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History of Bedford and Somerset Counties


Somerset County, as it is now constituted, originally formed a part of Cumberland county.  After 1771 it was a part of Bedford county, and remained such for a period of twenty-four years, or until it was called into separate being by the act of assembly passed on the 17th of April, 1795.      

The northern boundary line between Somerset and Cambria counties commences on the crest of Laurel Hill, at a point six miles southwest of Johnstown, and runs due east seven miles to Stony creek, thence it follows the beds of Stony and Paint creeks six miles to Scalp Level, thence due east ten miles to the east of the Allegheny mountain.  (This point is six miles south of the northwest corner of Bedford county.)  Beginning here, the eastern boundary line follows the crest of the Allegheny mountain southwest fourteen miles to a point one and a half miles north of the Bedford and Stoystown turnpike; thence due south across the north knob of the Cumberland coal basin, and along the crest of the Savage (or Little Allegheny) mountain, twenty-three miles to the Maryland state line; thence along said line due west across the Allegheny and Negro mountains, and the Winding ridge, thirty-one miles to the bed of the Youghiogheny river.  The western boundary line runs down the bed of the river to the center of the gap in the Laurel Hill, a distance of about nine and a quarter miles; thence along the crest of the Laurel Hill thirty-six miles to the place of beginning.     

It will thus be seen that the mountains on the east and west sides form natural boundaries for the county.  Accurately speaking, these mountain ranges run northeast and southwest. The county may be said to be divided into two parts. The smaller part, composed of the townships of Allegheny, Fair Hope, Greenville, Larimer, Northampton and Southampton, lie east of the crest of the Allegheny mountain, having the Savage (or Little Allegheny) mountain for their eastern boundary, while the much larger part lies on the west side of the crest of the Allegheny mountain, and extends across to the Youghiogheny river and the eastern side of the crest of Laurel Hill.  The greatest length of Somerset county is thirty-nine miles, its greatest breadth is thirty-six miles, and it has a total area of 1,066 square miles, or 682, 240 acres.  The surface is of an undulating character.  Its high hills, fertile valleys and grassy glades everywhere present scenes of remarkable beauty.     

We can well imagine what the country looked like in its primitive state.  The surface of Somerset county is everywhere broken by water courses.  Its drainage system, when the limited area  of a single county is considered, presents some remarkable features.     

The Stony creek, the source of which is a spring in the town of Berlin, in its northward course takes in the waters of the Quemahoning, the Shade, Paint and Ben's creeks, with their many tributary streams, and finally, with the Little Conemaugh river, forms the Conemaugh river at Johnstown, through which stream its waters finally reach the Allegheny river, which is one of the heads of the Ohio river.     

The Castleman's river which rises in Garrett county, Maryland, some twenty miles south of Mason and Dixon's line, enters Elk Lick township nearly midway between the crests of the Allegheny and Negro mountains.  This noble stream flows in a somewhat northeasterly direction until after it passed the town of Meyersdale, where it turns toward the northwest. After having received the waters of the Meadow, Tub Mill and Pine runs, in Elk Lick township, and those of the Flaugherty, Elk Lick and Blue Lick runs, and the Buffalo creek in Summit township, it breaks its way through the Negro mountain.  After taking in the  waters of Cox's creek, which comes down from Somerset Township, it turns  sharply toward the southwest.  Its waters having  been augmented by those of the Middle creek from the west, White's creek and the Negro mountain streams from the east, it joins the Youghiogheny at Confluence, forming the middle toe of the famous Turkeyfoot.     

The drainage area of the Laurel Hill creek is much less than that of either of the two preceding rivers.  It rises near the township line between Jefferson and Milford, from whence its course is toward the north for a distance of several miles.  It next turns towards the northwest, and finally toward the south.  Passing the village of Bakersville, it flows along the eastern base of the Laurel Hill, from which most of its tributary streams come.  With a total length of about thirty miles, following the windings of the stream, it empties into the Castleman's river a few hundred feet above its junction with the Youghiogheny, and forming the north toe of the Turkeyfoot.     

After their confluence, the now united streams break through the Laurel Hill mountain on their way to join the waters of the Monongahela and the Ohio rivers. A very small part of Addison township drains into the Youghiogheny.  I should also be noted that no streams from with either Fayette or Westmoreland counties enter into the drainage systems of Somerset county.     

Passing to that part of the county lying east of the Allegheny mountain, in Greenville township, nearly all of its drainage reaches the Castleman's river through Pine and Flaugherty runs, both of which break their way through mountain at points about five miles apart. There is, however, a small stream that rises in the southeast part of the township, flows along the foot of the little Savage mountain into Maryland, and finds the way into the potomac river through the Savage river.     

Will's creek rises in the southeastern part of Larimer township, flowing in a northeast  direction until the Northampton township line is reached, after which it swerves to an easterly direction, and, passing through Northampton and Southampton townships, first breaking its way though the Great Savage mountain, it enters Bedford county and reaches the Potomac river at Cumberland, Maryland.  Deeter's, Three Licks and the Breastwork runs rise in the Allegheny township and form part of the headwaters of the Raystown branch of the Juniata river.     

Thus it will be seen that part of the drainage system of Somerset county finds its way into the Susquehanna river, a second part into the Potomac River, but that the far larger part of it reaches the Ohio river through two different outlets.     

An examination into the geology of Somerset county will show that nearly all of that part of the county lying between  the Allegheny mountain and Laurel Hill is one vast coal field, every vein of coal from the great Pittsburg seam downward being represented in it.  It is true that the other formations, as low down in the scale as the Pocono sandstone, are exposed, but their area, compared with that of the coal, is comparatively small. Except that the Frostburg (Maryland) coal field projects into Southampton township, it is quite different in the part of the county east of the Allegheny  mountain, for nearly all of its surface is covered by the Catskill sandstones and shales and the Chemung shales. In that part of the county in which the coal measures prevail, their almost undisturbed flatness produces both smooth and high plateau, gently rolling glades, steep, rocky, and often sterile wooded hillsides.     

The highest point in Pennsylvania is on the Allegheny mountain, on the northern part of the county line, between Somerset, and Bedford counties. The lowest points in the county are the mouth of Ben's creek, 1,184 feet; mouth of Paint creek, 1,305 feet, and Draketown run, 1,319 feet above tidewater.     

Before the coming of the white man the county was largely a land  of forests, although there were many glades or natural meadows about the headwaters of nearly all the streams in the central parts of the county.. These were numerous and extensive enough to have the name of "The Glades" applied to the entire county.  It was certainly a land of promise.     

We know of no more appropriate closing for this introductory chapter than the following extract from the address delivered by Hon. William H. Koontz a t the time of the celebration of the centennial of the county:     

"We can well imagine what a beautiful country it was in its primitive state.  Standing on the summit of either one of the mountain ranges that bound us east and west, there must have been presented to the eye a scene of unsurpassed beauty. At a distance of twenty miles the other mountain range stands out in bold outline, stretching along for many miles.  In the language of the poet, it may well have been said:                              

'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view And robes the mountain in its azure hue.     

"But nothing was required to lend enchantment to the whole stretch of intervening country of hill and valley, of forest and glade.  What a delightful prospect it must have afforded in the 'leafy month of June,' when the forests were covered with their foliage of every variety of green, or when later they were tinted with varied colors, and autumn had spread its transcendent beauty over the whole, from mountain range to mountain range; when the morning sun first touched with its rays the summit of the Allegheny, and in its setting flooded the heights of the Laurel Hill with a sea of gold, and bathed the whole intervening country with its soft and mellow light!  And yet, the seasons had come and gone for countless ages over this lovely scene, with no one to appreciate its beauty and grandeur. And the waters of the streams, then nameless, had flowed on silently to the ocean, and heard no sound 'save their own dashings,' the howl of the wild beast  and the wild man."

[Source: The History of Bedford and Somerset Counties by Blackburn and Welfley, published in 1906. Transcribed and donated by Batha Karr.]

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Last Revised: July 9, 2008

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