History of Lycoming County
Millions of years ago this entire area was part of a great sea. Through the centuries many changes have taken place in the earth’s crust. Extreme pressure which built up within the earth’s core caused great upheavals of rock. (Most of the rocks in this area were sandstone, shale and limestone formed from sediment on the sea floor.) This action is revealed in the exposed rock strata seen in many places throughout the county.
During the great Ice Age at least three distinct glaciers entered the country, the most recent from 11-27 million years ago. The “Devil’s Turnip Patch,” along Route 15 about two miles south of South Williamsport, and other areas of stony rubble are debris left by the retreating glaciers. Now Lycoming County sits upon one of the largest Natural Gas Fields, the Marcellus Shale in the world.
Artifacts indicate that the region was settled as early as 3,000 B.C. In more recent times the Andantes or Susquehannock Indians inhabited the area. They were eventually driven out by the Wolf Indians, a sub-tribe of the five Nations, who remained here until about the mid-1700’s.
Northward expansion into the hinterland of Pennsylvania, following the close of the French and Indian War, brought settlers to the rich bottomlands of the West Branch Valley in 1765. Self-reliant and hardy, they cleared the land and built cabins from the felled trees. They lived off the land and hunted for most of their meat.
In 1769 the government of Pennsylvania offered French and Indian War veterans land west of Lycoming Creek at 22 cents an acre. Thousands emigrated in a few short months from the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas. West of Lycoming Creek the Pine Creek inhabitants, having no legal body for protection or legislation, formed their own law-making group called the Fair Play System. On the west bank of Pine Creek near Jersey Shore stood the famous Tiadaghton Elm under which, on July 4, 1776, the Fair Play Men drew up a resolution declaring freedom from Great Britain. They did not realize that at the precise time Continental Congress in Philadelphia was doing the same thing. This elm tree, which grew to more that 17 feet in circumference during its estimated 300-year life span, was removed due to Dutch elm disease. To replace it, a young elm was presented by the Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on October 25, 1975.
Repeated incursions by the British and Indians from the north reduced the efforts of the pioneers to ashes. Indian massacres and warnings of a massive raid drove the settlers to take refuge in Fort Augusta at Sunbury in the “Great Runaway” of 1778. Returning to the valley to rebuild their homes, they were soon joined by other settlers.
Williamsport was selected as the site for the county seat and became a borough in 1806. The town did not become a third class city until 1866. It is said that William Hepburn named the city for himself. Others believe that it was given the name of Michael Ross’s son, William. There is also the belief that Williamsport was named for William Russell who owned an inn at the corner of West Third and Mulberry Streets and supervised a wharf where the riverboats were tied.
With the coming of the West Branch Canal in 1833 and the railroads in 1839, extensive commerce was at last practical.
Vast tracts of pine, hemlock and hardwood plus the nation’s need for lumber provided the ingredients for the rise of a rich young city almost overnight. Saw mills sprang up along the river as early as the late 1830’s. In 1846 Major James Perkins constructed the Susquehanna Boom. This was a series of log cribs, extending seven miles upriver from Williamsport. The boom stored as much as 300 million board feet of lumber that had been floated downstream for eventual distribution to the approximately 60 sawmills lining the river from Newberry to Montoursville. Thus, Williamsport became the Lumber Capital of the World in the 1870’s.
The role played by the dynamic and resourceful Peter Herdic in the progress of Williamsport cannot be overlooked. Having become a millionaire through his many enterprises, his philanthropic and civic contributions provided the leadership necessary for the tremendous growth of the city during the mid to late 1800’s.
Denuding of the forests and the disastrous flood of 1889 resulted in the decline of the lumber industry that had produced so many millionaires. The city then turned its efforts to diversifying its industry. The depression of the 1930’s could have been disastrous had it not been for the efforts of a group of local businessmen. They assisted existing business and attracted new industry during these difficult years, thus limiting the effects of the Depression.
Today Lycoming County continues to have diverse industries. Business firms manufacture airplane motors, valves, furniture, apparel, boilers, wire rope, electronic components, metal fabrications and much more.
Williamsport and Lycoming County Today
This area is within 25% of the United States population and 63% of its major industry. Interstate 80 and other modern highways provide easy access to the area.
Quality education is provided by excellent public school systems and a variety of private and parochial schools. Higher education is offered by Lycoming College–a four-year liberal arts college, the Pennsylvania College of Technology–the state’s premier technical college and the Newport School of Business.
The many music, art, and drama groups provide a rich and varied fare of cultural activities. Modern hospitals, fine churches and beautiful homes further enhance the attractiveness of the region.
Williamsport is famous as the birthplace of Little League Baseball. The International Headquarters hosts the Little League World Series each August. Among the many opportunities for recreation, game lands and mountain streams make this beautiful region a paradise for the hunter and fisherman. During mid-October the forests and woodlands are breathtakingly beautiful in their fall coloration. Nowhere in the world does the blend of evergreens and hardwoods offer a more colorful fall foliage spectacle. The Marcellus Shale Gas fields now provide an abundance of economic opportunity for the entire region.
The Williamsport Lycoming County area, while proud of its heritage, anticipates a future of progress and growth. It is the place for you to live, work, and play!