Clinton County was established in 1839 when settler Jerry Church, after three years of failed attempts to have “Eagle County” chartered, simply switched the name to “Clinton.” The required legislation passed before the committee members realized that nothing but the name had been changed. Located at the latitudinal midpoint of Pennsylvania, Clinton County's nine hundred square miles are crossed diagonally by Bald Eagle and Muncy mountains. The valleys between them, West Branch, Bald Eagle, and Sugar, were the most productive and developable areas of the county. The county seat of Lock Haven was established in West Branch Valley; Bald Eagle Valley, formed by Bald Eagle Creek, was named after a Delaware Indian chief; and Sugar Valley, at the southern foot of Sugar Mountain, was formed by Fishing Creek. Farms in these valleys produced beef and dairy cattle, tobacco, and corn. Since 1972, Old Order Amish families have farmed in Sugar Valley.
In 1769, the first European settler built a cabin on the bank of the West Branch Susquehanna River where the town of Lock Haven is now located. The west branch of the Pennsylvania Canal opened to Clinton County in 1834, which stimulated growth countywide and such industries as lumber, mining, and brickworks that relied on smooth shipping of heavy products. Twenty-five years later, the railroads spurred another economic boom and made the canal obsolete. The railroad spurred the growth of the towns of Renovo, Avis, Oak Grove, and Keating. Lumbering was a leading industry in the county economy from 1830 to 1910 and in the 1860s, one hundred million board feet a year were shipped via the rail lines. Lumber cut in Clinton County was shipped in its raw form to sawmills in the region. Towns such as Mill Hall and Rauchtown prospered because of the logging industry.
Today, the county's infrastructure is based on the interstate highway system. The main artery, U.S. 220, connects Lock Haven with State College and Williamsport, enabling the prosperity enjoyed by those towns. The major east–west route, I-80, passes through the southern third of the county, but access to it is limited and little development surrounds it.
Limited highways were not a problem for the Piper Aircraft Company. Founded by William T. Piper Sr., the company built small planes in a reused silk mill in Lock Haven from 1937 to 1984. The company moved to Florida in 1984, but its history is commemorated in the Piper Aviation Museum (c. 1970; 1 Piper Way) near the William T. Piper Memorial Airport. The Woolrich Company continues to produce wool clothing in two locations in Clinton County, and a new company, First Quality Products, which manufactures adult sanitary products, occupies part of a large industrial park in the northern half of the county. Hunting and fishing draw tourists, as does the c. 1910 Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall (north of Hogan Boulevard, PA 150), a former dairy barn converted in 1963 for use as a professional summer stock theater.
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