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AVELLA, PA 15312

By Kathryn Campbell Slasor

A close look at the background of Cross Creek Township reveals the names of numerous energetic men of vision - men whose names, due to that vision, have lived on the pages of written history for nearly two and one-half centuries.

As early as the mid seventeen hundreds, a man who could neither read nor write, saw the need to lay claim to the attractive hills, valleys and streams of more than two thousand acres of virgin soil. This man was Alexander Wells. Many of these two thousand acres became Cross Creek Township. The final boundaries of this Wells territory were set on June 16, 1853, when Jefferson Township was formed as a separate entity, and Cross Creek Township took its present form.

The stream of Cross Creek with its North, South, and Middle Branches, as well as its smaller tributaries, fans out to keep the area well-watered for farm purposes. In early days, one branch alone was large enough to turn the wheels of the mill built by Alexander Wells, then to carry to market by flatboat the grain that was subsequently ground by the great burrs of this mill.

Shrewd planning on the part of Alexander brought to him the best uses possible of the waterways he harnessed for himself. No neighbor could intrude upon his right to use the stream for his mill only.

However, Alexander Wells had no way of knowing that just beyond the horizon lingered a rival for land and waterways with the potential and intent to dispute the Wells supremacy. The opposing force was in the form of the Patterson family whose strength and influence held a far-reaching effect on the future of Cross Creek Township.

Following a serious dispute with his father over a girl he intended to marry, young James Patterson, that day in 1728, flew into a rage and left his homeland of Ireland for America, never to return. He came as far west as Lancaster County, bought a large tract of land, fought the Indians, married a widow name Mary Montgomery, and raised a family of ten children.

This James Patterson died in 1792 at the age of 84 years. It was not until the next generation that Cross Creek Township or even Washington County, would lay out the welcome mat to a Patterson.

As the generations passed, it was evident that the Pattersons were here to stay. As they migrated westward, they bought and improved the farms, raised large flocks of sheep, built grist mills, and boated flour down the waterways, eventually intermarrying with their original rivals - the Wells family.

The Patterson family, as did that of Alexander Wells, and other pioneers of Cross Creek Township, suffered untold hardships on their journeys through life. Babies died without a chance for life, and women died leaving large families of motherless children. Occasionally an epidemic of scarlet fever or other dread disease swept through the family, snuffing out three or four young lives and leaving heartaches.

Yet, life went on. These hardy pioneers built forts, continued to erect homes, mills, schools, stores and churches. William Patterson, in 1794, built a massive stone house that housed the next six generations. One son, Thomas, built a fulling mill for the finishing of cloth, as well as the huge grist mill that stood on the bend at the foot of the hill and operated for one hundred thirty years.

James Patterson opened a store near the mill. So great was his love of the store business that it was said that if James stayed overnight in a place, he would have a store started before morning. One of the Patterson stores was located on the flat near Cedar Grove. It was later owned and operated by the George Wiegmann family until it burned about the year 1898.

This store carried all manner of dry goods, groceries, hardware, boots, notions, candies, tobacco and cigars. Goods were freighted from the East over the National Pike to Washington, then to Patterson Mills. What an exciting time it must have been when the wagons arrived loaded with store goods.

Memories of the Wells Mill and Store site were revived many years later when the Romano Depaoli family opened a store at the Old Mill Crossing. This would be remembered as the spot where David Wallace Patterson, veteran school teacher of fifty years, his team and buggy, were swept away in the flood waters of Cross Creek in the year 1919.

With the coming of the Campbells and the Browns, the stream of Cross Creek took on greater importance. Settlers realized that this fairly wide stream split the valley so that homes and gardens could be accommodated on both sides. Even though the townships of Cross Creek and Independence each claimed a side, the town of Avella grew, and small businesses flourished. It mattered not on which side of the creek they built.

Many stores of note were operated by the families of Spataro, Falleroni, DiNardo, Debelak, Scouvart, Thompson, Shanks, Plummer, and countless others throughout the years. A funeral home, lunch counters, hot dog shops, barber shops, a creamery, a lumber yard, shoe repair shops and a bowling alley have come and some gone, but all left their marks in Avella.

The men of vision in the early days of Cross Creek Township knew without taking much thought that education was of the utmost importance. They knew they must establish schools, and this they did when they first stepped into the territory.

Before there was time to erect a building for educating the children, classes were taught in houses on farms. As early as 1782, school was held in the old log church at Cross Creek Village and at such places as the Wells Fort.

Prior to the year 1800, primitive schools began to spring up in a wide area. Teachers, though untrained, did their utmost to impart to their students the basics of an education. Although scarcely believable, one teacher in 1804 was unable to write. He not only taught other basic subjects, but taught writing by using brass plates.

In 1834, subscription schools supported by parents became obsolete and a system of district schools was organized. Cross Creek Township had ten such one-room institutions of learning: Nosco Hall, Bunker Hill, Cemetery, White Oak, West Point, Willow Valley, Bushy Rock, Beech Knob, Limestone Lane, and Buckeye Valley.

The ultimate in halls of Higher Learning came in the year 1828, with the establishment of the Cross Creek Academy. The name of the beloved Dr. John Stockton will forever be remembered for his unselfish work with the Academy. Thirty ministers of the Gospel have gone forth into the world from this revered institution.

The earliest church in Cross Creek Township was established by the Presbyterians in Cross Creek Village. The fifth building of this old congregation stands yet today, (2005) and still serves as the house of worship. Rev. Joseph Smith was the first minister to receive a call. The year was 1779. One year prior to this time, the first gospel sermon ever heard in the entire region was preached under an oak tree outside the gate of Vance's Fort, not far from Cross Creek Village. It is believed that the religious enthusiasm generated by this first sermon was the impetus for the eventual founding of this venerable first church in the township.

Other churches that began in various years and are yet spreading their influence are Avella Presbyterian, Pentecost Lutheran, St. John's Byzantine, and St. Michael's Roman Catholic. Beginning in 1864, a Lutheran minister preached in the school house at Pattersons Mill. An Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church was later built there and continued for many years.

Although churches, schools, businesses and other institutions make a community what it is, the greatest resource any area possesses is its people. In the early days, in addition to the aforementioned Wells and Patterson pioneers, many other brave souls set forth across the Alleghenies seeking a better life. Among the long list of those earliest settlers can be found the names of John and Thomas Marquis, Captain John Johnston, Henry Graham, William Reynolds, Joseph Reed, James Marshall, Thomas Bay, Jacob Buxton, and Hugh Lee. Were all the stories of bravery and hardship related of those whose names appear in this extensive roster, not even then would it begin to give a picture of the sacrifices of those who should be remembered forever.

In addition to those first settlers, others also left their mark for good in Cross Creek Township, including James Simpson who gave to the world an accounting of much of the history of the area which is known today. An infinitesimal number of these persons could be included in this account. Since that is not feasible, the names of a few whose accomplishments and service to the area are worthy of note are Mucci, Avella, Kanstrip, Geresti, Hoop, Rohr, Sutherland, Caverzan, Ruschell, DeFilippis, Paris, Ragan, Cindrich, and countless others. For such a small area as the township of Cross Creek encompasses, it has a proud legacy indeed.

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