephens, and his brother Richard Stephens, were boat builders of Elizabeth, Pa. and built the boat and rowed it conveying General La Fayette from Elizabeth to Braddock, May 28th, 1825. This is the occasion on which General La Fayette stopped at the Kirkpatrick Mansion at the corner of Bell and Jones Avenues, North Braddock, Pa. Samuel L. Heath a son of Samuel Heath who was born in Fort Pitt, August 1st, 1773 was a member of the "Jefferson Guards" and helped to receive LaFayette and shook hands with him on the occasion of his visit to this part of our country.
Captain B. L. Wood, the father of Chas. W. Wood and Wm. P. Wood of Pittsburgh, and Mrs. Ada R. Preusse of 308 Holland Ave., Braddock, was superintendent of Lock No. 2, and we note a clipping from a Pittsburgh, Pa. newspaper dated Monday, August 20, 1888 at which time it seems that the Monongahela Navigation Company had refused to open the locks on Sunday for the proposed Sunday Excursion of August 19, 1888, of the County Democracy, in honor of Congressional Guests, which recalled an incident occurring at Port Perry Locks, some years ago, when the late B. L. Wood was superintendent. The rule then as in 1888 was, that the locks should be kept closed on Sunday, except for the passage of mail-boats or during a coal boat rise. Captain Wood it seems enforced the rule at lock No. 2 to the letter, and his inflexibility was so well known to captains and others employed on boats plying the river that while they might succeed in passing through Lock No. 1 at Soho, they always managed to tie up at No. 2. On the occasion referred to, the Captain of a tow boat with a tow of empty barges made a boast when passing through No. 1, that he would get through Port Perry all right. He was known as a man of determined manner, and as he had one equally determined to deal with, the Navigation officials told him it was of no use to make the attempt. The boat reached the lock early on Sunday morning and as the office was closed the captain sent word to the Superintendent that he had a tow of empties and desired to go through. A reply was sent that the lock would not be open until twelve o'clock Sunday night. The boat Captain was not to be rebuffed, and he sent word to the Superintendent that he would like to see him. When the Superintendent appeared the Captain said in his blandest manner; "Captain I have an emergency trip to-day and would like to get up the river." "You know the rule in force here", said Captain Wood. "You know too that it is one that I never violate; I cannot make any exception in your case and will not." "All right then." said the steam boat Captain, whose anger was at fever heat, "I'll make things pleasant for you during the day, if I am compelled to stay." The steam boat Captain then secured his tow of barges and ran his boat into the open lock chamber, preparatory to opening up hostilities. He directed the engineer to keep a full supply of steam and then attempted to hold another conference but failed. The Superintendent's house was located just across the street, and when the second effort failed the tow boat Captain pulled the steam whistle wide open and gave a few premonitory blasts, as a sample of the plan of warfare he had mapped out. As it was not heeded, his whistle was again turned on and then from nine o'clock Sunday morning until between twelve and one o'clock on Monday morning there was not a moment's cessation. The shrieks were varied with all the ingenuity that the steam boat man could devise, to increase the annoyance. One second there would be an ear splitting shriek, at another time a wail would be sounded that seemed to emanate from the lost ones in the lower regions. As hour after hour passed there was not the slightest show of annoyance on the part of the Superintendent, while the steam boat man raved up and down the wall anathematizing the Navigation Company and the Superintendent in particular. He sent a messenger to the city to get an order but the messenger returned with the information that the direction of the Superintendent must be obeyed. The novel contest attracted people from Braddock and vicinity and throughout the day crowds were going to and from the scene. The noise was simply terrible but the Sunday rule was not violated, and the steam-boatman swore that he had never met such a stubborn man. Some residents of Port Perry threatened to prosecute the boat Captain but the next day he looked so crestfallen that the threats were not carried into execution. We presume that there are residents in this vicinity who will recall the day.
Henry C. Shallenberger, president of the State Bank of Braddock, operated a store for W. H. Brown & Sons for about ten years, and the last year that he was there, sold about $50,000 worth of groceries, etc. He received as his salary $125 a month, and was sent by the Browns to a point above Brownsville to manage a store at that place. Mr. Shallenberger, however, after being a year at Brownsville, resigned his position, accepting a position in the First National Bank of Braddock at $70 per month, having told Mr. Harry Brown that it was worth $250 a month to have to live at the place above Brownsville.
An incident is recalled in the career of W. J. Dixon, who was born in Port Perry and is now one of the Honorable Councilmen of Braddock. During his first campaign for office they twitted him of not being a citizen, he having been born across the water. The Pennsylvania Water Company maintained a pumping station for quite a number of years with Mr. M. B. Scott as the man in charge. Mr. Scott has served in this capacity for about twenty-six years. The pumping station has been sold to the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad and they now are demolishing the same. It will soon be but a memory. Mr. Thomas George, who went to Port Perry in 1852 is still living there and is now nearly eighty-seven years of age. He is hale and hearty and his memory is keen, and his recollections of the early citizens of Port Perry are interesting and some times very amusing. Mr. George states that everybody that came to Port Perry went out rich and I immediately commenced to look for a house to rent but could not find one. Mr. George has three children living, Mrs. Elizabeth Kerr, Miles George and Mr. John George, now living at 535 Talbot Avenue, Braddock, Pa. Other well known citizens who have been connected with the history of Port Perry are the following: Jacob Mangus, who was the Captain of the steamboat, Enterprise; Thos. Moore, John Jenkner, Patrick McGreevy, George Brenneman, John Shields, now Councilman in Braddock, Patrick McLaughlin, Daniel Simms and John Simms, Sledge McMichaels, Charles Loughrey, Samuel Hart, Patrick Purcell, who was the father of the late James Purcell, a former Burgess of Braddock, Elisha Pancoast, a renowned gun maker, George Nimon, David F. Cooper, Phillip Sharah, now of San Jose, Cal., the father of William H. and Edward M. Sharah, Samuel C. Wilkinson, A. P. Aiken, Dr. Maggini, father of B. A. and Robert Maggini, and also Timothy Gallagher, who came to Port Perry, August 18, 1854, and whose daughter Mary, now the wife of Ezra Davis, lives on Hawkins Avenue, North Braddock, Pa., William Finnin, J. N. Elrod, whose widow still lives in Port Perry, William M. King, who died June 18, 1917, Patrick Cain, Matthew Melvin, whose widow Sarah, is about seventy years of age and still living there; William Fritzius, (the father of George B. Fritzius), George Fritzius, and Jordan Fritzius the father of Oliver B. Fritzius, of Homestead, Pa., and Adaline Corey, the mother of Ellis Corey, the Steel man; James Dickson, the father of William T. Dickson and one of the first men from Port Perry to answer President Lincoln's call for troops in 1861; James Alexander, Peter Kidd, William Franey, and M. J. Ward, proprietor of the Old Jefferson House for years, John Noey, John Loew, who was pit boss for the McCloskey Coal Co., and father of Mrs. Joseph Striebich, John A. Loew and Mrs. Joseph L. Mayer; William H. Bishoff, the father of Fogal G. and Lowery H. Bishoff, Squire Joseph McCloskey, who is a distant relative of John Me Closkey the coal man. Squire McCloskey says that he well remembers the steamboats unloading freight at Port Perry, which among other things consisted of large hogsheads of sugar and molasses, which came direct from New Orleans. He also remembers very well the day the steamboat did the whistling in the lock as spoken of earlier in this narrative. I also note the fact that William Mayhugh, who resides in Forward Township and is the father of Joseph F. Mayhugh, the attorney at law of North Braddock, Pa., formerly lived in Ohio, and shipped lumber from Long Bottom, Meigs County, Ohio, to the McCloskey Coal Works at Port Perry.
Port Perry does not have a saloon within its border at the present time, nor has it had one for the past two years, although it is stated that in the early days, there were quite a few saloons in and about Port Perry, and the whiskey drunk was full proof of their existence. In politics the town was Democratic, and in jest it has been said that the tally sheets were made out before the polls were closed. However, while the town has been much maligned, and the butt of many a rude jest, yet some of our staunchest citizens first saw the light of day in this place.
Oh! Port Perry thou ancient one
By the Riverside so bright,
All thy great acts basely undone
By Jacob taking Esau's right.
Submit info or inquiry - share some facts or ask a question.
Source document: The unwritten history of Braddock's Field (Pennsylvania) prepared by the History committee under the editorship of Geo. H. Lamb, A. M., for the celebration of the golden jubilee of Braddock, the silver jubilee of Rankin and the one-hundred-seventy-fifth anniversary of the first white settlement west of the Alleghanies. p. 49-57. Pittsburgh : Nicholson printing co., 1917.