The Beaver River and Connoquenessing Creek & Rock Point Park

In the time before European settlers came to this area Native American hunter gatherers washed back and forth across the region searching for fertile ground to plant crops and hunt on.  As an area began to lack bounty they moved on to a new spot.

The most associated Native group with southern Lawrence County is the Delaware or Lenape Indians.  The Five Nation Confederacy of New York tribes; the Onondagas, Seneca’s, Cayuga’s, Mohawks and Oneidas was in place by the 1450’s.  It was an established permanent government.  Each nation retained its own council and managed local affairs.  An elected Federal Senate representing the various tribes was recognized individually throughout the confederacy as ruling chiefs.  The federation was designed for infinite expansion.  Although the Delaware were not a part of the confederacy they were firmly in its sphere of influence.  The only trace of them today besides their names for our rivers and towns are a couple of burial mounds in the county.  Elements of the Shawnee tribe also were known to inhabit the upper Ohio valley.

The history of white European settlement of this small area of Western Pennsylvania dates back to about 1731 when traders and missionaries began to transverse the area.  At the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of October, 1784 the area comprising twenty counties in northwest Pennsylvania was purchased from the Six Nations.  By the late 1780’s the county had been divided into academy lands, donation lands and settlers land.  Speculation companies bought up soldiers’ land grants and held them until the state legislature stepped in when they began to be seen as a hindrance to westward expansion.

 

In 1849 Lawrence County was cleaved from parts of Mercer & Beaver Counties.  This area of southern Lawrence County was originally part of Beaver County.  As the county became populated there were needs for various types of businesses.  Along the Beaver River and Connoquenessing & Slippery Rock Creeks the steep fall made enabled the harnessing of water to saw lumber and grind cereals.  There were also salt & oil wells and dams of various purposes.

The area between the Beaver River and Slippery Rock Creek along the Connoquenessing Creek is now Wayne Township.  The Beaver River and Connoquenessing Creek roughly form an “L” shape; this is the area I am going to focus on. 

USGS 1902

About three miles north of Rock Point on a wide plain above the eastern bank of the Beaver River is the village of Chewton.  The town was laid out by Benjamin Chew with each block being one acre.  The original Chew Tract was some four miles by eight or ten miles in length and contained portions of Big Beaver, Slippery Rock, Perry and Wayne Townships.  These lands were surveyed into four hundred acre tracts give or take.

Just to the south of Chewton runs what was known as Mill Run or Big Run.  It crosses under Rt. 288 just south of the Ellwood-Wampum Rod and Gun Club.  Just to the west of the highway are two sets of railroad tracks, between them is a high waterfall that had powered a mill built around 1809 by Nicholas Vaneman.  Sometime later the railroad boxed in the waterfall. The stone was quarried directly to the north and south of the site and tailings are still apparent.  The stone trough is approximately forty feet wide and one-hundred and fifty feet in length with a fall of one-hundred and twenty-five feet.

Mill Run Waterfall

Following the Beaver River south towards the mouth of the Connoquenessing Creek are numerous stone artifacts.  Just south of the Mill Run waterfall is a section of stone wall jutting from the hillside just below the upper set of rail tracks.  There are large steel rods exposed above the wall.  Perhaps this is what remains of the Vaneman Mill.  Maybe the creek was straightened by the railroad at the time of the upper track construction, thereby moving it slightly to the north.

Near Vaneman foundation with steel rods

Farther south are other large cut stone constructions built by the railroads for drainage and walls for hillside retention.  The stone was probably quarried from the near large stones and cliff side.  Along the east bank of the Beaver River had been a canal.  The lower railroad track approximately covers where the canal had been. 

Drainage.

About half-way between the Mill Run falls and Rock Point a noticeable ledge begins to appear on the hillside just above the lower railroad tracks.  At several points the hillside is retained by well fit rock walls.  It seems to me that this is too high up the hill to be the mull trail for the canal, but perhaps an old light gauge rail line for the rock quarries above Rock Point.  They disappear into the hillside around this point.

The old canal used to be conveyed across the Connoquenessing Creek by an aqueduct that was in the same approximate location as the current railroad bridge.  Mulls would be loaded on a barge to cross the creek.  It was at this location that Moses Matheny built his Inn and Tavern between 1836 and 1839.  Several people ran the establishment during the mid to late 1800’s.

Rail bridge over the Connoquenessing.

Several famous people passed through the canal and Matheny Tavern, including two Presidents and Charles Dickens, but as far as this environmental/land use study of the area is concerned the most important may have been James Fenimore Cooper.  He is supposed to have walked the bank of the Connoquenessing Creek from Rock Point to Wurtemburg, a distance of approximately six circuitous miles.  The terrain is steep and very rugged, so this is quite a feat.  Everything being relative, a love of wilderness and the outdoors has been preserved and handed down through his writings over generations.

Now to move up the Connoquenessing Creek above Ellwood City and Wurtemburg, there were several dams along the Connoquenessing Creek.  Some were used to store water to run saw and grist mills.  One was used to generate electricity, the dam is gone but the power station building still exists approximately across from Ewing Park.  The mills in Ellwood had dams across the creek for various uses.  None of these dams exist today.

Above Wurtemburg along the Slippery Rock Creek there were several mills along with salt wells & oil wells.  There are still two dams on the Slippery Rock; one at Camp Allegheny and one at McConnell’s Mill State Park.

The Connoquenessing Creek runs through downtown Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.  The gorge is generally narrow, very steep, densely forested and rugged.  Although there is access to the gorge by a trail from Ewing Park, Ellwood City is generally cut off from its waterfront.  From the east side of Ellwood to Rock Point the creek has about seventy feet of fall; making for several sets of rapids.  The Connoquenessing Creek is very similar to the Slippery Rock in the vicinity of McConnell’s Mill.

Rail road bridge on upper track.

At the mouth of the Connoquenessing Creek is Rock Point.  In the mid to late 1830’s Moses Matheny built a stone tavern and inn.  Several people ran the inn until about 1881 when T. Warnock opened a picnic ground at the site.  A doctor from Pittsburgh also established a health resort there until about 1885.  At this time he sold the property to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The railroad used the old stone tavern as a depot and telegraph office.  They constructed trails, stairways and bridges, many buildings such as a dance hall, skating rink, hotel and other amusements.  They built a long platform along the tracks and sidings to park excursion trains.  From the platforms a trail ran up the side of the rugged hillside directly to the rock point that juts out over the confluence of the Beaver River and Connoquenessing Creek.  There are several flat rocks that hang out over the trail and valley; in the summer months bands would play music on these welcoming the guests.

Foot bridges were constructed beginning in 1888 to create access from the growing Ellwood City.  Many springs fed the park.  Water was pumped approximately one-hundred and twenty-five feet from the Connoquenessing Creek to a lagoon at the upper end of the park.  This water was used for artificial creeks in the park and a water flume ride that ran from near the rock point down to the flats near the creek.

The park had its highest attendance on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the Civil War with eighty-two thousand people.  This was at a time when Ellwood City had less than twenty-two hundred residents.  As the years progressed many improvements were made including the area’s most elaborate baseball field, a roller coaster and a light gauge railroad.  The park closed to the public around nine-teen twelve.

Most of the park was located on the upper ridge above the river and creek.  This area from the lip of the gorge is a large plain with a slight incline away from the water.  A large part of the park where the dance hall, skating rink and Ferris wheel was displaced by a series of rock quarries.

Bottle on trough

Tool used to cut stone.

Rock Quarry

Many of the locations adjacent to Rock Point were completely re-configured over the course of time.  The area of Mill Run was a limestone cliff with a creek running along it for several hundred feet before it plunged to the plains along the Beaver River.  The railroad bent the creek at a right angle behind Stabryla’s Garage near the Ellwood-Wampum Rod and Gun Club and sent it through a trough directly to the Beaver River and buried a large section of the cliffs to stabilize an upper track.

The lower track covered a canal that had been a flood plain.  The stone of Matheny’s Tavern was largely carted away and repurposed, as were many other structures such as the adjacent dam that deepened as shallow slack water area of the Beaver River.

Part of the Rock Point property was sold to the sanitation district.  They constructed a large state of the art facility adjacent to the park on the eastern edge.  From a distance the sizable waterfall coming from the plant is even pleasing to the eye.  The Rock Point Boat Club has operated on the property for about fifty years; their clubhouse is in the basin of water flume.  They maintain the flats along the Connoquenessing Creek and have built a boat launch and float docks in the summertime.

Clubhouse.

Around 2003 the Wild Waterways Conservancy bought the bulk of the property with the intent to preserve it as is.  The property is gated near Rt. 288.  Most days during the summer the gate is open from dawn to dusk.  When the gate is locked the public is welcome to walk in during daylight hours.

What has surprised me the most in this project is how building materials were recycled.  Whether it was stone from the Matheny Tavern or all the dams along the Connoquenessing Creek and the Beaver River; the wood that made up the buildings at Rock Point that may have built other structures or been burnt to warm workers in rock quarry little went to waste.  In the case of Rock Point Park; how thoroughly the earth has taken back the land.  How few clues remain; the basin for the water ride, rocks in circles where flower beds once were and a few brick foundation posts.

Books I used in my research:

History of Lawrence County 1770 – 1877

 I bought a Cd-Rom of this from Retrospect Publishing at www.retrospectpublishing.com for $24.95.  It is exact to the original I saw at the Lawrence County History room at the main branch of the New Castle Library.  The people at Retrospect are very helpful.  They have many history products available.

20th Century History of New Castle and Lawrence County and Representative Citizens.

I found this online as a free PDF download and included it in my links under Internet Archive.

History of Ellwood City 1892-1942.

This book was put out by the original Ellwood City Historical Society.  It is by far the best local history book I have found.  It is out of print and available only through Amazon and other retailers averaging $100.  Local libraries have it as a reference book.

200 Years of Memories 1796-1996.

This is a local history of the Wampum area that was put out for their bicentenial.  It may still be available from Ferrante Upholstery of Wampum, PA.

Almost every linked website had a hand in shaping my experience in this endeavor.

I would also like to thank all of the people whose work went before me; Merle Schilling, Bruce Draganjac and the members of the Ellwood City Historical Society.

One response to “The Beaver River and Connoquenessing Creek & Rock Point Park

  1. Very nice! I love the old maps! I’m not sure about the accuracy of some of early blue print maps though. I think they might represent what the new owners envisioned for the park. But, the features don’t seem to align with the evidence remaining. We should discuss this when you have some time. I’d like to know your thoughts on it.

    Hope to see you again soon!

    Bruce Draganjac

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