I was born in a village called Frenchville, approximately 27 miles northwest of State College (Penn State), Pennsylvania Frenchville is the red star on the map).
An overview of the old Frenchville in where I was born is found in a short article entitled "American Gallic - The Mystery of Frenchville" (pdf, 1.7 MB) which appeared in 1974 in the Today Magazine of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Frenchville of today is fairly different.
The 136th Annual Frenchville Picnic (pdf, 120kB) is typically held on the 3rd weekend of July.
There is also a biennial One Room Schoolhouse Reunion (pdf, 92kB).
Frenchville: The Lost Land
Going to Frenchville can't be an afterthought; you have to make up your mind to make the trip. No place in Pennsylvania could care less about enticing tourists. In fact, as recently as the 1960s, researchers going there preferred to travel in pairs because they expected to be unwelcome to the point of shotgun fire. The little village of several hundred people hides in a pocket of hills in the mountainous area of Clearfield County, near no major city and no important landmark. Your drive takes you through the kind of countryside that science fiction movie producers look for to film prehistoric earth. The trip over pitted blacktop roads winds through the remains of played-out strip mines, some of them growing scraggly conifers planted as part of reclamation projects. The few outsiders who venture to Frenchville come because of the language. People in Frenchville speak a classically pure French, without any American accent and without the slang of contemporary French streets. Hardly a generation ago, most of the adults could not read or write French. Even the inscriptions on tombstones are misspelled and grammatically incorrect. But the people speak French flawlessly.
What seems to have happened begins nearly 150 years ago, when the villagers' French ancestors walked overland from parts of Baltimore and New York to settle here. Apparently they walked because when they signed their purchase agreements for what seemed like bargain terms (twelve acres free with each fifty bought), they didn't understand that they were making a deal for isolated land inaccessible by normal transport. In this isolation, the men farmed, mined, worked on nearby railroads as they developed, and stuck together, speaking French among themselves. Outside the community they spoke a little English, but since nobody got into extended conversations with foreign miners and railroad workers, it didn't add up to much. As new inventions came along, the villagers simply incorporated English words for them into their talk- automobile, radio, television. Aside from such words, the language in Frenchville remained pure, classical French.
Consolidated schools educating children outside the community have been diluting the effect for the past ten or twenty years, as has television, but you can hear the old speech still, from villagers named Roussey, Rogeux, Habovick, and Plubell, people who remember apple-butter-making parties and village festivals. The best way to get a taste of the phenomenon and of a special village is to park your car, walk the streets, wander through the graveyard inspecting headstones, stop into the few stores, the tavern, and perhaps the post office, and simply, respectfully, listen. To get to Frenchville, go north on Route 879 from Interstate 80 to Clearfield. After your visit to the town, you may want to return to Clearfield, where you'll find fairly inexpensive rates at any one of several good quality standard motels. You may enjoy walking the Clearfield streets to see several historic buildings that are still in full use downtown.
Pennsylvania: Off the Beaten Path
The Globe Pequot Press
Chester, CT, 2nd Edition, 1991
This is simply a random collection of Frenchville links as I ran across them.
The Mosquito Creek Sportsman's Association is dedicated to hunting and other sports activities, organizes the annual coyote hunt as well as several reclamation projects.
Coyote hunting in Pennsylvania. This little article about coyotes also describes the general area in which Frenchville lies.
Frenchville was created, in 1835, by paying off a debt owed to a Philadelphia agent. M. Zavron from Paris, France, had failed to pay a certain debt to his Philadelphia based agent, John Healing. Because of this, John Healing acquired land, now known as Frenchville, to pay for M. Zavron's debt. M. Zavron had a German agent aid him in immigrating families to this town to settle the land.
St. Mary of the Assumption Church and cemetary. When I was young this was the social center of the village.
Frenchville is located in Covington Township whose history is documented here.
I used to borrow books from the Clearfield county bookmobile.
This is a poor picture of the Frenchville one-room yellow brick schoolhouse where I went to school. Yes, it had outdoor toilets without plumbing.
I highly recommend the new book by Don Rougeux The Long Journey which is a very comprehensive history of the Rougeux family. The background of Rougeux, France is fascinating. There is also a lot about the early history of Frenchville including the building of the Frenchville church (both the original wooden one and the stone one which is still standing), the reason why the count of the Frenchville Picnic is five years different than that of the church, etc. I even found a picture of my mother in the church choir!
The Merat family is possibly related to the McGovern family through a marriage sometime after 1846.
My ancestry is through the Merat and DeMange families which were some of the original settlers of Frenchville. The descent from the original settlers is documented in the unpublished book "History of the French Settlers in Covington and Girard Townships" (pdf, 9MB) by Margaret (Billotte) Mignot.
The Renaud biographical page mentions this reference.
Another useful geneaology reference is the Coudriet family Web page.