Howard Falls vs Suburban Sprawl

As mentioned in a previous blog (Early Scientific Research at Howard Falls) the remoteness of Franklin Township delayed its settlement compared to other areas of Erie County. In the 1820’s the area was still very sparsely settled. There were no bridges over Elk Creek, none of the roads present today even existed, and the only road into the region was the Old State Road, running from Waterford to Lexington (present day Platea).  Anecdotal reports suggest that the first permanent settlement occurred in 1829, but as late as 1835 the Township remained almost an unbroken forest.

Henry and Levi Howard were some of the first settlers of the area around Howard Falls in the 1830’s. At the time, Franklin Township did not yet exist, and the exact population and total households in the region are not easily obtained.  By estimation using data from the townships that then existed, by 1840 about 200 people may have lived in the area that was to become Franklin Township.

In 1844, Franklin Township was formed from portions of Elk Creek, McKean, and Washington townships and is approximately 5 miles square.  Subsequently, population information is available from the US Decennial Census data from 1850 to present.

As the chart below shows, the population of Franklin Township increased rapidly as access to the region improved.  By 1860 the population plateaued at about 1,000 people, and remained at that level through the 1880’s.  Likewise total households plateaued at about 200 or so through that period, and remained at about 200 households until after 1970.

While households with 5 or more people were common in the United States in the 1800’s, by the 1900’s the number of people per household continued to decline.  Likewise in Franklin Township the people per average household was 5-6 in the mid 1800’s but dropped to about 4 people per household through much of the 1900’s.

After 1880, the population of the township began to decline. By 1910 less than 800 people lived in Franklin Township.  The population remained at about 800 people throughout much of the 1900’s.  But after 1970, a significant shift in population demographics began and continues today.  Population doubled in the Township from 1970 to 2000.  Likewise the number of households grew significantly, from slightly more than 200 in 1970 to over 550 in 2000, a nearly tripling of the number of households.  The average household size in Franklin Township has continued to decline, and in 2000 had an average of only 3 persons/household.

With the significant increase in the number of households, farms of significant acreage have been subdivided, as new homes are built in the area.  Instead of an agricultural region, the Township is experiencing the sprawl of suburban living. Sprawl leads to not only the loss of agricultural land, but the loss of some of our most environmentally sensitive lands. As mentioned in our post about the West Virginia White Butterfly, populations of this delicate and native Pennsylvanian species have decreased due to the loss of habitat, primarily through logging and clearing for development. Fragmentation of their environment is detrimental as the butterflies rarely venture outside the confines of a closed canopy forest.

In a strategy completely counter to this subdivision trend, the land around Howard Falls and the Falls Run Gorge has been consolidated over the years.  Today the Howard Falls Trust has consolidated 14 contiguous properties, and it is committed to protecting this land from future development.  

Our goal remains to protect the Howard Falls and Falls Run Gorge region indefinitely into the future.


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