The Pine Barrens
No one of this day can realize the barren and desolate condition of the east end of the Muncy Valley basin, from the trout ponds to the hills beyond Hughesville, for a number of decades during the early settlement of this section. Samuel Bryan, father of the late venerable Ellis Bryan, of Eagle Mills, settled in the valley soon after the year 1800. When he first visited the dale he rode a handsome black stallion. For this animal he was offered all the land from near the mills on Muncy Creek (then Shoemaker's Mills) to the hills, but could not be induced to trade, as he thought the land worthless for farming, and that it would never produce enough to pay the taxes. The uninviting waste was long known as "The Pine Barrens." The forest had been destroyed by fires, and only a charred tree trunk or stump was here and there standing. The very soil seemed to have vanished. The surface was covered with pebbles and boulders, with here and there a patch of scrub oak waist high. "You could see a deer run for half a mile or more," said Ellis Bryan to the writer thirty-five years ago, when describing the scene.
Many of the first settlers passed these now valuable and productive lands as utterly worthless, to locate on hill or mountain lands far less desirable. When later Major Theopholis Little came into the valley — he made his first visit about the year 1808, but did not bring his family until 1813 — he was offered these same "barrens" for $1.50 an acre, but he preferred the more fertile though better timbered lands of the summit of the Allegheny Mountains, near Lewis's Lake, at $2.50 an acre. The ancestors of the Edkins', the Taylors', the Warrens', the Rogers', the Birds', the Corsons', the Molineux', the Huckels', and many others passed by these lands and regarded them as of little value.
To see the large, beautiful and fertile plain of several square miles, on the verge of which Hughesville is so pleasantly located, and on which are now some of the most productive and best improved farms of the county, one can not help being amazed that the hills of Sullivan County, and of Shrewsbury and Penn townships, were preferred by so many of the pioneer settlers. There is a moral in this snap-shot of our local history. Look below the surface, and consider the surroundings. This is what so many of the early settlers neglected to do in the material way. But after all, they became as strongly attached to their mountain homes, their lives were in every way as useful and happy, in intelligence they kept pace with their neighbors of the more fertile river bottoms, and when the Old Flag was assailed they were just as loyal. And then — it will never be forgotten that the Sullivanites were Lycomingites for fifty-two years.
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