Visitors to Pike County are often amazed that a location within such close proximity to the New York metropolitan area has remained so free from the usual concomitants of urban development. If they venture to the southeast corner of the country- down to Porter Township-their recollection of the megalopolis may become even dimmer because Porter is the most rural and sparsely populated of all of Pike’s townships.
Porter Township was established on December 16, 1851, comprising lands that had previously been contained in Delaware and Lehman Townships. The name is said to have been chosen in honor of James Madison Porter who is believed to have built the first permanent residence in the area sometime around 1849. The only community of any sort listed in the township on an 1872 map of Pike County is the small hamlet of Portersville which existed around the present day Porter‘s Lake. Judge Porter appears to have been a prominent citizen of the region for in 1842 at a celebration in Honesdale feting the visit of Washington Irving., Porter is given credit for dubbing the steep cliffs on the town’s east side, Irving’s Cliff, which until that time had simply been referred to as the “Ledge”. David Rittenhouse Porter served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1839 to 1845 and there are some who believed the township might have been named for him.
The sparse population of the township can be explained to some extent, by the meager, inhospitable soil. Any areas that were cultivated usually supported a single homestead. Most of those who decided to make Porter their home were involved in some fashion with harvesting the timber that prevailed in the rocky terrain.
By the late 1800’s, reports indicate that most of the township had been cleared of timber leaving a desolate land of low brush and scrub oak. At the southern end of the township, all of the hemlock had been depleted almost half a century earlier in order to supply bark for a large tannery operation at Resica Falls, Monroe County. There are still residents of the township who remember hearing of the uncontrollable fires that raged through the denuded countryside. It is claimed that one such fire burned out of control from Promised Land in Greene Township, east through Porter, Lehman and Delaware Townships to the Delaware River.
In the center of Porter Township a wooden sign on Route 402 marks Ludleyville as the site of the first planting of trees on state forest land in October 1899. By virtue of several acts of the 1897 Pennsylvania Legislature the Division of Forestry of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was authorized to acquire lands for state forest “reservations”. The planting that occurred in 1899 included ½ acre of Carolina Poplar followed by an additional 1000 Catalpa plantings in the spring of 1900. It is interesting to note that at the time a test of the soil was made. The results of the test showed the ground to be of poor quality (a layer of thin loam under laid with clay), thereby substantiating the barrenness of the Porter terrain.
By 1913, the entire experiment was reported a failure due to “winter kill” (another testimony to the severe conditions in Porter and in Pike County in general). However, District Forester E. C. Pyle was able to see some value in the experiment and in 1949 he wrote: “Its failure (the planting experiment) is more impressive than had it been successful. It proves that nature will ultimately reforest if fires are curtailed over long periods.
After the acquisition mandates of 1897, the Forest Service began in earnest to place land in forest reserves throughout the state. By 1902 approximately 50,000 acres had been acquired in Pike and Monroe Counties, and this property made up what was then called the Minisink Forest. Under the administration of Gifford Pinchot, who was Commissioner of Forestry in 1921, all of the state’s forest reserve holdings in Pike and Monroe Counties were consolidated into Delaware State Forest which today comprises over 72,000 acres. By far, the majority (64,190 acres) of this popular recreational resource falls in Pike County with over 22,000 acres belonging to Porter Township. 58% of the township therefore, is within the state forest.
The first step taken to make Pike’s forest land available to the public came in 1913 when the Department of Forestry authorized the leasing of “small areas of land for the purpose of permanent camping and outing ground.” Since that time, over 1000 cabins have been built on land leased from the Forestry Department. Nowhere is the hunting cabin a more prevalent sight than in Porter, where they actually outnumber permanent, year-round residences. A typical example exists at Pine Flats where a 60 cabin colony and clubhouse stand near the Big Bushkill Creek. A similar cabin colony stands near Little Mud Pond across the lake from a natural cranberry bog.
During the 1930’s many improvements were made on state forest land by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Throughout the Delaware Forest the “C.C.C. boys” made a detailed survey and inventory of the timber land which provided information for a comprehensive management plan of the forest. Timber stand improvements were undertaken by removing inferior growth, thereby allowing more valuable species to develop. In order to minimize the risk of fire, a system of fire towers, telephone lines, fire lanes and truck trails was developed. In Porter, the corp was responsible for contracting a public recreation area and fishing access at Peck’s Pond, at the north end of the township. Here, a covered pump, a pavilion, rest rooms picnic tables and fireplaces were constructed and still exist today. Five mile Meadow Road, Flat Ridge Road and the Burnt Mill Road, are all trails that the civilian crew blazed some thirty years ago which are still enjoyed by hikers and snowmobilers. Beyond the benefits to the public, the corp members, many of whom were jobless veterans, seem to have profited from their services in Porter Township and elsewhere in the Delaware Forest. In his review of the C.C.C project in Pike and Monroe Counties, the crew superintendent of the Edgemere encampment in Porter Township had the following comments: “. . . the work has had a large measure in bringing them back to a normal station in the world . . . Consequently they are benefited both physically and spiritually through the various camp activities.”
Lumbering operations in Porter Township also provided activity for German prisoners-of-war during World War II when the American government was seeking isolated, secure locations in which prisoners could be put to work.
The Delaware Forest today is visited by thousands of people annually for a wide variety of outdoor recreation activities. The streams and lakes provide spectacular views of the lakes, hills, and swamps, as well as frequent sights of wild birds and animals. For several years intensive studies of the black bear in its natural habitat have been carried out on here. A visitor to the state forest may be fortunate enough to spot a bear, but will almost certainly have the chance to observe deer and many smaller animals.
Along with the immense State Forest holdings, Porter Township has numerous private estates and hunting clubs which have guaranteed that a vast amount of acreage remain in an undeveloped state. Examples of these privately owned estates include the Porters Lake Club, Hunters Rage, the Saw Creek Hunting and Fishing Club, The Beaver Run Club, Dorney Park’s Hermitage, and many others.