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History of Lycoming County, Lloyd, Chapter 12

Byadmin

Apr 13, 2011

CHAPTER XII

GROWTH OF THE COUNTY – LUMBER INDUSTRY

A PICTURESQUE REGION – POPULATION IN 1800 – PIONEER HOMES AND FARMS – THE LUMBER INDUSTRY APPEARS – FINEST LUMBER DISTRICT IN THE WORLD – SAW MILLS – ENORMOUS PRODUCTION OF LUMBER – PASSING OF THE LUMBER INDUSTRY – MANUFACTURING – SCENERY, CLIMATE AND WATER

There is probably no county in Pennsylvania where the handiwork of nature is more prominently displayed than in Lycoming, made more impressive to the tourist by its many contrasts. Mountains rise to an altitude of 1,00 to 2,000 feet, extending across the entire northern and central sections. Deep gorges are cut through the main ridge of the Alleghenies and peaks and ranges rise in majestic grandeur on all sides, while at the base there is a sparse population owing to the narrow valleys. But this wild, sterile region is offset by the beautiful valley of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and others of lesser extent. Limestone, White Deer, Muncy and Rose valleys present a picturesque aspect, while the stretches of Larry’s, Lycoming, Loyalsock and Muncy creeks disclose a panorama of surpassing natural beauty.

The West Branch is bounded on the south by the Bald Eagle range of mountains, while Nippenose and Black Hole valleys on the southern side unfold beautiful and attractive scenery.

This immense territory embraces the Appalachian chain of mountains and, with the foothills on both sides, makes an extremely wild and romantic region. Originally nine-tenths of this vast territory was a gloomy wilderness, through which the foot of white man had never trodden. The forests covering the mountains were principally composed of stately pine and hemlock, the trees so thickly on the ground that their evergreen foliage almost obscured the light of day. The river and smaller streams, rising almost to the same dignity, fed by many purling brooks, flowed through this wilderness and mingled the music of their laughing waters with the weird sighing of the wind through the overhanging branches of the trees. The larger streams were filled with choice fish, while myriads of speckled trout disported in the crystal waters of the brooks as they leaped over rocks and formed beautiful cascades.

Through this primitive wilderness the red man had roamed from the earliest times. His highways, known as “paths,” ran in every direction. They were laid out so accurately as to reach all important points in the least possible distance, and when the white surveyors came to locate lands they were surprised at the knowledge displayed by these rude engineers of the forest. And in later times highways were laid upon them when the advancing tide of civilization demanded better roads, and today the Indian trail has grown into many of our finest thoroughfares.

Into this fair land came the early pioneer with his axe and saw as his principal implements and his trusty rifle as his main defense against wild animals and lurking savages. Into this attractive domain he brought his wife and family. Here he set about to fell the gigantic trees and build a habitation for himself. Slowly he labored. The task was a gigantic one. He was harassed by the Indians, many of whom were distinctly unfriendly. He was beset by wild beasts. Oftentimes his sustenance was of the most precarious kind. But he labored on. His progress was slow, but after the Revolutionary war had been fought and won a better day dawned. The sturdy pioneer could then labor in peace, and steady progress was made.

By the year 1800 the population of the county had grown to about 4,000. From then on there was a steady increase. From this small beginning the number of people included within the territory at that time has increased to over a million and a half, and the population of the county as it exists today, stripped of nine-tenths of its original area, is near the century mark.

There was little development down to the year 1838. Farms had been cleared, homes built and the people, for the most part, had devoted themselves to the cultivation of the soil. A few coal mines had been opened and a considerable quantity of iron ore had been mined in different sections, but agriculture was the principal industry.

Then the people suddenly awoke to the fact that they were surrounded with immense possibilities and that fortunes of colossal proportions laid at their doors. Down to that time only enough timber had been cut to build homes and other necessary structures, but no attempt had been made to commercialize its manufacture. Now an impetus was given to an industry that was destined to spread and ramify all over the county until every individual and even many of the children were to talk, dream and almost feed on sawdust. The gigantic lumber king had made his appearance.

The “Big Water Mill,” which was built at Williamsport, was the pioneer. Small mills had been built before but their output was principally localized. But now the manufacture of lumber was to be undertaken on a larger scale and its product shipped to foreign markets. Other mills quickly followed the “Big Water Mill.”

Five great streams flow into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River either on the border or traversing the interior of the county. These are Pine, Larry’s, Lycoming, Loyalsock and Muncy creeks, and on the mountains along these streams was an abundance of the finest pine and hemlock timber to be found anywhere in the world. The mountains were covered with it. There it lay waiting for the woodsman’s axe and saw.

Fired by the example set by the owners of the “Big Water Mill,” timber cutting was started in all parts of the county. ills sprang up like magic and every large tributary of the river had its quota. Farmers added lumbering as a part of their daily business and it was few of them that did not prosper thereby. Most of the mills were rim by water power, but it was not long before it was discovered that sawdust could be used for fuel and then steam power was introduced. Soon the sound of the whistle was heard in every remote section of the county, the sawdust began to fly and the sawed boards to pile up in the mill yards.

At the height of the lumber industry it is estimated that as many as 75 saw mills, including those in Williamsport, were in operation in Lycoming County, the yearly output of which was in the neighborhood of 400,000,000 feet of sawed lumber. In addition to this millions of feet of timber were floated down the small streams in rafts which were made up at the headwaters and of which it is impossible to make any estimate of the amount, but it is safe to say it ran into millions of feet every year.

By the year 1860 the lumber industry was in full swing. Mills were run night and day in order to get rid of the large accumulation of logs before cold weather set in and this feverish activity continued until the last log was sawed.

Everything in the county was dominated by the lumber industry and every other business was more or less dependent upon it. It is estimated that during the years of its ascendancy as much as 7,000,000,000 feet of logs were sawed up in different sections of the county. The interest ramified and permeated into the remotest corners of the county for even where there was a sparse population there was plenty of timber to be cut and either floated or hauled to the mills.

But the vast forests of timber could not last forever although it seemed that the lumber men thought they could. The end came at last. The last tree was felled and the last log was sawed.

Then it became necessary for the people to turn to something else. In the rural sections they resumed the cultivation of the soil and in the small towns and in Williamsport other industries were brought in to take the place of the giant that had been slain.

In many of the smaller places furniture factories had been established during the time that lumber was king and these continued the business, bringing the raw material in from other places. In other towns industries of a varied character were started and many of them proved successful.

For many years Paterson, N. J., had been the center of the silk industry, but the manufacturers had to contend with an unruly foreign population and suffered so severely from frequent strikes that they determined to move many of their mills to other places. Most of them were largely manned by women and in their search for desirable locations, the small towns of Lycoming and other counties in Pennsylvania attracted them. As a result, silk mills were established all over the eastern end of Pennsylvania.

Lycoming County profited by this move and one or more silk mills were located in every small town in the county and they have added very materially to the prosperity of each.

A few sporadic attempts were made to open and operate coal mines, but although there are excellent deposits in several parts of the county, the low price of bituminous coal and the almost inexhaustible beds all over the United States made the enterprise an unprofitable one. The people, outside of Williamsport and the smaller towns, have devoted themselves almost exclusively to farming and dairying, the latter industry having grown to very large proportions by reason of the establishment of so many creameries and condensaries.

The largest asset in the county at present is its scenery. This is becoming known all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard, and tourists, having learned of its beauties, flock to this section from all parts of the United States,

Lycoming County possesses two things which make for the health and happiness of its people – good climate and good water. As a result, there are few more desirable places in which to live.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 154-153, History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, Col. Thomas W. Lloyd, Volume 1, Topeka – Indianapolis; Historical Publishing Company; 1929

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