History of Hickory Run State Park
The Wisconsin Glacial Period
About 20,000 years ago, a giant sheet of ice at least 1-mile thick straddled Hickory Run. The western part of the park, including Hickory Run Lake, was underneath the glacier.
The land to the east is higher and was not covered by the glacier, but greatly was affected by the cold climate. Boulder Field was created in this unglaciated area.
The western side of the park is covered in the end moraine of the glacier. Like a giant bulldozer, the glacier scraped the land; and rocks, sand, and other debris were pushed along and frozen to the glacier.
When the glacier melted and retreated, this debris was dropped, making a landscape of bogs and glacial till called a moraine. Areas of the park once covered by the glacier and the moraine are easily seen on the
Hickory Run State Park Map (PDF).
Boulder Field Brochure (PDF) has more detailed information about this time period.
The Earliest Settlers
The first humans to the area found dark forests of evergreens and seemingly bottomless swamps and bogs.
Hickory Run became territory claimed by the Lenape, Susquehannock, and the Iroquois Nation, but no known Indigenous settlements occurred in the area.
The first colonists named the area “Shades of Death” for the dark forests, numerous swamps, and rocky, unfarmable soil.
The Next Settlers
After the American Revolution, the government encouraged colonial settlement by giving away land for free, in warrants of about 400 acres.
Cuthbert, Ord, Cist, and Decatur were some of the original land grantees; however, most sold their warrants instead of settling the area.
Robert Morris purchased land in 1794. Morris is known as the “financier of the American Revolution” and signed all three important early American documents.
In 1829, the Lehigh Canal was completed from White Haven to Easton to haul the newly discovered anthracite coal to the markets of Philadelphia and beyond.
The old growth stands of white pine and eastern hemlock (giant trees 150-feet tall) were eyed for their lumber now that there was a way to get the lumber to market.
Enterprising men like David Saylor and Isaac and Stephen Gould purchased the land and erected mills. In the 1830s, the logging era began with dozens of mills rising up along Hickory Run and the neighboring streams.
By 1839, six mills were on Hickory Run and two on Mud Run.
A town arose along the banks of Hickory Run and boasted the only post office in the area.
The Goulds were the primary landholders of the region and owned many sawmills -- employing approximately 150 workers. The Manor House, on the hill above the park office, was the dwelling of Samuel Gould.
A stagecoach road between Allentown and Wilkes-Barre was built through the area, and the town of Saylorsville arose -- just upstream of Hickory Run. The road has become Stage Trail, and foundations are all that remain of the town.
The loggers pillaged the forest, cutting down trees for timber and for the bark. Tannin found in the bark of eastern hemlocks and white pines was used to tan leather -- one of the most useful materials of the time.
In the 1860s, the tiny town of Lehigh Tannery was the second largest producer of leather goods in the United States. The foundation of the main tannery remains on Lehigh Gorge State Park’s property, near the Tannery Bridge.
Due to the clear-cutting and lack of reforestation, Hickory Run flooded more often since trees slow the water. In 1849, several dams broke, flooding the towns of Saylorsville and Hickory Run.
At least seven people died in the flood and many are buried in the small cemetery near the park office. The blacksmith, Jacob West, lost four of his children and his wife in the flood, yet survived another forty years.
The flood (one of many) only slowed the removal of trees until mills were rebuilt and more people were hired.
After the flood of 1862, transportation on the Lehigh Canal was replaced by
railroads; but Hickory Run still had a station along the river.
A Fiery End
As the logging continued, forest fires became a problem. In 1875, the Great Fire began near Mud Run and smoldered for several days moving north to Monroe County.
The fire damaged timber and destroyed many mills and houses. The town of Hickory Run began to dwindle.
Today, the Manor House and the chapel are the only structures that remain from the old town of Hickory Run. Other traces of the town include a cemetery, foundations, and roads.
Forest fires continued raging and floods carried away soil. Not since the time of the glacier had the land been so devastated.
In 1918, Allentown millionaire General Harry Trexler began purchasing land in the area, including the land that would become Hickory Run State Park. The boundaries of his land are the boundaries of the park today.
The General purchased the land with one purpose:
“We are only a short distance from the anthracite coal region where there is scarcely a blade of grass growing. In the not too distant future, the men will be working shorter hours and they will have more leisure time. Rather than have them loafing in pool rooms and saloons fomenting anarchism, I would like to see Hickory Run developed into a state park where families can come and enjoy wholesome recreation.”
Lehigh County Historical Society, “The General and His Captain,” 1984
Soon after General Trexler purchased the land, it was opened to public hunting and fishing. One thousand acres were fenced off to propagate game animals and a fish hatchery was established.
Wardens patrolled the fence surrounding the propagation area and part of the path they walked has become the Gamewire Trail.
General Trexler refurbished Samuel Gould’s Manor House for his residence; and from there entertained many politicians and business leaders. Weekend fishing trips left Allentown in carriages for the long trip to Hickory Run.
General Trexler made his planned donation of the land known; and immediately, the state game and fish commissions, and the Department of Forests and Waters began vying for the right to control the property.
Hearing this, the General took the land out of his will.
General Harry C. Trexler died unexpectedly in 1933 in a motorcar accident. His will left much money to charities, but did not mention Hickory Run. His trustees did not know what to do with the property.
The National Park Service Years
In 1935, the National Park Service purchased Hickory Run to create a National Recreation Demonstration Area.
These areas were placed “in close proximity to the larger industrial centers for use by people of the lower-income group and underprivileged children, for family camps, children-group camps, and organization camps.”
In 1936, Works Progress Administration workers arrived and began building roads, trails, fire roads, water lines, and the group camps.
In 1939, the
Civilian Conservation Corps
(CCC) established Camp NP-6. The camp was adjacent to the current campground by the CCC Dam. A playground and open field now occupy the site where 200 young men had their camp.
In 1945, the Hickory Run National Recreation Demonstration Area was transferred to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and became Hickory Run State Park.