Independence "Not Far Away”
The picturesque hamlet of Independence, secluded in the gently rolling hills of Allegany County, is a haven for those seeking the peace and quiet of a rural setting. While the name associates naturally with the Fourth of July the serenity will not be disturbed by exploding fireworks. One family, with a summer cottage here, enjoys the peace and spends each Forth of July at their camp.
By Bob and Ruth Dennis
Transcribed by Crist Middaugh
To the “Sunday driver” cruising the country roads in the northeastern part of the township of Independence (Allegany County) it would seem to be nothing more than a crossroads surrounded by farmland, some lush with any and cultivated crops and others acres dense with the undergrowth of years of abandonment.
There is a white country church, a neatly-kept cemetery, a few hoes, and a big sand gravel pile. A green and white sign tells the uninitiated that this is Independence, the hamlet that bears the same name as the township.
To the older residents Independence is memories of days when it was a bigger and busier community, to the children who go to school in Andover (farther down the road they would go to Whitesville) Independence is lazy summery days riding bikes, picking wild strawberries, fishing and just enjoying life.
To the people who work in Wellsville and other larger communities, Independence is a good place to raise a family and besides “it’s always been home”.
For the summer people like the Charles Clark family of Sherrill, Independence is the best place to be during July and August especially on the Fourth of July. (This is no celebration but the @1 of spending that holiday in Independence is felt by the Clarks and their three teenagers.)
The township of Independence which contains Whitesville, Spring Mills and a few crossroads communities was formed in the 1821 from the townships of Alfred and Andover. In 1859 there were 1,126 people in the township. The 1869 atlas shows 555 males, 571 females, 32 working oxen, 726 milk cows, and 324 horses in the township.
Green’s Corners (Independence post office) in the northeastern part of the township was founded in 1821 by Luther Green who established a store. The 1869 atlas who’s a J.C. Green who was a general dealer in “groceries and provisions and also postmaster” and a A. Barney, physician and surgeon.
A later history shows Green’s Corners or Independence Post Office with a school, post office, two general stores, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, cheese factory and 20 homes.
The cheese factory was started in 1879 by Decatur M. Clark and in 1893 the factory made 102,000 pounds of cheese.
The post office was located in the general store but was moved from the one store to the other in the community depending on the political part in the White House. Somewhere in the years past the community dropped the name Green’s Corners and became Independence.
The Seventh Day Baptist Church was formed in 1834 with a membership of 18 that grew to 21 “the next day”. It was organized by Seventh Day Baptists from Alfred who were settling in the area. By 1844 it had a membership of 188 and the present church was built at a oct of $800. The church property was valued at $3,000.
Oil and gas were found in the area and wells and pumps are part of the landscape. However much of the gas and oil are now low producing in volume and although Linford Potter, unofficial historian for Independence has, with his son, developed several new oil and gas wells on his farm. Residents have free natural gas and either gas lease or gas storage checks.
It was the promise of free natural gas that brought Lester Hess to Independence from Lancaster, Pa. That and the farmland that was productive but less expensive than the land in the Pennsylvania Dutch country.
He wasn’t the first Mennonite farmer to the community. Mylon Lefever was there about two years before the Hess family was looking for a place to settle and discovered the Lefevers family on the plateau acres.
Since then several more Mennonite farm families have settled in or near Independence as others have in West Union, Troupsburg, Ulysses, Pa and other nearby rural towns.
They have brought much of the farmland that was beginning to be abandoned back into production with their modern agricultural practices. Hess has 90 acres planted to corn and was beginning the hay harvest using large equipment that he leases from a Wellsville machinery dealer.
The Mennonites have also kept the church active. As the population declined the Seventh Day Baptist congregations on Saturdays (their day of worship) have dwindled about 12 to 15. The Mennonites rent the church for Sunday worship and their congregation are 50 or more.
The two groups are intermingled in the community life which is based on old fashioned neighboring.
Mr. and Mrs. Milford Bassett, both 80 and both in wheel chairs with broken hips, attest to the help in the community.
“You have to be laid up before you know just how good it is to live in Independence. People are just wonderful and help you day or night if you need it,” Mrs. Bassett said.
Stephen Clarke agreed saying, “We don’t need neighbors as much as we did when we had threshing crews, but folks still help out.”
This spirit is why the Richard Clarks remain in Independence even though he is working in Wellsville. “It is a good place to live,” Mrs. Clark explained as she stopped her volunteer work for the Bassetts to watch her three children pose for the photographer.
Some think that Independence will fade away in the next 10 years. Looking around the crossroads community and hearing the stories of yesteryear the contrast seems to point to this future.
Asked what happened to the “people who used to live here?” Bassett said, “they’re dead.” Mrs. Bassett added “we like to think they’re in heaven”.
A second glance at Independence shows the long fields worked with tractors, the families like the John Scotts who came to the community as a place to live away from the tension of the day’s work as a program computer, the clean air, the scenic beauty and the friendliness that pervades and it is not so certain that Independence’s days are doomed.
The roadsigns on the crossroads shows it is fives miles to Andover, six miles to Whitesville, “only 12 miles to Wellsville”.
As Stephen Clarke expressed it “Independence is not very far way.”
Farming is the only industry in Independence and Mennonites have revitalized the agricultural scene in recent years. Lester Hess, right, inspects corn shoots with the aid of Lyle Edwards of Bolivar, dairy enterprise salesman for Agway. Hess has 90 acres of corn.