Monday, July 31, 2006

Villages now Just a Dot on the Map

Forgotten Villages of Mayburg, Helen's Furnace, Petroleum Center, and Pine City

Locally, many villages are one-time oil boomtowns that were named, settled and depopulated in a decade or less. Petroleum Center claimed 15,000 residents at its peak in 1870 and saw no need for governance beyond the dictates of Cornplanter Township, according to an 1890 history of Venango County.

"(Village names) were just a way to find your way around and have somebody know what you're talking about," said Sylvia Coast, a researcher at the Venango County Historical Society and Franklin Public Library. "The villages just fade away over time."

Before 1902, rural residents had to collect their mail from a local post office - often no more than a desk inside a general store or home. That meant every crossroads or hitching post with mail facilities needed a name; letters would arrive with simple addresses like "John Smith, Fern City, Pa."

With the advent of rural free delivery - that is, a postman dropping letters in curbside mailboxes - the urge to christen towns abated. Nearly every village with a PennDOT marker today can trace its appellation to the 19th century.

Despite changes to the postal code, village arrangements remained a mainstay of the Pennsylvania social fabric for another half-century, with small-scale stores, churches and clubs forming the nucleus of farm communities and other secluded settlements.
Read the full article from The Derrick