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"McKean: The Governor's County"
Rufus Barrett Stone
Chapter 12
The Name Bradford

Submitted by PHGS Member
Mike Henderson

"McKean: The Governor's County", Rufus Barrett Stone. Lewis Publishing Company, Inc. New York, 1926.


The name Bradford has come down to the city in logical if not inevitable historic sequence; first as the name of the township in 1827; forty-five years later, in 1872, as the name of the borough, and seven years later, in 1879, as the name of the city, both the city and the borough being a part of the original township.

Prior to 1827 the settlement of the valley was between Kendall Creek and the saw mills at and near State Line, otherwise called Tuna. For some years the settlers of this mill district had felt the need of the advantages of a separate township. But under the law the courts for the county were held at Williamsport. As soon as the courts were opened at Smethport, John F. Melvin, one of the mill proprietors, presented a petition bearing the signature of himself and fifteen other, asking for a division of Ceres Township and that the west end be set off in a separate township to be called Bradford. Melvin's Mills was a New Hampshire village from which Melvin had come and it was situated in the town of Bradford. The sixteen signatures to the petition probably constitute the population of the valley at that time, and the list is therefore interesting as a registry of the pioneer residents. A facsimile of the petition is printed in connection herewith. The population increased slowly. Fourteen years elapsed before Mr. Melvin applied for the establishment of a post office. There was another name which he held in esteem. It was the name of Amos Kendall, Postmaster General from 1835 until 1840, and the master spirit of Jackson's administration. The ancestral seat of the Melvin family was in Dunstable, New Hampshire, and it was the birthplace and home of Amos Kendall. The country was ringing in praise of this distinguished statesman when John F. Melvin asked that his name be given to the first post office. For the reason doubtless that so many offices had already been thus honored it was necessary to distinguish this one and the distinguishing word was suggested by the brook, and so the post office as well as the stream took the name of Kendall Creek. Nathaniel Edson was the first postmaster, the first office was at the Melvin homestead. It was moved to the Fuller House, which stood at the northwest comer of East Main Street and North Kendall Avenue.

About 1837 Col. Levitt C. Little came with his two step-sons, P. L. Webster and C. D. Webster, and established himself at the forks of the Tununguant in the log-house which had been built by Dr. W. M. Bennett, somewhere about No. 21 Boylston Street, as the agent of the United States Land Company. About the agency a little settlement gathered and began to be known as Littleton and interchangeably Littleville. Daniel Kingsbury, who was a stockholder of the Land Company, made a purchase from it in 1851, of an area of 60,000 acres in and around Bradford. He came to Bradford, established headquarters, offices and bank, and proceeded vigorously to develop this immense tract. The growth of his business and increase of population at this new center made it imperative for him to have postal facilities, and the office was accordingly moved in 1854 from the Fuller House to the Old Red Store, and the name necessarily changed. The name Kendall Creek could no longer be appropriately continued, nor could the name Littleton be taken without discrimination if not offense against Melvin and the settlers of the East End. The population to be served was not alone that of Littleton, but that of Tarport or Kendall Creek as well, in fact of the whole township, and so the office was given the name familiar to the people chosen for the township by its pioneer citizen. This served, of course, to settle the name upon the village and so the common name for the post office, township and village was Bradford. It does not appear that the name of Littleton was considered. If it had been it would have been linked in confusion with Littleville, which was also used. The resulting muddle rendered the adoption of either name impracticable. This confusion of names appeared in an election case determined in the Supreme Court. In 1870 Charles C. Melvin, son of John F. Melvin, and himself a leading citizen of the community, was a candidate for the office of County Treasurer, and was elected by an apparent majority of thirty-two votes. His election was contested by his opponent. Among the grounds of contest it was alleged in the petition "That the place of holding the general elections in the district of Bradford is fixed by law at the school-house in Littleville, (Note 1) and that the sheriff in his proclamation designated the school-house in Littleton as the place for holding the election. Whereas the election . . . . was held at a place more than half a mile distant therefrom, to wit, at a school-house on the opposite side of the Tununguant creek to the place known as Littleton." The Supreme Court held that the election in Bradford Township was consequently invalid (Melvin's Case 68 Pa. 333). Such disclosure of confusion was not only a little discreditable to the community, but it was also calculated to confirm Bradford as the proper and logical name for the village. Consequently, in 1872, when it was determined to have the village made a borough, there was no other name thought of. There was no contrariety of opinion.

The petition in reciting the boundaries of the proposed borough refers to the road now called East Main Street as the road "running from Bradford village to the village of Tarport." Moreover, it prays the "village of Bradford" be incorporated as a borough "by and under the name, style and title of Bradford," and the first signature it bears is that of P. L. Webster, a step-son, chief assistant and active representative of Col. Little. It is followed by the signatures of thirtynine others of the fifty-seven freeholders listed in the petition as residing within the limits of Bradford. The signers are as follows in the order of their signature, and they are followed by the names of the listed freeholders whose signatures are not affixed to the petition:

P. L. Webster J. W. Brennan
J. R. Pomeroy M. V. Switzer
P. T. Kennedy A. W. Newell
F. W. Davis A. C. Switzer
T. J. Melvin D. W. Frazier
G. D. H. Crooker F. P. Wentworth
J. Moorhouse Ezra Holmes
A. DeGolier Con Lane
John Colby W. J. Merrow
A. K. Johnson James Broder
James P. Abbott E. D. Foster
George A. Crooker T. Parker
Enos Parson M. W. Wagner
John Evans W. Lord
Wm. Martin P. Woodward
J. W. Hilton P. H. Abbott
E. O. Osgood J. H. Matteson
George Sanford D. C. Hewitt
Samuel Emery Mrs. Hayhee
R. W. Green H. W. Brown.

The following names in the List of Freeholders are not signed to this petition:

R. W. Davis Sands Niles
W. Walker George Bramlee
J. M. Tait A. T. Stone
Benj. Dikeman Mrs. E. Hayter
S. E. Young Mrs. S. Walker
T. W. Cole S. M. Tibbetts
W. Quinlan H. S. Baker
E. B. Wilson Andrew Balton.
Mrs. McKean

This List of Freeholders is not known to have been heretofore published in connection with the history of Bradford. Having been accepted by the court as veritable it is presumably an approximately complete list of the heads of families in Bradford just prior to the opening of the oil field. The concluding lines of the .Petition and appended signatures are herewith presented in facsimile in the exact order in which they appear on the petition. Next to portraiture the autographic signature of these pioneer villagers represents them in a most characteristic way. Written by their own hands they become interesting mementos.

The petition, bearing the approval of the Grand jury, having been presented to the court, its decree was entered thereon December 19, 1872, creating the Borough of Bradford.

These proceedings are of record in the Recorder's Office in Miscellaneous Book D, at Page 490.

It followed that in its own name the Borough of Bradford was incorporated as a city in 1879.

Signatures to Borough Petition Naming Bradford

Note 1: Act of March 5, 1841. Prior to that the voting was at the house of Leonard S. Foster.-Act April 23, 1829, P. L. 421.

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