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

The Endless Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania contains the rurally unspoiled and uncrowded Wyoming County, attracting both visitor and sports enthusiast with its picturesque valleys and charm­ing villages. Fed by the waters of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, which diagonally bisects the three hundred and ninety-six square mile county, this county lies at the northern end of the sprawling Wyoming Valley. The valley is mostly found within the boundaries of Lu­zerne County, a county with which Wyoming County shares much of its early his­tory. Wyoming County was created from part of Luzerne County in 1842.

Long before 1842, Wyoming Valley was desired by Indians, Pennsylvania Pennamites and Connecticut Yankee settlers. The tranquility pervading this forested land today hides the heartache of its early territory disputes – which erupted into several wars.

John Cabot’s expedition to the New World in 1497 yielded England’s claim to the North American land that includes present-day Wyoming County. Royal charters were granted by James I of England in 1606 to the London and Plymouth companies, with the Plymouth company settling part of the Wyoming Valley. In 1662, Charles II granted the Con­necticut colony land already settled by the Plymouth com­pany. And in 1681 William Penn received a grant of land from Charles 11 that over­lapped with the grant of land to the Connecticut colony and the Plymouth company’s land grant from James I! A vicious land dispute raged, particu­larly between the Connecticut Yankees and the Pennsylvania Pennamites, who would at­tempt to settle the disagree­ment over territorial claims in what became known as the Pennamite Wars.

During colonial occupation by the English, three criteria were necessary for a “perfect” land claim: a royal grant, pur­chase of the granted land from its inhabitants and actual pos­session of the territory. Both the Yankees and the Pennamites met the three require­ments, but, Connecticut fulfilled the requirements before Pennsylvania. However, questions involving land pur­chase procedures and the unresolved land titles re­mained unanswered. Pennsyl­vania was a proprietorship, meaning all jurisdiction in the granted land emanated from the Penn family. The Connecti­cut assembly, on the other hand, was the legal agent and the governor subservient. The question arose: When land was purchased, who had the legal right to buy it? The Penns claimed only individuals they authorized. The Susquehanna Company was authorized by the Connecticut legislature to act as the sole agents for the land.

Connecticut paid an Iro­quois Indian tribe two thou­sand pounds sterling for the land in 1754. Pennsylvania, after its purchases in 1768, claimed that the Susquehanna Company had no right to purchase the land, for its right had been lost in 1664. In 1664, the English Duke of York de­feated the Dutch in the New World, ending the English war with Holland, and the duke was given the land the Dutch occupied in the New World­ – what is today New York. This area, omitted from the Con­necticut land grant in 1662 due to its Dutch habitation, was considered the western border of the Connecticut grant. However, this boundary referred – albeit unwritten – to the inhabited area of the claim. It was on this contention that Pennsylvania would later attempt to authenticate its claims.

As late as 1761, the Pen­namites quoted a Connecticut governor as claiming, “The colony is bounded on the west by New York,” but this state­ment could not be found in the text of the Connecticut assem­bly’s written decision on the matter. A major factor favoring the Pennamites was Connecti­cut’s failure to protest the Pennsylvania land grant when it was originally given.

The first of the Pennamite Wars erupted in February 1769. The Yankee settlers wished to retain their lands purchased from the Susquehanna Com­pany and the Pennsylvania proprietors wished to eject the Yankees. That first war saw the Yankees expelled from the land five times by superior forces, but the Yankees eventually prevailed and reclaimed the land, ending the first Pen­namite War in 1771. Connecti­cut then moved to annex this area, previously the sole re­sponsibility of the Susque­hanna Company, to a county. Until 1782, this area was gov­erned and occupied by Con­necticut. In 1775, a minor battle was fought in Muncy. The Pennamites, under Col. Putnam, were expelled in the last military enterprise under­taken by the provincial govern­ment of Pennsylvania.

Fifteen days following the British surrender at Yorktown, Pennsylvania petitioned the new national government to settle the land dispute. A court was established and its decision, known as the Decree of Trenton, stated: “We are unan­imously of the opinion that Connecticut has no right to the land in controversy. We are also unanimously of opinion that the jurisdiction and pre­emption of all the territory lying within the Charter of Pennsylvania, and now claimed by the State of Con­necticut do of right belong to the State of Pennsylvania.”

This statement referred only to legal jurisdiction, not to which individuals owned the land. The settlers, as long as they retained their land, would presumably not mind the change in jurisdiction, but this was not the case, however, and by 1784 the second Pen­namite War had begun.

The Yankees forcibly retook their land and threatened to secede, but tempers were eventually calmed, fears al­layed, and the crisis dissolved peacefully a year after the war began.

Fifteen years before the Pennamite Wars developed, the Susquehanna Company was exploring what is today Wyoming County, determining that the area was virtually unoccupied by Indians and little threat remained. The first white settlements began in Wyoming County when scout­ing parties from the Wyoming Valley followed the Susque­hanna River to the present boundaries of the county. Eventually the towns of Falls, Osterhout, Tunkhannock, Mehoopany, Meshoppen and Laceyville were founded by these scouting parties. Other explorers left the Susquehanna River and walked the length of the Tunkhannock Creek to establish the settlements of Dixon, East Lemon, Starkville, Nicholson and Factoryville. Other sections of the county were discovered by men as they followed various creeks, such as Bowman’s and Meshoppen.

One of four counties mak­ing up what is called the “End­less Mountains” region, Wyoming County and its roll­ing hills and rugged mountains did present hardships to early travelers. The Indians, before the pioneers arrived, settled only along or traveled the Susquehanna River and its numerous tributaries. Even early mapmakers faced many obstacles in making their sur­veys when confronted by the craggy mountains, and they aptly described the area on their maps in 1744 as “The Endless Mountains.”

On April 4, 1842, Wyoming County was created from the northern portion of Luzerne County by an act of the state legislature. A debate concern­ing the name of the newly formed county ensued, and Putnam was considered in honor of Col. Putnam who fought in the Pennamite Wars. The new county was named Wyoming, derived from an Indian word meaning “exten­sive meadows.”

Luzerne County officials governed the new county until October 1842, when local elec­tions and installations were held. By that time, ten town­ships existed, including the original three – Tunkhannock (originally called Putnam), Braintrim and Northmoreland (or Exeter). These three had been surveyed by Connecticut prior to the Decree of Trenton.

Presently there are five boroughs in Wyoming County: Laceyville, Meshoppen and Tunkhannock along the Sus­quehanna River, and Ni­cholson and Factoryville in the northeastern section. Tunkhannock, the county seat and the earliest urban settle­ment, is the only community with a population of more than twenty-three hundred residents. Organized in 1790, and incorporated as a borough on August 3, 1841, it was named Tunkhannock after the township and stream of the same name.

Wyoming County’s forested land provided the basic indus­try, lumber. The early county relied on lumber and the other natural resources, and as the demand for these resources grew, so did the population. The forests attracted Germans, the canal and railroads brought the Irish and Hungari­ans, the Poles came to the anthracite mines in the south and farming attracted others to supplant the original Yankee and Pennamite settlers. Even early in its existence, Wyoming County was a melting pot for many nationalities.

The first industry of major importance, lumbering, relied on the abundant pine, oak and chestnut trees which were felled and shipped down the river to market. The many sawmills supported this indus­try, as well as later wagon and spool factories. The timber trade was the single major economic export of the county until the opening of the twentieth century. The lumber and railroad industries made Ni­cholson, on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, and Tunkhannock, on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, centers of trade. Grain and dairy farm products gradually increased also helping the railroads to flourish. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, dairy farming over­took the lumbering industry and became the largest eco­nomic asset of the county.

Other industries, some of brief duration, flourished during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Quarrying and small mining operations were developed, including the famous Pennsylvania “bluestone,” which is still cut and marketed in other parts of the United States. Tannerys utilized the native hemlock bark and the abun­dant cattle hides for the pro­duction of leather. Threshing machines and other farm equipment were manufactured by Cyrus Avery Foundry and Machine Shop, exporting the products to Russia. A model of one of their “Horse Power” machines was recently given to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., by the Avery descendants.

In March 1963, the Proctor and Gamble Paper Products Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, bought nearly eight hundred acres on Carney Flats in Washington Township. Two years later, plans were announced to build a plant for its subsidiary, the Charmin Paper Products Company. The wood used in manufacture of the paper products is located within a seventy-five mile radius of the plant. During the past twenty years several major additions have been made to the facility, offering numerous employ­ment possibilities to residents. The plant currently employs three thousand workers, an increase from the original three hundred and fifty em­ployees hired in 1966. The company also spends approxi­mately two hundred million dollars in Pennsylvania to purchase goods for its manufacturing process.

One of Wyoming County’s attractions is the Tunkhannock Viaduct, often referred to as the Nicholson Bridge, at Ni­cholson, dedicated as a Na­tional Historical Civil Engineering landmark in 1976. Built during the years 1912- 1915, at a cost of nearly two million dollars, the double­-track viaduct consists of ten one hundred and eighty foot, and two one hundred foot arches, with a total length of two thousand feet and a height of two hundred and forty-two feet from the stream bed to the top of the coping. These dimensions make it the largest reinforced-concrete structure of its type in the world. The construction of the viaduct came about through the efforts of William Haynes Truesdale, president of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and was built under the supervision of George J. Ray, chief engineer for the railroad.

Wyoming County attracts people with its beautiful land-only a quarter of the total acreage is devoted to uses other than agriculture or wil­derness. The water in the streams and Susquehanna River is unpolluted, brimming with trout stocked annually by the Pennsylvania Fish Com­mission. The second largest natural lake in Pennsylvania – called Lake Carey, although originally known as Barnum’s Pond – is in Wyoming County. In the early years, many mills were situated around the lake, and the earliest sawmill was erected by Elijah Barnum about 1800. After his death the mills were sold to the Abel Marcy family and for years the lake was known as Marcy’s Pond. In the late 1870s Lieut. D. C. Kitchen, a correspon­dent of a local newspaper, gave the lake the name of Lake Carey after Earl H. Carey, a blind man who maintained title to the land around the lake.

Although a small county in terms of acreage and popula­tion, Wyoming County played an important – if not peaceful – role in the settle­ment of Pennsylvania during the turbulent eighteenth cen­tury. But today, the clear wa­ters of the glistening streams and bosky hills of the gently undulating hills and valleys convey a sense of tranquility which continues to attract and inspire both residents and visitors. Certainly not a se­cluded county, Wyoming is undoubtedly one of Pennsyl­vania’s most picturesque. Its natural resources – not to men­tion its beauty – have nurtured two centuries of Pennsylva­nians who have taken refuge among its verdant vales and in its historic villages.


For Further Reading

Chapman, Isaac A. Pioneer Days in the Wyoming Valley. Wilkes-Barre: Lewis, 1830.

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

History of Luzerne, Lack­awanna and Wyoming Coun­ties, Pennsylvania. New York: W.W. Munsell and Co., 1880.

Miner, Charles. History of Wyo­ming in a Series of Letters. Philadelphia: J. Crissy, 1845.

Miner, Lewis H. The Valley of Wyoming: The Romance of Its History and Its Poetry. New York: Robert H. Johnston and Co., 1866.

Peck, George. Wyoming: Its History, Stirring Incidents and Romantic Adventures. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872.

Stone, William L. The Poetry and History of Wyoming. Albany: J. Munsell, 1864.


The authors, James Colby and John Sileski, originally wrote this article for the Northern Tier Regional Planning Commission, Towanda, in 1968. It has been revised by the research staff of the Wyoming County Historical Society, Tunkhannock, especially for this magazine.