County text and building entries by Richard J. Webster
“Tioga” (spelled “Teaoga” and “Diahoga” in the eighteenth century) is Iroquois for “gate,” derived from the Iroquois word “teyaogen,” meaning “in the middle or between two things.” It appears to have referred to Tioga Point, the spit of land at the confluence of the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers just south of present-day Athens, Bradford County. Tioga Point served as a primary gateway to the Six Nations, and outsiders passing through this area needed approval of the Iroquois. The county rests in the Allegheny Plateau with a mean elevation of 1,300 feet and has three principal waterways. The Cowanesque River runs eastward into the Tioga River, which flows along the county's east side and via the Chemung River into the North Branch Susquehanna River, and Pine Creek runs through the county's southwest quadrant. About twenty-thousand years ago, the Laurentide Continental Glacier dammed Pine Creek and meltwater cut a deep gorge (1,450 feet at its deepest point) into the mountains. Flanking the valley are Colton Point and Leonard Harrison state parks, with five pavilions built by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1936. The parks, known collectively as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” extend forty-seven miles. Today this part of Pine Creek is a Pennsylvania Scenic River and the canyon is a State Park Natural Area.
Tioga County was cut from Lycoming County in 1804, but two years passed before Wellsboro was chosen its seat. Settlers ventured into the area from the 1790s. Farmers from New England and New Jersey and, after 1806, from Luzerne County followed the North Branch Susquehanna River. Others, from Delaware, Maryland, and the Philadelphia region, moved up from the south. Because of the area's steep hills, most people did not settle but continued through to New York's southern counties. Those who stayed in Tioga County made agriculture and lumber the primary industries. Lumber was especially lucrative in the northern townships before the Civil War, and, afterward, timber and hemlock bark were floated down Pine Creek to Williamsport and tanneries along the way. A railroad opened along Pine Creek in 1883, carrying raw materials and other cargo until it closed in 1988. Semi-bituminous coal was discovered in the county's southern part as early as 1792, but large-scale mining only began after the Civil War and reached peak production in 1887. Tioga County remains sparsely populated; only five Pennsylvania counties have lower population densities. Although the county has some small manufacturing and processing plants, its economy remains tied to agriculture, bolstered by tourism and recreation.
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