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

Fallbrook, Hoytville, Landrus and Leetonia are names that evoke memories of the past for some Tiogans, while for others, build­ings or a place on a map serve as re­minders of what has been. These names are evidence of the establish­ment, growth and demise of economic centers – coal mines, lumber mills and tanneries – important in Tioga County’s past. Today, these enterprises are but a small part of that economic base, as Mansfield State College, light industry and health service agencies are now the major employers. The town names, however, are still there as reminders.

Originally, Tioga County, called “Shades” by the Seneca Indians due to the dense forests, was more of an obstacle than an opportunity for settlers. Only a few Indian paths, most of which originated at Painted Post (New York), crossed the area prior to the Revolutionary War and the Iroquois Confederacy kept the white man out of the region. During the Revolution­ary War, however, American forces successfully invaded the territory of the confederacy. In August 1779, Gen. John Sullivan led his army up the north branch of the Susquehanna through Tioga Point (Athens) then west along the Chemung to Newtown (Elmira). Here, he decisively defeated a combined force of British and Indians and proceeded to destroy the crops and orchards in the Chemung Valley which had supplied them.

This battle was particularly signifi­cant to the area which became Tioga County. Sullivan’s soldiers had seen the crops raised by the Indians and desired to return to the fertile valleys of the “Genesee Country.” These lands provided the impetus for specu­lators who wanted the area opened to settlement. Their desire Jed to the cutting of the Williamson Road through the region in 1792-93.

The area of northern Pennsylvania, however, was disputed territory. Under a charter granted by King Charles, the state of Connecticut claimed a strip of land across the northern section of Pennsylvania. This charter predated the grant to William Penn. Later, the Decree of Trenton awarded the terri­tory to Pennsylvania in 1782, but the first settlers who came to the area now comprising Tioga County claimed ownership under Connecticut titles. Among the early settlers in the region, was Samuel Baker, the first “Yankee” to settle at present-day Lawrenceville at the confluence of the Tioga and Cowanesque rivers just south of the New York State line in 1787. Others quickly followed.


Roads in the Wilderness

After the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, in which this portion of the state was ceded by the Indians, the state of Pennsylvania opened an office in Philadelphia for the sale of land re­ceived in the treaty. The Pulteney Land Company, which owned vast holdings in central New York, had a vested interest in the area. Wishing to make their lands accessible from the south, one of their agents, Charles William­son, projected a road north from Williamsport in 1792.

The building of the Williamson Road, which did more than anything else to bring settlers to the land of Tioga, was a task fraught with prob­lems. Fortunately for the venture, Captain Williamson, a Scotsman who served the British during the American Revolution, was a persuasive leader. In order to secure laborers for the project, he promised homelands in the fertile Genesee Valley to a party of Germans who had just arrived in America if they would help to build the roadway. These arrangements evidently pleased the Germans who brought their fami­lies to Williamsport to begin construc­tion.

The German workers, however, pro­vided more trouble than help. The men knew little about surviving in the woods, and securing food and shelter for their families added to the burden. Unused to life in the wilderness, they were physically and psychologically unprepared to face the natural dangers which they encountered. Moving slow­ly through the woods, they first built a log camp to use as a base. then finished several miles of the “high­way” only to repeat the process. Thus, they literally “leap frogged” into the wilderness until late November 1792.

Benjamin Patterson, who had been placed in charge of the party, realized that if winter arrived quickly, the Germans might perish. So, after per­suading a farmer to deliver two tons of provisions to Painted Post, he loaded the women and children into canoes and left the men, who at first refused to travel in the flimsy conveyances, to fend for themselves. Afraid of being left in the wilderness, the men finally joined the others. Eventually, the party arrived at its destination, but when Patterson set out again in the spring, he took only a small band of men with him.

When completed, the Williamson Road was little more than a wagon path. Stumps were not removed, crossings were inaccessible when the streams were high. and snow frequently closed the trail in winter. Yet, the road opened millions of acres of north­ern Pennsylvania and southern New York to settlers and for thirty years it was the major artery for pioneers. Today, U.S. Route 15 follows the path of that great roadway.

Settlers did not freely venture into southwestern Tioga County, however. since fertile valleys and easily traversed streams did not exist there. Neverthe­less, the region did develop due to the efforts of the Pine Creek Land Com­pany created by individuals from Philadelphia. Benjamin Wistar Morris be­came the land agent for the company in 1799 and settled his family at present-day Wellsboro in 1805. Morris, with 64,000 acres of land to sell in Lycoming and Tioga counties, was also interested in opening a route for settlers that would encourage them to buy. He achieved his goal in 1799 when the legislature approved a pro­posal for a State Road which would run from Newberry on the Susquehanna through Little Pine Creek and to the 109th Milestone through what is now Wellsboro.

Yet, even cheap land and the com­pletion of the State Road in 1800 failed to attract settlers. Few followed the initial inhabitants – Samuel Baker, John Beecher, James Strawbridge and William Knox. So it was reasoned that the formation of a new county in the area would perhaps encourage the development of the region.


Formation of the County

When the State Road was com­pleted, Lycoming County still covered the whole northern section of Pennsyl­vania. including Tioga Township. By 1800. only 500 to 600 people lived in the area, and all of them were situated along the Cowanesque and Tioga rivers. The rest of the township was wilderness. To further compound the prob­lem, almost all the inhabitants were Yankees who did not wish to see a new county formed. In fact, the farther they were from Pennsylvania authority, the happier they were. Regardless of their feelings, on March 26, 1804 the legislature passed the Omnibus Bill creating Clearfield, Jefferson, McKean, Potter and Tioga counties. (The name Tioga was taken from an Indian word once believed to mean “gateway,” “sweet-water” or “headwater.” Today, however, most scholars agree that Tioga is a Seneca word for “forks” or “at the forks.”)

Interestingly, not a single resident of Tioga Township petitioned the government for the new county. In fact, they were not even consulted. The idea originated solely with the Pine Creek Land Company which made sure that the bill was full of provisions to keep control in the hands of the company. County affairs were man­aged by three trustees appointed by the governor and the courts were to be no more than seven miles from the center of Tioga. Of course, none of the residents lived near the center of the county.

In 1807, an East-West Road was authorized by the legislature thus opening the new northern tier counties to settlement from the East for the first time. With the construction of such roads and the end of Indian scares after the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, settlers did begin to migrate into the area. Revolutionary War veterans, attracted to northern Penn­sylvania and western New York by the Cowanesque River, joined settlers from Maryland and Virginia. Here they mingled with New Englanders from Luzerne and Bradford counties who came seeking new homes after the “Pennamite Wars,” fought between Pennsylvania and Connecticut settlers over conflicting land claims. These New Englanders brought with them a distinctive culture which has left its imprint on the county to this day. Despite the influx of people, growth was slow. Twelve years after Wellsboro was created, for example, timber still stood on the public square and it had onJy 250 residents when it be­came a borough in 1830.

Although the initial settlers located at the site of Lawrenceville, the present Borough of Tioga can probably claim to be the oldest village. The first post office in the county, established in 1805, was located there as well as the first voting district. Wellsboro, with a post office in 1808, could be con­sidered the second oldest “town.” Covington was established about 1815 at the intersection of the Williamson Road and the East-West Road, with Knoxville and Lawrenceville taking on the semblance of villages at about the same time. Mansfield, the county’s second largest community today, be­gan about 1824 where the Williamson Road and the Wellsboro-Elmira Road crossed paths.


Economic Growth

A reading of the county histories shows that early economic growth was related to agriculture or forestry, but that large scale development did not begin until the 1840s when grist mills, saw mills, tanneries, distilleries and iron works produced goods for local consumption. In the first century of Tioga County history, white pine was the primary source of lumber and the number of board feet cut since 1800 was as many as one and one-half bil­lion. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1830s that lumber became a significant product. Production peaked between 1830 and 1860 when hundreds of rafts of lum­ber were sent down the rivers annu­ally. Consequently, Pine Creek be­came an important route for lumber, and later logs. In addition to this waterway, the legislature issued a charter in 1850 to the Tioga and Lawrenceville Company allowing it to build a plank road from Tioga to Wellsboro. This route opened the Wellsboro area to trade from Tioga and boosted land values and the gen­eral economy of the Wellsboro-Pine Creek lumber region. By 1865, how­ever, the white pine forests of Tioga County were practically gone.

Fortunately for lumbermen, an abundance of hemlock remained. Pre­viously considered a nuisance, since only the bark from the trees was used in the tanneries, it dawned on the lumber and land companies that the reminder of the hemlock tree was marketable as lumber. Not only was it rafted down Pine Creek to Williamsport, but thousands of board feet were used in the Blossburg mining basin for shaft supports and housing.

Hemlock’s original use in tanning provided an additional way to profit from lumbering that was not possible with white pine. The tannic acid in the hemlock bark yielded the neces­sary chemical to efficiently tan large quantities of hides. This discovery led to an increase in the number and size of tanneries built in the county. Major plants were located at Elkland, West­field, Mansfield and Hoytville (on Pine Creek). At their peak, these tanneries produced over one million tanned hides per year. In 1883, the Hoytville plant was considered the largest steam tannery in the world (See “The Brunswick Tannery,” Pennsylvania Heritage, Vol. VI, No. 1, pp. 10-13).

By early in the twentieth century, the hemlock was practically gone as well, and most of the tanneries ceased operation. Those at Westfield and Elkland, however, adopted modern methods and continued as prosperous concerns. Despite this attempt at re­covery, the Elkland tannery was forced to dose in 1972 leaving West­field as the only tannery in Tioga County which still operates today.

Another profitable product intro­duced into the Crooked Creek, Tioga and Cowanesque river valleys in the 1870s was tobacco. As this commod­ity increased revenues and acreage grew, cigar manufacturing became a major enterprise in the decade be­tween 1880-90. During 1881-82, for example, over 600,000 cigars were produced at plants in Mansfield, Wells­boro, Westfield and possibly Lawrence­ville. Associated with the tobacco raising culture were examples of Southern plantation style architecture found along the Tioga River. All this ended around the turn of the century, however, when prices for Tioga Coun­ty tobacco plummeted and farmers were forced to look toward other crops. Nevertheless, tobacco flourished in the Nelson area along the Cowanesque River until about 1954.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, some seemingly unusual crops (celery and lettuce) were grown ex­tensively in the Marsh Creek region. This was an area of low lying “muck” lands which produced abundantly. The Wellsboro Agitator (November 1901) noted that five hundred carloads of lettuce and celery worth $150,000 were shipped that season. By 1915, the figures had dropped to two hun­dred and fifty carloads worth $75,000. Production continued until the 1950s, but each year the amount diminished due, in a large part, to the frequent floods in the low lands. As a result of these flood conditions, horses were frequently stranded and stuck in the mud. One team was actually lost as it merely sank and was smothered. Vari­ous methods were tried in attempts to combat the problem, including the tying of wooden blocks to the hooves of work horses to keep them from being drawn into the flooded “muck.” Unfortunately, such attempts failed and no flood control efforts seemed to work. Thus, celery raising eventually ceased in Tioga County.

The same pattern of growth and deterioration which typified the lumber, tobacco and celery industries, plagued the coal mining industry as well. Benjamin Patterson, who helped pioneer the Williamson Road, dis­covered coal at Peter’s Camp (Bloss­burg) in 1792. Ten years later, in 1802, Aaron Bloss, who developed a vein of coal that became the basis of mining operations in the coal basin, settled at Peter’s Camp. Today Peter’s Camp is known as Blossburg in his honor.

Coal from the Bloss vein was soon recognized for its excellent qualities. It was semi-bituminous which meant that it generated more heat, less ash and burned more uniformly than purely bituminous or soft coal which contained more water and volatile matter. It was also very low in sulphur content which, along with its other properties, made it a superb smithing coal and later a steamer coal. When in­dustries which initially relied on coal, such as railroads, developed in the country and the qualities of the Bloss coal became known, the demand in­creased. Records show that orders were placed in California, Colorado, Minnesota and points between. Bloss coal found its way abroad as well, reaching the Philippines as early as 1906.

With demands surging, more coal companies were organized and the necessary railroads to transport it were built. John Magee, one of the area’s chief coal promoters, organized the Fallbrook Coal Company and con­structed the Fallbrook Railroad to Blossburg. Other mines and companies were established at Morris Run, Bloss­burg and Gaines which in turn de­veloped mines at Arnot, Landrus and Antrim. All of these mines were work­ing the Bloss vein. At the height of production in 1873, the Blossburg coal mines produced 991,057 tons of coal.

By the end of the Civil War, the persistent decline of mining began. Demand for coal fell off and miners, used to good wages, could not under­stand the need to either work less or accept reduced salaries. Strikes broke out in 1864 and recurred frequently. Unable to secure labor peace and thereby the ability to bid competi­tively on contracts, the coal companies lost ground to rivals in western Penn­sylvania, and by 1900 some of the Tioga County mines had been shut down. Today, however, due to re­newed demands for coal, strip mining in the Blossburg and Fallbrook areas is going strong and yields in excess of one million tons of coal per year.

Railroads in Tioga County were built, with few exceptions, to exploit its mineral wealth. Coal was the stim­ulus for the building of the Corning and Blossburg line in 1840 and for those to follow. The Corning, Cowan­esque and Antrim line was built in 1872-73 and when the Fallbrook Coal Company discovered large deposits of coal south of Wellsboro in 1866, it led to the creation of the Lawrence­ville and Wellsboro Railroad Company. In 1867 this company laid track from Lawrenceville to Wellsboro and then in 1872 to the mines at Antrim. One other major railroad needed to be con­structed to connect Tioga’s coal fields with points south. To this end, in 1883, the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek and Buffalo Railroad Company com­pleted a line running from Williams­port to Jersey Shore, up Pine Creek to Marsh Creek connecting with the CC&A just north of Wellsboro. Now the lumber and coal of Pine Creek could be transported to the Williams­port market.


Patterns of Settlement

Settlement patterns in Tioga Coun­ty, as noted, were dictated by its top­ography, geology and various transportation modes and routes. Settle­ments were established in the lower Tioga and Cowanesque river basins with the arrival of Revolutionary War veterans, eastern New Yorkers and New Englanders. The New England influence, which began with settlers from Connecticut, can still be seen to­day and is reflected in the white, clap­board, steeple-type church architec­ture frequently associated with New England.

Churches and family names reflect the nationalities of those who settled in the area. A Welsh Congregational church at Blossburg and a Welsh settle­ment in Charleston Township were established by Welshmen who arrived in the 1840s. The Welsh settlement, just east of Wellsboro, is still a recog­nized community today. Although a Roman Catholic church, St. Andrews, was organized as early as 1841 at Blossburg, a Polish Catholic church was established there in 1872 to serve the ever growing number of Polish miners who could not understand English and wished to worship in their own language. St. Mary’s was the first Polish Catholic church in the Scranton Diocese and the second established in Pennsylvania. In the 1820s, German Lutheranism was introduced into the region when a German Lutheran church was organized in Lycoming County. In 1840 this denomination spread into Tioga County when a church was built west of Liberty. Finally, in 1879, a Swedish Evangelical Lutheran church was established at both Arnot and Antrim.

In addition to the early settlers and later ethnic groups of Germans, Poles and Swedes who came to the county, there were also Irish immigrants. Io 1841, Patrick McCormick bought 500 acres of land and subsequently sold it to other Irishmen. This tract of land along the western boundary of Union Township came to be known as the “Irish Settlement.” There were Jewish residents at Liberty and Wellsboro, but it appears that not enough families were present to organize a synagogue in either com­munity. A Jewish synagogue was established at Blossburg. however, with services being held in the base­ment of a brick house on Main Street. Eventually, a permanent synagogue was erected shortly after the turn of the century but was sold in 1930.

Jennings, Marvin, Spencer, Wilson, Culver, Allington, Blanchard, Cady, Bixby, Griggs, Seese, Bulkley, Putnam, Adams, Berry, Beecher, Gilett and Inscho represent a few of the families who lived in the region. Settlers fre­quently gave their own names to the streams they found and the towns they built. Asa Mann. for example. cut a clearing along the banks of the Tioga River. The meadow became known as Mann’s field. thereby giving one of the county’s largest towns its name. Wells­boro, the county seat, derived its name from Mary Wells Morris and the Aaron Bloss Inn soon gave Peters Creek a new identity.



Tioga’s political history is as varied as its ancestry. Originally, the county consistently voted Democratic. but when the Free Soil party and others formed the Republican party in 1852. Tioga County became as staunchly Republican as it had been Democratic. It was not until the 1964 Johnson landslide that the county again voted Democratic. The conversion was short lived, however, for after that election it reverted to its Republican tradition.

William B. Wilson of Blossburg be­came the county’s national political claim to fame when Pres. Woodrow Wilson appointed him the first Secre­tary of Labor in 1913. During his second four years with the Depart­ment of Labor, Wilson became re­nowned for his strong stands to pro­tect the constitutional rights of Americans of foreign ancestry during the “Red Scare” of 1919-21. Himself a Scottish immigrant. Wilson was first introduced into the world of labor as a miner and union activist in the Blossburg coal fields. Then, prior to be­coming Secretary of Labor. he served in the House of Representatives for six years.

Another political figure in Tioga’s past was G. Mason Owlett of Wells­boro who served in the Pennsylvania Senate from 1930 until 1957. His strong ties with the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association enabled him to play a leading role in state Republican party affairs. On the national scene, he served as a member of the Republican National Committee from 1933 through 1953. Owlett was truly a power in state politics.

Tioga’s only native son to become governor of the state was William A. Stone, born in Delmar Township near Wellsboro in 1846. At age seventeen, he joined the Union Army and served out the remainder of the Civil War. Putting the war behind him. Stone sought the help of Prof. Fordyce Allen who assisted him in raising enough money to attend Mansfield Normal School. Upon graduation with the highest of honors, he left for the Wells­boro Academy where he began a two­-year teaching career. While there, he studied law and soon became an at­torney. After serving as a clerk in the state House of Representatives in Harrisburg and as district attorney of Tioga County. Stone moved to Pitts­burgh where he was soon elected to three terms in the U.S. Congress. In 1898, he was elected governor of Pennsylvania and Tioga County added another name to its list of influential politicians.


Tioga County Today

Tioga’s present history is similar to its past. Economically, agriculture or “agribusiness” is still providing a solid base for the county although the major products have changed some­what. Today’s leader is dairying with corn growing. both for sileage and feed, the second leading agribusiness. Besides dairy cattle. there are some small scale beef feed lots and a few farmers now raise sheep. Another steady, if not spectacular. income pro­ducer is maple sugar. Lumbering of hardwoods continues, but with a dif­ferent twist. Today. the better wood is used for furniture and the rest con­verted into hardboard or toilet tissue.

Despite an agricultural emphasis, more and more Tiogans are being em­ployed in manufacturing enterprises. In the Wellsboro area alone, the follow­ing plants are operating: the Corning Glass Works, manufacturing electric light bulbs; Dresser Industries, pro­ducing compression pipe fittings; Lino­film, a subsidiary of Eltra Corporation, making phototypesetting equipment; Wundies Corporation, manufacturing women’s undergarments and Borden Food Products.

In 1930 gas was discovered in Tioga County and millions of cubic feet were removed until the field became ex­hausted in 1940. Although the gas is gone, the strata from which it was taken is now used as storage for gas pumped in from West Virginia and Texas. Millions of cubic feet are pumped into the caverns every sum­mer and taken out every winter to sup.ply Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and other cities in New York State. This past year there has been renewed interest in the Watrons Oil Fields. last productive at the turn of the century, and some exploratory drilling is now taking place.

Mansfield Classical Seminary (1857), now Mansfield State College, serves the “Northern Tier” of Pennsylvania, a region where the nearest college is fifty miles away. The first normaJ school to be named a State Teachers College, Mansfield’s impact is not difficult to measure. Presently, some 2,500 students from across the Commonwealth, supported by an annual budget in excess of $14 million, attend classes there. The college offers a wide variety of programs to serve the area in its capacity as a state owned higher education institution. For ex­ample, the biology department, in co­operation with the federal research center at Asaph, has developed a two­-year fish culture program. In addition, through its music, art and theater pro­grams, Mansfield State College is the region’s cultural center. From June through August each year, the Festival Theatre sponsors plays performed by local actors and professional players from the New York Players Guild.

During the past twenty years, Tioga County has greatly developed as a recreational area with thousands of acres of state forests, several artificial lakes and miles of trout streams well stocked with brown and rainbow trout. It is, also, one of the best coun­ties in the state for deer and turkey hunting. Only ten miles from Wellsboro is Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, one of the great scenic attractions of the East. Tourists are lured by the fall foliage which shows its beauty best in early October. Winter sports are pop­ular with trails for snowmobiling, lakes and ponds for ice fishing, and skiing at Oregon Hill. Added to the abundance of winter recreational opportunities are the lakes on the Tioga River, Crooked Creek and the Cowanesque River which provide swimming, fish­ing, boating and camping in the sum­mer.



Although Tioga County has not be­come a cosmopolitan or great indus­trial region, Tiogans are content with things as they are. Because the county has no real centers of population, it has escaped the problems so frequent­ly associated with them – slums, con­gestion, pollution and the like.

Tioga County is one hundred and seventy-six years old. While no battles have been fought on its soil and per­haps no events of nationwide import or interest have transpired within its borders, it has, nevertheless, had a proud history. Since its beginning, it has contributed much to the economic growth of the Commonwealth and produced leaders who have served in all walks of life. Its influence in state governmental affairs has for a century been beyond what one would ordin­arily expect, considering its popula­tion. Now, with its great forests gone and its coal reserves being depleted, it has become a sound and stable com­munity with dairy farming, diversified manufacturing, education and beauti­ful scenery as its major economic assets.


Robert W. Unger, professor of history and archivist at Mansfield State Col­lege, has served as president of the Tioga County Historical Society and is presently the acting treasurer. Current­ly, he is also a member of the execu­tive board of the Pennsylvania Federa­tion of Historical Societies.