County Feature is a series of articles on each county in Pennsylvania and its history.

Named for Gen. John Sullivan, fearless leader of the leg­endary bloodbath, Sullivan’s March, mounted in 1779 to attack the hostile Iro­quois of northern Pennsylva­nia, Sullivan County is today – as it was throughout the nineteenth century – a bucolic, pastoral landscape, best known for the recreational opportunities it has offered generations of sportsmen and sojourners. For many, the county has become during the summer months a mecca, beckoning vacationers with its sweet promise of rest and relaxation, respite and re­newal. Its dozens of lakes and ponds, creeks and steams rivaled the seaside spas and resorts, such as Cape May, New Jersey, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Casual mention of idyllic Eagles Mere – the celebrated resort summer commu­nity to which Pennsylvania’s fashionable travelers flocked at the height of the Lehigh Valley and Reading railroads about the turn of the century­ – evokes images of an era hallmarked by a sense of grandness, even in the pursuit of leisure.

Throughout the nineteenth century, Sullivan County’s abundant natural resources were extolled by enthusiastic hunters and, particularly, anglers. Eagle’s Mere was popular for its California salmon, Hunter’s Lake for its seemingly endless bounty of catfish, and Long Lake Pond not only for its black bass but, too, for its “surroundings are of a wild, weird character,” noted a historian in 1883, “and it no doubt was among the chosen localities where the camp-fires of the aborigines were often lighted.”

Today, most vacationers are familiar with World’s End State Park and Lake Makoma, but nineteenth century travelers visited Lopez Pond, Grant’s Lake and Pickerel Pond, all popular haunts for avid fisher­men. Even the towns and villages surrounding these natural attractions retain a charm and character of an era long gone by: Laporte, the county seat, laid out in 1853; Dushore, one of the oldest towns in the county, incorpo­rated in 1859; Forksville, at one time noted for its residents, “a thrifty, industrious people, hospitable and enterprising.” But there are others – Lopez, Colley, Bernice, Cherry Mills, Ricketts, Wheelerville, Lincoln Falls, Hillsgrove – which, too, enhance the profile of what has become popularly known as the breathtaking and picturesque “Sullivan Highlands.”

Long before its popularity as a sportsman’s paradise or as a summer colony, Sullivan County was described at the opening of the nineteenth century with much less than accolades or praise. An early traveler, obviously wearied by his lengthy trek through the expansive wilderness, re­counted that, “the settlements are few and scattered, roads poor, most of the people live in log houses and the principal diet consists of pounded corn, milk and potatoes.” True, the area was rugged and wild, and settlement slow and sparse, but the region’s remoteness discouraged early settlers who had hoped to inhabit the terri­tory purchased from the Indi­ans in 1768. In fact, settlement was not easy at all.

The county’s earliest set­tlers were from Wyoming. Originally inhabitants of Con­necticut, they claimed the territory under a grant issued by the Crown, but were either imprisoned or routed by Colo­nel Plunkett acting on behalf of the Proprietors. The few improvements made by the Connecticut settlers were taken over by Pennsylvanians, but they in turn were driven south by the Indians who claimed the area for many years. The first settler after the Indian wars, Daniel Ogden, settled in V86 near the Loy­alsock Creek.

To attract settlers to the isolated region, the state legis­lature offered individuals tracts of land – up to four hun­dred acres per person – at less than seven cents each! The legislature had hoped to limit the purchases to individual settlers, but shrewd land spec­ulators acquired numerous parcels under different names. An Englishman, Joseph Pries­tley, Jr., purchased large amounts of land, hoping to establish a haven for the Brit­ish, who were immigrating to the New World in considerable numbers.

Settlement was eventually stimulated by the opening of the Genesee Road, from the Genesee Valley in northern New York to southern Pennsyl­vania; its route traversed the county. By 1802, the region’s first industry, a woolen mill, was established by brothers Jonathan, William and Samuel Rogers, and remained in oper­ation for more than a century, until destroyed in 1916 by a flood. During the War of 1812, the mill was awarded contracts by the federal government to supply kersey-cloth for the army.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the tanning and production of leather was Sullivan County’s principal industry. The largest tannery, located about 1880 at Thornedale, five miles east of Laporte, tanned forty thou­sand hides each year, consum­ing five thousand corks of bark in the process. Several years earlier, the tannery’s owners received an award for the best hemlock leather at the Vienna International Exposition. Tan­neries were also located in Laporte, Hills Grove, Sones­town and Dushore.

The county’s coal fields were discovered in 1859 by Myron M. Wilcox at Bernice, and later developed following the construction of the Sul­livan and State Line Railroad, which owned five thousand acres of the region’s richest deposits. Opened in 1871, the Sullivan and State Line Rail­road mined three hundred tons of coal a day during its early operation. Other natural resources – lead, copper, lime­stone and iron ore – were found by prospectors in the late nineteenth century, but their exploitation was severely hampered by the county’s location and distance to the market.

Dushore, for many years the county’s leading center of commerce, was settled by M. Dupetit Thouars, a Frenchman who held a commission in his country’s navy. Settling first in Bradford County, he moved to Dushore, clearing the land and building a dwelling with one arm. He later returned to France, given command of a war ship and killed during the battle of the Nile on August 3, 1798. No further attempt was made to settle the immediate vicinity until 1825, when John Mosier purchased eighty acres and became the first perma­nent the following spring. Later settlers, Charles F. Welles and Josiah Jackson, renamed the settlement – at various times called Mosier Hollow and Jackson Hollow – in honor of Thouars, who died at the age of thirty-eight.

Laporte, which still holds distinction as Pennsylvania’s smallest county seat, was named at its organization in honor of John LaPorte, the surveyor-general of Pennsylva­nia who brandished his influ­ence to locate the county government in the community. Upon the county’s separation from Lycoming County and subsequent formation in 1847, at least ten locations for a suitable county seat were pre­sented to a board of judges appointed by Gov. Francis Rawn Shunk. Laporte – then called Center – was originally selected, but a bitter struggle continued. In 1849, a petition to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania pleaded for a review of the decision, and a new board was appointed. Following a heated meeting, the county seat was moved to Cherry Hill. But even that was not to last.

Opponents charged fraud and bribery, prevailing upon the state legislature to repeal its 1849 act designating Cherry Hill as the county seat. In 1850, the board could find no reason for removing the county seat from Laporte and ordered that it be re­established there immediately. Laporte, inhabited by only six families at the time, has served as county seat ever since. A large room over the kitchen of the Laporte Hotel, built by entrepreneur Michael Meylert in 1850, served as Sullivan County’s first court room, and a one story plank structure was built for a jail.

During the Civil War, countians – although loyal to the Union – sharply criticized the administration of Pres. Abraham Lincoln, particularly on the question of the freeing of slaves. Nevertheless, and despite its small size and sparse population, the county did enlist a company of volun­teers which assembled at La­porte on September 3, 1861.

Perhaps Sullivan County’s most unusual character was Peter E. Armstrong who founded a religious commu­nity, Celestia, northeast of Laporte. In 1864, he and his wife deeded about six hundred acres to “Almighty God and His Heirs in Jesus Messiah, for their proper use and behoof forever.” Armstrong also peti­tioned the state government to have the people of Celestia “considered as peaceable aliens, and religious wilderness exiles from the rest of the Commonwealth.” While nothing ever came of the petition, he did convey “one square mile of land to Almighty God,” and the deed was duly re­corded. Armstrong refused to pay taxes on this land, later sold at a treasurer’s sale, and returned to Philadelphia. He died in 1891, without ever having firmly established his sect in Sullivan County.

Inarguably, Eagles Mere – despite the loss of its grand hotels and guests character­ized by more recent genera­tions as belonging to “The Old School” – remains Sullivan County’s acclaimed attraction (see “Eagles Mere: Of Cottages and Kings” by Laura Sickel Mumma in the summer 1986 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage for an in-depth history of this popular nineteenth century resort). Purchased by an enter­prising George Lewis in 1794, Lewis Lake offered its owner an abundant supply of sand to make glass objects, then in short supply. However, the mountainous terrain – the spring-fed lake is situated two thousand feet above sea level – made transportation difficult, if not impossible. Lewis did not long to see his venture succeed, and on his death his widow sold the tract encom­passing the lake.

In 1845, a Philadelphia judge, John Richter Jones, acquired Lewis Lake and built a small summer cottage nearby. He encouraged friends to join him and, within a quar­ter of a century, the lake’s appeal was far-reaching. By the 1870s, boarding houses were established, followed by the great hotels – the Hotel Eagles Mere, the Lakeside Hotel, the Forest Inn, the Ho­tel Raymond – which catered to East Coast’s most prominent and affluent families. And the rest is history.

For generations, season after season, they came and went, those travelers eagerly in pursuit of a few weeks of leisure. They endured long railroad excursions, jarring coach and wagon trips up the mountainside, and rigorous walks to arrive at their in­tensely personal and sacred version of happiness, albeit for no longer than a month, maybe two, perhaps three. Nevertheless, they arrived at their own special summer place, danced and dined among intimates and friends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and luxuriated in the best that tiny, remote and sparsely populated Sullivan County could offer them. It is no wonder historian William H. Egle in 1883 wrote that Eagles Mere will “at no distant day become a noted summer resort.”

And the same has held true for the sylvan highlands of Sullivan County.


For Further Reading

Egle, William H. History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: E. M. Gardner, 1883.

Gamble, Hays B. The Economic Structure of Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. University Park: The Pennsylvania State Univer­sity, 1967.

McFarland, J. Horace and Robert B. McFarland. Eagles Mere and the Sullivan Highlands. Harris­burg: J. Horace McFarland Com­pany, 1944.

Mumma, Laura Sickel. “Eagles Mere: Of Cottages and Kings.” Pennsylvania Heritage. 12, 3 (Summer 1986).

Streby, George and Clara A. Streby. History of Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. Dushore, Pa.: Sullivan Gazette Print, 1903.

Taber, Thomas F., III. Muncy Valley Lifeline. Privately Printed, 1972.


The author wishes to acknowledge and thank noted deltiologist Donald R. Brown for his unstint­ing generosity in lending post­cards for this article, as well as for his previous contributions to this magazine.


Michael J. O’Malley III serves as editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.