Tea for Three


Ma Truby, Ma Mullen, & My 3-G Grandma Harrington Were the Ladies Who Lunch (allegedly)

Apollo farmer Simon Truby was married to his second wife Elizabeth Hill Truby (1826-1901) for more than 35 years, until his death in 1886. After Simon’s death, Elizabeth – known to her friends as Betsy or “Ma Truby”– found herself in her big rambling brick farmhouse, living with her eldest son Henry and his family, including 8 of Betsy’s grandchildren (see photo at end of article). Meanwhile, all around her, the Truby farm was being subdivided into hundreds of lots. New homes and streets were being built, and new families moving in.

With Simon gone, Betsy surely needed a friend to socialize with and confide in; son Henry Truby and his wife Sarah Belle Whitlinger were busy raising their children and managing what remained of the dwindling farm. Fortunately, Ma Truby seems to have found such a friend—a woman around the same age who had moved into a sprawling new house on N 7th Street, diagonally behind the Truby farmhouse. That woman—Ma Truby’s new friend—was my great-great-great grandma Mary E (Ryan) Harrington (1838-1922).  Continue reading

Christmas Splendor Where Simon Truby Settled

Favorite Festive Homes on Truby’s Former Farm

The photo above shows a Christmas cactus in full bloom & the view from the 2nd story hallway of the home built c 1844 by Apollo’s farmer Simon Truby–located at 708 Terrace Ave.

Last weekend, Dec 15-17, 2017, the Apollo area was treated to a beautiful light snowfall. So my daughter & I took the opportunity to snap photos of a few of our favorite Christmas-decorated homes situated on Simon Truby’s former farmland — which extended between N. 6th Street in Apollo and 15th Street in North Apollo, and included Pegtown and some of Oak Hill. Continue reading

Where Simon Truby’s Kids Lived

The Apples Didn’t Fall Far from the Tree

All 9 of Simon Truby’s children grew up in the brick farmhouse he built around 1844. That house, which still stands today at 708 Terrace Ave in Apollo PA, must’ve lived large in the Truby kids’ memories even after they’d moved out and on with their lives—probably like that intense mix of emotions most of us can feel about our own childhood homes. You might imagine the Truby children roaming the farm and grabbing apples & pears from Simon’s orchards, or maybe catching crayfish in Sugar Hollow Run along today’s N 11th Street. Farm chores too were surely part of their daily lives. It might have felt magical to grow up on this modest Western Pennsylvania farm, or it might have felt gawd awful. Or maybe something in between. We can’t know for sure, but we can guess!

For whatever reasons—maybe fondness or failures—Simon Truby’s children stayed close to home once they reached adulthood. Many of his grandkids did, too. Most bought property from Simon or his estate after his death, etching out their own homes on former farmland.

Of course, there’s a tale to tell about each of Simon’s children. For now, though, we’ll focus on where these folks lived in adulthood.  At the end of the article, you’ll find a link to an interactive map showing where some of Simon Truby’s children and grandkids lived. And if you have any stories or photos of the houses or their owners, please share by commenting at the end of this article. Continue reading

Mary Jane Truby & William H Henry

Sorrow and Suicide

Mary Jane Truby was the first-born child of wealthy farmer and landowner Simon Truby of Apollo PA. So you might have expected that she’d be destined for a life of privilege & ease. But Mary Jane Truby’s life instead seemed marked by heartbreak and tragedy. Though she’d married into another prominent local family—the Henrys—the secure life that Mary Jane and her husband tried to build for their children had crumbled away before their eldest child had turned 16. Continue reading

It’s Time for a Commercial Break

Apollo’s Historic Business Buildings

Those of you who’ve been following the Truby Farmhouse Blog know we’ve occasionally taken a sidetracked look at the local historic structures described in the 1980-81 Armstrong County Historic Sites Survey. To date we’ve looked primarily at the residential buildings highlighted in the survey. But it turns out, several commercial buildings were also deemed noteworthy by the architectural historians who came to town, including 2 businesses built on lots that were once part of Simon Truby’s farmland in Apollo, Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Nellie Bly Dwells on Simon Truby’s Farm

Farmer Truby aids a widow & gives Nellie Bly a home


Historic marker at the 500 block of Terrace Ave in Apollo, PA, where Nellie Bly lived briefly (for less than 2 years) as a child.

Most of us who’ve lived and loved in the western Pennsylvania town of Apollo have heard that the daring, world-famous journalist Nellie Bly (1864-1922) grew up in a mansion on the 500 block of Terrace Avenue—a fact attested to by the historic marker on that block. But you may not know that Nellie Bly lived for only a couple of years in that mansion. Her mom and siblings were forced to vacate mere months after the death of Nellie’s father, Judge Michael Cochran, in 1870. Continue reading

Simon Truby Makes the Grade!

It’s kind of like the Academy Awards of Apollo PA. Earning a mention in one of the town’s official history books, published every 25 years, is quite an honor. It helps to ensure that hometown facts, figures, faces, and places important to Apollo’s past will be remembered for years to come. So it’s awesome that Apollo’s new bicentennial bookApollo: Pride in Our Past; Faith in Our Future—includes a page devoted to Simon Truby, his farm, and house. Thank you Bicentennial Committee for the shout-out! Continue reading

Location, Location, Location

Simon Truby Cashes In on the Good Earth

How can you make a quick buck? Definitely not through farming! Farming requires dedication, resilience, and patience. If you were Simon Truby’s farmhand in 1880, you’d have to work plenty hard to help him raise a cool $225! You’d help him pick the 300 bushels of apples and peaches his farm produced that year, which could bring in about 35 cents a bushel, or $105 total. And you’d help sow and reap his 350 bushels of oats to earn just over $120 in sales. That $225 profit would quickly dwindle away, though, when you consider the associated costs of farm upkeep, such as mending fences, plowing, irrigation, paying laborers, etc. A tough life!

On the other hand, Simon Truby found that he could rake in about $200 for selling just over one-tenth of an acre of land in Apollo, or a plot of about 4,800 square feet. And Simon had plenty of land—156 acres to be exact. Continue reading

Simon Truby in the Books

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.

Man's Chip Hat

Man’s chip hat. Circa 1832. Made in U.S. of straw, silk, & grosgrain ribbon. Image courtesy www.lacma.org

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?).

SimonTruby-1833 Ledger

This ledger book notes that Simon Truby purchased 29 bushels of oats, at 25 cents each, between April 30 and October 15, 1833. A bushel is about 32 pounds of oats. Simon also paid capt Drum 25 cents cash for hauling boards at Freeport. On August 3, 1833, Simon bought “Oats & Rye.” And on January 13, 1835, Simon bought 3 bushels of oats “for father.”

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.

Simon’s Sawmill

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.


Apollo in 1861. The location of the “old basin” is shown in blue. Based on T J Henry’s description in the History of Apollo, Simon Truby’s sawmill was likely located at the dot labeled “SM,” at the top of the basin.

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?]


A horse hauls coal along a rail system from mines in Lick Run PA, circa 1909-1932. Simon Truby’s coal-hauling operation likely looked similar. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

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


The Union Evangelical Lutheran Church, built in 1861 on First Street in Apollo, PA. This building no longer exists. Today Apollo’s Lutheran Church is located at 214 N Pennsylvania Ave. Photo courtesy of Apollo Area Historical Society.

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.

The Apollo Area Historical Society has a terrific web page about the Lutheran Church and other Apollo churches as well.

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

Good luck with your research!

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Up Next:  Location, Location, Location – Residential additions to Apollo circa 1859

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Apollo/North Apollo Interactive Historic Sites Map

The “Truby Farmhouse” interactive map of historic sites in Apollo & North Apollo is gradually expanding. I’ve now added most of the houses from North Apollo that were mentioned in the county report. Visit the map and click on the markers to open up photos and brief descriptions of each location.

This map currently includes only the houses and buildings listed in the 1980-81 Armstrong County Historic Sites Survey, as discussed in earlier blog posts. I may create additional maps, or add to this one, to cover other historically important houses, especially those related in some way to Simon Truby’s farm.

Enjoy! And please let me know if you find any mistakes, or have suggestions or comments.

Click here to visit the interactive map .

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Please help to preserve Apollo’s history by making a donation to the Apollo Area Historical Society at https://apollopahistory.wordpress.com/donate/ .

Come check out Apollo’s History Walk along Roaring Run Trail on Sun July 3. I’ll have a table with info about Apollo’s architectural styles and also the Truby farm, family, and farmhouse. Plus, you can visit other tables as you stroll along through Apollo’s 200 years of history.