This photo of a Bedford County rifle is courtesy of the NRA Museums, NRAmuseums.com and is included here with their express permission.
This project documents the early gunsmiths of Somerset and Bedford counties, Pennsylvania, and the distinctive firearms they produced. A key objective is to provide more detail than can be accomplished in a print publication. This project is intended to be a collaborative effort with gun collectors, historians, genealogists, etc. who may have documentation or pictures to share regarding this important part of Pennsylvania long rifle history.
The following links take you to the four main catagories of information that are indexed on this web page:
This project encompasses every individual who, correctly or not, has been identified as a gun or accoutrement maker, gun repairer, or gun designer who worked within the present bounds of Somerset County and Bedford County during the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s. By including individuals who may have been incorrectly identified, the attributions can be scrutinized.
Somerset and Bedford counties adjoin one-another, as shown by this 1872 map. In the late 1700s, the area that is now Somerset County was part of Bedford County, as shown by the 1792 Reading Howell map of Pennsylvania.
I used to be a gun collector, but sold my collection as part of downsizing for retirement. This project is a way to scratch the gun collecting itch without assembling another physical collection. I've been interested in Pennsylvania long rifles ever since my father held his Somerset County father's muzzle loading rifle to my shoulder when I was four or five years old and explained how to use the sights. My childhood interest in black powder muzzleloaders was further piqued when my maternal grandmother gave me the Korns family powder horn. Standing on my maternal grandfather Korns' multi-generation family farm (where I lived when my earliest memories were formed) one can see the farm of the gunsmith Benjamin Troutman in the distance near the Bedford County line, and one can see the farm of the gunsmiths Adam Lepley II & III next door. These Somerset County gun making families are intertwined, and it's no surprise that the gunsmiths Benjamin Troutman and Adam Lepley II helped to settle the estate of my fifth great grandfather Michael Korn, or that Lepley descendants married Korn descendants. This project started with studies of the Lepley and Troutman gunsmiths. Considering these influences, it is probably no surprise that Somerset and Bedford County rifles are my favorite Pennsylvania muzzleloaders, and the gunsmiths who made them are my favorite old time Pennsylvania gun makers.
Before I retired in December of 2020 I was a mechanical designer. The primary focus of my career was rotary seals for oilfield applications.
Antecedent research on Bedford and Somerset County gunsmiths & their guns
1920s: Antique Dealer Clarence "Judge" Davidson (1877-1962) began collecting Bedford County long rifles in the late 1920s.
1924: As far as I can tell, there are only two photographs of rifles made by gunsmiths who worked in the Bedford and Somerset county region in John G. W. Dillin's groundbreaking antique gun collecting book "The Kentucky Rifle", which was first published in 1924.
1930s: Calvin Hetrick (1890-1985) and R. Armstrong Farber (1913-2002) began collecting Bedford County rifles in the early 1930s. Calvin Hetrick organized and compiled records at the Bedford County Courthouse as part of the Historical Records Survey (HRS) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This gave him the opportunity to document gunsmiths identified in early Bedford County tax records. (The HRS was part of the original 1935 WPA appropriation.)
1940: The book "American Gun Makers" by Arcadi Gluckman and L. D. Satterlee is the original published source of much of the fundamental date-related information pertaining to early Bedford and Somerset County gunsmiths. This remarkable book was first published in 1940 and was expanded in 1949 and 1953. In the forward to the 1953 edition, Gluckman acknowledged Calvin Hetrick's contributions to the first edition.
1947: Calvin Hetrick's list of Bedford County gunsmiths was published in the January 23, 1947 issue of the "Bedford Gazette" newspaper.
1953: Somerset County, Pennsylvania gun collector and historian (and my distant cousin) David J. Weimer (1897-1965) is one of the individuals Gluckman and Satterlee thanked for "indirect contributions" to the 1953 edition of "American Gun Makers".
1958: Calvin Hetrick and R. A. Farber are featured in the article "Collectors Have Prize Specimens" in the February 14, 1958 issue of the "Bedford County Press". Pictures that accompany the article show some of the antique Bedford County style longrifles in their collections.
1959: George Shumway included Calvin Hetrick's illustrated study of Bedford County rifles as a new chapter in the fourth edition of John G. W. Dillin's book "The Kentucky Rifle" in 1959. With this, and his previous contributions to "American Gun Makers", Calvin Hetrick played a key role in highlighting the unique attributes of the Bedford school of rifle making and documenting the history of its practitioners.
1960: Henry Kauffman's illustrated 1960 book "The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle" repeats and builds on information from "American Gun Makers" and includes many pictures of antique Somerset and Bedford County long rifles. The July 12, 2002 obituary of Bedford County rifle collector R. Armstrong Farber in the Carlisle "Sentinel" indicates that he helped to write the content that book incorporated on Bedford County rifles. I suspect that Dillin's and Kauffman's books are at least part of the reason that muzzleloader rifles from Bedford County, Pennsylvania are sometimes illogically referred to as "Bedford County Kentucky rifles".
1962: H. Austin Cooper's 1962 book "Two Centuries of Brothersvalley Church of the Brethren 1762 - 1962" has a short treatise on Somerset County long rifle makers that was written by David J. Weimer.
1971-1982: Vaughn E. Whisker (1907-1992) published lists of Somerset County gunsmiths in 1971 and 1982 issues of the "Laurel Messenger". In 1973 George Shumway reprinted Calvin Hetrick's 1959 material as the booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers" and added new material on the gun maker Peter White.
1983-2017: Vaughn E. and James B. Whisker published a 12-page booklet titled "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" in 1983. They continued their research and published the book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties" in 1991. James B. Whisker and Larry W. Yantz published a now-rare follow-up book titled "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntington, & Somerset Counties" in 2001. James B. Whisker also published books titled "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" and "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania" in 2017. Several individuals wrote articles about specific gunmakers in the newsletter of the AOLRC, and perhaps in other publications.
The publications referenced above are the premier print resources about Bedford and Somerset County rifles, and the gunsmiths who made them. I hope to honor the authors and their research by adding what I can to the baseline of knowledge they established. This necessarily involves paraphrasing facts they published, just as their publications (like most history publications) paraphrase facts found in earlier writings.
The content below is organized into three categories. The first category (immediately below) is biographical information about gun and accoutrement makers, gun repairers, and gun designers from Somerset and Bedford counties. The second category is a collection of pictures that show firearms, accoutrements, and components they created. The third category is photographs of Bedford and Somerset county gunsmith tools. The fourth category is is miscellaneous related information, including maps of where some of the gunsmiths of Somerset and Bedford counties were located, and are buried.
L. Dietle, January 14, 2023
Information about Bedford and Somerset County gun or accoutrement makers, repairers, and designers
Here are links to biographical information about individuals who, correctly or not, have been identified as an old-time gun or accoutrement maker, gun repairer, or gun designer who worked within the current bounds of Bedford and Somerset counties. Hit the "refresh" button when you visit these pages to ensure you are seeing the latest version.
These codes are incorporated to the right of some of the links:
★ = The gunsmith worked in the flintlock era, or is known to have made flintlock rifles.
✓ = I have heard of or seen at least one firearm produced by this gunmaker.
? = I wonder if this individual really was a gunsmith, or really worked as a gunsmith within the present bounds of Bedford or Somerset county.
Photos of antique firearms, components, & accoutrements made by Somerset and Bedford County, Pennsylvania residents
Here are links to pictures of items, including antique black powder firearms, that were produced by Bedford and Somerset County residents. Hit the "refresh" button when you visit these pages to ensure you are seeing the latest version. Most of these photos were contributed by the owners of the items, who have helped with identification. If you own a muzzleloader that was made by a Somerset or Bedford county gunsmith, please consider donating pictures. PLEASE DO NOT SEND COPIES OF PICTURES FROM BOOKS AND OTHER WEBSITES; I CANNOT USE THEM.
Bedford and Somerset county gunsmith tools
Misc. Pennsylvania long rifle history
Here are links to misc. long rifle-related information, including maps of where various gunsmiths from Somerset and Bedford counties were located and are buried.
Go to the Korns.org home page