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

Never a promised land, flowing with milk and honey, Northwestern Pennsylvania – a part of which later became Forest County­ – seemed to repel early settle­ment.

Moravian missionary David Zeisberger, whose diary ac­count reveals the first intimate knowledge of the terrain and the Indian inhabitants, did not extol the area nor its original residents locals to any high degree. Like all pioneer mis­sionaries, Zeisberger braved the hatred and suspicion of the Munsee Indians that lived along the Allegheny River which now flows past East Hickory and Tionesta. At the Indian village of Lawunahan­nck, “the meeting of two streams,” Zeisberger preached daily to the savages, which he described as hideous in ap­pearance, with faces painted black and vermilion, and with heads decorated with fox tails and feathers.

Upon hearing the Indian word damaskink, which trans­lates as ‘muskrat place,’ Zeis­berger erroneously spelled it as Damascus. Later he cor­rected it, but the name still appears as Damascus in local and geographical lists. To the Indian, Goshgoshunk signified a hog or an appearance of one, but the terrain of the hog­-backed hills in the area may have dictated nomenclature.

Fifty miles across country, another Moravian missionary, Christian Frederick Post, had traveled to a river which the Seneca Indians of the area called Tobeco, which in English means “alder.” Previous French explorers had called it Riviere Au Fiel or “River Of Hate.” Colloquially called Stump Creek, it remained so until two visitors, Stanard and Dawson, exalted the pano­ramic view and likened the resonant ripple of the river to a ‘clarion call.’

David Zeisberger and the very early settlers could be classified as visionaries, escap­ists, loners, hunters or trap­pers, but none of them as ideal candidates for the formation of a county.

To the east and throughout the Atlantic states, timber had been badly depleted. Scouts employed by lumbering fami­lies had investigated North­western Pennsylvania and returned with glowing and almost unbelievable tales of the immense forest.

This abundant timber lured pioneer John Cook and his family to a wilderness section of Jefferson County, later in­corporated into Forest County, where he erected a one story cabin on the east side of Tom’s Run. According to tradition, Tom was a Seneca Indian who annually traveled to this spot to fish in this stream, hence its name. John Cook’s son, Judge Andrew Cook, enlarged the lumber operation extensively. During the Cook family’s own­ership millions of board feet of lumber were cut at what is now called Cooksburg.

During the years since the Commonwealth purchased the timberlands of Cook descend­ants, millions of tourists from throughout the world have visited Cook Forest State Park and have stood silently in awe of the giant trees which still stand.

Now that the gate had been opened by the Cooks and a handful of hardy pioneers, the region was ripe for exploitation and settlement.

One of the first was Cyrus Blood, a New Englander. Promise of prosperity lured him to Hagerstown, Mary­land. As principal of Hagers­town Academy, a strange call­ing haunted him, one that persisted even when he be­came a professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle. Several forays into the wilderness of Northwestern Pennsylvania seemed to momentarily con­tent him and, convincing twenty of his dose friends, he arranged to buy a large tract in the unbroken forests of north­ern Jefferson County. Blood first traveled to Corsica to begin settlement plans. Leav­ing his family there, he hacked a path from Clarington to what he was to call Blood Settle­ment, where he constructed a crude cabin. He made plans to return to his old home, but tragedy struck. Cholera van­quished his colonists and plans for his grandiose settle­ment had to be abandoned. But Blood, still answering to destiny’s call, returned with his family.

Eventually, Cyrus Blood became community mail car­rier, tavern keeper, school­master, surveyor, grist and sawmill operator and later, Associate Judge and Forest County Commissioner. How­ever, his unhappy wife, un­suited for the pioneer life, returned to her home in the South. Blood, in spite of this unpleasant domestic situation, kept his family with him and persisted in his efforts to cre­ate a new county. His dream was finally realized when Forest County was separated from Jefferson County on April 11, 1848. Forest County was created by a joint resolu­tion of the General Assembly, the only Pennsylvania county created in this manner.

It took Cyrus Blood fifteen years to realize his dream and, cognizant of the help he had received from his daughter, Marien, he legally changed the name of the village from Blood Settlement to Marienville. Today, Marienville is the larg­est community of Forest County, home to seven hun­dred and fifty residents.

In 1883, at the peak of lum­ber activity in the Marienville area, nineteen woodworking establishments existed within a five mile radius of the vil­lage. Ten years later a plant designed for the extraction of a syrup from hemlock bark was established. This extract was used for the tanning of leather. Hemlock trees of giant height were felled and skinned. The lumber contained in the tree was left to rot and became a fire hazard.

In the year 1867 the discov­ery of oil had excited inhabit­ants along the Allegheny River and Tionesta Creek. A move­ment urged the expansion of Forest County which was achieved by attaching some territory from Venango County. Still, timber was king.

Two memorable families had settled the western part of the area. One was Truman Doud Collins. T.D., or as he was commonly known, Ol’ Teddy, was a figure about whom numerous and colorful leg­ends arose.

A native of Cortland, New York, Collins apparently had little time for the frivolities of youth. Born in 1831 and en­dowed with relentless energy and Scotch-Irish frugality, he amassed one thousand dollars which he pooled with other investors in a large lumbering enterprise still operating today. Collins had two loves: lumber­ing and religion.

His introduction to religion came when a Methodist preacher, the Reverend Hicks, held an evangelistic meeting. Hicks had power in his ser­mon. He was full of vehe­mence and he reached out his arms to the congregation sit­ting before him. He pounded the table, making the oil dance in the glass bowl of the lamp. He preached long and pas­sionately.

Reverend Hicks had touched the hearts of his audience.

Slowly – not in one night but in the course of two weeks – Teddy Collins became con­vinced. He went forward and knelt at the altar rail. It was, for Truman Doud Collins, surely the old time religion, without trimming or a trill. Preacher Hicks little realized that night he had not only saved another soul, but had brought into the Methodist Church, through Collins’ con­tributions, more money for the church’s missions than any other individual in the country would ever give.

The following night, after making a public confession, Collins joined the Methodist Church. Immediately he be­came immensely popular with the church officials. He was invited to every Methodist conference and attended all of them. On one occasion in Pittsburgh, he was asked to speak before the assembled ministers. Several disgruntled clerics left the room before Collins stopped speaking. At the close of his talk, Truman Collins pulled checks from his long wallet. Each bishop who had remained to listen pa­tiently received one of his sizable checks as a contribu­tion for his pet project-a new church or mission. Those that snubbed him received noth­ing!

Collins’ business acumen in the lumbering industry be­came rapidly apparent. The stands of magnificent timber seemed endless and hundreds of lumber rafts were con­structed and floated down­stream to waiting markets. Teddy, never a person to dress in any attire other than work clothes, would occasionally make a raft trip with his work­ers. One authentic story re­counts the day he entered an elegant hotel dining room in Pittsburgh and was refused service because of his unkempt appearance. Riled by this incivility, he immediately investigated the owner of the hotel, offered to buy the place, did so, returned to discharge the offending manager and then ceremoniously seated himself at a conspicuous table as lord and master of all he surveyed.

Despite his good business judgment his paydays were sporadic. Workers were paid but only at Collins’ conven­ience. Exact working hours were unknown and dissatis­fied workers claimed that in the course of a year he had extracted quite a few “compli­mentary” hours from each employee. On the other hand, however, if work slackened, no one was ever without provi­sions. Collins’ instructions were to see that an unem­ployed worker received what he needed, not what he wanted. His frugality con­trasted sharply with his phi­lanthropy. He was thrifty to an extreme, skinning his dead farm animals to save the hides.

His religious obligations were well known. It was a matter of record that one day a storage pond of logs broke the log chain. Collins, coming into the area on his logging train, glanced out of the window to see the creek churning with his company logs floating toward Pittsburgh! Realizing that he was about to lose a fortune, Collins pulled out his little black book and discov­ered that he was behind in his church contributions. On the spot, he made out a check to the Methodist missions and had it hastily dispatched. Then, legend contends, a log stuck crosswise in the creek, creating a log jam which saved the day. Dyed in the wool Collins supporters even be­lieved that if a fire started on adjacent timberland, it would burn to Collins’ land and stop.

So lived and died Truman Doud Collins, a legend to this day. In his lifetime he gave millions of dollars to the Meth­odist missions. Even today, more than seven hundred retired Methodist missionaries are beneficiaries of his selfless obligation to God and his fellow worker.

Rivaling the Collins’ empire was the Wheeler and Dusen­bury Lumber Company. Also natives of New York, the two partners came west when the timber began receding in east­ern forests. Their firm, along with Hamilton Stow of Olean, New York, became the first to open any large scale lumber­ing operation along the Tionesta Creek area of Forest County. This empire began locally in 1837 and prospered for more than a century. The center of the operations was located in the northwest sec­tion of the county.

The Wheeler family became internationally famous for its timber operations and for political service and mission­ary work. In the fall of 1907, Nelson P. Wheeler traveled to England with his family on one of only three vacations he allowed himself during his life. In Liverpool, he and his sons inspected square timber pur­chased from his company which was to be used as deck­ing for the British Royal Navy. The Wheeler and Dusenbury organization claimed the dis­tinction of supplying the flawless white pine mast for the Vanitie, the America’s Cup defender. Shortly after his return, Nelson P. was elected on the Republican ticket as U.S. Representative.

Schooled and raised in a strict Presbyterian back­ground, Wheeler noticed that, although good workers, his men were not Christian men. As the men matured they brought wives into the area, and when children arrived, the parents wanted the offspring to have the benefit of Sunday School. Wheeler invited a group which called itself Christian Endeavor, gave them space to hold lectures and the religious attitude of the area began to root. Several minis­ters of various affiliations were asked to attend and the choice for a cleric fell on a Presbyte­rian from Tionesta. The village had been called Wheelerbury by some, Rialto by others, and to the acquaintances of Hamil­ton Stowe it became com­monly known as Stowtown. Wheeler donated the material to build a church and a kinder­garten and when the time came to establish a post office, it was almost a unanimous choice that the new name be Endeavor. With the addition of more territory in 1866, Tionesta was named the county seat, creating a rivalry which has never subsided between Tionesta and Marienville.

A few years before the oil excitement exploded, the early settlers used what was called Seneca Oil, named because it was used by the Seneca tribe, on whose land it was found. Seneca was a good lubricant. Mixed with flour, it served as axle grease. Applied to the body, it eased sore muscles. Taken internally, it served as a gentle laxative. In some areas, it was bottled and gifted with miraculous properties to those gullible enough to be horn­swoggled.

The oil boom rocked Forest County about 1863. At Balltown, on the Tionesta Creek, oil became king. Lum­bering still continued, but visions of huge fortunes loomed in the natives’ eyes, and wells were so profuse that it was reported at the peak of oil exploration in the area that more than seven thousand barrels of oil were tapped each day.

Following suit, other settle­ments came to be called Eu­reka City, Gusher, Cooper Hill and Fagundus. Fagundus, part of which extended into Warren County, became a colorful place. Little, if any pretense was given to delegated law and order; survival and oppor­tunity were the privilege of the strong and the quick-minded. At one time, Fagundus was called Ham Fat because of the quantity of fatty pork in the oil field worker’s diet. Rattle­snakeville was another name, simply because of the enor­mous quantity of venomous reptiles which inhabited the area. And Battle City was another name. The name acknowledged the many bitter confrontations waged over oil leases. As a company or group of oilmen would erect a der­rick, a rival group would con­trive, through force, to dismantle the structure. At the peak of productivity, forty derricks were erected.

Fagundus eventually devel­oped to support a hotel, one barber shop, a shoe shine parlor, several saloons and a newspaper.

As the oil excitement waned, lumbering and allied wood products proved to be the major occupational mainstay.

Kellettville, situated on the Tionesta Creek, became home for approximately thirteen hundred residents, making it the largest community in the county at the time. Sawmills poured out rough lumber, kilns dried it and planers sur­faced it. Factories manufac­tured wooden spokes worked to furnish the material for wheels. Tanneries used hem­lock extract to tan leather. Lumber, the product of the forest, was still king.

Toward the end of the nine­teenth century the rasp of the cross-cut saw and the incisive sound of the ax chop against the tree began to diminish. Conflagrations raged through the pine and hemlock slash­ings. Complete tracts of timber were lost in the inferno and entire settlements were wiped out. Wildlife perished and the wolf and panther completely disappeared.

After the timber had been exploited or burned, the lum­ber barons turned eyes to the West. Large operations ceased overnight and the county began searching for other industries. Marienville at­tracted a glass making venture, a boon to the little village. The operation continued, without cessation from 1914 until 1982, when bleak economic condi­tions caused the company to discontinue.

Tionesta, capitalizing on its role as county seat, became quickly established as the heart of Forest County. Small industry flourished in this area and today a plant which man­ufactures plastic containers is the main industry. Sand and gravel, dredged from the Alle­gheny River, are transported to various parts of the county. In 1941, the U.S. Army Engineers found it expedient to place a dam just above Tionesta to hold waters back along the Tionesta Creek. By so doing, the important lumbering area of Kellettville, Nebraska and Mayburg was partially inun­dated and population de­creased.

The village of Endeavor, along with adjacent East Hick­ory and West Hickory, still remained lumber oriented. The Wheeler and Dusenbury empire ceased operations in 1939. Two years later, with war clouds looming, the operation was resumed under new own­ership. Under the name of Endeavor Lumber Company, wood products were shipped to all parts of North America, Asia and Europe. In 1966, the success of the company at­tracted the eye of the giant Hammermill Corporation, a producer of quality paper products, which took over complete ownership. The venture still flourishes at En­deavor and is Forest County’s largest employer.

Apart from the tremendous lumbering era and a portion of oil exploitation, Forest County has witnessed no epic event. Unless it would bear mention of the utterly amazing clouds of passenger pigeons which would swarm and blacken out the daylight in the eastern county village now aptly called Pigeon. Indians and early white settlers would travel to this area at nesting time and snare hundreds of thousands of these birds. Trees would be literally broken under the weight of these birds. Any method to collect these birds for shipment to large cities to be eaten as squab was admissi­ble. The pigeons were caught in nets, smoked to death, clubbed and brutalized in many ways. The passenger pigeon was seen as one of the earth’s expendable species; indeed, it soon became extinct. The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

In 1922, the U.S. Forest Service acquired thousands of cut over and fire ravaged acres. The large lumber producers had abandoned the area and the exodus proved timely and convenient for the federal government to conserve and preserve the remaining forest. Through disciplined methods and scientific study, the land has been transformed into second-growth forests. Black Cherry, a desirable hardwood1 thrives prolifically in the area. No longer is timber cut hap­hazardly. It is studied, classi­fied and marketed on a scientific basis. Sales are made by competitive bidding and much of the income is given to the township where the timber is cut. In addition, recreational areas have been established throughout the forest. Due to the complete change of growth in timber species, which is now predominantly hardwood and much less volatile, the Allegheny National Forest has become known as the “Asbes­tos Forest.” Unfortunately, this beautiful forest was badly devastated when a series of tornadoes struck down. An estimated forty million feet of lumber was destroyed on May 31, 1985, alone.

1n 1933, the Civilian Conser­vation Corps was formed. A village named Duhring, which had enjoyed considerable oil activity, but later had been deserted, became the site of the first working camp in the United States. Hundreds of young men were trained here and taught forestry skills. Under the tutelage and disci­pline of professionals, fire roads, new timber, bridges and area renovation became part of the program. Forest County bears the indelible stamp of the C. C. C. camps.

Forest County was, appro­priately, named for the huge wilderness of Northwestern Pennsylvania. As much veneer of culture as any area may claim is now enjoyed by little Forest County. With only a population of 5,072 people, an excellent school system has been set up and two modern schools, at Tionesta and Ma­rienville, educate young scholars.

Tionesta, which is the west­ern center of the county, en­joys the annual pilgrimages of visitors that fish, boat and hunt. Marienville, on the other hand, with a more rigorous winter climate, draws winter sports enthusiasts. Each year Tionesta hosts an Indian Festi­val, which depicts the relation­ship of Indian and early white settler. Marienville caters to the hunter, the snowmobiler and the cross country skier. Late in the winter, a gigantic fur sale and auction is held on the outskirts of the village. Roughneck revelry character­izes this event, typifying the spirit of the old time trapper, mountain man and hunter. Cook Forest, through the ef­forts of the Commonwealth, has become a vacationer’s paradise with rustic cabins, lectures, canoeing, bicycling and art and crafts.

There is no doubt that the immense forest and genera­tions of caretakers have dic­tated the destiny and heritage of little Forest County. Despite the oil and lumber booms and busts, the boom towns turned ghost towns, the omnipotent industries and the ravaging fires, Forest County remains serene, almost tucked away from the rest of the world. Only huge tracts of timber dominate the landscape. In fact, with just five thousand residents, Forest County suf­fers little from most urban – and suburban-problems. For one thing, there is not one traffic light in the entire county!

 

For Further Reading

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My Pennsylvania: A Brief History of the Common­wealth’s Sixty-seven Counties. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Publica­tions, 1946.

Stevens, S.K. Pennsylvania History in Outline. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1976.

Taft, Donald E., ed. Forest County, Pennsylvania, Picto­rial History. Salem, W. V.: Walsworth/Don Mills, Inc., 1982.

Women’s Club of Marienville. Marienville, 1833-1976. Tionesta, Pa.: Forest Press, Inc., 1976.

 

Alex Badenoch, born in Scotland, emigrated to the United States, where he has been active in the lumbering business since 1933. His specialization included lumber inspection and transportation. Semi-retired from the lumber industry, the author writes a weekly column for the Forest Press and articles for Alleghenies and Steppin’ Out. A charter mem­ber of the Forest County Historical Society, he also served as the organization’s vice president. He and his wife reside in Marienville.