John Milton Guthrie was born in Armstrong County in 1833, the son of Samuel and Hannah (Speer) Guthrie. He received his early education in nearby schools and in 1847, at the age of 14, he went to Blairsville where he worked as a clerk with his uncle, James Speer, a merchant.
Guthrie studied surveying from 1852-1857 and was involved in the preliminary and construction surveys of the North Western-West Penn Railroad – now the Conemaugh division of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. While employed there, he became close friends with George B. Roberts, the head of the Engineer Corps, and it was through this friendship that the Pennsylvania Railroad later made the original survey along Twolick and Yellow Creek in Indiana County in order to access the rich coal fields along those streams.
In 1858, Guthrie moved to Jacksonville and was engaged in merchandising for nine years. He also had stores in Clarksburg, West Lebanon, and Elders Ridge. In 1867, he purchased the Mitchell’s Mills in Diamondville and also managed a store there for one year.
Moving to Indiana in 1868, Guthrie purchased a general store at the corner of Church and Ninth Street from the A.T. Moorhead & Company. In addition to general merchandise, Guthrie became involved in the lumber business at this location. Along with Moorhead, he opened an additional store in Mechanicsburg, operating it for two years. In 1869, he erected a building in Homer City and managed a general store there for three years.
It was reported in an August 1874 edition of The Indiana Progress that Guthrie’s steam saw mill, located on Laurel Run in Cherry Hill Township, was completely destroyed by fire. Nearly 300,000 board feet of lumber was destroyed with a total loss of about $5,000. There was no insurance coverage on the loss. The very same week, one of Guthrie’s tenant houses located in White Township was destroyed by fire at a loss of $500. A defective flue was the cause of this fire, and like the mill fire, there was no insurance coverage.
In 1879, Guthrie formed the St. Charles Improvement and Mining Company in Homer City, along the waters of Yellow Creek. He constructed a saw mill capable of producing 20,000 feet of lumber a day. He also operated two portable mills in Center Township and shipped over 32 rail cars of lumber per day.
In 1889, Guthrie, Jacob Graff and G.T. Kirkland purchased the coke operations of George Mikesell, near present day Graceton. As Guthrie, Graff & Company, the partners constructed an additional 37 beehive ovens on the site and remained in business for one year. They sold their holdings to the partnership of J.W. More of Greensburg along with Harry and John McCreary of Indiana.
In 1890, Guthrie purchased a 100-acre tract of land in Pine Township, along Yellow Creek, from Archie Fowler and his wife – this became the site of Guthrie’s Mills. The site consisted of a grist mill, saw mill, a store and about 15 houses.
Around 1894, with the lumber business diminishing, Guthrie was facing difficult financial times. Unable to acquit himself with his creditors, his lands were sold at a sheriff’s sale in 1896, and some were purchased by J.M. Stewart of Indiana, Pennsylvania. A portion of these lands became the site of the “model town” of Heilwood, Pennsylvania, founded by John H. Weaver of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
J. M. Guthrie was married twice. His first marriage, in 1860, was to Jennie C. Wallace, daughter of Samuel Wallace of Blairsville, and ended with the death of his bride within a year. On October 18, 1864, he married Anna M. Donaldson, daughter of the Reverend Alexander Donaldson (founder of the Elders Ridge Academy) who performed the ceremony. They had five children: Speer W.; William A.; Nellie M.; Murray Hamilton; and Anna Donaldson.
On October 12, 1918, J. M. Guthrie passed away at his home along Wayne Avenue in Indiana, Pennsylvania from pneumonia at the age of 85.