Pike County: A Peak of Natural Perfection

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

“I went through a constant succession of scenery that would have been famous had it existed anywhere in Europe.” – Washington Irving


Shaped roughly like a diamond, Pike County is situated in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, bordering the Delaware River on the cast across from the states of New York and New Jersey. The northwestern side of the diamond lies in Lake Wallenpaupack. the southwestern edge in the heart of the famed Pocono Mountains.

The area has long been an attrac­tion. As a vacation guidebook publish­ed in 1906 proclaimed:

For irresistable charm of moun­tain lake and gleaming waterfall of crystal spring and sun flecked woodland of lichened rock and fern-lined dell contiguous to majestic cliffs overlooking in solemn grandeur far as the eye can reach the beautiful historic Delaware. no locality within 150 miles from New York City could compare in pristine loveliness with Pike County Pennsylvania.

Today about 90 percent of Pike County is forested with over 99 square miles of the Delaware State Forest within its borders. The wooded areas, with eight lakes, provide a perfect set­ting for the county’s two state parks. George W. Childs State Park, which in­cludes a glen, gorge and three water­falls. was the first property ever do­nated to the state for recreational pur­poses. In Promised Land State Park, glacial Bruce Lake and the surround­ing wilderness area are kept in their natural primeval conditions, as in Still­water near Edgemere. During the fall, the trees or the region burst forth with color attracting thousands or visitors. This phenomenon, rare to most of the world, is a natural wonder that seems to reach a peak of perfection in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Stale Game Lands cover over 33 square miles of the county. In addition. thousands or acres have been opened to hunting by private landowners through cooperative agreements with the State Game Commission. Bear, deer, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, musk­rat, mink and beaver abound and in season attract thousands of hunters. Birds of the area include turkeys, grouse, quail, pheasants, doves and woodcock. For ducks and geese, the Shohola Falls Dam and Waterfowl Area has become a haven and is a major stop-over point in the Atlantic flyway. Heron, coots, rails and snipe also frequent this region.

Lake Wallenpaupack, stretching out for more than 14 miles, has a 53-mile shore line. Built in 1925 to provide hydroelectric power, the lake lies in both Pike and Wayne counties, covering the stream which for many years served as the boundary between the two. Around the lake has grown one of the most popular recreational areas in the Northeast.

The Delaware River follows the eastern boundary of the county for 63 miles and separates Pike from Sullivan and Orange counties in New York and Sussex County in New Jersey. From colonial times when it helped open the nation’s interior to pioneers and trappers, through the nineteenth century when it was used for rafting and its valley hosted the Erie Railroad and the Delaware and Hudson Canal, to the present when thousands of white water canoeists ride the rapids each year, and fishermen take shad, bass, trout and walleyes from its waters, the Delaware has ranked as one of the great rivers of our country. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Tock’s Island National Recreation Area, which will include seventy-two thousand acres of national park land, will help protect the river’s natural beauty for the future.


Early History

According to Indian legends, the Lenni-Lenape Indians came from the west and conquered the original in­habitants of the area. Their Wolf Clan built a capital on Minisink Island in the Delaware River just south of present-day Milford and the upper Delaware became home. These “Indians of the Rocky Country” (Minisink is derived from Minsi meaning “rock”) soon had many trails crisscrossing the area. Most of these followed streams one along the Delaware shore, one along the Lackawaxen or Swift Waters, one along the Shohola or Slower Waters. The Schocopee trail ran from Milford to Pond Eddy. The Wyoming Path left Minisink, ascended Indian Point to Powwow Hill, passed the Boiling Springs, crossed Wallenpaupack Creek (before the lake existed) and went on to the Lackawanna Valley.

Dozens of sites in the county from Lackawaxen to Bushkill have been excavated, including burial grounds, villages and campsites. Hundreds of arrowheads and other cultural remains have also been discovered. Iroquois artifacts probably date from after 1617 when that stronger nation to the north subjugated the Lenape nation and were free to travel throughout Lenape lands. Afterward, Iroquois hunters passed through the area and the Lenape were decimated by small­pox epidemics in 1657, 1662 and 1667.

By the time European settlement began, there were few Indians living in the area. Those remaining after the smallpox epidemics and westward migration were living in poverty and chiefs in the more settled areas had learned of the profit to be made from the sale of land. In an agreement with William Penn, dated 1686 and con­firmed in 1737, they sold lands that could be walked in a day and one-half. When it was time to measure the land, many Lenape claimed that the English deceitfully used their fastest runners. Some of the Lenape objected and threatened war. But, at Philadelphia their Iroquois masters reminded them that they were a conquered people: “We have seen a deed …. The United Indian Nations find you dishonest. We charge you move immediately.” The agreement was to stand.

Although the treaty with Penn was upheld, the “Walking Purchase” was not the last word. Land that would eventually become Pike County was purchased in 1749 and at the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768. But con­fusion resulted from many of the sales, particularly from those made to Con­necticut settlers.



From 1662 to 1781 all of northern Pennsylvania was claimed by Connecti­cut since its charter had given that colony rights “from sea to sea,” ex­cluding only New York and New Jersey. Many Connecticut Yankees had moved into the area with “carts, oxen, horses, and a variety of instru­ments of mechanism and husbandry on their way to possess and settle the lands … . ” Most of them were on their way to the Susquehanna River but many stopped near the Delaware River and Wallenpaupack Creek establishing settlements. However, King Charles had also granted the land to Pennsyl­vania. The Pennamite Wars, fought mainly in the Wilkes-Barre area, were the tragic result of the confusion until the Continental Congress settled the dispute in 1781 and the land went to Pennsylvania.

As early as 1700, Europeans began to appear in the tri-state area. Hunters, trappers and traders came first; farmers soon followed, attracted to the flat lands along the Delaware. Within fifty years settlers had arrived from England, France, Holland, Ireland, Germany, Scotland and Spain. Their earliest homes were located along the Delaware between Westfall and Bushkill, many of them close to streams where mills could be erected. Thomas Quick, Sr. was at Milford by 1733, Andreas Dingman at Dingman’s Choice (Ferry) in 1735, Manuel Gonzales at Bushkill before 1745. Twelve thousand acres were contained in the Manor of Wallen­paupack conveyed to James Wilson in 1748. By the 1760s the Shohola House, a noted inn, was standing near the Shohola Falls.

The colony of Pennsylvania origin­ally had but three counties-Philadel­phia, Chester and Bucks. Present-day Pike was first part of Bucks County, then in 1752, of newly formed Northampton. From its formation, through the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, Northampton County was the Pennsylvania frontier. Visited frequently by marauding bands of Indians, it was a dangerous place to live.

On October 15, 1763. Lt. Gov. James Hamilton wrote to the Pennsyl­vania Assembly:

I have received well attested accounts of many barbarous and shocking murders, and other depredations, having been com­mitted by Indians on the inhabitants of Northampton County, in consequence whereof, great numbers of those who escaped the rage of the Enemy, have al­ready deserted, and are daily deserting their habitations; so that unless some effectual aid can be speedily granted them, to induce them to stand their ground, it is difficult to say where these desertions will stop.

For the protection of the people, forts were constructed near Dingmans, Conashaugh, Deckers Creek and Bush­kill. Further north. the Connecticut men had a fort at Wallenpaupack. In spite of the forts, however, many lives were lost. Thomas Quick, Sr., for in­stance. long a friend of the Indians, was scalped al Milford. The incident filled his son who saw the murder with a psychotic desire for revenge. For the next forty years he carried out a personal vendetta against the Indians of the area which has become legendary.

During the American Revolution many men from the region joined the Continental Army and the Pennsylvania Militia. Others joined regiments from nearby Sussex and Orange coun­ties in New Jersey and New York. Locally they participated in the Battle of Paupack, the Battle of Conashaugh three miles below Milford, and the Battle of Minisink. At Lackawaxen. across the Delaware from the scene of the Minisink battle in a grave recognized by the United States govern­ment, lies “An Unknown Soldier of the Revolution.” Nearby in the Mil­ford cemetery rests Daniel Brodhead, a Revolutionary War Officer and close friend or George Washington.


County Formation

In the years following the revolu­tion, new counties were added to the Commonwealth. On March 21, 1798, Northampton County was subdivided, and what is now Pike became a part of Wayne County. This arrangement con­tinued for sixteen years until Pike County, named for General Zebulon Montgomery Pike. was formed on March 26, 1814. Pike, a life-long soldier, had explored the Louisiana Territory, discovered Pike’s Peak, made treaties with Indian tribes and given his life (at the age of 34) in battle at Toronto during the War of 1812.

By the time the county was legally formed, settlements were fairly well established, industry had begun and the country was at peace. Milford. which had been settled in the early 1700s, had a ferry and a mill built by the Wells brothers. In 1792 John Biddis formally laid out the town following Penn’s plans for Philadelphia with Broad and High streets intersect­ing at the village square.

Competition between Milford and Blooming Grove for the county seat was settled when Milford raised $1,500 for the erection of a courthouse. The building, which still stands, is sur­mounted by a cupola with a weather­vane in the shape of a fish originally carved by George Biddis. Later used as a jail, the original courthouse, built in 1816, sits across the street from the newer courthouse completed in 1874.

Churches, as is so frequently the case, played an important role in the lives of the county’s early settlers. The first missionary to cross the Bushkill into the area was Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian, in 1742. Forty-one years later, a group of Congregational­ists visited Wallenpaupack Manor where Gideon Draper, a Methodist, was to preach in 1807. Soon afterward, as the town of Milford grew, congregations developed-first, Methodist under Bar­tholomew Weed in 1813, the same year Catholic Trappist Order monks first said mass there, and later in 1822. Presbyterian. By 1856, Lutherans were holding services in Shohola. The first Catholic church built was completed at Lackawaxen in 1863 following con­firmation services held by John Neu­mann (recently declared a saint) at homes in Shohola, Blooming Grove and Milford. Today, there are more than twenty churches of various faiths located throughout the county.



Canals played an important role in the early development of Pike County. The first to open, in 1827, was the Delaware and Hudson Canal running from Honesdale to Kingston, New York. The Pike County section ran alongside the Lackawaxen River for 16 miles to the Delaware where it crossed over into New York State. Over the years, until 1899 when it was abandoned, the canal was used to ship blue­stone, lumber, glass products from the Dorflinger Class Works at White Mills and, most importantly, coal from the Lackawanna Valley near Scranton to the Hudson River and from there on to New York City. In 1841 Washing­ton Irving, as he travelled on the canal, commented on his passage: “I went through a constant succession of scenery that would have been famous had it existed in any part of Europe.”

Until 1849. there was a dam across the Delaware River at Lackawaxen to enable canal boats to cross there. Many raft wrecks occurred at this loca­tion and brawls between raftsmen and canalers were frequent. More serious to the Delaware and Hudson Company than the brawls, however, were the thousands of dollars in lawsuits filed by the raftsmen. In order to solve the problem. the company hired John Roebling to construct a suspension bridge supporting an aqueduct filled with six feet of water weighing 1,900 tons to carry the canal across the Dela­ware. When the canal closed in 1899, the old aqueduct became a privately owned toll bridge. On April 24, 1979, the bridge. the oldest suspension bridge still standing in America and a National Historic Landmark, was ac­quired by the National Park Service.

About the time the aqueduct was completed, the railroad arrived on the scene. The Erie Railroad led the way in December 1848. The first train, consisting of an engine, a passenger car and two flat cars, took about 5 hours to fight its way through a snowstorm and pass through the county. This seemed fitting, for the Delaware Val­ley section of the line running through Pike along the Delaware River had not been easy to construct either. In places, rocks rose almost perpendicularly from the river’s edge and laborers had to be suspended from the cliffs in baskets to drill holes and light fuses for blasting. They were then pulled to safety by ropes before the dynamite exploded which often hurled rocks to the New York side of the Delaware.

The grand opening of the entire line to Lake Erie was held on May 14, 1851 when President Millard Fillmore, with four members of his Cabinet (including Daniel Webster), joined a party of 300 guests to make the 463-mile excursion. It covered the 34 miles in Pike County between Port Jervis and Narrowsburg in 35 minutes, a vast im­provement over the earlier 5-hour trip.

The Milford Matamoras Railroad was chartered in 1848 when it was realized that the Erie would cross into Pennsylvania farther north at Mill Rift. Contracts for the new railroad were not let out until 1870 but plans were soon abandoned when the bridge that was to connect the line with Port Jervis, New York, blew down. Finally, in 1898, the Milford, Matamoras and New York Railroad constructed a new railroad bridge and some track was laid. For a short time slate and gravel were transported over the rails but the railroad was never extended to Milford.

The railroad added a tragic note to the county’s history in 1864. On July 15 of that year. between Shohola and Lackawaxen at King and Fuller’s cut. a train carrying Confederate prisoners of war destined for Elmira, New York. collided with a coal train. Of the eight hundred men aboard, fifty-one prison­ers and nineteen guards were killed. Rohman’s Hotel, which still stands near the site of the wreck, became a temporary hospital as an entire village mobilized to cope with the disaster. Today a plaque in the old hotel com­memorates the tragedy.


Economic Growth

Pike County’s earliest occupation was farming and for about two hun­dred years family farms dotted the countryside. It was lumbering, how­ever, that was to become the first major industry of economic signifi­cance. Literally thousands of homes in New York City, Philadelphia, Easton and hundreds of smaller communities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsyl­vania have been built with Pike Coun­ty lumber. As early as the 1760s. trees were cut and dragged over winter snows to streams near the Delaware. With spring thaws and high water, they were floated downstream and sold at markets on the lower Delaware. Soon loose timber was replaced by rafts which were sometimes piled high with locally milled lumber. Rafting became a skilled occupation with the largest raft ever to go down the Delaware (which was higher then) measuring 210 by 75 feet. The trip down river took almost three days and usually ended at Easton or Trenton where the raftsmen received about $15. In the spring or 1876, as many as 1,400 rafts were counted passing Lackawaxen.

In the woods, lumbering was an art and lumber camps were scattered throughout the county. Working from daylight to dark. three hundred men could clear a three-mile square section of woodland of sixty thousand trees in a season. All work was done by hand, yet it was estimated that in 1860 over one hundred million hoard feet of hemlock alone came down the Delaware. By the beginning of World War I, however. Pike County was al­most completely stripped of timber.

Related to lumbering was the tan­ning industry. The bark of the hem­lock tree was used in tanneries located at Greentown, Blooming Grove, Mil­ford, Dingmans and Bushkill. As early as 1836. John Heller built a tannery at Bushkill and advertised leather for shoes and harnesses. Tanning soon be­came a large business with some hides shipped into the area to be tanned from as far away as South America. Fulmer’s tannery on Dingmans Creek tanned as many as twenty thousand hides a year. So important did U1e in­dustry become that some claim that the Civil War was won in boots made from leather tanned along the upper Delaware.

In 1868, the bluestone industry began in a wild and mountainous section along the Delaware known as Pond Eddy. John Fletcher Kilgour, recognizing that the extensive beds of bluestone would be worth a fortune if shipped to the cities for sidewalks, formed the Pennsylvania Bluestone Company. In seeking siding and switch­ing privileges of the Erie Railroad. Kil­gour found himself in partnerships that involved James Fisk. Jay Gould and William “Boss” Tweed of New York. In 1877 he was operating over 150 quarries scattered throughout twelve thousand acres of woodland. At Parkers Glen, an extensive cutting and polishing plant operating day and night employed as many as six hun­dred men. Stone which cost 10 cents a square fool in the county brought 50 cents in Philadelphia. The paving and building stone was used locally, as well as in New York, Boston, Jersey City, Passaic, Philadelphia and Havana, Cuba.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the growth of several new business enterprises in the area. In Greene Township, Nathan Houck made tent poles for the Union Army. By 1872 he employed seventy-five men and produced twenty thousand umbrella sticks and over one hundred thousand clothespins per day. In Palmyra the Wallenpaupack stream was used for a silk mill and Thomas Howell developed a wheel spoke facto­ry at Raymondskill. In Milford two watch case factories opened – one for silver, the other for gold. Near that same town, Remey Loreaux built a brewery in 1840. A newspaper report of 1896 stated, “At first his market was limited to Milford and vicinity but before long he supplied large quantities to New York customers.” The Loreaux brewery also claims the distinction of sending out the first bottled beer for home consumption in the United States.

Not only beer, but Pike County water as well was sent to New York City. Otto Zoellner of Walker Lake was only one entrepreneur who bottled mountain spring water for shipment to the city. By 1905 he was shipping over one thousand gallons to the city per week.



As traffic on the Erie Railroad in­creased a new enterprise was born-the vacation industry. the major ind us try of Pike County today. By the turn of the twentieth century, there were over 150 hotels and boarding houses along the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers from Kimbles to Dingmans. Shohola Glen, an amusement park known as the Queen of Summer Resorts, was at­tracting excursions from New York at one dollar a day round-trip and, on some days. drew up to ten thousand persons.

Erie publicity touted the county’s beauty as a vacation spot, and the list of those who were attracted to the area reads like a Who’s Who.

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and a candidate for the presidency in 1872. raised funds for a young people’s commune near what would become the village of Greeley. Zane Grey, a New York dentist, gave up his practice. moved to Lackawaxen, and there wrote the western novels for which he became famous. Stephen Crane, the novelist who wrote The Red Badge of Courage, came with his friends to camp at Twin Lakes. Dan Beard, a founder of the Boy Scouts of America, set up a camp near Lake Teedyuskung where his cabin can still be seen. President Grover Cleveland visited the Blooming Grove Hun ting and Fishing Club and President Wil­liam Howard Taft vacationed at the Shanno House near Milford.

In 1886, James Pinchot, father of Pennsylvania’s Governor Gifford Pin­chot, employed noted architect Rich­ard Morris Hunt to design a Norman Breton style chateau in Milford Town­ship. The result, an architectural gem known as Grey Towers, is today a national landmark. There President Theodore Roosevelt visited his friend, Gifford Pinchot. whom he appointed as the first Chief of the United States Forest Service. During World War II in great secrecy and under tight security, the castle was visited by Franklin D. Roosevelt while his wife Eleanor ad­dressed members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in a Pike County resort near Bushkill. A third American president, John F. Kennedy, visited Grey Towers just two months before his assassination. On September 24, 1963, President Ken­nedy dedicated the building and grounds as the Pinchot Institute of Conservation Studies.

In 1888, Charles Sanders Peirce bought a house in Westfall Township. Peirce was an intellectual giant who had taught mathematics and philoso­phy at Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities. For 26 years he lived in seclusion in Pike County writing and developing a uniquely American philo­sophical movement called pragmatism. Today his. work is studied at univer­sities throughout the world, while the home he once called Arisbe is being prepared by the National Park Service as a museum and study center for his works.

During the early twentieth century, movie makers, seeing the scenery of Pike as the perfect setting for adven­ture films, produced several movies in the county. The Magic Ring, Heart of the Hills and The Informer, were among the films; Pearl White, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Francis X. Bush­man and Lionel Barrymore were among the stars.

Pike County has an estimated popu­lation of fifteen thousand, ranking 63rd among the 67 counties in the Commonwealth. The impact of tour­ism on the area, however, is best re­flected by its effect on these popula­tion figures. Property owners with second homes, visitors at year-round vacation resorts, and hunting, fishing and camping enthusiasts swell Pike’s seasonal population to estimates rang­ing from one hundred and fifty thou­sand to close to one million.



A symbol of historic Pike County’s leap into the space age stands today in Palmyra Township. Constructed by the American Telephone and Tele­graph Company and the Bell System, a tremendous earth station there trans­mits telephone and television signals to a satellite in outer space for relay across the United States. This split­-second transmission is indeed a far cry from 1769 when Benjamin Franklin arranged for two mail deliveries a month to be carried along a trail through Wallenpaupack, Lord’s Valley, Blooming Grove, Shohola and Milford.

In recent years throughout the United States there has been a rebirth of interest in and demand for informa­tion regarding the past, present and future of local communities. The Bi­centennial spurred this interest and a steady stream of books and newspaper articles have continued to fan it. Pike County, with its growing number of visitors and new residents, has always maintained a special interest in its heritage.


Some Distinguished County Visitors

  • Daniel Carter Beard
  • Sarah Bernhardt
  • Edwin Booth
  • William Jennings Bryan
  • William Cullen Bryant
  • Grover Cleveland
  • Stephen Crane
  • Thomas Alva Edison
  • Millard Fillmore
  • Greta Garbo
  • Horace Greeley
  • Zane Grey
  • William Randolph Hearst
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Marquis de Lafayette
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Casimir Pulaski
  • Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • William Tecumseh Sherman
  • William Howard Taft
  • Daniel Webster
  • Mae West


George J. Fluhr, a graduate of Manhattan College and Columbia University, is the official historian of Pike County. He currently works with the Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit and has written extensively in the fields of both local history and education.