Forest County is, as one would expect, tree covered, and has such a small population that there is not one stoplight in it. Since three-fourths of the land is government owned, it has five times more seasonal homes than permanent ones. Its shape is determined by the irregular boundaries of the Clarion River, which forms a quarter of the southern boundary, and the Allegheny, which runs across the northwest corner and acted as a highway for Native Americans.
European settlement began with John Cook, who was asked by the federal government to survey the Clarion River as a possible east–west canal route. He was so taken with the area that he bought several hundred acres in the southern part of the county in 1826 and established the village of Cooksburg. New Hampshire–born Cyrus Blood, another early settler, taught at the Chambersburg and Hagerstown academies before accepting a professorship at Dickinson College. He and his family came to Forest County in 1833 and bought a large tract of land north of Cooksburg that came to be known as Blood's Settlement. He later named the town for his daughter, Marien. In 1848, at Blood's insistence, the area was named a county, but only the five eastern townships were included. The county expanded in 1866 to include the three townships around Tionesta. This fueled a rivalry between the only two towns in Forest County large enough to have schools: Marienville, the former county seat, and Tionesta, the county seat since the expansion.
Lumbering was the county's dominant industry, but by the 1880s, so many trees had been taken indiscriminately that much of north-central Pennsylvania was called the “Pennsylvania Desert.” A million acres of barren landscape once filled with hemlock, stripped of its bark and left to rot by the tanning industry, and with pine, felled for lumber, were ravaged by fires that exacerbated erosion and flooding. By 1883, at the peak of the lumbering industry, there were nineteen woodworking establishments within a five-mile radius of Tionesta.
The state government began buying abandoned, cutover lumber acreage about 1900, and later purchased Cook Forest, the old-growth forest lands that had never been cut. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps made Duhring the center of their training camp. They built fire roads, bridges, and cabins throughout the second-growth Allegheny National Forest. Today, three-fourths of Forest County comprise state or national forest, including the one-fifth of the 513,000-acre Allegheny National Forest that lies within the county's borders.
Other industries exist in Forest County. In the 1880s, there was a brief oil boom. From 1914 until 1982, Marienville had a glassmaking operation, and Tionesta has a sand and gravel dredging company and a plastic container plant. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed Tionesta Creek in 1941, flooding the villages of Kelletville, Nebraska, and Mayburg to create Tionesta Lake as a means of regulating the creek's flow and controlling flooding farther down the Allegheny River. Over the years, outdoor recreation has come to rival lumbering as the chief occupation in Forest County.
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