Photo Copyright The Blair House by Robert J. Blair
Wellsboro, a town of beauty and culture rich in natural resources and the County Seat of Tioga County, might be set down in any section of New England and find itself in familiar surroundings. Founded in 1806 by settlers from Delaware, Maryland and Philadelphia, it was incorporated in 1830. The town was named in honor of Mary Wells, wife of one of the original settlers, Benjamin Wister Morris.
Mary Wells Morris
Mary Wells (1761-1819) was a Philadelphia Quaker who came with her husband, Benjamin Wister Morris, to this part of Tioga County in about 1805 with their son Samuel and daughter Rebecca. Benjamin was an agent of the Pine Creek Land Company, one of whose leaders was William Wells, Mary's brother. They settled on the site now occupied by the Shared Home at the intersection of Morris Lane and Bacon Street. At that time, their log house was the only dwelling in what is now the borough of Wellsboro.
Traditionally, the name, Wellsboro, has been associated with Mary Wells. However, some historians suggest the name might have been in honor of Mary's brother, or even of the Wells family. "We're not really positive about the origin of the name, Wellsboro," says Scott Gitchell, director of the Tioga County Historical Society, "but certainly Mary was one of our founding residents, and after coming here, stayed the rest of her life." Mary and her husband, Benjamin, are buried in the Wellsboro cemetery.
A life sized bronze sculpture of Mary Wells Morris, a founder of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, is located at the historic Robinson House, home of the Tioga County Historical Society, on 120 Main Street, part of the land deeded by Benjamin and Mary Wells Morris to Tioga county in 1806. Frank and Mary Herzel of Harrisburg, PA, and Rita Bocher of Wynnewood, PA, commissioned the 5'7" figure.
The sculpture of Mary was created and cast by the A.R.T. Design Group of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. President and head designer, Becky Ault, and her associates based the figure of Mary on historical sources. While no paintings or prints of Mary herself are known, Ault consulted a photograph of a print of Mary's mother to capture the family facial likeness. Mary's costume, researched by Rita Bocher, was based upon original prints and paintings of Philadelphia Quaker dress at the turn of the 19th century. Her bonnet was modeled after an actual early 19th century bonnet preserved in the archives of the Swarthmore College Friends Library, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. "We wanted to make the sculpture of Mary as historically accurate as possible," explained Ault. "In other words, we wanted to capture Mary's qualities as a Quaker woman of her time who carried herself with dignity and determination to her new and unknown life."
It is a matter of historical record that this section of the state was part of the Connecticut Grant; consequently it was settled by many of the early New England colonists. The large houses set well back from the streets on spacious well-kept lawns are truly indicative of the planning of New England towns. Noted for beautiful elms, maple trees and wide boulevards with gas lights, this is a village of pleasant homes and hospitable people.
History of Tioga County
Between 1628 and 1762, three kings of England issued four separate charters giving all or part of the land in today's Tioga County to three different states - Massachusetts, twice to Connecticut, and to William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. State ownership was finally resolved 20 years later when the Continental Congress awarded Pennsylvania the land in the 1782 Decree of Trenton.
Seneca Indian lands, including Tioga County, remained closed until the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix when holdings were sold to Pennsylvania. Settlement was slow due to the county's rugged terrain, dense virgin forests, and its lack of roads and navigable waterways. In 1787, a New Yorker named Samuel Baker was the first white man to settle the area when he constructed a cabin on the Tioga River at Lawrenceville.
In 1796, work was completed on the "Williamson Road", which extended from Williamsport, Pennsylvania to Painted Post, New York. It is now known as Route 15 and designated the Northern Sector of the "Appalachian Thruway." Construction of other major roads - the Morris State Road , today called Route 287, and the East and West State Road, now known as Route 6 - were completed in the early 1800's.
The area that is now Tioga County was part of Lycoming County - founded on April 13, 1795 and before that both were part of Northumberland County. In 1797, Lycoming County created a new township - Tioga - that included all lands of the present day Tioga County.
It was through the efforts of the Pine Creek Land Company, a group of Philadelphia citizens who bought and sold property in Lycoming County, including Tioga land, that Tioga County was formed. To induce more people to come to the area, the land company was able to get the state to pass an "Omnibus Bill" on March 26, 1804. The bill broke the 12,000 square mile Lycoming County into five additional counties; they included Clearfield, Jefferson, McKean, Potter and Tioga Counties.
When formed, Tioga County had one township - Tioga - and 500 - 600 residents. The county's population peaked in 1890 at about 54,000 before declining along with the coal and lumber industries. Now, Tioga County includes 30 townships and 10 boroughs.
Today, the county is populated with the descendants of early settlers - English descendants of the the New England immigrants, the Welsh and Polish who worked the coal mines and some Pennsylvania Germans.
On March 21, 1806, two years after influencing the legislature to create Tioga County, the Pine Creek Land Company was able to get Wellsboro designated as its county seat. The only family living there was that of Benjamin Wistar Morris, the company's agent, who named the 150-acre town for his wife, Mary Wells. In 1830, the town became the first in Tioga County to be incorporated as a borough. Its population then numbered 250.