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…bringing our past into the future

History of Cook Forest

ByNathan Zipfel

Jun 10, 2023

Cook Forest is the most important tract of virgin timberland to be found in Pennsylvania, and is without rival for size east of the Rockies. The towering pines and hemlocks measure three and four feet in diameter, an occasional giant being five feet through the bole. They rise high in the air, clean, straight, sometimes surprisingly close, like time-checkered columns supporting the blue sky. Here, man stands in reverence amid the majestic grandeur of the ancient forest. Underfoot is Nature’s carpet, thick with pine needles, brightened by shafts of sunlight falling through the spreading branches. Roadside and hillside abound with a dense growth of mountain laurel and rhododendron, a-bloom from mid-June to mid-July.

There are approximately forty miles of well-marked winding trails. Log Cabin Inn stands at the entrance to Longfellow Trail, along which most of the virgin pine may be seen. After a day’s hiking, riding, motoring, skiing, swimming, or fishing, one may retire to the Inn, Lodge, or cabins, and enjoy every convenience of home.

Tallest of the giant white pines was the Tener Pine, located by the Boy Scouts of Allegheny County during their 1912 Encampment in Cook Forest. Named for John Tener, then governor of the Commonwealth, it was felled by lightning that same summer, and was rapidly consumed by souvenir and novelty collectors.

Rarest of the picturesque trees seen here are those imported by Mrs. Thomas B. Cook to enhance her home along the river. On a plot, part of which was once the apple orchard of patriarchal John Cook, are 75 trees so unique that even nurserymen do not know them all. The families of Thomas B. Cook and Anthony Wayne Cook still maintain their homes on Riverside Drive.
**Cook descendants currently own these two Cook mansions along the Clarion, and the road is now called River Road. Some of the unique trees, such as the Weeping Norway Spruce (which has since been successfully cultivated and is now more common), still stand.

The first white man to pass through the area where Cooksburg now stands was Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary. In 1757 Post was on his way to persuade the Seneca Indians to become allies of the English against the French, whose scouts had already buried six leaden plates along the banks of the Allegheny River to proclaim it as French territory.

The first name applied to the Clarion River was “River au Fiel” – “River of Hate,” as shown on Father Bonnecamp’s map of 1749. The Indians called it “Tobeco Creek,” meaning “Alder Creek.” On some other early maps, it is named “Stump Creek,” and later “Big Tobe Creek.” The older settlers clung tenaciously to the name “Toby’s Creek” until 1850, although the stream became officially the “Clarion River,” meaning “Clear River,” in 1819.

Tom’s Run was named for a Seneca Indian whose camp was still there in 1837. Along this run was a trail over which Senecas came from their northern reservation to hunt in Jefferson County. The hunts were continued five years after the camp along Tom’s Run was discontinued. The present Indian Cabins are located on this site. The action, color, and dramatic poetry of those days have been recaptured for posterity in Unconquered, a motion picture made by Paramount Pictures partly in Cook Forest and photographed in natural color.

Cook, of Cooksburg

John Cook, pioneer of Jefferson County until Forest County was created, was the son of Daniel Cook, who came to the United States from Germany before the Revolutionary War and settled first in North Carolina. Later, he moved with his wife Christina to Centre County, where John was born in 1788. About 1810, the family moved to Beaver Township, Clarion County. Here, John Cook cleared a farm and married Susannah Helpman. Ten children were born to this union.

In 1826, the State of Pennsylvania surveyed the Clarion River, looking for a canal to be part of the great east-to-west highway. This enterprise caused John Cook to explore carefully the Clarion River above and below the present site of Cooksburg. The trail he blazed through the wilderness with axe and an ox team was visible until about 1931. After his thorough study, he selected a site along Tom’s Run as a suitable place for a home, and purchased 765 acres from John Bredin, part of the original estate of William Bingham, of Philadelphia. After clearing a tract and building a one-story cabin on the east side of the Run, he moved his family into this wilderness home in 1828.

Susannah Helpman Cook died in 1830, aged 38, and was buried, as she had asked, “in the wheatfield on the hill” – now the Cooksburg Cemetery.

Two years later, John Cook married Katherine Ritter. Legend reports that on their wedding day, he strolled into the parlor dressed in typical woodsman fashion-plaid flannel shirt, home-spun trousers, and boots. This so angered the bride that she immediately changed from her silken wedding gown to a gingham dress and sunbonnet.

Near his home, John Cook built a sawmill for $300-spending $200 for labor and $100 for iron. Oxen dragged the logs to the mill; and the lumber was floated down the Clarion and Allegheny Rivers to the market in Pittsburgh. In the late 1830s, John Cook began to build flatboats made from choice pines, some 100 feet long. A boat scaffold was built where the present river bridge stands. The boats were built upside down and caulked, then turned over into the river. It has been said, to turn over one boat required ten men and a gallon of whiskey. Onto the boats was loaded lumber which had been piled on the bank near the present Cook Homestead and Cook Forest Inn. A small dam a short distance down the river raised the water about six feet, and held the loaded boats in readiness for the floods which came regularly about three times a year. A day’s work then floated boats and rafts to the mouth of the Clarion. Here four were lashed together and transported to Pittsburgh as a fleet-a journey of two more days. A shanty built on one of the boats accommodated the men with splendid meals and good sleeping quarters until the boats and rafts were disposed of in Pittsburgh, being sold for coal barges.

There were no roads then. All groceries and supplies had to be poled up the rivers in canoes, a distance of over 100 miles. These were built wide enough for barrels to fit in sideways, as every cargo included barrels of certain staples.

John Cook was 5’6″ tall, very heavy set, and of great muscular strength. He prided himself on his physique, which he inherited from his father Daniel, a man of wondrous strength. Many stories are told of them to display their vigor. On one of his trips to Pittsburgh, Daniel was seen to seize a full barrel of whiskey by the staves projecting beyond the head, raise it to his mouth, and drink from the hole. On another occasion, as John drove a wagonload of goods up Watterson Hill, the team stalled. Still directing his team, he shouldered a barrel of salt and carried it up the hill.

John Cook’s children also were large and capable of great endurance. Betsey and one of her sisters walked forty miles to the nearest post office. Postage for a letter then was 25c, payable by the addressee.

The Pennsylvania Northwest was a paradise for hunters, and John Cook was a mighty hunter. In and around Cooksburg were over 50 kinds of wild animals. How many he killed in his lifetime is not known; but it is recorded that one day in 1830 he killed seven deer, one panther, one wolf, and fifty wild turkeys. He is said to have kept so many hunting dogs that when visitors called, it was necessary to put the dogs out of the house to accommodate the guests.

Lake Erie and the waters of Pennsylvania then held 325 species of fish. John Cook caught many a choice bass and chub trout by hook and line in the Clarion River. Using a pitchpine knot as a light on the boat at night, he would spear pike weighing 35 to 40 pounds.

John Cook died in Cooksburg in 1858, and is buried in the cemetery on the hill.

The Honorable Andrew Cook

Andrew Cook, pioneer Pennsylvania lumberman, developed the area that is now Cook Forest State Park. [HALL IMAGE CAPTION]

Outstanding among John Cook’s sons was Andrew Cook, born in Beaver Township January 14, 1824. He too grew to be of giant strength-at 6’5″ tall, he weighed between 250 – 270 pounds. His formal education was meager, the nearest school being at Scotch Hill, four miles from his home. He studied at night, after a hard day’s labor, by the light of a pitchpine knot. He read avidly all the papers, magazines, and books available, and kept himself well informed on business and politics.

In 1849, Andrew married Rebecca Ann Maze, who bore him eight children. Two died in infancy. Andrew and Rebecca, eager to learn, became pupils of his nephew, Captain Phipps, who taught a small class in the house Andrew built in 1849. Never were husband and wife more devoted to each other. Their forty-two years of married life were lived in perfect harmony, though they endured many hardships and privations. “The hand was called upon rather than the brain; the axe was busier than the pen. There was little time to think of advancing the mind while yet the bear and wolf prowled nightly about the door.”

From early boyhood, Andrew Cook took great interest in his father’s lumber business and assisted him. When 20 years old, Andrew, with his brothers Philip and Jerry R., established a separate business. Andrew later bought his brothers’ interests, and continued the work alone. Descendants of Jerry R. Cook, the MacBeth and E.B. Cook families, have their homes and operate tourist businesses on a section of land once owned by their grandfather. Two half-brothers of Andrew, Squire and Sebastian Cook, also resided at Cooksburg.

Soon after Andrew Cook started in the lumber business for himself, he began accumulating property. He purchased 36 3/10 acres from his father and on August 5, 1864, after his father’s death, bought the balance of the 765 acres originally purchased by John. On his property, known as “the Cooksburg property,” were erected three saw-mills, one flour mill, one planing mill, a boat scaffold, several dwellings, and a store. A boarding house was built for the employees. Since the state acquired Cook Forest, this building, which is now state owned, has been remodeled and is operated under the name of Cook Forest Inn.

In later years, Andrew Cook built a store with living quarters on the second and third floors. About 1870, he built a home now known as the Cook Homestead, which was owned and operated by one of his granddaughters, Mary Wheat, until recently. It is now a privately-run bed & breakfast. The homestead consisted of six large rooms downstairs, eleven bedrooms on the second floor, and two extra large rooms on the third floor to accommodate some of Andrew’s employees.

There was no bridge over the Clarion River at Cooksburg until 1896. Before that date it was necessary to ford the river in front of the Cook Homestead. If the river was so high that the ford could not be used, one had to travel over the hills upriver seven miles to Clarington, where a bridge had been erected.

Andrew Cook’s interests were diverse. He took an active part in the organization of Forest County, and was one of its first county commissioners. He held many other county and township offices, and was elected associate judge in 1870, serving five years. He was president of the Second National Bank of Clarion, and of the Forest County National Bank at Tionesta. He was a vigorous Republican in deciding public questions.

As an employer, he was kind and generous; and many could testify to his help in time of need. All who worked for him said his word was as good as his bond. As a storekeeper, he was patient and forebearing. He expected his customers to pay their debts, but never sued anyone. He had running accounts standing for years without final settlement.

Once when he had sold a horse on time to a minister, and the minister defaulted in his payment, Andrew Cook sent him word that he expected to be paid; if the minister hadn’t the money, he could preach it out. The minister preached one sermon. Hearing it, Andrew told the Reverend the debt was cancelled.

Andrew Cook died at Old Point Comfort, Virginia, on November 18, 1891, enroute to Georgia. He and his wife, Rebecca Maze Cook, who died in March of 1916, are interred in the Cook Mausoleum overlooking Cooksburg. Andrew’s family built this structure, containing 20 vaults and a stained glass window designed after an oil painting of a logging scene completed by Harriet Cook.

The A. Cook Sons Company

After the death of Hon. Andrew Cook, his heirs formed the A. Cook Sons Company to develop the timber remaining on their lands. These heirs were: Anthony Wayne Cook, president; Harriet Cook Ross, vice president; Ida Cook Calvin; John Wesley Cook; Jacob Hill Cook; and Thomas Burnside Cook, the latter serving as manager, secretary, and treasurer throughout the company’s gas, oil, and lumber operations elsewhere.

For many years, the A. Cook Sons Company transported a large part of their timber products to market over the Clarion and Allegheny Rivers as their father had done. Later, lumber shipped via rail after a six-mile haul to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The sawmill operated until 1910, when the heirs began to seek some way of saving the timber that remained.

The Cook Forest Association

The idea of making this timberland a public park originated with Major I. McCreight of DuBois, who gave liberally of his time and money to interest others, and presented the cause to the State Legislature in 1911. The time was not yet ripe.

After World War I, Mr. Samuel Y. Ramage of Oil City advocated raising a purchase sum by public subscription, and on December 17, 1926, the “Cook Forest Association” was formed for this purpose. The original officers and directors of the Cook Forest Association were: Samuel Y. Ramage, president; Taylor Allerdice, vice president; Thomas Liggett, secretary; George Benson, treasurer; Henry M. Brackenridge, Arthur E. Braun, Hon. Frank L. Harvey, Howard H. McClintic, John M. Phillips, and Homer D. Williams. Other pioneers included Major I. McCreight, Hon. Theo L. Wilson, and John H. Nicholson. Credit for the accomplishment is chiefly due Thomas Liggett. Thomas B. Cook Jr., (**who formerly owned Cook Riverside Cabins on River Road), was Mr. Liggett’s right-hand man, and donated liberally of his salary to advance the work of the Cook Forest Association. The purchase price set by the owners of the land was $650,000, with reservation of gas and oil rights.

Anthony Wayne Cook had bought the interests of John Wesley Cook and Jacob Hill Cook several years before the property was acquired by the state. In 1927, Harriet Cook Ross, Ida Cook Calvin, and Thomas B. Cook sold their interests to Anthony Wayne Cook. This transfer was made to facilitate the sale to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and to place Mr. Anthony Wayne Cook in position to complete it. The Honorable Theo L. Wilson, of Clarion, was attorney for the sellers in this transaction.

The Cook Forest Association met a fraction of the purchase price, the again turned to the Legislature. Finally, on April 14, 1927, a bill was signed appropriating $450,000 on condition that the Association raise the remaining $200,000 to purchase 6,055 acres. The Cook Forest Association successfully raised the allotted amount, and Cook Forest was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On December 28, 1928, the Secretary of the Department of Forests and Waters, Harrisburg, announced the formal purchase of this tract of virgin white pine and hemlock. Since the original purchase, Mr. Arthur E. Braun of Pittsburgh donated several hundred additional acres of woodland to the state, to become part of Cook Forest State Park.

For almost twenty years, the members of the A. Cook Sons Company had stood by steadfastly to save the trees for others. They sacrificed a fortune in heavy taxation, interest, and other constant expense.

This remnant of “Penn’s Woods,” used and enjoyed annually by thousands of Americans from every state, and by visitors from foreign countries as well, is now a living monument to the illustrious pioneer, Judge Andrew Cook.

Source:  History of Cook Forest, 1951, Mrs. Thomas Burnside Cook (aka May Forrester Cook)

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