History

4 and More Cultural District Walking Tours: A Look Inside the Gage Mansion

On Wednesday mornings throughout the summer, the Huntingdon 4 and More Cultural District hosts walking tours of the town, highlighting everything from stained glass and historic sights to trees and yoga. This past Wednesday, the sight-to-see was the historic Gage Mansion, which is currently being renovated by new owners John and Angie Thompson of Thompson Candle Co. and innkeeper Marci Chamberlain. The plan is to open the Mansion as a Bed and Breakfast in Spring 2015.

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Marci showed us some architectural features on the outside of the mansion, and then we headed indoors into the living room, where she explained the history of the building before moving on to the other rooms of the house, pointing out particularly interesting features and sharing tidbits of information along the way. I heard several of the tour participants remarking on all the changes made since the last time they had been in the mansion, which has been a fixture in Huntingdon since its completion in 1896. For me, however, it was my first time inside, and I was repeatedly struck by its beauty and elegance.

The first floor of the Gage Mansion is currently open for reservations as an event venue, and they have also begun to host some events of their own, such as the Mothers Day Tea. You can contact them at (814) 506-8411, gagemansion@comcast.net, or visit their Facebook page.

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The 4 and More Cultural District is a partnership between four non-profit organizations in downtown Huntingdon, the Huntingdon County Historical Society, Huntingdon County Library, Huntingdon County Arts Council, and Huntingdon Health & Wellness Association. They will continue to host walking tours throughout the summer. All tours begin at Merchant Park, on the corner of Penn and 6th St, at 10am, and last approximately one hour.

Upcoming walking tours:

July 16 – Stained Glass, downtown.

July 23 – Stained Glass, churches

July 30 – Portstown Park River Walk

August 6 – Transportation History (Canal/Railroad/Trolley)

August 13 – Yoga in the Park

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Bald eagles at home on Raystown Lake.

By Ranger Tara Whitsel

Freedom. Strength. Resilience. The Bald Eagle represents a multitude of things. Since the mid 1970’s Bald Eagles have been making a slow and steady comeback from the effects of habitat loss and DDT pesticide use. Fortunately, Raystown Lake has played witness to that success with populations steadily increasing around the lake.

2014 Eagle Map

The staff at Raystown Lake observed and began monitoring the first known eagle nest on the lake in 1999 near the Raystown Dam. To date, five nests have been located around the lake in addition to a steady migratory population. Each year the Natural Resource Staff at Raystown Lake implements a monitoring program to support the Pennsylvania Game Commission in their efforts to monitor and track bald eagle nesting within the Commonwealth. Although the bald eagle was removed from the Federal Endangered Species List, it remains federally protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Protection Treaty Act. In addition, the bald eagle remains on the threatened species list in Pennsylvania and therefore protected under the Game and Wildlife Code.

Monitoring efforts begin in January when the Corps joined the PA Game Commission on a state-wide mid winter bald eagle survey. The purpose of this survey is to count the number of eagles across the state during a very specific period of time. The first survey was conducted on Raystown in 1990 with only 2 eagles being observed and while that number fluctuates each year due to a variety of lake and surveying conditions we have observed as many as 19 eagles during a single event, which includes both adults and juveniles. The Raystown Staff continues monitoring efforts over the course of the next 6 months to determine which nests will be utilized by a pair during the breeding season and the number of successful fledglings produced in each nest.

Since nesting was first observed at Raystown Lake, 2013 marked the fledging of the 70th at Raystown. Across the state, eagles typically begin nesting activities which includes cleaning and enlarging their nest during January and February. A female typically lays between one to three eggs that hatch sometime in late March or early April, which is approximately 35 days after incubation has begun. Both adults will tend to and feed the young until they leave the nest, or fledge, which at Raystown occurs on or around the fourth of July. The juveniles will remain near the nest throughout the fall observing other eagles and practicing their hunting skills.

To spot the eagles look skyward or toward shoreline trees with open branches. Generally, adult eagles are quite easy to spot with their signature white head and tail. Juvenile eagles have proven to be a slightly greater challenge to properly identify. While juvenile eagles are still significantly large birds; they retain brown feathers over the entire body until they are approximately four years of age and typically demonstrate the full white head and tail by age five.

If you are looking for the nests, the easiest nest to view is located across the lake from the public access area of the Raystown Dam. Many are surprised however, to find that the nest they are currently observing is not the original nest discovered in 1999. While we strongly believe it to be the same pair of eagles, the nest has actually been replaced three times, as each prior nest has lasted only a few years before either the tree in which the nest was located fell during winter or spring storms or the nest has fallen out of the tree due to its increase in size each year. After each loss of nest, the pair has usually rebuilt within a 100 yards of the previous nest site and generally within a few weeks if the start of breading season was near. The remaining four nests require a boat or a very dedicated and strenuous hike for observation.

We encourage you to take the challenge and visit Raystown for the opportunity to observe these powerful yet graceful birds of prey as they hunt and tend to their young. We do ask that you observe posted restrictions and not encroach upon the nests as we take each precaution to encourage successful nesting and development of Raystown’s bald eagles.

About the author: Ranger Tara Whitsel has been a Park Ranger/Natural Resource Specialist for the Raystown Lake Project since 2003 where she is responsible for ensuring the protection of the projects natural resources. Prior to joining the Raystown team, Tara began her career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a seasonal Park Ranger at Blue Marsh Lake, Philadelphia District in 2000. Tara is a 2003 graduate of Kutztown University with a B.S. in Environmental Biology. Tara currently resides in Southern Huntingdon County with her family. Together they enjoy all types of outdoor activities.

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Photo by Megan Photography  http://www.meganphotography.net

 

Eagle Update: This year, there have been no confirmed juveniles in the Raystown nests. By this time of year, they can usually be seen in the limbs surrounding the nest, exercising and getting their wings ready to fly, but none of that behavior has been observed. We speculate that this is because of the extended winter and ice cover on the lake. However, adult eagles are still in the area. 

This is the first year that the Shy Beaver nesting pair has not been successful.  Monitoring will continue, and hopefully next spring will be once again fruitful for the eagles of Raystown. 

 

 

 

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Farewell, Dr. Mowbray.

Publishers note: This was received as an email from the Rockhill Trolley Museum to its members by its president, Joel Salomon. Dr. Mowbray was a great friend of the Museum.  I had the pleasure of working alongside him at a large outdoor and travel show promoting the Raystown Lake Region to potential visitors.  In the day I spent with him, and the brief interactions since at the Museum, Dr. Mowbray made a lasting impression.  He will be truly missed. -Matt Price
Dr. Jack Mowbray

Dr. Jack Mowbray at the controls at the Rockhill Trolley Museum

It is with great sadness that I must tell you that Jack Mowbray passed away early this afternoon at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore surrounded by his wife Natalie, and daughters Marjorie and Jana.

The museum sends its sympathies to the Mowbray’s with Jack’s passing. Personally, Jack was a great friend to me. He and I had many special and great times together over the years. Jack had many friends at the museum and we will all miss his presence at the museum. It’s hard to think that we will not have his laughter, humor, guidance and wisdom at the trolley museum anymore.

Jack had been a member of Railways To Yesterday Inc. (Rockhill Trolley Museum) since its earliest days, holding Membership #11.  He was most recently Chairman of the Board. A native of the Lehigh Valley, Jack was one of the organization’s few remaining members who had first hand memories of the Lehigh Valley Transit Company, which he rode to school in his youth.

In lieu of flowers the family has asked for donations to be made to the Rockhill Trolley Museum, specifically Chicago Aurora & Elgin car 315, Jack’s favorite car at the museum. The car is under restoration, but returned to operation in 2012, with Jack being the first person to operate the car in many years. For me personally, it was one of my happiest days at the museum, to see Jack operate his favorite car once again.
I’m sorry to have to give this news to you as I know some of you knew Jack for many years. Rest in peace dear friend Jack, you will be sorely missed!
Joel Salomon
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Main Stem Madness: A Day on the Juniata River Sojourn

By Mike Makufka, Juniata Clean Water Partnership

With the smell of breakfast gently filling the air with pleasing aromas, the group of campers hastily finishes packing their tents and breaking camp to begin another day on the river. This group (officially called sojourners), numbering a little over 100, are on the first day of what will be a seven day adventure on the Juniata River. Each person is here for different reasons, but they all share a love for the outdoors and the beauty of the river. Some are veterans of many a trip but there are also a number who are experiencing this event for the first time. Once breakfast is done and vehicles packed; people begin assembling along the river’s edge that is lined with canoes and kayaks of many different colors. They are checking equipment, filling water bottles, and putting on their personal floatation device in anticipation of the day’s adventure. All are anxious to hit the water as they say. What you may be asking is this madness that  overcomes normally sane people? It is the annual Juniata River Sojourn and it happens every year during the second week of June.

Photo by Matt Price

Mapleton’s Riverside Park will be the starting point of the 2013 Juniata River Sojourn on the Main Stem of the Juniata River.

The Juniata River Sojourn is a multi-day floating trip down the river that combines beautiful scenery, a touch of history, and great friendship into a fulfilling vacation.

Any trip on the river, whether one day or several days is technically called a sojourn, the Juniata River Sojourn is an organized
event in which all participants float together, eat together, and camp together. It is a bonding experience with like-minded people. An added feature we provide is that the trip uses professional outfitters provided by Rothrock Outfitters who know the river well and can offer help with paddling and always stress safety first. You kind of leave the driving to us. All of your comforts are met. Well almost all; sometimes showers are at a premium and port-a-potties are the norm. But as far as outdoor adventure goes, I can promise that meals are good and hot and the campsites are usually cozy. But the best feature of all is the fact that the trip is family oriented and is the perfect place for parents, children and sometimes grandparents to enjoy the outdoors together.

All this begs to ask “what is a typical day like? ” A typical, if there is really such a thing, begins with a six AM wakeup. For all you sleepyheads; you do get used to it. The first order of business is breaking camp and packing gear which all needs to be done before seven AM. At seven, breakfast is served. Each day catered meals are provided and every effort is made to accommodate people with
special dietary needs. All you need to bring are eating utensils and an appetite. Once breakfast is Getting started A Hazy Morning
concluded at eight AM, drivers of all vehicles assemble in a convoy to shuttle gear and vehicles to the next campsite. A bus awaits them there to shuttle people back to the launch site. Once everyone is ready to go, a brief safety talk is conducted and we are on the water. Just the sight of so many boats in one place is inspiring.

The dew hanging low on the water in the early morning gives peacefulness to the beginning trip. As boats slowly drift downstream the excitement of what lies ahead and the pure freedom that you feel is hard to duplicate anywhere else. Paddling along with people you only met yesterday or with old friends from many a sojourn past, you begin to form bonds that sometimes last a lifetime. Sharing the sight of a bald eagle soaring aloft or the splash of a river otter as it slips into the river makes you appreciate the natural beauty the river has to offer. But wildlife is not the only sight that awaits you.

Photo by Matt Price

Paddling is a favorite pastime on the main stem of the Juniata River in Huntingdon County.

You are also floating through history. The Juniata River and its three branches, the Raystown, Frankstown, and Little Juniata are steeped in history. From Native American trails and old campsites to the Main Line Canal to the railroad; the Juniata River helped shape American history. The remnants of bygone days are there for the viewing if you know where to look. A journey as part of the Juniata River Sojourn group can help you discover these glimpses into the past. Each section of the river offers a wide-ranging visit back into history. You may drift under an iron truss bridge in Huntingdon County (circa 1870), the partially restored structure of a woolen mill (circa 1800’s), numerous historic foundry buildings, structures from the canal days, or covered bridges the Juniata River
offers it all. Float the Raystown Branch and you can see the remnants of the double covered bridge near the site where British soldiers forded the river and you feel yourself drift back in time.

After several hours on the river when the sun is high in the sky; it is time for lunch. Lunch is usually a catered affair at a pre-determined stop with each day’s menu different from the next. After the meal a short program is offered. The program is always tied into a unique feature of that area. Occasionally though, lunch is on the river and then the group decides where and when to stop. In that case, you can revel in the surroundings or take a dip in the cool refreshing water. After lunch it’s back in the boats for the
afternoon’s adventure.

The afternoon float offers similar experiences as the morning but it also has something that is just a whole lot of fun; and that is water fights and rope swings. There are many places along the river for opportunities to swim, swing off of rope swings, or just play. The Juniata Sojourn certainly provides many chances to do just that.

The days on the river are very relaxing and the outfitters allow plenty of time for enjoying the wonderful experiences the river provides. So kickback and allow the stress of everyday life to drift away.

As the afternooon fun begins to wane, the day’s trip is nearing its end. The evening’s campsite comes into view and tired but happy people crawl out of their boats and begin to setup camp. Tents are erected, clothes are changed and the wet ones are hung out to dry. If available, Old railroad bridge near Cypher Water Battles showers are in order. Nothing feels so good as a shower after a day of playing in and along the river. On most days the float ends around three-thirty or four PM. Since dinner is at six, there is time to relax have a few beverages and talk about the day’s events. And there is always plenty to talk about. At six o’clock dinner is served and a hot meal
along with cold drinks and desserts replenishes the body and tops off a good day. Or so you think. The evening provides still another surprise. An evening program, maybe a campfire talent show, or exploring the hidden treasures near the campsite await you. Evening programs start at seven PM and a varied in nature. Previous programs included history talks, local geology, environmental presentations, flyfishing lessons, swimming, first aid, wilderness survival, storytellers and music. There is something for
everyone.

Nighttime brings an air of silence and peace. The full day of activities and great food leaves a person satisfied and sleepy. Those tents sure look inviting and the sleeping bags bring relief to tired muscles. Sleep comes quickly and as nature’s nighttime sounds fill the air, dreams of the what lies ahead tomorrow fill your head. Just another day on the Juniata River Sojourn.

The 2013 Juniata Sojourn will be held June 8 thru 12, 2013 on the main stem of the Juniata River. Registration will open on April 8 and can be accessed at www.jcwp.org.

You do not have to be an experienced canoeist or kayaker to join the fun. Just remember that everyone had to start sometime and what better place to learn than with experienced guides/teachers and a group of friendly helpful people. If you do not have a boat, Rothrock Outfitters (814-643-7226) will gladly offer rentals to fit your needs. Ask for Tony, Paul or Evan and they will put you in business. If you are looking for new adventures or taking up kayaking again, a sojourn is just the ticket for you.

If your interest is peaked than call Mike at 814-506-1190 and I can answer any questions you may have. I look forward to seeing you on the river.

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Corps confirms Raystown Lake Dam, Pa., is prepared to perform during storms

Raystown Dam courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers

Aerial photo of Raystown Dam from the US Army Corps of Engineers website.

BALTIMORE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has notified emergency management officials that the dam at Raystown Lake in Huntingdon, Pa., is prepared to perform during the storms connected to Hurricane Sandy.

The dam and reservoir has been functioning as designed – to store significant volumes of water and thus reducing downstream flows and delaying possible flooding over the next few days. The project is monitored daily and there are no indications of any problems. The dam will continue to function as designed and is prepared to hold the maximum amount of water if needed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the dam in 1962 and it was completed in 1988 at a cost of $77 million. The project has prevented $269,616 million of flood damages through fiscal year 2011. The dam protects all areas along the Juniata River downstream of Huntingdon.

The project is an earth and rockfill structure with a maximum height of 225 feet and a top length of 1,700 feet. There is a two-bay gated spillway with two tainter gates, 45 feet wide by 45 feet high, to control flood flows. The overflow section is cut through rock at elevation 812 mean sea level, and has crest length of 1,630 feet in the spur of Terrace Mountain. The spillway and overflow section
have a combined discharge capacity of 301,000 cubic feet per second. The project encompasses 29,700 total acres. On April 3, 1993 the lake reached its pool of record at elevation 802.89 NGVD which was 67% of its storage capacity.

For current information on Baltimore District dams and reservoirs, go to their home page, www.nab.usace.army.mil.

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Step Back in Time This Weekend in Rockhill, PA

If you like ragtime music, here’s your opportunity to hear some that great music played by some of the top ragtime musicians in America.

July 20th to 22th, 2012 are the dates and Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania is the place to be to hear great ragtime, just like it was played in grandpa’s time. You’ll be carried back to the good old days on the early 20th century  trolleys at the Rockhill Trolley Museum.

For you amateur and budding ragtime players there will be opportunities to showcase your talent during the festival. Check the Directions page for motel information in the area.

Our festival is shaping up to be one of the premier East Coast venues for ragtime this year.

Mr. Bryan Wright will be discussing  “Ragtime past and present” during the festival. Watch for details at http://www.rockhillragtime.com/.

Your 2012 Festival Itinerary

Note: All concerts will be at the United Methodist Church in Orbisonia, 613 Cromwell Street, Orbisonia, PA.

Friday

Friday Afternoon Concert

7:00 pm. Details to follow

Friday Afternoon Concert Tickets: $20.00

Meet and Greet Reception

Friday evening after the concert, the doors of the Iron Rail Bed and Breakfast will be open for a drop in reception. Come and meet and mingle with the performers and fellow fans. We hope to see some impromptu playing during the evening, but if not, your hosts, Dave and Cindy Brightbill, have lots of rolls for the player piano!! Snacks will be served and the evening will be a great opportunity to hear some ragtime stories as well as music.

Friday Evening Meet & Greet: $5.00

After Hours

For late night ragtime fans ten o’clock at the Iron Rail is the place to be for more music, chat and good times.

Friday After Hours: $5.00

Saturday

Saturday Morning Breakfast at the Iron Rail Bed & Breakfast   (NEW!)

Have breakfast with the performers at the Iron Rail at 9am. David and Cindy Brightbill will host a buffet breakfast. for $6 per person. Contact David for reservations. Visit with the stars while having a great breakfast.

Afternoon Amateur and Free Venues

Again this year the festival will hold free concerts at the Rockhill Trolley Museum on Meadow Street in Rockhill Furnace. Our featured artists will perform. Walk-up talent is encouraged, so here’s your opportunity to not only hear the pros in an informal setting but to showcase your talent. Times will be announced later. The pavilion next to the gift shop is where to go to enjoy the trolleys rolling by while listening to ragtime on the piano there.

Trolley Rides

Back in the golden age of ragtime music, the trolley was the most popular methods of travelling around town. Experience what it was like to travel in those days by taking a ride on some of America’s Historic trolleys at the Rockhill Trolley Museum, just across Meadow Street from the station. Trolley time is any time from 11:00am to 4:00pm.

Trolley tickets: Adult: $7.00, Children: $4.00 (2 to 11), Under 2: FREE!

Saturday Afternoon Concert

Saturday afternoon at 2:30pm our performers will be in concert.

Saturday Afternoon Concert Tickets: $20.00

Saturday Evening Concert

Saturday evening at 7:00pm our performers will be in concert.

Saturday Afternoon Concert Tickets: $20.00

Sunday

Sunday Morning Services  (NEW!)

Adam Swanson will provide music at the 9:30 am service at St Luke Lutheran Church in Mt Union. Mount Union is straight north on 522.  Adam will provide prelude, offertory and postlude selections all with a gospel flavor. The main part of the service will be a local southern style gospel group known as “Forever Gospel” in 4 part harmony. David Brightbill is the Organist  Attire is informal.

Amateur and Free Venues

Our free concerts will continue on Sunday at the piano at the Rockhill Trolley Museum. Our featured artists will again perform, subject to their time constraints. Walk-up talent is again encouraged, so here’s another opportunity to showcase your talent. Times will be announced later.

Trolley Rides

The Trolley rides continue on Sunday on the Rockhill Trolley Museum. Trolley time is any time from 11:00am to 4:00pm.
Trolley tickets: Adult: $7.00, Children: $4.00 (2 to 12), Under 2: FREE!

Sunday Afternoon Concert

Our Sunday afternoon concert will start at 4:00 pm. The Golden Voice of Ann Gibson, accompanied by Fredrick Hodges. Ann is going to feature music from the Great War era. She is sure to please!

Sunday Afternoon Concert Tickets: $20.00 per person.

Special Combined Event Passes

All-Concert Pass is $70.00. This does not include entry into the after hours events.

Deluxe Pass: $80 for All Piano and Vocal Concerts, and entry to the After hours Events.

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Cindy Ross

ImageImage
( A version of this appeared in the July/August issue of Pennsylvania Magazine)

We circle the smoking cone, looking for “the eye of the fire-” a gaping hole with intense heat pouring out. Inside the dirt and duff covered pile of stacked logs, the charcoal “pit,” the temperature soars, turning the wood into charcoal. The hole or “mull” glows in the dark night and when we poke a stick in, there is an empty space, 12 inches deep. As the wood shrinks, it collapses in. Mulls tend to be on the windward side. Before oxygen can get in and burn up the wood inside at a rapid rate, we need to close it up and fast.

We hurriedly stuff in dried leaves and dirt, tamp it down with the back of a shovel and go back to our seats at the picnic table here at Greenwood Furnace State Park. We chat…

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Rockhill Trolley Museum to Continue Operating in 2012

The Rockhill Trolley Museum has been associated with the East Broad Top Railroad and the Kovalchick family since 1960. It was in October of that year that Johnstown Traction Company # 311 was moved to Rockhill Furnace and became the first trolley in what is now known as the Rockhill Trolley Museum.

During 2012, the trolley museum will continue to operate on its normal schedule of weekends only, starting Memorial Day weekend through the end of October. The winter holiday events will take place in late November and early December. Additional special events will be held throughout the year. Please check our website at www.rockhilltrolley.org for a complete listing of all of our 2012 events.

While associated with the EBT Railroad for over fifty years, the trolley museum is a separate non-profit corporation operated by Railways To Yesterday, Inc. The Rockhill Trolley Museum is deeply grateful for the many years of support from the East Broad Top Railroad and the Kovalchick family. We are looking forward to many more years of mutual help and cooperation. The trolley museum is staffed entirely by volunteers that are responsible for all aspects of the museum. We are deeply disappointed to hear that the EBT will not operate during 2012. The Rockhill Trolley Museum looks forward to the operation of East Broad Top Railroad in the future.

Rockhill Trolley Museum photo by David Schwartz

The Rockhill Trolley Museum will continue normal operations on weekends Memorial Day Weekend through the end of October 2012, as well as special holiday events in late November through December! (photo by David Schwartz)

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High Iron Hiatus

We learned late last week that the East Broad Top Railroad will not be operating in 2012.  The historic narrow-gauge railway has been in operation for around 140 years, including the last five decades as a tourist railroad.  Operating a tourist attraction using century-old equipment in century-old buildings, on a century-old right-of way presents a unique set of challenges.  We don’t know all of the details of the decision why not to operate this summer, but we know that some significant investments are needed to keep the steam operation running smoothly and safely for the general public.

Railroad officials have stated on their Facebook page, that they still hope to be back up and running full-steam in 2013.  There are several organizations who support the East Broad Top Railroad, its preservation and promotion, including the Friends of East Broad Top, Broad Top Area Coal Miners Historical Society, East Broad Top Preservation Association, Railways To Yesterday (operators of the Rockhill Trolley Museum), and the Kovalchick family, who have owned the railroad since 1956, just to name a very important few.

Tours of the railroad shops in Rockhill will continue to be available to groups of 20 or more people this summer.  These tours are amazing in and of themselves.  The twin communities of Rockhill and Orbisonia will continue to hold their homecoming and Christmas in Our Hometown events, and the Rockhill Trolley Museum will continue its weekend operations beginning this Memorial Day weekend.

In other words, there is still a lot of history and activity to be explored in the Rockhill-Orbisonia area.  Please don’t let the absence of steam excursions keep you away!  If you’d like help planning your trip, give the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau a call at 888-729-7869.

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Historic Huntingdon: The Architecture

Publisher’s Note:   This article first appeared in the 2006 edition of the Raystown Lake Region/Huntingdon County Visitors Guide.  A new video-guided walking tour was created in 2010 for i-pods and smart phones.

By Sandy Carowick

The town of Huntingdon stands literally at the crossroads of history.  Indian and trader paths, the early turnpike, the Main Line Canal, and the Pennsylvania Railroad, pathways crucial to the movement of people and goods, all either ran through or skirted the town limits.  Few vestiges of the earliest thoroughfares remain, but the Union Depot train station still welcomes the casual visitor to town.  Although currently vacant, it is reminiscent of the pride of place embodied in the structures built in the historic district of Huntingdon.

Huntingdon Union Station from Allegheny Street by Richard Stahl

Huntingdon Union Station from Allegheny Street by Richard Stahl

Once a bustling transportation hub, the train station has been silent since the 1960’s.  The long, two-story structure exhibits a low-pitched roof with bracketed eaves, decorative brick ornamentation, and paired round-topped windows, all Italianate influences from the mid to late 1800’s.  Although alterations have changed the appearance on the Allegheny Street side of the building since its construction in 1872,   these structural elements may still be viewed on the railroad side of the building.  Today this structure awaits rehabilitation for adaptive reuse.

Unlike many small cities and towns across the country, where today abandoned factory buildings dot the streetscape, the J.C. Blair factory building retains its character while continuing to contribute to the allure of historic Huntingdon.  Located two blocks from the Union Depot at the corner of Sixth and Penn Streets, the J.C. Blair factory was once hailed as the “tallest building between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg” (some said Philadelphia!).  Architect F.L. Olds, a Huntingdon native, modeled the design for the structure after H.H. Richardson’s design for the Marshall Field Wholesale Store in Chicago.  John Chalmers Blair, whose factory building exemplified the corporate motto of “Perfect Goods Only,” hired local contractor Henry Snare to build the stone and brick structure.  Snare began work in the summer of 1888, and by July 11, 1889, the Huntingdon Globe proclaimed “J.C. Blair’s mammoth building looms far above other structures—and 24 more feet of wall to be built!”  Converted to housing units in the early 1990’s, the imposing structure retains much of its original stylistic elements and charm.

A stroll along Penn Street and its connecting side streets reveals many exceptional examples of early 19th century homes.  The oldest in the borough, located at 105 Third Street, was built in 1797 by Richard Smith, son of town founder William Smith.  The appearance of the stone house has changed over the years, with improvements including porches and overhanging eaves.  The substantial home was owned or occupied through the years by a number of influential men, including David R. Porter (Governor of Pennsylvania, 1839-1845) and his notable son, General Horace Porter (Civil War veteran; U.S. Ambassador to France, 1897-1905).

The Gage Mansion by Ed Stoddard

The Gage Mansion, Huntingdon, PA photo by Ed Stoddard

The immense and stately Queen Anne structure situated at 317 Penn Street remains largely untouched since its construction in 1896.  The building was designed by George F. Barber and Company of Knoxville, Tennessee for George F. Gage, General Manager of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad.  Except for changes in color and the style of the front porch, the home has changed little throughout the years.  Its asymmetrical design and elaborate ornamentation are hallmarks of the Queen Anne style, and this beautiful home invites a second look.

Not all of Huntingdon’s historic architectural features are visible from the outside.  To really appreciate Huntingdon’s past one must step through the doors and examine some of the marvelous interior features.  The interior of Boxer’s Café, located at 410 Penn Street, enhances the dining experience.  The brick building, constructed in 1865 by John Read to replace a previous wooden structure, was touted as “the first modern business building in Huntingdon.”  Today the original façade remains, including windows, iron window ornaments, and the store front, even the company name “Read’s” is still visible spelled out in the tile of the entrance floor.  Once inside, the distinctive atmosphere heavy with chatter from the lunch crowd is thoroughly contemporary, but the surroundings reveal the building’s past as a drug store.  Although the soda fountain installed in 1882 is long gone, the beautiful back bar remains, blending perfectly with later improvements to create a unique and relaxing environment.

In addition to the other fine structures originally constructed as homes or businesses that contribute to the ambiance of this town on the move, other historic public buildings include the 1829 stone jail at Third and Mifflin Street, the 1883 French Renaissance style courthouse on Penn Street, and St. John’s Episcopal Church, an 1845 Gothic building directly across from the courthouse.

Fortunately for us today, some of those who traveled past Huntingdon by foot, boat, train, or automobile decided to stop.  The town that they started has been shaped and molded over the years by new residents, who in their turn continued pushing Huntingdon forward without forgetting the past. Today most of the opulent homes have other purposes.  The McMurtrie property on Fourth Street houses the public library and the county historical society.  Others house restaurants and specialty shops.  But no matter what purposes the buildings now serve, every one contributes to the unique spirit of a bustling town humming with life.

You can find more information on the borough and county of Huntingdon in History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania, by J. Simpson Africa (1883),  An Architectural Study of the Ancient Borough of Huntingdon (1976) and Two Centuries in Huntingdon(1996), both by Nancy S. Shedd, and a variety of other publications found at the Huntingdon County Historical Society, 106 Fourth Street.  A walking tour brochure encompassing Huntingdon’s Historic District and a listing of downtown shopping and dining options is also available free at the historical society, Raystown Lake Visitor Center and at the courthouse.

Categories: 2006 Visitors Guide, History, Things to Do | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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