Present-day Cranberry Township was part of a very active and much sought-after region in the early days of our country. At various times, Western Pennsylvania was claimed by Native Americans, the English in Virginia, the French, Connecticut as well as Pennsylvania. After years of claims and controversy, Pennsylvania gained ownership. Around 1794, settlement began slowly in Western Pennsylvania.
Among the first settlers of present-day Cranberry Township was Samuel Lindsay, who built a home near the mouth of East Sandy Creek. Other early settlers included a Mr. Thomas, who was the first resident at the mouth of Lower Two Mile Run, and Joel Sage, who came to Venango County in 1807 to settle along the run which now bears his name.
The Township was originally called Fairfield when it was laid out in 1806. When it was officially organized in 1830, the name was changed to Cranberry for a large wetland located near the center of the Township known as Cranberry Swamp.
The Susquehanna and Waterford Turnpike, which later became U.S. Route 322, was built between 1818 and 1820. This became the main east-to-west route through Venango County. Another early road was the Salina Turnpike. A toll road ran from Oil City to Pinoak and cost 25 cents. Although the fee may seem high for the time, roads were generally in deplorable condition, and it was considered well worth the toll to travel on improved “turnpikes.” These roads were an important influence on the number of new settlers coming into the County. An early public works project of the Township was the construction of a large bridge along the old Franklin Road crossing East Sandy Creek at the mouth of Ziegler Run. The structure was built by John Houser and his two sons entirely of hand-hewn timbers, some up to 55 feet long.
The first industry of the Township was iron production. At least two dozen stone blast furnaces were erected throughout Venango County, with the heaviest concentration in Cranberry and Rockland Townships. One of the oldest surviving furnaces, Slab Furnace, was built in 1832 in Cranberry Township by William Cross, an early ironmaster. Its unusual construction apparently did not prove durable because the stack was rebuilt in 1840.
Because water power and convenient supplies of wood were needed for the smelting operation, most iron furnaces were located in remote areas, and each had its own small socio-economic complex consisting of workers’ homes, stables, a company store, a blacksmith shop, and other shops to provide goods and services for a 19th century lifestyle. Myron Sharp and William Thomas, in A Guide to the Old Stone Blast Furnaces in Western Pennsylvania, point out that although blast furnace operations probably required 15 to 20 workers around the clock, other related jobs, such as wood cutting to make charcoal, transporting charcoal, hauling ore, limestone, and pig iron, and raising food for the employees, along with some 30 to 50 horses, increased the total operation to between 60 and 80 employees.
According to Exploring Venango County – A Sampler of Things to Do and Places to See, Venango County’s “iron age” began in 1825; and during the following two decades, approximately two dozen stone blast furnaces were erected throughout the County. At least five were constructed in Cranberry Township between 1832 and 1836. Following are historical and descriptive summaries of the Cranberry Township furnaces.
Slab Furnace – Slab Furnace was built in 1832 by William Cross, one of Venango County’s first iron masters. Its name is believed to have come from the furnace’s rather unusual type of construction, which involved trenching around the perimeter of the furnace, erecting 20 foot high posts at 2-foot intervals, and then sliding the inside with slabs of flat fieldstone.
Jackson Furnace – Jackson Furnace was constructed in 1833 by Smullin and Richards. Shortly after its erection, Smullin bought Richards’ interest and was sole owner until 1844 when he sold it to the Hatch Brothers. It subsequently changed owners several times and was eventually banked and abandoned in 1856.
Horse Creek Furnace – Horse Creek Furnace was built by Samuel Bell in 1836. It was not put into use until 1838 under the operation of Bell’s son, William, and William Davis. The source of ore was an area upstream on Horse Creek, which supplied the Oil Creek Furnace, also owned by Bell and located in what is now downtown Oil City. In 1843, Bell went bankrupt and his interests were subjected to sheriff’s sale. In 1844, the furnace was purchased by Edmund Evans who renamed it Clay Furnace. The Evans family operated the furnace until it was banked in 1856.
Van Buren Furnace – Van Buren Furnace was constructed in 1836 by Thomas Hope, William Cross, and Samuel Cross. It was sold numerous times; and during its life, was owned by James Eaton, John W. Howe, Solomon Ulman, and probably John Lyon. In 1851, Van Buren Furnace was sold at sheriff’s sale and shortly thereafter was abandoned.
Halls Run Furnace – Halls Run Furnace is a mystery of sorts. The only apparent historical record of this furnace was found in the 1840 Cranberry Township Assessment records where it was listed as an unaccounted-for furnace, owned by “Hughes and Crawford.” Due to the fact that no slag or other evidence of blasting has been found in the vicinity of Halls Run Furnace, it is believed that it was never actually operated. One explanation is that faulty construction caused the tuyere – a hole or notch through which the blast entered – to be off center, not allowing the furnace to be put into production. Another important industry in the history of Cranberry Township was coal mining. As the Cranberry coal banks opened in 1864, there was a flood of people to that area in search of work. Nearby Salem City was drastically affected by the population explosion, growing almost overnight with thousands of new people.
Although numerous oil wells were drilled in the Township, the oil industry never achieved the prominence here that it held in surrounding areas. For example, Hill City, which was founded upon the discovery of oil, grew to a population of 2,000; but within a year, its fields were exhausted. Most of its residents quickly moved elsewhere.
Oil did bring one infamous historic character to Cranberry. In the spring of 1864, John Wilkes Booth arrived in Franklin. After spending much time exploring the oil region, he and his partner, Joseph Simmonds, purchased a 60-acre tract of land in Cranberry Township on a hill directly east of the Allegheny River. The first well was successfully drilled and yielded 200 barrels per day. Indicating that he would be gone only a few days, Booth left Franklin and was not heard of again until news of President Lincoln’s assassination reached the area.
A point of special interest in Cranberry Township is Waltonian Park. In 1876, J. B. Smithman extended his streetcar line into Deep Hollow and there opened a popular park he called Smithman Park. Beginning in 1899, streetcar lines were extended to Franklin and Oil City. The park was bought by the Citizens Traction Company of Oil City in 1901 and renamed Monarch Park. At its peak, it contained 60 acres of woodland, dance pavilions, a theater, a cage of bears, a restaurant, picnic facilities, bowling lanes, a rotating swing ride, a roller coaster, slides, and flower gardens. The central attraction was destroyed by ice, cutting off streetcar lines to the park. This, coupled with the ever increasing use of the automobile, making it easier to drive elsewhere, led to the closing of the park just a few years later. Eventually, the property was purchased by the local Isaac Walton League. It remains open, but only faint traces of its former splendor can be seen. It is now essentially a nature park with picnic areas.
The historic sites of Cranberry Township are unique links to its past, monuments to those who came before, and a living part of our history. As the Township plans for its future, its history must not be forgotten.