The counties along the New York-Pennsylvania border were hunting areas for the Iroquois Confederacy, and were lightly settled until the Sullivan-Clinton expedition broke the Iroquois power during the Revolutionary War. Much of the land lining both sides of the border was given by the Continental Congress to Philadelphia financiers such as William Bingham (for whom Binghamton, NY is named) for settlement of loans they made to the Congress. By 1810, the Cowanesque Vally was very sparsely settled. Our Campbells and Hazletts were among the first permanent settlers. At that time most of North-Eastern PA was still Northampton County. PA's present Tioga County was then Tioga Township, Lycoming Co.
The Cowanesque River flows Easterly for 44 miles, just below the state line, joining the Tioga River at Lawrenceville, Tioga Co., PA. It's just south of Corning and Painted Post, NY.
The Beecher family first settled on a small island in the Cowanesque River before selling to our Campbells and moving on. Another early settler, Daniel Strait moved on and his land was purchased by Samuel Hazlett, Joseph Campbell's son-in-law). At that time, only a few, small clearings had been made and there were no roads. The small community that grew up there was, not surprisingly, called Beecher's Island. See a map.
After assembling at Sam Hazlett's farm (which may have been in Monroe Co., PA or Lancaster Co., PA) most of the family, accompanied by their livestock, left on a difficult migration to Beecher's Island. Making that trip were Joseph and Mary; his brother John; children Jane, Joseph, James Campbell, Sam & Sally Campbell Hazlett and the three of their children already born; and Sam's younger brother, John Hazlett. For unknown reasons, a "widow Reed" and her daughters accompanied them as far as Lawrenceville.
Jane CAMPBELL Hazlett's daughter-in-law, Lucy DUNHAM Hazlett, heard the stories from those who made the trip and wrote an account:
"In the spring of 1811 they started on their long and tedious journey through mud and rain for Beecher's Island as it was then known. Somewhere near Blossburg, one horse fell sick and died. Procuring an ox team they continued on their journey. During their stay there, snow fell one foot deep. On account of the roads being heavy, some of the family were obliged to walk. Samuel driving the team, his young wife willing to share the burdens with her husband, walked the whole distance to their new home carrying her fifteen month old babe in her arms. "
However, the diary of the senior Joseph Campbell indicates that they left Sam's farm in the fall of 1810, which seems more likely because elsewhere Lucy states that they arrived on New Years Day. Another account has them arriving New Years Eve. But the journey took weeks, so they have to have left in the fall of 1810. Fortunately the cabin the Campbells bought from the Beechers was sound.
As for the cabin Sam bought from Daniel Strait:
"When they arrived at the place they were to make their home, they found no shelter but a hut constructed from logs very roughly put together. There was a place between the logs so wide a cat could crawl through, and no chimney, stones set up against the logs constituted their fireplace. They were obliged to take up four bushels of ashes before a fire could be made. The bark covering for a roof was all the protection they had from storms and wild beasts that stormed around in fearful numbers, wolves, catamounts, and bears. They were obliged to keep fires going all night to scare them away. The pigs, sheep and stock of all kinds had to be kept in high pens near the house, and sometimes when the wolves became very fierce the lambs and pigs were taken into the house until they would leave to seek food elsewhere. Their meat consisted of wild game and fish which was plentiful."
This was still wilderness. Very little of the land had been cleared. Most of the "bottom land" was covered with giant white pines. To clear the land, they girdled the trees to kill them. Then burned them down. Clearing the stumps took years. Often the stumps were pulled and placed in a row, forming fences that kept livestock in a pasture.
At first, Beecher's Island only had a handful of families and of course did not have a church of it's own, nor were there any nearby. James and Mary Blackwell Campbell joined an Congregational church when it formed in Elkland in 1834.
In their 1976 work, Elkland and Osceola "As We See It" Ray and Sandy Crawford wrote:
"families who first settled in this valley were mainly from the New England states. The Bulkleys, Bottums, Bacons, Blanchards, Coates, Culvers, Clarks, Cooks, Dorrances, Hills, Hammonds, Hoyts, Ryons, Seelys and Tubbs’ were from Connecticut; the Gleasons, Knoxes and Barkers from Massachusetts; the Wrights and Parkhursts from New Hampshire; the Crandalls from Rhode Island. These had passed their early days under the iron rule of the New England hierarchy whose form of church government was mainly Congregational. At Beecher’s Island there were several Scotch-Irish families – the Campbells, Hazletts, Ellisons, Meginleys. These had been reared in the strict Calvinistic faith that prevailed in the North of Ireland, whose form of church government was Presbyterian. In faith there was no essential difference. These families came one by one, or in small detachments, and at different times. They had severed such church connections as they might have had at places of former residence. They brought no pastor with them. From such heterogeneous and scattered material, after much delay, was this church gathered."
Later in 1834, two small congregations in Elkland merged to form the First Congregational Church, which sometimes met in Osceola or in the 2nd floor of James Campbell's home. (In which he had operated a tavern before he "got religion.")
"Members of that church were: Joseph Campbell and Ann his wife, Hannah Snow, Abigail Snow, Harriet Boyer, John Hazlett, Enoch Blackwell, Patty Johnson, Content Bottum, Betsy O’Brien, Elizabeth Tubbs. December 31, of the same year, there was another accession of members in the persons of Nancy Bosard, Maria Bosard, Charles Lugg and Richard Ellison."
In 1835 the congregation changed their affiliation and became the Elkland Presbyterian Church. Our Campbells, Hazletts, et al, were active and rented reserved pews, as was customary then.
For the full story, see the article.
In 1844, the Presbytery authorized formation of a Presbyterian Church
at Beechers Island. Members were:
"Joel Jewel and Mary his wife, Joseph Campbell and Ann his wife, James Campbell and Mary his wife, John Hazlett and Mahala his wife, Charles Lugg and Mary Ann his wife, Charles Blanchard and Livina his wife, Harris Ryon, Samuel Hazlett, Edward Mapes, Sarah Campbell, Sally Campbell, Mary Ann Campbell, Oliver Blanchard, Robert Casbeer and Susan his wife and Enoch Blackwell. Total, twenty-two."
Joseph and James Campbell, and John Hazlett were deacons.
Building the church was a large projects. John Hazlett provided the timber. His brother Sam's saw mill turned the logs into lumber. The Campbells and others did the carpentry work. When the walls were ready to lift into place, the community turned out for a big "raising". Ann CLINCH Campbell and her half-sister, Mary BLACKWELL Campbell, did the baking, other women of the congregation would have helped provide food for the occasion.
For many years the community that grew up near the island was know as Beechers Island. The reason for changing the post office name to Nelson is unknown. The community grew to have two main East-West streets, one on each side of the river, and a North-South street, named Depot St. because the railroad station was located there. A portion of Depot Street still exists. At it's peak, Nelson had two hotels, two churches (Presbyterian and Methodist), a school, a milliners shop, a dry goods store, smithy, barber shop, livery stable, furniture stores (some of which doubled as undertakers), general stores, feed and farm equipment stores, a grist mill, a fulling mill, an Odd Fellow's Hall, a cemetery, and on the Hazlett farm, the original Campbell-Hazlett burial ground.
The advent of automobiles led to the gradual decline of the Boro of Nelson. In horse and buggy days, villages like Nelson were needed every few miles so that farmers could bring a wagon load of crops to sell and bring back supplies. With cars and trucks, people could travel 20 or 30 miles to sell and buy. Communities such as Corning and Elmira had good paying jobs as alternatives to farm work. Nelson's population dramatically declined (as did many small towns then), and almost all the businesses closed except for the general store.
Many now living saw an island just upstream from Ne;son. PA route follows the south side of the Cowanesque River and went through Nelson's south side. When Westbound on PA 49, if you looked to your left as you exited Nelson and crossed the river, an island could easily be seen. Cousin Bruce Rupar remembers camping on it as a boy. Perhaps it was a remnant of the original Beecher's Island. Perhaps it was a much more recent island, formed by 20th century floods.
All that changed when creation of Cowanesque Lake was authorized in 1960 as a flood control project. The Methodist church and some homes were relocated (after a campaign organized by Ila HESS Lugg Wiley), but most of the hamlet was bulldozed and its location lies under the lake. After a dry summer when the level of the lake is low, if you know where to look, the remains of the island can still be seen. But it's now just a mud flat.
The good news is that there still is a community of Nelson, in Nelson Township. It's much, much smaller than in 1900 or even 1950, but the former Methodist church survives. Its congregation, and that of the Presbyterian church merged. (See United Church of Nelson.) There's also a post office, fire station and fire hall. And some Campbell descendants still live there. Some new businesses have sprung up to serve the need of those fishing, swimming, picnicking, or camping at the lake. Sadly, the Beecher's Island Presbyterian Church building, which survived the lake project, was not needed, was allowed to fall into disrepair, and was demolished as unsafe. Jane CAMPBELL Tubbs and Mark Seely would have been heartbroken if they knew their beloved church was torn down.
[wbt - 2011; rev. 10/13/2018]