Mill Village grew up along a stream called Mill Run that flows west into French Creek about a mile away. Saw mills were built along the stream and soon houses began to collect nearby and a small hamlet formed. It was centered in rich grazing area where milk and cheese were produced.
The community came to be known as Milltown and remained so until major events occurred in counties south of Erie. In 1859 Col. Edwin L. Drake drilled into what he believed would be the “mother pool” of oil near Oil Creek south of Titusville. His was the first commercially successful oil well in the world. Within a few years another pool was found and the town of Pithole exploded into being. The whole region was alive with activity spurred by these discoveries. A railroad track was laid in 1862 for the Atlantic and Great Western RR and soon a depot was built to accommodate the trade and traffic.
A town was laid out and by 1870, Milltown was incorporated as a borough. The idea of laying out a town was conceived by William Kingen, and the survey was made by Judge Benson, of Waterford. The plat includes portions of the farms of Mr. Kingen, P. H. Colt, John Gregory, H. M. Range, E. K. Range, David McKinley, James Hunter, F. N. Reynolds, W. C. Ford, M. S. Edmunds and G. W. Gillett. The name at incorporation was changed to Mill Village. Mill Village had become a brisk town, with a population, according to the census of 1880, of 388. All of southeastern Erie County was reaping the benefits of the oil discoveries.
Other businesses grew up around Mill Village also, such as creameries, various mills, blacksmith shops, a drug store, a general store and grocery store, a jewelry store, furniture store, meat market, hotel, several churches, a school and a portable photograph car as well. Organizations such as the Knights of Honor and the Grange formed, with meetings in the various public buildings. The borough was on its way!
The boom ended quickly. First new railroad lines were built, eliminating the need for teamsters to haul it to railheads. Then it was found that the region did not supply enough oil. Other wells were sunk elsewhere and producing more, and finally in 1865, the price of oil dropped from $12.00 a barrel to 12.5 cents. The good times were over.
But Mill Village continued to grow, although slowly. In 1883 the Atlantic & Great Western RR changed its name, then leased the line to the New York, Lake Erie and Western RR for 99 years. Another earlier line that rolled through the northeastern part of the township was the Philadelphia & Erie RR and that line was leased to the Pennsylvania RR for 999 years.
Influential Women in Mill Village History
Various other businesses took the place of oil, and residents found employment in them. As the years passed women played an important part in the story of Mill Village. Ellen Roberts Bowman had been assisting her husband in his drugstore there from about 1870 until his death in 1880. With only experience as her guide, she continued to operate the business until she moved to Girard in 1892. Mrs. Bowman is recorded as having been the first woman druggist in the county.
In 1905, when cars first began to chug along the dirt roads throughout the county, a few brave women took up the new invention. One was Mrs. Guy Eldred who lived in the township and drove into town from time to time in her newfangled invention.
Another woman was quite influential in the borough. Viola Moore Cain was born in Cambridge Springs in 1893 and lived there until she was 11 when her mother died of tuberculosis. She was believed to have the disease as well and was sent to Laramie, Wyoming to live with an aunt. She became quite a horsewoman there and when it was time for advanced education she returned home, graduating from Edinboro Normal School in 1913. Viola went from teacher to mother after her marriage to her first husband, Harry Swartzfager. Her second husband was Jack Cain. Once her daughter Ruth was old enough, Viola went back to work, first at the Boston Store, then volunteering to do some police work, putting herself in jeopardy. She moved several times more and by 1947 she was widowed and living in Mill Village with her daughter and son-in-law. It was after World War II and some of the young men about town were causing trouble. The men in the borough seemed unconcerned by it, so Viola found herself accepting the position of “High Constable.” She made the newspapers, and also brought peace to the community. When she retired from that job after two years, she returned to teaching.
Today Mill Village continues to be a peaceful community. The Pennsylvania RR gave way to Conrail and those tracks have since been removed, along with the bridges. The traffic light is now a warning signal and the bustle of traffic is mainly east and west on Center Street, known also as U.S. Route 6. Only a few buildings remain of the oil industry’s glory days and these have been adapted for other use.
The main streets of Mill Village are Center Street (U.S. Route 6), which goes east and west, and Main Street going north and south. North of the borough Main Street is called Flatts Road. Going south it becomes Mackey Hill Road. On South Main Street on the west side is a large building identified as the Andrews Block. It was built by Dr. William Andrews in 1895 for use as a hospital. All three floors are used for housing.
The building on the south east corner of the main intersection was originally a hotel. In 1917 it was adapted for use for the fire department and in use as such until a new fire hall was built in 2006. At one time the World War II Honor Roll stood in the green space in front of this building. Currently, this green space with trees and plantings are the location of the annual Memorial Day commemoration to veterans of all wars. A wreath is placed there by the American Legion of Waterford. Soon the memorial will be moved to the new firehall on Flatts Road.
On the north west corner is Abercrombie’s Antique Store, built about 1922. A hotel stood on this site also until razed by fire. Abercrombie’s is open most Saturdays and Sundays.
A creamery operated for many decades in the borough. The original building was replaced in 1921 by the large gray cement block building. Today it is adapted for use as apartments.
Although there is no community park, the borough does have a softball field in the square and baseball fields near the elementary school.
The railroad tracks that pass through town have been updated and now carry frequent trains hauling coal and hardwoods.
The churches of Mill Village are a Methodist Episcopal and a Presbyterian.
The Methodist Episcopal Church dates its beginning prior to 1810, when Erie Circuit was a four-week circuit of about 200 miles, and composed of twenty-three appointments. In 1810, Rev. Joshua Monroe was in charge. The most prominent of the appointments were Brush’s meeting house in West Springfield, Erie County; Leech’s, on Little Shenango; Mumford’s near Meadville; Pit Hole; Mrs. Mitchell’s, in Venango, and Ford’s on French Creek Flats, in Erie County. This latter class formed the nucleus from which sprang the church in question. The preaching was held in the dwelling of Capt. Robert King, and subsequently in that of one of the Fords. The first church building was erected in 1850, about one-half mile south of the village. In five or six years this building was destroyed by fire, when the church edifice in the village was erected, which was enlarged in 1878. The appointment for a long time was on the Waterford Circuit, and from that circuit it was placed on the Mill Village Circuit at its formation in 1865. H. M. Chamberlain is present pastor.
The Presbyterian congregation was organized by Rev. J. M. Gillett, then pastor of the church at Union Mills, in 1870, with fifteen members. The building was erected in 1872, costing $2,800. The present incumbent is Rev. M. Wishart, who has the charge at Waterford also.
The assessed valuation of the borough in 1883 was as follows:
- Real estate, $75,469
- 44 Cows, value $1,039
- 3 Oxen, value $150
- 44 Horses and Mules, value $3,256
- Personal Property, $4,445
- Value of Trades and Occupations, $5,020
- Total Assessment for County Purposes, $84,934
- Money at Interest, $13,716
Mill Village Herald
The Mill Village Herald was the only newspaper of the borough. It was started by C. C. Wright in January, 1876. It was purchased in October, 1882, by J. S. Ross, who, at that time, became its proprietor and editor.
Businesses in 1883
The recorded manufacturing establishments were:
- 1 cheese factory, built in 1870 by H. B. Ames
- 1 planing mill, one stave mill
- 1 cider and jelly mill
- 1 steam saw mill
- 3 blacksmith shops
- 1 wagon shop
- 1 shoe shop
The business houses were:
- 1 drug store
- 2 groceries
- 3 general stores
- 1 hardware store
- 1 millinery store
- 1 furniture store
- 1 meat market
- 1 jewelry store
- 1 paint shop
- 1 portable photograph car
A good hotel was kept on the temperance plan, and there were two churches in the borough. Among the most creditable buildings were the Union Schoolhouse, which furnished accommodations for two schools on the first floor, and the second story of which was used as the town hall of both the Borough and LeBoeuf Township. The Knights of Honor had their hall in Kingen’s building, the Grangers in the hotel, and there was a public hall in Beardsley’s building.