Historic Houses in the Spring Creek Watershed
There is a rich collection of historic houses in the Spring Creek Watershed, some of them more than 200 years old. They range from individual properties located on or near Spring Creek or its tributaries to those included in the historic villages and towns that evolved from original small settlements. They are significant through their architecture and through the role they played in the settlement and development of the Watershed, so significant that they have been recognized and included in the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s most prestigious list.
Photo 1. The square in the Village of Boalsburg, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The earliest buildings tended to be located on roads that were formed parallel to the waterways, and include large houses built by early ironmasters or owned by prosperous land owners, along with those that make up the historic districts in Bellefonte, Boalsburg, Lemont, Linden Hall, Oak Hall, and State College.
These houses serve as architectural evidence – visible clues – to this once remote area of central Pennsylvania, with its ridges and valleys. What, how, when, these houses were built tells part of the story, but it is sharply enhanced with an understanding of why they were built, who built them, and what role the geography and natural resources of the Watershed helped to form their architectural history.
Brief Overview of Architectural Styles
Architectural materials used in early Watershed examples included log, plank, stone and brick, drawing from the abundance of trees, fieldstone, and nearby deposits of clay for making bricks, available within a close distance to the building sites. Regardless of the building materials used, the style tended to be repeated: small, simple one room deep, 1 or 1 ½ story folk houses with little extra trim; and larger 2 or 2 ½ story symmetrical structures, with the roof ridge line running parallel to the road, often with additional details in their design. On the first floor of these local Georgian-style houses, there are two windows on either side of an often highlighted, decorated door leading into a central hallway. Five equally-spaced windows on the second floor are located directly above the first- floor openings. A back, or sometimes side-kitchen ell, often was added. This “five-bay Georgian” style was built over and over again, well into the 19th century. A three-bay variation, called a side hall or half-Georgian was sometimes used as part of a streetscape, and often as the first stage for a larger house.
Architectural styles began to change mid-19th century to reflect new design tastes and fashions across the country, and many Centre County homeowners embraced those changes. Pattern books and information spread through railroad connections to other locations ushered in new ideas. The symmetry of early Georgian houses was replaced with asymmetry. Gabled roofs were replaced by roofs that added cross-gables or broken with peaks and towers; flat roofs with decorative bracketing; mansard or double pitch French-styles; decorative wooden trim, elaborate chimneys, towers, bays – sometimes all combined into a single property. Under the general heading of Victorian architecture, specific style-names were Carpenter Gothic, Italianate, Mansard, Queen Anne. Bellefonte provides excellent examples.
Styles changed again as the 20th century began with a movement away from Victorian exuberance to a reinterpretation of earlier American houses, labeled Colonial Revival or versions that introduced variations on English, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish designs. By the 1920s, bungalows and variations of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style were common additions. There are examples throughout the Watershed, but these 20th century styles are in abundance in State College.
Photo 2. Early stone residences in the Bellefonte National Register Historic District, with first floors updated into commercial space.
The Spring Creek Watershed -A Sense of Place
When land surveyors came into Nittany Valley shortly after the Revolutionary War, they found a vast reach of fertile soil, a generous water supply, and deposits in abundance of excellent quality iron ore. Those resources, combined with heavy stands of hardwood forests, and limestone deposits, represent all of the ingredients needed to launch a prosperous charcoal ironmaking industry.
Iron furnace operations had been part of the successful development of southeastern Pennsylvania, like Hopewell and Cornwall Furnaces in Berks County. But the natural resources to support those furnaces were dwindling, and ironmakers were seeking new locations. The resources within the Spring Creek Watershed provided such a location, as did iron furnace opportunities along portions of Bald Eagle Creek. Centre County, with its neighbors Huntingdon, Blair, Mifflin, and Clinton counties, became known as the Juniata Iron Region. During the first half of the 19th century, the region produced the largest amount of iron in the nation.
Developing an iron furnace operation was a risky business. Ironmasters had to acquire vast landholdings, acreage in the thousands, to have the necessary supply of natural resources. But, if they were shrewd and if they were fortunate, it also brought great wealth and with that, political power. Several iron furnace operations, sometimes called iron plantations, were established in Centre County. Four of the largest in the Watershed were: Centre Furnace; Logan Furnace and later the Valentine and Thomas Ironworks; Harmony Forge and the Milesburg Iron Works; and the Philip Benner’s furnace operation at Rock. Sometimes linked in business, sometimes sharply competitive, they shaped the area’s development throughout the 19th century.
Photo 3. The Harmony Forge, founded by John Patton, Samuel Miles, and John Dunlop, near Milesburg.
A pyramidal-shaped stone furnace dominated these charcoal-iron making industrial sites, sites that often included a forge, blacksmith shop, rolling mill, slitting mill, and a barn to house charcoal or iron ore for the furnace operation. The larger community included an office, company store, housing for the workers, a gristmill, church, and sometimes a school. Farms and an agricultural complex, including a large barn and accessory buildings to meet the community’s needs were often part of the iron plantation.
Overseeing it all was the ironmaster. He and his family were housed in the largest residential building on the site; the size and style of these “mansion houses” were the other dominant feature on the landscape. They tended to be located a bit back from the furnace operation, to escape some of the smoke and grime, but close enough for the ironmaster to be able to observe the operation. While nearly all of the industrial remains have disappeared, the Centre Furnace stack, and a few of these houses in the Spring Creek Watershed provide a reminder of the iron making era.
Centre Furnace - Watershed History Mother Lode
Centre Furnace could be described as the “history” headwater of the Spring Creek Watershed. The Centre Furnace Mansion and furnace stack at East College Avenue and Porter Road serve as symbols of the beginnings of the two initiatives that shaped the settlement and development of the Spring Creek Watershed: the iron industry and education.
Construction of the Centre Furnace Ironworks began in 1791, during George Washington’s first term as president. It was founded by two Revolutionary War officers from the Philadelphia area who had served under Washington – John Patton and Samuel Miles. They located their operation at Great Falling Spring along fast-moving Willy Brook. Those water sources (now altered by highway alignment) are known today as Thompson Spring and Thompson Run.
Patton and Miles acquired extensive amounts of land, including rich deposits of iron ore from present-day Scotia. Miles remained in Philadelphia, but John Patton built and lived at Centre Furnace. Other ironmaking enterprises followed, with forges and furnaces built downstream at Rock, Bellefonte, and just south of Milesburg. Patton and Miles had connections with them all. Initially, some Centre Furnace pig iron was forged at Philip Benner’s operation at Rock. Within five years, Miles and Patton built Harmony Forge near Milesburg in partnership with Bellefonte ironmaster John Dunlop. After the founders’ deaths, Joseph and John Miles, with their colleague Joseph Green, continued to run both Harmony Forge and Centre Furnace sites, eventually shifting the whole operation downstream to Harmony Forge. Centre Furnace closed for the first time in 1809.
The second part of the story began in the 1820s, when Centre Furnace reopened, with General James Irvin joining the Miles-Green partnership. Irvin became sole owner in 1828, upgraded the operation and brought in his brother-in-law, Moses Thompson, as the manager. Centre Furnace remained in blast until 1858 and then closed for good, reflecting a shift to new and more efficient methods for processing iron ore.
Photo 4. The Centre Furnace stack, from the earliest iron works in Centre County founded by John Patton and Samuel Miles, on College Avenue near the Centre Furnace Mansion. Photo credit: Centre County Historical Society
While the charcoal ironmaking era at Centre Furnace was over, what remained was extensive landholdings – key to what happened next. That real estate became a major enticement for the establishment of a new agricultural school, now Penn State University, through an initial gift of 200 acres of Centre Furnace land. And with the smoke and grime of charcoal ironmaking over, the Mansion became a center for school-related social activities, with residents Moses and Mary Irvin Thompson providing the hospitality. Thompson, who took over ownership of Centre Furnace at Irvin’s death in 1862, served as secretary and treasurer of the new and struggling school, and was one of its financial backers. He was a shrewd businessman, the owner of substantial land, and an investor in turnpikes, a canal, and railroads. The Thompsons continued as residents of the mansion until their deaths in the 1890s; son William and his family remained in the house into the 20th century.
The architectural history of Centre Furnace Mansion provides an example of how local building materials and styles evolved during the 19th century. A late 18th century log house with a fieldstone foundation served the needs of the first ironmaster, John Patton. After Patton died, it was rebuilt and enlarged in the 1820s, using local brick while incorporating the ground-level kitchen of the first house. This second version was built in the style of the day – symmetrical five-bay Georgian with a high-lighted entrance leading into a wide center hall, with two equally sized rooms on either side of the hallway. A kitchen ell was added in 1846. Beginning in the 1860s, substantial decorative changes took place, in keeping with new and impressive houses being built in Bellefonte and elsewhere in new Victorian styles.
Photo 5. The owners of Centre Furnace gave the original tract of land to an agricultural college that eventually became Penn State. Updated by various owners through the 1860’s, Centre Furnace Mansion now houses the Centre County Historical Society. Photo credit: Centre County Historical Society
During that period, the Thompsons “modernized” the mansion with a large front porch and a second-floor balcony; extended eaves with decorative brackets; sharply peaked dormer windows; and decorative wooden gingerbread trim, all painted in the recommended color palette of the times. It was the conversion of a large traditional farmhouse to a country house with landscaped grounds, consistent with the Thompson’s role in the growing community. Centre Furnace Mansion now serves as a museum and headquarters of the Centre County Historical Society.
The small community, with its few scattered houses that had begun to form around the new agricultural school, took on a momentum of its own as the new school grew. While historic houses and communities elsewhere in the Watershed dated from the 1800s of the 19th century, State College reflects the residential architectural heritage of the 20th century.
Photo 6. The College Heights National Register Historic District of State College.
Two large historic districts – College Heights and Holmes-Foster/Highlands –are included in the National Register of Historic Places. Residents new to a growing college town made personal and individualized selections in determining their preferred housing style. They chose from a variety of new 20th century possibilities readily available through popular magazines, architectural journals, and other sources reflecting housing tastes of the times, and particularly through mail-order offerings from Sears, Roebuck and Company ; Aladdin; and Gordon-Van Tine. State College offers a virtual museum collection of examples of these “ordered by mail and shipped by rail” choices that were available to new homeowners. Many other new residents, with more than a passing knowledge and interest in their own architectural choices, turned to local architects, often Penn State faculty members, to design their dream house. The result is blocks and blocks of tree-lined residential streets in State College that offer a particularly rich collection of well-maintained single-family homes dating from the first half of the 20th century. They are in contrast with the large, carefully designed, and finely crafted fraternity houses, built in period styles ranging from English Tudor to Italian, French or Georgian revivals. These developments provided early State College with its own collection of 20th century mansions.
Photo 7 (left). Sears, Roebuck and Company mail-order house, one of many patterns available to house buyers, on East Fairmont Street, State College in the Holmes/Foster-Highlands National Register Historic District.
Photo 8 (right). Tree-lined Sunset Boulevard in the College Heights National Register Historic District of State College.
Historic Headwater Villages
Pine Grove Mills
Near the headwaters of Slab Cabin Run, Pine Grove Mills was another early ironmaking site. Tussey Furnace opened in 1810, but had a short industrial life, closing in 1815. The waterpower provided by Slab Cabin Run, however, resulted in the location of a series of early mills that served the area’s agricultural needs and gave the village of Pine Grove Mills its name. The first mill opened in 1800; the last closed more than 100 years later, in 1928.
This post village (a stop along early stage coach routes), providing crossroads leading to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, was laid out in 1809 on a grid pattern with a center diamond surrounded by 60 quarter-acre lots. The first tavern was built on Main (Pitt) Street in 1804. The Boalsburg Tavern (Duffy’s) was added in 1819, and Wolf Tavern, which served waggoners and drovers moving goods and livestock, was built in 1825. The James Logue Coach Factory, (now the Harris Township building), also reflects Boalsburg’s early transportation history.
Photo 9. Duffy’s Tavern, built in 1819, on the Square in Boalsburg.
Boalsburg was the commercial center for the upper portion of the Spring Creek Watershed well into the 19th century. Houses, particularly along Main Street, were a combination of residential and commercial, sometimes under one roof and sometimes in two adjoining buildings. With new architectural tastes emerging in the last half of the 19th century, Boalsburg added Victorian-style houses, or often simply added Victorian-style porches to their earlier Georgian buildings. The village has remained remarkably intact during its more than 200-year history and has been recognized for those efforts by placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Boal Mansion – The history of the Boal Mansion began with the arrival of Irish immigrant, David Boal, to the region in the late 1780s. He built a small stone cabin that represents the beginnings of the mansion. In 1796, his son, also David, built a three-bay, side-hall Georgian, while retaining the stone cabin. One hundred years later, descendent Theodore Davis Boal, an architect, expanded the house by adding two more bays as well as classical elements, reflecting his interest and training at the Ecole of Beaux Artes in Paris. Through his French wife, he acquired artifacts and built the Columbus Chapel to house them. And, as an officer in World War I, he established the 28th Division Shrine on former Boal property. While still owned by the Boal family, it was converted to use as a museum by son Pierre Boal in 1952.
Photo 10. Boal Mansion was expanded to its present condition in 1796. Photo credit: Boal Mansion.
This National Register village in Cedar Run Valley was the shipping point for timber cut in the Bear Meadows area. In its heyday, the village had four stores, a grain elevator, lumber and coal yard, gristmill, distillery, and a station for the Lewisburg & Tyrone Railroad. Current residents have carefully restored the Rock Hill School to serve as a community resource and reminder of the village’s past. The John Irvin house above the mill pond was the childhood home of Centre Furnace principals, James Irvin and his sister, Mary Irvin Thompson.
One of the county’s oldest communities, Oak Hall is on the road that connected Bellefonte to Boalsburg and beyond. Early mills were built to take advantage of the water power offered by the merging Cedar Run and Spring Creek. While a substantial portion of this National Register village was lost to the highway construction of the Mount Nittany Expressway, a landmark house and farm complex were preserved.
James Irvin Mansion (Oak Hall Farm) --The 1825 Georgian stone house and barn were built for General James Irvin, one of Centre County’s most prominent citizens. Irvin was an active ironmaster, involved in several iron furnace operations in the Watershed. He also served as a legislator and military officer, as well as the major donor in a gift of land for the establishment of a future Penn State. His Oak Hall farm was built on a portion of the property owned by his father, John.
Photo 11. The Oak Hall Farm was built in 1825 by James Irvin.
James Irvin’s farm complex remains intact with a collection of outbuildings, and its two main features, the c.1825 carefully designed and crafted stone mansion and barn. The house is a large and handsome 2 ½ story, five-bay Georgian, personalized by Victorian ornamentation. Those additions included brackets along the cornice line, sharply-peaked roof dormers, and a particularly fine copper-roofed porch with cast iron decoration. Palladian windows at one end of stone barn is unique to Centre County, and probably elsewhere. This property and its neighbor, the former Irvin gristmill, converted in 1971 to a private residence, are included in the Oak Hall National Register district.
This tiny village has disappeared; only the Felix Dale house and the Dale Cemetery remain as reminders of this early community on the old road between Lemont and Oak Hall. Christian Dale, one of the earliest settlers to the area, built a successful gristmill and sawmill operation along Spring Creek. At his death in 1825, his son Felix Dale became the owner of the milling operation and built his stone house. While in the local Georgian symmetrical style, its two front doors provide a variation. It suggests that the house was originally a three-bay side hall version, with a two-bay attached kitchen addition with its own entrance. While the mills have disappeared, the house remains as a symbol to the role of early milling operations.
Lemont (End of the Mountain)
Years before an actual village was established, a small crossroads settlement had formed around the base of Mount Nittany that provided a transportation route between Nittany and Penns Valleys. It became a connecting point for roads to and from Bellefonte, Boalsburg, Pine Grove Mills, and well beyond. Recognizing the location’s commercial potential, Centre Furnace ironmaster Moses Thompson acquired property in 1869 at “the End of the Mountain”. One year later, Thompson and his son, John I., Jr., laid out the village of Lemont. Lot sizes were somewhat determined by the path of Spring Creek and the contours of the mountain. In 1880, railroad service and a hotel were added to the community’s collection of several stores, a wagon and carriage shop, and the Thompson bank. Shipping and storage facilities, including a grain elevator and coal shed (newly restored), were built along the track. Passenger service became available for students of the new Agricultural College, and a horse-drawn carriage provided “taxi service” to the school. Lemont prospered as a commercial center into the early 20th century, until it was overtaken by the rapidly expanding town of State College.
The development history of Lemont is reflected in its architecture. The earliest houses were primarily small, simply-styled folk houses of log or plank, similar to those built in other nearby communities. Once the village was officially established, original houses were remodeled with Victorian porches and other trim. New housing reflected the popular Victorian architecture of the last third of the 19th century. This well-preserved village retains its historic residential quality and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Photo 12. On land originally owned by Moses Thompson, 19th Century Iron Master at Centre Furnace, the Village of Lemont is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
John Thompson Homestead – Located on East Branch Road a short distance from Lemont, this historic property was the childhood home of Moses Thompson. The elder Thompson was an early settler, relocating from nearby Mifflin County to a tract of land called Plum Bottom, along Slab Cabin Run. He replaced his original log house with this one, similar in symmetry to other early Georgian houses, but with three, rather than the more common five-bays. Thompson chose a unique combination of stone for the house: sandstone for the first floor and limestone for the second, square-cut limestone for the front façade of the limestone’s second floor. Young Moses, at 18, took over the management of the farm at his father’s death, launching his own success story. The house has been carefully restored, and this early rural homestead remains remarkably intact at the edge of an expanding population area. It, too, is listed on the National Register.
The waters of Thompson Run, Cedar Run, and Slab Cabin Run all had merged with Spring Creek as the Creek reaches Houserville. The power the merged water provides determined Houserville’s development. It was settled by Jacob Houser in 1788. Houser built a sawmill and gristmill, and later a fulling mill, which he quickly expanded into a highly successful woolen mill and factory – the first of its kind in the county. Local farmers sold raw wool to weave blankets and fabric by the yard. High quality finished products as well as surplus wool were shipped to Harrisburg, Baltimore, and elsewhere. The woolen factory operated until 1912.
Rock – Benner Iron Plantation
The second large iron furnace operation to open in the Spring Creek Watershed, also dating from the late 18th century, was General Philip Benner’s extensive “plantation” at Rock. Spring Creek had grown in size and power by the time it reached Rock – the rocky precipice that is part of the Creek’s Canyon.
General Benner, like Miles and Patton of Centre Furnace, was a military man and Revolutionary War officer. He also was known as one of the richest and most influential of Pennsylvania's early ironmasters. He came from Chester County to this central Pennsylvania wilderness in 1793, with a group of approximately 100 ironworkers. During the next seven years, he built forges, furnaces, a rolling mill, nail factory, grist mill, and a saw mill. His high-quality iron made at Rock was transported to Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and New Orleans. In 1815, inventor Eli Whitney described it as "some of the best in the world."
The village of Rock included worker housing, a school, church, store, post office, and Benner’s own limestone mansion that replaced an earlier log house. Benner also built houses in Bellefonte, including the Linn House (now the Bellefonte Art Museum of Centre County), and founded the Centre Democrat. After his death in 1832, his son and other heirs took over the property, but the iron-related activities were over. The lands that had comprised his ironmaking operation were acquired by Bellefonte banker William F. Reynolds, and his son. The younger Reynolds sold those lands in 1912 as the site for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Rockview.
Benner Mansion – Built in 1812, Philip Benner’s mansion was known for its design – perhaps the finest of all of Centre County’s historic ironmaster mansions. It stood on a knoll on the north side of Spring Creek, facing the Rock. It was a 2-story, five-bay, one room deep I- house in the Georgian style, with a 2-story ell addition. Built of local stone, the front of the mansion was finished in rough coursed stone, the stone used for the back and sides was uncoursed. The hooded entrance had a double pair of sidelights on either side of the door; six-pane over six-pane windows were all made with a three-keystone lintel of cut stone. Each of the two front rooms were approximately 21 x 17 feet; the front hall was 10 feet wide, making the house more than fifty feet in width. The hall of this carefully detailed house had a wainscoted circular staircase with curved design stair ends. By the 1930s, it was unoccupied and heavily vandalized with much of its detailing removed. In the 1940s it was razed by Rockview crews and inmates. Measured drawings and photographs of the mansion are included in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) collection, one of only a few major properties in Centre County so recognized. This material can be found on the Library of Congress website (enter HABS PA 335).
Another nearby iron furnace operation, the Turner Furnace, was launched at approximately the same time, but opened and then quite quickly closed. Some of Daniel Turner’s property was absorbed by Benner; some became the site of Jacob Roop’s gristmill operation. Roop also built a brewery directly across from the mill on the opposite side of Spring Creek. By mid-century, the mill property was purchased by Bellefonte businessman Henry Brockerhoff, who replaced it with a much larger brick mill and took over the ownership and revitalized the brewery. The brewery was sold to Louis Haas in 1872. It remained the only brewery in Centre County through the 19th century.
Photo 13. A 2019 view of the Spring Creek House, built in 1826 by Jacob Roop, founder of Roopsburg Village, Roopburg Brewery and many other local industries centered around Spring Creek. Photo credit: David Whiteman.
Photo 14. At the request of Henry Brockerhoff, a later owner, Lewis Hass built these beer vaults in 1857 to store Spring Creek beer underground. Later, Lewis Hass owned and ran the brewery for many years. Photo credit: David Whiteman.
The brewery is gone, with only architectural traces still visible; the brewmaster’s house remains. It is a large house with the symmetry of a five-bay Georgian, but with a Mansard French roof, reflecting the Victorian architectural style preferences that were appearing in Bellefonte. Although of wood construction, the treatment of the clapboard siding offers another variation. The clapboard has been given an extra surface treatment and then scored to look like carefully fitted masonry. Roopsburg Road crosses Route 550 and enters into Bellefonte.
Bellefonte – The County Seat
The large stone house on South Potter Street on the west bank of Spring Creek was the home of a first Bellefonte resident, co-founder James Harris. Now subdivided into apartments, much of its architectural detail is hidden or lost, but, like the Benner mansion at Rock, photographs and measured drawings have been made and are included in the HABS Library of Congress materials (enter HABS PA 331).
Harris and his father-in-law, James Dunlop, were the founders of Bellefonte. Dunlop’s son, John, launched Bellefonte’ ironmaking history. Bellefonte’s advantageous location on Spring Creek near the principal water gap leading from the Nittany Valley, favored the town's development as a center of industry and commerce. Iron interests promoted the town as the cultural, economic and political nucleus of central Pennsylvania for nearly one hundred years, rivaling places several times its size.
Harris and James Dunlop laid out Bellefonte in 1794-95 in the Philadelphia-style grid pattern with the main intersection widened into a market diamond. The County Courthouse became the diamond's architectural center point. Early Georgian-style stone houses-- some five-bay, some three-bay or side hall “half-Georgian” town houses were built close together and close to the street. Examples of these early houses still are evident along High and Allegheny Streets, some with later-added Victorian design elements; some now incorporated into commercial spaces. A specific example is the home of Bellefonte co-founder James Dunlop, built in 1796 on the northeast corner of Spring and High Streets. Originally a three-bay, two-story house; it was expanded with the addition of two more bays mid- century; and altered for commercial use with first-floor display windows in the 20th century.
John Dunlop put the Bellefonte Forge into operation on Logan Branch in 1797 and began construction of Logan Furnace a few miles further upstream, near Pleasant Gap and the headwaters of the Logan Branch. Following Dunlop’s death in a mine accident in 1814, the operation was acquired by five Valentine brothers from Chester County, and their neighbor, William Thomas. The Forge and furnace operations were expanded and renamed the Valentines & Thomas Ironworks. In slightly more than a decade, this combined operation was producing as much iron as all of the other county furnaces combined. A small office building adjacent to Logan Branch at Axemann and Forge Roads locates a small part of this large enterprise.
Three National Register listed properties associated with this iron making operation are: Forge House overlooking Logan Branch (Forge and Axemann Roads); Logan Furnace Manson (well upstream on Logan Branch); and the third, the William Thomas’ property on Spring Creek (Thomas Street near the Gamble Mill).
Both Forge House and the Logan Furnace Mansion and the furnaces associated with them are located on Axemann Road, with the village of Axemann between them. It was the nearby iron sources that prompted Harvey Mann to begin an axe factory in 1829. In its heyday, the plant produced both single and double billed axes, employed 50 men, and turned out 350 axes a day.
The Forge House was built by John Dunlop in 1803, and later became the home of George Valentine. A large stone five-bay, 2 ½ story Georgian, with a 2-story stone kitchen wing, it has a finely designed front façade of ashlar-cut stone, a front entrance with fanlight and sidelights. The Victorian-style large front porch was added by the Valentine family, probably in the 1860s.
The William Thomas house is located downstream at the northern edge of Bellefonte on land formerly owned by an early settler, William Lamb, at what was originally known as Lamb’s Crossing. Thomas’ 2-story Georgian stone house, built in 1835, incorporated the old Lamb house into its kitchen wing. The Victorian change the Thomas’ made to this house is the addition of a 2-story bay. Both it and the porch added to the Forge House probably were done to take advantage of their scenic locations on Spring Creek.
Bellefonte grew in wealth, political prestige, and population, particularly during the 1860s to 1880s. Older buildings took on new stylistic additions, and new residential neighborhoods and commercial buildings were designed in a cosmopolitan range of the latest in Victorian architectural styles, representing some of the finest public, commercial and residential architecture built in central Pennsylvania during the period. Linn and Curtin Streets have particularly rich examples of a full range of 19th century Victorian styles, including Carpenter Gothic, Italianate, French Mansard, and Queen-Anne style houses.
Bellefonte was for many years the pivot of central Pennsylvania politics. It was home to three Pennsylvania governors, with two others having Bellefonte associations, an indication of the community’s prominence.
Harmony Forge – Milesburg Iron Works
Route 144 on Spring Creek, just north of Bellefonte and south of Milesburg
Harmony Forge and the Milesburg Ironworks, at the lower end of the Spring Creek Watershed, could be viewed as a visual and historic bookend to its counterpart, Centre Furnace, at the Watershed’s upper end. It represents the last major historic property before Spring Creek empties into Bald Eagle Creek, the Susquehanna River, and eventually Chesapeake Bay. Samuel Miles and John Patton were the owners of both sites, but Harmony Forge had a third partner, ironmaster John Dunlop of Bellefonte.
Keeping these early iron industrial enterprises going was a challenge, not only the making and shipping from this remote part of Pennsylvania but having an adequate work force to make it all happen. The collaboration of competing partners may have been an effort to operate more harmoniously, thus the name, Harmony Forge. Soon Dunlop had his own separate Bellefonte Forge in operation, and the ownership of Harmony Forge reverted back to Miles and Patton. After their deaths, sons Joseph and John Miles, and a close family associate, Joseph Green, took over the ownership and management of Harmony Forge, as they did at Centre Furnace.
The actual date of Harmony Forge Mansion is not known, but sometime between 1810-1820 is likely. It is a large 2 ½-story, five-bay stone house, with a steep gabled roof, three dormers, and a 2-story kitchen side ell. Joseph Miles and Joseph Green are credited with the mansion’s construction, with Green described as having additional architectural skills. The mansion has undergone changes over its many years to meet the needs and taste of its residents. They incorporated Victorian-style features, probably in the 1860s, adding wooden Gothic droplet ornamentation to the gable ends and dormer windows to this early Georgian house.
The iron operation changed ownership over the years, with local businessmen buying in and then selling their share. James Irvin of Centre Furnace was one of those partners for a time. In 1849, James Linn and Dr. John McCoy became owners. Beginning in the 1790s, it continued in various configurations until into the early 20th century – the longest running iron operation in Centre County. McCoy descendants continued that ownership and residency until very recently.
It is possible to have an uncluttered view of what remains of this early historic property from route 144. The Harmony Forge Mansion dominates the site, as ironmaster mansion houses were meant to do. The Mansion is located at the site’s northern end, along with two barns, a probable company store and office. The no-longer standing industrial buildings were situated to the south, mostly on what is now PA Fish and Boat Commission property. The industrial area once included a furnace, forge, blacksmith shop, rolling and slitting mill and even a nail factory, all part of a thriving iron furnace operation.
One other piece of built evidence that links the historic, cultural, and natural history of the Spring Creek Watershed is the remains of the canal owned by Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Co., and visible along Spring Creek, particularly as it runs through the Harmony Forge property. Built in 1834, the canal was developed to link the Bellefonte area to the West Branch division of the Pennsylvania Canal at Lock Haven, with goal of improving commerce access with eastern markets. The canal was short-lived when, in 1865, a devastating flood destroyed the canal and ended its role as a means of transportation.
The historic, the cultural, and the natural resources of the Spring Creek Watershed are unique. They provide past, current, and future residents and visitors with a sense of place, unlike any other. They deserve our recognition, preservation and celebration so that this beautiful and distinctive Spring Creek Watershed will be here for those who follow us.
(Photos by Leigh Melander except as noted otherwise.)
Jacqueline (Jackie) Melander has been researching, writing about, and actively involved in recognizing and celebrating the historic landscape of Centre County for nearly forty years. She is past president and now president emerita of the Centre County Historical Society. She has served on local, regional, and state commissions and advisory boards related to history and historic preservation, including the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. She has received recognition by Preservation PA, the statewide organization dedicated to the protection of historically and architecturally significant properties.