Elias Knupp, Somerset & Westmoreland county gunsmith

Introduction: The 1953 edition of Gluckman's "American Gun Makers" puts Eli Knupp in Bakersville, Somerset County as someone who made percussion rifles. The Eli Knupp entry in the 1953 book is probably based on input from David J. Weimer, who is acknowledged in the book for making "indirect contributions". In the 1962 book "Two Centuries of Brothersvalley Church of the Brethren", David J. Weimer indicates that Elias Knupp was a gunsmith in Bakersville, and describes Elias's workmanship as good. I wonder if Mr. Weimer confused Elias Knupp with the gunsmith Charles Monroe Knupp of Bakersville when he reported that Elias Knupp was a Bakersville resident. I suspect, based on what you can read below, that the Knupp property where Elias lived had portions in Cook and Donegal townships of Westmoreland County and a portion in Jefferson Township of Somerset County. By 1906 Mr. and Mrs. Elias Knupp were living in the town of Somerset, Pennsylvania.

The following portion of the 1860 Walker map of Somerset County shows the location of Bakersville relative to the Westmoreland County line and the town of Somerset. Elias Knupp lived a significant part of his life in Westmoreland County just west of the county line, at a location very near the upper edge of this map fragment:

The following diagram illustrates how Elias Knupp is an uncle of the gunsmith Charles Monroe Knupp and is a brother-in-law of the gunsmith Jonathan Dormayer. The diagram also illustrates how Jonathan Dormayer is related to the gunsmiths Peter Dormayer and David Dunmyer.

1838: The tombstone of Elias L. Knupp indicates he was born in 1838. On his web page about the Ritter Cemetery, David Harrold reports that his great-great-great grandparents Jacob and Catherine (Brailler) Knupp had a property that was located in Cook and Donegal Townships, Westmoreland County and Jefferson Township, Somerset County, and reports that their home was near the west end of the abandoned turnpike tunnel. Mr. Harrold also reports that Jacob and Catherine were the parents of the gunsmith Elias Knupp, and were the parents of the Barbara Knupp who married Jonathan Dormyer. Jacob and Catherine Knupp are buried in the Ritter Cemetery (40.11617399, -79.24641599) on Felgar Road in Cook Township of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. This cemetery is located 1.2 miles northwest of the western mouth of the abandoned Laurel Hill tunnel of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

1838-1917: The following excerpt is from Volume 2 of the 1975 book "The Jacob Knupp and Catherine Brawlier Clan".

1850: The following excerpt is from the 1850 census of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. It shows 12-year-old Elias Knupp in his father Jacob's household.

1857: The following portion of the 1857 Barker map of Westmoreland County identifies the location of the residence of Jacob Knupp, just barely in Donegal Township and near the source of Indian Creek:

1860: The following excerpt from the 1860 census of Somerset Township shows Eli Knupp apprenticing with his gunsmith brother-in-law Jonathan Dormayer in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The Dormayer-like style of rifles Elias Knupp made makes it clear that he learned more than blacksmithing from Jonathan Dormayer.

1860: The following composite image is from the 1850 agricultural census of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. I believe it represents the farm of Elias Knupp's father Jacob Knupp.

1861: A different Eli Knupp was born in Cook Township, Westmoreland County in 1861, died in 1918, and is buried in Somerset County.

1867: The following image is from the Cook Township portion of the Beers 1867 "Atlas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania". It shows the residence of the gunsmith Elias Knupp near the border with Somerset County (i.e. Laurel Hill). Nearby is the residence of J. Knupp. As an educated guess, this J. Knupp residence may be the residence of Elias's father Jacob. As another educated guess, the "H. Reter" residence to the northwest may be the site of the Ritter Cemetery, which is said to have been on the farm of Henry Ritter. On this map, both Knupp residences are on the Cook township side of the road.

Circa 1869: Taken together, the 1870 and 1880 censuses indicate that Elias Knupp had a daughter named Mary Knupp who was born circa 1869. The following excerpt is from Volume 2 of the 1975 book "The Jacob Knupp and Catherine Brawlier Clan".

1870: The 1984 book "Pennsylvania Gunmakers: A Collection" reports that Eli is enumerated in the 1870 Cook Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania census as a 33-year-old individual living with his 30-year-old wife Harriet and his one-year-old daughter Mary. The 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania" puts Eli in Mount Pleasant in 1870, as a gunsmith who was living with his infant daughter and his wife Harriet. One book or the other is wrong about the location of Eli's residence, and I suspect it is the 2017 book.

The following item is from the 1981 book "Some of the ancestors and descendents of Dewalt Ankeny", and identifies Elias's wife and children:

1870: The following excerpt is from the 1870 census of Cook Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. It identifies Elias Knupp as a gunsmith.

1872: Elias's father Jacob died June 2, 1872.

1874: The 1880 census indicates that Elias Knupp had a son named S.E. Knupp who was born circa 1874. The 1981 book referenced above indicates that his name was Samuel Knupp, and he was born on May 20, 1874 and died in 1945. His tombstone at the Christ Casebeer Lutheran Church Cemetery in Somerset County, Pennsylvania states, "SE Knupp 1874-1945". The following excerpt is from Volume 2 of the 1975 book "The Jacob Knupp and Catherine Brawlier Clan".

1876: The following image is from the Cook Township portion of the 1876 "Illustrated Atlas of Westmoreland Co. Pennsylvania". It locates the residence of E. Knupp in Donegal Township, just south of the border between Donegal and Cook townships. Elias's residence was at or near the source of Indian Creek, and roughly 1.4 miles south of the source of Powder Mill Run.

1880: According to the 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania", in the 1880 census of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, Elias Knupp was enumerated as a gunsmith. As you can see below, that is incorrect. In the 1880 census, Elias Knupp is enumerated as a farmer.

1880: Click here to review the details of the Donegal Township farm of Elias Knupp that are recorded in the 1880 agricultural census. As an educated guess, Elias may have owned some of his deceased father's property. It is possible that Elias Knupp's property was in both Cook and Donegal Townships, Westmoreland County and Jefferson Township, Somerset County. Elias's residence was near the western mouth of the abandoned Laurel Hill tunnel, which is in Donegal Township, about 143 yards from the Cook Township line and about 727 yards west of the border with Jefferson Township, Somerset County.

1884: The following composite image is from the July, 1934 issue of the "Turnpike News". It indicates that construction on Knupp's tunnel began in February of 1884, and confirms that it became the (now abandoned) Laurel Hill tunnel of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

1884: The following article from the August, 1939 issue of the "Turnpike news" tells what life was like in 1884 in the vicinity of the site of the Laurel Hill tunnel, which was originally known as Knupp's tunnel. In the text, "1844" is a typographical error and should read "1884". Pennsylvania didn't have a deer season until 1869.

1884: The following extract from the April 9, 1884 issue of the "Somerset Herald" newspaper mentions Knupp's tunnel, and borrowing from from the April 5, 1884 issue of the "American Contract Journal" includes the statement, "Over in Westmoreland County, a force of 200 men are hammering away at Knupp's tunnel, which will be the connecting link between that county and Somerset when the road is complete." That many men converging on Elias Knupp's farm would have been a big event in his life.

1884: The following item is from the May 7, 1884 issue of the "Somerset Herald" newspaper:

1884: A first-hand account exists of nine men being killed near the western mouth of the tunnel by falling rock, with three more men severely injured. The account describes the house of Elias Knupp as being located near the west end of the tunnel, at some distance greater than 150 feet. The account also states that the nine men were buried on May 30. Here is another description of the accident from an undated issue of the "Turnpike News":

1884: The following item is from the May 31, 1884 issue of the "Indianapolis Journal":

1884: The following item is from the June 5, 1884 issue of the "Christian Cynosure":

1884: The following item is from the June 6, 1884 issue of the "Perrysville Journal":

1884: The following composite image is from the July 1, 1884 issue of the "Mount Pleasant Journal" newspaper:

1884: This news item from the July 9, 1884 issue of the "Somerset Herald" newspaper mentions Knupp's tunnel.

1884: Here is a November 28, 1884 letter that mentions Elias Knupp in the context of obtaining a railroad right-of-way at the western end of the tunnel.

1887: The following item from the November 30, 1887 issue of the "Somerset Herald" newspaper mentions property in Jefferson Township adjoining property of Eli Knupp.

1891: The following two items are from the 1895 book "Report of the State Commissioners of fisheries, for the years 1892-93-94", and show that Elias Knupp was involved with fish stocking projects and had a Somerset County post office address. (It is not unusual that the post office served across a county line.) Kuhn is located at 40.091491, -79.217751, which is 4.1 miles north of Bakersville on modern roads, and which is about 594 yards south of the eastern mouth of the now abandoned Laurel Hill Tunnel. Elias Knupp is referred to as "Preacher" in his obituary, which is included below.

1893: The following item is from the 1895 book "Report of the State Commissioners of fisheries, for the years 1892-93-94".

1894: The 1943 case "Blair et al. Appellants, v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission" in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania mentions a September 1, 1894 deed from Mr. & Mrs. John H. Uhl to Elias L. Knupp for a 198 acre tract in Jefferson Township.

1895: The following item is from the 1896 book "Report of the State Commissioners of fisheries, for the year 1895", and shows that Elias Knupp was then served by the Ligonier post office. Ligonier is 9.6 miles north of the western mouth of the abandoned Laurel Hill Tunnel.

1896: The 1896 Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission mentions "...Knupp's tunnel , on the abandoned line of the South Pennsylvania railroad..." Knupp's tunnel formed the basis for the now abandoned Laurel Hill Tunnel of the Pennsylvania turnpike.

Circa 1903: A circa 1903 newspaper article provided by a Knupp family member states, "Two of the handsomest lots of trouts seen in this place for many years were brought in by Henry Mull of Bakersville, and Eli Knupp whose home is at the western approach of the Laurel Tunnel. Mr. Mull brought his lot in on Saturday and they filled a large tin pail, many of the fish measuring between 12 and 18 inches in length. Monday afternoon Mr. Knupp brought his catch in and they filled a small tub. Two of the trout weighed an even pound and both were over 16 inches long. His entire catch varied in size between 8 and 18 inches. The gentlemen did not find ready sale at the price asked 80 cents per pound, but they disposed of them all before returning to their homes." I suspect that Henry Mull was the brother of Susan (Mull) Larimer, who lived with and had a child the gunsmith Augustus Enders, and whose residence was near the eastern mouth of Knupp's tunnel.

1903: The 1943 case "Blair et al. Appellants, v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission" in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania mentions a March 17, 1903 deed from Mr. & Mrs. Elias L. Knupp to Amos W. Knepper for a tract of 44 acres and 80 perches that was recorded on April 17, 1903. All but 6.32-acres of this tract was part of the previously mentioned 198-acre Jefferson Township tract deeded to Elias L. Knupp on September 1, 1894.

1903: The following excerpt is from the January 1, 1903 "Individual and Business Directory of Somerset County, Pa." It shows that Elias L. Knupp had already moved to the town of Somerset.

1906: This excerpt from Volume III of the 1906 book "History of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania" indicates that Anna M. Knupp, daughter of Eli and Harriet Knupp, was married to Edwin S. Sechler in 1906, and refers to Eli and Harriet Knupp as residents of Somerset, Pennsylvania.

1910: The following item is from the July 20, 1910 issue of the "Ligonier Echo" newspaper. It identifies Eli Knupp as a Reverend.

1910: The following excerpt is from the 1910 census of Somerset borough, Somerset County. I suspect it was meant to show Elias and Harriet Knupp living in a house they owned, but in a household headed by their son-in-law Edwin S. Sechler.

1913: The 1913 topographical map which follows shows the terrain in the vicinity of the source of Indian Creek, where Elias Knupp lived. It also shows the proximity of the source of Indian Creek to the Somerset County Line. Also shown is the proximity to the villages of Kuhn and Bakersville. On modern roads, it is 5.3 miles from the western mouth of Laurel Hill Tunnel to the village of Bakersville.

1914: According to the 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania", the April 15, 1914 issue of the "Somerset Herald" newspaper mentions that Harriet Knupp has died of pneumonia at age 72. She is buried in the Husband Cemetery, Somerset, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. What appears to be a footstone there states, "Harriet 1841-1914".

1917: The obituary of Elias Knupp was published in the April 11, 1917 issue of the "Somerset Herald". It states, "Eli Knupp, aged about 76 years, widely known as 'Preacher' Knupp, died unexpectedly at 6 o'clock Monday morning at his home on West Union St. Mr. Knupp was a native of Westmoreland County and following his marriage became a resident of Jefferson Township, where he resided near the tunnel on the abandoned South Penn Railroad, which bears his name, until his recent removal to Somerset, 6 or 7 years ago, since when he lived a retired life. The deceased was up and about on Sunday and early in the evening was seen on the streets in the business section of town. His death was due to a sudden attack of heart trouble."

1917: Elias L. Knupp is buried in the Husband Cemetery, Somerset, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. What appears to be a footstone there gives his name as "Elias L." and indicates he was born in 1838 and died in 1917. The Husband Cemetery is located at 40.01487884, -79.08364198.

1917: According to the 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania", the estate inventory of Elias Knupp includes the contents of a tool shop that were valued at $27.50, the contents of a blacksmithing shop that were valued at $6.00, a new shotgun valued at $5.00, and lumber valued at $2.00, with a total estate value of $2,450.00.

Work product

  • Click here to see a rifle with the name of "Eli Nup" on the barrel and the initials of Charles Monroe Knupp on the lock plate.
  • I have seen photos of a rifle by Elias Knupp (signed "Eli Nup"), that had a lock plate with a tail like the lock plates of Jonathan Dormayer rifles. The patch box had a Jonathan Dormayer style finial.

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