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History of Varden Conservation Area

Early Native American History

The land that became Varden Conservation Area was part of the frontier region under considerable turmoil during the later portion of the 18th century. The Susquehanna Company was formed to encourage settlement by the Connecticut people in an area along the east branch of the Susquehanna River.

During 1754, the Onondaga tribal council deeded the greater part of this land to the Susquehanna Company; however, the French and Indian War prevented settlement until after 1760. From this time and prior to the Revolutionary War, Connecticut and Pennsylvania waged a bitter battle for the land.

From 1770 to 1784, the Yankee-Pennamite Wars took part in the region. After the Revolutionary War in 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a commission to settle the dispute. The conclusion favored Pennsylvania, effectively ending land rights for Connecticut.

European-American Settlement

During the 1780s, European-American pioneers entered the area and set up settlements along Middle Creek and it’s tributaries. The settlers engaged in farming the land and tapped into Middle Creek to supply water to power tanneries, and water powered mills of various types.

Increased settlement was established because of the large degree of transportation routes established throughout the early 1800s. The Northern Road, Belmont and Easton Turnpike, and another turnpike connecting Milford, Pa. and Oswego, N.Y. were completed by 1815.

Other industries were limited to lumbering, milling, and tanning. The white and yellow pine, white and red beech, maple, hemlock, and birch were abundant in the area.

John Shaffer

During the early years of settlement, many people of German descent inhabited the Varden area. One well-known family was the Shaffer’s. John Shaffer, probably born in Germany came to America sometime before the Revolutionary War.

According to family tradition, John was a stowaway in a ship on its passage to America. Very little of his early life is known. John may have lived in Orange County, N.Y., where he married. Family tradition states he was married three times.

It is claimed that John served in the Orange County Militia during the Revolutionary War. After the war, John heard of land near Middle Creek. John probably came to the area sometime between 1783 and 1786.


Hans Ulrich Swingle and Henry Curtis accompanied John on the trip to Pennsylvania, spending their first night sleeping under a large tree in what is now Varden. The area John settled was first known as the Dutch Settlement and later as Shaffertown, Shaffer’s Hollow, and Millville.

William Rufus Shaffer, who became postmaster during 1886, chose to name the town Varden, taking the name from his favorite literary character, Dolly Varden from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens.

Throughout the years, Shaffer acquired land that would later become Varden Conservation Area. Here, the Shaffer family has lived for more than 200 hundred years. The agricultural past is evident in the area. Old foundations, stonewalls, stone piles, a barn, and the famous Shaffer chimney are still present.

Dr. Mead Shaffer

For more than 200 years, the Shaffer family has been living in Northeastern Pennsylvania. First settled by John Shaffer, the Shaffer Homestead has experienced much through several generations of Shaffer families. The latest resident is Dr. Mead Shaffer of Boothwyn Township, Delaware County.

Dr. Shaffer spent his childhood years living on the Shaffer Homestead. He spent two years at war, came home, and became a veterinarian. Mead has planted many trees, created a pond, and preserved the superb habitat.

Mead has stated that he wishes future generations would benefit from the donation of the conservation area. With the vast history of the Shaffer family in the area, and at Varden specifically, Mead’s donation greatly illustrates his devotion and admiration of the Varden area.