Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, has plenty to offer except sand and surf


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JERSEY SHORE, Pa. -- If you travel to this small riverfront town with the odd geographical name, don't expect to find TV stars Snooki and The Situation or see wide sandy beaches with a boardwalk and a big blue ocean.

They're in another state, 250 miles to the east.

But if you want to drive along the western branch of the Susquehanna River, view the changing fall foliage in the surrounding mountains, hike or bike a 65-mile trail along scenic Pine Creek or fish and hunt in nearby state parks and forests, then this northcentral Pennsylvania town of 4,000 folks would be worth the 165-mile drive from Pittsburgh.

Jersey Shore -- named after the numerous Garden State families who moved here to own farmland after the American Revolution -- is also just a short drive from South Williamsport, where the Little League World Series is played every August.

"When outsiders ask where I live and I say Jersey Shore, a lot of them say, 'Oh, is that near Wildwood or the Atlantic City casinos?' " said longtime resident Eugene Kurzejewski, a retired school administrator. "People who are driving through or visiting often ask how Jersey Shore got its name."

Several times a year, said local historian Wayne Welshans, motorists traveling along Interstate 80, which runs east-west about 10 miles south of town, "will notice a sign along the highway reading 'Jersey Shore' and will come into town asking where the ocean is."

He and his wife live on a farm a few miles outside this town in southwestern Lycoming County. "A guy in a big Cadillac pulled up to our house recently and said 'Where's the beach?' And he was dead serious."

Sam DeParasis, owner of a local tavern called the Tiadaghton Inn, said that in the late 1990s, when automobile GPS systems weren't too accurate, "A guy drove in from Massachusetts and said he was looking for the New Jersey seashore. His car's navigational device gave him directions that led him here."

To add to the confusion, there's a good-sized island nearby -- in the middle of the Susquehanna. And it's called "Long Island," which further befuddles New Yorkers, Mr. DeParasis said.

Jersey Shore history

Of course, this is just one of many Keystone State towns with unusual names. Pittsburghers know all about Moon and Mars; Lancaster County has Intercourse, Blue Ball, Paradise and Bird in Hand; and there's Virginville and Woodchoppertown, near Reading.

Jersey Shore got its start just before the American Revolution. In 1772, as the early white settlers were increasingly clashing with the native Indians and their British allies, a Colonial officer Col. John Henry Antes built the first house along the Susquehanna -- on the eastern bank of the river, across from where the town is now. The Antes house was fortified so it could be used for protection of settlers.

"This was the frontier and there was a lot of trouble with the Indians, who were upset over losing territory," said Mr. Welshans, who is past president of Jersey Shore's historical society.

From Philadelphia, descendants of state founder William Penn issued an order forbidding white settlers from moving west of what now is Pine Creek, which empties into the Susquehanna three miles west of what now is Jersey Shore. It was an effort "to ease relations with the Indians," he said.

Then on July 4, 1776 -- the same day that the more famous American Colonial leaders in Philadelphia were signing their Declaration of Independence from Great Britain -- a group of Jersey Shore leaders called the Fair Play Men met under a big elm tree and also declared their independence.

Mr. Welshans concedes that such a coincidence of declarations might seem unlikely, but said there had been contact between the Fair Play Men and their compatriots in Philadelphia and "they had a good idea of what was going on in Philadelphia. They know a call for independence was coming."

The Fair Play Men signed their declaration under the Tiadaghton Elm, which stood for several centuries but now is gone. The name came from an Iroquois word meaning "river of the pine." It stood near where the current Pine Creek flows into the Susquehanna.

Movement into the region picked up after the Revolution ended and after a 1784 treaty was signed with neighboring Indians, according to "An Early History of Jersey Shore," written by Mr. Welshans.

As with earlier immigration by Europeans into Pennsylvania, these new settlers sought land and religious freedom.

Perhaps because of New Jersey's growing population, many of the incoming families decided to move from that state, including brothers Reuben and Jeremiah Manning. They arrived in 1785 and laid out a few streets in what is now downtown.

The town's first name was Waynesburg, but no one is quite sure where that name came from, Mr. Welshans said. One theory is that it was named after a famous Revolutionary War general, Anthony Wayne, who served at Valley Forge in 1777 under Gen. George Washington. The town's first doctor, Dr. James Davidson, had arrived in the late 1770s and he had served under Gen. Wayne.

Waynesburg was the early name for the settlement on the western shore of the Susquehanna, which flows north in this area. But another group of newcomers, mostly Scotch-Irish, were settling on the eastern bank of the river.

A number of taverns began cropping up on the western shore, the one settled by the New Jerseyans.

The feeling among the Scotch-Irish residents seemed to be, "Let's go over to the Jersey shore and raise some hell in the taverns," Mr. Welshans said. "On the Jersey side of the river, there always seemed to be some drinking and a little fighting."

Over the next 30 years or so, the names Waynesburg and Jersey Shore competed for acceptance. But as the influx from New Jersey continued to grow on the western bank of the river, "The name Jersey Shore finally won out," he said.

Surveyors made a complete map of town streets in 1812, and Jersey Shore was formally incorporated as a town in 1826.

Outdoor activities

After starting the 1800s with an economy based on agriculture, blacksmith shops and tanneries, Jersey Shore went through several economic phases. It became a popular stop on the Pennsylvania Canal from the 1830s-'50s as horse-drawn boats carried goods across the state. The canal was replaced by railroads in the late 1850s, with rail yards that lasted nearly 100 years.

"We were a major hub for the rail industry," Mr. Welshans said. Timber cutting also provided jobs.

Nowadays, this borough is known mostly for outdoor activities, including the scenic Pine Creek Rail Trail. It starts 65 miles to the north in Wellsboro, Tioga County, near the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, and wends its way south, ending in Jersey Shore.

Three weeks ago, state and local officials marked completion of the final 1.4-mile segment of the trail that runs through the borough to the Susquehanna. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spent $7 million on the trail, including $418,000 on the portion through Jersey Shore.

"This extension will connect one of the best hiking and biking trails in the country to a host of facilities and local businesses in Jersey Shore," said DCNR Secretary Richard Allan. The rail trail generates more than $5 million a year for the borough's economy, a recent survey estimated.

Eagles, coyotes, wild turkeys, river otters and black bears can be seen on the trail.

"Jersey Shore is a great place to live," Mr. Kurzejewski said. "There are outdoor activities like hunting and fishing and walking along the trail, plus streams like Larry's Stream and Pine Creek that flow into the Susquehanna."

Mr. Welshans thinks the town should make a bigger deal out of its natural beauty. "We have state parks and forests, good fishing and hunting," he said. "We need to advertise that more and take advantage of the tourist industry."

travel

Tom Barnes: hickeybarnes@yahoo.com or 717-623-1238.


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