The Origin of the Endless Mountains

Not long ago I started another history piece about Montrose, Pennsylvania, and I wanted to reference the Endless Mountains. Traditionally, this name refers to an area of Northeastern Pennsylvania that comprises the counties of Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming. And it’s not really mountains, as much as endless ridges and valleys.  Elk Mountain, home to a popular ski resort in Susquehanna County, is the region’s highest peak at 2693 feet. That’s a little under 1/11 of Mount Everest to give reader some perspective. Nevertheless, I wasn’t concerned about the area’s geography as much as the origin of the name, Endless Mountains. Was it part of some slick advertising campaign to bring tourism to the region? Or maybe the region had been long given this name?

I began by checking Wikipedia, as we often do for all things under the sky, without luck. But like the excitement at the beginning of a treasure hunt, I had found a clue: the partial picture of a map from 1756 that included the Endless Mountains. So much for slick advertising campaign. Instead, I’d gone back to the colonial period, which certainly surprised me; however, I wondered if I could trace the name back to a person. Wouldn’t it be great to say, so and so, gave the region its name?

As it turns out, I was soon able to find a specific German map from 1750 that included the Endless Mountains at the website of Swann Auction Galleries. But this was only a copy of the original published in 1749 by what the website claims to be the greatest cartographer of the Eighteenth Century, Lewis Evans. The map is entitled A Map of Pennyslvania, New Jersey, New York, and the Three Delaware Counties. It is on this map that Lewis Evans used the Endless Mountains to name a large swath of Northeast Pennsylvania that was mostly uninhabited by colonialists. It might because of these unknown lands that Lewis Evans also included the first geological description of the Endless Mountains, too, that filled some of the empty space on the map. I’d include the description in this piece, but it’s difficult to discern the words. Some believe, too, that this is the first map made of Pennsylvania.

But I had my answer: Lewis Evans gave the Endless Mountains its name.  

Still, I had a hunch there was more, so I headed over to the Library of Congress. Here’s where you can see close-ups of Evans’s original map from 1749. Despite providing excellent detail to some parts of Pennsylvania, Evans couldn’t provide the same detail for the Endless Mountains. I was most intrigued by his mapping—or should I say lack of mapping—of the Susquehanna River. Of course, the town of Great Bend is missing from the map, as we would expect, but the “great bend” in the Susquehanna near present day Great Bend is also missing.

Searching the Library of Congress pointed me to another map made by Lewis Evans that also includes the Endless Mountains. This map, published in 1775, is called A Map of the Middle British Colonies in North America. It became more popular than the Pennsylvania map, and there are many copies online at the Library of Congress, some with hand-coloring. It is tremendous in terms of the breadth of land included, but just like the earlier map of Pennsylvania, Evans has clearly designated Northeast Pennsylvania with the name Endless Mountains.

Lewis Evans is famous for these two maps, but there is a little more to the story. He was born in 1700 in Wales and came to the colonies with a fierce loyalty to colonial interests. When he published his 1755 map, he also published his sentiment that British interests were allowing the French to encroach on the Ohio Valley, which he felt must be protected for colonialist westward expansion. He even suggested treason and collusion at the heart of the matter. It was enough to get the attention of Governor Robert Hunter Morris of Pennsylvania, who had Evans jailed in New York City. Unfortunately, three days after his release from prison in June 1756, he died. I haven’t found a cause a death, but prisons must have been miserable places filled with sickness and disease. 

As a kind of epilogue, it should be noted that Evans, whose wife died in 1754, left behind a daughter, Amelia. For a time, she lived with Lewis’s brother, John, until his death in 1759.  At this time, she ended up in the care of Deborah and Benjamin Franklin. Lewis had been friends with Franklin, and he had even helped him with some of his electricity experiments. They are both buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

4 Replies to “The Origin of the Endless Mountains”

  1. Honestly, we humans can be such size queens. I know there are gigantic mountains out west and overseas, but according to National Geographic, most geologists consider a mountain to be a land mass that rises at least 1,000 feet above the surrounding area. Some of these are probably a little smaller than that, but most meet the technical requirements. The way the land undulates and folds back in and sometimes against itself is fascinating and beautiful, the differences between the ridge and valley region and the the northern plateau . . . I loved Colorado, but why do we scoff and say, “Those aren’t mountains,” instead of just enjoying the tiny mountains for what they are?
    Great background, by the way! But them there is mountains, even if it’s with a small m.
    A non-defensive lover of the Endless Mountains and the Ridge and Valley Region as well. 😊


  2. Do you know anything about the “Great Swamp” under the “..untai..” of the “Endless Mountains” label in the 1775 map? I’ve see it before on other maps of the era. Where was it actually located? Does it still exist, if not what happened to it?


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