Tioga County is located in the south central part of New York State adjacent to the Pennsylvania border. Tioga has been referred to as the “mother county” since the counties of Broome and Chemung, as well as parts of Tompkins, Cortland and Chenango were formed from Tioga’s original boundaries. The earliest traceable inhabitants of the county were the Algonquin Indians, a primarily agricultural civilization that was later driven out by the Iroquois.
In approximately 1550, according to legend, Hiawatha, an Oneida Sachem, came to a large island (now “Hiawatha Island”) near Owego on the Susquehanna with several other Indian chiefs. Taking a single arrow he easily broke it in front of the assembled chiefs. However, taking a half dozen arrows, he demonstrated that they could ot be broken as long as they were together. As a result, it was here that the Five Nations of the Iroquois was formed.
In 1606, James I of England granted the “Plymouth Grant” which was the first royal grant effecting what is now Tioga County. He was sent to Carantoan (Spanish Hill), a large Susquehannock Indian village near what is now Waverly, New York.
On January 15, 1775, the only other royal grant of lands affecting Tioga County was made when Daniel, William, Rebecca, and Grace Coxe traded other territory (including portions of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and the Bahama Islands) for 100,00 acres in New York State. The local portion of the grant included approximately 30,000 acres between the Susquehanna River and the Pennsylvania border in what is now the towns of Owego, and Nichols. This territory was held by the Coxe family until the early 1800’s when it was gradually broken into lots and sold.
During the Revolution, the tribes along the fertile Susquehanna River Valley grew corn and other crops to feed British troops at Fort Niagara. The villages were also used as staging areas for Indian and Tory raids into Pennsylvania against the frontier settlers.
In 1778, the Wyoming Massacre took place at Forty Fort, PA. This event aroused the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania and led Congress to order theSullivan-Clinton campaign the following year. The purpose of the campaign was to eliminate the threat of further Indian attacks and destroy the bread basket of the enemy.
On August 17, 1779, Scouts of Sullivan’s army met Clinton’s army at what is now Union in Broome County and proceeded westward, burning an Indian village at Owego. James McMaster, a former soldier with General Clinton, came in 1785 with a group of friends and built a cabin at what is now Owego. With the assistance of Amos Draper, a trader with the Native tribes, McMaster purchased some 18 square miles of land comprising a substantial portion of what is now the town of Owego.
On February 15, 1791, Tioga County was officially formed as New York’s 20th county. On the same day, the town of Owego was officially established. It included most of what is now Tioga County, west of Owego Creek. The first industry in Tioga County, a tannery, opened in 1793 by Lemuel Brown. The first school opened in the county in 1797. 1822 saw the building of the oldest church still standing in Tioga County. It is the Asbury Methodist Church located on Nichols-Sayre Road near the Pennsylvania line.
On January 28, 1828, the Ithaca and Owego Railroad was chartered by New York State. It was the second in the state. Trains were horse drawn until 1840 when a small steam locomotive was put into service. Railroads became big business in Tioga County in 1875 when the Utica, Ithaca, and Elmira Railroad completed its track-laying through the county. Through foreclosure sales due to insufficient income, the railroad came under new ownership and was renamed the Elmira, Cortland and Northern in 1884. In February 1896, the Leheigh Valley railroad bought the line and it because their Cortland branch.
Although mainly rural in nature, industry has played a large role in Tioga’s past and we look forward to a bright future in which our past and present deliver prosperity again to this region.