The area that is now Mercer County was originally part of Allegheny County, and has a thirty-two-mile border with Ohio on the west. It contained both Donation and Depreciation Lands surveyed between 1785 and 1795 by Benjamin Stokely, who settled in what became Mercer County after the official boundaries were set in 1800. The county was named for Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, a Scottish physician who befriended George Washington on the Forbes mission to capture Fort Duquesne and later became commandant of the fort. He was killed in the Revolutionary War.
The land is glaciated, undulating, and crossed with streams and rivers. European settlement began slowly, with hunting and trapping in the dense forests, then farming and its attendant services, such as saw and grist mills, blacksmiths, and distilleries. Mercer County is nearly midway between Pittsburgh and Erie and has long served as a crossroads for the region. By 1844, a network of local roads was joined by the Beaver and Erie Canal that followed the Shenango River to Greenville and continued north into Crawford County in the Little Crooked Creek valley. This new transportation system facilitated the mining of coal in the region, with fifty mines opening between 1837 and 1876. Iron furnaces took advantage of the fuel source and were established throughout Shenango Valley.
Railroads supplanted canal transportation between 1860 and 1870. Two main rail lines served Mercer County: the Erie and Pennsylvania (E&P) and the Atlantic and Great Western (A&GW), connecting to the New York rail lines. By the 1930s, roadways again dominated the transportation scene, especially for tourists seeking rural respites. A single 8 × 10–foot stone cottage remains (1934; 2554 Perry Highway) of the eight built by Yeager and Bentley for their tourist cabin camp, “Camp Perry,” along busy U.S. 19 connecting Pittsburgh and Erie. The six-acre camp, named to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, closed in the early 1980s. The cottage's random stone work, gable roof, and prominent chimney conveyed a homelike atmosphere. For a time, a swimming pool in the valley below the cabins helped attract campers during the summer. Nearby, Sandy Lake, Shenango River Lake (1965), and Lake Wilhelm (1971), the latter two created by dams, provide exceptional fishing and boating opportunities.
Sheep farming developed in the early 1800s, but insufficient transportation systems and cheap imports contributed to the wool industry's decline by the 1860s. Today, large parts of the county remain rural, supporting dairy farms rather than sheep farms. Amish farmers have settled in the southern townships. With the completion of I-79 through the eastern half of the county, some high-tech firms and a branch of Pennsylvania State University (PSU) have moved into Mercer County. The U.S. Census Bureau includes Mercer County in the Youngstown-Warren, Ohio, metropolitan area.
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