Named for General Zebulon Pike, Pike County was organized in 1814 by partitioning Wayne County to accommodate the settlers who had come from New York and New England in contrast to the usual German and English migrations from the south. Its rugged landscape extends the geographic features of the Appalachian chain but here the mountain ridges are bordered by the Delaware River. To the south, the river slices through Kittatinny Mountain at the so-called water gap. Like the rest of eastern Pennsylvania, it is the river that provided access and shaped the regional economy. The principal road (U.S. 209), the old state road to the north, paralleled the slow fall of the river, while the principal cross route (U.S. 6) is the site of an early ford and later bridges across the Delaware. Because Pike County is framed on the southeast and northeast by the great bend of the Delaware River and on the north and south by the Lackawaxen River and Bushkill Creek, it is Pennsylvania's county most formed by and of water.
The river provided the principal means of moving the hemlock and pine of the woodlands, making it the center of economic development in the early nineteenth century. The Northern Tourist (1879) reported that the region had “been a great lumbering region, but is now largely stripped of its trees. The towns that we pass … look like places that have seen their best days.” But the presence of the tour writer meant that the region had already found its future use as a vacation spot.
After the Civil War, Pike County along with adjacent Monroe County became central in the rediscovery of the American wilderness when its trout streams and woodlands attracted tourists, among them erstwhile dentist and chronicler of the already disappearing west, Zane Grey. His childhood haunts along the Lackawaxen were remembered in “A Day on the Delaware” (1902) for the “October colors of the hills and the old Delaware winding down from the mountains, and the purple asters blooming along the trails, the smoky Indian summer colors and the smell of pine.” It is an image that most who have shared the region's setting would recognize and appreciate.
The future county seat, Milford, was laid out in 1793 as a variant on the Pennsylvania grid plan with wide streets and secondary alleys and a center square. The first settlers had arrived more than a half century before to take advantage of the numerous waterways that could be harnessed for mills. Milford's name, while based on an English town, was also an advertisement for its water-powered industry and the fords across the upper Delaware. More than any other community in the region, it shows the area's architectural evolution from early New England–influenced frame buildings to the splendid high-style New York City architect–designed buildings that commemorate the Pinchot family ( PI7, PI8, PI10). Most of Pike County's other places of architectural note relate to the region's resort period after the Civil War when railroads made the region accessible and again in the twentieth century when high-speed roads opened it to the car. The greatest change in the region occurred in the 1960s when the federal government's response to the great floods of 1955 was the proposed creation of the Tocks Island Dam that would have made a vast lake of the upper Delaware River (see PI1).
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