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Lycoming County Pennsylvania

Lycoming County Courthouse is located at 48 West Third Street, Williamsport PA 17701; phone: 570-320-2124.

Formed April 13, 1795; named for creek called by Delaware Indians Legani-hanna (Sandy Stream) or Lycaumic; mountainous with rolling hills; North Mountain, highest land, 2550 feet above sea level. Formerly a lumber region, now chief industries are agriculture and manufacturing. [1]

See Also: The Muncy Valley, J. M. M. Gernerd, 1909

Beginnings [2]

In the heart of Pennsylvania, 125 miles west of the Delaware River and 30 miles south of the New York State-line, is Lycoming County, largest in area in the Commonwealth. Formed by act of the Legislature, April 13, 1795, Lycoming originally contained more than 12,000 square miles, or nearly one-third of the entire State. Through gifts of territory to new counties Lycoming County has been reduced to an area of 1,220 square miles, or approximately one-tenth of its original size. It is bounded on the north by Tioga and Bradford counties; on the east by Sullivan and Columbia; on the south by Montour, Northumberland, and Union; and on the west by Clinton and Potter. The area is drained by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and its numerous tributaries, the most important of which are Muncy, Loyalsock, Lycoming, Larrys and Pine Creeks. South of Lycoming County, at Northumberland, the West Branch unites with the North Branch to follow a southeastwardly course to Chesapeake Bay.

First Inhabitants – The first human inhabitants of the county were the Indians. In its primitive state the land, the forests, and the streams were ideally suited to their mode of living. Except for occasional warfare with another tribe, the Indians were concerned principally with the problem of finding food, clothing, and shelter necessary for existence. Game and fish were plentiful, and a few basic vegetables were raised in fertile land along the streams.

The factors which made the country attractive to the Indian contributed directly to his replacement by white settlers. The valuable furs and plentiful supply of game and fish induced the first white traders to visit the region, and their reports attracted the first settlers. Once the natural wealth contained in its vast forests was recognized, the growth of the county was rapid.

Lumber Boom – Except for a few clearings, the first settlers found the territory which is now Lycoming County covered with a magnificent growth of hemlock and pine trees. Although its value was not immediately recognized, this timber was later to provide the county with its largest industry and to make Williamsport the lumber center of the continent. From 1862 to 1894, lumber was "King." At the peak of the lumber era more than one and one-half million logs, containing over 318,000,000 board feet, were cut from the mountain slopes in a single year. Two disastrous floods played a part in the destruction of the lumbering industry. The flood of June 1889 broke the booms which had been constructed in the river to catch and hold logs that had been floated down stream. Millions of feet of logs were lost in this flood and another which struck the valley in 1894. But, even if floods had not come, it was apparent that the reckless cutting could not continue. After the forests had been stripped of their most accessible trees, the lumber business declined.

Many of the inhabitants returned to the cultivation of the soil. Thousands of acres of land which had been stripped of its trees were cleared of underbrush and prepared for crops, or used for grazing. Agriculture developed and expanded until it became the dominant industry. Some of the people, not inclined toward farming, founded industries based upon the wealth created by the lumber industry.

Contemporary Picture[contemporary to those living and reading in 1939] The valleys and lowlands of the county compare favorably in fertility with other sections of the State, and the hilly portions are particularly adaptable to grazing, dairying, and fruit growing. Although the county is primarily agricultural, it has numerous and varied industries. A variety of products, ranging from crepe paper novelties to steam boilers, are manufactured and shipped to every state in the Union and to many foreign countries.

Nature has been exceedingly kind to Lycoming County. Majestic mountain ranges, deeply carved with narrow gorges, are contrasted with beautiful valleys and wide stretches of fertile farm land. Within an hour's drive of Williamsport, industrial center of the county, are mountain views, dense forests, crystal-clear streams, and picturesque waterfalls, Brooks meander through grassy meadows; cattle graze in green pastures, and prosperous-looking farm buildings are set in fields heavy with crops.

The Story of Etienne Brule – No one knows who was the first white man to visit Lycoming County. Among those who have been mentioned for that honor is Etienne Brule (pronounced Aye-tee-ane Brulay). Brule came to America in 1608 with Samuel de Champlain. Two years later, while Champlain was in France on a visit, Brule lived for a year with Iroquet, an Algonquian Indian chief. During that time he became thoroughly acquainted with the Indian mode of living. He learned Indian language and woodcraft, and adopted their manner of dress. Because of this experience, Champlain employed him in the capacity of interpreter, guide, and messenger to various Indian tribes. It was while on a mission for Champlain that he may have passed through Lycoming.

In 1615, Champlain, with a force of Frenchmen and Algonquian Indians, moved into Central New York to attack the Onondagas, a tribe of the Five Nations. It had been agreed that, in the event of war, the Andastes who lived south of the Five Nations would furnish 500 warriors to assist in the attack. Brule, accompanied by twelve Huron Indians, was sent by Champlain to advise them of the time and place of meeting. On their arrival, a great reception was accorded Brule and his company. The festivities consumed so much time that the reenforcements did not arrive until two days after Champlain had retreated from the Onondaga stronghold. Brule then returned with the Andastes to their village. He spent a year or more visiting neighboring tribes and exploring the Susquehanna River to its month.

It is believed that the Andastes town he visited was Spanish Hill, near Athens, in Bradford County. Since he returned with the Andastes to their town and spent the winter in "exploring the country and visiting nearby lands and nations," it is possible that he entered the West Branch Valley. Those who contend that Brule visited the West Branch also claim that upon his return to Champlain he spoke of the ancient Indian fortifications near the mouth of Wolf Run. Whether Brule actually set foot in the West Branch Valley or not, he deserves a place in Lycoming County history because Spanish Hill in Bradford County was originally included in Lycoming and also because he was the first man to describe the natural beauty of this section of the state.

Conrad Weiser – It was not until approximately one hundred and twenty years after Brule that the next European passed through Lycoming. In 1737, while on a mission for the Provincial Government of Pennsylvania to Onondaga, New York, the capital of the Six Nations, Conrad Weiser traveled through the West Branch Valley. Accompanied by Shikellimy (pronounced Shik-el-limy), an Indian chief who later became vice-king of the Six Nations, he ascended the Susquehanna River to a point west of the present borough of Montoursville. Here they picked up a branch of the old Indian trail leading north of the present Williamsport and reached Lycoming Creek near what is now Hepburnville. They followed the Sheshequin Path up that stream, then went northward through Tioga County to New York State.

Weiser made many later trips through this region in the capacity of guide and emissary for the Provincial Government. He was born in Germany in 1696. In 1710, at the age of fourteen, he came to America with his father, John Conrad Weiser, and a large group of immigrants. As a young man he was adopted into the Mohawk tribe of Indians and acquired a thorough knowledge of their language and customs. Later he became an interpreter in Penn's Province. He followed this calling throughout the rest of his life and proved a valuable asset to the Provincial authorities at conference and, treaty councils. He died at Tulpehocken, July 13, 1760.

Shikellimy, a member of the Oneida tribe, was probably born in New York State. His first place of residence on the West Branch was at "Shikellimy's town," a short distance south of Milton. Later he became chief of all the tribes living on the Susquehanna with his headquarters at Shamokin, an Indian town on the present site of Sunbury. He was a constant friend of the Provincial Government and advanced its cause in many of the treaty conferences held during his time.

Moravian Missionaries – Five years after Weiser's journey up the West Branch Count Nicholas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, first of the Moravian missionaries, came to the county. Accompanied by his daughter Benigna, Conrad Weiser, Anna Nitchman, J. Martin Mack, and two friendly Indians, he left Shamokin (Sunbury) on September 30, 1742 and ascended the West Branch as far as Otstuagy, an Indian village near the mouth of Loyalsock Creek, present site of the borough of Montoursville. The country at that time was a dense wilderness, abounding in both large and small game. The Count expressed surprise at not seeing any snakes on this journey since he had been informed they existed in great numbers. He was particularly wary of one species which was said to lie on the top of bushes and spring on passing travelers.

Zinzendorf was followed by other missionaries, including Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg, David Zeisberger, David Brainard,-and Walter Mack. The advent of these pioneer religious teachers marked the beginning of a more friendly relationship with the Indians. The Moravians came to convert the Indians to Christianity, and they were highly successful. Chief Shikellimy became a convert and adhered strictly to the beliefs of Christianity the remainder of his life. Since he was virtually a dictator over all the tribes then living along the West Branch, his conversion had a powerful influence upon the Indians. He was a close friend of Zeisberger, who administered last rites at his burial in Shamokin.

The Moravians' reports of the beauty of the country, the abundance of fish and game, and the fertility of the soil, undoubtedly were an important factor in opening the region for permanent settlement.

  1. Archambault, A. Margaretta (ed), A Guide Book of Art, Architecture, and Historic Interests in Pennsylvania, The John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia, 1924
  2. Pennsylvania Writers Project, Works Progress Administration, A Picture of Lycoming County,1939, Williamsport
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