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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Good Old Days - Harrison Township, Potter County

Flossie's Market - Elmer, Pa
Short Stories & Tidbits 
Elmer, Harrison Valley, Mills, White's Corners, North Fork 
Laurence Mills, Pinedam, Yvonne, Haneyville 
* Click any news articles or Photos to enlarge

    The Haunted House in North Fork
There are a few hauntings in Harrison Township. One place was always referred to as the old Houghtailing house and located in North Fork. A number of owners and tenants reported strange sounds and sights, no one ever stayed too long. During a terrible lightning storm in 1897, the foundation of the old homestead was severely damaged. Men began working on repairs, starting on the inside from the cellar. One spot in the rock wall had mortar over it, which was strange for back then but no one really thought much of it at first. As they tore away, a hollow cavity was found with a human skeleton inside. There was nothing with it to indicate a name or where the person came from. The original owner, George Houghtailing, had only lived there a short time when his wife, Mary, passed away. He moved back to New York right after she died, and no one knew where. It was believed that a murder had taken place, but with no suspect or identity of the victim, not much could be done. The bones were buried in a wooden box on the property. After that, no reports of a ghost were made again in the house, but on occasion people have mentioned seeing a figure in the woods nearby. 

Northern Tier Children's Home & Orphanage

A fire destroys the first Northern Tier Children's Home
The first Children's Home was built just outside of Harrison Valley in 1916 and could house 20-25 children, It was equipped with a sick room for youngsters sickened by contagious diseases. Four year old Irene Atherton was brought to the home in 1926, suffering from a severe case of the measles. She was put in the sick room to keep the disease from spreading, doors locked when she wasn't being tended to. On January 7, 1927 the coal furnace exploded in the home, and flames quickly engulfed the building. Staff rounded up the children and got them outside. The Fire Company and locals came to assist quickly, and soon someone remembered that Irene was still upstairs in the sick room, unable to get out. A young man named Mr. Oliver quickly grabbed a ladder, climbed up the the second story and broke the window in the sick room. The area was terribly smoky, and he could see Irene was already severely burnt, but he scooped her up, descended the ladder, and she was rushed to the Blossburg Hospital. Unfortunately Irene passed away. Mr & Mrs. Seagers, of the Erway Hotel, provided dinner to the staff and rest of the children that evening. Locals brought many donations of clothing, toys, and other items. Until the children could be placed in homes or in the Westfield Orphanage, they stayed at the Hotel. Later a new Children's Home was built. 

Precious Mineral Water in Harrison Valley

Following the discovery of oil between Elmer & Harrison Valley (1899) was an even more valuable find. Men digging a well near the train depot, on property owned by Mrs. Almira White,  hit an artesian well. The fountain of water that spewed from the ground proved to be abundant with minerals to heal a number of ailments including rheumatism, headaches, liver disease, and much more. This changed the course of the industrial history in the area, especially when more wells were found, and a number of businesses sprung up. The first was the sale of the mineral water, carried on a wagon by horse from Harrison Valley and delivering to customers all the way to Elkland. Soon there were health spas, also called sanitariums, in Harrison Valley and eventually the Harrison Valley Bottling Works was under way. Over the years carbonation and flavors were added, which boosted sales. Nowadays unless you find an old bottle, you might not even know the old businesses and industries of this kind existed there. 

 Marguerite Gladys Swetland 
Born: April 18, 1892  -- Died: December 14, 2005
I only knew Gladys as the very old maid who lived in a well kept & enormous home in Mills. I always wondered why she had such a large home, but never married or had children... It seemed like a lonely life. As it turns out, Gladys lived a very content & interesting life. She was born and raised in Mills, & loved music from the time she was born. Gladys began playing the piano at 4 years old. Soon she was reading music and practicing other instruments. She graduated in 1910 from the school in Harrison Valley, and became a teacher. Gladys left Potter County around 1912 or 1913, and headed to the Michigan State Normal College for a degree in music & teaching. Directly following her education, she became a teacher for 5th and 6th graders in Detroit, MI and did so for 16 years. After returning to Mills, she had her own home, and taught school in Harrison Valley & at Northern Potter. Eventually she moved back into the home where she was raised and continued to teach until retirement, and for years after. She partook in many local activities, played the organ in the Mills Church for services, directed plays and much more. She had a clear mind and was still driving well over her 100th birthday, and lived independently until she reached the age of 110. When she passed away, Gladys was the 9th oldest person known in the world, and 4th oldest person known in the United States. 

1845 - Harriett Webster, 2 year old daughter of Aaron and Nancy(Thompson)Webster, passed away in January. At the time there was no cemetery in Mills. Nancy's father, Isaac Thompson, donated land for the graveyard and Harriett was the first burial. 

1854/55 - Reports were being made in many rural communities of Pennsylvania, in regards to a strange gathering, possibly a religious cult, that was seen meeting late at night on horses with burning lanterns attached to a stick. Some people said they had tall hats and wore long gowns, but no one knew much about it. One of the sightings in Potter County was in an open field near Marsh Creek near White's Corners. People spying said they got a weird feeling about the group. 

1869 - You may have seen the old horse drawn "Ithaca Wheel Rakes in the woods or a farmers field in Harrison Township. The invention & patents were completed in the mid to late 1860's. Two of the first owners in Harrison Township were Isaac Thompson and Kelsey Erway, who purchased them in the summer from an agent in Westfield named Isaac Plank.

1875 - William Gill, a farmer from Whites Corners, had a lucky year growing 65 stalks of clover from only 1 seed. 

1877 - Wild Ginseng was sold by a number of farmers in Harrison Township, including Hyram McCutcheon & Burr Robbinson.  The going rate was 85-90 cents per lb. 

1879 - Hay in Harrison township was reported to be selling at an all time high, $12-$14 per ton. Crops in the area were doing well. Unfortunately the southern part of Potter County was in a desperate way, cattle were said to be starving. 

1881 - One Saturday afternoon three boys found them self in trouble after they took a pound of Paris Green and sprinkled it on top of a corn fodder and piles of hay at the Ross Farm in Whites Corners. Philip White & John Bugsby watched as Benjamin Chestnut then lit the Paris Green, causing a destructive fire. Mr. Ross pressed charges in court. Justice Stevens dismissed Bugsby & White, but Benjamin Chestnut was found guilty and placed in a home for delinquents. 

1885 - The summer months were hot and humid, and women all over were screaming about snakes, especially in North Fork. One farmer killed a black snake that measured 6 1/2 feet long.

1888 - Enoch Garrison was the owner of a shoe factory in  Elmer. He was becoming frustrated when sales were down and began making comments around town that his business would be better off if it burnt. Someone reported it, but word got back to Garrison before anything could be done. When the Sheriff arrived at his home, the house was cleared out and Garrison had disappeared. The company was insured for $10,500. 

1889 - Dr. Masten, from Westfield, left the Stevens Farm in North Fork after a house call. He tripped on something in the dirt, and looked down to see it was a giant elephant tooth. The circus at Picnic Grove in Mills had traveled to New York via this route, he thought maybe it came from one of the circus animals and fell out of a wagon as they passed by. 

1890 - A CC& A  locomotive  heading from Harrison Valley towards Mills derailed as a result of massive snow drifting across the tracks. No injuries were reported, but it took two weeks to clear the snow and move derailed cars. 

1899 - In January the Cowanesque Valley Telegraph & Telephone Company announced their new service was up and running between Westfield, Potter brook, Elmer, and Harrison Valley. Each message transmitted costed 15 cents. 

1905 - A store & home in White's Corners owned by Albert Robbins was destroyed in a fire shortly after the family went to bed. The loss was estimated at $4,500 and cause determined to be a hot stove pipe. The only salvageable items were the clothes on their back. 

1902 - The Dodge & Councilman Cheese factory proprietors signed a contract with several North Fork dairy farmers for the purchase of milk the next spring. The Cheese factory would pay them 75 cents for every 100 lbs of milk. 

1911 - Mr. & Mrs. Lewis Paddock, of Northfork, purchased land in Whites Corners, and made plans to build a modern home of concrete. The floors, walls, and ceiling were all cement, and they were very pleased. Everyone wanted to see this new kind of structure, and 300 people attended the housewarming party. 

Great places for research or information on the area:

I usually start in the cemetery, some of them in Harrison Township are:
English Family Cemetery - Dodge Family Burial Ground  - Schofield Family Cemetery 
Button Hill Cemetery - Quackenbush Farm Cemetery -Whites Corners Cemetery
Mills Cemetery - There are also a number of single graves and unmarked
family & farm cemeteries. 

The Potter County Genealogy Project site:

The Painted Hills Genealogy Society: 

Roots Web & Ancestry

There are so many interesting old stories, it is hard to pick which ones to tell. 
If you have any interesting information to add, please email me:

Thank you for reading!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mysterious Skeleton found under floor boards of a home on Mill Creek Road...

Life has its dimensions in the mysterious - Jesse Jackson 

Earl Smith purchased land on Mill Creek Road in 1926, and in 1927 began working the land and tearing down an old dwelling known as the Gib Reynolds Estate. On February 3rd, Mr. Smith began dismantling the floor. He noticed an area that had been replaced before, but thought nothing of it until he made a gruesome discovery. Below the floorboards, in an area where rocks had been pushed aside, was a bundle covered in newspapers and lime. As he pulled them up, beneath was a skeleton embedded in the ground wearing woman's shoes. 

Mr. Smith contacted authorities who quickly secured the scene and carefully exhumed the remains. An investigation followed and some interesting information came about. When examining the hole in the kitchen floor, detectives could see that the area had been carefully cut, and then replaced and covered. The rocks had been piled to the side, providing a hole big enough to place the said "dismembered body." Newspapers covering the bones had the date torn from them. After an expert looked at them, they were determined to be from Philadelphia, years of 1906 and 1907. The shoes were determined to be about 30 years old and belonged to a female with small feet. Coroner White of Wellsboro made a thorough examination of the bones and said he felt they were surely human. He said they belonged to an adolescent male or female, but was unable to determine the sex. Due to the finding of Lime, it was felt that a murder had taken place, and the substance was used to help hide the overpowering smell and disintegrate the body. Officials asked people to come forward with any information or known disappearances from 30-40 years before. 

The discovery was a sensation in the area and there was much talk over who the skeleton could be. Fred Ellison, former Mayor of Corning who grew up in Tioga County, remembered that prior to Gib building his home there, and old hunchback named Morris Walker lived on the property. He disappeared around the time that Gib built the home, and was never seen or heard from again. John Clark, an older man living near Nelson, remembered that years ago a peddler's daughter named Jennie disappeared. For years Jennie and her father sold meat to locals, and one year she returned to take orders, saying her father had died. She was continuing the business, and stopped by the Alec Thorn farm where Mr. Clark was working. After collecting the order and money, she headed on to the next family. She mysteriously disappeared before making it to the end of the road. Jennie even left an expensive churn at the Thorne home but never returned for it. Another disappearance from around the time was Frank Knights, who disappeared shortly after leaving his parents home on Mill Creek Road. He was never heard from again, and left behind a wife and small child. 

Gib Reynolds passed away in 1893. His wife died about 25 years later and then Curtis Reed (Son in law of Mr. & Mrs. Reynolds) owned the home for a short while before renting to a number of tenantsThe home was later abandoned until Earl Smith purchased the property. There was no one to question as to the identity and the hope of figuring out who the mystery person was seemed grim. A strange turn of events occurred when the District Attorney said a local unnamed hunter had given the opinion that the bones were not human at all, but that they were that of a deer carcass. He was unable to explain why the shoes were found with the bones, why someone would bury them under the floor, along with any other evidence, but did say that Oscar Reynolds, son of Gib, was an animal lover. He felt that it was entirely possible the bones were from a pet deer and that Gib threw his daughters shoes in the hole to get rid of them. There was mention the bones would be given a burial at the county home cemetery. 

No one believed for a second that someone would bury a deer carcass beneath the floor of a kitchen, especially because the smell which would have been horrendous. Either way the case was closed and people soon forgot. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Children discover a skeleton behind the Potter County Home...

Potter County Home - Photo Source: Phil Bennett

There are many interesting stories from the Potter County Home... Some of them aren't so bad, others are quite frightening. While the old Almshouse in Potter County never received as much attention as institutions like Pennhurst or Dixmont, one would have to consider the size of the area and the careful vigilance of local officials to keep things quiet. It's a small town syndrome. If you are from the area, you are either completely clueless or know exactly what I mean.

Children discover a skeleton behind the Potter County Home... 
Years ago, before the invention of cell phones, children loved to play outside. For the most part, small towns were safe and children would play in the woods and creeks for hours. At times they might not return until dinner or bed time. It's hard to imagine, but it is true. After school on September 1st 1938, a group of children headed out to play and ended up behind the Potter County Home in a small patch of trees. As they climbed around and picked up rocks, one of them noticed some shredded clothing buried in the dirt. They were all curious... poking and prodding. A few minutes later they were all running home screaming, telling their parents that they found a skeleton buried in the woods. After notifying proper authorities, word began making it's way around town... spreading like wildfire during a drought in the middle of the summer. By the time locals began to gather, hoping to catch a glimpse, the Potter County Home Staff, officials, and police had already closed off the area at a distance. When bombarded with questions all investigating parties would only say that they had no idea who the bones could belong to. 

Within 24 hours the experienced officials solved the mysterious case. A statement made to the press on Friday evening which nipped the gossip in a bud. Officials said that after hearing about the discovery, Mr. "Faye" Glassmire came forward, and provided information that the year before he had an employee who lived at the Potter County Home. His name was either Luman or Truman Spencer. Glassmire said one day in May of 1937 the man came to work, left, and never returned or gave notice. He was also able to provide a detailed description of Mr. Spencers clothing the last time he saw him. Officials said they were able to confirm an identity because the clothing worn by the skeleton matched Glassmires description "exactly." This helped jog the memory of staff at the Potter County Home. They said that in May the year before, Mr. Spencer had been a "guest" at the home. They also explained they vividly remembered the man seemed to be unhealthy, fidgety, and constantly annoyed by the radio, and at some point threatened to leave and never returned. An official report was not made because they assumed he had left, not taking his belongings or anything. Coroner Philip Shaw said there was no reason to suspect foul play, and no inquest was held. He explained that Mr. Spencer had most likely wandered into the woods behind the Potter County Home, and died of natural causes inside of a pit near an uprooted tree. Over the winter and during the hot summer months, he must have been covered. Both the coroner and officials admitted to not knowing Mr. Spencers true first name, but did say he had already been buried earlier in the day at the Potter County Home Cemetery under Luman Spencer. Mr. Spencers parents had died years before, but a number of his siblings were alive, and living within 50 miles of Coudersport. There was no time to waste tracking them down to confirm if his first name was actually Luman or Truman. After all, it was Friday September 2nd, Labor Day weekend. People had already made plans for barbecues and little vacations with family and friends.

In memory of Luman or Truman Spencer
Born: August, 1885 - Died: Unknown
Approximate age of 52

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ghost stories from Tioga County

"All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses. Through the open doors the harmless phantoms on their errands glide with feet that make no sound upon the floors............."  - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

An old farm in Covington was reportedly haunted in the mid to late 1880's. Tenants said they moved after being spooked by the unexplained cries of a child in the early morning. The property changed hands a few times until Mr. Baldwin purchased the old farm in 1889. While he was digging in the garden, Mr Baldwin found a wooden box, and inside was the body of a young boy. Locals thought maybe the boy was an adopted child of previous tenants, Alonzo and Diana Barnes, who had rented the farm in 1880. One day in 1882, after her husband returned from work, Diana said that their adopted son had been kidnapped by his birth parents, and she was unable to tear the boy from them as they left. They only referred to the boy as having the last name of "Sours" and that he was adopted while they lived in Mansfield. The family didn't search for their adopted son, but directly following the incident, they the grid. No investigation was done, but after the unknown boy was moved to a burial site, the crying stopped. 

Eighmey Road is said to be haunted by descendants of the Samuel & Betsey Taber Family who first settled there in 1840, erecting a farm complete with a home, barn, and various outbuildings. The couple committed suicide... one in March 1848, and the other in March 1849, then passed the suicidal gene to some of their children and grandchildren who also committed suicide on the farm. The abandoned home burned to the ground in 1909, and the barn and other buildings were reclaimed by mother nature in the following years. All that remains is a pond and some foundations.  Reports of uneasy feelings and sightings of a dark figure along the road have been claimed over the years. 

A cemetery located in the Ghost town of Fallbrook is said to be haunted by the spirits of many, especially children, who died from various diseases, starvation, and in mining accidents during the coal boom in the area around 1880-1910. Most of the burial plots have humps where the casket would be located, which seem to be pushing up from the ground. Visitors say they have heard cries and photos taken there have been said to reveal orbs and human like figures. 

A boarding house, once located a half mile south of Gaines, was abandoned after numerous tenants reported hearing knocking sounds coming from the basement. Upon inspection, there was nothing to find in the cellar but a pile of old chimney stones. Everyone referred to it as the haunted house. In the 1860's, during a clean up of the property, someone was clearing the chimney stones from the basement and discovered a bone sticking up from the ground. Upon further inspection, an entire human skeleton was found, dug up, and sent off for an examination. Due to the age and unkempt records it was hard to determine who the man or woman was, and who might have stayed there at the time the unknown person died. It was mentioned that the bones could belong to a peddler named Moses, who disappeared years before after making a sale in the vicinity. The bones were buried in the Phenix (nowadays Phoenix) Cemetery. 

The old Jay King residence is said to be haunted by a little girl who died there of unknown causes in 1894, and was buried in the Jemison Creek Cemetery. 

According to tales from students and staff, a mysterious female ghost haunts the North Hall section of Mansfield University. Some refer to her as Sarah, and say she jumped from the balcony of the North Hall/ladies dorm, and died. I was unable to locate any Sarah who died there, but a girl named Grace Murdough passed away at the dorm years ago. 

Dr. Charles Bosworth purchased a property next to the Osceola Hotel, and on the property was an abandoned dwelling house that spooked the neighborhood. Neighbors reported seeing a light in the upstairs window even though no one had lived there for years. In 1886 Mr. Bosworth tore down the old house and built a new one in it's place, which is still there.


The Russell Farm, located outside of Roseville, is said to be haunted by Harriett Russell who was shot and killed at her wedding reception, by accident, after her new husband and father engaged in an argument which she tried to break up. When her new husband, Horton Hurd, pulled a gun on her father, William, it went off, and she died on the spot. In despair, Mr. Hurd shot himself and died as well. Harriett was buried in the family plot on the farm and is said to roam around in search of her husband. Tragically her father hung himself the year after his daughters death, and he is buried with Harriett on the farm. Also in the family plot are Harriett's mother and sister who died in a buggy accident a few years before her death.

Stony Fork

The ghost of Max Derby has been seen a time or two by locals of Stony Fork, around the dwelling where he died, and walking down the road then suddenly disappearing into thin air. His life and death are somewhat of a mystery. Max, also known as Marcus, and his wife Louise Elizabeth, moved to Delmar Township in 1882. He was well known as a cigar maker, and liked by people in town. In 1884 his wife passed away, and Max gave the children up for adoption shortly after. They resided with different families in the vicinity, but Max would return from Boston on occasion to visit them. On one such visit in March of 1889,  he stopped to see his 15 year old son Charles. Max gave his son  a watch and an address in Boston with the location of two trunks. When Charles asked his father why, he explained, "You will know soon." After that, Max disappeared and people assumed he had returned to Boston. On March 17th Samuel Mott was checking out an old dwelling on the Sanders lot, for a friend who inquired on renting. As Mr Mott peered through the window he was horrified to see a man lying on the floor, appearing to be dead. After grabbing a few friends they went inside and confirmed the man was dead, and none other than Max Derby. A pistol lay by his side, and it appeared he had been shot once at the top of his head which was just a slight grazing and once more in the center of his forehead. He had several letters and silver coins on him, his coat and hat hanging on the wall. Earlier in the month Max was seen at Conway's restaurant eating breakfast, and on the 3rd seen in the vicinity of the old dwelling. The coroner decided an inquest was not needed as it was presumed that his death was pre meditated. He was buried in the Wellsboro Cemetery next to his wife... the grave stone reading year of death 1887, but he did not in fact die until 1889. Over the years information in regards to his estate has been requested via newspapers in Boston and in Wellsboro, thought I have no idea if anyone ever came forward to claim the inheritance. 

Employees who work the late night shift at K&W Specialties, located at the end of Pritchard Hollow Road,  have reported hearing the sounds of a muffled cry and/or a growling dog, and have reported sightings of a shadow figure which was nicknamed "Shades." Shades is said to run through the parking lot and sometimes hide behind trees. 

Of course there are many more ghost stories from Tioga County... such as the old haunted hotel in Elkland, the ghost of the Block House, the mysterious woman of Briar Hill, hauntings of the old Gib Reynolds estate, Ghosts in Lawrenceville, haunting of Marsh Creek, Mound builder grounds, and tales of Indian spirits,  etc...  Maybe when I have time, I will write about them. If you have anything to add, feel free to email me at