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Haven History: Lock Haven’s first loser

By Lou Bernard in Arts & Entertainment

November 17, 2011


Lou Bernard/Eagle Eye

You know that guy. Everyone knows that guy. He’s the guy who wants to be popular, but can’t quite make it happen. He’s the guy who runs for class president and gets no votes. Holds a party and nobody shows. You don’t dislike him, exactly, you just don’t want to hang out with him.

That guy is not a new type. People like him have been around for centuries. Back as far as the early days of the community, there were guys like that.

Guys like John Moorhead.

John Moorhead came to Lock Haven in 1834, when it was first founded. He settled in the historic district, and made an effort at becoming part of the new community. Though he tried, he couldn’t quite make it work—Moorhead never really was accepted the way he wanted to be.

He became friends with Jerry Church, the founder of Lock Haven. Jerry was the other kind of guy—The kind who everybody wants to know. Jerry Church was popular and well-liked, though he never made any effort.

In his journal, Church describes Moorhead as “A very large, portly-looking man, rather the best borer in town, and a very clever man.” Though he clearly liked and respected his friend, Church couldn’t help coming in first in any sort of competition, deliberate or not.

Moorhead attempted to enter politics at the town or county level. Though he ran for several offices in the area, he never quite got enough votes, and was always left out—Sort of the Ross Perot of early Clinton County.

When Clinton became a county in 1839, carved from parts of Centre and Lycoming, Moorhead wanted to build the courthouse. He went so far as to pass a law allowing the commissioners to place the courthouse wherever they preferred. With his business partner Robert Irwin, he built the building at 221 East Main Street, which still stands. Moorhead offered this building to the county, to become the courthouse. The county turned him down, choosing instead to build a different courthouse on land that Jerry Church had donated, about where Robb Elementary School now stands. And as an added insult, they hired John Moorhead to design and build the new one.

Business partner Robert Irwin, to Moorhead’s chagrin, did manage to win political offices. He was the first county treasurer in 1839, and later went on to serve as coroner and prothonotary. Moorhead, however, never got enough votes for any of these.

In the early days, Jerry Church deeded the land between Water Street and the river to Moorhead and Irwin, as well. Through that entire strip, they ran a ferry service, taxiing people across the river. Moorhead lived to see this become obsolete, as well, when the Jay Street Bridge was built and put the ferry out of business.

Moorhead did have one victory, however, and it was an important one. Clinton County would have never been created without him.

When Jerry Church founded Lock Haven in 1833, he immediately began attending meetings of the State Legislature. He wanted his city to be the county seat of a brand-new county. He proposed that parts of Centre and Lycoming be combined to make this new county, known as Eagle County. The legislature barely listened, dismissing the whole idea as one of Jerry’s crazy plans. So Jerry enlisted his friend Moorhead to campaign with him, and they spent three years planning. Finally, they changed the name to Clinton County, after New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, and Moorhead proposed it to the legislature. They voted for it enthusiastically, without ever realizing it was the same property that they’d been voting against for six years.

Moorhead died on a cold Thursday morning, December 21, 1853. His obituary described him as “A leading and useful citizen” and “A man of great energy, strictly honest in his dealings, courteous and obliging.” It said,”His decease has cast a shadow of gloom over the whole community.”

Moorhead is buried in Highland Cemetery, far up on the hill, overlooking the city he cared for. A tall gravestone marks the spot. Finally, after all his life, John Moorhead came out on top.



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