this infomation is from the Coudersport Library
In 1856, E. O. Austin moved from White's Corners, New
York, and settled at the present site of Austin (in fact, very near the center of it).
This is part of his story as to how Austin grew when the Goodyears began to develop the
area in 1885.
The great body of timberlands in Keating, Portage, Homer, Sylvania and Summit Townships not already purchased by settlers or the Costello Company was practically untouched and mostly held by the Keating Estate. In 1884, some Smethport gentlemen, one of whom had long been the agent of the estate, bought the entire body of lands. They found it expedient to sell them, with some reservations, in December 1884. Hamlin, Hamlin and Forest sod to F. H. Goodyear between 14,000 and 15,000 acres, being the tract embraced in the Freeman's Run Valley.
Mr. Goodyear was already operating mills at Keating Summit and other points along the Buffalo railroad. In 1885, he began the construction of a first-rate standard gauge railroad into the nearest portion of his purchase of December. (It later developed into the great B&S system.) In September of that year it was completed to the Austin farm where temporary sheds were erected to cover the small amount of freight that came over the road.
While F. H. Goodyear was busy building a large sawmill in Austin, Oliver S. Garretson of Buffalo, a close friend of his, came to Austin and looking over the operation asked why the hardwood on this tract could not be used in his furniture works? Looking over the site, he purchased all of the hardwood, leaving the hemlock for Mr. Goodyear, and began plans for another mill.
In March 1886, more hands were employed on the big mills and more railroad workmen required shelter. The old farmhouse was very inadequate and there being on other houses nearby, large plans were began. A street 70 feet wide was laid out to the projected railroad station. An outbuilding, a shop and a granary on the Austin farm were filled up, the lower story for store and office, the upper story for a dormitory. Some additions were made to it and the Buffalo Hardware Company occupied it for a store for a year. The office people as a counting house, by the railroad as an office, also for telephone and telegraph and a s a post office. Thus it was five or six deep and the various businesses had to take turns.
Hackenburg, Olmstead and Company bought the first lot in the new town on the corner of Goodyear and Main Streets and began erection of a store. The Buffalo Hardware Company began their new store building in June and J. W. Thorne bought a lot and began building a home. Lumber for all these early building was shipped in on the railroad. Laborers and workmen began to purchase lots for homes and business men began to look around for places for their vocations. One half of the applications were restaurants, billiard parlors and bowling alley sited.
Lumbering, up to this time, had been mostly cutting of a few trees by the settlers while clearing their land, them joining with distant neighbors to float or raft their logs down swollen streams in the spring of the year to distant markets such as Williamsport and Pittsburgh them to walk home again. Later woodsmen stored logs on the ground as they were cut and hauled them to nearby mills on sleds during the winter months. Thawing ground in the spring stopped this until someone began laying plank or hewn timbers over which the sleds could be pulled by oxen.
But by the time the mills were built and running in Austin in mid-1886, Mr. Goodyear needed a much faster delivery of logs from the seemingly inexhaustible supply from his 15,000 acres. Lateral rail lines were laid connecting to his railroad from Keating Summit to Austin. Woodsmen said the engines couldn't climb the steep sides of the hills but Mr. Goodyear purchased five "stem-winders" made by the Lima Machine Engine Company for these lateral lines. Different from conventional locomotives, these engines used separate driving power to each wheel and the Shay, like a true pulling horse, every inch they get, they hold.
The big mill was started in September 1886, a year after building began but with such a vast amount of machinery to test and re-adjust it was a month or more before a full day's sawing resulted. The mill ponds could hold only about enough logs for one day's sawing so an average of 115 cars of logs was brought in each day. Each car contained about 3,000 board feet. Each of about 100 cars was particularly designed for its job, having four pairs of wheels on spring trucks connecting with a platform and each joined in the middle so as to yield on curves.
The two mills, cutting hemlock in the Big Mill and hardwood in the Little Mill, ran 22 hours a day cutting 420,000 feet of lumber. Both of the big plants were lighted with electricity and Austin was certainly a sight to see at night.
In July of 1887 Blaisdell Brothers built one of their celebrated kindling wood factories using refuse slabs from the mills and employing boys and girls. In 1888, R. J. Gaffney built the Austin Chemical works which manufactured 75 gallons of wood alcohol, 2,000 pounds of acetate of lime and 300 bushels of charcoal daily. During the two years of construction of these industrial giants, people of all nationalities, some from the forests of Canada and Maine, came to Austin bringing commercial vice, religions, chaos, social life and education. As more and more men were employed, dwellings and places of business were built, causing an unprecedented boom. Ad Mr. Austin owned most of the land on which the town was located, it was determined to name the town station for him. The post office, named Freeman's Run after the stream which ran through it, was changed to Austin.
F. H. Goodyear and O. S. Garretson bought lands in town, built residences for themselves and made liberal offers for their permanent employees to build. Thus the fall of 1887 saw a town of some 1500 resident people where only a year and a half before there was but one farm house. In the following yea sidewalks were built, yards enclosed and shrubbery planted. The business portion of town took on the appearance of older towns.
It now became apparent that improved municipal regulations were required. At the September term of court in 1888, the town was erected into a borough and the borough officers were elected.
GROWTH AND CHANGE IN A METROPOLIS
The census of 1890 reported a population of 1,670, making Austin the largest town in the county. The school board had many problems owed to the rapid increase of population but by August 1888 had erected a fine school house on the hill. This schoolhouse served the town for several generations. The first graduating exercises occurred in 1889 when miss May Amelia Austin and Miss Mamie Agnes Farrell received diplomas.
In 1887, Harry Caskey arrived in town and established the Austin Autograph. The first copy appeared on September 16, 1887. Other papers were established but none survived except the Autograph which published its last copy on September 28, 1911, two days before being wiped out by the great food. On the day that the first edition of the Autograph appeared, sixteen band instruments arrived for the first band, A Mr. McDermott was the leader and it was called "The Hemlock Band."
In August of 1896, two women, Alice and Nellie Griffiths of London, England, came to Austin and started a private hospital on Railroad Street, the first hospital within Potter County. Before it had been in operation a full year, the whole town saw the necessity of having a larger place and the North Pennsylvania General Hospital was incorporated on September 18, 1899, and the opening was cause of a three-day celebration to which the Susquehanna Valley Railroad ran excursion trains.
During the "Gay Nineties" new industries, new people and a new prohibition law, illegal bars commonly called "pig's ears" appeared. Anything could happen there. The wood hick, coming to town with three or four months pay in he's pocket, went out with empty pockets and a headache.
On the 14th of August 1890, Austin suffered its first bad fire. Forty-three business places and a few dwellings were burned to the ground. In exactly 131 days, the Main Street was rebuilt in solid brick. People had perfect faith in Austin's future. For several weeks previous to October 4, 1897, the town had suffered from a lack of rain. A farmer from Inez brought a load of hay to town for the William Nelson store. As he backed the wagon into a building on Railroad Street, he backed into a open gas jet. He barely had time to save his horses. A brisk wind was blowing and there was no water pressure. The fire started at 3:40 p.m., and in exactly four hours, 89 families were homeless. Besides these, several stores, two churches, a hotel and the theatre were reduced to ashes. Again Austin was rebuilt!
In 1900 George C. Bayless of Bingamton, N. Y., became attracted by the great timberlands of southern Potter County and began construction of a large pulp and paper mill in the north end of town. The consensus of opinion was that if the big lumber mills went out, the paper mill would be here forever. Austin was here to stay and everybody was happy. The high mark in population was reached with 2,941 in 1910.
Continuous water shortage made it necessary for the Bayless plant to build a concrete dam above town in 1909. Austin had suffered damage from water in 189 at the time of the famous Johnstown Food, but only a few people had any apprehensions when they saw the completed concrete dam stretching 534 feet across the valley and about 43 feet high. It would stand forever!
However, on Primary Election Day, September 30, 1911, the dam did break and thus ensued the biggest catastrophe that ever hit Potter County. At about two o'clock on that Saturday afternoon, the paper mill whistle began to blow sounding the alarm and from a telephone call from Mrs. Cora Brooks sent Telephone Operators screaming through the streets. But within fifteen minutes 78 to 80 people were victims and property loss amounted to an estimated $5,000,000.
Perhaps the water by itself, released by the breaking of the dam would not have caused do much damage, but just about as soon as it left the dam the rising water picked up the entire millyard of pulp wood and drove it through the mill killing many people. Caring parts of the mill and the pulp wood, it next crashed into the residential part of town lifting homes and churches from their foundations and pushing the mountainous wall of water and refuse toward Main Street. Here it hesitated but a moment pushing the brick buildings ahead of it and entering the huge lumberyards of the mills, picked up an entire freight train and continued its slithering route down the valley to bring still more death and destruction in Costello nine miles away.
Word of the disaster broke swiftly by telephone and telegraph and the next day (Sunday) all roads into Austin were plugged by rigs and autos. News was carried in all the daily papers across the nation, even reaching Seattle, Washington. Money, material and men poured into the stricken town but there was little relief for the many families who had lost loved ones. Cash contributions to the Austin Relief Association amounted to nearly $63,000. Some of it, of course, was misused but about $4,000 remained for reconstruction of gas, sewer and water lines, fire equipment and the restoration of the Costello school house.
The big Goodyear lumber mills, having finally consumed the "inexhaustible" supply of hemlock form the hills and valleys, had closed only months previous to Austin being wiped out and, with the paper mill gone, Austin People were indeed bewildered and depressed. However by Christmas time, Mr. Bayless decided to rebuild the mill, Austin took heart, rebuilding the town began with various improvements of water and sewage works, Concrete sidewalks and a brick Main Street.
Still hurt by the damage to Austin caused by the unexpected breaking of the "Dam that could not fail," Mr. Bayless had erected a huge Community Building on Main Street which contained a theater, bowling alley, a large ballroom on the second floor and other concessions. It was enjoyed by Austinites until condemned in 1972 because of its wooden construction. A new building housing Austin's new fire equipment had been erected on the site of the Community Building.
The paper mill continued until 1942. Emporium Specialties came to Austin in 1948 to serve the television industry by manufacturing tube parts.
For mor infomation on the Austin Dam Click Here!
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