Historical Markers
Judah Colt Historical Marker
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Judah Colt

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
PA 89 at PA 430, Colt Station

Dedication Date:
October 29, 1951

Behind the Marker

After Pennsylvania won its battle with Connecticut for the northern third of the state and its struggle with Virginia for the southwestern corner that contained Pittsburgh and the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers, the state still lacked an outlet to the Great Lakes - and the vast trade network that bordered it. Given the mountainous terrain of western Pennsylvania, only a port on Lake Erie would give the state any hope of being a market for the crops of northwestern Pennsylvania, northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and what later became Michigan.
Map of Pennsylvania's disputed borders
Map of Pennsylvania's disputed borders

The Erie Triangle, purchased by Pennsylvania from the federal government in 1792, gave the state the desired frontage on Lake Erie. First, however, the Commonwealth had to remove the Senecas who lived in the region. Seneca chief markerCornplanter sold the triangle for the tiny sum of $5,000 in 1791, but the state prepared for war against the sizeable minority that refused to leave in 1794. Diverted by the Whiskey Rebellion, the state called off a campaign at the request of President Washington. Pennsylvania then bought out the remaining claimants in 1796.

Soon the Population Company and Holland Land Company, funded by wealthy merchants and other investors from Great Britain and the United States, bought up a good deal of the Triangle, laid out roads and towns, and then hired land agents to sell their holdings to farmers and other settlers at what they hoped would be a hefty profit. Among the earliest settlers to take advantage of the commercial opportunities afforded by the Triangle was Judah Colt, a native of New England.
Black and white, head and shoulders image of Judah Colt.
Judah Colt

Born on July 1, 1761, In Lyme, Connecticut, Colt spent most of his early life in New York, where he worked as a surveyor. Appointed Sheriff of Ontario County, New York, in 1795, he became so impressed with Erie County that he accepted a job as a land agent for the Population Company. Taking up headquarters at Greenfield Township in 1796, Colt intended to establish his settlement in the hills rather than along the densely wooded, swampy, and all but impenetrable lakeshore. So he cut a road from Lake Erie to his quarters, now named "Colt's Station." Soon the road was carrying supplies brought by lake from Buffalo. By 1798 it extended to French Creek, near present-day Greenfield Post Office, where other settlers set up a landing.

By 1800, an eastern road had opened from North East to Wattsburg; an extension from Colt's Station reached Waterford by way of Phillipsville in 1804; and the Station road, from Wesleyville, by way of Colt's Station to Mayville, in 1813. In 1804, Colt moved to Erie and remained there until his death in October 1832, at which time he was the county's largest resident real estate owner.

The growing lacework of unpaved roads through the Erie County woods and swamps turned Colt's Station into the major supply depot for all of northwestern Pennsylvania. The road through to Pittsburgh would carry critical supplies to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who built at Erie the fleet he would lead into the great sea battle with the British in the War of 1812.

Erie never became the great commercial center dreamed of by the Triangle's early investors. It did, however, become an important regional port after the completion of a canal from the Ohio Valley to Lake Erie and arrival of the railroad. In the 1800s, Erie County also became one of the state's important agricultural regions and a producer of iron, paper and printing, and electrical machinery. In 2000 it was the state's leading producer of grapes and cherries.
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