Hunting for Hints in Regional Histories
A Man of Many Hats
Apollo’s Simon Truby (1806-1886) listed his occupation as Farmer in census records and historic maps. But dig into the local history books, and brief mentions of Simon Truby help piece together a broader picture of the man.
Turns out, Simon Truby was a man of many hats. He was not only a prolific farmer but also a sawmill operator, a coal miner, a founding member of Apollo’s Lutheran church, a real estate developer, and a gentleman who sported a chip hat. Most of these details were found only in the history books, and not in any of the other records I’ve examined to date. And the details provide ideas for further investigation via other types of records.
We’re lucky that today many century-old regional history books—at one time hard to find—are now available and searchable online. But even when they’re on the web, these books can sometimes be tricky to find and clunky to search. And the info they provide is sometimes incomplete….for example, strangely enough, none of the history books seem to mention that Simon Truby was a farmer. So always supplement book research with other types of records. I’ll include links to some of these books at the end of the article. Check them out and see if any of your forebears are mentioned in these western PA histories.
Local Ledgers: Earliest Traces of Simon
The earliest book I could find that mentions Simon Truby was not online but was housed at the awesome Apollo Area Historical Society. It’s a ledger book dated 1833….OK, it’s not a published history book. But it is a book with quotidian information about Apollo’s hard-working farmer. The unnamed ledger shows that Simon Truby was buying up plenty of oats and hay between April & October, and he’d hired a Captain Drum to haul some boards from Freeport, presumably via the old Pennsylvania Canal. That same book shows that Simon’s brother Henry was buying tea, coffee, and sugar—a man after my own heart. (Read more about Simon’s brother Capt Henry Truby of Gilpin Twp in Copycat Brothers?).
It’s not clear from these records where Simon was living in 1833, when he was 27 years old, although his purchases of oats suggest he was living or working on a farm. He was probably still a bachelor, since his first wife, Sarah Woodward, would have been only 14 at that time. In 1833, Simon hadn’t yet bought the 156-acre farm that straddled today’s Apollo and North Apollo. His name doesn’t show up in the 1830 census, so he may have been living with someone else, possibly his parents, John and Mary Truby, who were living in Allegheny Twp, as this region was then known. In fact, the Apollo ledger book mentions that Simon had purchased 3 bushels of oats “for father.”
Chip Hats: A Local Fashion Trend? Another ledger book, dated 1838, shows that Simon had purchased a chip hat for 25 cents, possibly like the one shown above. A chip hat, fashionable in the early 1800s, is a bonnet or hat made of wood split into small slips, according to an 1898 encyclopedia http://bit.ly/1IWpZCp. Simon bought the hat in Warren, as Apollo was then known. The same page in the ledger book also indicates that someone named James Barr had purchased 2 chip hats and a pint of brandy earlier in the month.
At some point around 1856, Simon Truby owned and operated a sawmill that was near the “old basin,” according to Dr. T. J. Henry’s History of Apollo (page 99). Fed by the canal, the basin was a favorite skating park. Water in the basin helped to power the nail factory/iron mill and possibly Simon Truby’s sawmill as well. From Dr. Henry’s book:
“The old basin was a reservoir extending from North Fifth to North Seventh Street, on the west of the present railway. It was from eight to fifteen feet deep. It was the supply for water-power for the rolling mill. The waste wier was at the northwest corner, where the unused water ran into the river. Simon Truby had a sawmill at this point. This was a favorite skating park. After the dam at Roaring Run broke in 1866 the water supply for the basin was impossible. The only remaining evidence of this vast pond is the depression in the `Y` at the foot of Seventh Street.”
Keep T. J. Henry’s description in mind when you look at this 1861 map of Apollo (below). Henry says the northwest corner of the basin (i.e., the upper left corner) has a waste weir (or spillway), where Simon’s sawmill was located. Note the square labeled “S.M.” at this corner. Mightn’t that stand for Saw Mill? I’m guessing yes.
The original map doesn’t seem to include a legend or key. Without T.J. Henry’s book, we might never have guessed what those letters stand for, and we’d never suspect a link to Simon Truby. That’s the power of multiple sources of information!
Powered by Coal
After the “old basin” washed away in the flood of 1866, the rolling mill needed an additional power supply, so it turned to coal. Lucky for the mill owners, Simon Truby’s property included coal banks along Sugar Hollow Road, underneath North Apollo (then known as Luxemburg Heights). Truby’s coal was sometimes used to heat the mill’s furnaces, according to T J Henry’s history (pages 55-56):
“The works were run by coal. Part of the time this was taken out from the Truby mines under Luxemburg Heights. The coal was hauled in cars on a wooden railroad from the mines to the mill. Horses were used for this. At the time of the great epidemic of Epizootic among horses, the mill company was compelled to haul their coal with teams of oxen.”
[By the way, if you have a minute or 2, check out the link to the Epizootic (which means an epidemic among animals). In 1872, a terrible horse flu swept across the country in a matter of months, from the east to the west coast. It wiped out horses everywhere, or left them weak and tired, and it greatly harmed agriculture and travel. Clearly, it affected Apollo as well. Who knew?]
T.J. Henry’s History of Apollo is one of only 2 sources I’ve found to date that mentions Simon Truby’s coal banks. (The other source was a codicil to his will, dated 1879, but the value and productivity of the mines are not described.)I’ve tried without success to uncover more details about Simon Truby’s coal-mining operations.
Do you know anything about the location or other info about old coal mines along Sugar Hollow Road, below North Apollo? If yes, please comment at the end of this blog post. Would love to know more about this long-gone resource.
Incidentally, about the rolling mill: It changed hands several times over the decades.By 1866, it was owned by Rogers & Burchfield (they later opened a factory in Leechburg as well). As industrial innovators, Rogers & Burchfield sought ways to move away from coal power, and they began experimenting with using the region’s plentiful natural gas to heat mill furnaces. By 1874, “gas was substituted with success, the first use of this clean fuel in the United States,” according to Capital’s Utopia: Vandergrift Pennsylvania, 1855-1916 (Anne E. Mosher, 2004, Johns Hopkins University Press, pages 26-27).
Life Among the Lutherans
Simon Truby was a charter member of the Union Evangelical Lutheran Church, a forerunner of today’s First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Apollo. Built in 1861, according to Smith’s History of Armstrong County Pennsylvania (Chapter 10), the original church was a wood frame structure, 38 by 50 feet, and located on First Street, a little down the hill from today’s Presbyterian Church.
The Lutheran church’s charter was dated June 2, 1862, and charter members included not just Simon Truby but also John H. Townsend, George Gumbert, J.F. Cline, and Isaac Townsend, Jr.
Incidentally, Simon’s second wife, Elizabeth Hill Truby (daughter of Jacob & Hannah Ulam Hill of Parks Twp) had also been raised a Lutheran. Her family belonged to the Lutheran Church of Leechburg (as mentioned in the Beers history of Armstrong County, PA, see here).
Real Estate Developer
As Apollo’s iron mill and other industries grew and expanded, so did the need for a nearby workforce. And of course, workers and their families needed to places to live. To accommodate these changes, the borough began to extend its boundaries to the north and to the east, into mostly undeveloped territory.
In 1859, a new annexation to Apollo more than doubled the size of the borough. The borough now encroached on lands owned by Simon Truby, John B Chambers, and James Guthrie, who recognized there was money to be made by dividing their properties into residential lots and selling them. So that’s exactly what they did.
Three regional history books mention the new plots of land laid out by Truby, Chambers, Guthrie, and others: T J Henry’s History of Apollo, Pennsylvania (1916); J H Beers’s Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, Her People Past and Present (1914); and R W Smith’s History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania (1883, page 241). These books don’t go into great detail about these new residential lots. But by supplementing the book info with some research into the land records, you can piece together clues to the history of Apollo’s houses and neighborhoods.
Look for upcoming blog posts to learn more about these residential additions to Apollo borough in 1859. For instance, see Location, Location, Location.
Simon’s “Unmentionable” Farm?
Plenty of records—especially the Federal census and Simon’s will/estate documents—clearly show that Simon considered farming to be his primary pursuit (read more at Apollo’s Thriving Farm). But for unknown reasons, the Truby farm and Simon’s agricultural efforts aren’t mentioned in any of the history books I’ve found to date.
This demonstrates why it’s important to track down a variety of records when doing genealogical research. Don’t rely on a single type of source. With books alone, we’d never have known that Simon Truby was a farmer! Still, the books provided details about Simon that I hadn’t found anywhere else.
Strangely enough, the Truby farm and Simon’s agricultural efforts aren’t mentioned in any of the history books I’ve found to date. …. Don’t rely on history books alone!
Check out the regional histories below to see if any of your forebears are mentioned. If you discover anything cool, please let us know by writing comments at the end of this article.
Regional Histories on the Web
- 1816-1916; History of Apollo, Pennsylvania. The year of a hundred years, By Thomas James Henry. The News-Record Pub. Co., Apollo PA, 1916.
- History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walter Smith. Waterman, Watkins, Chicago, 1883.
- Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, Her People Past and Present. J. H. Beers & Co., Chicago, 1914. Chapter 15: Apollo Borough (Courtesy of Armstrong County Genealogy Project).
- Biographical & Historical Cyclopedia of Indiana and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania, 1891. Samuel T. Wiley, ed. John M. Gresham & Co., Philadelphia, 1891.
- Indiana County, Pennsylvania; her people, past and present, embracing a history of the county. By Joshua Thompson Stewart. J. H. Beers & Co., Chicago, 1913.
- History of Westmoreland County Pennsylvania, Vol. I by John N. Boucher, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
- History of the County of Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. By George Dallas Albert. L H Evarts & Co, Philadelphia, 1882.
Good luck with your research!
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Up Next: Location, Location, Location – Residential additions to Apollo circa 1859
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