Topography of Clarion Co. (Chap. 3)


edited by A. J. Davis, 1887



Table-Land Character -- Drainage -- Streams -- Elevations -- General Description -- Forests  -- Scenery -- Ancient Channels.

transcribed by
Gene Shirey


THE surface of Clarion county has a sufficient general elevation above the level of the large streams to merit the name of a table-land; but its numerous water-courses, many of them with valleys of gorge-like depth and abruptness, break it up into a succession of ridges and rolls, leaving little of the level associated with the idea of a table-land. A thickly intersected undulatory plateau it is, therefore; and a miniature of the great one of Western Pennsylvania, intersected by the Allegheny and its tributaries. Clarion county occupies a central position in Western Pennsylvania, lying but six miles north of a line drawn east and west through the middle of the State.

A glance at the map will show three main systems of drainage: The great central one of the Clarion River, comprising three-fourths of the county; the northern, where the edge is drained by streams falling into Tionesta Creek and the Allegheny; and the southern, whose streams take their course to Redbank, with the exception of Catfish and Black Fox Runs, emptying into the Allegheny. The great artery of the county, the Clarion River, is a clear, beautiful stream which, being formed by the junction, at Ridgway, Elk county, of West Clarion and Elk Creek, enters the county at Cooksburg, and, traversing [p. 39] it in a general southwest course, though with many serpentine bends, falls into the Allegheny about three-fourths of a mile below Foxburg; a distance of fifty miles. It has an average fall of seven feet to the mile, but in the numerous "riffles," which alternate with the "eddies," it often attains great swiftness, and its fall is much greater.

Beginning at the east on the northern side, the noteworthy tributaries of the Clarion are as follows, in their order: Tom's Run and Toby Creek, rising in Farmington township; Deer Creek, which receives water from every northern township with the, exception of Highland, Salem, and Richland; Canoe Creek, Beaver Creek, and Turkey Run. Ritchey Run is a portion of the western boundary, and flows into the Allegheny. These streams have an average fall of thirty-five feet to the mile. On the south: Blyson's Run; Mill Creek, an important lumber outlet; Piney Creek, draining Limestone, Monroe, and parts of Piney and Clarion townships; and Licking Creek, which takes its rise in Piney township and receives Little Licking and Cherry Run.

In the north, beginning at the east we have Waley's Run and Little Coon Creek, which flow from Farmington township into Coon, or Raccoon Creek, a tributary of the Tionesta; Hemlock, which skirts Washington township and takes a northwest course to the Allegheny at President; and East Sandy, passing through the northern part of Elk and Ashland, west into the Allegheny.

Into Redbank Creek, likewise beginning at the east, flow Pine Run, Town Run, Leasure, Long, Leatherwood, and Fiddler's Runs. These, with Catfish, have a rapid fall, ranging from fifty to one hundred feet per mile.

From the course of its affluents we may see that the general trend of the basin of the Clarion is, on the north, to the southwest, and on the south to the northwest. The northernmost parts of Farmington, Washington, Elk, and Ashland townships lean slightly to the northwest; while the southern part of the county, with the exception of parts of Madison, Toby, and Perry, on the Allegheny, have a directly southern slope. We have spoken of the basin of the Clarion; this is so deceptive a term as almost to be a misnomer. The territory drained by the Clarion and its affluents is rather a plateau, deeply intersected by numerous streams which have a gradual descent, while the land between these may be said to maintain its elevation almost to the verge of the Clarion, where it breaks off precipitously and plunges down 300 to 400 feet to the water's edge, in rugged, wooded slopes, forming a picturesque gorge the entire length of the river.

The northern divide between the Clarion and the Allehgeny [sic] and Tionesta Rivers is a continuation of the "Big Level" of McKean county, entering Farmington township a little south of its northeast corner, and passing southwestwardly by Tylersburg and Jamestown to Salem and Richland townships. Another notable level is that between Paint Creek, a branch of Deer, and [p. 40] Toby Creek, extending in a north-northeast direction till it merges in the divide level near Tylersburg. It is now traversed by the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad.

The descent of the northern slope of the county is very gradual; so much so as to be scarcely perceptible in northeastern Farmington. This is partially accounted for by the smallness of its scope. If, however, we turn to the south we shall find the Clarion-Redbank dividing ridge much more marked, as the depressions are greater, especially on the Redbank side. We shall also observe that as we pass from the river country toward the divide, the surface grows less rugged and the hills less steep.

The average elevation of the county above sea level is about 1,300 feet. The lowest point in the county is at the mouth of Redbank, 851 feet; the highest, the heights to the southeast of Fryburg, on Mr. Denslinger's farm, which are 1,775 feet above ocean level. As a rule, however, the summits of the northern half range lower than those of the south; the former ranging from 1,500 to 1,600 feet, while the latter are from twenty-five to fifty feet higher. The highest point south of the river is the peak near St. Nicholas Church, in Limestone township, which claims an elevation of 1,750 feet above sea 1evel. The summits on the Clarion-Redbank divide range from 500 to 625 feet above water level in Redbank Creek.

The general character of the surface is hilly -- almost mountainous -- near the water courses, and undulating in the uplands. Here and there on the line of the dividing ridges rise bold, isolated knobs, usually stream sources. Their crests are in most cases cleared and cultivated to the summit; some are capped by a picturesque grove or orchard. Streams and springs are everywhere in profusion. The primeval forests of pine, hemlock (abies Canadensis), and oak are fast disappearing. South of the river with one or two exceptions they have entirely vanished, and a secondary or tertiary growth taken their place. The ax of the pioneer, the mills and iron-furnaces have done their work well there. Still, in the southern division there is considerable woodland of a later age, with oak predominating. Chestnut is abundant in almost every township, intermixed with hickory, ash, and common and sugar maple. The northeastern quarter of the county contains yet some forests of pine and hemlock, but they are being rapidly depleted. In many places forest fires have assisted the ax in the work, and many a spot where once stood a majestic forest presents the blackened, unsightly trunks rising from a dreary, profitless waste of saplings and undergrowth.

Of the lesser flora we cannot pass over the brilliant laurel or rhododendron, which clothes the river hillsides luxuriantly.

Scenery. -- The scenery of Clarion county is diversified, comprising the checkered undulations of the well-cleared and cultivated south, the wildness of the river country, and the flat stretches of alternate wood and farm land in the north.

Brady's Bend. -- Our county can boast of nothing unique in landscapes, but it claims some very charming scenes. A magnificent view of the great horseshoe bend in the Allegheny, with East Brady and Phillipsburg in the distance, is to be had from the heights, near the junction of the East Brady and Phillipsburg roads in the neck; where the silver Allegheny, after sweeping around the precipitous slopes below Catfish; East Brady, and Phillipsburg -- a distance of eight miles -- doubles on itself, till less than a mile measures the isthmus.

The Clarion from East Foxburg. -- A beautiful panorama of woodland heights and the romantic gorges of the Allegheny and Clarion greets the eye after ascending from Foxburg on the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad. The view of the Clarion, far below, is especially fine, and in mountainous grandeur almost equals the scenery of Kittanning Point, on the eastern slope of the Alleghenies, besides having the additional charm of water scenery.

Alum Rock. --  The stream that enters the Clarion at this point has, in the lapse of ages, worn its way through the rock and formed a romantic glen whose beauties every year gain increased appreciation. Here verdure-capped cliffs arise perpendicular; detached bowlders [sic] of immense size and curious forms add a unique beauty to the scene; and deep down in the shade the streamlet seeks its way, plashing over the rocks, to pay its humble tribute to the river below.

Ancient Water Courses. -- Contrary to the general rule, Troutman and Latshaw Runs, which empty into the Allegheny near Perryville, occupy broad, open valleys, disproportionate in width to the size of the streams. Geologist Chance, arguing from this and the similarity between the deposits here and in the channel of the Allegheny, maintains that the two valleys must have once formed the Allegheny's channel in place of the present one. His theory, then, does not lack foundation. He explains it thus: He assumes that the Clarion, previous to the glacial period, was as large as, if not larger than, the Allegheny -- in other words a branch. The impetus of its current, flowing southwestwardly into the Allegheny, carried the main stream across the present stream bed over the high flats north of Parker, thence sweeping southward, and finally to the southeast it entered the old channel at Perryville, around which it swept to the mouth of Bear Creek. The present channel was formed by the water-cutting, or erosion of, the loop at its neck, "just as the river is slowly eating its way through the neck at Brady's Bend." This is a plausible proposition, although the recurvature of the loop would be extremely sharp for such a large body of water, and its compass small. Mr. Chance would have strengthened his theory, too, if he had given us the connecting link in the similar vacant bend on the Armstrong side of the river. We publish his thesis for what it is worth. The head of this valley is 250 feet above the Allegheny at Parker. Mr. Chance, therefore, consistently says that that stream has lowered its bed by erosion 300 feet since the old channel was abandoned, and subsequently refilled it fifty feet with the detritus which forms its false bottom. This happened [p. 42] since the glacial period. Of course the Clarion and other main tributary streams must have deepened their beds proportionately, unless, indeed, the Clarion was the main stream instead of an affluent, which is improbable.

We can more unhesitatingly concur with Geologist Chance's opinion that the Clarion River has changed its channel at Callensburg. The isolation of the eminence on which Callensburg is situated, and the peculiarity of Licking Creek, which empties itself into the river squarely against the current, point to the existence of a former channel which turned to the south where the bridge now is, and described an irregular horse-shoe bend about Callensburg. Licking Creek, which now occupies the western half of this channel, then had its mouth about two miles south of its present one, near Mr. Colwell's. The narrow isthmus extending from the bridge to the present mouth of Licking was cut through in the same manner as Mr. Chance describes that at Perryville. The elevation of this old Callensburg channel above the new one is less than fifty feet. Assuming the Clarion to have kept pace with the Allegheny in channel lowering, the change here must have begun much later than that at Perryville.

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