by Lou Bernard
One of the interesting things about local history is hearing all the weird things that people believe. I love discussing this stuff with people, but there’s a lot of incorrect information out there. Queen’s Run, for instance, was not named after the Queen of Spain; it was named for Samuel Quinn. There are not “all sorts of” locations on the Underground Railroad in Lock Haven; there’s only one that we can prove. And don’t come asking me about the gravity hill in McElhattan—I can’t stress this enough. THERE IS NO GRAVITY HILL IN MCELHATTAN.
I am ranting like this in order to smoothly segue into my topic here, which is Dunnstown. A few years ago, I had someone insist to me that the oldest community in Clinton County is Castanea. This is like saying that the oldest person ever to win a Grammy is Miley Cyrus. Castanea is a comparatively young community, founded in the 1870s. The oldest community in Clinton County is Dunnstown.
That wasn’t as smooth a segue as I thought, but it’ll have to do.
Dunnstown was founded in 1792. This was before Castanea, before Lock Haven, before Mill Hall. One story says that William Dunn, earliest settler, traded all of the land for some whiskey, beads, and a rifle. I’ve also heard that he got the land in a grant, which is less dramatic but more realistic. At any rate, William Dunn was the founder of Dunnstown, which was originally called Dunnsburgh.
Of course the burning question would be: “Where was the post office?” For this one, I’m going to defer to John Blair Linn, author of the definitive book on Clinton County’s early history: “In first post-office established here was the first in the county; the date is not known. In 1855 the post-office at Lockport was removed to Dunnsburg and called the Dunnsburgh office, with Jacob Myers, postmaster; was afterwards removed to Liberty, then back to Dunnsburgh, and finally back to Liberty again, and the name changed to Island post office.” There. I hope that clears that up.
Dunnstown has also had its share of drama. The Methodist church was established in 1850, and before that, churchgoers met at a schoolhouse that seems to have been on the north end of the Dunnstown Cemetery, according to an 1862 map. According to Linn, an immigrant from Ireland killed himself in this schoolhouse, and was buried somewhere near the property, and then his body was stolen by doctors for practice. Which, now that I know that, gives me something else to write about the next time I have to do a series of ghost stories.
Dunnstown also has the singular distinction of being the only community in Clinton County—And to the best of my knowledge, the only one in Pennsylvania—To be proposed and rejected for being a county seat twice. Linn says,”It was intended to be the county seat of Lycoming County, but afterwards not taken, consequently has not made the improvements it otherwise would have done.”
That would have been about 1795, when Lycoming County was founded, but Williamsport was chosen instead. Not to worry; just forty-four years later, it got a second chance. When Clinton County was founded in 1839, Dunnstown was suggested as the county seat. Unfortunately, this plan was championed by John Moorhead, who had all the charisma of a leftover tuna sandwich, so that didn’t wind up happening, either.
Clinton County was founded on June 21, 1839 by Jeremiah Church, who was a charming individual. He created the county because he lived in Lock Haven and wanted the courthouse built beside his house so that he could sue his neighbors anytime he wanted. That only sounds like I made it up; it’s totally true. So in Jerry’s view, the county seat had to be Lock Haven. Early citizen John Moorhead wanted Dunnstown, and campaigned for it, even having a new law passed that would allow the county seat to be changed. But it didn’t work—Jerry Church won out. “The people sustained me,” he said,”And the square I had located in the first place was retained.”
I could close with a few facts about Dunnstown today—The population, the local businesses. But let’s be real; you can get all that off Wikipedia. So let me just end with this: DO NOT come to me and tell me that some other community was founded before Dunnstown. I will smack you. I mean it.