When the French entered Northwest Pennsylvania, they found an Indian village where we now call Waterford. Traces of this village still remained in the 1860’s. The first French explorers regarded LeBoeuf Creek as the main stream of French Creek and originally called both by the same name. When the French built Fort LeBoeuf and later Fort Presque Isle, they also cut a wagon road between the two forts, which is still referred to as the Old French Road. This Fort and its important role in commerce led to the development of the borough and township of Waterford.
While the troops were delayed at LeBoeuf in 1794, Mr. Ellicott, one of the Commissioners, laid out a town at that place, to which the name of Waterford was given. This was nearly a year previous to the laying out of Erie by the same gentleman. The plan made by Mr. Ellicott was confirmed by the Legislature in 1795. On the 25th of July, 1796, a sale was advertised to commence in Philadelphia of lots in Erie, Waterford, Warren and Franklin. During the same year, Ellicott located the Susquehanna and Waterford Turnpike, from Curwensville, Clearfield County, to Lake LeBoeuf, by way of Franklin and Meadville. April 10, 1799, an act was passed appropriating 45,000 to open a road from near the Bald Eagle’s Nest, in Mifflin County, to Waterford.
The following prices were paid by the Harrisburg & Presque Isle Company for lots in Waterford, at the public sale held by the State Agents in Carlisle on the 3d and 4th of August, 1796:
August 23, 1800, James Naylor was appointed Commissioner for the sale of lands in Waterford, in place of D. McNair, resigned. February 16, 1805, John Vincent succeeded Naylor, who had died. He gave bonds in the sum of $5,000 to perform the duties of the office faithfully. Charles Martin was appointed in the place of Mr. Vincent, on the 29th of March, 1809.
Immediately upon the announcement of peace with the Indians some of the soldiers concluded to settle in or near Waterford, and emigration began to flow in from the Eastern counties and New England. Lieut. Martin, the commander of the post, was among those who became permanent residents, as well as James Naylor, one of the State Commissioners. The former opened the first tavern on the site of William C. Smith’s tanyard, and the latter the first store. Capt. Martin Strong came on from Hartford County, Conn., in the spring of 1795, and eventually located on the crest of the ridge north of Waterford, 850 feet above Lake Erie, where he remained until his death in 1858. He was a surveyor and laid out a good share of the farms and roads in Waterford, McKean, Summit and Greene Townships. Amos Judson migrated from New England in the same year and started a store. He and Col. Seth Reed came up Lake Erie together in a small coasting boat. The arrival of other settlers was as follows: In 1796, John Lytle, from Northumberland County; Robert Brotherton, from Franklin County; John Lennox and Thomas Skinner; in 1797, John Vincent, from Northumberland County, and Wilson Smith, from Union County, both of whom walked the whole distance from Pittsburgh; in 1798, Aaron Himrod and the Lattimores; in 1801-02, Capt. John Tracy, William Boyd, Sr., and son David, John and James Boyd, with their three sisters, and James Anderson; in 1804 or 1805, James and William Benson; in 1809, Eliachim Cook, who had previously settled in McKean Township; in 1799 or earlier, George W. Reed; in 1812, John Henry and Levi Strong; in 1813, the McKays; in 1814, Simeon Hunt; in 1816, William Smith, William Vincent and Judge Hutchins; in 1822, I. M. White; in 1824, Seth and Timothy Judson; in 1826, Daniel Vincent. The Boyds and Mr. Anderson were from Northumberland County; Mr. Hunt was from Orange County, Vt.; William Smith and wife came over from Wayne Township; Mr. White is a native of Windham County, Vt., and the Judsons were from Connecticut.
In 1815, Rev. John Matthews, Dr. William Bacon, Henry Woodworth, Henry Colt, John Way and Archibald Watson were residents of the village, but the precise date of their arrival cannot be given. Dr. Ira Barton, though one of the most venerable citizens, did not settle in Waterford until 1840. Mrs. Smith, the wife of William Smith, is worthy of mention as having attained to the fourth greatest age of any woman of whom a record has been preserved in the county. After the loss of her husband, she returned to Wayne Township, where she expired in the summer of 1875, at the rare age of ninety-nine. John Vincent settled first on a small stream which flows into French Creek in the eastern portion of the township, where he remained two years before becoming a resident of the village. On the completion of the turnpike, he took charge of the toll gate about a mile above Waterford and afterward went into the salt trade, which made him wealthy.
The first death was that of a boy named Rutledge, who died of wounds received in the Indian troubles in 1795, and was buried just outside the fort. The first white child was John R., son of William Black, who was born in Fort LeBoeuf, August 8, 1795. The second birth was that of Katharine, daughter of Aaron Himrod and wife, in 1799. Robert Brotherton built the first sawmill in 1797, and the first grist mill in 1802, on the site of the present Brotherton Mill, near Waterford Station. He also kept a tavern from 1815 to 1817, on the lot occupied by his son’s residence, the old building, which is still standing, being moved back when the new one was put up. This tavern was also conducted for a time by Mrs. Hannah Pym. The second sawmill was set in operation by James Boyd on Boyd’s Run, west of the borough. Mr. Lattimore started a mill soon after Boyd’s, the date of both having been very early. After Martin left his tavern, it was kept by Wilson Smith. George W. Reed opened a tavern in 1810, on Union Street, in the rear of Judson’s block, which burned down. Thomas King, who had kept a public-house opposite Dr. Judson’s residence, corner of First and Walnut streets, commenced building the stone hotel in 1826 and opened it in the winter of 1827. On the discontinuance of Naylor’s store, Stephen Wolverton was sent over from Erie by R. S. Reed with a stock of goods and remained in business in the village for several years.