History of Chestnuthill and Middle Smithfield townships

Part 3 of a series of articles commemorating the 175th anniversary of Monroe County

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

Chestnuthill Township

Chestnuthill Township, located in the western portion of Monroe County, was named for its once-abundant chestnut trees, which lined many roadsides and dotted the rolling countryside of the area. Many long-time residents of the township know that the large hill one summits when driving into McIlhaney along Route 115 is known as Chestnut Hill. Unfortunately, the chestnut trees were killed off during the Chestnut Blight in the early 1900s.

Although European settlers had been calling the area that is now Chestnuthill Township home for many years prior to the French and Indian War, the date given as the creation of Chestnuthill Township is September 20, 1763.

At the time of the township’s formation, the name Prospect Hill was also considered. This 1763 date is the first time that written documentation appears regarding the township. The Quarter Session Docket of Northampton County shows that Abraham Smith was appointed constable of Chestnuthill Township on that date. When the township was originally formed, it was much larger that it is today. In 1763, Chestnuthill Township included an area that consisted of present-day Eldred, Polk, and Ross townships.

George Hood (Hoeth) is believed to be one of the earliest European colonial settlers of Chestnuthill Township. He purchased land west of the village of Brodheadsville from the Moravians of Bethlehem. In fact, the first township elections were held in his home. Other early Monroe County family surnames include (but are not limited to) Altemose, Kresge, Huffsmith, Hoeth, Serfass, Brong, Gearhart, Brodhead, Brown, Everitt, and Weiss. Many of the early settlers of Chestnuthill Township travelled to the Christ Church in Hamilton Township for worship.

One of the most essential roads in Chestnuthill Township was the Wilkes-Barre and Easton Turnpike. The turnpike, originally known as the Sullivan Trail, was built in 1808 and was a main thoroughfare through the township, linking Monroe County with the Wyoming Valley. Today, the Wilkes-Barre and Easton Turnpike is known as State Route 115.

The first school in the township was a double house that stood where the Gilbert Cemetery is located today. The teacher, Mr. Kotz, lived in one side of the house; the school was located in the other side. In 1881, a post-secondary school, called Fairview Academy, opened its doors. This institution was for students interested in pursuing their studies beyond a general high school education. The school was established to prepare both men and women for the teaching profession, but courses were also offered to those interested in pursuing careers in business. Fairview Academy closed its doors in 1938.

The largest village in the township, Brodheadsville, was once known as Shafer’s. The village was renamed on June 28, 1852 in honor of Charles D. Brodhead, a Stroudsburg resident who moved to Chestnuthill Township and established a post office.

According to the 1900 census report, Chestnuthill Township boasted 1,398 individuals. In 2000, the number increased to 14,418.

The early place names of Chestnuthill Township:
  • Brodheadsville
  • Effort
  • Gilbert
  • McMichael’s
  • Merwinsburg
  • Pleasant Valley
  • Sugar Hollow

Middle Smithfield Township

Middle Smithfield Township was parceled out of the northern area of Smithfield Township and was part of Pike County until 1814. The township was created by the Northampton County Courts on August 12, 1794 and was officially named on November 11 of that year.

Many early settlers of Middle Smithfield Township has surnames that are still well-known in Monroe County today; these families included (but were not limited to): Jayne, DeWitt, Shoemaker, Coolbaugh, Overfield, Michaels, Place, Turn, Hanna, and many more.

One of the first families to settle in Middle Smithfield Township was that of Manuel Gunsaules. Gunsaules was of Spanish descent, and he, along with his wife and nine children, lived along the Bushkill Creek.

Rudolphus Schoonover built the first gristmill whose operation preceded the American Revolution. Schoonover’s son, Benjamin Schoonover was the area’s first blacksmith and built the first foundry in the township in 1824. John Heller was responsible for establishing the first tavern, while Adam Overpeck built the first tannery, and John Turn worked as a cabinet-maker and the area’s undertaker.

There are numerous churches and cemeteries in Middle Smithfield Township. The oldest place of worship in the township dates to 1814 and was a small barn located on John Coolbaugh’s property. A minister from neighboring Shawnee-on-Delaware traveled north to deliver the sermons.

Many of the early roads in Monroe County were an extension and improvement of Indian paths. One of the earliest roads in Colonial America was an Indian path which closely followed present-day State Route 209 through Middle Smithfield Township. This early path, called the Minsi Path, connected southeastern Pennsylvania to Kingston, New York. Early European colonial settlers Nicholas DePui and Daniel Brodhead used this rough road to transport goods to northern markets in the Hudson Valley. State Route 209 remains a major thoroughfare through the township today.

The Delaware River serves as the northeastern boundary of the township. Because bridges were costly to build, several ferries crossed this major eastern Pennsylvania waterway in the 1800s, linking Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The ferries were wooden barges that had to be large enough to hold not only individual passengers, but also large stagecoaches and wagons with teams of horses. Daniel Decker ran Decker’s Ferry as early as 1744. Dimmick’s Ferry operated from the 1880s until 1932.

In the 1880s, Middle Smithfield Township boasted the largest barn in Monroe County. Cuban-born Juan F. Portunda, a gentleman farmer and cigar-maker from Philadelphia, owned 165 acres of farmland, and his barn was situated in the center of his property. This barn, known as the “Central Barn,” was a three-story structure that housed not only animals, their feed and the living quarters for the farm help, but also an array of the most modern shredding machines as well.

The census report for Middle Smithfield Township in 1840 listed 1,144 citizens. By the year 2000, 11,495 persons called the township home.

The early place names of Middle Smithfield Township include:
  • Bushkill
  • Coolbaughs
  • Dimmicks Ferry
  • Echo Lake
  • Frutchey’s
  • Resica Falls
  • Shoemakers (AKA Sandhill)
  • Wooddale

This is only a brief history of these two important Monroe County townships. To learn more about these townships or Monroe County’s history, please contact the Monroe County Historical Association at (570) 421-7703.