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Iron Industry

Nittany Valley Railroad Co.

In the meantime Jamison and his associates had organized the Nittany Valley Railroad Co., to run from the new furnace to the various ore mines of the Association at Nigh, Taylor and other banks in Nittany valley, for the purpose of better and quicker transportation of the ore, since the new plant was to use twenty times as much ore per day as the old one had done. The first train of ore cars was run to the furnace on February 28th, 1888.

Great celebrations were held on the days of the opening of these two furnaces and the people of this community looked forward to a long period of good times with the large amount of money to be distributed by the payrolls of these two companies and the new railroad to State College. For two years or more the Centre Iron Co. apparently prospered and put out a good quality of Iron, but the "Silver Panic" was rearing its ugly head over the nation in these years . and the failure of a bank in Philadelphia, in which the Jamison interests were involved, caused the closing down of the plant in 1890.

Valentine Iron Co.

Upon the failure of the Centre Iron Co., a new company was immediately formed by the bondholders headed by Robert Valentine, in which J. W. Gephart was interested, styled the "Valentine Iron Co.," which purchased the properties on the foreclosure of the mortgage given by the Centre Iron Co. people. The new company got off to a bad start in the midst of the panic, which lasted from 1889 to 1895, and also faced the reduction in tariff rates under the Cleveland administration, but continued to operate for the next decade.

Also in 1890, with many of the large steel plants closed in the Pittsburgh district, the Howard plant was closed and the furnaces were never again put in blast. However, the iron works both at Milesburg and Curtin were continuing to make charcoal iron and finding a market for their commodity.

Nittany Iron Co.

In 1902 the property of the Valentine Iron Co. was sold under the mortgage given by it to the Commonwealth Trust Co., of Harrisburg. Immediately the "Nittany Iron Co." was formed by J. W. Gephart and other, acquired to the properties, and the same people started the organization of the Central Railroad Company of Pennsylvania. The tracks of this railroad ran through Nittany valley from Bellefonte to Mill Hall, where they made connection with the New York Central lines.

The new Iron company put its furnace in bleat 'that summer and proposed to do all Its shipping over the new railroad, General business was good and the prospects for the new Concern were of the brightest, when a decision of the courts forbid the traffic over the railroad line because of a prior contract with its competitor, the Pennsylvania system. Since all the contracts of the new plant were made with consignees on the New York Central lines, the business of the Nittany Iron Co. gradually faded away and it was forced to close down.

In the meantime, the Bellefonte Furnace Co. had been acquired by the Gephart syndicate, made money and was such a decided success that its trade was one of the main reasons for the construction of the new railroad through Nittany valley, which built the big viaduct over Spring creek at great expense to connect with its furnace, The final failure of this railroad and the rapid growth of the larger iron making corporations, together with the high quality of what was known as the "lake ores", made It impossible to continue the making of competitive iron in this county and "Bellefonte" was blown out and dismantled in 1912.

Titan Metal Co.

About the time of the starting of the "World War," after the death of both James H. Linn and John M. McCoy, the Milesburg plant was leased to Dr. Hennigh, for the making of a new metal, supposed to be compiled by means of a secret formulae, called "Titan" metal, and the only charcoal iron plant still running in the county at that time was the Eagle Iron Works, under the management of H. Laird Curtin, a great grandson of the original founder of the plant.

The assets of the Nittany Iron Co. were liquidated and the properties disposed of at Receiver's sales. The tract on which the furnace had been located was purchased by George R. Meek, the editor of the Democratic Watchman, and by him sold to the Titan Metal Co., which had been formed to make the new "white metal" under the Hennigh formulae, and which finally erected the complete and beautiful plant in which it now doss business.

The Eagle Iron Co. continued to make charcoal iron and found a good market for its product, but in 1921 a disastrous fire practically wiped out the plant, so, after one hundred and ten years of existence, this plant, too, stopped production.

The Scotia Mines

In 1784, when Joseph J. Walls, the Deputy Surveyor who ran many of the early surveys of this county, was locating the twenty-four tracts of the "Benjamin Davis" block, which lies north of the Pennsylvania State College, he discovered iron ore outcroppings in that section. This was probably the first iron to be discovered in Centre county.

Davis, who owned a half interest in these tracts was a brother of Col. John Patton. Upon receiving knowledge of this discovery of iron, Col. Patton made a trip to Philadelphia to see his friend Col. Samuel Miles and the two decided to purchase these surveys and build an iron furnace at this location if the ore proved to be worth while. Several tests were made and the ore showed better in quality than that which many furnaces were then using, and Miles, Patton arid Miles acquired, these tracts of land.

Ore was searched for from Centre Furnace northwardly and finally in that section of Patton township known as the "Barrens" immense deposits of iron ore were discovered which, until the invention of modern ore digging machinery, were thought inexhaustible.

Such was the beginning of what were for so many years known as the "Scotia" mines, which were the source of supply, first for the first iron ore furnace north of the Juniata and west of the Susquehanna, Centre Furnace. Next for the Lyon, Shorb & Co. operations at Pennsylvania Furnace and elsewhere, as well as for the Milesburg furnace, there seeming to be ore enough for all the furnaces in the county at that time. Later for "Hecla No. 2." as the Milesburg furnace was styled after the abandonment of "Hecla No. 1," by the Gregg and Irvin firm who moved all their supplies and materials to that place. Again this Centre county ore was shipped westward to the Carnegie furnaces in Pittsburgh and their allied plants in eastern Ohio, and finally these iron ores were the sole supply of the Bellefonte furnace owned by the Collins Brothers, under the management of Thomas A. Shoemaker.

During the Hayes administration Lyon, Shorb & Co., then one of the largest iron firms of this county, had guaranteed the bonds of a proposed railroad from Pittsburgh to the newly discovered oil fields of western Pennsylvania. Competition with the Rockerfeller interests in the northern central portion of the Commowealth became too strong and the anticipated heavy shipments over the new railroad did not materialize. The railroad went into a receivership and Lyon, Shorb & Co. were forced to make good on their guarantee to the extent of $800,000. The firm was forced into a temporary receivership but ultimately paid their creditors in full with seven per cent interest, then the current commercial rate.

At that time Andrew Carnegie purchased a large portion of the Louisville, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh plants of this firm and while these negotiations were in line, Carnegie visited George W. Lyon, who then resided in the old mansion house at Pennsylvania Furnace, in recent years a country club. During this visit Carnegie saw the results achieved by Daniel Clemson, the head foreman at Pennsylvania furnace, and persuaded him to cast his lot with him at Pittsburgh. Carnegie also investigated the various ore beds of the Lyon firm and became particularly interested in the Scotia ores in Patton township.

After his return to the west, some of his associates organized the Celtic Ore Co. which purchased not only all the Lyon interests in the Patton township ore lands but also the old Centre furnace interests, then owned by Moses Thompson, aggregating some seventeen hundred acres. While a portion of this territory was owned by Lyon, Shorb & Co., the most active mines had furnished ores for seventy-five years to the plants of Centre Furnace and Milesburg.

In 1881 the Juniata Mining Co. was organized for the purpose of mining and shipping ores to the Carnegie plants. The local manager of this company was James Pierpont, who had married a daughter of Thomas R. Reynolds of Bellefonte, and this company expended large amounts of money in making the operation one of the largest and most successful of that section which was locally known as "Tow Hill."

The Pennsylvania Railroad had extended its lines within hauling distance of the mines, and for several years the western section of Patton township was one of the busiest places in the county, with the mines shipping about four thousand tons of ore a month and employing over two hundred laborers. However, the discovery of the vast ore fields of the Lake Superior region finally put an end to this.

At the time of Mr. Carnegie's visit to Pennsylvania Furnace he made the statement to Mr. Lyon that he expected to "clean up at least one million dollars from Scotia." He realized this ambition with his first merger of his western iron plants.

The Patton township mines, however ancient and important their history, were never fortunate investments for Centre county capitalists. The first iron company started in 1792 by Miles, Patton and Miles were initiated by Col. John Patton, but the capital was chiefly furnished by Col. Samuel Miles, of Philadelphia, who never lived in this county. The repayments of his advances were expended in establishing the Milesburg Iron Works in the interests of his sons, who, after Col. Patton's failure in 1802, took over his interests in Centre Furnace, and ran the plant only when iron was in the greatest demand, concentrating most of their attention on the Milesburg works, where the ore was furnished from various parts of Nittany valley.

The profits of the Lyon, Shorb & Co. firm were principally used in Pittsburgh after 1850. Moses Thompson and his partners, who operated there for a good many years, invested most of their profits in West Virginia properties, and the receipts from the Carnegie enterprise were absorbed in his tremendous fortune. Had the Bellefonte Furnace been able to continue under favorable auspices its success would have been well worth while to the county, but it was forced out of business with all the other local operations when the Lake Superior ores came into the market, making the native ores of Centre county entirely inadequate to supply the modern blast furnaces and the price of mining too costly.

However, the "Scotia" mines made an otherwise barren section of Patton township a happy and prosperous community of small villages for at least three generations until the final abandonment with the blowing out of the Bellefonte and Nittany furnaces.

The first real operation of Carnegie was at Pennsylvania Furnace. For that he got the ores from "Bryson" and , "Hostler" banks. Then the railroad was extended to the Scotia field in 1881 and mining on a modern scale was undertaken. "Juniata Mines," while in the Scotia fields, were known as "Tow Hill" and was the center of quite a colony of colored people. How they got there originally is not positively known, but they were there before the Carnegie interests came into the field. The Mattern, Blair and Red Bank, were on the northwestern edge of the Scotia tracts but were never operated by the Carnegies. The former was operated by George Potts, who sold the ore in the open market. The latter two were operated by, the Collins Bros. while they ran the Bellefonte furnace. The Collins Bros. had originally built the Buffalo Run railroad not to State College, but to Struble Station, a mile west of State College, where they had secured the ore rights on the Conrad Struble, Johnson and Classgow farms. There was not enough ore had on these tracts so they built the spur of their own railroad from Waddle to Mattern, Blair and Red Banks.

When the Bellefonte and Nittany furnaces were taken over under the Gephart re-organization plan, in 1899, all these ore operations were taken over by the Bellefonte furnaces and Carnegie interests were withdrawn from Centre county entirely. Then the Bellefonte and Buffalo Run railroad was built clear into Scotia and then directly to the Red Bank and what was left of the ores there hauled to the furnaces in Bellefonte. Operations at Scotia ended definitely in the fall of 1912 and shortly thereafter disintegration of a once thriving village began. Now, 1936, there isn't a vestige of the once thriving industrial centre there and the whole area is covered with & heavy growth of scrub oak and "barrens" brush.

A peculiar condition arose in connection with the immense quantity of iron ore removed from this region. In the original survey of the eastern line of Patton township, which in 1801 extended from the of Ferguson and Potter townships to the Moshannon creek, the old surveyors had of course fixed a certain compass bearing in their reports.  When this line was re-run about 30 years ago to ascertain certain contested boundaries, the surveyors at that time were utterly unable to reconcile the variation of their compass with the original calling, until allowance was made for the great quantity of iron which was from the excavations of over one hundred years. It was found that the iron which had been removed in the meantime had attracted the needle several degrees from the true north.

And this brings to an end our narrative of the iron and ore tries of Centre county.     15,686

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30 July 2003

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