Early developments in the business district, house construction

Development of the business district in Russell and early house construction along Main Street and Liberty Street occurred mostly between 1820 and the mid-1800s.

I have written about these topics previously in the November 19, 2019, June 24, 2020, and August 22, 2020, issues of the Times Observer. Some early houses also were built along Conewango Street during this period, for example the Slone-Martin House at 107 Conewango St. was built in 1824, probably by Robert Russell, and deeded to D. M. Martin in September 1856. After the death of Mary Sloan Martin in 1921, it was sold to John Ohman Jr. and has remained in Ohman’s family since then (1995). The rest of the houses along Conewango Street were built between about 1840 and 1895.

The property at 20 Conewango St. (the southeast corner of Conewango and East streets) originally was owned by Robert Russell. William H. Gray purchased the property in June 1839. While the date of house construction is not known, the tax value of the property was considerably greater when the lot was sold to William Williams and Theodore H. Eaton in January 1841. Charles Chase purchased the property from his half brother, William R. Chase, in September 1857; the property still was in the family in 1995.

The W. Dunn house at 6 Conewango St. was built in 1852. Joseph Marsh is believed to be the builder of the house, while he owned the property from September 1852 to December 1878. He sold the property to Lucinda Dunn in that year, according to deed records. Lucinda Dunn in turn sold the house to Phillip Laufenburger March 2, 1908. Since then, the house has been occupied by the Coates family and Ralph and Barbara Walker (dates correct through 1995).

In 1853, Ferdinand E. Perkins purchased land that was considered farm land at 202 Conewango St. He built a house and lived there with his son, Ferdinand A. Perkins, age 18, while he built the Russell covered bridge. Perkins sold the property to Andrew Irvine February 1, 1855. The property changed hands again when Andrew Irvine sold it to Allen Briggs in 1889. The property did not change hands again until 1955 when Phyllis Briggs Martin sold it to Ralph L. Owens.

In 1863, William M. Hudson purchased the property at 201 Conewango St., including a house, from Jerome B. Fisher. It is not clear how long Hudson owned the property; the next recorded sale of the property was to the family of Oscar and Albert Swanson, who owned the house for many years.

William S. Thompson purchased a lot at 9 Conewango St. facing the street from Thomas Sloan on March 10, 1866. There was a store, small barn, shed and water well on the property at the time of purchase. William Thompson built a two-story frame house and added a small store to the rear of the house. In 1902, Thompson’s heirs sold the house to Etta and Fred Bennett, who in turn sold the home to Willis C. Hale March 11, 1909. The Hales lived there for many years.

The house at 101 Conewango St. originally was two small story and a half houses on adjoining properties when built, though the construction date is not known. Thomas O’Mara purchased the property in December 1874. Later owners included, Edward J. Grosvenor, Mary and Fred Rickerson, Lydia A. Gleason and Joyce and Arthur Briggs.

Asahel G. Lane purchased a grist mill, with water rights to the millrace and the headgates of the dam in Conewango Creek, from J. S. Briggs in February 1874. Between 1874 and 1878, two tenant houses were built at 15 and 19 Conewango St. Hiram and Lizzie Lane occupied the house at 15 Conewango St. and added on to the building. Mrs. Lane lived in this house until her death in December 1928. The house later was made into a two-family dwelling owned first by L. Edwin Thompson, then by John Moll. Sometime after 1928, the house was divided into three apartments. Lizzie Lane sold the second house at 19 Conewango St. to Ella M. Houghwot in June 1903. Mrs. Houghwot lived in the house until April 1918, when it was sold to Albert Reynolds. Subsequently, Ray and Hazel Thompson owned and lived in the house for many years.

The property at 8 Conewango St. was purchased from David H. Sanders by Robert J. Borthwick in March 1843. Sometime between 1878 and 1893, the Borthwicks built a house on the lot. In April 1893, Lulu Briggs bought the property from the Borthwick estate. In February 1910, Dr. and Mrs Charles H. Vermilyea purchased the house and remodeled it. Dr. Vermilyea located his medical office in the north end of the house until his death in 1957.

At one time, Robert Russell owned all of the property in Russell. Robert had a small plank house built on his property at 4 Conewango St. Robert Russell died in 1847. In December 1896, his heirs conveyed ownership to Robert’s grandson upon his marriage to Lucretia. The Russells enlarged the house sometime between 1890 and 1896 and lived there for many years. Subsequent owners of the property included the families of Ray Fehlman, Alice Moll and Orval Kirby.

In February 1895, William Chapman obtained the land at 7 Conewango St. from his sister, Lydia D. Marsh. A small plank house had been built on the property sometime before March 1860, when Martha Grosvenor obtained the property from Levi Hoxie. The small house was moved to the back of the lot and subsequently attached to the back of a new house built by William Chapman. T.T. Moll purchased the property from Chapman in 1900. The property subsequently remained in the Moll family for the next 64 years, when Barbara Nichols Akeley purchased it.

Fred and Inez Thompson purchased the lot at 11 Conewango St. from H. W. Lane in March 1895. At the time the lot contained part of a barn. Fred Thompson built a home on the lot and attached the barn to the back of the house. The Thompsons lived in the house until sometime in the 1950s.



The regular monthly meeting of the ROAR Committee was held at the Russell Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. on January 11, 2021. Due to the COVID pandemic, no special events were held in December.

Art Sager, chairman of the canoe/kayak launch project on the Conewango Creek at Larimer Park, reported that ROAR has received a $4,000 grant for the project from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The money will be used to improve access to the Conewango Creek. The work will be done with the approval of the Pine Grove Township supervisors, all of whom participated in determining the work to be done. Work includes grading of the bank along the Conewango Creek to make it easier to get canoes and kayaks in and out of the creek. At the present time access to the creek will be carry in – carry out from the parking area. Money also will be used to improve the parking area with gravel, and add picnic tables and grills by the creek.

The supervisors agreed to remove several dead white ash trees in the picnic area and trim brush along the Conewango Creek in the vicinity of the launch area. ROAR officials thanked Nathan Welker, who volunteered to help with preparation of the grant application. The supervisors also thanked Welker for cutting down the ash trees and expediting their removal, so that the township road crew could continue with its work.

Spring projects, including Pine Grove Days, have been put on hold for the time being and will be reevaluated at a later time. The next ROAR meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 p.m.


JANUARY 13, 2021

The Board of Supervisors recently has passed a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance ordinance. This ordinance allows the township to provide tax abatement as an incentive to invest in industrial/commercial development or redevelopment of property in designated LERTA zones within the township.

The supervisors also have been looking to the goals they would like to achieve in 2021. Among the most important are: budgeting for road improvements for the summer maintenance season; determining if it is possible for the township to expand broadband availability; making a final decision on whether to close the Big Four Road; building the canoe/kayak launch at Larimer Park, as well as possibly adding a walking trail; revising the township’s nuisance and property maintenance ordinances and addressing blighted or poorly maintained property within the township.

The Big Four Road closure issue remains on the township’s agenda. To date, public input has been sporadic, but the supervisors will hold a formal public hearing to gather as much public input as possible. All input will be considered and weighed before a final decision is made. The hearing will likely occur sometime this spring and a notice of it will be placed in the local newspaper, as well as posted on the township’s website.

Supervisor Doug Smith, and Road Foreman Dave McJunkin are working on plans to upgrade the township’s roads and streets, as well as to assure all roads are safe and well-maintained during the winter months. A mild winter has helped township officials, who have also been dealing with several problems with three of the township’s four trucks. However, it looks like the major problems with them have been successfully addressed and the township expects it should be able to handle any winter weather.

The township also has had problems with one of the sewer system’s lift stations. This has necessitated replacing two grinder pumps and adding an automatic dialer to warn of pump failures. So far, the cost to do this has been about $12,000.

Another major issue the supervisors are dealing with is blighted property. Supervisor Linda Farnsworth has been leading the effort to revise property maintenance ordinances. The supervisors have concerns about a few properties and will ask the owners to attend an upcoming meeting to discuss concerns with their properties.

The Board of Supervisors reminds residents that meetings of the board are held the second Wednesday of every month at the township office in Russell. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and all meetings are announced in advance and open to the public. To address the supervisors, call the office in advance to be placed on the agenda. The township adheres to all COVID-19 restrictions at its meetings. If a resident would like to discuss an issue, but does not want to attend a meeting, Zoom meetings or phone conferencing are available. Please call the township office to take advantage of these services.


The Pine Grove Lions Club extended its sincere appreciation to the many persons and organizations that donated to the club’s annual mail campaign. Area residents’ generosity enables the club to continue its charitable work throughout the communities it serves.


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