My Early Blair County Settlers – Inter Primos – First 125 Years
A hundred years before the chartering of Blair County, the territory now comprising the
area was primeval forest. It is doubtful if any portion of the county had been cleared. It was
densely covered with a great variety of trees – oak, pine, chestnut, hemlock, hickory and walnut.In these forests could be found elk, deer, bear, squirrel, rabbit and here and there an eastern buffalo. Mountain streams were filled with salmon, bass and trout. In the low lying areas, streams were filled with beaver who built dams which created swamps.
Some historical records indicate that there was a Delaware Indian village called
Assunnepachla at Frankstown, even though the land was occupied by the Delaware Indians (Lenni Lenape means “Human Beings” or the “Real People” in the Unami language) the ownership of the land was claimed by the Iroquois. Francois Etienne (Frank Stevens) for whom the village of Frankstown acquired its name, had a trading post at this location. Indians visited at certain seasons to trade for supplies. Conrad Weiser states in his journal of August 20, 1748 that he passed the location of Frankstown on that date and found no houses or cabins there. Land could not be legally owned by the whites prior to July 6, 1754 when the treaty was negotiated at Albany, N.Y. for the purchase of a large block of central Pennsylvania land from the confederacy known as the Six Nation – Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga and Tuscaroras. It was sold for four hundred pounds or about $2,500. At this time land warrants were issued at Philadelphia to whites who wished to settle in the newly acquired territory. Much of the travel from the east came by way of the Frankstown Path also known as the Kittanning Trail. Col. Armstrong marched his band of men along this trail in September of 1756 on their way to the Kittanning Indian village. This expedition was necessary to quell the savage Indian attacks on the settlers of the Juniata Valley.
Located in the most mountainous regions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Blair
County is estimated to cover five hundred-thirty square miles. Although not opened to
settlement until 1754, a few squatters occupied sections of the land.
In the very early days, friendly Indians roamed the forests, and built their wigwams beside the Little Juniata; and most noted of all these braves was Chief Captain Logan, the firm friend of the Americans. Chief Logan made his home for a number of years beside the beautiful spring, which thereafter, bore his name. He had lost his eye by a shot with an arrow and was disgraced by his own and moved from his Chief position to a regular member of his tribe.
Antis Township in which the borough is situated. In 1810 a portion of Allegheny Township was detached to form another township, which was named Antes Township in honor of General Antes. Forty years later a portion of this township was also broken up to form what is now Logan Township.
Antis Township was once the home of a number of thriving villages around which the population centered, namely Tipton, Fostoria, Elizabeth Furnace, Mary Ann Furnace and Davidsburg (now Hensheytown).
Many years ago when the mines were operated in Tipton hollow, a right sizeable town flourished in the vicinity of the mines. These mines were located near the site of the present Tipton Reservoir and nothing remains today except several abandoned shafts. As a reminder of past glory, the small clearing near Loop Run is still referred to as the “Old Dancing Pavillion” by deer hunters and others who frequent these mountains.
The industries of Antis Township consisted chiefly of farming and manufacturing. The manufactories consisted of grist and saw mills owned by John Ake, a gristmill and distillery owned by Edward Bell, a distillery owned by Shipley Priestley and a saw mill owned by Michael Wallace. The Township has grown considerable since its erection having had but 95 taxables in 1811.
in 1810 James Hopkins Sr served as the first Antes (old spelling) Township supervisor and 1821 as overseer of the poor.
Jonathan Hopkins ( James Sr’s grandson) and Thomas Van Scoyk were the region’s first school directors in 1835; the assumption might be made that there were a school or two in the valley at that time to require the services of school directors. The valley’s first Sunday school was organized in 1826 by Samuel Martin of the Mary Ann Forge area.
BELLWOOD, or BELLS MILLS as it was once known, was founded by Edward
“Neddy” Bell about 1800. A grist mill was built. About 1832 Edward Bell and his son, Martin
became interested in the iron industry and built a furnace which they named for Edward Bell’s daughter, Elizabeth. The ruins of this furnace are still visible today. Martin Bell devised a system of using escaping gasses from the iron furnace to give added power to the operation and secured a patent for the process. John Bell owned Mary Ann Forge (Built 1830) and the Isetts owned Cold Spring Forge.The Bells Gap Railroad, a narrow gauge road, was built and put into operation in 1872. Its main function was to bring coal and lumber to the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroad extended from Lloydsville to Bellwood, a descent of eleven hundred feet in the nine miles of track. In the 1880’s it was widened to standard gauge and by 1891 had been extended to Fordham. In 1892 it merged with other lines and became known as the Pennsylvania and Northwestern Railroad. Although abandoned a number of years ago, the bed of the railroad makes an excellent hiking trail with its deep gorges and mountainous slopes. It is truly a spot of beauty.Incorporation of the Borough of Bellwood occurred on February 9, 1888.
“Almost in the proportion as Bellwood flowered, so the economic life of the township withered.” The iron industry was moving out of this central Pennsylvania region in favor of the growing Pittsburgh steel industry and the coalfields of western Pennsylvania. Attention shifted from the iron industry to the railroad industry. In 1873 the Bell’s Gap Narrow Gauge Railroad was built connecting Bell’s Mills and Lloydville in Cambria County. The line was widened to standard gauge in the 1880’s and extended on to Figart and Coalport. In 1891 the line reached Fordham. A branch of this railroad was extended northward and reached the town of Punxsutawney in Jefferson County. In 1892 the Bell’s Gap line and a number of other connecting lines merged to become the Pennsylvania and Northwestern Railroad. For ten years, prior to its merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1902, the line functioned as a self-contained line. The rail line primarily transported coal, but it also operated three passenger trains per day through the region. Repair shops and dispatcher offices provided employment for area residents. Three main shops (wheel, machine and blacksmith), along with a number of annexes, were constructed in 1891. There were between 160 and 200 men employed at the Bellwood Shops. As part of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Bellwood Shops continued to operate at peak capacity. During the World War I period the Bellwood Shops reached their peak of employment and production. The shops operated on a twenty-four hour schedule. The yards stretched between North First Street and Roots Crossing and were twelve tracks wide in places. The boom did not last long for Bellwood. Between 1920 and 1924 the shops were closed down as part of a merger with the Bellwood Branch and the Cresson Division, which had occurred in 1918. The closing of the shops caused the borough’s population to fall.