Location, Location, Location

Simon Truby Cashes In on the Good Earth

How can you make a quick buck? Definitely not through farming! Farming requires dedication, resilience, and patience. If you were Simon Truby’s farmhand in 1880, you’d have to work plenty hard to help him raise a cool $225! You’d help him pick the 300 bushels of apples and peaches his farm produced that year, which could bring in about 35 cents a bushel, or $105 total. And you’d help sow and reap his 350 bushels of oats to earn just over $120 in sales. That $225 profit would quickly dwindle away, though, when you consider the associated costs of farm upkeep, such as mending fences, plowing, irrigation, paying laborers, etc. A tough life!

On the other hand, Simon Truby found that he could rake in about $200 for selling just over one-tenth of an acre of land in Apollo, or a plot of about 4,800 square feet. And Simon had plenty of land—156 acres to be exact. Demand for that land grew considerably throughout the second half of the 19th century, as Apollo’s businesses and industries continued to expand.

Land records show that Simon Truby sold more than 50 residential lots in today’s Apollo and North Apollo during his lifetime. Most of these lots were along today’s North 6th and North 7th streets. Some were in Pegtown, next to the Kiski River a little north of Apollo. Strangely enough, nearly one-third of Simon’s real estate sales were to women—including widows—which seems somewhat unusual for that time.

After Simon’s death, of course, his entire farm would be divvied up into hundreds of residential lots. But for the moment, let’s keep the focus on the land Simon himself sold between the 1860s and his death in 1886.

Apollo Expands to Include Truby Farm’s Lower Corner

In the early days, Simon Truby’s farm was located to the north of the town of Apollo/Warren, in what was then called Kiskiminitas Township, and his land was mostly uninhabited. But the successes of industries along the Kiski River changed all that. Growing businesses like the iron rolling mill needed a local labor force. So the tiny borough of Apollo decided to extend its purview over neighboring lands to the north.

With the stroke of a pen—and additional legislative paperwork—Apollo borough more than doubled its size in 1859, growing from about 60 acres (yellow in the map below) to approximately 130 acres under the Act of March 31, 1859 (P.L. 328). Under this Act, the annexation of Apollo borough not only included the iron rolling mill; it also extended significantly into Simon Truby’s farmland, including his brick house that still stands on today’s Terrace Ave in Apollo (see map below).


Apollo in 1861. The borough’s size prior to the 1859 addition is highlighted in yellow. The annexation to Apollo borough, outlined in red, more than doubled the size of the town. This new addition to Apollo significantly encroached on Simon Truby’s farmland (outlined in light blue in the upper right corner of this map; Simon’s property actually extended well beyond the borders of this map to the north and east).

Follow the River. Why did the borough extend its boundaries to the north instead of stretching further inland, to the east? Successful industries like the nail factory and rolling mill—and later the steel mill—needed to be situated next to the Kiskiminitas River, which provided energy and also helped to transport goods. Apollo borough surely wanted a piece of that industrial action and tax base! So the borough’s boundaries expanded northward and kept to the Kiski River.

Besides taking in a corner of Simon Truby’s farm, the 1859 addition to Apollo borough also included land owned by James Guthrie, and some vested in John B. Chambers.

Three regional history books mention the new plots of land laid out by Truby, Chambers, Guthrie, and others in Apollo borough: T J Henry’s History of Apollo, Pennsylvania (1916, page 25); J H Beers’s Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, Her People Past and Present (1914, chapter 15); and R W Smith’s History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania (1883, page 241).

Only the oldest of these books—Smith’s history—goes into enough detail to outline the boundaries of the Truby, Chambers, and Guthrie properties that were divided into residential lots. Since Apollo’s street names have changed since 1883, I’ve included the current street names in brackets:

“A considerable portion of the territory annexed to the borough by the act of March 31, 1859, became vested in John B. Chambers, who caused forty-five building, or in-lots, and twenty-one out-lots, to be surveyed and laid out, December 4, 1865. The portion of Canal Street  [Warren Ave] in this plot is thirty-three feet wide, and those portions of Church, Locust, Wood, State, and Union streets [Pennsylvania, Armstrong, and Terrace avenues, North 5th and N 4th streets] within it are, respectively, forty feet wide.

Adjoining and above this plot, extending to the alley between and parallel to Mill and Maple streets [N 2nd and N 3rd streets], and between Church and Canal streets [Pennsylvania and Warren avenues], is a smaller plot, laid out about the same time by James Guthrie, and below and adjoining it i.e., the Chambers plot, is another plot more recently laid out by Simon Truby, through which extend, nearly east and west, First and Second streets [N 6th and N 7th streets].”

—From Smith’s History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, page 241.


Based on Smith’s description, and a look at land deeds as well, we can outline the properties laid out by Truby, Guthrie, and Chambers after the 1859 annexation of Apollo:



Apollo in 1876. By this time, landowners Simon Truby (blue), John Chambers (red), and James Guthrie (green) had divided portions of their properties into residential lots, and most of these lots had already been sold. New owners’ names are listed in the rectangles; black squares indicate a home or building. Empty rectangles indicate still-unsold lots. Note that Apollo’s street names have changed since 1876:  Second Street is now N 7th Street, and First Street is now N 6th Street. North Street is now First Street; Maple Street is now N 3rd Street; Union Street is N 4th Street; State Street is N 5th Street; and Wood Street is Terrace Ave, which was only 2 blocks long at that time.


As the map above shows, by 1876, most of these “new” residential or retail lots had already been sold. When the deeds were drawn up, they noted, for example, that a property was “Lot 11 in the Truby Addition to Apollo” (this property is today a vacant lot at the corner of Armstrong & N 6th street); or a deed might note that the property is “Lot 4 in the Chambers Addition to Apollo.”  Some deeds call these lots the “Simon Truby Subdivision.” Modern deeds for Apollo properties no longer use this language. But some deeds even as late as the 1970s continued to note which “addition” a property belonged to, and which original landowner had surveyed the lot.

The 1876  map indicates that Simon had already sold more than 20 of his lots by 1876. If these were sold at approximately $200 each, Simon would have more than recouped the original $3,000 he laid out to buy his entire 156-acre property from Dr. James R and Hetty Speer in 1843. That’s a decent return on his investment!

Among the first residential lots Simon sold was lot 34 in the Truby Addition to Apollo Borough, which today is at 404 N 7th Street. In the 1876 map above, this lot is the narrow rectangle labeled “R O Hunter” at the upper edge of the blue-shaded Truby Addition. In 1891, R O Hunter and his wife Margaret sold this property to Oliver Artman. The photo below shows that house today, and the hand-drawn map below shows the house as it appeared in 1896.


Lot 34 in the Truby Addition to Apollo Borough, today at 404 N 7th Street, was owned by R O Hunter in 1876. (Photo by Vicki Contie, May 2016)


Apollo in 1896. This inset of an 1896 hand-drawn map of Apollo shows Lots 34 and 9 in the Truby Subdivision of Apollo, as described in this blog article. By 1896 (10 years after Simon Truby’s death) most the properties that he himself sold or intended to sell now had homes and families. (See the full version of this 1896 map at the Library of Congress)


Simon & wife Elizabeth Truby sold Lot 9 in the Truby Addition to 60-year-old widow Mary Eakman on May 28, 1872. More than 30 years later, another widow—Belle Truby Carpenter (Simon Truby’s daughter)—would end up living in this same house, and it would later be inherited by her son Charles Winchester Carpenter and his wife Jesse after Belle’s death in 1927. This property is located at 504 N 6th Street in Apollo (see photo below).


This property at 504 N 6th Street in Apollo was originally Lot 9 in the Simon Truby Addition to the borough. Simon sold the lot to 60-year-old widow Mary Eakman in 1872. Decades later, Simon’s widowed daughter Belle Truby Carpenter would end up renting and eventually owning this property, which passed to Belle’s son after her death in 1927. (Photo by Vicki Contie, May 2016)


In upcoming blog posts, look for more info about various houses in the Truby Addition to Apollo Borough. And coming soon: Get the scoop on Simon’s brother, Capt Henry Truby of Gilpin Twp near Leechburg.

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Catch you soon!




Simon Truby in the Books

Hunting for Hints in Regional Histories

A Man of Many Hats

Apollo’s Simon Truby (1806-1886) listed his occupation as Farmer in census records and historic maps. But dig into the local history books, and brief mentions of Simon Truby help piece together a broader picture of the man.

Man's Chip Hat

Man’s chip hat. Circa 1832. Made in U.S. of straw, silk, & grosgrain ribbon. Image courtesy www.lacma.org

Turns out, Simon Truby was a man of many hats. He was not only a prolific farmer but also a sawmill operator, a coal miner, a founding member of Apollo’s Lutheran church, a real estate developer, and a gentleman who sported a chip hat. Most of these details were found only in the history books, and not in any of the other records I’ve examined to date. And the details provide ideas for further investigation via other types of records.

We’re lucky that today many century-old regional history books—at one time hard to find—are now available and searchable online. But even when they’re on the web, these books can sometimes be tricky to find and clunky to search. And the info they provide is sometimes incomplete….for  example, strangely enough, none of the history books seem to mention that Simon Truby was a farmer. So always supplement book research with other types of records. I’ll include links to some of these books at the end of the article. Check them out and see if any of your forebears are mentioned in these western PA histories.

Local Ledgers: Earliest Traces of Simon

The earliest book I could find that mentions Simon Truby was not online but was housed at the awesome Apollo Area Historical Society. It’s a ledger book dated 1833….OK, it’s not a published history book. But it is a book with quotidian information about Apollo’s hard-working farmer. The unnamed ledger shows that Simon Truby was buying up plenty of oats and hay between April & October, and he’d hired a Captain Drum to haul some boards from Freeport, presumably via the old Pennsylvania Canal. That same book shows that Simon’s brother Henry was buying tea, coffee, and sugar—a man after my own heart. (Read more about Simon’s brother Capt Henry Truby of Gilpin Twp in Copycat Brothers?).

SimonTruby-1833 Ledger

This ledger book notes that Simon Truby purchased 29 bushels of oats, at 25 cents each, between April 30 and October 15, 1833. A bushel is about 32 pounds of oats. Simon also paid capt Drum 25 cents cash for hauling boards at Freeport. On August 3, 1833, Simon bought “Oats & Rye.” And on January 13, 1835, Simon bought 3 bushels of oats “for father.”

It’s not clear from these records where Simon was living in 1833, when he was 27 years old, although his purchases of oats suggest he was living or working on a farm. He was probably still a bachelor, since his first wife, Sarah Woodward, would have been only 14 at that time. In 1833, Simon hadn’t yet bought the 156-acre farm that straddled today’s Apollo and North Apollo. His name doesn’t show up in the 1830 census, so he may have been living with someone else, possibly his parents, John and Mary Truby, who were living in Allegheny Twp, as this region was then known. In fact, the Apollo ledger book mentions that Simon had purchased 3 bushels of oats “for father.”

Chip Hats: A Local Fashion Trend?  Another ledger book, dated 1838, shows that Simon had purchased a chip hat for 25 cents, possibly like the one shown above. A chip hat, fashionable in the early 1800s, is a bonnet or hat made of wood split into small slips, according to an 1898 encyclopedia http://bit.ly/1IWpZCp. Simon bought the hat in Warren, as Apollo was then known. The same page in the ledger book also indicates that someone named James Barr had purchased 2 chip hats and a pint of brandy earlier in the month.

Simon’s Sawmill

At some point around 1856, Simon Truby owned and operated a sawmill that was near the “old basin,” according to Dr. T. J. Henry’s History of Apollo (page 99). Fed by the canal, the basin was a favorite skating park. Water in the basin helped to power the nail factory/iron mill and possibly Simon Truby’s sawmill as well. From Dr. Henry’s book:

“The old basin was a reservoir extending from North Fifth to North Seventh Street, on the west of the present railway. It was from eight to fifteen feet deep. It was the supply for water-power for the rolling mill. The waste wier was at the northwest corner, where the unused water ran into the river. Simon Truby had a sawmill at this point. This was a favorite skating park. After the dam at Roaring Run broke in 1866 the water supply for the basin was impossible. The only remaining evidence of this vast pond is the depression in the `Y` at the foot of Seventh Street.”

Keep T. J. Henry’s description in mind when you look at this 1861 map of Apollo (below). Henry says the northwest corner of the basin (i.e., the upper left corner) has a waste weir (or spillway),  where Simon’s sawmill was located. Note the square labeled “S.M.” at this corner. Mightn’t  that stand for Saw Mill? I’m guessing yes.


Apollo in 1861. The location of the “old basin” is shown in blue. Based on T J Henry’s description in the History of Apollo, Simon Truby’s sawmill was likely located at the dot labeled “SM,” at the top of the basin.

The original map doesn’t seem to include a legend or key. Without T.J. Henry’s book, we might never have guessed what those letters stand for, and we’d never suspect a link to Simon Truby. That’s the power of multiple sources of information!

Powered by Coal

After the “old basin” washed away in the flood of 1866, the rolling mill needed an additional power supply, so it turned to coal. Lucky for the mill owners, Simon Truby’s property included coal banks along Sugar Hollow Road, underneath North Apollo (then known as Luxemburg Heights). Truby’s coal was sometimes used to heat the mill’s furnaces,  according to T J Henry’s history (pages 55-56):

“The works were run by coal. Part of the time this was taken out from the Truby mines under Luxemburg Heights. The coal was hauled in cars on a wooden railroad from the mines to the mill. Horses were used for this. At the time of the great epidemic of Epizootic among horses, the mill company was compelled to haul their coal with teams of oxen.”

[By the way, if you have a minute or 2, check out the link to the Epizootic (which means an epidemic among animals). In 1872, a terrible horse flu swept across the country in a matter of months, from the east to the west coast. It wiped out horses everywhere, or left them weak and tired, and it greatly harmed agriculture and travel. Clearly, it affected Apollo as well.  Who knew?]


A horse hauls coal along a rail system from mines in Lick Run PA, circa 1909-1932. Simon Truby’s coal-hauling operation likely looked similar. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

T.J. Henry’s History of Apollo is one of only 2 sources I’ve found to date that mentions Simon Truby’s coal banks. (The other source was a codicil to his will, dated 1879, but the value and productivity of the mines are not described.)I’ve tried without success to uncover more details about Simon Truby’s coal-mining operations.

Do you know anything about the location or other info about old coal mines along Sugar Hollow Road, below North Apollo? If yes, please comment at the end of this blog post. Would love to know more about this long-gone resource.

Incidentally, about the rolling mill: It changed hands several times over the decades.By 1866, it was owned by Rogers & Burchfield (they later opened a factory in Leechburg as well). As industrial innovators, Rogers & Burchfield sought ways to move away from coal power, and they began experimenting with using the region’s plentiful natural gas to heat mill furnaces. By 1874, “gas was substituted with success, the first use of this clean fuel in the United States,” according to Capital’s Utopia: Vandergrift Pennsylvania, 1855-1916 (Anne E. Mosher, 2004, Johns Hopkins University Press, pages 26-27).


Life Among the Lutherans


The Union Evangelical Lutheran Church, built in 1861 on First Street in Apollo, PA. This building no longer exists. Today Apollo’s Lutheran Church is located at 214 N Pennsylvania Ave. Photo courtesy of Apollo Area Historical Society.

Simon Truby was a charter member of the Union Evangelical Lutheran Church, a forerunner of today’s First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Apollo. Built in 1861, according to Smith’s History of Armstrong County Pennsylvania (Chapter 10), the original church was a wood frame structure, 38 by 50 feet, and located on First Street, a little down the hill from today’s Presbyterian Church.

The Lutheran church’s charter was dated June 2, 1862, and charter members included not just Simon Truby but also John H. Townsend, George Gumbert, J.F. Cline, and Isaac Townsend, Jr.

The Apollo Area Historical Society has a terrific web page about the Lutheran Church and other Apollo churches as well.

Incidentally, Simon’s second wife, Elizabeth Hill Truby (daughter of Jacob & Hannah Ulam Hill of Parks Twp) had also been raised a Lutheran. Her family belonged to the Lutheran Church of Leechburg (as mentioned in the Beers history of Armstrong County, PA, see here).


Real Estate Developer

As Apollo’s iron mill and other industries grew and expanded, so did the need for a nearby workforce. And of course, workers and their families needed to places to live. To accommodate these changes, the borough began to extend its boundaries to the north and to the east, into mostly undeveloped territory.

In 1859, a new annexation to Apollo more than doubled the size of the borough. The borough now encroached on lands owned by Simon Truby, John B Chambers, and James Guthrie, who recognized there was  money to be made by dividing their properties into residential lots and selling them. So that’s exactly what they did.

Three regional history books mention the new plots of land laid out by Truby, Chambers, Guthrie, and others: T J Henry’s History of Apollo, Pennsylvania (1916); J H Beers’s Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, Her People Past and Present (1914); and R W Smith’s History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania (1883, page 241). These books don’t go into great detail about these new residential lots. But by supplementing the book info with some research into the land records, you can piece together clues to the history of Apollo’s houses and neighborhoods.

Look for upcoming blog posts to learn more about these residential additions to Apollo borough in 1859. For instance, see Location, Location, Location.


Simon’s “Unmentionable” Farm?

Plenty of records—especially the Federal census and Simon’s will/estate documents—clearly show that Simon considered farming to be his primary pursuit (read more at Apollo’s Thriving Farm). But for unknown reasons, the Truby farm and Simon’s agricultural efforts aren’t mentioned in any of the history books I’ve found to date.

This demonstrates why it’s important to track down a variety of records when doing genealogical research. Don’t rely on a single type of source. With books alone, we’d never have known that Simon Truby was a farmer!  Still, the books provided details about Simon that I hadn’t found anywhere else.

Strangely enough, the Truby farm and Simon’s agricultural efforts aren’t mentioned in any of the history books I’ve found to date. …. Don’t rely on history books alone!

Check out the regional histories below to see if any of your forebears are mentioned. If you discover anything cool, please let us know by writing comments at the end of this article.


Regional Histories on the Web

Good luck with your research!

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Up Next:  Location, Location, Location – Residential additions to Apollo circa 1859

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