Looking Back: Farming in Jefferson County

Jefferson County Historical Society submitted the following article:

[Pictured above: Today, the Jefferson County Long Rifles rendezvous on the land once farmed by Solomon Heriger. (Courtesy of the Jefferson County Long Rifles website)]

Submitted by Carole Briggs:


During the Great Depression, many farmers had been forced to turn to other work and gradually over the last half of the 20th century, the number of farms decreased. By 2002, the 2,567 farms and 154,636 acres of farmland of 1880 were reduced to 548 farms and 86,899 acres. However, thanks to improved farming methods, each acre earned about 33% more.

Jefferson County is home to some farms that have remained in the same family for more than a century.

In 1988, Jean Harriger documented 46 of them in a small book, The Century Farms of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. She included the original acquisition of the land she lived on, ownership changes over time, and finally the repurchasing by various family members, an illustration of how historical events and physical attachment to “place” impact land ownership and use.

Solomon Heriger purchased 145 acres in Knox Township in 1853, and when his four sons became adults, Joseph D. received 44 acres. He, in turn, gave 27 acres to his son, William H., whose son, Russell or “Hap” purchased the 27 acres in 1963 Russell and his wife, Jean, then bought an additional 75 acres that was in the original 145 acres and other family members purchased other parcels. Now called Harriger Hollow, the original 145 acres have grown to about 1,1000 acres owned by Solomon Heriger’s descendants.

Fewer than one hundred acres remain cleared. No longer farmed, the rest has returned to forest and is used for hunting. The Jefferson County Longrifles lease six acres of the Russell Harriger property for their club headquarters and shooting facilities. Of an interesting note, this leased land is the same land Solomon Heriger purchased in 1853.

Half of those 548 farms are farmed by full-time farmers, and a handful of them are larger than 500 acres. The others do what is termed “niche” farming, agriculture aimed at specific markets and often farming that is tied to the increasing awareness of consumers. These farmers show up at local farm markets or make weekly deliveries to “pick-up locations” where people get a week’s supply of fresh produce and other products. Or they raise specialty crops like blueberries, Christmas trees, maple syrup, honey, herbs, pumpkins, or animals like alpacas!
Jefferson County farmers, like farmers all over the country, have adjusted over the years to the demands of the consumer and to the pressures of the marketplace. In today’s world of increasing energy costs, local farmers will continue to do that.

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