McKean Township History

The McKean Township Story

In early times, the area of McKean Township was part of the United States Military lands.

John Price, a Welshman, was the first settler in McKean Township. In 1806, about four miles north of Granville, he cleared land that was later called Welsh Field.

Other settlers begin to arrive and by April 1810, McKean Township was originally surveyed and was divided into four tracts of 1,000 acres.

The early pioneers were principally from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and a few from New England.

Early settlers found Indian mounds on a farm owned by Thomas McKean Thompson, located about four miles north of Granville. Thomas McKean Thompson was an early settler who was a wealthy and knowledgeable man. He came from Pennsylvania where he was the private secretary to Governor McKean. Thompson named McKean Township in honor of the governor.

There were two villages in McKean Township – Fredonia and Sylvania*. The first election in McKean Township was held in the Village of Fredonia in 1818. A hat setting on a white oak log was the ballot box and 13 votes were cast. Nearly all of the people who voted were elected to some office.

The 1830 census showed the population of Fredonia to be 86 and of Sylvania to be 50. Sylvania is now the town of Highwater.

Early days in Fredonia

In the early days of 1825 and 1830 Fredonia gave promise of becoming a thrifty village. Fredonia was laid out by Spencer Arnold in 1829 and was settled by people from the Northeastern states and West Virginia. Tradition says it was named for a small town in Western New York.

At this time there were 28 or more dwelling houses in the village and most of the people kept cows and pigs for family use. The lots were enclosed by fences with the cows and pigs pastured in the road.

There were three general stores, one harness shop, one shoe shop, one wagon shop, one tailor shop, one cooper shop, and sometimes two blacksmith shops. There were usually two doctors and a post office. There was usually a milliner in some of the houses that sewed the braid, blackened and pressed the hats, and also trimmed the hats and bonnets in the latest fashions. An artist would often come out and take pictures for the people until all were supplied, then move on to another village. Photographs were not invented at that time.

There were two churches, both had good membership and congregations. The general stores carried miscellaneous stock, hardware to groceries, dry goods, boots, shoes, jewelry, hats, and caps. Not one had to drive to Newark for supplies.

The school in those days had only two terms during the year, each of three months-three months in the winter and three in the spring. Wages were nine and twelve dollars a month. Large boys did not have the advantage of the spring term as they had to work. It was a two-room schoolhouse in the 1800s due to the younger children being taught by themselves.

A rake factory stood where the former McKean Elementary School building stands now. The rake factory made horse and hand rakes that were shipped from Newark.

You can see at that time Fredonia was a busy place. The mail was at first carried from Lancaster to Mt. Vernon once a week by a mail carrier on horseback. He would leave Lancaster in the morning and stay at the Ingraham Inn in Fredonia, then on to Mt. Vernon the next morning.

The next day, the mail carrier would come back to Fredonia to stay overnight and on to Lancaster the next day.

People did not have stamps or envelopes but would fold the paper to resemble an envelope and give the mail carrier twenty-five cents for each letter. Not many letters were written in those days.

Life in Fredonia update: 1984

Life in Fredonia and the life of Highwater, both in the McKean Township area, are still busy today with the robust of friendly people. The area has a population of approximately 1197 people, 15 merchants, three churches, one general store, and one private school, and the area still continues to grow with a strong township government.

(2000 population of 1512)

McKean Township residents, through a tax-levied ballot in 1978, provided themselves with a new Township building.

The McKean Community Organization formed in May 1982, came about through strong determination that a community would not fall away. The MCO developed from the closing of the McKean Elementary School (a part of the North Fork District closed due to lack of State funding).

The Fredonia and Highwater residents are still striving for a better small-area community through the development of ELLAS PARK, located near the grounds of the McKean Township Building.

Through the help of McKean residents, the McKean Community Organization, and the Township Government cooperation, this small area named in the 1800s is still on the up-swing of growth.