Human Population within the 
French Creek Watershed


The population maps included in this section are intended to show shifts and trends in the human occupation of the French Creek Watershed. The data on these maps are from the US Census Bureau, and include the period between 1900 and 2000. The watershed is divided into county subdivisions, which may be cities, towns, or townships. Areas outside the watershed are not included.1

At first glance at the map comparing 1900 and 2000 shows a general result that might be expected: population increase. As a whole, population in the watershed has grown by about 69 percent. The increase is even more striking on the population density map, 1900 versus 2000. The growth of cities and especially their surrounding suburbs is evident, particularly in Meadville and Erie (whose southern suburbs extend to the northern part of the watershed).

Waterways and Highways

It is also interesting to note in the 1900 map how the population centers tend be close to French Creek. Of course, these towns were founded well before 1900 in most cases, and navigable waterways would have provided the best way to transport goods from town to town or downstream to the Allegheny River, and hence to Pittsburgh. Even in the first decade of the 20 th century, this had not significantly changed.

By 2000, the transportation network has shifted dramatically, from rivers and railway lines (which often followed rivers) to roads, and especially modern interstates carving their way across the landscape. Though population density has increased everywhere, the most populated areas occur within 5-8 miles of Interstate 79 (I-79), which was built in the 1960s and mostly complete by 1971.

The shift of population closer to both I-79 and to Meadville and Erie is even more apparent in the population change map. While the areas along the I-79 corridor indicate a large rate of population increase, townships to the east (in more rural areas further from the interstate) show a small drop in population over the last hundred years.

Suburban Growth, Urban Decline

Another point of interest pops out when looking at the population change map: though the area around Meadville—including West Mead Township to the east and Vernon Township to the west—have seen large population increases, population change in the city of Meadville has been much more modest. This is where looking at the data over a 100 year period can disguise important trends.

The graph below illustrates the change in population within the period from 1900-2000 for the greater Meadville area, as defined by three regions: The City of Meadville, and the Townships of Vernon and West Mead.

Based on these data, Meadville’s population peaked in the 1950s and has been declining since then; the 2000 Census reveals fewer residents living in the city than in 1920.

The population change map highlights another area of interest: the eastern portion of Crawford County. Though the City of Titusville is not a part of the French Creek Watershed, and thus we do not show data for it, the decline of the Pennsylvania oil industry shows up in the three eastern townships with decreasing populations since 1900. This effect may also be tangentially related to the decision to route I-79 through Meadville, rather than Titusville.

Effects on the Watershed

The effect of population changes on the French Creek Watershed itself are not a part of these maps. However, human populations and especially development of land resources have a marked effect on any watershed, and certainly on French Creek. Several tributaries in the watershed have been dammed or otherwise changed by human intervention, and the demand on water supplies has increased. Click here to see a map of land use in the watershed.

Recreational use of waterways and lakes within the watershed has also increased, particularly in the Edinboro and Conneaut Lake areas. The following graph shows the increase in population in both of these areas; note how population increase around Conneaut Lake has been centered outside the borough, in Sadsbury Township:

Further Resources

You can download population maps for each decade from 1900 to 2000 here. Also included are maps of population change, population density, and political boundaries.

The data to make these maps comes from the US Census Bureau. Their website has data from all over the country as well as other resources.

Written by Devon C. Stout; posted on website October 2007.

1 For county subdivisions that were partially within the watershed, population within the watershed was assumed to be proportional to the percentage of land area within the watershed.

Subpages (1): Population Maps