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

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 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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Copycat Brothers?

The Matching Houses, Wives, & Lives of Simon & Capt Henry Truby

Don’t be surprised if the theme song from the Patty Duke Show gets stuck in your head as you contemplate the parallel lives of Apollo’s farmer Simon Truby and his older brother Henry of Gilpin Twp, PA. These brothers were 2 of a kind.

Though they had 5 other siblings (as outlined in an earlier blog post), Simon (1806-1886) and his brother Capt Henry Truby (1800-1882) seemed to be especially in sync. They farmed alike, married wives alike, they even built their homes alike. Sometimes Simon seemed to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. Other times, Simon blazed a trail with Henry tagging behind.

In 1843, these 2 brothers each made a significant purchase of farmland. Henry bought a large chunk (about 108 acres) of the George Hawk farm in Gilpin Twp, a little to the north and east of Leechburg. Henry’s new farm was dubbed Mount Joy; I wish I knew the origin of that name! A few months later, Simon Truby—already living in Warren, as Apollo was then known—purchased 156 acres of land that straddled Warren and Kiski Twp, PA. (Read more at Start with a Dot, Then Follow the Deeds.) Simon’s and Henry’s farms were about 11 miles apart when traveling along the old River Road.

1861 Pomeroy Map closeup - Alleg Twp-HenryTruby-Mt Joy labeled

The 2 Truby brothers then proceeded to marry a pair of sisters whose father, Jacob Honorable Hill, owned a sizable farm in nearby Parks Twp. Simon took the matrimonial plunge first, marrying Elizabeth Hill around 1846. Henry then followed suit a few years later, marrying Elizabeth’s sister Alvinia in February 1850. The Hill sisters were about 20 years younger than their new Truby husbands.

“The Hill sisters were about 20 years younger than their new Truby husbands.”

The brothers also occasionally dabbled in similar trades. In addition to farming, Capt Henry Truby manned a packet boat that carried passengers from Leechburg up and down the Pennsylvania Canal. And Simon at least briefly pursued work as a packet boat captain as well.

Two-of-a-Kind Abodes

Truby Farm Mt. Joyc1990-fromLTouzeau

The Mt Joy farmhouse in Gilpin Twp, PA. Built c. 1844 by Capt. Henry Truby, older brother of Apollo’s Simon Truby. Photo courtesy of Linda Truby Touzeau

And then then there’s the matter of the matching houses. The 2 Truby brothers built near-identical 4-Over-4 brick homes on their respective properties. The 2 houses are exactly the same size, with 2,560 square feet of living area, according to the real estate website Zillow.

Thanks go to Simon Truby’s great-great-grandaughter, Linda Truby Touzeau of Arizona, for alerting me to the existence of Capt Henry Truby’s lovely home in Gilpin Twp, near the intersection of Lover’s Leap and Truby Hill roads. Linda and her father, Simon Thompson Truby Jr., took this photo of the house back in the mid-1990s while on a genealogy tour across Pennsylvania. Linda noted that Capt Henry’s “Mount Joy” house bore a remarkable resemblance to the 1890 photo of Simon Truby’s home. (Read Photograph Forensics to learn how we know that the old photo depicts Simon Truby’s home in Apollo, PA.)


Simon Truby’s farmhouse in Apollo PA, in 1890 and today.

Capt Henry Truby and the Mt Joy farm in Gilpin Twp

Capt Henry Truby kept a diary of his day-to-day life throughout the 1840s and beyond. A transcript of this diary can be found in the Truby binder at the Apollo Memorial Library. The diary begins shortly after he’d purchased the Mt Joy property in 1843 & continued intermittently until his death in 1883. I’ll write a future blog post about Capt Henry Truby and the Mt Joy farm, for it has a storied history. But for now, let’s simply focus on his stately house.

The current owners, Mary Clark Bevan & her son Ronald Bevan, were kind enough to give me a tour of their home last summer. Mary’s grandfather James D. Clark purchased the 105-acre farm in 1907 and launched a thriving fruit-farming operation. Mary’s family has lovingly owned & maintained this land ever since. Click the image below to download a 2006 article about their Gilpin Twp home from the Valley News Dispatch.


Valley News Dispatch article courtesy of Leechburg Area Museum and Historical Society.

Comparing Simon & Capt Henry’s Homes

The Bevan/Mt Joy/Capt Henry home retains many original features that the Simon Truby house in Apollo no longer has, especially the lovely 5-bay Georgian facade on both sides of the house. Both central exterior doorways in the Bevan/Mt Joy/Capt Henry home have the original colored-glass sidelights. In the Simon Truby house in Apollo, the original front doorway remains intact, but the glass is gone and replaced with white-painted wood.

The Bevan’s Mt Joy house also retains all of its original fireplaces, 1 in each of the 8 rooms of the house. In Simon Truby’s house in Apollo, only 3 of the original 8 fireplaces remain, all on the first floor. In both houses, though, the owners wouldn’t dream of trying to use those old fireplaces!

The staircases in both homes have similar wood paneling along the sides. But Capt. Henry Truby’s staircase has a landing at the 12th step and then doubles back with a few more steps to the upstairs hallway. Simon’s staircase is a single flight of 17 steps.

Both homes also have matching built-in corner cupboards in the kitchen; Capt Henry has an additional one in the dining room.


All of Simon Truby’s interior windows and doors are topped with a simple slightly arched lintel, befitting a simple farmhouse.

The interior walls in both homes are made of solid brick, which makes it difficult to run duct work for air conditioning or heat.

In the upstairs bedrooms of both homes, the 2 rooms on the left side have a connecting doorway in between, presumably to give parents/caregivers ready access to an adjoining nursery room.

Although Simon and his brother Henry both purchased their properties around the same time in 1843, it’s not clear whose brick home was built first or when. Having toured both houses, Simon Truby’s home strikes me as a little more primitive. Simon’s house has plain, slightly arched lintels over every interior door and window, whereas Capt Henry’s house more detailed interior elements.

The original back of Simon’s house is also more primitive. It lacks the 5-bay symmetry that appears on both sides of Capt Henry’s house. I suspect that Simon built his home first, and his brother Henry’s house benefited from “lessons learned” after Simon’s experiences. If anyone can provide further evidence on this matter, please let me know!


Coming up: More of the vernacular-type houses listed in 1980-81 Historic Sites Survey of Apollo.

Drop by the Truby Farmhouse website, take a look around, and drop me a note!

Apollo’s Thriving Farm & the U.S. Agricultural Census

If you happened to live in Apollo from 1859 to nearly the turn of the century, a thriving farm was practically a stone’s throw away in the same borough. It was almost like having a giant Guinta’s Fruit Market right in your back yard. Simon Truby’s 156-acre farmland (green in the map below) originally extended from below N. 6th Street in Apollo up to N. 16th Street in North Apollo borough. The farm was active from about 1844 to 1890. Although there were plenty of other local farms (Owens, McKinstry, Jackson, Hildebrand to name a few), Simon Truby’s was the only significant farm in Apollo borough in the 1800s.


Simon Truby’s original farmland, purchased in 1843 (green). Present-day Apollo Borough (light red). Boundary lines are approximate. View a larger version of this map:

Photo of a ewe.

Sadly, this ewe never lived on Simon Truby’s farm. Photo by George Gastin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL] via Wikimedia Commons.

In various years, the Truby farm was home to:

  • 40 sheep that produced 100 pounds of wool;
  • 35 chickens that laid 305 dozen eggs;
  • an orchard with 200 apple trees & 40 peach trees;
  • crops that included corn, oats, potatoes, and hay.

In 1850, Simon Truby’s farm produced 10 tons(!) of hay, which he likely used to help feed & bed his 6 milk cows, 4 horses, and 15 pigs. That same year, his farm also produced: runny_hunny

  • 400 pounds of butter
  • 60 pounds of honey
  • 300 bushels of oats
  • 200 bushels of corn
  • 100 bushels of buckwheat
  • 20 bushels of potatoes
  • and various unnamed market produce.

Though he’d purchased the property only 7 years earlier (in 1843), Simon seemed to get the farm up & running rather quickly.

Historic Farms & the U.S. Agricultural Census

How do we know these 170-year-old details about Simon Truby’s farm? We owe thanks to the benevolent digitizing efforts of the Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project, under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. The project’s website offers PDFs of the Agricultural Census records of individual farms in Pennsylvania for the years 1850, 1880, and 1927. If you have an ancestor who was a farmer in Pennsylvania during those years, you too can seek out a detailed summary of their farm records online …. as long as you can decipher the census-taker’s flowery handwriting and figure out which township the farm was in. County and township boundaries seemed to change a lot back in the 1800s. See the end of this blog post for more about searching for your own ancestors’ farms.

“If you have an ancestor who was a farmer in Pennsylvania in 1850, 1880, or 1927, you too can  seek out a detailed summary of their farm records online.”

More about Simon Truby’s Farm in 1850

In 1850, Simon Truby’s farmland was partly in Warren (as Apollo was then known) and mostly in Kiski Twp. You can download the 2-page PDF that shows 1850 Agricultural Census data for Truby’s farm. The PDF also lists data for  40 other nearby farms, including farms owned by 3 McKinstrys (James, William, & Jackson), D. Risher, Philip & Michel Shutt, Samuel Jack, James Culp, Henry & John Clark, and John & Alexander Kerr.

Download the 2-page PDF of the 1850 Agricultural Census records for Simon Truby and nearby farms in Kiski Twp: 300_PDF_download

1861 Land Owners in the Apollo area. This close-up from Pomeroy’s 1861 map of Kiski Twp shows buildings (dots) and property owners, some of whom also had farms, including S. Truby, Alex Kerr, Ja. Jackson, J. Kerr, and Wm. McKinstry.

1880 Ag Census & Simon Truby’s Shrinking Farm


Illustration of peaches c. 1892. By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The Ag Census Records from 1880 are more detailed than the 1850 data. By 1880, Simon Truby’s farm now included apple & peach orchards, along with barnyard animals & other crops. This was the year that 35 chickens laid 305 dozen eggs. But by this time, the overall size of his property had been reduced by half, with only 80 acres remaining. A future blog post will describe how Simon gradually divvied up and sold lots on the edges of his property, including the lots that now make up Pegtown. Some of lots were sold or given to his grown children, including his daughter Julia and her husband John Finley Whitlinger, who established a tannery on the property.

The maps below show how severely Simon Truby’s property shrank within Apollo borough over a 15-year time span, from 1861 to 1876. Simon’s land is the open space in the upper right portion of the map, and his brick farmhouse is the lonesome dot in the middle of the open space:


In the 1880 Ag Census—just 6 years before Simon’s death—his oldest son, Henry Hill Truby, was listed as the farm manager. The Census  shows that the overall value of the Truby farm was $5,000 (comparable to more than $120,000 today). Truby hired farm laborers for 10 weeks a year and paid them wages totaling $40 (more than $1,000 in today’s dollars). He also did some sharecropping, renting out part of his land in exchange for a share of produce.

Download the 1-page PDF showing 1880 data about Simon Truby’s farm. This page also includes info on the nearby farms owned or managed by Sylvester Hildebrand, W. Kerr, George Hunter, and others in Kiski Twp: 300_PDF_download

Find Your Own PA Ancestor’s Farm

Sad to say, the Ag census records aren’t easily searchable online—yet. Someday or another organization may convert the handwritten Agricultural Census script into searchable documents. But for now, you’ll have to page through the documents yourself to find your ancestor. Happy to say, the  Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project has simplified the search by categorizing the data by county and township.

Here are links to the original data on individual farms in Pennsylvania during different time periods:

Remember, in the 1800s, county and township boundaries were still changing, so it may take a little research to figure out where a historic farm was located.

If these links help uncover any cool info about your ancestor’s farm, please “Comment” on this blog post to let us know what you’ve learned.

Visit the Truby Farmhouse Apollo PA website and take a look around. Coming soon: Learn about Simon Truby’s brother Capt. Henry Truby, who had an almost identical 4-Over-4 brick farmhouse in Gilpin Twp., PA.