Clearfield County Pennsylvania
Present and Past

Chapter I
Natural Features


Position and Extent: The 41st degree of north latitude passes through the center of Clearfield county from east to west, just a little north of Clearfield, the county seat. The cities of New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, and Cape Mendocino in California are in nearly the same latitude. In the Old World, Peking, Khiva, Constantinople, Athens and Madrid are about the same distance north. Its greatest length east and west is about forty miles.

78-30' west of Greenwich crosses the county from north to south, crossing the river near Hogback. So we are almost directly north of Charleston, South Carolina and of the southern point of Florida. The width north and south is about thirty-two and one half miles.

The county lies just west of the center of Pennsylvania and is like a saddle on the back of the Appalachian Mountains.

It is bounded on the north by Jefferson, Elk and Cameron counties; on the east by Clinton, Center and Blair; on the south by Center and Cambria; on the west by Indiana, Jefferson and Elk.

Its area is 1142 square miles, or almost 731,000 acres. It is nearly as big as the State of Rhode Island, and bigger than the Duchy of Luxemburg in Europe.

Climate of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. In the spring it usually rains a good deal, and at this time of year, dirt roads are hard to get over unless very well drained. A dry spring increases forest fire danger.

Apples blossom from the tenth to the fifteenth of May, peaches, plums and cherries earlier. These latter are often killed by frost. The average latest date of killing spring frosts is about - May 20th, though much depends upon relation to fog protection, elevation, and air drainage. Spring grain crops usually do best when planted early. Corn from May tenth to twentieth; very tender crops not much before June first. The weather is quite changeable in spring. 1859 is known as the year of the Big Frost. The spring was early, the wheat heading in June, but two frosts, the 9th and 16th killed it all.. It was plowed up and sowed in buckwheat.

The Summer climate of .the county is delightful. The heat is not often oppressive, though occasionally it is, the very maximum heat being 100 degrees in the .shade, but not for long. There is usually a breeze. The average rainfall for the three summer months of June, July and. August is a little over thirteen inches, but varies in different years. The mean summer temperature is a little over sixty-eight degrees. Late potatoes are planted in June. Buckwheat is usually sown from the first to the tenth of July. Hay making is in June and July; Oats harvest in August; wheat is cut in July. June is in many ways the most delightful month of the year in Clearfield county.

Autumn or fall is usually a fine season, especially its first two thirds. September twentieth is probably the average date of - killing frost, though it varies in different years, and is more or less affected by elevation, location and in respect to fog protection and air drainage, as it is in spring.

Fog protection along the river and larger creeks is more pronounced in fall than spring, and always prolongs the season in these localities.

As the leaves ripen in September and October, the stretches of woodland become very beautiful, the colors changing from day to day as different varieties of trees add their peculiar tints or shades to the picture.

Corn is cut in September and apples picked in October. The quality of Clearfield county apples is fine when the trees are properly cared for.

Formerly this was the season for chestnuts, shellbark hickory nuts and butternuts, but the blight has destroyed the chestnut trees and most of the hickory trees have been cut for lumber. November is not a very agreeable month, as it is usually rainy and dreary and the dirt roads get very bad under such conditions.

The winters are usually quite long and cold in the county with more or less snow and with sudden changes of temperature. It seems to be the general testimony of the older people that there is less snow than formerly. The mean winter temperature is a little over twenty-four degrees above zero, though it has been known to drop to thirty-two degrees below zero.

All the year the winds blow from the west more than any other direction.

The mean temperature for the year is a little over forty-four degrees, and the average rainfall in a year is nearly forty-four and one half inches.

The Landscape of the County Made up of Hills and Narrow Valleys. The highest elevation in the county is Girard Knob two thousand two hundred and eighty feet. There are a number of other hills reaching two thousand feet or over. The lowest level is below Karthaus, eight hundred and fifty feet, on the level of the river as it leaves the county. The average elevation is twelve to fifteen hundred feet.

Indications point to a time in the far distant past when the surface of the county was nearly level. This was after the carboniferous or coal-forming days, of which we speak later, were over, though the rainfall was still much greater than it is now. At that time the county was probably an elevated plateau which has been worn into its present hilly and ridgy character by erosion, that is the valleys were cut out by the action of the flowing water and frost, the waters draining away through the river and its tributaries towards the slope of the surface at that time, that is north-east, which is the direction of the flow of the West Branch. The streams on the other side of the divide or "the saddle" flowed the other way, toward the west because the gradual slope was that way. At a much earlier period, however, the whole district must have been under water or washed by the waves of the ocean, because on the highest hill tops, we find pebbles of flint like those found on the seashore.

The Woods. More than three-fourths of the county is covered with some kind of wood growth. Formerly it was one unbroken forest until cleared by white men. The soil seems to be especially adapted to forest growth and quickly grows a new crop after being cleared, where the fire is kept out. Yet the character of the soil is not equally good for forest growth in different parts of the county. There are barren or comparatively barren districts in the north central part, where the growth is slow and where the best class of trees do not grow. The coal measures are barren under this section also.

It is estimated, very conservatively I believe, by a man who has had long experience in the timber business that there was an original growth of timber covering the county averaging seventeen thousand board feet to the acre, which grew in an average of two hundred and fifty years.

The most valuable native trees are white and other pines, hemlock, oaks of different kinds, maples, beech, birch, hickory, poplar, cucumber, cherry and aspen. Chestnut was formerly of value, but has been killed by the blight, within the last ten years.

About 1905 or 1906 the State made the first purchase of land in the county for reforesting. Now there are over sixty-five thousand acres in forest reservations. In these tracts modern methods are used in forest conservation. Trees are not cut unless ripe or crowding, and open places are replanted as fast as it can be accomplished, unless the prospect is for filling up in 20 years by sprouts or re-seeding by natural means.

A tree nursery with a capacity of sixteen million trees and an output of five million trees has been established within the reservation on the road between Clearfield and Penfield. Here, besides the native varieties of forest trees, some other varieties of pines, Norway and white spruce, Japanese and European larch, walnut, Colorado blue spruce and balsam fir are grown for planting and for free distribution to those who order in time and will care for the trees. White and Norway spruce are considered best to grow for Christmas trees. They maybe set in hedge rows two or three feet apart and if taken good care of will be large enough to cut for Christmas trees when eight years old. Or they may be set in a block three by three feet and at twelve to sixteen years of age every other one may be cut for Christmas trees twice and the remainder left to grow into saw timber. More than a million trees are furnished to private planters per year. Many coal, clay and timber companies are making large plantings every year. Also water companies, the Rotary club, and hunting clubs are planting.

About fifty thousand trees are planted on state lands each year. This will be increased.

On the forest reserve there are four steel fire towers each having a watchman from March to May in Spring, and September to December in Fall.

Over two hundred permanent camp sites have been leased (for ten years with privilege of re-leasing) for camps. Thousands use temporary permits, good for three weeks, with privilege of re-leasing.

Wild Flowers. Most children of the county have gathered trailing arbutus. This and the wild honeysuckle and the rhododendron or high Laurel are particularly adapted to grow on the hills of Clearfield county. Also mountain laurel, mayflower, jack-in-the-pulpit, the trilliums, Johnnyjump-ups, the sweet briar and other kinds of wild roses, with many other flowers that are known to every boy and girl. There is one thing everyone should remember - never pull a wildflower up by the roots as that kills the plant and the result will be no flower there next year or ever again. It doesn't hurt to pull some of the flowers, but let the plant grow.

Native Animals. How nice and lively it makes the woods and fields seem if there are lots of birds flying and singing and building their nests in spring and summer. Within the last few years it has been made unlawful to kill song birds or to rob their nests. How fine it is to see the squirrels, black ones and gray ones and red ones and chipmunks and flying squirrels skipping about, up the trees or along the fence or into holes in hollow trees or in the ground, chirping and scolding, gay as larks always! Have you seen a coon hiding on the far side of a tree and peeping around it with his ears flat, so he thinks they won't show? Have you read of how he is so particular about cleanliness, that he must always wash his meat before he eats it? And bears, what funny little fellows and how playful the cubs are, and how tiny they are when quite young! How sleek and glossy and proud of his antlers is the buck as he stands on watch in the forest; the timid doe is certainly. a gentle creature unless her pretty spotted fawn is in danger, when the mother love may transform her timidity into fearlessness in its defense. These and more are all natives of our county, once so plentiful that some of them were present to enliven the woods on every hand.

But the weapons of the sportsmen and hunters have made havoc of the fishes in the streams (pollution of the waters by waste from mines, tanneries and sewers has helped kill off the fish) and the wild life of the woods, so the State has endeavored to conserve the game and fish by curtailing hunting and fishing seasons, and by stocking stream and forest with fish, deer, squirrels and other animals. Stream pollution, however, still goes on to quite an extent.

The State Game Preserve, called Kennedy Park, established in 1906, contains three thousand acres, inside of which it is unlawful to hunt at any time. The native deer having become very scarce in this locality a number were brought in from Michigan, New Hampshire and New Jersey some years ago, since which time they have increased very much, notwithstanding the killing of many bucks every year in hunting season. Droves of deer, especially does, may be seen in summer in the State Forest. Twenty-five elk were brought into the park from Gardner, Wyoming, by Howard Eaton, the Naturalist in 1913. They are said to be increasing slowly. H.. E. Hummelbaugh, the first game warden in the county (1901-1919), got twenty-six fox squirrels from Wichita, Kansas, and placed them in Witmer Park, Clearfield, sometime before 1912, where they were to be seen for some years, until they gradually disappeared from one cause and another, until all are now gone. A bunch of these foxsquirrels from Oklahoma were placed in Kennedy Park game preserve in 1916. Mr. Hummelbaugh also brought in a number of wild turkeys from Maryland about 1915. At times when it is scarce as during deep snows in winter, food is put out for the wild animals by game protectors and by others.

When our people first came into the county, wolves were plentiful, for we have frequent accounts of how their howling could be heard at night, especially in the winter. They sometimes killed domestic animals. Bears, wild cats and panthers were quite numerous. There were also otters and beavers. There are still some foxes, minks, weasels, skunks, possums and coons, but they are seldom seen now. Most of these animals are more or less carnivorous, that is they kill and eat other animals. There were also eagles, now rarely seen, hawks of different kinds as now, and passenger pigeons, flocks of which sometimes darkened the sun. These pigeons are believed to be now extinct; because they were good to eat, they were killed off until all are gone.

The West Branch And Other Streams. The river that flows diagonally across our county, with its many loops and twists and curves, its riffles and falls, dead water, eddies and cross currents, every mile of which was known to the raftsmen who guided their long rafts of timber down its swift waters, which meander for nearly a hundred miles to go fifty, from Canoe Place at The Cherry tree (corner of three counties) where it enters, to below Three Runs, where it leaves to continue its race to the sea, called by us the West Branch (of the Susquehanna, "The River with the Muddy Bottom") was known to the Indians as Otsinachsin, "The Place by the Rocks."

The West Branch and its tributary the Moshannon (Indian Moos-hanna, "Moose River") forms most of the eastern boundary of the county.

Tributary Streams. The principal tributaries of the river starting from the southwest are, from the north: Whisky Run, Miller Run, Laurel Run, Haslet Run, Curry Run, Bells Run, Anderson Creeek (named after Wm. Anderson, a surveyor), Hartshorn Run, Welch Run, Montgomery Creek, Moose Creek (Chinklacamoose), Lick Run, Bloody Run, Trout Run (Indian Maschi-nam-ek, "Place of Big Fish"), Chub Run, Surveyor Run, Bald Hill Run, Deer Creek (Indian Achtu-saquik), Sandy Creek, Maury Run, Basin Run, Mosquito Creek (Indian Sakime), and Three Runs.

Flowing from the south, beginning at the southwest: Beaver Run, Little Beaver Run, Deer Run, Chest Creek, Clearfield Creek (Indian Lovas Spulchanning, probably meaning "Northern Wild Plum River"), Roaring Run, Millstone Run, Moravian Run (here the Moravians camped in 1772), Big Run, Willholin Run, Alder Run (Indian Topi-Saquik), Moshannon (Indian Moos-hanna).

Bennett's Branch of the Sinnemahoning ("Place of the Stony Lake") and other branches of that stream, whose waters eventually flow into the West Branch of the Susquehanna, drain most of Huston Township in the extreme northern part of the county,

Sandy Lick Creek and other small tributaries of the Allegheny River drain the extreme northwestern part of the county, mainly Sandy Township.

Floods: On account of the narrowness of the stream valleys and the steepness of their banks, the streams of the county are particularly liable to extremes of high and low. water. The rains and melting snows get into the tributaries and from them to the river quickly, so that a thaw that melts the ice or even a hard summer shower may cause more or less of a flood in a few hours.

The most destructive flood in the county's history was that of 1889, known as the Johnstown flood on account of the destruction on the same date, May 31st, of the city of Johnstown by a flood in the Conemaugh river caused by heavy rains and the breaking of a dam. In Clearfield county on account of the heavy rains at this time, this flood caused much damage to farmers' crops almost every where, but the principal loss was along the river and tributary streams. The only loss of life so far as known was the drowning of Miss Ada Tate in Clearfield. Her drowning was caused by the upsetting of the boat in which she and others were trying to reach a place of safety.

In this flood scores of bridges on the river and tributary streams were carried away and destroyed, buildings were damaged and some carried away, property of different kinds destroyed and other damages by water and mud. In Clearfield, where the damage was greatest, even the highest part of the town was said to have been under water at one time, and on many of the streets the water ran from 4 to 6 feet deep at the highest.

A precipitation of over eight inches of rain, beginning May 30, was the cause of this flood.

The first disastrous flood of which we find record was that of 1811, called "The Pumpkin Flood," on account of the great number of pumpkins to be seen floating down the river on its crest. This flood coming as it did in the fall before the crops were gathered, must also have been caused by heavy rains.

The next flood of a specially destructive character came in 1847, and was also a "pumpkin flood", coming about the same time of year as the earlier, one and bringing even greater annoyance to housewives from the loss of their "pie fruit."

In 1851, about Christmas time, there came a sudden thaw which melted the heavy body of snow that had fallen and the waters of the river rose suddenly and completely surrounded the town of Clearfield, so that those who were attending court could not get home, causing much anxiety to their friends. Much timber was carried away in this flood. In October, 1861, heavy rains caused a flood in the river which carried off crops, lumber, shingles and other property.

Next to the. Johnstown Flood, the greatest destruction of life and property was caused by the flood of St. Patrick's Day 1865. This was caused by a large body of snow melting quickly, hastened by the blowing of a warm south wind. This flood was quite disastrous in other parts of the country also. In this county at least two men were drowned and bridges, rafts, dams, lumber, houses, out buildings and every movable thing in its path was swept away. At first this was an ice flood, but the highest water came after the ice had gone.

In the spring of 1884 a destructive ice flood occurred, filling the river roads with cakes of ice and carrying off some timber. The piled up ice carried off the iron bridge that had been built to take the place of the "Goodfellow" bridge at what is now Riverview station, and floated it down to Clearfield where it knocked down more bridges and finally landed in the river opposite the New York Central station.

There have been many floods of a more or less destructive character, especially during rafting and lumbering operations, but after the lumber business was over and the dams went out of use, the waters were less impeded in their course, and floods have generally been less destructive. If it is true as many old lumbermen contend, that there is less snow falls in winter than formerly, that may partially account for a lessening of destructive spring floods.

Soils: The soils of Clearfield county are classed in two broad groups, residual or upland and alluvial or stream-bottom soils.

The upland soils are from shales and sand stones of the coal measures, the alluvial or bottom soils are the deposits of fine earth made by the waters of the river and its tributaries in and beside their channels.

The soils of the county are not so deep as the western prairies, nor so fertile as the eastern counties, yet when supplied with lime and phosphoric acid, good crops may be grown on them-. They seem to be especially adapted for growing timber.

Geological Formation: Clearfield county is underlaid by the coal measures, and therefore, so the geologists tell us, has had many physical ups and downs. For in order to form each vein of coal, the surface had to be raised above the water at least long enough for the great growth of vegetation that was to form the coal, to mature. Then it became a great swamp subsiding for a time entirely under the sea. On this there has been a deposit of mud, sand etc., that -later formed rocks, mud or soil in which the roots of the next forest grew as the land was again elevated above the sea level to finally make another coal vein, after it had in turn been submerged or sunk and covered with another layer of sand, rock and mud, and so on until the whole of these measures had been formed very much as we now find them, the fine mud in which the tree roots once grew hardening and forming the so-called fire clay that is found under each vein of coal. The coal in the process of its formation lost about three-fourths of its weight and eight-ninths of its volume. The climate at this remote time must have been very moist and warm, so that vegetation grew exceedingly fast.

The geologists undertake to prove the theory of the vegetable growth of coal by showing that in examining a thin slice of coal under the microscope, they see the woody structure. Then remains of the different varieties (lepidodendron) of wood growth have been discovered, some of them petrified like the stump taken from a mine near Sykesville, just over the county line in Jefferson, or like the petrified formations found in many localities of our county, of small tree trunks only that they are covered with pits regularly placed over their cylindrical surfaces, which is just the way this kind of trees grew. The pitted marks are where the leaf stalks were attached and later fell off, leaving their marks on the stem, just as some of our present day plants do. Impressions of leaves are often found in mines. The stump spoken of above, along with many other proofs of this theory of coal formation, may be seen in the National Museum at Washington, D. C. A few thin veins of low grade limestone are found between certain of the coal veins. In a few places they have been worked.

The hard or conglomerate fireclay is found at the bottom of the coal measures, and so is the oldest of the clay formations. In some parts of the county it is too deep to be easily worked.

Oil and gas are found in the so called oil sand which is a kind of porous rock in which the oil or gas is held between the particles, as water is held in a sponge. It is found below the coal measures, but usually under them. Except in the western part of the county, neither oil or gas has been found until very lately. At nearly the end of 1924, gas was struck at a depth of nearly 2700 feet on the Thorp farm in Penn township in a district not hitherto supposed to contain either oil or gas in paying quantities and the whole county will now probably be drilled.

Oil is believed to have been derived from organic vegetable or animal matter which has been subjected to pressure, heat and folding or squeezing for a long period of years. Gas is formed in the same way, but its distribution is somewhat different and so it may be found where oil is not. In this section of Pennsylvania it is to be found east of the main oil deposits.


In the issue of March 1882, The Curwensville Review has the following in its month's record of happenings for February: "27th-Leon DeLisle of Girard Township caught in a trap a wolf which measured six feet two inches in length and stood three feet high." This may have been the last wolf in Clearfield county.


One day, out on the mountain, a man was skidding bark down the side of a hill, and thought he saw something in the road ahead of the bark sled. As he came nearer, he saw that it was some animal lying there and checked his team, but the sled slid, almost upon it by its own weight before it could be stopped. When he came and looked more carefully, he found that it was a very young deer, a fawn only a few hours old.

It was so weak that it could not walk nor even stand on its feet, so the man took it to the house and fed it from a bottle.

The little creature soon learned the trick of getting its living that way, and began to grow and thrive, but no trace of its mother could be found, so the family took care of it until it could run, jump and play.

It seemed to have no fear of people or animals, not even the dog, for it would play with him fearlessly.

When it grew larger, it took a fancy to the green things that grow in gardens and was not satisfied to stay at home, but foraged for green stuff in all the neighbors gardens, too.

Finally the game warden took it out on the mountain among its own kind, but occasionally it still visits the haunts of men to make a night raid on someone's truck patch, and as it can "jump like a deer" is hard to keep out.


One day Grandmother went out to the mail box to put in a letter for the rural carrier to get, but found the box nearly full of sticks,-- small dead twigs from the apple, maple and cherry trees that stood nearby. These she threw out, for how could the mail man put nice letters in a mail box full of sticks? But a bit of a brown bird with his tail sticking straight up over his back did a lot of scolding about this.

And so Grandmother seeing that the little fellow was a house wren, got around paper box with a wooden lid, that happened to be laying around and cut an inch hole in the side then it was tied on to the rain spout by the porch, just of it; under the Man's bedroom window.

The sharp little eyes of the cock wren and his mate seemed to understand that this was to be a home for them, and before night they had begun to furnish it by gathering up the twigs Grandmother had thrown out of the mail box, and one by one putting them in their new house.

I said they, but most of the actual work seemed to be done by Jenny Wren, though her mate chirped and sputtered around her most enthusiastically, which seemed to be his idea of helping, and which she accepted as perfectly all right.

It was surprising with what patience and ingenuity she pushed the long twigs through the small opening into the box and arranged them as a sort of a fence or blind back of the entrance. Behind and upon this blind the nest was then built and lined with grass, roots and feathers in approved wren style.

After a time, during which the little speckled eggs were laid, Jenny Wren began to set, while Cock Wren watched over the wren house with the greatest solicitude, usually singing at the top of his voice.

Early one morning the Man noticed that Cock Wren was doing a lot of grumbling, chirping and chattering under his window, and on carefully peeping out saw that a bold English sparrow was standing by the door of the wren house and insolently looking into Jennie's bedroom. Poor Cock Wren was angry enough to feel like pitching into the sparrow tooth and nail, or rather bill and claw, but what could the little fellow hope to do to a big sparrow, so he simply was giving the sparrow the best scolding he knew how.

But presently the Man made a motion in the window which the sparrow understood as an invitation to go, so he quickly took flight.

Cock Wren thereupon seemed to interpret the flight of his big enemy as a sign of defeat caused entirely by his own prowess, and quick as a flash pursued him for some distance, uttering his cries of defiance, mingled with the exultation of victory with all the fervor and eloquence of which he was capable.

Presently the little wren returned and going up close to the door of the wren house, peered in most solicitously to see if his dear mate was in anyway injured. Being apparently satisfied on this point, he gave her a most joyous serenade, strutting up and down the rain spout all the while, as much as to say, "I'll take care of you Jenny. Just see how I made that big, bad sparrow fly."

After a while the little wrens came out, unable to fly when first they dropped onto the ground, but soon the Man saw them where they had crawled up into the crotch of an apple tree and their mother was feeding them. Later they were able to fly and sing, and by the next summer would, no doubt, make homes too.


Otsinachsin, beauteous river, flowing onward to the main.
Drinking from ten thousand fountains to replenish thee again;
Gorgeous river, on thy bosom God Almighty's sun hath shone,
Since the world was spoke from nothing into being, thou hast flown;
Thou hast flown to bless the nations, and upon thy bosom bear
Wealth of forests, where the Red Men and the wild deer had their lair.
Would that round thy history clustered no event of sadness when
Vengeance of a savage warfare dimmed the peace of William Penn;
Then thy peaceful murmurings only, would tell of scenes of yore
Of the wild beasts of the forest, not the Red Man's knife and gore.
Then thy peaceful waters flowing, tales of better things would tell;
Songs of peace and sweeter music, join in higher notes to swell.
Round thy history hang traditions of the Red Men and the Whites
In the contest for dominion, and their fearful bloody fights.
On the farm lands by the river, in the fields and forest shades,
Where the White man's home and school house rise from out the pleasant glades,
From the fountains, springs and ravines, even to the mighty main,
Relics of the Indian warriors to the observant eye are plain.
Now the wigwam of the Indian never more thy banks shall greet,
Nor the plaintive wail of mourning from a mother's heart shall leap;
But upon thy shores in gladness, from the cottage in the dell,
Other sounds now wake thy slumbers, children other things can tell;
They can tell of household pleasures, of the school house in the place
Of the wilderness and wildwood, once the home of Indian race.
They can tell of towns and cities, railroads, telegraphs and fame
Where the Indian hunter loitered in his watch for fish and game.
They can tell of trails of concrete where the Indian path once led
Flight of airplanes where the eagle wheeled and circled high o'erhead .
But the river's flow is ceaseless, still in spring the floods sweep down,
In the summer gently murmurs by the farmhouse and the town..
Thus for ages through the mountains has it wandered toward the sea,
From it's source among the fountains, past nooks and eddies, vales and lea.
Thus for ages must it wander: who shall watch,it as it flows?
What new pictures to the children will its windings then disclose?
Quigley-(Abridged and Adapted.)

Source:  Pages 1-19, Clearfield County Pennsylvania Present and Past,  T.L Wall, 1925
Transcribed March 2008 by Nathan Zipfel for the Clearfield County Genealogy Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy Project (

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