Cambria County, PA




One hundred and fifty years ago Pennsylvania legislators created a new political sub-division. They called it Cambria County. (Now remember this article was from the Cambria County Sesquicententennial literature published in 1954.)

  The precise birth date was March 26, 1804. On that date the necessary Act of Assembly was approved, and the boundaries of Cambria County were chartered on the state's ever-changing map.

It was the 42st county to be created in the commonwealth; it embraced 695 square miles of sparsely settled wilderness west of the lofty summit of the Alleghenies.

  It is probable that there were less than 50 families living in this newly-defined county. In the Johnstown area - the pioneer settlers of the Johns, Horner, Hildebrand, Gouchnour, Wissinger and Wertz families lived.

  Farther north at Ebensburg, Rev. Rees (Rhys) Lloyd was the leader of a group of Welsh settlers - the Roberts, Griffith, Phillips, Williams, Evans and Thomas families lived.

  A few miles away was the Loretto settlement of Michael McGuire, which had attracted Rev. D. A. Gallitzin, Richard Nagle, William Dodson, John Storm and a few others. Elsewhere an occasional pioneer had built a cabin, or cleared farmland.

  Their numbers were small, but still sufficient to prompt the Legislature to create a new county. They were building new settlements, and a seat of government was needed.






This condition, or pattern, had been repeated many times over in early Pennsylvania. As settlers followed the advancing frontier westward, it was necessary for the commonwealth to establish seats of government within reasonable traveling distance of the young settlements. And so it was in Cambria County.

  In the beginning, Pennsylvania consisted of only three counties - Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. When William Penn took control of his American providence in 1682, his proprietary government established Philadelphia and Bucks Counties on the west bank of the Delaware River. Chester County included all of the unsettled land west of the other two.

  Subsequently, this land was divided and sub-divided to create new counties as the frontier moved westward. These land divisions continued for nearly two centuries - until 1878 - when Lackawanna became the 67th county and the last to be created.

  The first new county was Lancaster in 1729, followed by York in 1749 and Cumberland in 1750. It is from the original Cumberland County that Cambria is directly descended.






From Cumberland the provincial government created Bedford County in 1771. From Bedford were taken Huntingdon County, and Somerset County, in 1795. These two - Huntingdon and Somerset - contributed land to make Cambria County.

  To create Cambria, the legislature took Frankstown Township from Huntingdon County; from Somerset it took Conemaugh Township and Cambria Township, for which the new county was named. A small corner section of Bedford County was also included.

  Cambria was at times the designation of Wales. It was a fitting name for the new country. Many Welsh immigrants had settled in the area and the Welshmen Rhys and Lloyd gave first impetus to its formation.

  This legislation was approved on the aforementioned date of March 26, 1804. One year later - March 29, 1805 - Ebensburg was designated as the county seat. "The place for holding courts of justice and provide for erecting public buildings for the use of Cambria County."

  It was not until two years later that Cambria County was formally organized and able to administer its own governmental affairs. In the meantime, Somerset County officials were directed by the legislature to keep separate books for the records of Cambria County. It was not until 1807 that the supervision of Somerset County ended.






On January 26, 1807, an act of assembly authorized formal organization of Cambria. The first county-wide election was scheduled for the second Tuesday in October of that year.

  At this time the new county had three political sub-divisions - Allegheny, Cambria and Conemaugh Townships. Allegheny included all of the northern third of the county - the part which was taken from Huntingdon County. Cambria Township, in the center section, and Conemaugh Township, in the south, retained names they were given when they were in Somerset County.

  The first change in this three-way division came in 1810, when the county's population reached 2,117. That year Summerhill Township was created from a part of Conemaugh Township.

  When Cambria County was charted on the commonwealth map, its outline resembled an imperfect parallelogram standing on its short end and leaning to the east. It is bounded by Somerset County on the south, by Westmoreland and Indiana Counties on the west, by Clearfield County on the north, and by Blair and Bedford Counties on the east.

  The north, west and southern boundaries are virtually straight lines, except in the south where the boundary follows the curves of Stonycreek River for a short distance. The eastern boundary follows the meandering crest of the Allegheny Mountains.






Most of the land within this perimeter is rolling tableland, part of the Allegheny plateau. However, in the southwest section the Conemaugh Valley prevents a deep gorge that cuts between Laurel Hill to the southwest and Chestnut Ridge to the northeast. Elevations range from 1,147 feet in the valley bottom at Johnstown to nearly 3,000 on the highest peaks of the Alleghenies.

  The drainage system in the county is one of its most remarkable features. Few counties in the state can match Cambria as a source of great rivers.

  The county has its own continental divide. It is known as Dividing Ridge and generally divides the northeast part of the county from the southwest. It also is the ridge which dividied the part of the county which came from Huntingdon County, and the part which came from Somerset County.

  Steams on opposite sides of the ridge - within a few miles of each other - flow in opposite directions, eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico or Chesapeake Bay.






  The Dividing Ridge extends in an irregular line from the Cresson area toward Nicktown, passing northeast of Ebensburg and southwest of Carrolltown. Principal streams to the north are the West Branch of the Susquehanna, Chest Creek and Clearfield Creek - all of which drain into the Susquehanna proper and eventually reach the Atlantic Ocean.

  Main streams in the south are the Little Conemaugh and Stonycreek, which meet at Johnstown to form the Conemaugh River which then joins the Kiskiminetas, the Allegheny and the Ohio before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Headwaters of these two main systems are within a few miles of each other along the Dividing Ridge.

  At the time of its founding, Cambria County was crossed by two principal roads, which at that time were little more than paths.

  In the north of the county the Kittanning Path was part of one of the main routes east and west. It passed near the present sites of Coupon, Ashville, Chest Springs, Carolltown, Patton, Hastings and Cherrytree. It played an important transportation role in the colonial era.






The other route was Conemaugh Path, which entered Cambria County from the south. It extended from Bedford to Johnstown and then followed the Conemaugh River through the gap toward Pittsburgh and the Ohio country.

  Just south of the county was a more important route - the Raystown Path, predecessor of the Forbes Road and Lincoln Highway. It extended through Everett, Bedford, Ligonier and Greensburg. As the path extended west from Bedford it passed near the present site of Quemahoning Dam, from where settlers could follow the Stonycreek Valley into the Johnstown area.


  An indication of Cambria County's sparse population is reflected in the results of the first presidential balloting which took place in the county in 1808 - more than four years after the county was created.

  There were five polling places for the entire county. Twenty-two votes were cast in Allegheny Township, 29 in Cambria Township and 18 in Conemaugh Township, which included Johnstown. President Madison received a wide majority.






Although the first county-wide election was set for October, 1807, there was little electing to be done. Edward V. James, the first prothonotary, was appointed by the governor, and Joseph M. McKean, the district attorney, was appointed by the state's attorney general.

  Principal prize in the election was the office of sheriff. But even victory was partially by appointment. The act creating Cambria County directed the election of two sheriffs. This was an old custom that permitted the governor then to appoint whichever winner he preferred. Thus James Meloy became the first sheriff.

  The first commissioners of the new county were Samuel McMullen of Loretto, Thomas Phillips of Ebensburg and Samuel Studebaker of Johnstown. It appears that the electors wisely chose one from each township.

  Cambria County joined other counties in the election of members of the state legislature. In 1808 Cambria and Somerset Counties made up one district which elected Alexander Ogle to the General Assembly. The following year Cambria, Bedford and Somerset Counties comprised the senatorial district which elected Jacob Blocker to the State Senate.






It was not until 1843 that Cambria County became a district in its own right in the election of assemblymen. In 1906 it also became a separate senatorial district.

  In 1809, when Cambria Countians voted for their first Congressman, the county was part of the Congressional district which also included Westmoreland, Armstrong and Somerset Counties. The county is now in the 22nd Congressional District with Indiana and Armstrong.

  In respect to the courts, Cambria County was a part of even greater territorial section. When it was created it became part of the new 10th Judicial District which also included Westmoreland, Somerset, Indiana and Armstrong Counties. The first district judge was John Young of Greensburg, who served for 30 years.

  Judge Young was followed in the 10th District by Thomas White (1834-47), Jeremiah Burrell (1847-48) and John C. Knox (1848-51). Judge Knox later became a justice of the supreme court and state attorney general.

  In 1850 Cambria County became part of the 24th Judicial District with Blair and Huntingdon Counties. Up to this time judges had been appointed by the governor, but with creation of the new districts, judges became elective. George Taylor of Huntingdon was the first to be elected and served until 1871.

  Judge John Dean was elected in 1871 and served until 1883.

  Cambria County became a separate district - the 47th - in 1883 and Robert L. Johnson was elected first judge of the new district.






In the 150 years that have elapsed (up until 1954) since the founding, Cambria County has risen to a position of rank among counties in Pennsylvania. It is only 31st in size, but ranks 10th in population.

  The communities and villages - some of them no longer in existence - may be divided into two classes. The older ones, which were of spontaneous growth and the newer ones which developed as a result of industry or trade.

  Among the better known older communities are Johnstown, Ebensburg, Loretto, Carrolltown, Chest Springs, Munster, Plattsville, Summerhill, Lilly, Wilmore and others along the route of the old Allegheny Portage Railroad. Among the newer ones - established after 1865 - are those in Johnstown's suburban area and many of the coal towns scattered through the county.

  New or old, each of the many communities has contributed a share to Cambria County history.

  The county history is, in effect, the combined histories of all of its component parts - its principal city, its boroughs, townships and villages. The parts give substance and authority to the whole.




  This article extracted from the Cambria County Historical Society Sesquicentennial of Cambria County 1804-1954 who's members appear below: (Members in 1954)


Mr. Henry M. Gooderham of Patton, Pa. - President

Mrs. Ferdinand K. Shields of Ebensburg, Pa. - First Vice President

Mr. J. Philip Walters of Johnstown, Pa. - Second Vice President

Mr. James T. Sheep of Johnstown, Pa. - Secretary

Mr. Ernest Apel of Ebensburg, Pa. - Treasurer


 Mr. Mahlon J. Baumgardner of Ebensburg, Pa.

Mr. Edward F. McGuire of Wilmore, Pa.

Mr. Robert F. Pruner of Johnstown, Pa.


 Miss Edna Lehman of Ebensburg, Pa.


Extracted by: Clark Creery '98


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