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

“To the south … an expanse of arable land upon the gentle slope from the volley to the distant heights, dotted with green fields, waving grain, fruitful orchards and farm buildings with ever and anon an oasis of growing timber, remnants of the dense growth of stately pine and hemlock that formerly forested the region, present an alluring scene of beauty and grandeur, excelling painters brush; while to the west, through leagues of rich alluvial land, flanked and buttressed on either side by low mountain ridges often attaining considerable height, verduous and productive, the rippling waters of the Allegheny peacefully flow till again hemmed by converging mountains.”

 

The anonymous author of these glowing words, writing in 1913, viewed a scene not unlike today’s as he stood somewhere on a hillside in Warren and examined vistas of the county which have changed re­markably little in the intervening years. Much of the area that Warren County’s 916 square miles encompass is still either comfortingly rural or heavily forested, attractions which continue to allure and hold both visitors and home seekers from more frenzied patterns of living.

Erected out of Lycoming and Allegheny counties by an act of legis­lature in 1800 (county population was 233), Warren County was attached to Venango for judicial purposes in 1805; in 1819, after a sufficient increase in population, it was organized as a full­-fledged county. It is bordered on the north by New York State, on the east by McKean County, on the west by Crawford and Erie counties, and on the south by Venango and Forest counties. Most of the land in its east­ern and southern parts is broken and hilly; the northwestern section is glacial territory, in general. Altitude ranges from about 1,200 to over 3,000 feet above sea level. The latest census figures available (estimated in 1976) showed a county population of 47,212, including 12,523 in Warren borough.

By an act of March 18, 1795, the governor of Pennsylvania was required to appoint two commissioners to sur­vey and lay out the town of Warren and certain reserved tracts adjoining upon the land reserved for that pur­pose by an act of April 3, 1792. Andrew Ellicott and Gen. William Irvine (whose descendants later be­came some of the county’s earliest permanent settlers and largest land­owners) were the commissioners of the Commonwealth charged with this responsibility. Irvine was undoubtedly influential in the selection of a name for the town; a contemporary of Gen. Joseph Warren, the distinguished patri­ot killed at the battle of Breeds Hill (Bunker Hill) in 1775, he elected to honor his fellow soldier by naming Warren in his memory. Incorporated as a borough on May 7, 1832, Warren was set amidst a single township, Broken­straw, until 1806, when a second township, Conewango, was created. It was not until 1821 that a further divi­sion occurred with the erection of ten new and separate townships; others were created as late as 1880.

 

Indian Heritage

Most traces of the Hopewellian mound builders have been erased from land along the Allegheny River, partic­ularly above the Kinzua Dam, but there is still scattered evidence of the occupation of this prehistoric culture. The Allegheny and its tributaries in Warren County were highways for our native American predecessors for centuries before the arrival of the white man.

In historic times, with the presence in northwestern Pennsylvania of the Eries, Delawares and Shawnees, the complex ion of things began to change: in order to challenge the supremacy of these tribes, the powerful Iroquois confederacy moved members of the Seneca nation into western New York State and the Allegheny valley.

Once this supremacy had been es­tablished, and when the whites had begun a brisk trade with the Indians, the next stage was to discourage any permanent occupation by either the British or the French but at the same time maintain an open trade policy and peaceful relations. Despite their claim to the land along the Allegheny, the French, of course, eventually withdrew, leaving the British in control. While continuing their efforts to keep British occupancy in check, the Seneca were at the same time persuaded to join with the British against the settlers in the great military conflict that ultimately gave birth to the American nation.

The legendary Seneca chief, Cornplanter, held out with a few others against this alliance; but, in 1777 at Fort Stanwix, he cast his lot with his fellow Indians. According to most sources, he was involved in many of the skirmishes which took place in western Pennsylvania during the Revolution.

Cornplanter was born about 1750 near the present town of Avon, New York, to an Indian mother and a Dutch father, John Abeel (Obail); relinquishing the opportunity to be raised with his father’s people from Albany, N.Y., he chose to remain with his mother. He rose to his high-ranking chieftanship largely through the wise use of his native intelligence and, although he never learned to speak English, became an eloquent spokesman for his people, a trait which served him well until his death in 1836.

After the war, realizing the virtue of peaceful bargaining in order to save his people, Cornplanter aligned himself with the fledgling nation and even­tually became one of the government’s most valued supporters. He was a trusted friend of George Washington and of the government of the Com­monwealth. In 1791, in recognition of his efforts on the country’s behalf, the state granted him three parcels of land along the Allegheny River. Two of these, one at the present site of Oil City and the other below West Hick­ory, he soon sold. But the third, commonly known as the Cornplanter Grant, he kept, to be held in perpe­tuity by his descendants. Most of this land, situated just below the New York State line, is now under the waters of the Allegheny Reservoir, but a small, forested portion remains above the water line.

Only a few Senecas lived on the grant in 1964 when the gates of the Kinzua Dam were closed, but the Pres­byterian Church and the brick school house both remained, as did a number of dwellings and the cemetery in which Cornplanter was buried. The state had erected a monument over Cornplanter’s grave in 1866, and this monument and all identifiable burials were moved across the river to a new site in the old Corydon cemetery. The Cornplanter Grant was the last rem­nant of occupied Indian land in Penn­sylvania, unique also in that it was not a reservation but a tract given outright to Cornplanter.

 

Exploration

Although Celoron’s expedition of 1749 is better known, his was pre­ceded ten years earlier, and along a similar route, by one under Baron de Longueuil, nephew of Louisiana’s gov­ernor, LeMoyne de Bienville. One of three military expeditionary forces, headed for the French colony in Louisiana and war with the Chickasaw Indians, Longueuil’s contingent of 442 men left Montreal on June 16, 1739 and passed through Warren in mid­-August, en route down the Cone­wango Creek and the Allegheny River. Of the 319 Indians in this group, 217 were Iroquois.

Accompanying Celoron on his famous trip, the purpose of which was to reinforce French claim to the lands along the lake and river route, were some of the officers who had been with Longueuil. The route had been used by the French for some time, even before the 1739 expedition, and Celoron surely found useful the ex­periences of those officers who had accompanied his predecessor.

Northwestern Pennsylvania was only a small part of that territory claimed by La Salle for France in the 1680s and, because of British incur­sions into the territory in later years, the French governor of Canada felt that a reinforcement of the claim was politic. Celoron, following Longueuil’s route down Chautauqua Lake, the Conewango Creek and the Allegheny River and so on to the Mississippi, buried at strategic locations lead plates signifying the French claim. Four of the original plates have been found along his route, but Warren’s dis­appeared long ago, just how no one will ever know.

On Memorial Day J 979, on the south bank of the Allegheny River at Warren, a monument was erected to commemorate Celoron’s stop at the site of the town on July 29, 1749. Two plaques were mounted on a native boulder of sandstone, one recognizing the French fleur-de-lis, British Union Jack and American Rev­olutionary flag flying over the monu­ment, the other giving in both French and in English translation the text in­scribed on the original lead plate buried at Warren.

 

Revolutionary Period

Warren County’s brush with the Revolution was a tenuous one, inas­much as at the time there was no War­ren County – it was still very much Indian country, populated mainly by the Seneca, who were scattered up and down the Allegheny River basin. Col. Daniel Brodhead, in charge of Fort Pitt, left there on August 11, 1779, to make his way northward, in part via the Allegheny River; the express pur­pose of his expedition, independent of but simultaneous with the better known Sullivan foray, was to prevent further depredations by those Indians who were allied with the British.

Accompanied by 605 soldiers and a few Delawares, Brodhead arrived at the foot of Thompson’s Island below Warren at the end of August, where some of his men skirmished briefly with 30 to 40 Indian warriors. From here he marched to Buckaloons at the mouth of the Brokenstraw Creek, threw up a small breastwork and left behind a token group of officers and men. Most of the remainder of his time in the area, after passing over the site of Warren, was spent routing and burning Indian settlements along both sides of the river near the town of Jenuchshadega, later the site of Corn­planter’s village. The Seneca, fore­warned by escapees from the Thompson Island conflict and their allies, the Munsees, kept ahead of the raiding parties and took refuge on a high hill overlooking their homes.

 

Early Settlement

It is popularly believed that because t the first large influx of permanent settlers into Warren and the county arrived in the first decade of the nineteenth century, there were few whites in the area before 1800. But probably even before 1795, in addition to Holland Land Company agents, there was a continuous flow of others through the region; among them were soldiers, missionaries, merchants, prospective settlers. westbound emigrants using the Allegheny River route, gangs of workmen building roads and store­houses and surveyors. The Holland Land Company constructed what was believed to be the first permanent structure in Warren, a log storehouse, later used as a home, which stood until 1840.

There is considerable evidence that temporary settlements sprang up along the Conewango Creek before 1800, in part because of the presence of saw­mills and the convenience of the water­way for rafting lumber.

Settlement of’ the town of Warren began in earnest about 1806 with the arrival of Scotch-Irish from south­eastern Pennsylvania and New Eng­landers, most of them of English descent. Small groups of Germans and Alsatians (an early writer decided that the latter “seem more like Ger­mans than French.” probably in part because of their Germanic names) began to arrive in Warren County about 1830; and after the Civil War, fairly large numbers of Swedes, Danes and Norwegians appeared. Irish labor­ers came with the railroads in the 1850s and 1860s. and U1e later years of the century saw the in flux of many Italian families.

An unusually large number (for the time) of Swedish settlers made what is now Chandlers Valley their home in the late 1840s. Many had come to nearby Jamestown. New York, prior to this lime. The Hessel Valley Luth­eran Church was formally established in 1856, and the congregation still meets in its second building, a brick church built in Chandlers Valley in 1884, replacing an earlier frame struc­ture. Thousands of area residents of Swedish descent were honored in 1976 when the king of Sweden, en route to Jamestown, attended a special service in the Hessel Valley church.

 

Economic Growth

Among the major attractions for settlers in northwestern Pennsylvania, as elsewhere in the Commonwealth, was the abundance of extensive stands of pine, hemlock and hardwoods, particularly maple, beech, ash and oak. Hardwoods covered much or the west­ern portion of the county. and the evergreens were concentrated largely in the creek valleys and southeast of the Allegheny River. (Seventy percent of Warren County is still forest.) The river and its three major tributaries­ – the Conewango, Brokenstraw and Kin­zua creeks – were natural waterways for the rafting of lumber, the county’s main industry for 100 years. Sawmills sprang up on even the smallest streams, and logs and sawed timber were hauled out of the woods by horse, and later by a huge network of logging railroads. The rafting of lumber began even before 1800 and continued through the next century, ending just after 1900 when the last stand of vir­gin white pine was cut from the hill­sides along the Allegheny at Grunder­ville, below Warren.

Raftsmen, hardened to the dif­ficulties of navigating their craft on the streams during stages of high water, sold millions of board feet of sawed lumber down the rivers, some of it as far away as New Orleans. Their trips home, sometimes equally as difficult, were made by steamboat and stage, and often on foot – paths were worn into the river banks over the years as these durable men made their way homeward. It was not unusual for them to have to walk back to Warren from Pittsburgh, since steamboat traf­fic was erratic on the upper stretches of the river and confined generally to the years between 1830 and 1870. Most river transport, both freight and passenger, was usually carried on keel boats or flatboats, long the workhorses of the inland rivers.

Among the major sidelines created by the lumber industry were the estab­lishment of a number of tanneries in the county, particularly in and near the town of Sheffield, and concurrent with this development the manufac­ture of furniture and other wood products. The Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company in Sheffield. the county’s last large mill operation. sawed its last board in 1941. One specialized remnant of the once huge and com­plex lumbering industry is the “ball bat factory.” the Larimer & Norton Company, which produces, on a large scale, spindles of ash from which the famous Louisville Slugger is made.

Lumbering will never be a thing of the past in Warren County, with second- and third-growth forests avail­able for regular harvesting. Many area logging companies cruise the timber­lands of northwestern Pennsylvania, from small, family concerns to large ones like Hammermill and the Collins Pine Company, the latter being two major private landowners in the state. The Allegheny National Forest is the locale for the continuing modern prac­tice of Limber management. Located in Irvine is the Northeastern Forest Ex­periment Station, where research is conducted primarily on native black cherry.

Shortly after the discovery of oil al Titusville in late August 1859, the world’s second oil well was drilled at Tidioute in Warren County, and the Tidioute area rapidly became an oil boom center with excellent wells. Sen­sational oil finds occurred in numerous locations in the county, with opera­tions al Clarendon, Cherry Grove and Glade receiving national prominence. By early 1900, oil was a major indus­try with thirteen refineries within a six-mile radius of Warren. Oil produc­tion and refining still hold an impor­tant position in the county, with the United Refining Company now pro­ducing 45,000 barrels per day.

For many years Warren County has been favored with a diversified indus­try and a history of good labor rela­tions; it has suffered less than many other localities in time of depression. Those businesses in the county which have declined have been replaced by others more modern and comprehen­sive, and over the years the trend has been toward light industry.

In addition to oil and lumber-related enterprises, the manufacture of metal products has long been significant from the industry’s beginnings in sev­eral early foundries. Today iron and steel products are still fabricated in Warren; equally important are firms which produce plastic, wire and elec­trical products. Warren’s output has included pianos, tools, automobile engines and parts, railroad cars, cigars, bricks and concrete products.

The New Process Company, one of the largest mail order clothing com­panies in the world. began in Warren in 1910 under the sound guidance of its president, the late John L. Blair. This unusual firm continues to expand even today; its customers have numbered in the millions.

It has often been pointed out that some of the villages of Warren County were at one time larger than the town of Warren; so it was. Russell, Sugar Grove, Youngsville, Sheffield and Tidioute were among the chief early centers of activity for settlers, partly of course, because of the abundance of timber, but also because they devel­oped as rural farming centers during the last century. Today much of War­ren County’s former farm land lies fallow, but there are still over 450 operating farms producing annually over $5 million worth of business in crops, livestock and dairy products.

 

Transportation

With the completion of the Sun­bury and Erie Railroad from Erie to Warren in 1859, the colorful era of the iron horse brought unlimited transpor­tation possibilities to the communities along the upper Allegheny River. War­ren soon became the hub of a network of railroads leading in all directions. In addition to the Pennsylvania Railroad, the county was served by the Erie, the Western New York and Pennsylvania, and the Dunkirk, Allegheny Valley and Pittsburgh branch of the New York Central. The DAV &P, which ran from Titusville to Dunkirk. New York, strung a series of busy depots and yards along its route east and north­ward through the county which served passengers until 1937; the only rem­nant today is a weekly freight run from Warren to North Warren to carry petroleum products to a packaging firm. the West Penn Oil Company.

Passenger service through Warren on the Pennsylvania Railroad came to a sad end in 1965 when the last train ran to Erie. Only two freights still travel the tracks through Warren, one of which winds its way past the station and into the once-busy yards. As in other communities throughout the country, Warren County’s once thriving and glamorous depots now stand as mute testimony of what was once an integral part of life for every American. It is difficult now to believe that twenty-one passenger trains daily passed through Warren as early as 1882.

Among other modes of transporta­tion which figured in the county’s history, in addition to the ever-present automobile, was the streetcar. War­ren’s experience with this pleasant way of travel first began in 1872, when a horse-drawn street railway operated for several years. A minor disaster struck in the first year, when the edi­tor of The Warren Mail reported:

Just half the horses on our street cars have died from the epizoo­tic. The OTHER horse is getting better, and it is hoped the cars will run again this week. It seems very dull not to see the cars in a city like ours.

It was not until 1893 that a successful electric street railway was begun. Shortly after 1900 connecting lines were added to Sheffield and to James­town, New York. The advent of the motor car brought about the end, however, as it did in small communi­ties all over the country. By October 1930. all three lines were shut down.

 

Recreation

Since the turn of the century par­ticularly, the land form of Warren County has served as a factor in another important part of the economic pic­ture: forests and streams provide a natural setting for outdoor recreation of all types. Hunters and fishermen have long been attracted by nearly un­limited sources of fish and game: hun­dreds of private camps and summer homes have become a part of the rural scene; many of the creeks and rivers, particularly the Allegheny, are naviga­ble waterways for small boats and canoes in practically any season of the year; and since the construction of the Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir, the summer population of the county has burgeoned with boaters and campers adding to the swarms of people who vacation in the county.

Much of the reservoir shoreline above the dam is located on Allegheny National Forest land, and recreational facilities operated by the government accommodate many of the vacationers. Private developers throughout the county are reaping their share of the profits as well. Trails have been estab­lished for hikers. downhill and cross­-country skiers, and owners of snow­mobiles and all-terrain vehicles, while at the same time much forested land has been maintained under near-wilder­ness conditions.

 

Social Life

Nearly from the beginning, life in the towns and villages of Warren Coun­ty has been enhanced by the presence of dozens of educational, religious, fraternal, service and cultural organiza­tions. Even in the early days of the last century. kindred spirits came together to form sewing circles. literary socie­ties, reading clubs and similar groups in order to exchange their ideas and en­thusiasms. In Warren today, many of them still meet regularly. and others have been added over the years, cre­ating for the town the distinction of being a place where there is “some­thing for everyone.” Among the more active groups are the Shakespeare Club, founded in 1884; the Warren Players. the country’s oldest amateur theatre group in continuous operation since its founding; the Warren Concert Association, which for many years has brought to the town an annual series of concerts by celebrated performers in many fields; and the Philomel Club, a women’s organization devoted to fostering the appreciation. study and performing of classical music.

The Conewango Club, for men, and the Woman’s Club of Warren are insti­tutions of long standing in the com­munity; both are located in fine old buildings which are characteristic of two of the many styles of architecture found in the county seat. Warren is fortunate in having, still standing and well-maintained, many Victorian and turn-of-the-century homes and build­ings which lend to the community an air of beauty and solidity often missing in other towns of its age and size. At present, nine county buildings are listed on the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places and, of these, seven are on the National Register.

Citizens of Warren County have kept themselves in formed over the years by supporting dozens of news­papers, some obviously more success­ful than others. Since 1824, Warren has been home for any number of first-rate journalists, many of them editors and owners of their own papers. Sadly, home town papers have lost much of the flavor of those early years when an editor could say with a slight sense of the ridiculous and without fear of reprisal:

If there isn’t force enough in our Borough government to keep the hogs out of the streets, we sug­gest that they hand them over to the boys. We guess they can rid us of this nuisance if they have the authority. It’s bad enough to have the cows and horses making a common of the town without the pigs from all the piggeries.

Warren Slate Hospital in North Warren is one of several still in opera­tion in the state but with a greatly reduced patient population. In its hal­cyon days, it was a veritable beehive of activity. with patients participating in the running of the establishment, many of them as workers on a large farm which produced food for both patients and employees.

 

Personalities

Perhaps one of the earliest visitors of note to Warren County was John Chapman, better known as the legen­dary Johnny Appleseed. En route to the West, Chapman visited during the years 1797-1799; his stay is in part documented by an entry in a day book from the John Daniels trading post on the Brokenstraw Creek. Although his purchases are listed, a record of pay­ment does not appear, a small price for future generations to pay for the legacy he left behind as he traveled westward.

Archibald Tanner, Warren’s first merchant, was but one of many family heads who brought a lasting and firm economic base to the county through wise and farsighted business dealings in land, lumber and oil. Other pioneers such as Thomas Struthers, the Wet­mores. Lewis F. Watson and dozens of others whose descendants still remain in the county, forged ahead with their schemes of improvement and better­ment for the town and county; admit­tedly, some were not so fortunate as these men, but in part because of their efforts Warren County has sustained a quality of living that extends to most of its citizens.

Among those native sons who have achieved statewide or national recogni­tion are the late Robert H. Jackson, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1941 to 1954; the Honorable Glenni W. Scofield, United States Congressman from 1862 to 1874, orator and staunch Republican: Admirals John F. Davidson and Robert L. Dennison of the United States Navy; and William F. Clinger, Jr., elected in 1979 to the House of Representatives from the 23rd Con­gressional District.

The arts are represented by such people as the late Dr. LeRoy B. Campbell, internationally known pianist, composer and teacher who founded the Warren Conservatory of Music; Arch Bristow, who through his book Old Time Tales of Warren County, his magazine The Hay Rake and his newspaper columns, recorded fascinating bits of the legend and lore of north­western Pennsylvania; photographer Treat Davidson, whose colorful wild­life scenes graced the pages of National Geographic; and Merle H. Deardorff, banker, educator, historian – and trusted friend of the Seneca.

 

Conclusion

Warren County has been good to its residents over the years. It has been a land of opportunity for many, a characteristic which shows no signs of abating. Business improves; industry expands in ever-surprising and benefi­cial ways; and the people are happy, productive and satisfied. It is a good place to live: many have gone away for a number of years, but have come back; others, not natives, have come and stayed and made this beautiful corner or Pennsylvania their perman­ent home.

 

Chase Putnam, Executive Director of the Warren County Historical Society, is a former teacher and was, for a time, owner of a bookstore in Warren. He has worked for the historical society since 1972.