History of the Clarion River

Native American History

Native American archaeological sites are located along the Clarion River corridor, such as rock shelters. According to Penn State University's The Clarion River, National Wild and Scenic River Eligibility Study, there are documented accounts of the Delaware, Seneca and Iroquois Indians in the Clarion River region.

You can see many of the historic Native American Indian paths today, such as Kittanning, Pigeon, and Venango-Frankstown paths. The Venango-Frankstown path is the present location of State Route 322, where it crosses the river by the town of Clarion. Other paths remain today as current roads or railways.

You can see many of the historic Native American Indian paths today, such as Kittanning, Pigeon, and Venango-Frankstown paths. The Venango-Frankstown path is the present location of State Route 322, where it crosses the river by the town of Clarion. Other paths remain today as current roads or railways.

 

Industrial History

The Clarion River watershed is within a region of extensive Pennsylvania forests. Many of these forests are northern hardwood-hemlock consisting of sugar maple, yellow birch, red maple, American beech, and eastern hemlock trees. There are occasional stands of white pine as well. The region also contains Allegheny hardwood forests, which are basically the same as northern hardwoods forests, with the addition of black cherry. Mixed oak forests are also present on the southern portions of the watershed.

The industrial history of the region was almost entirely based on forestry or forest products. Lumbering began in the Clarion River corridor in the early 1800s and continued to be an important industry in the area through the late nineteenth century. Logging, sawmills, rafting, leather tanning and wood chemical plants once thrived. The Clarion River and its tributaries were important for transporting timber to Pittsburgh (the rafting logging era of the mid 1800s). At one time, the Clarion River was filled with loads of lumber going to market. The timber industry was instrumental in the development of the extensive tanning industry in the region. Historic sawmills and tanneries that are remnants of this history can be found along the Clarion River Water Trail in historic towns like Laurel Mill, Island Run, Mill Haven, Croyland, Carmen, Portland Mills, Bear Creek Eddy, Arroyo, Lily Pond, Hallton, and Irwintown.


Although much of the region was logged at some point in the past, some old growth forests remain in Cook Forest State Park. Portions of the state park include massive white pine trees, 3-5 ft. in diameter and 200-ft. tall. There is one particularly impressive area known as the "cathedral forest." The Cook family protected this area.

Both the timber industry and the tanneries benefited from the development of the railroads in the area (railroad logging era of the late 1800s). Railroads were also important in timber extraction and transportation of hides to and from the tanneries, as well as opening up the plateau areas inaccessible by waterways. To find out more, see Elk County, A Journey In Time, by John D. Imhoff. Timber rafting on the Clarion ended forever with the building of the Piney dam in 1924.

Coal mining also played a significant role as an industry in the Clarion River watershed. Underground and surface mining provided many jobs for area residents, but sometimes also left behind a legacy of degraded lands and waters. See the Abandoned Mine Drainage section for more details.

 

Prehistoric Footprint

A fossilized prehistoric footprint was once discovered near the riverbed. Most of the rock containing the fossilized footprint is now in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, but part of the rock remains. An exact cast of it can be viewed at the Elk County Historical Society.

 

 

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