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Potters Mills

Potter Twp, Centre County, PA

Beginnings [1]

If the shades of some of the old residents from Potter's Mills of fifty years ago, were allowed to return to the Potter's Mills of to-day, one could imagine that after taking a view of the neighborhood, they would assemble in gloomy silence on one of the natural eminences overlooking the village, raise their eyes in sorrow to heaven, utter in doleful concert "Ichabod" and retire again to the place of departed spirits. Time has indeed dealt hardly with the industries of this town, which years ago, was the chiefest in all Penn's Valley. The lands have been shorn of their magnificent timber. Nothing remains of the busy mill of yore but dismantled foundations. The hum of industry is heard no more in the factory walls. The turnpike once filled with the procession of wagons, burdened with rich harvest stores, is now no longer thronged with travel, and with these evidences of former greatness, have disappeared, also the names of the town's pioneers. And yet, stripped as Potter's Mills has been of its industries, it has not a whit degenerated, for where the forest wild held sway, productive farms now stand. The country mill, following the law of centralization has become merged into one of the industrial centres of the land. The factory, within whose walls the wool was sorted, washed, carded, spun, dyed, spooled, wound, woven, finished and sold, is a mute reminder in the march of progress of the "survival of the fittest."

The town is located on an ideal spot, having its beginning about a half mile north of the gap, through which the road passes over the Seven mountains to Mifflin County, and extending a considerable way between the ridges. The dwellings are located on both sides of the road and are largely log built and weatherboarded, although the hotel and several other buildings are fair representations of modern architecture, being of brick and well adapted to comfort. It is impossible to exaggerate the natural beauties of its location. The situation is indeed romantic, lying as it does at the base of the first ridge of the Seven mountains, which forms a background for the town of surpassing loveliness. Through the steep gap a stream rushes precipitously down, and is imprisoned just at the outlet of the mountains in a dam. After giving power to run a saw mill, it bounds along merrily over the moss covered rocks, until its services are again employed in turning the factory wheels. From this point on, it passes through flower decked fields and emerald meads, slaking the thirst of the cattle that browse along its ragged brink, and finally blends its crystal waters with the more twigid stream called Sinking creek, near the western end of Egg Hill.

It was in 1770 that General Potter located here, taking up most of the land on which the town now stands. Soon after, the first hotel was built on a site opposite the McCoy farm. A grist mill and saw mill were built in 1788, by General Potter, and around these industries there soon clustered a respectable community. Later on in 1833 a woolen factory was erected, and this in addition to the business interests furnished employment to many of the residents. Being located on the Bellefonte & Lewistown turnpike, the town has always enjoyed a high degree of prosperity. Before the railroad was built through Penn's Valley, most of the travel to Lewistown passed through the place. Being situated at the entrance to the mountains, it was a rendezvous for those who passed along, both going and returning into the adjoining county.

The names which crystallize around the history of the town are also associated with the rise and growth of the entire county. General Potter is most prominently identified with its development, from him the name of the place is derived, as well as the township in which it is located. In the brief space allotted to the town's history it is impossible even to give an outline of his eventful career, or that of his sons, under whose administration, as successors to their distinguished father, a fearful financial reverse occurred, in which many of the farmers in the valley were crippled permanently. A brief mention also will suffice of the names of Gen. James Irvin, into whose hands the Potter estate fell, by purchase in 1847; and of Moses Thompson, Esq., who owned the estate in 1860. Most of the property to-day is owned by the Allison estate, being purchased by the late Judge Allison many years before his death.

There are two general stores in Potter's Mills today, in addition to a tannery operated by W. J. Smith. A commodious brick school house located centrally, affords facilities for school purposes to the district. About half a mile from the town, on a gentle eminence stands the M. E. church. The congregation which worships in this edifice, was organized about 1830 and held their first meetings in a building on the Sankey farm near by. About 1840 the first church was built and was in constant use until 1872, when a practically new church was erected on the site of the old one.


The Hon. William Allison who succeeded the Potters, as owner of most of the land on which the town is built, was born in 1794. He became associated with the Potters in business, and on the failure of the latter in 1847, most of the property fell into his hands, he being the largest creditor of the defunct firm. His was a character of sterling worth, sound in judgment, and resolute in execution. He was thoroughly versed in all the facts and traditions connected with the early settlement of this locality, and loved to dwell on the reminiscences of the past. He was honored by being selected as associate judge of the county, and filled that office with great ability. During the Rebellion, his influence and effort were unswervingly allied to the success of the Union cause, and many instances of his loyalty are yet extant. In a single year of the war, he furnished nearly a thousand dollars worth of provisions and meals gratuitously to the hundreds of soldiers from the northern tier of counties, who passed over the pike to the railroad at Lewistown. He died in 1877, leaving a widow who still lives on the homestead at Potter's Mills.


William J. Thompson, Esq., of Potter's Mills, has been identified with the town almost forty years, having in connection with his brother, purchased the property where he now conducts business from the Potter estate in 1861. Squire Thompson is one of the very few business men of today whose mercantile history goes back two decades, as he has continuously been engaged in that pursuit since the above date. To relieve himself of some of the business cares, he has recently associated with him Mr. E. Smith. Mr. Thompson is universally esteemed in Penn's Valley. Born in Mifflin County, of splendid stock, he came to Centre county just before the war, and identified himself in all objects of public and private worth. He has ever been deemed a genial soul, and stories illustrative of his wit, generosity, and royal good fellowship are abundant all over this section. During the war he did valiant service for the Union, and was a member of the celebrated "Anderson's Troopers."


Henry P. Sankey, the subject of this brief sketch, was born in 1834, on the farm where he now resides. His ancestors were in possession of the property during the War of Independence, and it has been held in the family ever since, being one of the few in the valley which has been retained in one family during a whole century or over. Henry P. Sankey during his youth attended the schools of the district, and studied a term at Williamsport Academy, under the presidency of Dr. Bowman, now one of the Bishops of the M. E. church. Returning from the academy, he entered into the ranks of husbandry, and remained there until the outbreak of the Rebellion. In 1861 he responded to the call to arms, enrolling his name in the 15th. Regiment, Co. I, Penn. Volunteers, and served in Maryland under Gen. Negley until July 1861. His company was captured in the above month, by a squad of rebel cavalry and was taken to Winchester, where the company remained three weeks as prisoners in the jail at that place. From there they were taken to Manasses, Culpepper, Richmond, New Orleans, and Saulsbury, N.C. In August 1862 the company was exchanged, and Mr. Sankey returned to his home in Penn's Valley, much prostrated by the treatment endured while held as a prisoner by the rebels. He obtained control of the old homestead in 1866, and has remained there ever since. He married Miss Elizabeth E. Rhone in 1865 and four children, two sons and two daughters, were the fruits of the union. He has been school director in his native district, and a candidate for county commissioner. Mr. Sankey was the founder of Centre Hall Lodge I. O. O. F. 895, and has been a member for twenty-five years. He is also a member of the Patrons of Husbandry, serving as first master of Grange 296. He is now in retirement, acting only in a supervisory capacity over the farm which is under the control of his sons. In 1871 he connected himself with the M. E. church of which he and his wife are members, and over which Mr. Sankey has exercised control as trustee for many years.

  1. Illingworth, Ralph W., A Passing Glance at Penn's Valley, Milton, PA: Milton Printing Co., 1896.

Street Names
General Potter Highway • Old Fort Road