In 1997 the book, 150th Anniversary History Of Blair County, Pennsylvania was published. The 926-page book was written by Larry D. Smith with contributions of chapters or portions of chapters by Carole Kutz, Cloyd Neely, Susanne & Paul Ohl, Robert Resig and Timothy Van Scoyoc. Bernard R. Smith supplied 439 photographs for the volume. This history was the first and only comprehensive history of Blair County to be published since 1945.
Blair County, Pennsylvania was erected out of Huntingdon and Bedford Counties in the year 1846. The year 1996 marked Blair's 150th Anniversary as a separate county. This volume, recognized by the Blair County Commissioners as the official Sesquicentennial history book, and comprising 833 pages of text, 29 pages of footnotes, a 61 page index and 439 photographs, was produced to commemmorate that anniversary.
The following comments were originally included as the preface for the book, 150th Anniversary History Of Blair County, Pennsylvania, published by the Closson Press in 1997. They are included here to present an idea of the intentions behind the book.
I have always been interested in history. My interest is divided equally between the history of my place of residence and my own personal genealogical history. One of my paternal great-grandfathers, Jacob Schmitt Sr, came to this region in south central Pennsylvania around the year 1774. He homesteaded along the South Dry Run creek at the base of the Blue Knob Mountain. Several of my other direct-line ancestors moved into this region over the years that have intervened since Jacob Schmitt's pioneering move. I am fortunate to be a ‘native son’ of this region. None of my ancestral lines came to this portion of Pennsylvania later than the mid-1800s. The most recent entry into this region by any of my ancestors was the year 1831/2 when my great-grandfather John Jacob Nofsker moved from Centre County southward. Having grown up in this region of Pennsylvania and having ancestral roots here, I have always had an interest in knowing Blair County's (and by extension, Bedford County’s) history. In as much as my ancestors' actions helped to define and mold the wilderness into a county, this county (as my environment) has helped to define my perception of reality. My interest and study of this region’s history has been aimed at a better understanding of who I am because it is here that I find my roots. There are no doubt many others who share this interest.
As I studied the history of Blair County I came to realize that, in order to understand the history of Blair County, I would have to know (at least a portion of) the histories of Bedford and Huntingdon Counties. Blair County did not spring spontaneously into existence in the year 1846 without any preceeding history. Previously published histories have provided cursory views of the histories of the ‘mother’ counties, but almost all of those histories drew definite lines where the history of Bedford County ended and that of Huntingdon began, and then where the history of Huntingdon ended and that of Blair began. One of the reasons I was motivated to compose another book on Blair County's history was my disappointment with the way my predecessors separated the total history of the region into ‘us’ and ‘them’ histories. For example, in regard to a township's history, in so many of the previously published histories a narrative will begin with the date of the township's formation, as if to imply that the land itself didn't even exist prior to the township's formation. In the case of my own home township, Freedom, it was the last to form within Blair County (1857). The previously published histories would lead one to believe that there were no settlers, no villages, no roads -in fact nothing- in the region that Freedom occupies before the year 1857. My coincident interest in personal genealogy has perhaps directed me to view the county's, and each of the townships' and boroughs', history as a sort of genealogical record. The history of Freedom Township did not start in the year 1857. It did not start only in 1847 when Juniata was formed. Nor did it begin only in 1798 when Greenfield was formed within Bedford County. The historical review of Freedom Township, needs to be started at the earliest point in time for which records exist, which would be at least the year 1771 when Bedford County was formed out of Cumberland County.
In the process of separating the region into ‘us’ and ‘them’ histories, certain information runs the risk of becoming lost. The southernmost portion of Blair County which was formed as part of Woodberry Township in 1785, and which eventually was reformed into the present-day townships of Juniata, Freedom, Greenfield, Taylor and North Woodbury has experienced this problem in past histories. The histories covering Bedford County tend to say little or nothing about that region because it eventually became part of Blair County, and the assumption is made that the history of that region will be covered adequately in a Blair County book. On the other hand, most of the histories produced for Blair County treat that region as simply an ‘addition" to the history of Huntingdon. The result is that the histories covering Huntingdon tend to say little or nothing about the early history of that region because the assumption is made that it should have been included in the Bedford histories. In the end, the region has suffered from a lack of much good information about its earliest ‘Bedford County’ period.
The history of Blair County that I produced, 150th Anniversary History Of Blair County, Pennsylvania, does not start with the year 1846. Throughout the book I attempted to make frequent references to earlier events that were significant to the people and events which brought about the need for a new county to be erected in 1846. Each chapter on the townships begins with a brief overview of the "ancestry" of the particular township being discussed. A section of the book includes maps showing the changes in township jurisdiction over the years to illustrate the genealogy of the region.
One thing that I came to realize about Blair County is that, down through the years, its residents have been fiercely proud and assertive. The fact that the region was settled primarily by Ulster-Scots and Germans might have something to do with the nature and collective personality of its residents even to the present day. Many of the residents of the county can, like myself, trace their ancestry back to both of those two ethnic groups. Although residents of the different regions making up Blair County do not engage in open competition, the pride of place and lineage has been passed down through the generations. The people of the City of Altoona seem (to those not residing there) to believe that the city's boundary lines and those of the county are one and the same thing. The city is their only world and nothing else exists outside of it. The people of the Morrisons Cove seem to believe that their cove's natural mountain boundaries define and outline the county. The same can be said of the Scotch Valley and of the Sinking Valley and of each of the boroughs of Roaring Spring and Hollidaysburg and Tyrone. The point I am attempting to make here is that all of the different parts of Blair County are unique in certain ways, and their residents are proud of their personal histories. They all should be proud because each region has contributed something to the total of the county. The variety and uniqueness of the different regions of Blair County function as a sort of gestalt phenomenon; the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Although I do not have first-hand experience in regard to the other present-day counties that make up Old~Bedford, I’m sure that the pride of heritage is the same in them.
Ethnic or heritage pride can be a wonderful thing, but it can also cause problems. The obstinate pride of the different regions of Blair County may have been the motivation for so many of the regions to develop their own historical societies. Despite the fact that there is an official historical society in the county (i.e. the Blair County Historical Society), its programs have not fullfilled the needs of all of the regions in the county. Although it might not have intended to do so, the Blair County Historical Society has given many county residents, who are interested in history, the impression that its sphere of coverage includes only the city of Altoona. Over the years the Blair County Historical Society has, as a result of such impressions, fallen short of the expectations of many individual regions throughout the county. As a result, Tyrone, Hollidaysburg, Williamsburg, Roaring Spring, and Duncansville all have their own historical and/or heritage societies. The Old-Greenfield Township Historical Society is also thriving despite the fact that not a single borough falls within its scope; it encompasses three Blair County townships and two Bedford County townships.
In the preface to the 150th Anniversary History Of Blair County, Pennsylvania, I noted that there were a few things about the volume which I should make note of and explain. Certain subjects might not have been covered as extensively as the reader might have thought they should have been. Certain subjects might not have been covered at all. Certain of the information might not have been accurate.
I organized the committee to prepare a book on the history of Blair County after contacting the Blair County Historical Society in the spring of 1992. I assumed that that organization, being the official historical society for the county, would have already been engaged in such a book project. I was informed, to my amazement, that the Blair County Historical Society was not planning on producing a history for the county's sesquicentennial. I called together twenty interested individuals into a book committee and gained for it the acknowledgment of the Blair County Commissioners as the official Sesquicentennial Book Committee. There were problems from the start, though, because at least half of the committee were not serious about writing a book; they were more interested in simply being on the committee. As a result, many township and borough areas and miscellaneous subjects were destined to be authorless.
Of the problems I wished to alert the reader to, the most important was that there might be errors in the basic information because previously published histories were used as sources. I had invited individuals from all around the county to participate in this project so that the regions they represented would be more accurately and adequately covered than could be done by someone who never visited those regions. From my own experience of finding discrepancies in the information presented on my own home region in previous histories, I assumed that other individuals would be interested in correcting errors concerning their own home regions. My hope was not simply that apparent mistakes would be corrected, but that all of the information presented would be checked for accuracy. In the cases of the articles on the townships and boroughs for which I had to personally research and write, I did not have the luxury of two years to devote to each township or borough region. I had hoped that there would be enough volunteers to research and write the articles, and that my job as editor would be to cross-check and verify the material submitted to me. As a result of my having to research and write articles for nearly all of the regions, the available time I had to work on each region was limited. I could not help but utilize unverified, previously published information as my sources in many cases.
There would be inconsistencies in the amount of information provided for certain townships or boroughs. As I have previously noted, when this project began there were more individuals who had agreed to participate. During the earliest committee meetings the question of how long each chapter should be came up. My position on that question was that a chapter should be as long as would be necessary in order to present the history adequately. In other words, I did not want to set any limits. A number of the committee members wanted to establish a particular length of five finished pages per each chapter. As chairman of the committee I made the decision that there would be no restrictive length, but if any individual felt he or she could not work without knowing some limits they should aim for five pages. As the project progressed quite a number of individuals did not write their own chapters. Instead, they gathered information and submitted it to me to do the writing. Of course, my intentions were to include as much information as I felt was necessary. The chapters which I personally wrote may be longer than ones the other committee members wrote. There was certainly no intention of making some towns of townships appear to be of more importance than any others by making their chapters larger. The determining factor for the length of chapter was simply the volume of information that could be accumulated for it.
Some readers might not like the writing style employed throughout the book. That is simply an unfortunate thing. Not everyone may have liked J.Simpson Africa's writing style, or Jesse Sell's, or U.J. Jones'. The purpose of a history book is to record history and the winning of a literary award might not be the historian's primary motivation. Some might also wonder that a few, I should say very few, chapters or sections of chapters are written in styles which seem different from the majority of the book. If more individuals would have been involved in writing the text, there would have been a wider variety of writing styles and formats from one chapter to the next. A limited amount of information for any one township or borough might not have been readily noticed. I have my own particular style of writing which comes from years of development and a love and respect for my German and Ulster-Scot roots. The Bedford sub-dialect, a variant of ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’, which is indigenous to this region is a language form I am definitely not ashamed of, and therefore have remained faithful to in the text of this book. Despite corrections suggested by the proofreaders, I have retained certain colloquialisms and sentence structure in my text because that is part of my style. One particular colloquialism which I have retained (over the protestations of my proofreaders) is the use of the word "up" following a verb, such as "opened". In view of the fact that the phrase opened up does indeed appear in the dictionary with one of its meanings being to begin or start, I decided that it would not be improper to use in reference to the establishment of a business. I had hoped the book would contain a variety of writing styles to break up any monotony that might result from a single, overused one. Unfortunately, to get the book completed I was forced to write the majority of it and I did not have the luxury of time to experiment with a variety of writing styles.
In regard to the format for the chapters on townships and boroughs, I found, after the first three townships I completed, that the format of providing a brief genealogy of the township area and the court act by which the township was formed, followed by a topographic description, followed by the early history, then followed by the more recent history, and then finished with information on churches, schools and service organizations worked well to make sure everything was covered. As part of that format I decided to combine a sort of travelogue with history in the section on the region's more recent history. I was warned that the ‘travelogue’ approach might be confusing and strenuous for the reader. My apologies were extended to anyone so offended by it.
I first looked at what most other histories consisted of. All histories tend to list who the region's first settlers were and especially who were the inn-keepers, the distillers, the physicians, the store-keepers and millers. In other words, the businesses and professionals. Then they comment on when, where and by whom the churches, schools and grist-mills were built. The point is that history consists of records of the people of the region and the story of their lives. History books have always given emphasis to businesses, professional services and public institutions and the people who worked at them as the primary points of historical interest. The fact that an inn-keeper or grist-mill operator came into contact so often with, and influenced the daily lives of the common residents is what qualifies them to be emphasized. The only problem with listing each business and professional service is that it appears that many people are being left out while a few are recognized. Although Blair County is one of the heavily industrialized regions of the state, there are quite a number of residents who make their livings as farmers. There are also quite a number of residents who are employees at the industrial businesses. Although the business itself might receive acknowledgement, the individual employees remain nameless. It would have required a much larger volume to list every single resident over the past 150 years and to provide a sentence for each of them. It is possibly a fact that most residents in the county either worked at the businesses which were mentioned in this volume, or interacted with the businesses in some way. Therefore, despite the fact that every resident's name and occupation were not included in the book, every resident would surely be able to identify with and relate to a business or professional service which was included.
A few words need to be said about the coverage given to the businesses. I have never liked the fact that earlier histories devoted space only to the bigger businesses or the ones which were owned and operated by the more famous families. Practically none of the editors/authors of those earlier histories revealed where or how they obtained their information. We can only speculate as to whether the information was not available or whether the editor/author simply felt certain businesses were inherently more important than others. I do not feel qualified to make the decision about which businesses are more important than others. Rather than attempt to signal certain businesses out for inclusion in this history book, I chose to attempt to include at least a single sentence about every single business which existed within the county at the time of this writing. The small beauty salon, owned and operated solely by a woman in the basement of her residence, is just as important to the history of the region as the large factory, owned by an international corporation and employing hundreds of persons.
In order to obtain information about each business, an attempt was made to contact each and every one. This was accomplished by the following procedure. Armed with maps of the township I was currently working on, I drove the length of every road, and I do mean every single road in the township. At every point along the way that a business stood, I wrote on my notepad the car's odometer reading and the business name and location in relation to the road itself. If I had the time to spend I would stop at each business, introduce myself and note my purpose, and then ask the owner for any historical information he or she would be willing to give. On days that I didn't have much time to spend, or along roads that were just too busy and too dangerous to be pulling in and out of driveways, I would later contact the business by telephone for the historical information.
Above I mentioned that ‘an attempt was made to contact each and every business.’ I was not always successful at this. There are a number of businesses which do not have historical information included in this volume. There a couple reasons why that information is lacking. First, a few of the areas were covered by individuals other than myself. Those individuals may or may not have wanted their chapters to be as all-encompassing as I did. Despite the fact that I encouraged everyone to include all businesses, there was some disagreement with that approach. Some of the other researchers/ writers might have made the decision to include only the larger businesses or the more venerable ones. Secondly, when a number of the original members of this book committee chose to not participate in the project, I was left with more regions to cover than I could physically handle. I had to make some decisions on what to include and what not to include. Unfortunately, I had neither the time nor the capability to research all of the businesses in certain areas. Thirdly, some businesses simply couldn't be contacted. They might have been closed every time I had the opportunity to stop by and/or telephone. In a number of cases I left messages on the telephone answering machines, but few of the businesses I left messages with were interested enough in having their histories included in this volume to return my calls. The fourth and last reason was that some businesses were not trusting enough to provide information for this project. When I contacted them, either by person or by telephone, a few of the business owners became belligerent with me and questioned the truthfullness of my inquiry. Even though I had a letter from the Blair County Commissioners to verify that I was not trying to pull something untoward, some of the business owners were still reluctant to give me even the date they started their businesses. It is a shame that some people in this county would be so distrustful of others that they would feel telling a date that they started in business could cause them harm. An example is the owner of a used car business along Plank Road in Allegheny Township who, after I explained why I wanted to ask a few questions, claimed that I was probably trying to get that information for ‘a census"’. What harm he assumed the ‘census’ would cause him is anyone's guess. Another business owner told me that he did not want me to include his business in this history book because its inclusion might induce other people to come around asking questions. Here again it is a shame that some business owners who, despite the fact that the fundamental nature of their business implies that they must deal with the public, are so afraid that the public might know they are in business. I am happy to report, though, that those business owners who were afraid or otherwise reluctant to provide information about the history of their businesses were few and far between.
I have not memorized the previously published histories and simply restated them by changing a word here or there, as certain of the earlier histories did. I attempted to verify the accuracy, and moreso the veracity, of statements presented in the earlier histories. An example I like to cite is found in the history of Greenfield Township. The statement was made in J.Simpson Africa's History Of Huntingdon And Blair Counties, Pennsylvania that "...Sarah Furnace, in Greenfield, became the first settled part of the present township about the year 1770. Thus we learn that Valentine Lingenfelter, with his sons Jacob and George, also the Dively family, located there at about the time mentioned." Jesse C. Sell stated in the 1911 book, Twentieth Century History Of Altoona And Blair County Pennsylvania And Representative Citizens that "The first settlers of Greenfield township were Valentine Lingenfelter and the Dively family, who located in the vicinity of Sarah furnace about 1770." Tarring S. Davis, in his 1931 A History Of Blair County Pennsylvania, stated that "The section known as Sarah Furnace was the first part settled about 1770. Valentine Lingenfelter and his sons Jacob and George located there about that time. ...The Dively family came early too..." We then find the reference in Martin Burket's chapter titled "Claysburg" in Blair County's First Hundred Years 1846-1946 which stated that "The first settlers in the district were Valentine Lingenfelter and his two sons who settled here in 1770. The Divelys also came about this time or a little later." The point to be made is that no Lingenfelter or Dively family had come to this region until at least 1789. The inaccuracy of the statement first made in Africa's history was due, no doubt, to the fact that the Claysburg area is heavily inhabited by relatives of the Lingenfelter family, and as from human nature if questioned they would state that it was their own ancestors who were here first.
The dilemma facing an historian is threefold. 1.) If time and effort are not expended to research and verify information, how can accurate statements be made? 2.) If time and effort are expended and information more accurate than previously known ‘facts’ is discovered, should the historian risk upsetting the status quo and publish it? 3.) If an historian decides to confute the established and accepted HISTORY and publish the more accurate information that has been discovered, should the source of that information be revealed to the reader? I have attempted to research and verify the accuracy of statements I have read in the earlier history books. I have made the decision to confute the accepted "facts" if the information I have discovered is necessary. Thirdly, the text is footnoted where necessary so that future researchers can check the original sources of the information for their own accuracy verification.
The descendants of individuals named in previous histories will not be pleased to see the accepted HISTORY proven to be incorrect. They would, no doubt, feel it is a disservice to the memories of their ancestors to ‘change history’ so to speak. But the simple copying of information from previous history books is a disservice to the memories of those pioneer settlers who were ignored by earlier historians. My own interest in contributing to a volume on the history of this county actually was initiated because of the fact that my ancestor, Jacob Schmitt, Sr has been consistently excluded from the history books. Despite the fact that he was one of the pioneer settlers, arriving here circa 1774, no reference to his and his family's residency on the eastern slope of Blue Knob Mountain appears in any of the previous history books. In a day and age when our national ‘heroes’ are defined primarily as any individuals who have been taken hostage or who have experienced a devastating event, and in which we are encouraged to respect those individuals who have been more fortunate in accumulating money, we tend to place importance on either victims or entrepreneurs. The average individuals who simply go about their lives, neither affecting others nor asking for attention, seldom get their names into the history books. To include those average individuals, though, and to downplay the assumed importance of those individuals who have always been included does not imply that history is being changed. History might simply not have been reported accurately and fairly in the first place.
An historian must also be willing and able to look past the accepted HISTORY if the evidence points to a different conclusion. In many cases people are mesmerized by facts which have been touted to be the gospel of history. They believe those facts no matter how ludicrous they may actually be simply because they feel they must believe them or because they don't want to go to the trouble to question their veracity. It is interesting to find instances of facts which simply are not totally believable when more substantial facts are taken into consideration. The Jacob Isett house in Sinking Valley (in Tyrone Township, Blair County) is one example of this. The assumption that a portion of the structure, which appears to be a fortification, was intended for the defense of the inhabitants against Indian attacks sounds good until a few more compelling facts are taken into consideration. That structure is believed to have been built in the year 1805. There simply were no Indians in this region to attack any house after circa 1785. So either the structure is older than currently believed, or it was merely not constructed for defense against Indians.
In order to discover a more accurate view of the history of this region and the residents of this region, I have searched for and utilized original, public documents. I have then tried to compare those records with the information provided to us in the previously published history books. While intending no disrespect to any particular person or group, I will state that there is a great difference in accuracy between the reminiscences of an elderly man, whose facts are based on the memory of occurances which happened when he was a child, and a public document such as a tax assessment record. It is unfortunate, but many of the previous histories relied heavily on the reminiscences. Perhaps it was easier to do that than to pore over the records at the court house. Perhaps the earlier historians simply did not know where to look for public documents, or how to interpret the information contained in them, once they were found. In this history book I have included information obtained from the folklore and reminiscences of earlier residents where such was appropriate. I have tried to be careful, though, that I noted that information as being questionable. I have not been afraid to make an assumption if the available information is questionable, but I have tried to make sure that I noted such as an assumption. Rather than make statements as incontrovertible truths, which no one may argue with, I might make suggestions toward the truth based on clues which are apparent in the source documents. Hopefully the reader will be motivated to engage in his or her own research to determine the validity of my information.
I have attempted to make future historians' work a bit easier by providing certain information which has simply not been provided before in any of the history books on this region. The one type of information, which I wish I would have found in the other history books, is footnoting throughout the text. The volumes and public records cited in the footnotes should be consulted for additional and more detailed information.
I have also tried to make available certain information which the average person might not know is available, such as transcripts of original documents. It amazed me, when I was working on the section devoted to the erection of Blair County, that none of the previous history books had reproduced the Act erecting the county in its entirety. It amazed me even more that a true copy of that Act was not to be found in the county. I contacted quite a number of lawyers and the law library at the court house, but no one had any of the volumes of the Laws Of Pennsylvania in which the Act was recorded. In fact, very few of the individuals I contacted even knew that the set of laws published by the Commonwealth even existed.
Despite the wordiness of the Act by which Blair County was erected, and the fact that punctuation was used sparingly in the text of that Act, I felt it should be transcribed verbatim. Because of the problems I had attempting to locate a copy of the entire text of that Act, I have transcribed it in its entirety. I would not wish on anyone the trouble that I went through to locate a copy for the transcription. I have also transcribed the original records of the Court Of Quarter Sessions during which the various townships of the county were formed. I transcribed those records, to the best of my ability, verbatim. When the committee working with J.Simpson Africa transcribed those (apparently same) records, they (or he as editor) felt it was necessary to add, delete and change some of the words to make the original records more readable. An example of this transcription alteration appears in the record of the 14 January, 1841 session of the Huntingdon Court Of Quarter Sessions in the phrase "...in the Brush Mountain well known under the name of Burley's..." in which, in the revised form printed in Africa's book, the word under was changed to by. Perhaps, like some of the individuals who were involved with this volume who suggested I should not use colloquialisms, Africa's committee members felt that the linguistic manners or idioms of their predecessors would be inappropriate.
In the transcriptions of tax assessment records I have attempted to provide accurate orthographic facsimiles of the names. I acknowledge that the correct current spelling of the name of a family might be Butterbaugh, but if the name was spelled on the original document as Puterbach, I have employed the orthography as it appears on the document. In most cases, when referring to an individual throughout the text, I have used the orthography of that individual's name as found on the earliest example of any public document. For example, I will refer to Michael Fetter, Sr throughout the text with that spelling because it is how the name first appeared in the tax assessment records despite the fact that Mr. Fetter's present-day descendants might spell their surname as Feather. No offense was intended toward anyone's orthographic preference; my choice simply limited the number of decisions I would have to make.
The one truly disappointing aspect about the 150th Anniversary History Of Blair County, Pennsylvania was the fact that the members of the Altoona Sesquicentennial Committee had informed me that that committee would be publishing a complete history of the City of Altoona for its sesquicentennial event a few years later. As a result, only a brief history of the founding of the town and a chronology of important events was included in this volume. After this book was published, the Altoona Sesquicentennial Committee informed me that, in fact, it would not be producing its own history book; but it was too late for anything additional to be included in this volume.
In 1999 Closson Press published another history book written by Larry D. Smith: Mother Bedford And The American Revolutionary War. Like the 150th Anniversary History Of Blair County, Pennsylvania, this book was fully footnoted throughout.
Transcripts of 317 documents pertaining to Bedford County's involvement in the American Revolutionary War are included, and the 484-page text was augmented by 49 photographs. A subject index of 238 entries, and an everyname index of 9,398 entries was included.