THE CENTRE REGION
College, Ferguson, Halfmoon, Harris, Patton Townships
State College Borough
- College Township was the last of the Centre Region townships to be established. It was created from parts of Benner and Harris Townships in 1875 to reflect the successful establishment of the Agricultural College, now Penn State, on former Centre Furnace Iron Company lands. The furnace operation dominated the area from the 1790s until well into the 19th century, with most settlers either employed in ironmaking or in farming. In addition to the families of ironmasters Patton, Miles, Thompson, and Irvin, other early settlers were the Moores, Housers, Whitehills and Dales. Lemont, at the foot of Mount Nittany and the intersection of Nittany and Penns Valleys, along with Houserville, and Oak Hall became the principal communities in the Township.
- Ferguson Township was one of two townships formed by the new Centre County in 1801. (Spring Township was the other.) Originally a farming area populated largely by Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German settlers, it was named for Thomas Ferguson, an early settler and landowner who arrived here in 1791. Ferguson sold lots at the base of Tussey Mountain in the area that became the village of Pine Grove Mills, and built the first of several mills that gave the village its name. Tussey Furnace operated nearby for a few years early in the 19th century, and the Gatesburg area was the source of iron ore. Baileyville and Rock Springs are still surrounded by the fertile farmland of this Ridge and Valley region of Centre County.
- Halfmoon Township, settled in 1784, was formally erected in 1802. It is said to trail that was located at the base of Bald Eagle Ridge. In 1784 Abraham Elder arrived from Burnt Cabins to become the first settler. He built a home and later a saw mill, grist mill, and tavern. The NE-SW road through Halfmoon Township was reportedly laid out in 1791, near where Elder’s and other farms were being located in the valley and must have been in place by 1792 when iron began to be shipped west to Pittsburgh. Originally, the whole east end of the township was known as Elders. It was named for the tavern owned by enterprising Abraham Elder and served as a stopping place for iron haulers. George Wilson began a migration of Quakers from Chester County in 1792. Among them were the families of Way, Moore, Taylor, Fisher, and others. Most early residents were farmers who sold their produce to nearby towns such as Tyrone, Philipsburg, and Centre Furnace. Late in the nineteenth century, some iron mining operations took place at Tow Hill at about the same time that Andrew Carnegie began his iron mining operation at Scotia in nearby Patton Township.
- Harris Township was formed in April, 1835, from parts of Ferguson, Spring, and Potter Townships. It was named for James Harris, an early surveyor and one of the founders of Bellefonte. Located in the south central part of the county, Tussey Mountain serves as its eastern border, and its southern border adjoins Huntingdon County. Boalsburg, located at crossroads leading to Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, became its principal village. Linden Hall served as a shipping point for timber cut in the Bear Meadows area, and the Shingletown area provided wood for charcoal for the early iron industry. Harris Township was reduced to its present-day size in 1875, when College Township was cut out of it.
- Patton Township, formed in 1794 as a part of Mifflin County, was named for Centre Furnace ironmaster John Patton. He and his partner Samuel Miles had acquired vast tracts of land to open their charcoal ironmaking operation at Centre Furnace at the end of the 18th century. Approximately one hundred years later, Andrew Carnegie acquired some of the original Patton/Miles land to open the iron mining village of Scotia in the area known as the Barrens. Scotia was in operation into the twentieth century. Henry Hartsock, one of the townships early settlers and one of Centre County’s first abolitionists, is credited with having assisted runaway slaves through Buffalo Run Valley on their way north to Canada and freedom.
- State College Borough grew from a small assemblage of homes located across the road from the main building of the Farmers High School, established in 1855, into a town large enough to warrant incorporation in 1896. When the first president, Dr Evan Pugh, arrived in 1859, he found a school consisting of only 119 students, a faculty of four, and the original Old Main still under construction. In 1862 the school was renamed the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, and five years later it was designated as Pennsylvania’s land-grant college. By 1874 the name had changed again, this time to become the Pennsylvania State College.Businesses opened along College Avenue to serve the needs of a growing student body and college personnel. Rooming and boarding houses initially provided housing for both students and faculty, but within a decade several subdivisions were developed to meet the needs of a growing community. By the 1920s large and elaborate fraternities were added, as were a wide variety of early 20th-century single family homes, some designed by area architects, some chosen from pattern books, and many selected from a variety of styles offered in mail-order catalogs. State College, despite its comparative youth, has grown to be the largest community in Centre County, and Penn State has evolved from a little wilderness farm school into the largest university in the Commonwealth and one of the largest in the nation.
PENNS VALLEY REGION
Gregg, Haines, Miles, Penn, and Potter Townships
Boroughs of Centre Hall and Millheim
- Gregg Township was created in 1826 from parts of Potter, Miles, and Haines Township. It was named for the Hon. Andrew Gregg (1755-1835), a member of the Congress from 1791-1807, and United States Senator from 1807-1813. His portrait hangs in the U.S. Senate Gallery, the only Centre Countian so honored. Gregg Township was part of the Great Springs tract that had been surveyed and patented to Reuben Haines of Philadelphia in 1776. Spring Mills, at the confluence of Sinking Creek and Penns Creek represented the westernmost point of his land, and the terminus of his road into Penns Valley. The largest community and market center for this agricultural township, in 1883 Spring Mills became a resort town destination point for the Lewisburg and Tyrone Railroad; Rising Springs became the name of the railroad station.
- Haines Township, already a township when Centre County was formed in 1800, it was named for Philadelphia land speculator Reuben Haines. In order to sell land in East Penns Valley, Haines had a road built at his own expense in 1771 that extended from the Sunbury-Lewisburg area through the Woodward Narrows to the approximate location of Spring Mills, the earliest road built in what would become Centre County. The Woodward Inn served as an overnight stopping place along this road. Aaronsburg, located near the geographic center of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1786 by another Philadelphia land speculator, Aaron Levy, and is the township’s and Centre County’s oldest town. Levy laid it out in a grid pattern of alternating streets and alleys with a wide central street, broadening into Aaron Square in its center. Surrounded by fertile farmland, it developed into a bustling commercial post village.
- Miles Township, (1797) was named for Colonel Samuel Miles, a Revolutionary War officer, founder of Centre Furnace, and mayor of Philadelphia when it became the nation’s capital in 1791. Miles began acquiring land in Brush Valley as early as 1772; twenty years later he held warrants for 7000 acres. Nestled in a long and narrow valley between mountain ridges, Miles Township’s rich agricultural land and nearby water supply encouraged early development by German settlers from southeastern Pennsylvania. They were aided in their settlement by the early road that Miles built through Brush Valley, extending from Union County to present-day Centre Hall. Rebersburg and Madisonburg became the largest communities in the Township.
- Penn Township was formed in November, 1844 out of the western part of Haines Township and a portion of Gregg Township. Penn is bounded by Mifflin County on the south, and Brush Mountain on the North. The area is populated largely by German families who came in early and have made farming the major industry of the region, although a brisk lumbering trade also is important to the area’s history. The largest village, Coburn, was originally called The Forks because of its location at the confluence of Penns and Pine Creeks. Early settlers used the creeks to carry farm and lumber products on rafts to markets downstream, and later, after the founding of the Lewisburg, Centre, and Tyrone Railroad, Coburn became a distribution center for the
- Potter Township, the oldest in the County, was first settled in 1767 and incorporated by Northumberland County in 1774. It was named for General James Potter of Revolutionary War fame, who first saw his Penns Valley “empire” in 1765 from atop Nittany Mountain at the crest between Pleasant Gap and Centre Hall. In the early 1770s he returned to the site of his explorations, began to acquire land, and built a home. He erected a stockade around his house and a nearby spring at Old Fort, making it the anchor of a chain of three forts at the foot of Nittany Mountain for defense against Indians. In the 1780s he built a log house, tavern, grist mill, and saw mill at what became known as Potter’s Mills, at the northern end of the gap through the Seven Mountains along the early road that connected Bellefonte and Lewistown.
- Centre Hall Borough, at the intersection of two early roads, has served for more than 150 years as the market center for the farming communities that are located in richly agricultural Brush and Penns Valleys. The Grange, an organization promoting farming and farm life, formed a local chapter in 1873 under the leadership of Centre Hall area farmer Leonard Rhone. A year later the first Grange Fair was held. It started as a basket picnic in Leech Woods west of town, and has evolved into the annually held Grange Fair and Encampment, the oldest of its kind in the country. The Centre Hall Hotel was built in 1847. The Lewisburg and Tyrone Railroad, later acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad system, brought its passenger service into Centre Hall in 1884.
- Millheim Borough, the Town of Mills, began in the 1770s when Jacob Hubler built a gristmill and sawmill along the banks of Elk Creek, the first of many mills to flourish there. The importance of the town was further enhanced by being at the junction of four roads, one out of Brush Valley, one from Union County, another from Mifflin County, and the other from the west. By the 1870s Millheim had become the industrial, commercial, and residential center of Penns Valley with thirteen mercantile establishments and twelve major industries including new mills, two foundry and machine shops, two tanneries, a cement/lime kiln, and a chair factory. Two large hotels were added (one of them at the site of the current Millheim hotel), and the Lewisburg, Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad connected Millheim to the area and beyond. A large hosiery mill and a silk mill continued into the 20th century.
Benner, Marion, Spring, and Walker Townships
- Benner Township was incorporated out of Spring Township in 1853. It lies west of Bellefonte and spans an area between Muncy Mountain and Nittany Mountain, with Valley View Road and Buffalo Run Road traversing the valley between the two mountains. It was named for General Philip Benner who built an iron business along Spring Creek at Rock in 1793. Known as one of the richest and most influential of Pennsylvania’s early ironmasters, Benner came to this wilderness area in 1793 with 100 ironworkers from Chester County. During the next seven years, he built two forges, a furnace, a rolling mill, nail factory, gristmill, and a sawmill. Benner shipped his high quality iron made at Rock to Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and New Orleans; in 1815 inventor Eli Whitney described it as “some of the best in the world.”
- Marion Township was formed in 1840 when Walker Township was divided into two parts along Sandy Ridge. The northern part between Sandy Ridge and Muncy Mountain was named Marion in honor of General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the Revolutionary War. Jacksonville is the only village in the township. It was located at the intersection of the main road through Howard Gap and along a 1790s road between Bellefonte and Lock Haven that ran through the village. The Township, once mined for iron ore, has been and continues to be a major source of limestone.
- Walker Township, founded in 1810 and named in honor of Centre County Judge Jonathan H. Walker, is in the central part of Nittany Valley. Extending from the villages of Zion to the west and Nittany to the east, its largest community is Hublersburg. Scotch-Irish and German settlers used the land mainly for farming, with timbering and the smelting of iron at Hecla Furnace other important industries. The Central Railroad of Pennsylvania traversed Walker Township and linked Centre with Clinton County and the New York Central Railroad.
- Spring Township, named for the Big Spring which also gave its name to Bellefonte, was created in 1801, a year after the County was formed. With an abundance of excellent quality iron ore and limestone, a supply of hardwood for making charcoal, and the fast moving waters of the Logan Branch of Spring Creek for power, Spring Township became an important center for Centre County’s ironmaking. John Dunlop put the Bellefonte Forge into operation on Logan Branch in 1797 and began construction of Logan Furnace a few miles further downstream. The two operations were expanded in 1814 and renamed the Valentine & Thomas Ironworks, for new owners originally from Chester County. In slightly more than a decade this combined operation was producing as much iron as all of the other county furnaces combined. Blue Spring, near the Spring Township community of Pleasant Gap, is the origin of Logan Branch. In 1829 Harvey Mann began an axe-making operation along Logan Branch atBoiling Spring. Iron from nearby furnaces and forges were within a mile either way of his factory, and Logan Branch supplied the water needed for trip hammers. In its heyday, the plant at Axemann made single and double billed axes and employed 50 men, turning out 350 axes a day.
- Bellefonte Borough’s advantageous location on Spring Creek and near the principal water gap leading into the Nittany Valley favored the town’s development as a center of industry and commerce. The Big Spring was, according to local legend, the origin of the town’s name – Beautiful Fountain – given by exiled French statesman Talleyrand when he visited the area in 1794-95. James Harris and James Dunlop laid Bellefonte out in a Philadelphia-style grid pattern with the main intersection widened into a market diamond. The County Courthouse became the diamond’s architectural centerpoint. Early Georgian-style stone houses were built close together and close to the street. When Bellefonte grew in wealth, political prestige, and population, particularly during the 1860s to 1880s, new residential neighborhoods and commercial buildings were designed in a cosmopolitan range of the latest in Victorian architectural styles. Bellefonte was for many years the pivot of central Pennsylvania politics; its prominence is evidenced by its having been the home to three Pennsylvania governors, with two others having had Bellefonte associations.
BALD EAGLE VALLEY AND THE ALLEGHENY PLATEAU
Boggs, Burnside, Curtin, Howard, Huston, Liberty, Rush, Snow Shoe, Taylor, Union, Worth Townships
Howard, Milesburg, Philipsburg, Port Matilda, South Philipsburg, Snow Shoe, Unionville Boroughs
- Boggs Township, created in 1814 out of part of Spring Township, was named for Andrew Boggs, the first white settler in what is now Centre County. He lived near present-day Milesburg, along Bald Eagle Creek at its junction with Spring Creek. The township was the location of two large early ironmaking operations: Milesburg Iron Works, built in 1795 by Samuel and Joseph Miles and Joseph Green; and the Eagle Iron Works, started as a forge in 1810 by Roland Curtin. Iron products were at first precariously floated on arks down the Bald Eagle Creek to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and later shipped by canal via the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Co., providing a safer and cheaper means of transporting iron to Baltimore and other eastern markets.
- Burnside Township is, with Snow Shoe Township, one of the Mountaintop sister townships on the Appalachian Plateau in the northwestern corner of Centre County. It was named for Judge Thomas Burnside (1782-1857). Originally part of Snow Shoe Township, it became a separate political entity in 1856. Pine Glen is its principal village. With more than 55,000 acres, Burnside Township occupies the northernmost part of Centre County. Tremendous stands of fine timber attracted early settlers, where first lumbering and then coal provided economic incentives.
- Curtin Township was created in 1857 and named in honor of the Roland Curtin family of the Eagle Iron Works. The northern part of Curtin Township extends deep into the Allegheny Mountains, one of the wildest areas of central Pennsylvania. The village of Orviston, named for its founder, was established by Judge Ellis L. Orvis in 1905 to manufacture bricks from nearby clay deposits. The brick refractories were in operation until 1962. The only other village in the Township is Romola, a farming community at the southern border, a few miles northwest of Howard.
- Howard Township was incorporated in 1810 and named in honor of the English Quaker John Howard. A pacifist, he devoted his life during the Revolutionary War era to caring for soldiers in hospitals and prisoners of war and their families. The Township was formed by cutting Centre Township, located on both sides of Bald Eagle Ridge, into two parts at the crest: Howard to the North and Walker to the south. Centre Township then ceased to exist. Howard Borough is the main town in Howard Township, Mount Eagle is the only other community, both located along Bald Eagle Valley’s historically important transportation corridor.
- Huston Township, created in 1838 from the northern part of Patton Township, extends from the top of Muncy Mountain across the Bald Eagle Valley to the crest of the Alleghenies. It is named in honor of Charles Huston, a Centre County judge who later sat as a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Most activity has centered in the valley where the Bald Eagle Creek, the railroad tracks, and Route 220 run side-by-side throughout the Township. Martha in the west and Julian in the east are the only villages. Each began as an iron furnace community.
- Liberty Township is at the northeastern edge of Centre County, separated from Clinton County on the east by Beech Creek. Formed in 1845, the southern part of Liberty Township is in Bald Eagle Valley, the northern part is in Marsh Creek Valley. The discovery of nearby clay deposits suitable for making brick resulted in the founding of the village of Monument in 1903, and for fifty years it was a center for brickmaking. Two other communities, Blanchard and Eagleville, are in the southeastern corner of the Township, on opposite sides of the Bald Eagle Creek.
- Rush Township, Centre County’s largest township, was formed in April, 1815 and named for Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, a famous physician of Revolutionary War days and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Township lies entirely in the Allegheny Mountains. Its major settlement is Philipsburg Borough at the western border, adjoining Clearfield County. A number of small villages lie along a road south to Route 220 and Tyrone; Sandy Ridge is the largest. In earlier days a Pennsylvania Railroad branch line carried coal, timber, and refractory products along this route, to join the Bald Eagle Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Vail. The Black Moshannon Airport and State Park occupy the eastern end of Rush Township. Clearfield County and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River mark the Township’s western border.
- Snow Shoe Township, in the northwestern corner of Centre County, was created in 1840 from parts of Boggs and Rush Townships. While there is no positive evidence of the origin of its name, most existing legends connect it with an Indian snow shoe hanging on a local tree, found by early settlers. The Great Shamokin Path, a main Native American east-west trail, is known to have crossed through what would become Snow Shoe Township. Snow Shoe and its sister township, Burnside, represent the area in Centre County known as the Mountaintop and together cover nearly 110,000 acres, more than 1/7th of the county’s total land area. The two townships were rich in timber stands, coal, clay, and wild game – all enticements in their early settlement and development. Communities within Snow Shoe Township include Clarence, Moshannon, and Snow Shoe Borough.
- Taylor Township, partly in the rugged foothills of the Allegheny Plateau, was formed in 1845 out of Halfmoon Township. Nineteenth century county historian John Blair Linn described the area as particularly attractive to hunters because, “At the time and for years after deer, bears, wolves, panthers, and wild cats were numerous. On a foggy or cloudy day the wolves could be heard howling for two hours before night.” Hannah Furnace, built in 1830, was an ironmaking operation until 1850; the Taylor Township community of Hannah took its name from the furnace.
- Union Township was formed in 1850 from Boggs Township, but settlers had begun to arrive in this part of the Bald Eagle Valley well in advance. The first to settle was Thomas Parsons and his family. They came in 1770 from Maryland, just a year after Andrew Boggs had settled along Bald Eagle Creek in what would become Milesburg. A steady migration into the valley was underway by 1800 and included William Fisher, the first of a large group of Chester County Quakers who established themselves in Union Township. Eastern settlers took advantage of the Philadelphia and Erie Turnpike in reaching this part of Centre County. This early road passed along the valley to Unionville, and then headed in a northwesterly direction to Philipsburg. Later a series of switchbacks were built in Union Township for the Snow Shoe Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad in order to allow trains to climb the steep mountainous grade to reach Snow Shoe Township’s coal supply.
- Worth Township received its name when it was formed out of Taylor Township in 1845. It lies near the western edge of the County between Halfmoon and Taylor Townships, and along the Bald Eagle Valley. Port Matilda is the only community in the Township. While settlers arrived in the valley along Bald Eagle Creek in the 1780s, the mostly mountainous part of Worth Township has been especially noteworthy for hunting, timbering, tanning, and brickmaking.
- Howard Borough’s first settler, William Tipton, was a millwright and keel boat operator who built his house along Bald Eagle Creek in 1800. Following his lead, other settlement and industrial development began to occur along the Creek which provided power not only for a gristmill, but also for the Howard Iron Works and the Howard Brick Company. Bald Eagle Creek served as the location and gave the community early access to the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Company canal system, in operation by 1837. Beginning in the 1860s and for a century the Pennsylvania Railroad served Howard, helping to sustain it as an agricultural, commercial, and industrial center in the Bald Eagle Valley. Since the early 1960s the Bald Eagle Creek has served Howard in another way, as the water corridor for the John Foster Sayers dam and recreational lake.
- Milesburg Borough was founded in 1793 by Colonel Samuel Miles, a Revolutionary War officer, land speculator, early mayor of Philadelphia, and part owner of Centre Furnace Iron Works. Colonel Miles, recognizing Milesburg’s ideal location at the watergap junction of Bald Eagle and Spring Creeks, put the Milesburg Ironworks into operation in 1795 where he forged Centre Furnace pig iron into a transportable and marketable form. Given its navigational advantage, Milesburg entered the competition with Bellefonte in 1800 to become the county seat, but according to county historian John Blair Linn, Milesburg lost when, “The proprietors of Bellefonte were spurred to a more than ordinary effort” by attaching a team to a flatboat, dragging the boat up Spring Creek, and then attesting that the first boat of the season had arrived in Bellefonte. Later the two communities were connected by the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Co. Portions of the canal and the ironmaking site that gave Milesburg its prosperity are still evident.
- Philipsburg Borough, at Centre County’s western edge where it abuts the Clearfield County line, is the largest community in the Allegheny Mountains’ Moshannon Valley. It was laid out by Englishmen Henry and James Philips in 1797, and prospered under the leadership of their younger brother, Hardman. Since an actual road to Philipsburg was not built until 1801, the first group of settlers apparently traveled from Milesburg over an early Native American route known as Bald Eagle’s Path. In addition to its associations with lumber and coal mining, Philipsburg was also home for the celebrated wood-screw mill, built by Philips in 1821 and the first of its kind in the United States. In 1828 Philips and Dr. John Plumbe built Plumbe Forge on Six Mile Run to supply iron for the screw factory and other enterprises. Pig iron for the forge was hauled over the mountain from Bald Eagle Valley; the forged iron was then hauled to Alexandria and Petersburg in Huntingdon County to be shipped elsewhere on the Pennsylvania Canal.
- South Philipsburg is located along the eastern bank of the Moshannon Creek, on the Centre-Clearfield County line. Like its neighbor Philipsburg, to the north, it was established on part of the vast tract of land that the Philips brothers acquired in the 1790s, land that extended beyond Centre County into Clearfield and Cambria Counties. Coal mining and lumbering became South Philipsburg’s main industries. The Clearfield and Tyrone Railroad, and a branch road to Morrisdale in Clinton County, served as transportation and communication links with neighboring towns.
- Unionville Borough was laid out in 1848 by William Underwood, a Bellefonte carriage maker. Originally from York County and a Quaker, Underwood moved to Unionville where he operated a gristmill, large lumber mill, managed a store, and for a few years served as the community’s only doctor. Other members of the Society of Friends joined Underwood in the 1840s, making Unionville a major Quaker settlement. The Bald Eagle Valley had been an important lumbering area before 1848 with lumber camps providing charcoal for nearby iron furnaces. Unionville was excellently situated at the junction of the Old Plank Road (now Rt. 220) along the foothills of the Allegheny Front; the Rattlesnake Pike/Philadelphia-Erie Turnpike (Rt. 504) westward over the front; and along Bald Eagle Creek and DeWitt Run. The Tyrone and Lock Haven Railroad, completed in 1864, enhanced Unionville’s role as an agricultural and trade center, and provided passenger service until after World War II.
- Port Matilda Borough was laid out by Squire Clement Beckwith in 1850 and named in honor of his daughter, Matilda. Why he chose to call it Port Matilda is not clear, but it may have reflected his hope that the town would eventually be connected to the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal. While the canal did not reach Port Matilda, the Bald Eagle Railroad did, and the community became a market center in the Bald Eagle Valley for agricultural and lumber products.
- Snow Shoe Borough experienced rapid growth with the discovery of coal in Snow Shoe Township. When the Bellefonte and Snow Shoe Railroad came into this area in 1859, it not only built tracks to service the coal mines, but also established hotels and other businesses, provided new housing, and accumulated vast tracts of land for lumbering. In 1881 the railroad and property holdings were sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad and their coal interests to Berwind White Co. In 1885 the Lehigh Valley Coal Company took over Berwind White’s coal lands and became the area’s prime employer for the next 65 to 70 years. Reflecting a diminishing role nationwide, the Pennsylvania Railroad abandoned its entire line here in 1959.