Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



Historic Maps, Part 2
April 05, 2017



Two months ago we wrote a column on the first of four historic maps of Pennsylvania that Dana Spriggs recently donated to the Bridgeville Area Historical Society, and promised to discuss the others in future columns.

The second map is entitled “Pennsylvania, entworfen von D. F. Sotzman” with a subtitle “Hamburg bey Carl Ernst Bohn, 1797.” Daniel Friederich Sotzmann was a prominent German mapmaker in the late 1800s; Herr Bohn ran a publishing firm in Hamburg. This map was one of their best-known products.

It is indeed a beauty. The legend (explanation or “erklarung” in German) is full of interesting detail. Roads varying from “Bridle Road” to “County Line” are each shown differently. All manner of colonial era industrial facilities are shown – forge (eisenhammer), grist mill (kornmuhle), saw mill (sagemuhle), etc., as well as Indian towns and Indian paths.

By 1797 Pennsylvania’s boundary disputes had all been resolved; the map shows the boundaries as they exist today, including “the Erie Triangle”, the portion of New York containing Presque Isle that we acquired in return for renouncing our claims to northeastern Ohio. In effect, we traded Cleveland for Erie.

In this part of the state the counties have been organized; the mapmaker calls them grafschafts, the German name for regions that have been the property of counts (grafs). The border between Greene (“Green” on the map) and Washington Counties is an east-west line, close to the irregular border that exists today. “Alleghany” County includes all the land north of the Ohio River and west of the Allegheny, all the way to Lake Erie. The portion immediately north of the Ohio River and bounded by an east-west line several miles north of Butler is designated “Depreciation Lands”. The Depreciation Lands referred to tracts that were sold to raise money to underwrite depreciation certificates given to Revolutionary War soldiers who had received depreciated currency for pay, primarily men who had served in the Pennsylvania Line or the Pennsylvania Navy.

The rest of northwestern Pennsylvania was designated “Donation Lands”. These were tracts of land ranging from 250 acres to 500 acres that were awarded to Pennsylvanians who remained in the Continental Army or the Navy until the end of the Revolutionary War. Both the Depreciation Lands and the Donation Lands had been acquired from the Iroquois (Six Nations) as a result of the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. It is interesting that the area currently occupied by the (Seneca) Cornplanter Reservation is outlined on this map.

In this area, Chartiers Creek is well mapped, along with its major tributaries – Millers Run and Robinson Run. Both Neville mansions – Bower Hill and Woodville – are shown, although Bower Hill had been destroyed in the Whiskey Rebellion a few years before the date of the map. Also shown is a house on Thoms Run with the name “Craig”, probably referring to Isaac Craig. He owned property in this area and eventually married John Neville’s daughter Amelia. In 1802 he became Burgess of Pittsburgh.

The Black Horse Trail is shown, crossing Chartiers Creek twice at Bridgeville and again at Woodville, before heading up through Greentree to Pittsburgh’s West End. Another trail is shown to the east, approximately along the route currently followed by Route 19. A grist mill is shown on Robinson’s Run with the name “Nobles”; we can assume Colonel Noble’s complex there had been established. However, there is no indication of Noble’s Trace leading east to McKessport, through Bridgeville; apparently it was laid out later.

At this time St. Clair Township occupied the area bounded by the Monongahela and Ohio rivers on the north; Chartiers Creek to the west; Washington County to the south; and a southwest to northeast line generally following Streets Run, to the east. Moon Township was west of St. Clair; Mifflin Township, to the east.

As happens frequently, this map introduces another puzzle. The name “Fowler” is prominently shown, roughly where Upper St. Clair High School is located. We have been unable to find any mention of a family by that name so far. Perhaps some reader of this column can solve this riddle for us.

All maps are interesting; old maps are fascinating. The 1797 Sotzman map of Pennsylvania is a classic. Our thanks to Dana for his thoughtfulness.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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