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
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
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
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
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.