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Egle's History of Cambria County

CAMBRIA COUNTY.

BY ROBERT L. JOHNSTON, EBENSBURG.

    The county of Cambria owes its existence to an act of Assembly, passed the 26th day of March, 1804. The territory composing it was taken from the counties of Huntingdon and Somerset. The act provided “That so much of the counties of Huntingdon and Somerset, included in the following boundaries, to wit: Beginning at the Conemaugh river, at the south-east corner of Indiana county; thence by a straight line to the Canoe Place, on the West Branch of Susquehanna; thence easterly along the line of Clearfield county to the south-westerly corner of Centre county, on the heads of Moshannon creek; thence southerly along the Allegheny mountain to Somerset and Bedford county lines; thence along the lines of Somerset and Bedford counties about seventeen miles, until a due west course from thence will strike the main branch of Paint creek; thence down said creek, the different courses thereof, till it empties into Stony creek; thence down Stony creek, the different courses, to the mouth of Mill creek; thence a due west line till it intersects the lines of Somerset and Westmoreland counties; thence northerly along said line to the place of beginning, be and the same is hereby erected into a separate county, to be henceforth called Cambria county.”

    The same act provided that the county seat should be fixed by the Legislature within seven miles of the center of the county, and authorized the Governor to appoint three commissioners to run and mark the boundary lines. The act also provided for future representation in the Legislature as soon as the new county should be entitled thereto by an enumeration of its taxable inhabitants; and for the appointment of three trustees to receive proposals for real estate upon which to erect the public buildings.

    The act organizing the county for judicial and political purposes was not passed until the 26th of January, 1807; until which time it was deemed only a “provisional” county, and was attached to Somerset county. An act of Assembly, passed the 29th of March, 1805, fixed the county seat at Ebensburg, and appointed John Horner, John J. Evans (both of Cambria county), and Alexander Ogle, of Somerset, trustees, to receive a grant of land for the public buildings from Rees Lloyd, John Lloyd, and Stephen Lloyd, who donated the square of ground upon which the public buildings now stand. The first general election in Cambria county was held in October, 1807, and from thence is dated its full organization.

    The county retains its original boundaries, with the exception of the north-western corner, known in t he original boundary as Canoe Place, more recently as Cherrytree, and now as Grant, the latter being the name of the post office. This village, lying about equally in Cambria, Clearfield, and Indiana counties, was erected into a borough and annexed to the latter county. Frequent efforts have been made to divide the county, both on the extreme south and the extreme north, but they have hitherto proved unsuccessful. While the northern and southern lines of the county have never been the subject of dispute, the eastern and western lines have caused much difficulty. The western line has since been re-located, and is now settled. But the greatest trouble was in reference to the eastern line. While the act placed it “along the Allegheny mountain,” it became a matter of great difficulty to trace it, there being no record of the original running, and a great portion of the summit of the mountain being without timber for axe marks; and the mountain being cloven, so to speak, by immense chasms and ravines, it became more a matter of opinion than any certainty where the line should actually be run. The inconvenience resulting from this uncertainty was remedied by an act of Assembly passed in 1849, appointing Hon. James Gwin, of Blair county, and E. A. Vickroy, of Cambria county, to run and adjust the line; a duty which was satisfactorily performed during the same year, and a record thereof filed in the proper office.

    Thus located, Cambria county occupies the table land lying between the summit of the Allegheny mountain and the Laurel Hill, the western line running near the western base of the latter elevation, including it, and running in the same general direction. And while it is called the “mountain county,” it embraces, perhaps, more tillable surface than any of the adjoining counties, in proportion to its area. It is bounded by Clearfield, on the north; Blair and Bedford, on the east; Somerset, on the south; and Westmoreland and Indiana, on the west. Its length is thirty-five miles, its breadth twenty-one miles; and embraces an area of six hundred and seventy square miles. The position of the county is elevated; for, while the eastern approach to the Allegheny mountain is abrupt and rugged, the western descent is comparatively gentle.

    Besides the Allegheny and the Laurel Hill, there is no elevation in Cambria county that can be dignified with the name of mountain. The Allegheny divides Blair and Bedford from Cambria, its direction being north-easterly and south-westerly, the whole length of the county. Its greatest altitude is at the southern extremity of the county, and there is a gradual falling-off in its height till it reaches the northern line. From the center, north, it abounds in chasms or “gaps,” known as Blair's gap, Burgoon's gap, Sugar Run gap, and Bell's gap. These gaps furnished the sources of the main, or Frankstown branch of the Juniata. The Laurel Hill, in western Cambria, pursues the same general direction, and loses its character as a mountain before reaching the northern boundary.

    Though containing no large stream, Cambria county is well watered. The West Branch of the Susquehanna has its rise some eight miles north of Ebensburg, leaving the county at Cherrytree, formerly known as Canoe Place. Chest creek rises some three miles from Ebensburg, and pursuing a northerly course empties into the Susquehanna in Clearfield county. Clearfield creek rises near the summit of the mountain, at Gallitzin, flows north, and receiving the Beaver Dam branch from the west, passes into Clearfield county, and reaches the Susquehanna below the town of Clearfield. These streams are all declared public highways.

    The Juniata has its rise from small streams passing through the various gaps in the Allegheny.

    The Conemaugh drains southern Cambria. This stream is formed of various branches: the Ebensburg branch, arising near the town of that name, and flowing south to the village of Wilmore, receives the Cresson branch, which has its source near the summit of the Allegheny, and flows in a south-westerly direction. Their united waters, pursuing the same direction, are increased by the South Fork, which flows nearly due west. At Johnstown it falls into the Stony creek, which rises in Somerset county, and flows in a northerly direction through Cambria to its junction with the smaller stream at Johnstown. Their united waters, taking the name of the Conemaugh, flow westwardly, and, leaving the county, forms the boundary between Indiana and Westmoreland. The southern branch of Blacklick has its source north of Ebensburg, and flows west to the line of Indiana county, where, receiving an accession in the northern branch, falls into the main Blacklick, a few miles west of the county line. The waters that flow into the Atlantic, and those that seek the Gulf of Mexico, interlock in alternate dells in this county; and the traveler, at one point on the Ebensburg and Cresson railroad, some four miles from the former place, may see from the cars, on the one side, a fountain whose waters reach the Gulf of Mexico; and on the other, exactly opposite, another whose waters pass through the Chesapeake bay to the Atlantic.

    Cambria county is not distinguished as an agricultural county, her soil being better adapted to grazing than grain growing. Still a large portion of the north produces excellent crops of wheat; and the same may be said of the hilly portion of southern Cambria. The level portion of the county is too cold and “spouty” for fall grain, but produces excellent crops of grass. Corn is not a favorite of her soil, but oats is produced in abundance. The length and severity of the winter is all that hinders her from being one of the finest stock growing counties in the State.

    Coal underlies the entire surface of the county, and is mined extensively. The line of the Pennsylvania railroad, from Gallitzin to Johnstown, more than twenty-five miles, is a succession of coal drifts, from which immense quantities of the best bituminous coal is shipped, and from which large quantities of coke are manufactured. In the north and west the coal is equally abundant, but not so extensively worked for want of a convenient market. Near the north-eastern line, at Lloydsville, an extensive coal vein has recently been opened, which is shipped to the Pennsylvania railroad by a narrow gauge railroad, connecting with the former at Bell's Mills. A single deposit of cannel coal, in the western portion of the county, was operated a few years since, but is now abandoned. Iron ore abounds in many portions of the county, but is only utilized in the vicinity of Johnstown, where immense quantities are mined to supply the furnaces of the Cambria iron company.

    The greatest iron and steel manufacturing company in Pennsylvania, if not in the world, is located at Johnstown; and as this company conducts other enterprises, they shall be considered together. An establishment that directly or indirectly employs nearly seven thousand persons – men, women, and boys, and transacts a business of over ten million dollars a year, deserves separate consideration. While the main establishment and a great bulk of its employers are in Cambria, it's mines, furnaces, and lands extend to Blair, Bedford, and Somerset counties.

    The Conemaugh valley at Johnstown is but a few hundred feet across. In the mountain side, to the west, lies a deep seam of semi-bituminous coal, which is exposed all along the roadway, extending a vast distance, and apparently inexhaustible. It makes splendid coke, and is, therefore, invaluable for the company's many blast furnaces. Under this coal mine lies a fine bed of water cement. On the other side of the valley, and to the south, are vast beds of iron ore, coal, and lime-stone, and, immediately above the blast furnaces, a quarry of excellent stone. Fourteen hundred tons of coal and five hundred tons of ore are mined from these beds every day. With the exception of the quantity of coal which is sold to their employees, the Cambria Iron company consume all the coal they mine in their mills and furnaces. As to iron ore, though they own and are interested in other mines as well (the aggregate of the ore and coal lands owned by the company exceeds 50,000 acres), they are, nevertheless, large buyers of Lake Superior and other high-classed ores. The company produces about three hundred tons of pig-iron a day. The Bessemer steel works and rolling mills turn out three hundred tons of iron and steel rails in a day; in a year about seventy thousand tons of iron rails, weighing from sixteen to eighty-three pounds to the yard, and thirty-five thousand tons of steel rails, weighing from forty-two to sixty-seven pounds to the yard.

    The area of ground covered by these enormous works is over sixty acres, the rolling mill alone covering seven acres. In the rolling-mill there are no less than seven trains of rolls, these trains each having five pair of rolls. To keep those rolls supplied with heated metal requires twenty-eight heating furnaces, while forty-two double puddling furnaces furnish the heaters with the puddled bars.

    The Cambria Iron company has already no less than nine blast furnaces in operation, producing as previously stated, three hundred tons of pig-iron a day; but finding these insufficient for their demands, they are now erecting another very large one near the rolling-mill. Only four of the furnaces are at Johnstown. Of the others, one is at Conemaugh, about two miles from Johnstown; two are at Hollidaysburg, to the south of Altoona; one is at Frankstown, and another is at Bennington, on the summit of the Allegheny mountains, at the point where they are crossed by the Pennsylvania railroad. The Johnstown works are marvels in their way. For the transportation of the coal and ore from the adjacent mines to the blast furnaces and mills, and carrying the pig-iron to the mills, transporting the rails, and doing all the heavy work, they have no less than eleven locomotive engines of all sizes, from the largest ordinary locomotive down to a little fellow about four feet high, called the Dwarf. The railroad track, which is a perfect network, would, if constructed in a straight line, extend over thirty-six miles of ground.

    Besides these works, Ashland furnace, near the eastern boundary of the county, and Eliza furnace, on the western line, have been operated; but both were abandoned on account of inconvenience to the market.

    Extensive tanneries are also operated at Johnstown and its vicinity, and also at Carrolltown.

    Lumber has been an important article of commerce. In the neighborhood of Johnstown, at Ebensburg, at Wilmore, and at other points, vast quantities of hard and soft lumber, such as ash, maple, cherry, poplar, cucumber, etc., have been manufactured for the eastern and western markets; and immense quantities of hemlock is shipped for building purposes. The shook business is carried on extensively in various parts of the county, more particularly at Ebensburg, Conemaugh, Summer Hill, and Chest Springs. This is the manufacture of oak timber into vessels to be shipped to Cuba and other points for molasses, rum, etc. In the north-eastern, northern, and north-western portion of the county the lumbering business is a heavy element of prosperity. The pine lumber trade in this region has been principally conducted by rafting the timber, sometimes manufactured into boards; but oftener the squared logs, formed into rafts, down the Susquehanna to the eastern market. More recently, however, what is called logging has been more generally adopted. This consists in cutting the pine logs into proper lengths, and floating them down the stream, au naturelle, to the market. Timber thus floated pays tribute at the boom at Williamsport, and thence pursues its way east. On the most trifling streams this traffic is carried on by means of splashes -- that is, a dam is constructed over the stream, and the water is pent up until it becomes a large body; the timber is put into the stream below; at the proper time the sluices or gates are opened, and the timber is floated down to the river. There is no township in the county in which the lumber business is not pursued with more or less success; and the growing scarcity of the article only enhances the value of what remains.

    Large quantities of butter have also been shipped from Ebensburg, Carrolltown, and other points; while the immense quantity manufactured in the country surrounding Johnstown feeds the vast numbers connected with the Cambria Iron works.

    Besides the foregoing, the county has derived considerable amount of her resources from houses of resort for summer visitors. Of these, notably, is the Cresson House. The Cresson Springs now ranks with Saratoga, Bedford Springs, and other celebrated watering places. The house is beautifully situated on an eminence, directly east of the Pennsylvania railroad station at Cresson, and commands a fine view of the mountain scenery. It is calculated to accommodate a thousand visitors, and with its adjoining cottages, has the appearance of a beautiful village. It is surrounded with carefully prepared drives and delightful walks through the primeval forest; and St. Ignatius Spring, a highly medicinal fountain (named from Ignatius Adams, pioneer, who formerly owned the ground on which it issues), is within a convenient plank walk from the main building. Near it are the Mansion House, at Summitville, also a delightful resort for visitors; and the Callan House, about a furlong east of the Cresson House, on the line of the railroad.

    At Ebensburg, Bellemont is also a favorite resort, filled with strangers every season; while the Lloyd House, directly opposite the Ebensburg station, is a delightful resting place for the visitor. At or near Scalp Level, on the southern boundary, large numbers of strangers make their annual visit; while at different points in the county, especially the eastern part of the county, a large number of summer boarding houses are put in requisition to accommodate boarders for the season.

    In truth, the Allegheny mountain has attractions for summer visitors not to be found elsewhere. The high lands of the Alleghenies are entirely exempt from fevers and all malarious diseases. The fogs and miasma of lower regions are unknown, and a pure atmosphere is the reward of the visitant. A mid-day sun here is no less powerful and enervating than in the lower territory, but a cool breeze always tempers the atmosphere, while the nights of sweltering heat experienced elsewhere is not known in the Alleghenies, where the nights and mornings are always cool and invigorating.

    The early settlers of Cambria county may be divided mainly into three classes: 1. The families of American Catholics from Maryland and the adjacent portion of Pennsylvania (some of them descendants of the colony of Lord Baltimore), who settled in the eastern and north-eastern portion of the county, mainly in t he vicinity where Loretto now stands. 2. Pennsylvania Germans, from Somerset and the eastern German settlements, who occupied the south of the county, in the neighborhood of Johnstown. 3. Emigrants from Wales, who founded Ebensburg and Beula, whose descendants still predominate within a radius of five miles of the former village.

    1. The earliest actual settlement was made by Michael McGuire, about one mile east of the present village of Loretto. The following in relation to this settlement was prepared by the present writer more than thirty-five years ago, for Day's "Historical Collections:"

    "Previous to the year 1789, the tract of country which is now included within the limits of Cambria county was a wilderness. 'Frankstown settlement,' as it was then called, was the frontier of the inhabited parts of Pennsylvania east of the Allegheny mountain. None of the pioneers had yet ventured to explore the eastern slope of the mountain. A remnant of the savage tribes still prowled through the forests, and seized every opportunity of destroying the dwellings of the settlers, and butchering such of the inhabitants as were so unfortunate as to fall into their hands. The howling of the wolf, and the shrill screaming of the catamount or American panther (both of which animals infested the country in great numbers at the period of its first settlement), mingled in nightly concert with the war-whoop of the savages. It is believed that Captain Michael McGuire was the first white man who settled within the present bounds of Cambria county. He settled in the neighborhood of where Loretto now stands, in the year 1790, and commenced improving that now interesting and well-cultivated portion of Allegheny township, a large portion of which is still owned by his descendants. Luke McGuire, Esq., and Captain Richard McGuire were sons of Michael McGuire, and came with him. Thomas Blair, of Blair's gap, Huntingdon county, was at this time the nearest neighbor Captain McGuire had. He resided at a distance of twelve miles.

    “Mr. McGuire was followed not long afterward by Cornelius Maguire, Richard Nagle, Wm. Dotson, Richard Ashcraft, Michael Rager, James Alcorn, and John Storm; the last was of German descent. These were followed by others – John Trux, John Douglass, John Byrne, and we believe, Wm. Meloy. Under the auspices of these men, and perhaps a few others, the country improved very rapidly. The first grist-mill in the county was built by Mr. John Storm. The hardships endured by these sturdy settlers are almost incredible. Exposed to the inclemency of an Allegheny winter, against the rigor of which their hastily-erected and scantily-furnished huts afforded a poor protection, their sufferings were sometimes almost beyond endurance. Yet with the most unyielding firmness did these men persevere until they secured for themselves and their posterity the inheritance which the latter at present enjoy. There was nothing that could be dignified with the name of road by which the settlers might have an intercourse with the settlements of Huntingdon county. A miserable Indian path led from the vicinity of where Loretto now stands, and intersected the road leading to Frankstown, two or three miles this side of the Summit.

    “Many anecdotes are related by the citizens of Allegheny township of the adventures of their heroic progenitors among the savage beasts, and the more savage Indians, which then infested the neighborhood. The latter were not slow to seize every opportunity of aggression which presented itself to their blood-thirsty minds, and consequently the inhabitants held not only property, but life itself, by a very uncertain tenure. The truth of the following story is vouched for by many of the most respectable citizens in Allegheny and Cambria townships, by one of whom it has kindly been furnished us for publication. A Mr. James Alcorn had settled in the vicinity of the spot where Loretto now stands, and had built a hut and cleared a potato patch at some distance from it. The wife of Mr. Alcorn went [on] an errand to see the potatoes, and did not return. Search was immediately made, but no trace could be found to lead to her discovery. What became of her is to this day wrapped in mystery, and, in all human probability, we shall remain in ignorance of her fate. It was generally supposed that she had been taken by the savages, and it is even reported that she had returned several years after, but this story is not credited by any in the neighborhood.”

    The advent of the great American missionary priest, DEMETRIUS AUGUSTINE GALLITZIN, gave renewed courage to these poor colonists. He appeared among them under the humble name of Smith (his mother's maiden name was Schmettan), and commenced his labor with a zeal that he knew no flagging for more than forty years, when he laid down his life in the midst of his sorrowing flock.

    On his arrival at the scene of his labors in 1799, he had a rude log chapel erected, and was constant in his ministrations to the spiritual and temporal wants of his people. He wrote several controversial works in the midst of his duties. His “Defence of Catholic Principles,” “Letter to a Protestant Friend,” and “Appeal to the Protestant Public,” have a very extensive circulation among thos professing his faith. He died on the 6th of May, 1840, at Loretto, having for forty-two years exercised pastoral functions in Cambria county. He was born in 1770, at Munster, in Germany. His father, Prince de Gallitzin, ranked among the highest nobility in Russia. His mother was the daughter of Field Marshal General de Schmettan, a celebrated officer under Frederick the Great. Her brother fell at the battle of Jens. Rev. Gallitzin held a high commission in the Russian army from his infancy. Europe in the early part of his life was desolated by war – the French revolution burst like a volcano upon that convulsed continent; it offered no facilities or attractions for travel, and it was determined that the young Prince de Gallitzin should visit America. He landed in Baltimore in August, 1792, in company with Rev. Mr. Brosius. By a train of circumstances in which the hand of Providence was strikingly visible, his mind was directed to the ecclesiastical state, and he renounced for ever his brilliant prospects. Already endowed with a splendid education, he was the more prepared to pursue his ecclesiastical studies, under the venerable Bishop Carroll, at Baltimore, with facility and success. Having completed his theological course, he spent some time on the mission in Maryland.

    Shortly after (1799) he directed his course to the Allegheny mountains, and found that portion of it which now constitutes Cambria county a perfect wilderness, almost without inhabitants or habitations. After incredible labor and privations, and expending a princely fortune, he succeeded in making “the wilderness blossom as the rose.” His untiring zeal collected about Loretto, at the period of his decease, a Catholic population of three or four thousand. He not only extended the church by his missionary toils, but also illustrated and defended the truth by several highly useful publications. In this extraordinary man we have not only to admire his renunciation of the brightest hopes and prospects; his indefatigable zeal – but something greater and rarer – his wonderful humility. No one could ever learn from him or his mode of life, what he had been, or what he exchanged for privation and poverty.

    To intimate to him that you were aware of his condition, would be sure to pain and displease him. He who might have reveled in the princely halls of his ancestors, was content to spend thirty years in a rude log-cabin, almost denying himself the common comforts of life, that he might be able to clothe the naked members of Jesus Christ, the poor and distressed. Few have left behind them such examples of charity and benevolence. On the head of no one have been invoked so many blessings from the mouths of widows and orphans. It may be literally said of him, “if his heart had been made of gold he would have disposed of it all in charity to the poor.”

    A memoir of Prince Gallitzin, in the German language, was written many years ago by Rev. Peter Henry Lemke, his successor at Loretto, and by Rev. Thomas Heyden, of Bedford, in English, while a full history of his life and ministry has been published by Sarah M. Brownson, New York, 1873.

    After Gallitzin's arrival among the colony, he purchased large quantities of land which he conveyed to actual settlers at nominal prices. He also laid out the village of Loretto, and named it from the religious town of that name on the Adriatic. Here he sold the lots, as he sold the farm land, to merchants and mechanics, upon the condition that they should be built upon within a certain time.

    The settlement thus inaugurated now embraces in whole or in part the townships of Allegheny, Clearfield, Gallitzin, Munster, Carroll, Chest, and Washington, and the villages of Loretto, Chest Springs, St. Augustine, Munster, Gallitzin, and Summitville. Within the territory where stood in 1800 the solitary log cabin chapel, there are now six fine churches with flourishing congregations.

    2. The grand source of population was the Pennsylvania German stock. The pioneer of these settlers was Joseph Jahns, and those who followed in his wake were mostly Tunkers (German Tunken, to dip), and Mennonites, or Amish. Mr. Jahns (or Yahns, as he spelled his name), arrived on the scene in 1791. He found the site of the present town, an old Indian village, called Kickenapawling's old town. The other settlers located in the adjacent county, notably on Amish Hill, so named from its colony, and their descendants preponderate to the present day in the districts surrounding Johnstown. They are a thrifty, honest people; have their clergy among themselves, rarely patronize the doctor – the lawyer, never.

    3. The third settlement was made by a colony of emigrants from Wales. Ebensburg and vicinity were not settled for several years after the first settlement was made at Loretto and Munster. As it lay still further from the more eastern settlements than the two latter places, it of course would not so soon be occupied by the hardy emigrants. In the fall and winter of 1796, the families of Thomas Phillips, William Jenkins, Theophilus Rees, Evan Roberts, Rev. Rees Lloyd, William Griffith, James Nicholas, Daniel Griffith, John Jones, David Thomas, Evan James, and George Roberts; and Thomas W. Jones, Esq., John Jenkins, Isaac Griffith, and John Tobias, bachelors, commenced settling in Cambria township, Cambria county; and in the following spring and summer the families of the Rev. Morgan J. Rees, John J. Evans, William Rees, Simon James, William Williams (South), Thomas Griffith, John Thomas, John Roberts (Penbryn), John Roberts (shoemaker), David Rees, Robert Williams, and George Turner, and Thomas Griffith (farmer), James Evans, Griffith Rowland, David Edwards, Thomas Lewis, and David Davis, bachelors, followed. There were at this time several families living in the vicinity of the places where Loretto, Munster, Jefferson, and Johnstown now stand. The settlers above named, we believe, were all from Wales. They commenced making improvements in the different parts of what is now called Cambria township. The name which the Welsh emigrants gave to their settlement, Cambria, was derived from their former home – the mountainous part of Wales. Cambria township afterwards gave name to the county, which was, at the time of which we speak, a part of Somerset county. The tract of country on which the Welsh emigrants settled had been purchased a year or two previous by the Rev. Morgan J. Rees (mentioned above), from Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philadelphia, and by him sold to his Welsh brethren, in smaller tracts.

    The descendants of the welsh are the principal population at this day of Ebensburg borough and Cambria township, while the settlement extends to a portion of all the adjoining townships. The colony, under lead of Rev. Rees Lloyd and Rev. George Roberts, were highly successful in their enterprise. They were, in religion, Dissenters, or Welsh Independents, and were men of strong religious convictions. Their services were at first exclusively in the Welsh language, and still preaching is rendered in that tongue in their churches. The colony, under lead of Rev. Morgan J. Rees, Baptist, settled some two miles further west, and founded Beula. They flourished for a few years, but subsequently the town was abandoned. A large Irish emigration subsequently settled in what is now Munster and Washington townships, and what is known as Hickory Ridge, in Allegheny township.

    In the northern portion of the county settlements were afterwards made, both in the present bounds of Carroll township, one known as “Weakland” settlement, the other as “Luther” settlement. These settlers were from the eastern counties, as were also those who founded “Glasgow” settlement, in the north-eastern portion of the county. In the west, on Laurel hill, Michael Rager, a revolutionary soldier, located at an early day, and his descendants occupy a large portion of the territory at present. Rev. Peter Henry Lemke, a German priest, introduced a colony of German Catholics into the neighborhood surrounding Carrolltown, which is now a rich and thriving population. In more recent years there has been a considerable influx from the New England States, noted for their enterprise and industry.

    Trouble with the aborigines did not prevail to any great extent within the limits of the county. No Indian settlement, except the town of Kickenapawling (Johnstown) existed in the county. The rugged and mountainous character of the country was not adapted to the habits of the red men. Frankstown, in Blair county, and Kittanning, on the Allegheny, were noted Indian villages, and Canoe Place, since known as Cherrytree, on the Susquehanna. The north-western corner of Cambria county was known as the head of canoe navigation on the Susquehanna. To this point the Indians ascended in their canoes; when, drawing them from the stream, they would strike their trail, through northern Indiana to Kittanning. From Frankstown a trail historically known as “Kittanning Path” passed the eastern line of Cambria county, and pursued a north-western direction through the county to Canoe Place, or Cherrytree, whence the trail just mentioned was followed to Kittanning.

    It will be seen that Cherrytree was noted as the head of canoe navigation on the Susquehanna, and the point of junction of the Indian trails or paths. But it obtained greater celebrity, as the northern boundary of the purchase from the Indians, at the treaty or purchase made at Fort Stanwix, November 5, 1768. That portion of the deed is in these words: “To the heads of a creek which runs into the west branch of Susquehanna, which creek is by the Indians called Tyadaghton, and down the said creek on the south side thereof to the said west branch of Susquehanna, then crossing the said river, and running up the same on the south side thereof, the several courses thereof to the fork of the same river, which lies nearest to a place on the river Ohio, called the Kittanning, and from thence,” etc. This purchase included all of Cambria county.

    The Kittanning Path was a well-known landmark. It is often referred to in land warrants, was well known to the old surveyors who located lands in Cambria, as well as our older citizens. In many places it can be traced to this day. It gives the name to that triumph of science, the Kittanning point on the Pennsylvania railroad, on the declivity of the Allegheny, the path pursuing the gap which the road almost encompasses.

    John Hart, a German, who carried on a trade in furs, etc., with the Indians, is supposed to be the first white man who traveled this path. Some twelve miles north of Ebensburg, on the Dry Gap road, is a spot famous as the place where he, with his horse, was wont to spend the night; and the name is frequently called Hart's Sleeping to the present time by many of the earlier settlers. Tradition gives the name of Hartslog valley, in Huntingdon county, to him, from the fact that he there fed his horse in a kerf cut in a log.

    An ancient fortification exists near the Beaver Dam branch of Clearfield creek, in the north-eastern portion of the county. Some years since part of the timbers remained, showing its extent and purpose, but the plowshare has nearly obliterated the last vestige of it. It was evidently a stockade or fort for refuge against Indian aggression; but there is no tradition concerning its construction or use.

    A short distance further north is a most remarkable windfall. When a primeval forest, a hurricane had passed from west to east, and in its force levelled every tree with the ground for nearly a mile in width. Nearly forty years ago, when first seen by the writer, the appearance was most striking. Approaching it from the south, in a summer's day, with a clear sky, the narrow road led through a dense forest of stately pines, through which the sun never reached the head of the traveler, the eyes are at once greeted by a vast opening, and, he believes himself, of extensive cultivation. Emerging from the woods, he finds himself on an extended plain without a single tree, but a general growth of aspen (Trembler), its leaves reflected in the bright sunshine and a relief, appearing ethereal, after the dense forest from which he had just emerged. The monarchs of the forest had all been uprooted, and small mounds (the earth which had adhered to the roots) filled the plain, while the last remains of the huge forest trees lay crumbling to the eastward, the direction in which the hurricane had passed.

    More recent improvements have put all this territory in cultivation, and the effect of the celebrated windfall is now, in a measure, lost; but the post office itself “Fallen Timber,” keeps alive its memories.

    Cambria County furnished two companies in the war of 1812, commanded respectively by Captains Moses Canan and Richard McGuire, who were in the celebrated Black Rock expedition. Two companies volunteered for the Mexican war – the Cambria Guards, of Ebensburg, commanded by Captain James Murray, afterwards Captain C. H. Heyer, and the Highlanders, from Summitville, commanded by Captain John W. Geary, afterwards Governor of Pennsylvania.

    The history of roads and highways possesses some local interest. Originally transportation over the mountain was carried on by packing on horses, and traveling by pathways. The nearest mill to the early Ebensburg settlers was at Blair's gap, nearly twenty miles distant. It took a day to reach the mill with the grist on horseback, and after its conversion to flour another day sufficed to get it home. The earliest road, if it may be dignified by that name, was known as Galbraith's road, which passed south of Ebensburg. From the location of the county, however, it necessarily became traversed by the various routes crossing from the east to Pittsburgh, or Fort Pitt, as it was then called. On the 29th March, 1787, an act of Assembly was passed appointing commissioners “to lay out a State highway, between the waters of the Frankstown branch of Juniata, and the river Conemaugh. This road, still known as the Frankstown road, crossing the Allegheny, reaches the Conemaugh at Johnstown. The stream by the same act was made a public highway. Portions of this road were changed by proceedings in the quarter sessions of the counties through which it passed, by act of April 11, 1799. By act of April 13, 1791, amened by act of April 10, 1792, the Conemaugh and its branches were declared public highways. The act of February 13, 1804, declared the Clearfield creek to the great Elk Lick (forks of Beaver Dam), a public highway. The act of April 11, 1807, appropriates money to the commissioners of Cambria county, “for improving the State road from Beula to Pittsburgh.” It is a sad commentary on the history of the county that while Pittsburgh and its environs may number two hundred thousand, there is not now a solitary house or inhabitant in Beula. The once thriving village, two miles west from Ebensburg, and its formidable rival, is now entirely deserted, and in many places it is difficult to trace the State road, whose improvement was in the eye of the Legislature.

    The public road referred to passed centrally through Cambria county by Munster, Ebensburg, and Beula, and in legislative parlance was known as the “road leading from Blair's gap to the western line of the State.” All this was before the days of turnpikes. On the 4th March, 1807, an act was passed incorporating a company to construct a turnpike “from Harrisburg through Lewistown and Huntingdon to Pittsburgh.” A supplement to this act incorporated a company for the construction of the “Huntingdon, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike Road,” March 20, 1810. A further supplement of February 21, 1814, directed that the turnpike should be laid out “from the house of John Blair (Blair's gap), on the east side of the Allegheny mountain, on the post road in Huntingdon county, by the best and nearest route through Munster and Ebensburg, to the house of Martin Rager, on the west side of Laurel Hill.” This turnpike was not finished for travel for several years after, and passes directly through the center of the county. The Dry Gap road follows the same general direction as the Kittanning path, entering the county at the gap from which it takes its name, and extending north-westerly to Cherrytree. A road was constructed from Ebensburg to Philipsburg, in Centre county, but only a portion of it is now in use.

    General McConnell, of revolutionary memory, a resident of Philadelphia, held a large body of land in what is now Chest township, in northern Cambria, and Mrs. Ruth McConnell, the widow of his son, built a fine mansion on the property, and named her home Glenconnell. The doors, windows, etc., were brought from Philadelphia. A road led from “the Glen” to Ebensburg, but has long been disused. A road also led from Beula to the town of Somerset, which is now obliterated.

    But the age of improvement sped on. In 1831-32 the Portage railroad, ascending the eastern slope of the Allegheny by five inclined planes, up which the cars were drawn by stationary engines, and descending on the west by a like number, connected at Johnstown and Hollidaysburg with the “Main Line” of Pennsylvania improvements. This great achievement (as it was then called) is superseded by the location of the Pennsylvania railroad, near the same time, which enters Cambria through the great tunnel at Gallitzin, and leaves the county on the line of Westmoreland and Indiana counties.

    Two natural curiosities worthy of note, existing in this county, deserve brief mention. The Conemaugh, in its descent of the mountain, after the accession of the South Fork, finds its course arrested by a mighty ledge of rocks, and, turning to the right, passes for miles around an elevated plateau, and returning to within a stone's throw of the place of divergence, pursues its downward career. Immediately west of this is the Horse-shoe viaduct, constructed for the Portage railroad, and the western line of the county, forms a peninsula. Along the public road traversing this neck of land is an immense rock, which has been cleft by some convulsion of nature, and affords barely room in the crevice, or crevasse, for the passage of a wagon. The walls of this rock are perpendicular on each side, and if brought into contact would fit like joiner's work. Passing through this in the hottest summer day, the traveler experiences the coolness of an ice-house. Snow has been known to remain here till June.

    EBENSBURG is the county seat. It is situated in the precise geographical center of the county. The Northern turnpike passes through its principal street; with the Pennsylvania railroad at Cresson. It has also public roads leading to Carrolltown, Loretto, and Wilmore. Ebensburg was laid out about the beginning of the present century by Rev. Rees Lloyd, who gave it the name of his eldest son, Eben. He also conveyed, in trust, the square upon which the public buildings now stand. The courthouse is a venerable building, wherein justice is still “judicially administered,” but is by no means creditable to the town or the county. The jail is one of the finest and most massive, and safe, of any in the State. An academy also stands upon the public grounds; but is now used as a public school. Water works are in course of erection. The Sisters of St. Joseph have a Catholic school for boys, in a flourishing condition. The first court was held in the building known as the “Old Red Jail.” The court room was above stairs – the prison below. It was here that Jemmy Farral, being sentenced for contempt of the court above, was seized with a devotional fit, and sang so lustily that the court was compelled to adjourn until his term of probation expired. Ebensburg was created a borough in 1825.

    JOHNSTOWN, with its aggregation of surrounding municipalities, eight in number, embraces a population of 13,842. These are, Johnstown proper, Conemaugh, Millville, Cambria, Prospect, East Conemaugh, Franklin, Coopersdale, and Woodvale. Johnstown proper is situated at the confluence of Conemaugh creek with Stony creek, two of its wards, lying on the west side of the latter, and formerly known as Kernville. It is connected with its Kernville wards by a fine bridge across Stony creek, while a like structure crosses the Conemaugh, connecting the town with the Pennsylvania railroad and the Cambria iron works. Its location, as before stated, is on the site of Kickenapawling's Indian town, and was laid out by Joseph Jahns, before referred to, whence it derives its name. While the town itself lies mostly on a level plateau, it is surrounded on three sides by high and precipitous hills. The town is well paved, but the drainage of a portion is very difficult. It is supplied with excellent water from Wild Cat run, on Laurel Hill; and recently additional supplies have been secured from the Conemaugh.

    It is distinguished for the number and excellence of its churches. The Baptists, Catholics, Disciples, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans (English and German), Presbyterians, and United Brethren have each fine church edifices. Sandy Vale Cemetery is beautifully situated and tastefully ornamented. It is the chief burial place, immediately above town, on Stony creek. There are two elegant places of amusement, the town hall and opera house; a splendid market house; one daily newspaper and three weekly newspapers, two English and one German. Formerly the borough was the connecting point of railroad and canal transportation, and had a large number of warehouses for the deposit and transhipment of merchandise. These are all abandoned now, or converted to other purposes.

    CARROLLTOWN, ten miles north of Ebensburg, is a prosperous borough, containing mainly German Catholic inhabitants. It boasts a very large and elegant Catholic church; and close by, a Benedictine convent. Immediately west of the town stands a fine brick structure – the Benedictine monastery. Father Lemke, a German priest, was the founder of the town, and an association known as the De Lemke Society perpetuates his name and his virtues. An extensive tannery, a brewery, and other manufactures, add to the prosperity of the village. The borough is in Carroll township.

    CONEMAUGH borough adjoins Johnstown, from which it is only divided by an imaginary line, in appearance it being the same town. In 1870 it contained 2,336 inhabitants. It lies above Johnstown on the Conemaugh side. It has an industrious and thriving population, the majority being laborers.

    MILLVILLE is directly opposite Johnstown, fronting on the Conemaugh above and below its junction with the Stony creek. The immense iron and steel works of the Cambria iron company, alluded to in the early portion of this sketch, are here located. The bulk of the inhabitants are operatives in these works. It has a population of 2,500.

    CAMBRIA borough lies opposite Millville, on the Conemaugh. Like it, it is mostly inhabited by operatives in the mills. EAST CONEMAUGH and FRANKLIN lie two miles higher up the Conemaugh, the stream dividing the two boroughs. The works of the Pennsylvania railroad company are located here, and these villages are mainly inhabited by those in the employ of the company. Between these points and Conemaugh borough, the village of WOODVALE is situated. Here are located the extensive woolen mills of the Cambria iron company. A short distance below Cambria borough, on the Conemaugh, is COOPERSDALE. PROSPECT borough occupies the northern ascent from the Conemaugh, and is mainly inhabited by employees at the iron works. LORETTO, founded by Prince Gallitzin, is one of the oldest villages in the county. It contains a large Catholic church edifice, in front of which repose the remains of the pious founder, surmounted by a monument. The convent of St. Aloysius, under the auspices of the Sisters of Mercy, is a very imposing building, and has had the highest success as an educational establishment. The Franciscan Monastery, on an eminence west of the town, is also a large and handsome structure, known as St. Francis, school for young men. It is situate in Allegheny township.

    CHEST SPRINGS, on the Dry Gap road, partly in Allegheny, partly in Clearfield township, owes much of its prosperity to a New England colony, engaged in the manufacture of shook and other lumber. It has a large steam planning mill. WILMORE, on the Pennsylvania railroad and Conemaugh creek, in Summer Hill township, is largely engaged in the lumber trade.

    SUMMITVILLE, on the mountain, in Washington township, was incorporated as a borough during the palmy days of the “Old Portage railroad,” and continued to thrive during its existence. On its abandonment the town declined. It is now a favorite summer resort, on account of the grateful mountain breezes.

    Among other villages may be noted – ADAMSBURG, in Adams township; BELSENO, on the Indiana turnpike, in Blacklick township; ST. LAWRENCE and ST. BONIFACIUS, in Chest township, each of which boasts a handsome Catholic church; ST. AUGUSTINE, in Clearfield township, with a large Catholic church; SUMMER HILL, in Croyle township, with a large lumbering establishment; GALLITZIN borough, at west end of Pennsylvania railroad tunnel, so named from Prince Gallitzin; FAIRVIEW, in Jackson township, on the Johnstown road; MUNSTER, on the Northern turnpike, in township of same name; PLATTVILLE, in Susquehanna township; HEMLOCK and PORTAGE, in Washington township, on Pennsylvania railroad; and LLOYDSVILLE, in White township. The last is a village of recent growth, at the terminus of the Bell's Mill narrow gauge railroad, where the mining of coal is carried on very extensively.

    The deserted village of BEULA has already been mentioned. Originally laid out with the dimensions of a city – afterwards the formidable rival of Ebensburg; the loss of the county seat, and the changed location of the Northern turnpike, left it without resources and without hope, and it went into rapid decay. At this time the site of the “deserted village,” as shown the visitor by the “oldest inhabitant,” is all that remains of the once prosperous Beula.

    Cambria county, with Blair and Huntingdon, constitutes the twenty-fourth judicial district, Hon. John Dean, presiding; and is attached to the Western district of Supreme Court, sitting at Pittsburgh. With Blair, Bedford, and Somerset, she forms a congressional district. With Blair county she elects a Senator, and is entitled to two members of the House of Representatives.


Transcribed from: Egle, William H., M.D. An Illustrated History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Harrisburg: DeWitt C. Goodrich & Co., 1876), p. 461-478.

Last Updated: 30 Mar 2008
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