The oldest house in Lycoming County unfolds a story to behold
Editor’s note: The story of Muncy Farms will be in two parts beginning with the acquisition of the land from its original owner, Samuel Wallis to the present owners, the Barlow family as told by historian, Robert Webster.
A master at storytelling, well-known historian, Robert Webster presented a program to over 100 people who attended a program sponsored by the East Lycoming Historical Society last Monday night in the social hall of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Hughesville. He spoke about the history of Muncy Farms, a special piece of Lycoming County real estate that is located across from Grizzly Imports and the Lycoming Mall. This well known tract of land was acquired 243 years ago in 1769, seven years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
When he was a young teacher supplementing his income, Webster recalled working on the large estate that was built there, and still remains. He was hired as a painter, and this is where his inspiration came to capture the land’s eventful history. He would work inside the home during the winter months on the mansion and outside on the grounds during the summer. There was a lot of work to be done on the property, then known as the Brock Estate. Along with the spacious house, there was a large barn, a farm house, equipment sheds, a storage house, carriage house, and a coal barn. “There was lots to do,” said Webster.
Because of its history, Webster was fascinated with the property. He read everything he could find on the estate and surrounding properties. “Imagine, 243 years of history occurred there. As we worked on this beautiful piece of property, I could feel the history.” According to history, high profiled people and land barons from Europe and America walked through its front doors. “Imagine stagecoaches and carriages driving through the circle with important people in history entering and touching the same door as I did,” described Webster. In the estate there was an office, beautiful woodwork, and important business transactions that went on in that room. “If those walls could talk,” said Webster who was immensely inspired to learn the complete local history of Muncy Farms. It is the oldest home on record in Lycoming County.
From Indian raids to building railroads, canals, and highways, land speculators and even bankruptcy influenced the estate that still remains today as private property. “One of the oldest iron bridges in the United States is on this property,” Webster announced. The property was originally owned by Samuel Wallis, a born Quaker in 1730 who came to the area in 1768 to survey land. He was employed by the colony of the Pennsylvania Frontier and had a gifted talent for business with a desire to acquire and own land. He liked it here and decided to build his estate here in Lycoming County where he raised six children after he married at the age of 40. Recorded history estimates the land to have been close to 7500 acres when Wallis purchased it, possibly stretching far beyond Montoursville and Loyalsock Creek.
In 1772, the county seat was in Sunbury at Fort Augusta as part of Northumberland County when Muncy Township was established. “This included the land on the north side of the Susquehanna River,” explained Webster. Muncy Township was the first township established in Lycoming County and others evolved from this such as Muncy Creek. At this time the Wallis estate took on the name Muncy Farms or Muncy Manor. Livestock and grist mills were the main trades until 1776 when the American Revolution began. Although there were no active military targets here in the frontier, there was “nasty activity” from the Indians who sided with the British against the American settlers.
Two large raids took place throughout the Muncy Valley. The first one was in July 1778 when Muncy Farms was charged by savages and much destruction took place. “The people were warned and fled to the river. Wallis’s home became a routing point to Fort Augusta. It was known as the Great Runaway,” noted Webster. Eventually the people came back to rebuild. Two forts were built – the Old Fort Muncy (located behind Old Fort Nursery) and Fort Brady which was named after John Brady who built a home here for protection.
One year later in July 1779 another raid occurred. Indians attacked Captain Brady who was killed in the ambush as well as Hughesville’s first settler, David Aspen. “The Wallis Home was about the only building still standing, although heavily damaged,” added Webster. The shell was built of mountain stone. Wallis rebuilt, formed a school where the Lycoming Mall now stands, and the Quakers built a Meeting House. Prior to this services were held inside Wallis’s home. A Lutheran congregation formed the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Muncy Creek Township which is now the oldest church in Lycoming County.
Before he went into the land speculation business as an agent with Holland Land Company, Samuel Wallis operated the farm with his brother. Settlers started to acquire large parcels of land. Wallis even carried the mortgage of James Wilson who was appointed First Justice of the Supreme Court by George Washington. Shortly yellow fever took the life of Wallis and his estate had to be settled in the courts. Two executors were appointed to bring it together and it was discovered that Wallis had overextended himself along with Wilson. His debts were far greater than his assets. “So the Court began liquidating. The greatest potential for value was the mansion and the land,” Webster added. “His dream was gone.”
The property was sold at a sheriff’s sale in April 1802 and did not bring near its value. The family was left destitute. “They had to leave with little compassion shown by area residents. The question always remains. Which side was his loyalty during the American Revolution?” asked Webster regarding the financial befall of Wallis.
…to be continued next week.