White settlers first arrived in the Pine Creek Valley in the early 1770s, when it was truly still a wilderness area. It was also a region of the British proprietary colony of Pennsylvania that was declared by Lieutenant Governor John Penn to be “off limits” to settlers. It wasn’t until what was called the Second Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 with the Iroquois “Six Nations” Confederacy, that the United States government sanctioned settlement up Pine Creek.
Without a road in those early days, settlers typically made their way up the valley either on horseback or by canoe on Pine Creek. Some of those early pioneers had received land grants in return for their service during the Revolutionary War.
They made their livings lumbering, farming, fishing and trapping. Sawmills were built, often at the mouths of runs emptying into Pine Creek. The more successful farming occurred along flat lands near the creek, where the soil was rich. Settlers found native wild trout in Pine Creek and its tributaries, and whitetail deer, black bears, elk, and wild turkeys, among other wildlife, in abundance in the woods.
Some of the very earliest sawmills in the Pine Creek Valley included one built in 1793 at the mouth of Gamble’s Run just above present-day Torbert Village, Captain Christian Stake’s 1792 mill less than a mile up Little Pine Creek from Waterville, and Jacob Tomb’s at the mouth of Slate Run in 1792.
Early notable farmers included Henry B. Tomb (1797-1883) on his 900 acres in Tombs Run, Thomas Ramsey (1742-1813) on his 200 acres in Ramsey, and Michael Campbell (1794-1881) on his 50 acres about one mile above Cammal.
Perhaps the two most famous hunters and trappers were George Bonnell (1787-1879) and Philip Tome (1782-1855). Bonnell lived about three miles below Slate Run. Tome, originally living at Slate Run, wrote a popular book published in 1854, entitled Pioneer Life or Thirty Years a Hunter.
Pine Creek Valley and its surrounding mountain areas had very dense growths of two types of trees very much in demand in the second half of the 19th century–eastern white pine and hemlock. Huge numbers of the white pines were felled (especially in the 1860s and 1870s), many used as masts for sailing ships. Hemlocks, on average slightly smaller than the pines, were the dominant trees felled next, many in the 1880s and 1890s.
At first the logs were sent down Pine Creek (and its major tributary, Little Pine Creek), in what were called “log drives,” to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. From there they were floated on to the Williamsport boom, to be handled by the mills at that city.
After the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek and Buffalo Railroad was completed through Pine Creek Valley on May 9, 1883, lumbering activity took yet another turn. Now logging railroads could be constructed up into the mountains from the villages and connected to the main line through the valley.
Log drives to Williamsport began to diminish, except down Little Pine Creek where there was no railway. In the village of Slate Run, the James B. Weed and Company hemlock sawmill was constructed, along with the narrow-gauge Slate Run Railroad to the dense growths up in the Black Forest area west and north of the village.
Another, smaller hemlock sawmill, built by Joseph Wood and Joseph Childs, was erected in Cammal, along with its own logging line, the Cammal and Black Forest Railroad. Secondly in Cammal, another mill was constructed where creosoted wood pipe (to convey water) was made. And thirdly, hard and small softwood was harvested for props to be used in Pennsylvania’s anthracite mines, the brokers being Daniel Shepp and Charles E. Titman, with their own Trout Run Railroad eventually built to timberlands west of Cammal and the Oregon and Texas Railway up Mill Run east of the village.
As a result of all the heightened lumbering and railroad-building activity up Pine Creek Valley, its villages flourished and grew in the 1880s and 1890s, especially Cammal and Slate Run. During these prosperous times, Cammal had four hotels and three churches, Slate Run three hotels and two churches.
The village of Leetonia, seven miles northwest of Cedar Run, had its own hemlock sawmill and a hemlock bark tannery. Built by New Yorker W. Creighton Lee, the mill and tannery were isolated (with only a wagon road down to Cedar Run) until the Leetonia Railroad was built in 1899.
The last log drive down Little Pine Creek was in 1909. Weed’s large sawmill in Slate Run closed in 1910. The great lumber days were ending. Pine Creek Village populations plummeted, especially in Cammal and Slate Run.
In the 20th century, Pine Creek civilization continued in other ways. There were productive farms (including dairy farms and even a turkey farm). In the two most southern Lycoming County townships along Pine Creek, Porter and Watson, significant crop farms existed.
North in Cummings, McHenry, and Brown Townships, flagging and building stones were quarried. Clay was mined in Brown Township and up in the Blackwell area in Tioga County. Ginseng, obtained from the woods, where it grew wild, was grown as a cash crop by a number of residents, especially in Cammal and Blackwell.
Throughout most of the 20th century, trains continued to roll through the valley, carrying coal, freight, and passengers between New York State and locations in Pennsylvania beyond the southern terminus of Pine Creek at Jersey Shore. The tracks were finally removed in 1989, ending over 100 years of continuous train service, and ushering in the new era of the Pine Creek recreational rail-trail.
The main road through Pine Creek Valley gradually improved through the years. After the devastating flood of 1889, a number of new steel or wrought-iron truss bridges were erected (one over Little Pine Creek, the rest over “Big” Pine Creek) up the valley to Blackwell. Road paving began in 1930 with the section between Jersey Shore and Ramsey, to Cammal by 1936, all the way through to Cedar Run by 1953, but not to Blackwell until 2001.
More and more hunting camps and campgrounds appeared as the 20th century progressed, and Pine Creek Valley became what it is today–a destination for those who love the outdoors. They come to bait and fly fish, to hunt deer and bear, to canoe and kayak, to bicycle and walk the rail-trail, and to hike in the mountains. If they’re lucky, they’ll see an American bald eagle soaring overhead.
……..Information provided by: David Kagan author of “Pine Creek Villages”
Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, Pine Creek Valley.com, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or www.arcadiapublishing.com.