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Penn State University Libraries

1861 Digital Atlas of Centre County

Centre County History

Background: Centre County is the fifth largest county in Pennsylvania in land area (1,115 square miles). It has thirty-six government municipalities (25 townships and 11 boroughs) and nearly 100 towns and villages.  The oldest, Aaronsburg, was laid out in 1786.

History: Discovery of high quality iron ore and rich agricultural land brought settlement to the region. James Potter was the first to record his travels through the region in 1764. He acquired numerous land warrants and built his home near Old Fort in 1774. Potter was followed by Andrew Boggs who settled in an area near Milesburg in1769.

The Centre Furnace House

Iron was discovered in 1784. The first iron furnace, Centre Furnace, was built in 1791 by Samuel Miles and John Patton. By 1832 more than a dozen iron furnaces were in operation along the Spring and Bald Eagle Creeks. Turnpikes were completed in the late 1820s and a canal system followed in the mid-1830s. The first railroad, began in 1859, brought coal from Snow Shoe to the iron furnaces.

Between 1850 and 1900, Bellefonte, the county seat, was the most prosperous community in Central Pennsylvania. Home to numerous Governors and state politicians, the Centre Region lobbied for and won the placement of the State Agricultural Society’s Farmers’ High School (now known as Penn State University) in 1855. Iron magnates James Irvin and Moses Thompson offered to donate two hundred acres of furnace farm land for the school. Andrew Gregg Curtin, Hugh N. McAllister, and other prominent county businessmen also committed to a $10,000 loan for the school’s operations.

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