North Newton Township is one of the more rural townships in Cumberland County. It is a second-class township containing 31.28 miles of township roads and 2,546 people, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
Newton Township was created from Hopewell Township in 1767 and was subdivided into North Newton Township and South Newton Township in 1929. North Newton Township is bordered by the Conodoguinet Creek to the North, which separates it from Upper Mifflin and Lower Mifflin townships. The Borough of Newville and the Big Spring Creek are its border to the East, which divides it from West Pennsboro. The Ritner Highway (U.S. Route 11) to the South, and Southampton and Hopewell townships to the West, complete North Newton Township’s boundaries.
The most traveled roads in the township include the Ritner Highway (S.R. 11), Green Spring Road (S.R. 641), Newville and Shippensburg roads (S.R. 533), Steelstown Road (S.R. 4006), and Ridge Road (S.R. 4004). The first township-owned road to be paved was Cemetery Road, which was done prior to 1964.
Oakville is a village in the western part of the township. Its name is taken in honor of a grove of oak trees in the area at the time. The little town owes its existence to the Cumberland Valley Railroad. The C.V.R.R. was established in 1835 and Oakville became a stop along the rail line. The train picked up grain, delivered the mail, and transported passengers. In 1873, the Methodist Episcopal Church opened a camp meeting grove about one mile west of Oakville near the rail line. One Sunday in August 1875, six thousand passengers were transported by train to the camp making it the C.V.R.R.’s most popular excursion site up to that time. The church camp meeting was an annual event for many years.
Due to the C.V.R.R. station located at Oakville, business ventures sprang up and prospered. Two mercantile stores and two grain warehouses existed.
In 1867, Henry Manning purchased a warehouse property beside the railroad and ran a grain and forwarding business. In the 1870’s, John K. Beidler came to Oakville and built a store property and a grain business. The store was passed on to his son-in-law, John E. Mickey, who was the husband of Elizabeth M. Beidler. The grain business was passed along to his son, Earl J. Beidler, who operated it until poor health forced him to retire.
John J. DeWalt was a carpenter; a carriage and wagon builder who conducted his business in Oakville during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. John’s son, Raymond E. DeWalt, founded DeWalt Corporation, a manufacturer of power tools. He invented the radial arm saw, which revolutionized woodworking. John’s daughter, Anna DeWalt, married Martin Luther (M.L.) Beistle. After working as a salesman and entrepreneur in Pittsburgh, M.L. Beistle and his wife eventually settled in Oakville to run their business from her father’s two-story wagon building shed. This ambitious gentleman founded the Beistle Company, which has been in business for over 110 years and is today the world’s largest manufacturer of paper decorations and party goods. The company moved to Shippensburg in 1907 and its headquarters are now located just outside of Shippensburg near exit twenty-nine of Interstate 81.
In 1932, John Failor built the grain warehouse at the corner of Red Shed and Oakville Roads in order to take advantage of shipping by rail. Mr. Failor owned and operated the Hopewell and Mt. Vernon Mills.
The Oakville Grange was organized in 1910 and met for a time in the second floor of one of the general stores. The grange was active for several decades.
Taverns were important in the early 1800’s. They provided rest and refreshment to the weary traveler. “Sign of the Indian King” was the name of a tavern run by Nicholas Stough in 1802 and later by Col. John Stough from 1813 until his death in 1839. This tavern was a popular stop for those traveling on the “turnpike”, as Route 11 was then known. The community of Stoughstown, where this tavern is located, was named for Col. Stough. The tavern later served as the residence of Allan & Mary Ellen Williams for over 40 years. The Williams’ returned the property to its history of hospitality as they operated “Field and Pine Bed & Breakfast” between 1987 and 2012.
In 1801, Robert Steel had a tavern named “Steel’s Arms” located on what is now known as Steelstown Road.
Three creeks flow through North Newton Township. Mt. Vernon Mill sat by the Conodoguinet Creek just off Rt. 641 along Mountain Road. John Failor owned this mill. The Big Spring Creek was home to the McCracken Mill, which is thought to have been built in 1784. Queen Victoria of England purchased 50 barrels of flour from this mill in 1877. The Queen was quite pleased with the quality of the flour and as a result ordered another 100 barrels from this mill. Through the years the mill has had a series of owners. In 1898, G. Arthur Rea purchased the mill and operated it until after World War I. At that time he sold it to Harrison Felix and George Lindsay.
Mr. Felix became the sole-owner in 1937 and ran the mill until he sold it to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1939. The state razed the mill in 1960. The Green Spring Creek was a neighbor of two businesses at the corner of Bullshead Road and Rt. 641. During the 1800’s a blacksmith’s shop and the Bull’s Head Hotel once occupied two corners of this intersection.
Other businesses have also been scattered throughout the township over the years. In the early 1900’s lime kilns existed in various areas of the township. A roller skating rink, operated by Bill Wright on Rt. 641 at Irishtown (better known today as Green Spring), was a popular spot with the young people of the mid-1900’s. Not too far from there, a store existed at the corner of Long Road and Rt. 641. John Fyler attached an ice cream parlor to the store at one point. The store burned down and a house now stands upon its foundation. Fickes Silo Company, Inc., located on the Doubling Gap Road, operated from November, 1954 until February, 1996 supplying silos in several Mid-Atlantic States. Kough’s Oil Service is partially located in North Newton Township and has served the area since 1957.
Near Newville on Rt. 533 is a Pepsi Cola distribution plant. This was originally the site of Cloverdale Spring Company’s bottling plant. It owed its existence to the discovery of an unusually pure spring found quite by accident in 1865 while prospectors were drilling for oil. In 1919, a three-mile underground pipeline was laid from the source of the spring to the present location of the plant. The company was purchased by Allegheny Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in 1961. Eventually the Cloverdale line of sodas ceased to be made and Pepsi products replaced them. A new plant was built in 1964 beside the old building. Pepsi used this as a bottling facility for some time.
Just down Rt. 533 from the Pepsi plant is the Newville Lions Club Fairgrounds, the site of the annual Lions Club Community Fair, the Cumberland County Ag Expo and summertime tractor pulls.
One-room schoolhouses populated the township in the early 1900s. Two one-room schoolhouses were located in Oakville. One housed the primary grades first through eighth. The second was for those who went on to pursue a two or three year course of study of high school.
Other one-room schoolhouses were established at Stoughstown, Green Spring, along Steelstown Road, and on Bulls Head Road. When Newton Township was subdivided in 1929, the one-room schools were consolidated and a new larger school was built at Oakville. This school closed in 1963. For a time it was used by the Capital Area Intermediate Unit. Today it exists as a residence. Several one or two-room schools still serve the township in the form of Mennonite schools. They can be found on Fish Hatchery Road, Nealy Road, Running Pump Road and Windy Hill Road. The one public school in the township is Newville Elementary School, which is situated along Steelstown Road and is part of the Big Spring School District.
North Newton Township is home to six churches. Oakville United Methodist Church was founded May 4, 1806 when Christian Newcomer first preached on the farm of Jacob Rhodes. Jacob Rhodes gave some land from his farm for the first church to be built in 1816. The church has been located in Oakville since 1859 and a new structure was built in 1901. A new sanctuary was added in 1961. The church built a separate Christian Education and Youth Development Center in the spring of 1999.
Green Spring First Church of God was founded May 2, 1852. The present sanctuary was built in 1964 and an educational wing was added in 1971.
A small white wood-frame building, built in 1884 and first owned by the German Baptist Church became the home of Green Spring Brethren in Christ when they purchased it in May of 1928. In 1950 the church built an addition, which doubled its size. The current brick sanctuary was erected in 1962, which was added on to in 1988 and 1989. The Christian Life Fellowship Center was erected in 1995.
Newville First Church of God was originally established in Newville in 1837. A new church sanctuary was erected in North Newton in 1979 and included an all-purpose building. An educational wing was added in 2016.
Before the Oakville Mennonite Church was built in 1986, its membership met at the old brick church in Stoughstown. Since approximately 1979 they held services there every other Sunday alternating between Stoughstown and a church in Perry County.
The most recent congregation to form in North Newton Township is the Christian Bible Fellowship Church at 49 Stamy Road, Newville. In 2001, they built a 6300 square foot chapel on a hill and opened their doors to worshipers.
Today only memories of the Cumberland Valley Railroad exist in North Newton Township. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company bought out the CVRR in 1919 and Conrail eventually owned the rail line. Conrail has since abandoned the line and took up the rails and ties and destroyed the bridges. In May of 1995, Conrail donated the railway corridor to the Cumberland Valley Rails-to-Trails Council, Inc. (CVRTC), which has developed it as a multi-purpose recreational trail running from Shippensburg to Newville. The CVRTC continues to expand the trail east toward Carlisle.
While agriculture is still the prime land use, businesses have expanded around Newville and out into the various areas of the township. Business ventures run from industrial to produce to the service industry and sole proprietorships of many types. A few farms have been subdivided into neighborhoods and many others have divided lots off here and there for family.
North Newton Township has a long and rich history in the many interesting and enterprising people, past and present, who call it their home.
Written by Bonnie L. Myers
Research by Bonnie L. Myers & Phyllis Kough
Special Thanks to Fred Shriner and the Newville and Shippensburg Historical Societies