View of Catawissa from the Susquehanna River
The following mention of the name of Catawissa appears to be in a letter written by French trader, James LeTort, who toured the whole length of the Susquehanna River among the Indians and whites alike. He begins a letter, "Catawasse, May ye 12, 1728."
In 1743, Conrad Weiser, the Indian language interpreter for the Pennsylvania Colonial Government was asked to go to Shamokin, (where Sunbury is today), to meet some of the chiefs of the local tribes. One of the chiefs was names Lapachpiton, who Weiser later writes was the chief of the Delaware Indians living near Catawasse. This man ruled the people of the present day Catawissa, the land of "pure water".
After the proprietary government in Philadelphia had made a treaty with the Indians regarding the land on which Catawissa now stands, in 1768 land speculators began looking with greedy eyes to the possibility of procuring large portions of the newly opened up lands for speculation and settlement.
As early as 1769, William Henry, a surveyor, took out a warrant for the land where Catawissa stands. After it was surveyed, the patent for the land was taken out in the names of Edward Shippen, Jr. and Joseph Shippen, Jr. on February 14th, 1770 and it was for 282¼ acres,
In March 1772, Northumberland County was formed out of a part of what was then Berks County. A month later is was divided into 7 townships, one of which was Augusta Township, which included the land where Catawissa now stands. In the same year, a young Quaker names Moses Roberts, was sent through Catawissa to Muncy to investigate disputes about land grants. He notes in his journal that he "felt the drawings of love in my heart to visit some friendly Catawesey and to have a meeting house among them for the worship of God." Moses Roberts appears to have come back to Catawissa and build the first house in the vicinity of Catawissa. In 1773, Edward and Joseph Shippen, Jrs. issued a deed for 282¼ acres of land to Ellis Hughes. In 1774 the first grist mill in the county was built near the site of the paper mill along the Catawissa Creek. On June 15, 1776, Ellis Hughes and Hannah, his wife, deeded 90 acres of their land to Moses Roberts. In 1778, they deeded 92¼ acres to William Hughes. In 1785, a number of local citizens signed a petition asking that Augusta Township be divided. It was decided at the court in Sunbury, that Catawissa Township was to be laid out. In 1786, William Hughes wrote his Declaration of Intention regarding out the town into lots.
In 1787, William Hughes laid our the town of "Hughesburg, alias Catawissey, in the county of Northumberland, State of Pennsylvania, North America, on the "bank of the north-east tract of the river Susquehanna near the mouth of the Catawessey Creek, about two miles above Sunbury and about one-hundred and six miles from Philadelphia." William Gray and John Sene were the surveyors. Water, Front, Second, Third and Fourth Streets extend east and west, parallel with the course of the river; Lumber, South, Main and Pine streets cross these, are named in order from the creek. The proprietor provided that lots were to be disposed of by lottery, and this seems to have been customary, in order to prevent partiality. It does not appear that this was done, for in 1789, John Mears secured titles to sixty-five lots, and became the virtual proprietor. It is well authenticated that William Henry, by virtue of his warrant for its survey in 1769, was the original owner of the tract in which the town plot was placed; but Edward and Joseph Shippen were the patentees, and from them the title was transferred to Hughes. In 1796, James Watson laid out the "Roberts Addition", extending Second, Third and Fourth streets, and opening Walnut and North, parallel with Pine. The size of the town plot was then considerably in advance of its importance. In 1780, Isaiah Wilits established tannery at the corner of Third and South streets. Knappenberger and Wilits were proprietors of a ferry, and landed their flat where the bridge approaches have since been constructed.
The North Branch Canal was being built and it became apparent that there needed to be a bridge built to Catawissa. The construction started and on Jan 15, 1883 , it was completed at a cost of $26,000.00 In 1846, 5 spans of the bridge were destroyed by ice on the river, rebuilt, but on 1875, the entire structure was destroyed. The bridge was reconstructed and open in November, 1875.
Christian Brobst planned an enterprise allowing for the future development of Catawissa. His plan was to build a railroad from Catawissa to Tamaqua and in 1825 traversed the distance between the two points on foot, studied the topography of the Quaker Valley, and concluded that the plan was feasible. He induced several who seemed favorably impressed with the plan. Moncure Robinson, a civil engineer, was one of them. March 21, 1831, an act was passed by the legislature authorizing Christian and Joseph Paxton, also of Catawissa, William McKelvey and Ebenezer Daniel, of Bloomsburg, and others in Philadelphia and Reading, to receive subscriptions for the stock of the Little Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad Company. The terminal points of the railroad would be Catawissa and the Broad Mountain where the Wilkes-Barre state road intersects the Little Schuylkill. Contracts were signed for the grading and building of bridges. Capital was furnished by the United States Bank of Philadelphia. The new company fell on hard times and they were compelled to abandon their enterprise. For 5 years, the embankments and bridges lay unfinished. On March 20, 1849, the original corporation was reorganized and names the Catawissa, Williamsport and Erie Railroad Company. During the next 5 years, the railroad was finally completed. The first locomotive that ever appeared in Catawissa was the "Massachusetts," which was brought from Philadelphia by canal and transported across the river on flat boat. On July 16, 1854, the first passenger train entered the town. William Cable was the conductor and John Johnson the engineer. The new company also ran into hard times and was eventually sold. The new purchasers names the company the Catawissa Railroad Company. It became apparent that Catawissa, due to it location with the mountains, needed to become the site for forming trains. With that, came the need for additional repair facilities and many of them were built in Catawissa.
The Quakers who first settled Catawissa shared in the devotion of their faith and built a meeting house on a knoll a short distance from the confluence of the Catawissa Creek and the Susquehanna River. It is a log building, nearly a square and the entrance is not visible from the front. The furniture inside is plain and not suggestive of comfort or elegance. In the rear of the structure is the burial ground surrounded by a stone wall. Within the enclosure are massive trees which would seem to indicate great age. This plain structure was fir first completed house or worship of the "North Branch" between Sunbury and Wyoming.
The education history of Catawissa, as well as its religious record, was begun by the Society of Friends around 1797. A sum on money was raised the Quakers in Philadelphia to establish a school in Catawissa. The Germans also had an interest in education of the area and also established a school in Catawissa. Eventually a school board was formed.
In 1974, Catawissa held its 200th Anniversary and a book was prepared about Catawissa and the areas around it. It is a fascinating study of the area.
Here are some interesting facts and dates about Catawissa:
1833, the "Catawissa" a 15-ton locomotive, along with a sister engine called the "Comet" arrived from England. They were the first engines in the nation to carry coal
The first "Catawissa Made" automobile was built around 1900. It was called a "locomobile" and was propelled by steam
Catawissa's weekly newspaper "The News Item" was established in 1878
The first steam newspaper press in Columbia County was established in 1883
The first "outside" telephone line was established in 1884
Peter Ervin operated a restaurant in town, famous for his ice cream (1893)
There is an "Opera House" in town, started about 1885. Uncle Tom's Cabin was staged there in 1890
The first typewriter in town was 1885
The first telephone installed was in the fall of 1878,
The first telegraph was installed in 1802
The first Halloween parade was started in 1907, continues today
The following industries were established in Catawissa: Paper Mill, Tannery, Shoe Factory, Hamlin Care and Wheel Manufacturing Company, Glove Factory
The celebrated breakwater churn was invented in Catawissa about 1889
The Hayhurst grain cradle and Hayhurst apple parer were invented in Catawissa
Mahlin Hamlin invented a new self-oiling care wheel and car wheel box in 1889
Daniel Hinderliter was granted a patent for an improvement in a shut-off valve (1907)
Horse insurance was first written in Catawissa about 1910
The Catawissa Land and Building Company was started about 1865
The Catawissa Fire Company was first organized in 1827
The Catawissa Deposit Bank was organized in 1872
The Catawissa Water Company was chartered in 1882
The Catawissa Seminary was opened in 1866