Jefferson County is named for Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States at the time of the county's formation in 1804. It was under part of Indiana County's jurisdiction from 1806 to 1830, and initially contained what later became Elk and Forest counties. Jefferson County, three-fourths of which is tree covered, is located nearly at the center of the western Pennsylvania territory covered in this volume. Two of the earliest settlers, Joseph and Andrew Barnett, came to Sandy Lick Creek in the 1790s from central Pennsylvania and constructed a sawmill c. 1795 at its confluence with Mill Creek. Port Barnett, as it came to be called, was located just east of present-day Brookville, where a gristmill of 1860 continues to mark the spot ( JE11).
The largest and most prosperous industry in Jefferson County was lumbering, which used local streams to transport logs. Attendant services—sawmills and planing mills—also proliferated. Between 1830 and 1837, individuals and companies from New England and New York bought large tracts of land at the headwaters of Red Bank Creek and the Clarion River from the Holland Land Company. The population grew steadily with the influx of lumber camps and farms. From 1865 to the 1930s, coal mining and coking dominated the industrial activity of the county, particularly around Reynoldsville. The Allegheny Valley Railroad (1874), which connected with the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad at Driftwood, hauled coal and passengers routed along the banks of Red Bank and Sandy Lick creeks, only one of a number of coal-hauling short line railroads that served the county.
Interstate 80, built in 1961 across the northern portion of the county, was part of a national defense highway plan to join San Francisco and New York. Access to this cross-country roadway was an important asset to what is today the Owens-Brockway Glass Container Company, founded in 1907 as Brockway Glass Company and one of the largest employers in the county (1965–1969, Raymond Viner Hall; U.S. 219, 0.5 miles east of Brockway). Today, Jefferson County's economy centers on lumber, manufacturing, the service industries, coal mining, and tourism. The handsome buildings of Brookville, the recreational activities of the state parks, and the annual tongue-in-cheek prognostication of Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-forecasting groundhog, are the main attractions.
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