In his new book, “Bush Hill Sidelights,” former Smethport resident Courtney Gustafson preserves the legacy of the Bush Hill Farm, east of East Smethport, that dates back almost 187 years, as well as highlighting some sidelight events from the Smethport area.
The book, published by Mercersburg Printing, focuses on the history of Elisha and Hannah Bush who settled on the farm in October 1828, and their descendants through 1986. During that time, four generations of the Bush family lived there. Richard J. Foltz of Sharon purchased the farm that year to settle an estate.
Gustafson dedicated this book to Foltz. He said, “Not only did Foltz receive the 430 acres, he acquired the original farm house full of historic documents revealing the beginnings of the farm. And, as it was his nature to do so, he began restoring the farm grounds and researching and categorizing documents revealing a rich history of the people and events that occurred on Bush Hill farmland.”
As years passed, Gustafson became friends with Foltz. It was through their conversations that Gustafson learned that much of the farm’s history had been left in the house’s library when Foltz purchased the property. The two had discussed writing a book about the farm, and Foltz had already organized some of the material. Unfortunately, he died in 2010, and the book was never written.
RJ’s son, Jeff Foltz, was aware of the plans for a book and provided documents to Gustafson for his research.
Using extensive research sources, such as those materials, and interviews, photos, legal documents, maps and newspaper articles — many from the Hamlin Memorial Library’s archives — Gustafson fills the 150 pages with the history of the farm and chronology of some other Smethport area events.
Among those events are the following: Nov. 10, 1846: original log cabin built on the Bush Hill Farm; Sept. 2, 1850: school house built on the farm; March 1, 1894: Holmes and Gilfillan established; May 12, 1921: women first permitted to serve as jurors; Sept. 5, 1929: grandstand and field house built at McCoy Stadium; and May 14, 1936, when oil at $2.35 a barrel spurns the Bradford fields.
A 1960 graduate of Smethport High School, Gustafson spent much of his childhood in the Bush Hill area, enjoying the fresh air, hiking and hunting with friends and finding remnants of old buildings, which inspired him to research the farm’s history. “I grew up in this area with friends and family, and I had an attachment for the farm,” he said.
One section tells the story of “Bonnie Castle,” a retreat built on the farm and financed by Henry Hamlin for his daughter, Emma Hamlin McCandless. Photos show the original cottage built in the early 1900s on one of the twin points of the Bush Hill Farm. This cottage was maintained on the farm until 1936 when Jane Ware, granddaughter of Hannah and Elisha Bush, refused to renew the lease for Ralph Burdick.
According to Gustafson, “At that time, Burdick purchased the old Toban farm on Prospect Hill from Henry Kleisath, and the cottage was dismantled at its original site and rebuilt at its present site on Prospect.” The cabin then became ‘Burdick’s Bungalow,’ later occupied by the late Smethport attorney Bob Apple and currently owned by Bill Lake of Smethport.
One chapter is devoted to Ware, who in 1938, at the age of 75, began her college career at Ohio State University - WPA night adult school studying psychology, philosophy and current events. She gained notoriety as being OSUs oldest co-ed in history.
A chapter is dedicated to the construction of the new “Roosevelt Highway,” U.S. Route 6, in the early 1930s. Winning the bid in 1931 for grading the Bush Hill shortcut of the highway between Smethport and Port Allegany was the George S. Maller-Weidner Company of Medina, Ohio, at a cost of $95,977.37. According to the contract terms, work had to be completed by July 1, 1933.
In other chapters, Gustafson lists the Bush family obituaries and the family’s genealogy.
On a more recent note, Gustafson includes information on his family, the Bush Hill Gustafson descendants and the 50-year reunion of his SHS Class of 1960.
A fisheries research biologist, Gustafson retired in 2004 from Mount Parnell Fisheries in Mercerburg.
Copies of “Bush Hill Sidelights” are available in Smethport at the Old Jail Museum, The Hub and The Courtyard for $15.00.
The book may also be purchased from the author at 1306 Brooklyn Road North, Fort Loudon, Pa. This cost is $15 plus $6 for postage and handling. All books will be shipped by Priority Mail.