Warren County is rectangular in shape, with the Allegheny River angling toward its center from the northeastern corner and turning south at the city of Warren. Prehistoric Native American tribes as well as later Eries, Delawares, and Shawnee used Conewango and Brokenstraw creeks as access to the Allegheny River. A Seneca chief known as Cornplanter, whose mother was Seneca and father Dutch, was given nearly 15,000 acres of land in 1790–1791 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly for his role in keeping the Iroquois from continuing the fight against European settlement. Cornplanter sold two parcels in Venango and Forest counties, but he and his descendants settled on the Warren County land. In 1964, the Seneca lost an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and their village was inundated as part of the Kinzua Dam project to regulate the Allegheny's flow and prevent flooding downstream.
After the French and Indian and the Revolutionary wars, Pennsylvania's government built forts along the commonwealth's western frontier to guard against attacks and encourage settlement. In 1795, General William Irvine and Andrew Ellicott surveyed the county and laid out the borough of Warren, named for General Joseph Warren, a member of the Provincial Congress killed at Breed's Hill near Boston in 1775. Although the first landowners were required to build within two years, large speculators were exempt from this ruling. The Holland Land Company purchased thousands of acres, but many settlers squatted on the land and refused to pay the land companies when there were conflicting claims, thereby slowing settlement. Settlers from Erie generally remained on the west side of the Allegheny River where hardwood forests prevailed, while east of the river, people from New York and New England settled the pine- and hemlock-forested higher land.
Lumbering and tanning in the early and mid-nineteenth century were displaced in the early 1860s by an oil frenzy. The Harmonists' experience was typical. Headquartered in Beaver County, they owned a timber tract in Limestone Township south of Tidioute. In 1861, they opened the first of their approximately seventy-five wells. By 1895, their holdings in Warren County were liquidated as the shallow oil supply was depleted. Their former landholdings have reverted to timber and are now part of the Allegheny National Forest.
Like all the counties of Pennsylvania's northern tier, Warren County has close ties to western New York. The Swedes who settled in Chandler's Valley in north-central Warren County emigrated from Jamestown, New York, in the mid-nineteenth century. The area is also connected architecturally, since Buffalo architects were often hired by Warren patrons. In addition, Chautauqua County in New York and Warren County share the Allegheny Reservoir, home of the Allegany Indian Reservation of the Seneca nation.
Kinzua Dam, completed in 1965, increased tourism, as the reservoir attracted boaters and fishing enthusiasts. Service industries now employ more people than either oil refining or lumbering. The county's largest employer is Blair Corporation, a mail-order company selling clothing and household items. The marketing of U.S. 6 as a scenic highway across the northern counties continues to foster tourism.
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