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Lycoming County

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County text and building entries by Richard J. Webster

Formed from Northumberland County in 1795, Lycoming County took some time to name. The state legislature rejected the names Jefferson, Susquehanna, and Muncy (the first two were subsequently given to later counties) before naming the county for Lycoming Creek, the Lenape's apt term for “gravel-bedded creek” (sometimes spelled “Laycauming” in the eighteenth century). At its founding, Lycoming County spread west to the Allegheny River and north to the New York State border. Even after nine other counties were carved from it, Lycoming remains large; its 1,275 square miles make it bigger than the state of Rhode Island.

Lycoming County witnessed the customary wrangling over the location of the county seat, with arguments made for Jaysburg and for Williamsport. As John Meginness noted in his History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (1892), Jaysburg “had been regularly laid out at that time and was the only place making any pretensions to a village west of Muncy.” The village had already created temporary quarters for county officers and judges and had even incarcerated a couple of prisoners in a temporary jail. Jaysburgers, however, underestimated the political influence of Williamsport landowner Judge William Hepburn and the generosity of Michael Ross, whose donation of four lots for public buildings persuaded the governor's commissioners to favor the undeveloped site over the already functioning village on higher ground. Williamsport would later engulf Jaysburg, and few today know that the village ever existed.

For its first half century, the county's growth was centered in Muncy Valley's farms to the county's east, but after 1850 it shifted to the forests north of the Susquehanna's West Branch. From then until the catastrophic flood of 1889, Williamsport reigned as the nation's lumber capital. The deforestation of much of north central Pennsylvania contributed to the flood and to the lumber boom's decline. Throughout the twentieth century the county tried to diversify its manufacturing base. In the twenty-first century, however, timber and agriculture remain dominant industries, helping to account for the county's lack of population growth since 1980.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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