History of Hickory Run State Park
The Wisconsin Glacial Period
Devastation and regrowth is the history of the land that would become Hickory Run State Park. The Laurentide Continental Glacier began moving south out of the arctic, covering all before it in a mile of ice and changing the climate to near arctic conditions. 15,000 years ago the glacier reached its lowest point, right here in the area that would become Hickory Run State Park. It was a tundra landscape of permafrost soil, populated by wooly mastodon, bison, and other cold-tolerant animals and plants.
The land was devastated. What the ice did not destroy, the cold temperatures did, causing most of the area to resemble Boulder Field. Most of the soil washed away leaving rocks and the shattered top layer of bedrock. The glacier eradicated most life at the time and left as its legacy a region of poor, rocky soil that is nearly impossible to farm.
After centuries of advance and retreat in the area, the glacier finally melted back, retreating north. Warm-tolerant species of plants and animals slowly migrated north, returning to their former ranges.
The Earliest Settlers
By the time the first humans arrived in the Poconos, around 11,000 years ago, they found dark forests of spruce and other evergreen trees, and boreal bogs filled with sphagnum moss. These bogs formed as the glacier retreated and left behind large chunks of ice that melted into pools that filled with moss. Through the centuries the moss grew and died, sinking into the swamps.
The first humans to the Poconos were the Paleoindians who used stone tools and knew little if nothing of cultivating plants. These groups wandered hunting animals and gathering fruits and berries. Slowly the people learned to cultivate crops and began to hold territories. Little is known of these people for they left little behind and almost nothing in this region.
By the arrival of Columbus to North America, the American Indians had evolved into the tribes and nations that are known today, with rich customs and traditions. When Pennsylvania was settled, the Lenni Lenape, named by the Europeans the "Delaware," held the territory that would become Hickory Run State Park. The Lehigh River valley was inhabited. Hickory Run was probably only hunting grounds. There are no records of villages and only one path passes through the area.
The Next Settlers
With the arrival of Europeans came many diseases unknown to the American Indians. Smallpox and other diseases killed millions. Hickory Run would become territory claimed by the Susquehannock Indians and later by the Iroquois Nation, but these tribes never settled the region.
During the American Revolution, the British, with Indian allies, invaded the Wyoming Valley. The American forces were routed and surrendered Forty Fort. Some of the refugees fled southeast towards the Lehigh Valley, through the swamps and dark forests that became Hickory Run. Few of the refugees survived, naming the area the "Shades of Death."
By the end of the American Revolution, the wilderness that was the interior of Pennsylvania was open for settlement by the new citizens of the United States of America. To encourage settlement, the government gave away land for free, in plots of usually 400 acres called warrants. To claim the property, the holder of a warrant had to pay to have the land surveyed and pay taxes on it. Hickory Run was parceled out to many people. Cuthbert, Ord, Cist, and Decator are some of the names on the original land grant map.
Although Decator eventually did own a logging mill in the 1860s, many of the warrant holders had the land surveyed, then sold the land to someone else. It is interesting to note that Robert Morris purchased land in 1793. Morris is famous as the financier of the American Revolution. He was in charge of the treasury of the early government and signed all three important American documents; the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Due to an unproven scandal, Morris broke with the early government, but was asked to return right before the Battle of Yorktown. Morris's funds paid to transport Washington's army across the Potomac to trap Cornwallis and end the American Revolution.
By 1790, Morris was retired from the government and speculated in land. Some of the property he purchased eventually became Hickory Run. It is ironic that this financial wizard made poor investments and Morris died three million dollars in debt.
Why Hickory Run?
Run is a colloquial name for a stream. Most of the local streams are called runs, but why Hickory Run when there are so few hickories in the area? There are two theories for the name Hickory Run.
A logical theory is that when settlers arrived in the area they found many hickory trees. The logging era could have removed the trees, but there are very few hickory trees in the park today. If there once were many trees, there should have been a good seed base to regrow the hickories. This theory can not be proven unless logging records can be discovered.
The other theory for the name is based on a story from the early inhabitants of the town of Hickory Run. They say that the first explorers up the stream valley found a huge hickory tree surrounded by pine trees. This unique tree formation inspired the name. Recent explorations of the lower reaches of Hickory Run have failed to discover the huge hickory or the pine grove, but the story and the name lives on.
John James Audubon
Following the tourists from Philadelphia to Mauch Chunk, (now known as Jim Thorpe) John James Audubon arrived and found the area absent of birds. Audubon took a carriage to Rockport, on the edge of the wilderness. Audubon spent six weeks along the Lehigh River painting birds for his epic The Birds of North America. "The Great Pine Swamp" is the title of the article that Audubon wrote about the region. At that time, the land from Pocono Mountain, Carbon County, north to Wilkes-Barre was known as the Great Pine Swamp and included parts of Hickory Run. This swamp is the terminal moraine of the glacier.
Aided by a local logging foreman, Jediah Irish, Audubon hunted birds during the day and painted them at night. He painted 10 to 14 birds here, including: blackburnian, bay-breasted and pine warblers, also the raven and the three-toed woodpecker.
Audubon's writing paints a vivid picture of the loggers and their work.
"But no sooner was the first sawmill erected than the axe men began their devastations. Trees one after another were, and are yet, constantly heard falling, during the days; and in the calm nights the greedy mills told the sad tale, that in a century the noble forests around should exist no more."
It is unknown if Audubon spent time in the land that became Hickory Run State Park. He was close by and in his wandering very likely set foot in the park, and if not, at least was an excellent witness of the times.
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. The 1830s marked the beginning of the logging era. Dozens of mills arose along Hickory Run and the neighboring streams. By an 1839 report, six mills were on Hickory Run and two on Mud Run, which at the time was called Muddy 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. 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 hotel in town could sleep 150 people. 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 is found in the bark of eastern hemlocks and white pines. This substance was used to tan leather, which was one of the most useful materials of the time.
It was cheaper to ship the leather to the tannin, so for a brief time this area became the center of the tanning industry. 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 still remains on Lehigh Gorge State Parks property, near the Tannery Bridge. Jay Gould, the instigator of Black Friday and the Stock Market crash of 1929, was part owner of a tannery in nearby Thornhurst.
The loggers clear cut the immense forests but did no replanting. Hickory Run, which frequently flooded because it is so steep, flooded more often because there were less trees to slow the water. In 1849, several dams broke, flooding the towns of Saylorsville and Hickory Run. The devastation was so great that the state legislature passed a bill that allowed those who lost property to sue the builder of the faulty dam, but nothing could be proven and no action was taken.
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 by nearly forty years until he was finally buried at their sides.
The flood, one of many, only slowed the removal of trees. Mills were rebuilt and more people hired. The Goulds employed 150 people. The small town of Saylorsville, which grew up along the stagecoach road between Allentown and Wilkes-Barre, boasted a hotel for travelers and workers that could house 150 people. The stagecoach road has become the hiking trail called Stage Trail. The group cabin camping areas are located on the site of the town of Saylorsville.
After many floods, the Lehigh Canal was replaced by railroads. Hickory Run had a station along the river.
The population continued to increase. In 1843, Carbon County was carved out of the surrounding counties. The land that would become Kidder Township had only 140 people. By 1870, the population blossomed to 1,417 people.
A Fiery End
As the logging continued, forest fires became a problem. The clear-cut land regrew with tangles of blueberries and small trees. The ground dried easily because there was less shade and any spark could start a fire. In 1875, the Great Fire began by Mud Run and smoldered for several days before leaping to life and sweeping north to Monroe County.
Many mills and houses were destroyed and thousands of dollars of cut timber was damaged. Parts of the remaining standing timber burned. Some mills and houses were rebuilt, but many people left and the population began to dwindle.
Those who stayed could no longer cut timber for little remained, so they turned to other occupations. The blueberries that replaced the giant hemlocks and pines were harvested and sold. The fermentation of wintergreen berries began many years earlier, but became the sole occupation of many people. The small, red berries were fermented into an alcoholic drink and into a healing salve for sores and tired muscles.
Industrious people in the town of Hickory Run made a brick making factory, just below the current park office. Although bulldozed by the National Park Service, part of the walls still stand and the bricks can be found all of the way down the stream to the river.
Forest fires raged seasonally and the towns of Hickory Run, Saylorsville and Mud Run Station disappeared. Besides the many stories of the people who dwelled here, all that remains of the Boom Time are the many ruins of logging mills lining many of the streams. At certain places, like above the Fordway, portions of a log dam remain. Since the timbers are submerged, they have not rotted away although over 100 years old.
Three buildings still stand from the town of Hickory Run. The Manor House, the Chapel and the Park Office have all been greatly altered through the years, but are from the old town. The chapel was built in 1878. Possibly the least disturbed building from the old town is the green barn by the chapel. It currently serves as the park wood shop, but inside, the nail-free construction is quite evident.
General Harry Clay Trexler
Little is known of the time between the 1890s and 1918. Forest fires raged and the land was abandoned. Not since the last ice age has the land been so devastated. In 1918, Allentown millionaire Harry Trexler began purchasing land in the area.
General Trexler was born to German immigrants. He began his career as a farmer and soon branched out into logging and swiftly showed his business acumen. He created Lehigh Portland Cement, which became the world's largest cement maker. Pennsylvania Power and Light was also his creation.
Trexler was instrumental in uniting the regional telephone companies to create Bell Telephone, which became the only telephone company until forced to dissolve in the 1980s. General Trexler also sat on the board of directors of many local companies, universities and hospitals.
But it is not for his businesses that General Trexler is best remembered. He was an extremely wealthy man, but was not miserly. He contributed to many charities, including hospitals and universities. He created the first Boy Scout troop in Allentown and gave them land for a camp. A great outdoorsman, he created a game farm near Allentown and gave it to the city. In his will he left funds to eternally perpetuate the many city parks that he created.
Instrumental in the Pennsylvania National Guard, he was too old to serve in World War I, but became General Quartermaster of the state for the National Guard.
General Trexler purchased 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 Gamewire Trail.
The general 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. Once there, the General entertained at the Manor House and was famous for applejack punch and witty stories. Breakfast was served promptly at 8 a.m. then the guests went to their prearranged fishing holes on Sand Spring Run. Elaborate walk ways and bridges were built all around Sand Spring Run to aid the anglers. Unfortunately, subsequent floods have removed all traces of the walkways.
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
Norton L. Lichtenwalner, former congressman from Lehigh County, and then state director for the National Emergency Council, contacted the Trexler trustees in April of 1935. Plans were set in motion to purchase the Hickory Run Tract.
The lands were acquired with funds from the Resettlement Administration to purchase sub-marginal farmlands that were then turned over to the National Park Service (NPS) to develop into parks for organized camping and picnicking.
The Mud Run Tract, adjoining the Hickory Run Tract, was sold to Jesse Bronstein of Allentown, who sold part to the National Park Service, and kept part.
Now began the difficult task of settling the titles. Although the land was sold in December of 1935, the titles were not settled for several years.
The National Park Service began developing a National Recreation Demonstration Area. These areas were placed near large urban centers to provide fresh air recreation for lower class urban dwellers.
In 1936, Works Progress Administration workers arrived and started making roads, hiking trails, water lines and fire roads. Forest fire fighting crews were established to control the forest fire problem. From 200 to 650 relief workers were employed at any time and most of the current facilities were made at this time. The hiking trails used today were built then, mainly on old roads or fire line roads. Adirondack-style log shelters were built every two miles along the trails.
The two group cabin camping areas were built to house youth groups. The Girls Scouts and the Easter Seals Society were some of the steadiest campers. Camp Daddy Allen was named for Edgar F. Allen, the founder of the nation's first crippled children's movement.
On July 1, 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established a camp at Hickory Run. The unit transferred from Scotland, PA and had many names: SP-18, SP-19 and finally NP-6.
The camp was built in the large, open field by the CCC Dam, beside what is the current campground. A playground and bluebird nest boxes now occupy the site where once 200 young men had their camp. The stone walls at the bottom of the field are remains from the camp.
For more information on the CCC explore the Civilian Conservation Corps Online Archive.
The CCC further built facilities at Hickory Run. A picnic area was constructed below the current park office, but was abandoned probably due to frequent flooding. The cement curbing is still in place, although only butterflies and deer now park there. An old water tower can be seen when hiking Sand Spring Trail and the water lines on the trail are also NPS era equipment.
World War II brought the dissolving of the CCC and also delayed the transferring of Hickory Run to the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters. This transfer had been planned from the inception of the demonstration area, but did not take place until September 16, 1945.
Hickory Run State Park
Peace and quiet best characterize the last fifty years that Hickory Run has been a state park. There have been many changes over the years, but all have been gradual, like the forests growing taller.
In the early 1950s, Sand Spring Lake was created to replace the beaver dam used for swimming. The picnic area was created and called Sand Spring Day Use Area. Little has changed since then except the restrooms have been improved, roads paved, and the construction of a picnic pavilion.
Modeled after successful programs in other states, in 1957, Pennsylvania launched a Youth Forestry Camp program to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. The second camp in the state was established at Hickory Run and housed twenty boys in the Manor House until a new facility was constructed in 1963.
In 1967, Boulder Field was declared a National Natural Landmark by the U. S. Department of the Interior. In 1994, the area was declared a State Park Natural Area and will be kept in a natural state.
Many buildings and facilities in the park have been rehabilitated. Water lines used since the 1930s were finally replaced in the 1970s and antiquated water towers were replaced in the 1980s. The campground went through several growth spurts and now has 381 sites and is the fourth largest in the state system.
The land that has become Hickory Run State Park has been through many changes, but the future seems certain. Thanks to the foresight of people like General Trexler and the hard work of the National Park Service and the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, Hickory Run will be left to the whims of nature and preserved for future generations.