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. Continue reading

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.

TrubyLandPurchase-ApolloBorough

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: http://bit.ly/1YYVygE

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-KiskiTwp-Apollo

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

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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:

1861-1876-ApolloMaps

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 Ancestry.com 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.

The Home in Your Mind

Can you close your eyes and think about a home from your childhood? Picture opening the front door and walking inside. What do you see? Furniture, objects, people, maybe pets? Your old bedroom, your favorite toys?

It seems amazing that certain spaces and places can remain so alive and 3-dimensional in our minds even after decades. Even if those buildings are now long gone — maybe burned or razed or replaced by another building or a highway — their intricate interiors can still exist in our memories, and we can move around and interact with that space.

Our homes have witnessed the greatest joys and tragedies in our lives. So it’s no wonder that they can occupy such a vibrant expanse in our memories. And older houses have witnessed such life-changing events many times over, as different families have come and gone.

When my family moved into this old brick house in 1975, we knew essentially nothing about the house’s history. Our curiosity was briefly piqued when, a few months later, my mom noticed a map in the Apollo library that looked something like this map from 1876, with the lonely-looking square in the upper right labeled S. Truby.1876-apollo-fullMap-Pomeroy

“I think that’s our house,” mom said. “I think we’re living in an old farmhouse. It’s probably the oldest house on our block.”

Well, that’s neat. But we weren’t really sure, and we knew of no easy way to research the history of the house in those pre-Internet days. So we let the matter drop.

When Apollo celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1991, I thought for sure we’d finally learn more about this old house and S. Truby. But no such luck! S. Truby wasn’t even mentioned in any of the booklets or articles or presentations put together at that time. And our house wasn’t listed among any of the town’s historic buildings.

So as the town’s 200th anniversary neared (Apollo, PA, was founded in 1816), it seemed time to stop waiting for someone else to unexpectedly hand us interesting facts about the house. It was time to get our butts in gear and scour the Web, local libraries, and awesome historical and genealogical societies for more information about S. Truby and his family.

We uncovered much much more than we’d ever expected — about the house, its families, and the town of Apollo. And there’s still a boatload of information I’m still working to discover.

I now know that Simon Truby was a farmer whose land now makes up about one-third of the total acreage of Apollo Borough. He likely built this brick house —the Truby homestead — around 1843, which makes this one of the oldest standing houses in Apollo. I know that in 1850 his farm produced 400 pounds of butter, 60 pounds of honey, and 100 pounds of wool from 40 sheep. And he grew potatoes, oats, corn, and hay. I know that Simon’s wife Elizabeth and their 9 children helped out on the farm, and farming ceased around 1892 as the town encroached on the land.

As I’ve learned more about Simon Truby and the other families who’ve lived in this house, I try to imagine the rooms as they saw them, and I can sometimes visualize them moving about the house. I stand at the top of this old staircase and try to envision wood planks instead of red carpeting. And I imagine Simon Truby standing at this very spot, ready to descend the stairs and start the day’s work on the farm, milking cows, mending fences, or shearing sheep.

DSCN2982

I also wonder which bedroom was Simon’s and Elizabeth’s, and where did their kids sleep? I hypothesize that Simon chose my bedroom, in the northwest corner of the house, as it would have had the best view of the river and the farm. And just this past summer, I noticed that the big dipper regularly appears in the center of the north-facing window each night. So again, I try to mind-meld with Simon, who surely looked out this very window, studied these same stars, marveled at the beauty of the moonlit landscape, and got a glimpse of what the next day’s weather might bring.

Please follow this blog to learn more about Simon Truby, his house, and its families. And if you have your own stories or photos or information to share, please comment on this post, or leave a message on this page: http://wp.me/P75c12-2d

– Vicki Contie