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

Clinton County, one of the sixth-class counties of Pennsyl­vania, occupies 900 square miles of river valley and mountain land near the geographical center of the state. Nearly two-thirds of the area re­mains forested, al though most of the trees are second growth after a near denuding of the land by a booming lumber industry in the second half of the last century. It was in the wood­lands of western Clinton County that the Commonwealth bought a tract of forest in the watershed of Young Woman’s Creek in 1898 to create Sproul State Forest, thus beginning the Pennsylvania State Forest system. Sproul State Forest contains a few small tracts of virgin timber, immense and majestic trees, dating back to the original “Penn’s Woods,” ceded to William Penn by Charles II of England.

These forests and the Susquehanna River have dominated the lives of the people of Clinton County, from the Indians who roamed central Pennsyl­vania before Penn’s first treaty to the 37,411 citizens who live there today.


Early Settlement

A major landmark for the early Indian tribes, whose footpaths through the wilderness were the first thoroughfares of traffic, continues to link Clinton County’s present with its past. The “Great Island,” as it was known, is situated in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River just east of Lock Haven. A mile wide and two-mile-long fertile tract of level land, the Island lies at the mouth of Bald Eagle Creek, at the foot of the Bald Eagle Moun­tains. (Both the creek and the moun­tains, and much else in Clinton County, including the original township of Bald Eagle, were named for Chief Bald Eagle of the Munsee tribe.) The Island was of tremendous importance to the Indians and served as a gathering place for the Delawares, as well as for their overlords, the warlike Iroquois, and the subclans of their complex confed­eracy. It was also the site of the first white trading posts, transient white settlements and temporary Indian villages. Collectors and archeologists have found many Indian relics and artifacts here, as well as on nearby farmland and in other sections of the county.

Aside from the Indian paths which intersected at the Great Island, the West Branch was the main avenue of travel into and out of the area while the land was being claimed by pioneers. As a result, the Island may also have been the spot in Clinton County where the first white settler made his home. Michael Quigley is reputed to have lived there as a squatter in 1762, but another man shares the claim of “first settler” with him. When surveyors ar­rived at the Great Island in 1769 after the Fort Stanwix Treaty, they found Cleary (or Clary) Campbell living with his wife and children in a one-room log cabin on a tract that still belonged to the Indians. A farmer from the Juniata Valley, Campbell clung to his squatter’s cabin until 1776 when a court decision at Sunbury ordered him off.

Although there may be some debate about the first settler, there can be no doubt that William Dunn, who arrived with the 1769 surveying party after the first Fort Stanwix Treaty went into effect, became the eventual owner of the Great Island and a large tract of land on the north river bank. He built a cabin or two, gaining preemption rights which he exercised when the land went on the legal market under the second Stanwix Treaty in 1784. He received his warrant in 1785, promptly laid out a town, calling it Dunnsburgh, and began the sale of lots in 1786.

Before the general sale of land acquired from the Indians in the Stanwix Treaty of 1768, two special applications were approved: one made land available to officers who had served in the British Army during the French and Indian War under Col. Henry Bouquet and the other granted 1,650 acres to the Rev. Dr. Francis Allison, a British Army chaplain who served in western Pennsylvania during the war. The two tracts, totaling more than 10,000 acres within what would later be Clinton County, extended from the Island along Bald Eagle Creek to the mouth of Beech Creek. The site of Lock Haven, part of the Allison tract, was promptly sold to John Fleming who settled on it immediate­ly. Today, Allison’s name is preserved in Allison Township and Fleming’s in the borough of Flemington, both adja­cent to Lock Haven.

Land sales brought an influx of set­tlers to the south side of the river just east of the Great Island, within a mile of which a small community, later known as “Old Town,” soon devel­oped. Although the Island itself and the land on the north side remained closed to settlement as “Indian land” until 1784, there was a continuing stream of visitors to the Island: Frenchmen from Canada renewing old hostilities with the British and trading for furs, Moravians serving as missionaries, and tribesmen, both friendly and hos­tile. In the years after 1769, settle­ment spread into the surrounding lands, including the forbidden north side of the river. With squatters con­tinuing to infiltrate that area, Indian raids remained a constant hazard.

A much-disputed area under the first Stanwix Treaty was the strip of land between two northern tributaries of the West Branch. Indians insisted that the stream Tiadaghton, the legal boundary, was the more southerly creek, while whites claimed that it was the creek farther up river. Between the two lay rich land which settlers coveted for farms and forests full of game which Indians wanted to hunt. The dispute simmered for sixteen years while provincial authorities kept hands off. There were scalpings, kidnappings and cabin burnings with interludes of uneasy friendship.

During the difficult time along this section of the frontier, whites handled their internal disputes under a code of practical law they called “Fair Play.” Tradition has it that “Fair Play” jus­tice was dispensed under a towering elm tree on the bank of Pine Creek, the stream which was ultimately iden­tified as Tiadaghton. There, too, tradi­tion says, “Fair Play” families gathered to declare their own independence from Great Britain in early July 1776.

Revolutionary fervor was seeping into the frontier and sentiment was strong for independence. Philip Fithian, a Presbyterian missionary who rode horseback into the far reaches of Northumberland County, wrote in his diary, in 1775, that he saw “30 young fellows, all expert riflemen” from the Great Island, “marching into North­umberland with a fife and a drum.” He also saw the writings of John Dickinson, an advocate of indepen­dence, in the home of John Fleming.

The British had incited their Indian allies to attack the frontier with toma­hawk and spear, giving no quarter. Scouts and friendly Indians brought warnings to the Great Island of the bloody invasion and massacre of set­tlers in the Wyoming Valley on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. In response, the homes of William Reed on the Fleming land and Samuel Horn a few miles to the east were stockaded and converted into makeshift “forts.” Nevertheless, few believed these forts could hold out against such odds.

Panic swept the valley in 1778 and a rag-tag flotilla of boats, canoes, rafts, dower chests and hog troughs, carrying women and children, was launched and floated downstream. Men, armed with muskets and pitchforks and other improvised weapons, marched along tile riverbank. At least 200 took part in the “Great Runaway,” and all safely reached Fort Augusta at Sunbury.

Almost everyone in the upper val­ley joined the exodus, leaving the entire territory to the Indians. One who held out for almost two more years, however, was the redoubtable widow, Catherine Smith. After doing some trading at Great Island and estab­lishing a gristmill a few miles away, she left the mill to her two sons and went to White Deer where she set up a boring mill. There, she manufactured rifles, a skill she had learned from her husband, a Lancaster gunsmith, until Indians burned her mills in 1779. So far as records show, she never collected any payment for the rifles she had delivered to the army.

The “Runaway” and the Indian raids which followed left the West Branch frontier almost empty until near the end of the Revolution. Not until 1783 did enough former inhabi­tants filter back to their homesteads in Bald Eagle Township to hold an elec­tion.


Growth and Formation

When the second Stanwix Treaty opened the north side of the river to legal purchase in 1784, buyers, who paid 30 pounds for 100 acres of land, nocked into the area. Many returned to their squatter holdings, but this time with a legal title. Many were new­comers – Scots, Irish, English, Germans, Dutch, Swiss and other Europeans­ – fleeing the hard times that followed the French Revolution and the Napo­leonic wars. Many were “redemp­tioners,” who virtually sold themselves into temporary slave1y in order to get passage to Pennsylvania. Attracted by Penn’s guarantee of freedom of reli­gion, Mennonites, Amish, Schwenk­felders and other “plain people” emi­grated eagerly. These new arrivals con­tributed to a rapid population growth on the erstwhile frontier.

As early as 1772, Northumberland County had been cut from Berks, which had been separated earlier from Chester, one of Penn’s three original counties. Lycoming County was created in 1795. Bald Eagle Township, the largest in Northumberland County and one of the largest in the whole new country, was divided into three parts when Centre County was formed from Lycoming in 1800.

Wagon roads and bridle trails were extended, bigger boats plied the river, and canal talk began to include specula­tion on an extension up the West Branch. Gristmills, sawmiJ!s and other early enterprises were enlarged, and new establishments were started by in­coming potters, weavers, woodworkers, mechanics and shopkeepers.

One of the ambitious newcomers was John Rich, a wool carder from England, who rented a woolen mill along Bald Eagle Creek in a village which dated to 1806. (Now a flourish­ing borough, Mill Hall has the oldest name on the map of Clinton County.) Searching for better water power, Rich bought a tract of land on Chathams Run below the Great [sland in the Pine Creek area about 1830. There he put up a sawmill to cut lumber, a brick­yard to make bricks from clay found in the millrace and erected a three­-story mill to start the village of Wool­rich and the Woolrich Woolen Mills (see cover). Now doing an international business, the Woolrich Company is the oldest continuously operating industry in Clinton County.

While the West Branch canal was in construction, a group of Boston in­vestors sent a Philadelphia geologist to explore the region for bituminous coal deposits. With this charge, William P. Farrand rode horseback into an un­broken wilderness in the winter of 1831-32. Soon, he opened a coal mine on a mountain and erected an iron fur­nace on the flatlands below, a few miles from “Old Town,” thus beginning the development of Clinton County’s first industrial center, Farrandsville.

Into the territory at this time, also drawn by the prospect that the canal would soon reach “Old Town,” came another speculator, Jeremiah Church. A young man from the Finger Lakes country of New York, Church had al­ready spent a decade roaming the country, making shingles, traveling with a wax works, building boats, keep­ing store, buying and selling land in half a dozen states, and seeing the world from Chicago to New Orleans.

In early 1832, he bought town sites in Lewisburg and Williamsport, divided them into lots and quickly sold them. Profits were so good, that he returned a year later. Hearing of a farm for sale where the West Branch canal would intersect with a proposed Spring Creek & Bald Eagle crosscut, he hastened to “Old Town.” In October 1833, Jerry and Willard Church bought 200 acres of the original Allison tract from Dr. John Henderson of Huntingdon, hus­band of a granddaughter of John Fleming. The price was $20,000. At a public sale held on November 4, the Church brothers sold 50 lots in the new town of Lock Haven, which they had named for the two canal locks facing each other across the river. The town, already a haven for timber rafts, grew swiftly, especially after the canal was opened in 1834. Church’s ambi­tion then extended to the creation of a new county with Lock Haven as the county seat. It took him nearly six years to achieve this goal.

It was not done without a bit of political legerdemain. Originally, the idea was to call the county Eagle; but the legislative representatives from Ly­coming and Centre counties, which would lose territory to the new coun­ty as proposed, carried on a vigorous opposition to Church’s bill. As a re­sult, a new measure was introduced in 1838, this lime to create a county named Clinton. Before the representa­tives of Lycoming and Centre counties realized that Clinton County, named in deference to the canal-building gov­ernor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, was really nothing more than Eagle county under a different label, the bill was passed. The county was formally established the following year.

During the county’s early years, a makeshift courthouse in two rooms of a tavern on the river front was the first official building: a log cabin was the jail. The tavern continued to house the courts until 1845 when Jerry Church contributed a site for a new court­house, which was built of brick with an impressive pillared portico. A decade later, a large jail, with a walled yard, was constructed and is still in use. Within twenty years, the Jerry Church courthouse was outgrown by a burgeoning community, and a new structure was dedicated in 1869. The impressive building, topped by two cupola-domed towers, one containing a clock which still strikes the hour, re­mains the county courthouse today.


Development and Prosperity

Clinton County, formed from three Centre County townships and nine from Lycoming, had a population of 8,323 in the census of 1840. Ten years later, the population had grown to 11,207 and the number of townships had increased to 22. Today, the coun­ty claims over 37 ,000 residents who live either in U1e City of Lock Haven or in one of Clinton’s 19 townships or 7 boroughs.

This kind of steady growth was not experienced by all of the county’s communities, however, despite their early history. No longer, for example, is Farrandsville a populous community. Its population is less than 200 now, in contrast with its bustling activity in 1835-40 when it had a coal mine, a draft furnace, a rolling mill, a nail factory with a capacity of ten tons of nails per day, mills for sawing lumber, lath and shingles, and an air and cupola furnace which could turn out nearly 300 tons of castings in three months. Before its heyday ended, Farrandsville was the site of a plant which produced railroad cars and was also the home of the first blast furnace in the western hemisphere to use bituminous coal to produce cast iron of superior quality. Erected and put into operation in 1837, the furnace was designed and built by experts from Wales and Scot­land. Standing 55 feet high, it was one of the tallest in North America.

For a time, the furnace was part of the American estate of a queen of Spain. When President Andrew Jack­son closed American banks during the panic of 1837, $5 million credited to the Spanish crown from the U.S. pur­chase of Florida was still on deposit. With the death of the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, a struggle began be­tween his brother, Carlos, and the partisans of Ferdinand’s daughter, the three-year-old Queen Isabella II, and her mother, Queen Christina Maria, who served as regent. The Queen Mother had reason to fear that she might have to flee the country – and she remembered the Spanish money in American banks.

Calling upon her agents, John and Christopher Fallon, prominent lawyers in Philadelphia, she had them purchase for her the operations and holdings of several companies in Farrandsville and other parts of Clinton and Centre counties. The Fallon brothers knew the region, for they themselves were in­volved in the development of central Pennsylvania and in the projected rail­road which would connect Philadel­phia with the Great Lakes. One invest­ment, the 200-room Fallon Hotel in Lock Haven which they had built, has been in operation since it was opened in 1855. Another, a coal mine at the now extinct town of Peacock in the ‘Scootac area, was the scene of the first coal miners’ strike in Pennsyl­vania. The most spectacular structure created by the Fallons, however, was an imposing four-story mansion near Farrandsville, built as an American refuge for the Queen Mother and the young Queen.

Nothing is left of the royal refuge now except the massive lock and key, preserved in the Heisey Museum of the Clinton County Historical Society. All that remains of the dreams of wealth from coal and iron is the historic Farrandsville iron furnace, renovated and preserved as a monument to past prosperity. The working life of the great furnace was brief, due to the scarcity of good raw materials in the immediate vicinity.

Farrandsville’s era of productivity did not end with the Fallons and the Queens, however. Alexander Munro, who also came to Farrandsville in 1831, saw the potential in the clay de­posits there. On land he and his asso­ciates had purchased from the Queen, he began the first firebrick plant in Pennsylvania. Farrandsville prospered as a brick-making center for many years and the brick industry blossomed to become an important part of Clin­ton County’s economic life for more than a century. Plants for the manu­facture of building brick, firebrick and other ceramic and clay products were also active in and near Lock Haven, Castanea, Beech Creek, Mill Hall and Monument.

The West Branch lumber boom, as might be expected, brought with it in­creased prosperity to Clinton County, but sparked a legal battle with the promoters of the Williamsport boom, who resented the competition. A court order, reversed years later, confined the West Branch boom to the south side of the river. From that location it fed logs to nine major sawmills in Lock Haven, which cut 100 million feet of lumber per year, and supplied others scattered throughout the coun­ty.

The lumber boom encouraged other related industries as well. The Mann Axe Factory at Mill Hall, for example, was built in 1848 on the banks of Fishing Creek. With an early output of twenty axes per day, the company ulti­mately produced most of the double­-bitted axes used in the nationwide lumbering industry and, for a time, made Mill Hall the axe capital of the world.

The completion of the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad, which reached Lock Haven in 1859, also created new growth in Clinton County. The town of Ren­ovo, in fact, was developed by the rail­road as a center for maintenance and car repair. The railroad even gave the town its name, deriving it from the Latin word for “I renew.” Between 1901 and 1908 another major railroad center, Oak Grove, was established by the New York Central, then a competi­tor of the “Pennsy.” The communities of Avis and Oak Grove were combined to create Avis borough in 1908, as the new shops stimulated a considerable building boom.

In the half-century which followed the Civil War, Clinton County probably enjoyed its greatest prosperity. The lumber industry thrived and fostered another major offshoot, a successful paper-manufacturing plant started by Mylert and L. G. Armstrong in 1883. Now owned by the Hammermill Paper Co., the industry is on the threshold of its second century. Other industries were booming; agriculture was strong; central steam heating and other com­munity services were taken for granted; handsome homes were built; and schools, churches, and social and civic activities flourished.

Philip M. Price, who had come from Philadelphia during the building of the railroad, for which he served as direc­tor, was a leader in transforming Jerry Church’s frontier town into a sophisti­cated community. Complete with a library and a college, Lock Haven achieved the status of a third class city in 1870. It remains the smallest third class city in Pennsylvania.

When the present courthouse in Lock Haven was constructed in 1869, the original building was not destroyed; instead it was turned over to the pub­lic schools. The first school house in the area had been opened in 1774 at Sour’s Ferry east of the Great Island. Abandoned in the “Runaway,” this pioneer school was followed, when the settlers returned and the population expanded, by a proliferation of schools and “academies.” An eight-cornered school was built at Salona in 1810; in Lock Haven a log school was built in 1818 adjacent to the first church, a Presbyterian meeting house. Some early schools in the county, in fact, had been conducted in church build­ings. Traveling preachers of various faiths had followed the Presbyterian, Philip Fithian, in establishing congre­gations which met sometimes in im­provised quarters for as long as several years while they collected funds to build a church. By the late 1870s, there were churches and schools in every part of Clinton County.

A countywide school system was organized in 1869, headed by a Millers­ville Normal graduate, A. N. Raub, who became the first city superinten­dent of schools, supervising a system with four buildings. Mr. Raub, who later founded the University of Dela­ware, saw an opportunity for Lock Haven; not all the Normal Schools authorized for Pennsylvania by state law had yet been established, including one designated for the Eighth Normal School District. He soon found ready allies in the community. Philip Price donated a site, a building fund was established, monies were raised, and a building containing classrooms and dormitories was erected on the top of a hill overlooking Lock Haven. The Central State Normal School was opened in the fall of 1877 with 38 students. By 1882 the graduating class numbered 78, the largest in the state and possibly in the whole country for that year. In 1914,the Normal School was acquired by the state and has since been upgraded and reclassified, first to a Teachers’ College and more recently to a State College.

Other community services ex­panded. A fledgling fire fighting force, decimated during the Civil War, was reincorporated in 1866, a precursor to today’s volunteer firefighters, profes­sional drivers and modern equipment, which operate through a countywide communications center. Municipal water systems, the first dating to 1866, serve the county’s major population centers. A lending library, also begun in 1866, was the forerunner of the present Annie Halenbake Ross Public Library. Opened in 1910, the Ross Library has grown until today it has branches and book stations serving the entire county. The Lock Haven Hospital, preceded by an almshouse for the care of indigents, began its modern history in 1898 and now oc­cupies an extensive health center, new since 1960. A market house, which once offered 50 stalls for farmers. re­mains the oldest business building still in commercial use north of Harrisburg.

A taste for drama, in the form of a “Thespian Society,” was displayed as early as 1822. Various other dramatic endeavors have continued, including the Depression-years Playmakers, cul­minating in a summer theatre, the Mill­brook Playhouse, which has been active for the past twenty years. Music and other cultural interests developed widely, starting with such projects as the Creenburr Cornet Band in Sugar Valley, the second oldest in central Pennsylvania.


The River and the Twentieth Century

After the coming of the railroad, the river began to lose the economic importance it once had when it was the only way to transport logs from the woods to the markets; no longer was it the only key to wealth. Spring freshets, which had carried rafts and logs, were no longer an asset; instead, intermittent floods were increasingly costly, ruining unharvested crops, tear­ing away small farm buildings, dam­aging bridges, sawmills and homes. Fortunately, the loss of life was rare. In 1865 and again in 1884 the river rose destructively causing heavy losses of property in the prospering towns along the Susquehanna. Then came the flood of 1889, on June 1, setting a new record for damage and taking many lives-twenty in Nittany Valley, seven in Wayne Township and one in Lock Haven.

At the time of the flood, students from the Normal School were housed in the old downtown hotel which had once been the post office. The school had met with a disaster of its own only a year before. The handsome, four­-story Normal School building, erected fifteen years earlier, had burned to the ground in 1888. Beset by fire and flood, the trustees of the Normal be­gan at once to plan a new building on a larger scale.

The river, however, was not fin­ished. The flood of 1936 was a repeti­tion of the inundation of 1889 in every way but loss of life. The damage was stupendous. Clinton County re­sponded with a campaign for flood control in concert with other flood­-stricken counties. In addition, a flood record bureau, centered in Lock Haven, was organized by the newspapers of the West Branch Valley to keep tabs on the river.

Both efforts bore fruit. The record bureau, which developed techniques for flood prediction, was a forerunner of today’s sophisticated statewide sys­tem of flood forecasting through the U.S. Weather Bureau. Flood control has not been fully achieved, but four retention dams on the headwaters of the West Branch have appreciably re­duced the level of flooding aJJ the way to Harrisburg.

A fifth dam, with as much capacity as the other four combined, was part of the original plan. It was to be built on the river at Keating and furnished with power generating equipment in order to sell electricity to the power companies of the area. The power potential was needed to make the dam economically feasible. Utility com­panies, however, sharing their indus­tries’ intense opposition to “public power” in the 1940s, said they did not need the additional electricity and would not buy it. As a result, the dam was never built, a decision which was much regretted in the West Branch Valley in 1972 when the berserk hurri­cane, Agnes, inflicted a third flood of record-breaking proportions on the Susquehanna River basin.

Looking toward the future, many citizens see real flood control, to pro­vide full flood protection for all com­munities from Renovo downstream, as the most important issue ahead.

Yet, the twentieth century brought more hope than disaster. The age of the automobile began early in the cen­tury with the appearance of the first cars. Soon they seemed to fill the streets and demanded that back roads should become durable highways. The first such road connecting Lock Haven and Renovo was opened in 1926; be­fore that time the two towns were linked by trains, sometimes a dozen in a day.

As progress would have it, the air­plane followed the automobile into the county’s history. A small airport, adjacent to an empty silk mill. had been started by two youthful aviation enthusiasts on a one-time tobacco field which also had been used as a harness­-racing track and as a fairground. The boys owned a Taylor Cub airplane, and one day in 1937 during a tele­phone conversation with the plane manufacturer in Bradford, they learned that the Cub plant had been destroyed by fire the night before. That after­noon they gave the mayor of Lock Haven his first airplane ride, flying him to Bradford. There he offered the vacant silk mill next to the county’s lone airport to the management of Taylor Cub in an attempt to have the firm relocate. The offer was accepted; the move was made; the company changed its name and Piper Aircraft was born. Now a subsidiary of Bangor. Punta Corporation, Piper also operates a parts plant in Renovo and has grown to be the largest single employer in Clinton County.

The coming of the Piper plant ex­emplified the gradual economic shift which had been in progress since the arrival of the railroad and the ’89 flood. With the end of the canal era and the lumber boom, county industry turned away from business which was solely dependent upon local and re­gional resources toward manufacturing which used raw materials from outside the area. Just before World War I, for example, a factory to produce dyes was introduced into the county in order to replace vanishing German im­ports. Before that, in 1898, a silk in­dustry had been established, a business which continued for eighty years and which, for awhile, saw two plants in operation simultaneously. Products, in turn, were introduced to major markets outside of the immediate area. Today, many items made in Clinton County are marketed worldwide.

Starting its fourteenth decade, Clin­ton County is home to nearly twenty­-five industrial plants, widely diversi­fied, ranging from a leading manu­facturer of private aircraft to an in­ternational firm making unfinished furniture. The county also claims the largest gas storage area in the world, created after the discovery of gas in the Kettle Creek area during the 1950s. The find set off a ten-year drilling spree which exhausted the pool of gas leaving the natural underground de­pository. In addition, the county has two industrial parks and many sites well-located for the development of future industries.

Yet in spite of this recent growth, the people of Clinton County and those who visit there today are still surrounded by the ever present Penn’s Woods. For all the growth and change which have occurred since the found­ing of the county in 1838, history has not altered that fact. The forest re­mains and all can enjoy the recreation­al opportunities and the stunning beauty which it has to offer.


Rebecca F. Gross retired in 1970 as the editor of The Lock Haven Express after nearly fifty years of service to the newspapers of Clinton County. She has served as president of several journalistic organizations, including the State Associated Press, being the first woman to hold that office. A graduate of the University of Pennsyl­vania, she also attended Temple Uni­versity and held an appointment as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Currently, she serves as president of the board of trustees of the Annie Halenbake Ross Library.


Sarah Beck Ricker majored in history during both her undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh and her graduate work at Bucknell, where she earned M.A.s in history and guidance. She has taught at the high school and college levels and has recently been active as an officer in the Clinton County Historical Society and as a member of the county’s Bicentennial Commission.