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Centre County Pennsylvania




Centre County Courthouse is located at 420 Holmes Street, Bellefonte PA 16823; phone: 814-355-6700.

Centre County Courthouse, Bellefonte Borough, Pennsylvania

A Brief History [1]

The Map of the State of Pennsylvania, from the surveys in the year 1796, shows the area, which was later included in the erection of Centre County, as being part of both Mifflin and Northumberland Counties, The only town shown in this area at that time was Aaronsburg, located in what is now Haines township.

Northumberland County embraced nearly one-third of the entire area of the state, north of the center, to the present New York State line, bounded on the east by Luzerne, and on the west by Allegheny Counties.

From this area Centre County was erected on February 19, 1800, from parts of Mifflin, Northumberland, Huntingdon and Lycoming Counties (Lycoming having been erected April 13, 1795, but not surveyed).

The name Centre was given because of its geographical location, being the central area of the state.

Captain James Potter was the first white man to reconnoiter in this area, supposedly to plan a defense through the mountains south of the Susquehanna river. He came to or near the place where Bellefonte now stands in the year 1759.

The first settler to emigrate to this area was Andrew Boggs, who settled upon the Joseph Poultney warranty in 1769, near the junction of Spring and Bald Eagle creeks.

Centre County's first official surveys are recorded as the "Manor of Succoth," surveyed by William Maclay September 22, 1776, and the "Manor of Nottingham" some days later. Some earlier surveys known as the "Officers Surveys" are recorded as being made in 1769, Beech Creek to Bald Eagles' Nest (Milesburg).

The first road to enter Centre County area was built by Reuben Haines, who owned all the land in the valley from the present site of Woodward to Spring Mills. This road extended through the eastern section from Northumberland bridge on the Susquehanna River, and became part of the chain of stage coach roads, or turnpikes, which served Centre County later, joining the Lewistown Pike at Earleystown, thence to Bellefonte, Milesburg, Unionville, Philipsburg and Erie. These turnpikes should not be confused with some of the earlier so-called "State Roads" which in some instances were merely pack-mule trails such as the one from "Bald Eagles Nest" (Milesburg) to Philipsburg opened and extended in 1799 which was discarded a few years later as being unsuitable and impracticable for stage purposes.

Early taverns along these routes are of exceeding interest, and should be recorded here. In 1828 we have record of "The Narrows," operated by Henry Roushe, W. T. Browns at Aaronsburg, John Rankins at Bellefonte, The Black Horse Tavern at Milesburg, Benjamin Lucas on the Rattlesnake, Thomas Craddock at Antes (now Black Moshannon Lake) and Charles Simler at Philipsburg. There were others but these are mentioned because of their location along the main United States mail route through Centre County.

Centre County is classified as an agricultural country, but equally important were its iron forges, coal mining (bituminous), brick manufacturing, tan bark and leather. Its lime and limestone products equal or surpass most others in the state.

Some of the early forges or furnaces are as follows: Centre Furnace on Spring Creek erected by John Patton and Samuel Miles in 1791. Rock Forge and Slitting Mill on Spring Creek erected by Philip Benner in 1793. Spring Creek Forge on Spring Creek by Daniel Turner in 1795. Bellefonte Forge on Spring Creek by John Dunlap in 1795. Logan Iron Works on Spring Creek by John Dunlap in 1798, and Spring Furnace on Spring Creek by Philip Benner in 1800, with others scattered throughout the county.

  1. Marks, William E., Biographical Survey, Centre County, 1941

As these forges of early days, and the production of limestone abounded in the vicinity of Bellefonte, so the coal mining and brick manufacturing prevailed in the mountain area, on the plateau known as "Moshannon" coal, which is now rapidly being exhausted. Fire clay, from which bricks are made, is abundant from Sandy Ridge on the extreme west, to Snow Shoe and Clarence on the northern border.

In this western area some attempt was made at iron forging about 1828 by Dr. John Plumbe, who built a forge on Six Mile Run. The pig iron used was hauled over the mountain from the Julian, Martha and Hannah furnaces in the Bald Eagle Valley, the forged iron then hauled to Alexandria and Petersburg in Huntingdon County to be shipped elsewhere on the canal. *This was soon abandoned because of continued financial loss, and remained as one of the few attempts at forging in the mountain area.

One of the outstanding contributions to the history of Centre County was the erection of the first screw mill in the United States, erected in 1821 by Mr. Hardman Philips, in the mountain village of Philipsburg, many miles from the great markets of the country. The buildings were located on the Moshannon Creek. The capacity of the screw factory was fifteen hundred gross per week, but the largest quantity ever produced was one thousand gross per week. The material was prepared from the blooms by rolling and wire drawing machinery operated by steam and water power. The nearest and best market was at Pittsburgh. The products of the screw mill and forge which Mr. Philips also operated at Cold Stream built in 1817 had to be hauled at no inconsiderable expense to the waters of the Allegheny River in wagons and from thence transported in arks to their destination.

Lumbering has always been one of the most fascinating of occupations, especially during the early days, when the impenetrable stand of virgin timber required unexcelled skill and effort, and represented the first source of wealth. This activity in the Black Moshannon area will long be remembered as possessing all of the lumbering highlights, under the supervision of such men as E. M. Sturdevant, William Underwood, John Ardell, D. W. Holt of the firm of Holt and Ramey, Hoover-Hughes & Company, and Munson and Crawford, These operators were particularly active during the period 1846 to 1880.

Possibly the most imposing mill in this operation was that of John Ardell of Bellefonte who, in 1869, purchased the Underwood Tract in the vicinity of Beaver Mills. It contained twenty saws in full operation, and had a capacity of about four million feet of lumber annually, including a full box factory and planer and turned out shingles, lath and pickets.

Mr. Ardell was also business manager of all of Mr. Sturdevant's enterprises. Evidences of these lumbering days can still be seen, especially in the Six Mile Run territory, where the old log slide, over which the timber was brought to the Run from various points in the mountains, can easily be distinguished. These logs were collected in the various dams and sent down the stream to the river during the spring freshets. It is not uncommon to find stumps measuring six to seven feet across, which give one a fair idea of the size of the early "giants," mostly white pine.

Two very unusual climatic occurrences in the county history were "The Rain of Fire," or shooting stars in 1833, a most spectacular phenomena; and the great storm of July 4, 1874, which assumed the form and force of a tornado at Beaver Mills (Black Moshannon), swept down the mountains, crossed Bald Eagle at Julian, advancing into Buffalo Run Valley. The entire strip of country in its path was almost devastated. A short distance south of Buffalo Run hail stones measuring seven to eight inches were reported. Many farmers lost their entire crop.

Centre County abounds with much natural scenery, and has many points of interest, such as Woodward and Penns' Caves in the limestone section, the beautiful lake and new Federal airport one of the largest in the state, at Black Moshannon; the unsurpassed scenery of Sky Top and the Rattlesnake, together with numerous others.

It has always been the "Mecca" for sportsmen, having abundant game-deer, bear, and all the smaller variety, especially grouse, in the mountain area.

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