When Europeans arrived, the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy used this area as hunting grounds. In 1757, the Proprietary Council of Pennsylvania sent Moravian missionary Christian Frederick Post to convince the Seneca to join the British in the French and Indian War, but the Seneca sided with the French. The English won the war and eventually purchased the land from the Iroquois.
John Cook was the first permanent American settler to the area. He arrived in 1826 to determine the feasibility of building an east to west canal along the Clarion River for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
John purchased 765 acres and settled here with his wife and 10 children in 1828. At the mouth of Toms Run, present day Cooksburg, John built his one-story cabin and the first of many water-driven sawmills. He worked his mills, logged with oxen, rafted logs to Pittsburgh, and also engaged in flatboat building through the years.
One of John’s sons, Anthony, bought 36 acres from his father and then gained the rest of his acreage when his father died in 1858. Anthony erected three sawmills, one flouring mill, one planing mill, a boat scaffold, several dwellings, and a store. Around 1870, he built the Cook Homestead, now known as the Inn at Cook Forest, at the corner of land where PA 36 and River Road intersect.
Many of the large homes on River Road are still maintained by the Cook Family and descendants. After Anthony’s death, the business was managed under A. Cook Sons Company.
The Cook Forest Association formed in the 1920s to save the few areas of surviving old growth timber. Endorsed by national natural resource groups and Governor Gifford Pinchot, the association raised $200,000, which helped the commonwealth purchase 6,055 acres from A. Cook Sons Company in 1927 for $640,000.
Cook Forest became the first Pennsylvania state park acquired to preserve a natural area. It was later designated a National Natural Landmark.
Civilian Conservation Corps
On March 31, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The purpose of the CCC was to provide employment and restore our nation's natural resources.
In 1934, CCC Camp SP-2 was built in the present-day River Cabins area along River Road. This camp with barracks, a mess hall, and bathhouses served 200 enrollees and staff until it closed in 1937. The buildings were razed and used to construct CCC Camp SP-6 at Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County.
Much of their work still remains. Indian and River cabins were built, trails and roads constructed, and forest resources preserved by these hard-working men.
For more information on the CCC, explore the CCC years.
Log Cabin Inn
This large log building was built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was used as living quarters and then as a restaurant. The building is currently the environmental learning classroom with displays, taxidermy animals, and logging tools from early lumbering days.
River and Indian Cabins
In the 1930s, the CCC constructed these buildings from salvaged American chestnut killed by blight. These buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Built in 1950 on Longfellow Trail, the fountain was dedicated to the original members of the Cook Forest Association who were instrumental in raising additional funds needed to purchase the land from the A. Cook Sons Company.
Cook Forest Fire Tower/Seneca Point Overlook
The 87.5-foot fire tower, built in 1929 by the commonwealth’s Department of Forest and Waters, gave firefighters a 15- to 20-mile view of the area. The tower was retired from service in 1966. Periodically, the observation cabin on top of the tower is open during programs.
Cobbtown and Bracket Dams
Stone and earthen foundations of bracket dams can be found along the banks of Toms Run. One set of remains can be observed upstream from the swinging bridge.
Bracket dams created an artificial flood to raise the water level for floating logs to the Clarion River.