Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township

HATT | PO Box 2084 | Pocono Pines, PA 18350-2084

Sullivan’s March blazed trail through plateau

By Chris Reber
Pocono Record Writer

A new historical marker in Tobyhanna Township will commemorate the Sullivan Expedition, and the first road built into the Pocono Mountains by American soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Monroe County commissioners today will dedicate the marker at "Hungry Hill," named for the tough conditions soldiers faced while building the road.

Kenn Anderson, a historian who has studied the Sullivan Expedition extensively, will appear as Gen. John Sullivan himself.

The marker commemorates the Sullivan Expedition and the 500 soldiers who preceded it, carving a road through the "great swamp" that was the Pocono Pines area at the time.

"The real difficulties and significance came from the road building," said Rick Bodenschatz, president of the Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township. "Hungry Hill memorializes all of that, not just the unknown soldier, not just the march, but everything that preceded that."

Spruced up

The county-owned monument was in a state of disrepair when the project's organizer, Bill Mullen, came across it about nine years ago. He and his wife, helped by a dedicated group of local historians, have gradually worked to restore a small park around the mid-1900s stone marker on the site.

"I started eight years ago working on it as kind of a thing to give back, and kept dreaming about it," Mullen said.

Mullen found that the site was owned by Monroe County. He appeared before the commissioners, asking them and the community for support and raised enough to restore the property, with some of the money coming from the county's hotel tax revenue.

"We got the walls redone, the landscaping redone. And (today) at 8:15 I'll wake up and the dream is over, it's finished. We put up the historic monument, and we give it to the community."

The marker at the center of the memorial was built in 1943. But records show that the grave site was intact in the mid-1800s, with an iron rail around it, Bodenschatz said, and members of the Grand Army of the Republic, an early American veterans group, had ceremonies there.

The name Hungry Hill was given to the area by the troops who built the road for Sullivan's forces to travel. Sullivan's mission was to eliminate the threat of Iroquois tribes who had allied themselves with the British Army. The expedition destroyed Iroquois villages and crops, as ordered by Gen. George Washington.

"Sullivan did some things that were glorious," Anderson said. "But I don't try to hide it, he did some things that were terrible to the Iroquois."

Four weeks to build

In 1779, the roads in the area only went as far as Tannersville, Bodenschatz said.

Over the course of about a month in the spring of 1779, the troops built a 28-mile road climbing onto the Pocono Plateau, then traversing the area of Tobyhanna Township, which officers called "the great swamp," and eventually leading to the Wyoming Valley and Wilkes-Barre.

"He got two regiments, 500 men, to come up and build the road. It took them almost four weeks," Bodenschatz said. "Today you couldn't even get the forms from the EPA in four weeks."

The soldiers were ill-equipped to deal with the late spring. They had little food available as they built the "corduroy road" — logs laid in the swamp and topped with earth — across the area now known as Tobyhanna Township.

"There were a couple days where they could not work at all because they didn't have the energy," Bodenschatz said. "How do you make a meal out of bark?"

Opened up the Poconos

Sullivan himself wanted to spend as little time as possible in the swamp, Bodenschatz said. Considering many were on foot, they covered the trip from Easton to the Wyoming Valley at a blistering pace, in just five days in June 1779.

After the war, the first American settlers on the Pocono Plateau used the road to access the area.

"Really, you could say Sullivan opened the Pocono Mountains to commerce and settlement after the war," Anderson said. "He really paved the way."