History of Rush Township, Schuylkill County, PA
Rush Township is one of the original nine townships of Schuylkill County. It was established in 1811 from land that was originally part of Northampton County. The name of the township is in honor of Judge Jacob Rush, who served as the first president judge of the Third Judicial District when Schuylkill County was still part of Northampton County. Jacob Rush was the younger brother of Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
In its early days, Rush Township was larger than it is today. In 1849, Mahanoy Township was separated from Rush. Parts of Ryan Township were peeled away from Rush in 1866, and parts became East Union Township the following year. Kline (originally Klein) and Delano townships were carved out of Rush Township in 1873 and 1882, respectively.
Some of the first settlers of Rush Township were sent by industrialists who used the pioneers to develop the territory. Those settlers worked in mills built with outside capital and leased for a share of the profits. The first mill was erected in 1812 and leased to William Major. The firm of Gross & Wisimer built three mills, and as far as known they were all operated by Major and known as “Major’s Mills.” Two of these were sawmills and one was a gristmill, the first of either kind in the township.
The pioneer settlers of Rush Township were all of German nationality, and for many years only German was spoken in the township. Thomas Lindner came in 1800; John Faust settled in the township in 1800, and Abram L. Boughner became his neighbor near Barnesville in 1815; Jacob Neifert and Andrew Gottschall were early settlers who made the first improvements near Tamanend. John Feller was also one of the early pioneers.
The population in 1830 was 359; in 1840 it was 370; in 1850, 670; in 1860, 1,076; in 1870, 2,291; and in 1880, 1,522.
The Original Schuylkill County Map:
During the Civil War, the manufacture of gunpowder became a big industry in Rush Township after five mills were established there. According to a history of the township, “By reason of the dangerous character of this commodity, several lives were lost.” In 1868, the powder mill of David Beveridge exploded. In 1871, H.H. Weldy’s mill exploded and one man was injured; in 1874, another explosion there killed two men. The same mill exploded again in 1879, killing one man and two little girls who were playing nearby.
Railroads played a key part in the growth of Rush Township – and have long been a history of it. The Catawissa and Little Schuylkill railroads were both completed in the township in about 1854. Ten years later, the Mahanoy division of the Lehigh Valley Railroad was completed.
The Nesquehoning Valley Railroad Company, part of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, built a 17-mile rail spur from Mauch Chunk (modern-day Jim Thorpe) to Tamanend that was finished in 1870. It connected with rail lines that were leased and operated by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal and Iron Company near Tamanend. This major freight and passenger rail interchange was at the small village of Haucks, which no longer exists today but was near the current Air Products facility near Quakake. Throughout the late 1800s, there were railroad interchanges in Haucks, Tamanend, and Quakake.
On March 23, 1871, the Nesquehoning-Tamanend line became part of the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ), which leased many LC&N assets on that date.
Millions of tons of anthracite coal and freight would pass over that rail line in the early 1870s, and the demand for anthracite coal reached historic heights. In 1874, a financial panic led to a downturn in anthracite demand that would last several years. The CNJ, which had continued to rack up debts as it leased other anthracite assets across Eastern Pennsylvania, could not meet its financial obligations. The company continued to operate until the 1920s, at which point the United States Supreme Court ordered CNJ and other railroads that owned coal companies to divest (that is, to separate the coal companies from the railroad companies) because their joint operations violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Hepburn Act. By 1921, the Central Railroad of New Jersey was out of the coal business – and railroad traffic on Rush Township railbeds continued to decline.
The Nesquehoning-Tamanend line features the railroad “High Bridge,” which spans the Little Schuylkill River at a height of 157 feet. The bridge is cited in historical documents dating back to at least the early 1880s. The bridge, formally called the Hometown Trestle, is 981 feet long. The original bridge was a massive wooden structure, but it was rebuilt out of steel in 1931.
The oldest road in the township is the one between Hazleton to the north and Tamaqua to the south. This route has been a crucial part of the life of Rush Township for decades. In 1911, the Automobile Club of Philadelphia published a book that showed “Route 153” passing through Rush Township as it went from Wilkes-Barre through Hazleton, Tamaqua, Mauch Chunk, and Slatington to Allentown – at the time, a journey of 115 miles.
The original road was renumbered several times (for instance, it was Route 62 in about 1924-25) until 1928, when it became Pennsylvania Route 29, a major north-south thoroughfare that extended from the New York border to the West Chester area. It remained Route 29 until 1954, when a major realignment of regional roads made it U.S. Route 309. That switch was confusing because the original U.S. 309 (which is the path of the modern-day Route 93 between Nesquehoning and Hazleton) was renamed Route 29 when the Route 29 that passed through Rush Township became U.S. Route 309.
U.S. Route 309 was decommissioned in 1968 and became State Route 309.
Today, State Route 54 is the other major roadway in Rush Township. In the late 1920s, this road was called Pennsylvania Route 45, a primary east-west thoroughfare that extended from the New Jersey border at Easton to Ashland, then from near Lewisburg to near Altoona. In 1966, a renumbering project changed the road’s designation to State Route 54 (it extends 70 miles from Nesquehoning, Carbon County, to near Montgomery, Lycoming County).
The oldest church in Rush Township – and for many years the only one in the township – was the Union Church, about two miles from Tamanend. This church was erected in 1831 by the Lutheran and German Reformed congregations. Money to build Union Church was contributed by farmers in the valley. The church was designed in the style of an old German church.
The old cemetery established with the church contains the ashes of many of the township’s earliest pioneers.
Historical documents show that other church services were held in residents’ homes from the 1820s until the construction of church buildings.
The first school in what would become Rush Township opened in 1810 through the efforts of early settler John Faust. According to an early history of the township, “It was held in an old log house a mile or more from the present town of Barnesville, and was taught by Francis Keenly, a Prussian. The instruction was entirely in German. Probably the first attempt to teach English was made by Richard Heath, a bachelor from New Jersey, who came to the region about 1820. At any rate Heath was the first man in the section able to transact business in English. His attempt at teaching was made about 1822, in his own house, but failing to receive adequate support he abandoned the effort.”
A few years later, the teaching of English in the township took root after the construction of two schoolhouses, one near and one in Barnesville. The schools were described as “primitive affairs, small houses, furnished with one large table, around which the pupils sat on benches without backs. The small scholars sat on benches against the wall. Class teaching was unknown, each pupil being taught individually.”
Organized education came to Rush Township in 1853, when the court appointed school directors. Soon, a tax of eight mills was levied, and the first public schools opened in Rush Township in 1855 – one in Hometown, one near the tavern in Quakake, and one near the Union Church.
Even then, “the people of Rush did not embrace the free school system until it was forced upon them,” according to an early history. “The schools were kept open for three months – the minimum term – and the (teachers’) salaries were $25 and $30 per month.”
Another historical publication noted that “coercive measures (were) necessary” to implement a public school system in Rush Township.
In 1858 Jacob H. Faust built and furnished a schoolhouse at Barnesville, which he presented to the township for 10 years. In 1871 the school at Quakake Junction was opened, and a school at Delano was opened in 1865.
By 1881, there were seven schools in the Rush Township district. They were kept open for an average of eight months, and teachers received salaries of $40 to $50 per month.
The same 1881 publication added, “The people are proud of their schools, and sustain them willingly. At an early day they saw the wisdom of acquiring a mastery of the English tongue. As a consequence very little German is spoken. Almost the entire population can read, write and speak English. In a few years the last trace of German will disappear, and this desirable change has been wrought mainly by the wisdom, the foresight and energy of the school directors, who have in many instances refused to employ teachers who could speak German, so that the pupils would be compelled to speak English.”
Judge Jacob Rush
Jacob Rush, the man for whom the township is named, was born on Nov. 24, 1747, in Byberry Township, Philadelphia County. By then, his family had been in America for decades. His forefathers were from Oxfordshire, England, where one commanded a troop of horses in the army of Oliver Cromwell. The Rush family came to America in 1683.
Jacob was the younger brother of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent colonial-era physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Jacob graduated from the College of New Jersey (modern-day Princeton University) in 1765. He later received his Doctor of Laws degree and was admitted to the bar on February 7, 1769.
He served as a member of the Supreme Bench of Pennsylvania from 1784 until 1791. That’s when the Pennsylvania General Assembly created five judicial districts in Pennsylvania. Before then, each county court was a group of justices of the peace and appointees who might not have had a complete understanding of the law. The 1791 law created districts overseen by president judges who were known “to be a person of knowledge, integrity and skilled in the law.”
The Third Judicial District covered only four counties – Berks, Luzerne, Northampton, and Northumberland – but those counties stretched from the New Jersey border in the east, across the New York border to the north, past modern-day Williamsport, and out to modern-day Warren, Venango, Jefferson, and Clarion counties. The Third Judicial District encompassed about 40 percent of the land in Pennsylvania.
Jacob Rush was assigned to be the first president judge of the Third Judicial District, a task that was extremely daunting and potentially dangerous. According to a publication detailing the history of the Pennsylvania court system:
Periodic journeys to county seats were necessary in discharging the official duties of the President Judges. These journeys were usually performed on horseback, over dangerous and difficult roads which were a haven for rogue indians, armed highwaymen, insurgents, and rebel militia. During inclement weather, roads and trails were almost impassable. Often upon these perilous pilgrimages, a President Judge’s escort included a group of lawyers. It was custom for many members of the bar of that period to accompany the courts upon their circuits. The Judges were looked upon as personages of great importance by the citizenry and holding court in the various counties was regarded as a highly notable public event. Sheriffs, constables, and members of the public met the President Judge and his group as they approached the county seat. Seemingly an official parade or pageant, the true object of such a meeting was to provide safety to his Honor.
Jacob Rush served as president judge of the Third Judicial District until 1806, when he was appointed president judge of the First Judicial District (the Philadelphia area).
Historical biographies describe Judge Rush as “a moral censor of the severest school,” a “terror to evildoers,” and “pointed in his concerns for the youth of the day.” One historical piece notes that “little boys were arrested for playing ball in the public streets on Sundays” – under the instructions of Judge Jacob Rush.
Judge Rush “strongly believed in the maintenance of social order by the literal and rigid enforcement of laws against vice and immorality.”
Other historical publications describe him in glowing terms:
“Justice Rush was a man of great legal ability, firmness, character, and eloquence. He was a zealous patriot and ardent Federalist who promulgated his political views in charges to grand juries.”
“He was a patriot of the Revolution; and, in its darkest days, stood firm to its principles and his country.”
“He was a man or great ability and great firmness and decision of character. He was also an eloquent man. Perhaps there are few specimens of judicial eloquence more impressive than those charges which he delivered during his occupation of the bench. An accurate idea of his style may readily be formed fiom an extract of his charge to a grand jury in 1808, and his sentence pronounced upon Richard Smith for the murder of Carson in 1816. We refer as much to the moral tone of his productions as to their literary and intellectual power. . . . Some of his early literary essays were ascribed to Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, and for their terseness and clearness were worthy of him. … Judge Rush’s charges to the Jury generally, and his legal decisions, were marked by soundness of principle and closeness of reasoning. Having been a Judge of the Supreme Court and of the High Court of Errors and Appeals, he never appeared to be satisfied in his position in the Common Pleas, yet his uprightness of conduct and unquestionable abilities always secured to him the respect and confidence, if not the attachment, of his associates, the members of the bar, and the entire community. He was one of the gentlemen of the old school, plain In his attire, and unobtrusive In this deportment; but while observant of his duties toward others, he was never forgetful of the respect to which he was himself justly entitled.”
He is also described as “one of the shining lights of the early Pennsylvania State Judiciary.”
Jacob Rush died on Jan. 5, 1820.
Hometown is the oldest village in Rush Township. It was founded in 1829 by the Duncans of Philadelphia. A tavern was kept there by Jacob Faust in 1831. The village is surrounded by good farming land.
According to an 1881 history, “tradition says (Hometown) was a favorite resort of the Indians. … It was thought to possess superior advantages, as it is surrounded by good farming land, in the vicinity of abundant limestone. … Before the days of rapid transit by rail these taverns on the old road were places of considerable importance to teamsters and travelers; even now traces of their better days remain. Hometown remains a small hamlet.”
The name is of Native American origin, commonly believed to signify “narrow valley”, however native language scholars translate the name as “at the black lick” or “at the dirty lick”, referring to mineral licks frequented by deer or other animals. This neighborhood is a lakeside resort type community situated on the northern side of Lake Hauto. Lake Hauto is a private community. Although often thought of as being in Nesquehoning, themajority of the Lake Hauto community is actually located in neighboring Rush Township, Schuylkill County. This community offers folks a home in the mountains with a motor boating lake that is 330 acres in size.
The Nesquehoning Creek Watershed originates in a forested area on the slopes of the Broad Mountain.It flows south for about two miles then turns to the northeast and flows into Greenwood Dam. Approximately 600 feet downstream from the spillway, it discharges into Lake Hauto. It then continues to the northeast in a relatively narrow valley. The stream then travels down a narrow undeveloped section to its confluence with the Lehigh River. In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a Boy Scout camp located on the southern part of the dams edge. The heavily forested steep slopes of Broad and Nesquehoning Mountains characterize the land within the watershed. The Nesquehoning Creek Valley consists of some residential and industrial development. Urban development is concentrated in the Bouough of Nesquehoning and Hometown (Rush Township).
Barnesville owes its origin to the building of the Little Schuylkill Railroad in the middle of the 19th Century. It developed into a prosperous village in its early days.
The first inhabitants in the Barnesville area were Native Americans, and a few remained in the area by the 1950s. Following streams, they made camp in and around Barnesville. Arrowheads and other remnants have been in the area.
Before the opening of the railroad, there were a number of farms in the valley between Barnesville and Quakake. The railroad brought new development. According to materials gathered for the centennial celebration of the village, “Mr. Barnes” worked for the Little Schuylkill Railroad, which was completed in 1854. He built a water tank for the engines at the railroad siding. It’s because of his building of this tank that the village was named.
The first residents of Barnesville were John Faust, his wife Catherine, and their family. After she became a widow, Catherine Faust sold the house in 1861 to A.J. Werntz, who in turn sold it to Charles Klingeman for $750 in 1867.
The first hotel was built by Jacob Faust and opened in 1854. The post office was at one time in John Faust’s home, then moved into and out of the homes of other residents in subsequent years. In about 1860, Edward Yarnold had a store and steam sawmill in the village. Although there were several powder mills in Rush Township, there were none in Barnesville.
The first store was kept by David and Michael Bender but was probably owned by Jacob Faust. At one time, Eli Hamsher owned the store then sold it to the Bucks, who then sold it to Samuel Mengel and his wife. Their daughter, Orabel, wife of Samuel Rarick, was the storekeeper and postmistress. The store had a coal stove, coal oil lamp (that Sam Rarick used to pull down from the ceiling, light, and push back up), and a candy case just high enough for young eyes to see.
One of the first roads in or through Barnesville went from Lakeside to Tuscarora.
The first and only railroad in Barnesville was owned and operated by the Philadelphia and Reading. The East Mahanoy Railroad was incorporated in 1854, built under the patronage of the Little Schuylkill Railroad and, after its completion, was leased by that company. The act of incorporation provided that it should connect with the Little Schuylkill Navigation and Coal Co. rail lines about five miles north of Tamaqua and then to the Mahanoy coal fields. Locomotives were able to travel at 10 miles per hour.
By the 1880s, Barnesville contained a church, hotel, store, public school, “and the usual number of shops necessary for its two hundred inhabitants.”
J. Herman Keilman, a Barnesville resident who was born in the 1870s, wrote in his diary that he helped organize the town’s first telephone company on Feb. 10, 1910. That company was called the Barnesville Rural Telephone Company.
The first barbershop was opened by John Thompson in 1916, and he charged 10 cents for a shave and 25 cents for a haircut.
The Barnesville school was discontinued in 1953 and the pupils were sent to other township schools.
On some early maps and in some 1800s publications, the community is referred to as “Barnsville,” but that is most likely a typographical error.
Tamanend was laid out in 1853, and the town established principally as a community for railroad employees. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Tamanend was an important railroad village, as it was close to the major railroad interchange at Haucks.
Some claim the area is named for Tamanend, a chief of one of the clans that made up the Lenni-Lenape nation in the Delaware Valley at the time Philadelphia was established. Chief Tamanend played a prominent role in the establishment of peaceful relations among the Native American tribes and English settlers led by William Penn. Tamanend reputedly met Penn in 1682 near Philadelphia, where they agreed to the “Great Treaty of Shackamaxon.” Tamanend declared that the people of the Lenni-Lenape “will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.”
It is believed that Tamanend died in 1698. The people of Philadelphia began to refer to him as Tammany, which led to the creation of Tammany societies and festivals – and Tammany Hall. Tamanend became one of the first people to be identified by patriotic colonists as a distinct “American” personality.
A vastly different – and unconfirmed – story published in an 1881 history of Schuylkill County states, “There is a tradition among the old residents that about the time of the Wyoming massacre a noted Indian chief, Taman by name, an ally of the British and Tories, was foremost in the war upon the defenseless frontier. Afterward, when the avengers of the frontier butcheries made war upon the savages, Taman was brought to bay at Hawk’s curve, near the site of the village. Here he was captured and immediately hanged; hence the name, Taman’s end, or Tamanend.”
In 1870, the Central Railroad of New Jersey connected at Tamanend, making the village an important railroad center. By the early 1900s, there were 361 inhabitants in the village, which also had a post office, homes, stores, and at least one hotel.
The naming of the village is never specifically cited in any of several historical resources that detail the early years of Rush Township, but the name likely originates from “kuweuckak” (pronounced “ku-way-uk-kak”), a Delaware Indian word meaning “pine wood.”
In the early 1900s, Quakake consisted of a union depot (a train station), hotel, and a few homes of railway employees. There was also a public school that served two villages – Quakake and Tamanend.
In pre-colonial times, Native American tribes followed a river and settled in what would become Schuylkill County. They called the area around that river “Ganshohawanee,” which means “rushing and roaring waters.” As explorers began discovering the region, Dutch explorers gave this river a different name – “Schulen-kill,” which means “hidden stream.”
The first Europeans to settle in the county came from Berks County to the south. They crossed the Blue Mountains in about 1750. Early settlers were of German heritage, and the population grew to about 500 hardy souls.
Life in those days was difficult and dangerous. There were raids by Native Americans in the French and Indian and Pontiac Wars. Colonists built forts every 20 miles or so – about a day’s travel away in case of an attack. These raids and skirmishes continued in the area during the American Revolution.
After the war, the population in the area grew to about 6,000 mostly German-speaking people, so it was decided that a new county was needed in the region. On March 1, 1811, the county was carved out from parts of Berks and Northampton counties, and it was named for the river that led to its exploration – Schuylkill. On March 3, 1818, Schuylkill County would grow when parts of Columbia and Luzerne counties were added.
Orwigsburg was the county seat from 1811 through the end of November 1851, when Pottsville claimed the honor. Named for a family of early settlers, Pottsville was incorporated as a borough on February 19, 1828, and became a city in 1910.
While Schuylkill County would claim its place as a leader in anthracite coal production, the benefits of coal were unknown for several decades. Anthracite – a harder, cleaner-burning coal – was discovered in the county as far back as 1770 (by mapmaker William Scull), then again in 1790 (by explorer Necho Allen). But the benefits of anthracite were not discovered until 1812.
Schuylkill County became a state leader in coal production. From 1880 to 1940, it was second only to Luzerne County in production.
In the early days of coal production, anthracite traveled to markets like Philadelphia via canal boats. The changing seasons, unpredictable weather, and expense of building coal arks led to the establishment of railroad lines in Schuylkill County.
Coal shipments from the region soared and by 1844, the railroads eclipsed the canal in terms of coal tonnage shipped from the region. Passenger service followed soon thereafter, with trains running daily from Pottsville and Tamaqua to Philadelphia.
The increased demand for labor in the coal mines, iron foundries, canal barges, and railroad brought a flow of immigrants from Wales, England, Ireland, and Germany in the first half of the 19th Century. By the latter half of the century, the scope of European immigration shifted to Eastern and Southern Europe as thousands of Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Serbs, and Italians came to Schuylkill County. By 1900, this new migration swelled the population to over 200,000. The population peaked at 235,505 in 1930.
As the demand for mining equipment and machinery grew, the county’s economy diversified. Powder mills, mining equipment, iron manufacturing, and boat building. Tanneries, sawmills, slaughterhouses, distilleries, and breweries dotted the landscape as Schuylkill County’s economy expanded. Textile manufacturing evolved as a major industry in the county near the beginning of the 20th Century. As the century wore on, this industry, which employed significant numbers of women, rivaled the coal mining industry in importance, especially after the end of World War II.
The coal industry started losing its national importance after coal strikes in 1902 and 1925-26. The country started seeking alternative heating fuels. Despite a World War II revival, the coal industry collapsed in subsequent decades later. However, anthracite coal remains an important part of Schuylkill County’s economy, and Schuylkill produced half of Pennsylvania’s 3.4 million tons in 1990.
- Schalck, Adolf W., and The Hon. David C. Henning, eds. History of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, in Two Volumes, Including a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Many Families and Persons in the County, Vol. I. State Historical Association, 1907.
- Schalck, Adolf W., and The Hon. David C. Henning, eds. History of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, in Two Volumes, Including a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Many Families and Persons in the County, Vol. II. State Historical Association, 1907.
- History of Schuylkill County, PA., With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co., 1881.
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- Pennsylvania Highways. Map. Harrisburg: Department of Highways, 1929.