by DuBois Historical Society
Twelve miles east of DuBois, in the northwestern part of Clearfield County, on the Low Grade railroad, and at the head of Bennetts branch of the Sinnemahoning River, is the village of Penfield, population approximately 600 people. Surveyor Lucien Bird discovered ax marks on several trees around the town that were made in 1729, probably by Jesuits from Canada. These indications point to the presence of white people in this region well before the Revolutionary War.
In 1785 a State survey intended to include the Bennett's branch valley was made, and in 1793 a more extensive one was performed which divided the land into 1,000-acre tracts. Jonathan B. Stewart and William Bradford took titles under the 1785 survey. Stewart’s title descended through Edwin Bird to Jesse Wilson and John S. Brockway. Brockway soon sold out to Wilson. Bradford’s title came down through Dr. James Hutchinson and his sons to Gould R. Hoyt. In 1820 Wilson and Hoyt arrived in the unbroken wilderness that extended 40 miles westward from Benezette, Elk County and cleared small spaces. Each built himself a log cabin and began to live the pioneer life where Penfield now stands. These men found a hunter’s booth, possibly built by Daniel Boone, who once visited this region, it is said, and whose name is preserved in that of the mountain range north of town. During this time other pioneers from New York and New England came into what is now Huston Township and cleared the land for small farms. Log cabins were the only dwellings.
Penfield was named after Hoyt, who reportedly had good penmanship. His mother, Catara Rod Hoyt, was one of the county’s two women patriots who helped feed and nurse the Revolutionary War Soldiers.
Lumber was a very profitable industry in Penfield. As much as $4.50 per 1,000 feet was paid for pine in the late 1880s, a good sum of money for that time. Important to the economy of the area at the turn of the century was the bark from hemlock trees, which was used to tan animal hides at a local tannery.
The prospect of an apparently limitless amount of hemlock bark attracted a tannery to Penfield, which was built by A. D. McKinstey and was operated by the Elk Tanning Company. Its capacity was 500 sides of leather a day. The value of its yearly output was over $700,000. Ten thousand cords of bark were required yearly, causing the peeling of 20,000,000 feet of hemlock. Eighty hands were employed regularly, and during bark piling as many as 140 before it closed. The officials were M. J. C. W. Beach, superintendent; G. J. Trosmiller, foreman of beam house; B. F. Hess, foreman of yard; Thomas B. Connelley, foreman of finishing department; William H. Carle, outside foreman; Philip E. Connelly, bookkeeper; and P. W. Boyle, engineer. The employees lived in houses owned by the company.
In 1854 Hiram Woodward came from the Lehigh River to the Bennett's branch valley with 14 men to cut lumber for Reading, Fisher & Co. In conjunction with John DuBois, Woodward cleared the stream of obstructions and began the industry of cutting logs and floating them to the great mills at Williamsport. This work continued for 40 years, and more than two billion feet of lumber in logs went out of Bennett's branch. The settlers, who had been burning the clear pine stuff in log heaps to get rid of it, opposed log-floating and tried to prevent Woodward and DuBois from carrying it out. In 1856 Woodward moved to Penfield and acquired the property of Wilson and Hoyt. The former’s log cabin was replaced by a frame house, now a part of the Penfield hotel, and this became the headquarters for the large and prosperous lumber operation of Woodward.
In 1873 the Low Grade railroad, which extended from Driftwood to Red Bank, was completed. Penfield, having only a few buildings, began to grow quickly. In 1882, another expansion took place. The pine having been cut, the Reading, Fisher & Co., of Philipsburg, erected a mammoth sawmill north of Penfield. This plant employed up to 200 workers and operated for 10 years.
After the lumber business died out, coal mining came to the forefront. Bennett Springs was used for washing the coal in Tyler, just outside of Penfield. The water of the springs would run black with coal dirt. The going rate for coal pickers in the Penfield area was 46 cents per ton.
In 1890, Jesse C. Harman established a small grocery store and restaurant. His business expanded until he handled a large general stock, and bought another store-room property as well as a dwelling.
Penfield has produced two world-class musicians, Philip Paul Bliss (of the village of Hollywood) and George Rosenkrans. Mr. Rosenkrans played piano at the Penfield High School graduations in the 1940s. His music was played at Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower’s funerals, as well as those for King George and Winston Churchill.
The Methodist itinerant preachers visited Penfield and preached in the log school house that was one of the four buildings in the town for 25 years. The women attended service barefoot, with red bandanas for headwear. The preacher reminded the men not to forget candles for lighting. These were fastened with pocketknives to the walls and desks.
The origin of the post office name is unique. “Uncle” Gould Hoyt was a poet. He sent the petition for an office to the capitol written in verse, and since he was so clever with his pen the name Penfield was bestowed by the department.
Penfield has also produced a Governor, not of Pennsylvania but of Wisconsin: Edward Scofield (1842-1925) was elected as the 19th governor in 1897. His brothers James (hotel owner), Harry, John and Fred lived in the Penfield area. The family’s roots can be traced back to 1814 in Clearfield County. Mr. Scofield’s grandfather, Robert Collins, was the builder of the first county courthouse in 1814.
When horse and buggy were the only mode of transportation, “the square” was the center point of the town. With the coming of automobiles and electricity, the square became the traffic light which still serves as a community landmark.
–Gene M. Aravich