The Family of Moses & Mary Thompson

The Thompson family plays a crucial role in the history of Centre County.  Their involvement in the iron industry through Centre Furnace all the way to their participation in the foundation of the Farmers’ high school has earned them a prominent position in our county’s history.  The Thompson’s story is best told through the display at the Centre Furnace Mansion.  These exhibits have been made possible through a large variety of donations of furniture, documents, and other pieces of history from many Thompson family descendants.  

The Thompson family’s involvement in the growth and development of Centre County goes back to Moses Thompson.  He began his involvement with Centre Furnace in 1842.  Moses and his wife, Mary Irvin, moved into Centre Furnace Mansion in April of that year.  When Moses started he had just 1/6th interest in Centre Furnace; however, he had become the sole owner of Centre Furnace by 1865.  

Mary Irvin Thompson portrait by Jean Gri

Moses Thompson & Mary Irvin Thompson

Additional Resources

Moses Thompson was also an important figure in 1855 when Pennsylvania was looking for a place to build a Farmers’ High School.  Many areas were competing to build the school on their land, but Centre County won because of James Irvin’s offer of 200 acres of Centre Furnace land, as well as the promise to sell 200 acres more at a reasonable price.  Mary Irvin Thompson has become famous for hosting one hundred and fifty people in her home at a dinner where the trustees examined this deal.


After the school’s foundation, Moses Thompson served as secretary to the Board of the Farmers High School from 1859-1865.  Later from 1867-1874, he served as treasurer for the school.  In time this Farmers’ High School would evolve into the Pennsylvania State University.  

Mary Irvin was born May 3, 1812, in Linden Hall; she was the younger sister of James Irvin.  On January 4, 1838 she married Moses Thompson, and with him had eight children (six of whom lived to adulthood). She was well known as a gracious hostess, and probably was the primary decorator of the Centre Furnace Mansion — the oasis in the middle of industrial Centre Furnace Village. Mary died August 22, 1890 at age 78 years. Moses and Mary Thompson had eight children, six of whom survived beyond childhood.

Sarah Irvin (July 4, 1839 – February 20, 1887) married Dr. Theodore Christ, a surgeon and Civil War veteran originally from Union County, in 1871 and had four children: Mary Thompson, Hester, Mary Irvin, and Theodore.  

Elizabeth Thompson (February 14, 1841 – November 6, 1915) married John Hamilton.  He was a Civil War veteran and was active in the Centre County Veterans’ Club.  After attending what was then the Agricultural College, Hamilton served as Superintendent of Students’ Labors and later as the Treasurer for the Pennsylvania State College.  He was also a well-known lecturer on agricultural techniques.  He lived with his wife at a property that became known as the Highlands.  Elizabeth Thompson and John Hamilton had three children: Mary, John McDowell, and Anne Thompson.  Anne Thompson went on to marry Joseph Henszey. 

John Irvin (October 11, 1843 – November 17, 1916) John was in the first class of students to enter the Farmers High School in 1859.  In 1863 he left school to enlist in the Union Army under the command of Capt. John Boal. He was married on October 12, 1870 to Elizabeth Boal, Capt. John's sister. He left his mark on the town of Lemont, naming the town, building the Granary (under restoration by the Lemont Village Association), and founding a bank, among other ventures. They had five children: Mary Irvin, Helen, George, Elizabeth Boal, and Charles.  

William Thompson (July 22, 1848 – February 22, 1912) married in 1874 to Anna Elliott of Lewisburg. When Moses died in 1891, he left the Furnace Farms and the Centre Furnace Mansion to William. William and Anna and their children, Wayne, Irvin Preston, Edith, Mabel, and John Elliot, lived in the Mansion until his death in 1912.  Upon the death of William, his family moved out of Centre County, possibly to New York or Massachusetts.  William’s son, John Elliot, married Mary Casey.  Read more about life at Centre Furnace during the 1890's HERE.

William Thompson Family.tif

Left: Children of William and Anna Elliot Thompson

Right: William and Anna with children and grandchildren in 1911.

Ann Eliza (July 6, 1850 – December 2, 1905) died at age 55 years 4 months. Not much is known about Ann other than she was single and lived with family members.

James Irvin Thompson married Mary Jane "Jennie" Irvin Shaw of Curwensville on October 15, 1890. They lived in a large house across Thompson Run from the Centre Furnace Mansion. It is still there today, serving as the office for Dante's Restaurants.  They had three children: Mary Irvin, Hilda Patton, and Alice Irvin.  Mary Irvin married Charles Thomas-Stahle in 1912. 


The Mansion became home to a series of renters until it was purchased by Professor Garver a few years later.  It remained a private residence, possibly with some renters in an apartment, until it was donated to the Centre County Historical Society in 1978 upon the death of its owner, David Garver.  

2017.19 Oil portrait of Elizabeth Thomps

Above Left: Elizabeth Thompson Hamilton with daughter Anne. Above Right: John Hamilton

Below: The Hamilton home on Locust Lane


James I. Thompson (right), John I. Thompson (left) and his wife, Elizabeth Boal Thompson, and the children, George Boal Thompson, Helen Thompson Sellers, Charles M. Thompson, Elizabeth Boal Thompson Crossman, and Mary Irvin Thompson Shatter.