Huntingdon County: A History of Transportation and Industry

By Ron Morgan

Visitors to scenic and historical Huntingdon County will quickly identify with the area’s down home atmosphere, quaint country settings and an abundance of outdoor beauty and recreational opportunities. What many travelers may not realize is that the Raystown Lake Region of The Alleghenies, including Huntingdon County, boasts of an exciting transportation and industrial heritage that can be experienced by a visit to many attractions in the region.

The development of historic Huntingdon County is traced back to its transportation resources which started out as rugged Native American “paths,” or “Indian Trails.” These early transportation routes, used for both military and civilian purposes, cut into the heart of the mountains and valleys of central Pennsylvania. The “paths,” which included the north-south Warriors Path that closely paralleled Raystown Lake and Tussey Mountain, played prominent roles in the region’s history during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

With the close of the Revolution, settlers pushed west, first crossing the Alleghenies by wagon and on foot, or utilizing some of Pennsylvania’s major rivers and smaller streams, including the Juniata River system. Locally, a number of “toll roads” were established which connected Huntingdon County with its neighboring counties.

During the early years of the 19th century, rival canal systems like the Erie Canal to the north and the C&O to the south forced the state to construct its own Pennsylvania Canal, which “Middle Division” passed through the heart of Huntingdon County, helping to boost the economy and growth of Huntingdon and Mount Union.

By the early 1850s the canal system was replaced by the trend-setting Pennsylvania Railroad. Branching off of the main line PRR at Huntingdon was the standard gauge Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad, constructed to haul coal from the tri-county corners of Broad Top Mountain. A short, two decades later the narrow gauge East Broad Top Railroad was built from Mount Union to the eastern side of the Broad Top Mountain and Coal Field to haul the “black diamonds” to the PRR.

With the advent of America’s industrial age and new transportation technologies, the steam railroad locomotive was replaced by diesel engines and the horse and buggies relinquished their place in rural Huntingdon County to the arrival of automobiles and airplanes. Today, the railroad continues to stop in Huntingdon to pick up passengers while freight from all parts of the nation roll through the region. Not far away, a busy U.S. Route 22 passes through the county making connections with major roadways like U.S. Route 522, state routes 45, 453, 26 and the celebrated Pennsylvania Turnpike which passes through the southeastern corner of the county.

At the heart of the county’s road, canal and railroad development was a growing economy which roots were planted in local industries like iron making, coal, coke and brick production, as well as agricultural and timbering interests. Although the industrial history of the county has seen many changes since the American Revolution the heritage of those early industries can be experienced at a number of historical attractions throughout Huntingdon County and at a variety of seasonal activities and events sponsored by nonprofit historical organizations.

The Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau encourages visitors to stop by several, well known and time-honored transportation and industrial heritage attractions. More information about these attractions and other activities can be obtained at the HCVB’s visitor center at the Seven Points Recreation Area, or other visitor information facilities in the area.

Some of the attractions include: East Broad Top Railroad National Historic Landmark at Rockhill Furnace, Rockhill Trolley Museum, located across from the EBT’s Orbisonia Station; Swigart Antique Auto Museum, east of Huntingdon; Isett Acres Museum, Huntingdon; a unique transportation and heritage exhibit found at the Raystown Lake Visitor Center; Allegrippis Trail system at Seven Points recreation Area; Lower Trail, near Alexandria; Greenwood Furnace State Park, in northeastern Huntingdon County; former PRR HUNT Signal Tower, in downtown Huntingdon and the nearby Huntingdon County Historical Society; Mount Union Area Historical Society, Fort Roberdeau, in Sinking Valley; Thousand Steps hiking trail near Mill Creek; and the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum and Friends of the East Broad Top Museum, both located in Robertsdale.

Numerous other historical societies in Huntingdon County also promote local history while several attractions have indirect links with the county’s history. They include Lincoln Caverns, Huntingdon; Indian Caverns, Spruce Creek; Penn’s Cave, near State College; Juniata College in Huntingdon and numerous state parks, scenic areas of the Rothrock State Forest District and a host of recreational trails scattered across the region.

About the Author

Ron Morgan is a native of Robertsdale, PA, and is a semi-retired reporter for the Huntingdon Daily News.  Ron is a founding member and current president of the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Heritage Association, which operates a museum in Robertsdale.

Categories: 2010 Visitors Guide, History, Things to Do | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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