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Centre County: The Land of Great Opportunity
By Richard W. Knupp Sr. for Bellefonte Secrets
March 1, 2010
(Photo: Wrens Nest was the area’s first house. It was built by William Lamb in 1782 and was the starting point of Bellefonte.)
CENTRE COUNTY -- Up until the era of the Revolutionary War, the area that became Centre County was a vast area of wilderness made up of streams of pure spring water and millions of hardwood trees with an equal amount of pines and firs. The reason it remained a wilderness, even though the western part of Pennsylvania was established years before, was because of the many hills and mountains and a lack of open land to make into farms. By the end of the eighteenth century people began to discover the real treasures that lay in the valleys and mountains of the area.
The first settler of the area was a man named Andrew Boggs from an area today called Franklin County. What he found was an area of rich fertile soil and many millions of gallons of pure spring water that daily flowed north to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. Andrew was married to a woman named Margery Harris Boggs.
One of the first things that Andrew and Margery did was make peace with the local Indians who lived in the area. It wasn’t unusual to find Indians in the Boggs home or the Boggs family doing things for the Indians who lived nearby. An interesting story of the care that both the Indians and the Boggs family provided for each other occurred when Chief Logan was returning home from Mifflin County with his ground wheat and corn and came across Andrew on his way to have his grain ground. When Mrs. Logan discovered Margery was out of corn meal she took of her own to the Boggs home.
Soon other members of their extended family began to settle in the area. The Miles families, the Pattons, Halls, Lowery, Harris, Dunlops, and Royers were all interrelated as well as many other families. In 1792 there was a discovery of the finest iron ore available to mankind at the time. In 1794 the Miles, Patton and Miles iron works went into operation. Soon Philip Benner and Daniel Turner also began to make iron.
With the arrival of John Dunlop in 1794, a nephew of Andrew Boggs, the development of the area suddenly took off in a positive direction. Unlike his relatives, he knew what the possibilities of the area were and constructed a plan to utilize the possibilities. He recognized the things that were needed to create an operation that could meet the demands of the world at that time.
At that time the world’s biggest need was iron to fire the Industrial Revolution. The tools needed to do this were iron ore, limestone, water, charcoal and a large labor force. What made this area a prime location to make iron was the abundance of natural materials. The things missing were the people needed to do the work and homes to provide them with comfort.
Before his iron works could go into operation, John Dunlop needed to build a community with homes to live in and places to purchase the items needed to survive. It must have been a great plan for people like William Petrikin, who closed a successful business in Carlisle to become part of a town where the first building was yet to be built. Was that blind faith or just faith in a man he trusted..
John Dunlop found a gold mine-type of situation in the town of Chambersburg as far as a work force was concerned. Chambersburg had the distinction of being the home of the individuals who put together a bill for the eventual abolishment of slavery. In 1780 that bill was enacted by the government of Pennsylvania making our state the first state to protect the human rights of all people. By 1794 there were many freed slaves congregating in the Chambersburg area looking for work. John Dunlop led his new workforce to the town he would build. In the process there were other towns like Johnstown and Altoona who also imported these workers.
John Dunlop did another thing in building his town that should not be forgotten. It was John Dunlop who knew the value of a higher education and put together, and financed the Bellefonte Academy. It is this same concern that developed a university here today which is called Penn State.
There was one thing he should have planned for but did not. At the age of 44 he was killed in mining accident and had not made arrangements for the management of his affairs. The area was in great disarray financially. The Bellefonte Academy was closed for a short period but soon reopened under the direction of John Lowry, his cousin and works manager, who along with Charles Huston settled the estate. The estate was so vast that it took twenty-five years to complete.
Besides iron, what other natural materials have been found here? Most of Centre County has access to pure spring water. Supposedly the largest spring is at Bellefonte. There is actually another large spring that forms Penns Creek as it comes from Penns Cave. The water from Bellefonte’s Big Spring makes its way around the world in bottles produced by a major water bottler that goes by the name Cocoa Cola.
Wood for lumber, and other items also played a major role in the evolution of our county since both hardwood and softwoods covered the majority of the area. Even today about 70 percent of the county is covered by forests.
Most of Centre County is covered by a very thick shell of limestone. There are a number of several hundred foot holes in this shell where millions of tons of limestone, and other related items, have been sent to market.
Another item found in abundance within the county is soft coal. Again it is not hard to find large holes in the ground in what is called the Mountain Top Area where people removed the coal, and unfortunately, left behind acids that drain into the streams killing vegetation and wildlife. For some reason the people of this area prefer the dead streams over making millions by allowing city folks to fill up the holes with waste materials that would regenerate new vegetation.
Even today the Mountain Top Area is in the midst of even more wealth since it sets atop a huge deposit of natural gas. My only concern is that it not create another boom which leaves behind more problems after the wealth is made.
Recently Centre County has been designated the second healthiest county in which to live among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Centre County must still be doing some things right since our unemployment rate has rarely been above 6 percent.
Anyone who has ever questioned as to how Centre County, whose population was less than 1% of the Pennsylvania population, was the home of seven governors during the middle of the nineteenth Century.
Three key people who came here to be part of John Dunlop's creation who need much research are all attorneys who spent much of their life here. They are Judge James Burnside, Judge Charles Huston and W. W. Potter who was on his way to becoming the most beloved of the three until early death took him away from us. Potter was also a highly respected politician who represented the area in congress. The one thing these men had in common was that they married sisters.
Our best known attorney and Governor was Andrew Gregg Curtin who studied law, an apparently learned much about politics, under W. W. Potter.
The sad thing is that there are many people who were part of the John Dunlop story who receive little recognition for what they accomplished and also people who were not part of the Bellefonte story who receive undue credit and did nothing.
~ Bellefonte Secrets, MARCH 2010, Volume 2, Edition XII
Dunlop Died in Debt
by Rev. Keith G. Koch
Deuteronomy 15:3 (NIV) "You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you."
When John Dunlop was killed at the age of 44 in the sudden collapse in one of his ore mines on Saturday October 8, 1814 and even though he was the largest land holder and the most active ironmaster in the Bellefonte area (with four ironworks), he left his estate with a large debt. In 2010 dollars his debt would amount to just over $1.8 million.
In the February 2010 issue of Bellefonte Secrets, I wrote about Elizabeth Findlay Dunlop, John’s wife. In some else’s handwriting, but her with signature, she asks the court for help.
"To the Hon. the Justices of the Orphans Court of Centre County, at November Setting 1814
"The Petition of Elizabeth Dunlop, widow and relict of John Dunlop late of the said County of Centre Ironmaster deceased
"That the said deceased left [issue -?- I can’t quite make out this word.] four children namely Jane, Eliza, Catharine and Deborah, all of whom are in their minority, and under the age of fourteen years - that her said children have no person legally authorized to take care of their persons, and their property. She therefore prays the Court to appoint suitable persons as Guardians for the said children, and she as in duty bound will ever be. Eliza Dunlop"
The above petition would probably be true of most widows in the 1800s since most women at that time did not have paying jobs and no sources of income, there would be the need of a responsible person to support the widow and her children. One can almost see the agony of Eliza as she signed this petition.
In researching Bellefonte’s history, I came across a petition dated August 31, 1821 by Roland Curtin as he asked the Orphans Court of Centre County for some of Dunlop’s land to pay off debts that John owed him. Curtin wrote that "John Dunlop died in debt..." That got my attention. How did a man who built at least four homes in this area with
hundreds of men working for him and one who owned over 10,000 acres of land die in debt?
That sent me to do some further research in which I came across ledgers of John G. Lowrey (Lowry). Lowrey and Dunlop were cousins. John brought J.G. to Belle Font when Lowrey was only nineteen years of age. John made him a manager of his Belle Font Forge operation and later Lowrey serve as Prothonotary and Treasurer of Centre County. He and Judge Charles Huston would become the administrators of Dunlop’s estate.
John G. Lowrey presented to the Centre County Court in September, 1836, 16 pages of his hand written Administration Accounts of Dunlop’s estate. Those records show $78,281.24 as debts owed and paid out of Dunlop’s estate.
Lowrey writes in his beautiful script:
"In presenting the within and foregoing Statement and account the undersigned, the principal and acting administrator in the estate makes the following additional Statement. That nearly all the business of Settling the said estate was attended to by him, that he collected and received the money and debts due, and paid the debts of the estate, that the within and foregoing account he verily believes to be a just and true account and Statement, and that if any error or omission should be discovered on examination before the Registry he is desirous that Such error or omission Should be corrected.
"From the Situation and extent of the business of the intestate at the time of his decease, and from the amount of debts to be paid, the Settling the business of the estate became tedious and expensive, extending into different&distant places occasioning considerable expense in traveling and in postage, in traveling to Pittsburg [sic], to Zanesville Ohio - to Huntingdon&Chambersburg - Several times to Carlisle to attend a law Suit there, to Danville, Milton - Williamsport, Jersey Shore different times, a law Suit to attend in the County of Columbia. Several times on the land business of the estate to Harrisburg and Philadelphia.. Once to New York City endeavouring to sell the West Branch lands to men residing there, who had before viewed the lands with the intention of purchasing. Several times up the West Branch with persons viewing the lands and in endeavouring to preserve the timber etc. A number of Suits brought against the administrations before Justices of the Peace, in many of which costs and expences [sic] of witnesses had to be paid which are not in included in the foregoing account. Etc. Etc. J G Lowrey"
Note again that Dunlop died October, 1814, but it took Lowrey until September, 1836 to get all debts of the estate settled – 22 years later! And check out all the traveling Lowrey needed to make. These trips had to be made on horseback and/or wagon and stage coaches. There are no trains yet and even the major roads are still dirt. To settle Dunlop’s accounts had to take many months of travel and, as Lowrey wrote, it was "tedious and expensive." But the estate was settled.
~ Bellefonte Secrets, MARCH 2010, Volume 2, Edition XII
The Valentine brothers and their cousin, William Thomas, would purchase all of Dunlop’s iron holdings for about $15,000 by 1821. There also were those who owed Dunlop money when he died, and those debts were collected by Lowrey which helped to pay off Dunlop’s creditors. John was living on credit, just like many do today, buying lands or property with the promise of future payments. Unfortunately, for Eliza and his four children, the debts became due with Dunlop’s sudden death.
Romans 13:8 (NIV) "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law."
~ Bellefonte Secrets, MARCH 2010, Volume 2, Edition XII