History of Lycoming County, Chapter 48



One of the most remarkable pieces of road construction ever attempted in this country and that, too, at a time when facilities for doing this kind of work were of the crudest character and most of it had to be done by hand, was the building of what was known as the "Williamson Road."

In the year 1778 a large body of land was granted by the state of Massachusetts to certain individuals on the Genesee river in western New York state. Among these grantees was Robert Morris of Philadelphia and he subsequently sold 1,200,000 acres of this land to Charles Williamson, who was in reality acting for Sir William Poultney of Bath, England.

At that time the limits of Northumberland county, of which Lycoming county was a part, extended to the line of New York state and adjoined the Morris and Williamson purchase. Williamson had located at Northumberland where he awaited the arrival of 500 colonists whom, he was advised, were being sent to America by Sir William Poultney.

At the time there was no road by which these colonists could reach the tract of land in New York state so Williamson set about to devise some way by which a road could be built through the wilderness. He applied to the legislature and it granted him the paltry sum of $500 but with this as a starting point, he set about the work of construction. The colonists had arrived from England and he took them to the Loyalsock Creek to which point a road had already been built.

He used the men of the party to do the actual work of building, while the women and children followed on behind and encamped in rude shelters which were erected from time to time as the work progressed. The women did the washing, cooking and baking. In this way the road was constructed through Williamsport, up to Trout Run, over Laurel Hill and on to what is now Painted Post in New York state. Two brothers, Robert and Benjamin Patterson, who had rendered distinguished service in the Revolutionary war, and who were familiar with the country, acted as guides.

Operations were begun in May or June, 1792. An advance detail was sent ahead to erect log houses as depots for supplies and also as a shelter for the women and children. These depots were of a substantial character and were afterwards used as dwellings, notably the one at what is now Liberty, in Tioga County, which became known as the "Blockhouse" so called because when the building was torn down and rebuilt, the logs were sawed into blocks about the size of ordinary building stone. This "Blockhouse" subsequently became a famous hostelry.

The journey and work were of a very arduous character. The section through which the road ran was an unbroken wilderness, much of which had never been trodden by the foot of white men. Great trees had to be felled, bridges built and the road graded. It was a stupendous task for that day and would be no small job even at the present day.

The road was finally completed through to what is now the city of Bath, in the summer of 1796, and was a lasting monument to the genius and determination of Charles Williamson. Unlike so many enterprises of this character, funds were not lacking to facilitate the work. Williamson had back of him a very wealthy man and he furnished the means with which to complete the undertaking.

Williamson founded the city of Bath and became a very prominent man in his day. He instituted a number of attractive sport events at Bath, among them being a series of horse races, which attracted blooded stock from as far away as Kentucky, all of which were driven over the "Williamson Road". Williamson took the oath of allegiance and became an American citizen. After he had completed the work, he transferred the property to Sir William Poultney and sailed for the West Indies but was lost at sea.

The "Williamson Road" became one of the most important highways in the state, a great thoroughfare, and played an important part in the settlement of western New York. Stage coaches operated over it for a long time and today it is part of the wonderful scenic highway, the "Susquehanna Trail" which runs from Washington, D. C., to Buffalo, that portion of it in Lycoming County through a section that for the beauty and grandeur is unsurpassed by any other in the United States.

There is no section of the United States in which the scenery is more imposing and diversified than that of Lycoming county. High mountain ranges, lofty peaks, narrow gorges and overhanging rocks are interspersed with lovely valleys and long stretches of fertile farming land. It was the home and hunting grounds of the Andastes Indians, who were among the most enlightened of all the eastern tribes.

Through the heart of this section runs the famous Susquehanna Trail, universally conceded to be the most picturesque scenic highway in the eastern United States. Taking its name from the beautiful valley through which it passes, the trail is an unbroken ribbon of concrete four hundred and fifty miles long, connecting two of the most important places in America, the National capitol and Niagara Falls, the natural wonder of the western hemisphere.

From Washington the tourist may take one of two routes, either through York to Harrisburg or by way of Gettysburg, next to Valley Forge, the most sacred spot on the American continent. By either route the trail passes through some of the most beautiful scenery of a quiet character to be found in the state until it reaches the state capital at Harrisburg. North of here the character of the scenery changes entirely.

For fifteen miles the highway clings to the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River along the base of Kittatinny Mountains until it reaches the magnificant new concrete bridge at Clark's Ferry from whence an enchanting glimpse may be had into the Juniata Valley, famous in poetry and song. Here the road swings to the western bank of the river which is follows to Sunbury, passing through a country where pioneer history was made and fringed by beautiful hills all the way. At Sunbury the highway crosses again to the eastern side of the river which it follows to Williamsport.

At Sunbury may be seen the great bluff, known as Blue Hill, three hundred feet high which dominates the entire valley and is an imposing spectable from any point of view. Crossing the river at Northumberland, the former home of Joseph Priestly, the discoverer of oxygen, the trail enters the gateway to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River Valley.

From here it proceeds through a country full of historic lore, the habitation of the best examples of the red men who ever lived in the eastern part of the United States, the home of Shilellimy, the over-lord of the five nations, and the celebrated Logan, who was a man of the highest intelligence and character.

Passing through Montandon, opposite Lewisburg, the seat of Bucknell University, and Milton, near which is the site of the old frontier fort, Freeland, the road reaches Muncy at the base of the Bald Eagle range of mountains. Just above here is the spot where the heroic Captain John Brady, the famous Indian fighter, was killed and a little farther on is the site of Fort Muncy, marked by a beautiful bronze tablet erected by the Lycoming Historical Society and Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Brock.

Stretching a little further on, the trail reaches the borough of Montoursville, named for the son of Madame Montour, a celebrated half breed who had her village, Otstuagy, on the river just south of the present town and then on to Williamsport.

Here the trail bends to the north following the beautiful Lycoming Creek to Trout Run at the base of the mountains, with towering peaks rearing their majestic heads to heaven. Up over the mountains the ribbon of concrete winds its way, passing through a section of extreme wilderness and surpassing in beauty any scenery of like character in the United States. This strip of fourteen miles is the delight of tourists and all who have ever drive over it are loud in praise of its marvelous sublimity.

Emerging from the mountain fastness at Steam Valley the trail follows the old Williamson Road, built through an unbroken wilderness in 1798, until it reaches Liberty, the site of the famous block house station used by the builders of the Williamson Road and which is also marked with a tablet erected by the Wellsboro chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The trail then passes through valleys nourished by the beautiful Tioga river, runs on north through Blossburg, Mansfield and Tioga until it reaches the New York state line where the valleys are wider and the country more rolling. Thence on to the finger lakes, shimmering in the sun. Painted Post is on the line, a place celebrated in the early history of the section through which the highway passes. Here in 1791 a conference was held with the representativs of the Five Nations and Colonel Pickering, growing out of the treaty of Fort Stanwix, entered into in 1784. And here Red Jacket made one of his famous addresses. The remains of the Indian village may still be seen at the "Post."

From here the trail swings to the northwest through a bolder section until Williamsville is reached where the road branches, one trail leading to Buffalo and the other to Niagara Falls.

The trail is especially beautiful in the fall when the mountains and hills through which it runs are clothed in their garb of russett, crimson and gold foliage, presenting a picture unrivaled for either bold or quiet beauty.

Volume 1, pp. 526-530.

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