History of Indiana County, PA

A History of Indiana County

The recorded history of Indiana County begins around 1727, when James LeTort, a French Huguenot trader, set up a trading post for the Indians near what is now the town of Shelocta, in the western part of the county. Various other traders and Indian fighters traveled through the county in the 1700's, including the famous frontiersmen, Conrad Weiser, Peter Shaver, William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, and John Harris, Sr., who established Harris's Ferry on the present site of Harrisburg.

In 1756, during the French and Indian War, Lt. Col. John Armstrong led a force of 307 men from Fort Shirley, in present Huntingdon County, to attack Kittanning Path, an Indian trail which roughly parallels U.S. Route 422 through Indiana County. This route which was renamed the Armstrong Trail, is now preserved by The Armstrong Trail Society and a portion of it in Indiana County has been marked with signs and used for hiking and nature study.

The southern portion of the county was purchased from the Iroquois Six Nations in 1768, in the first Treaty of Fort Stanwix by Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn. The line of this purchase, extending across the center of Indian County, is known as the Purchase Line and is commemorated today by a monument in the town of Cherry Tree, marking the corner of the Purchase. There were only eight counties in the 86 year old Commonwealth at that time and this lower part of Indiana County was included in Cumberland County. In 1771, Bedford was formed out of Cumberland County and two years later, Westmoreland County was carved out of Bedford County. Both of these counties included what is now Indiana County.

In 1784, the Penns signed the second Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the Indians and purchased the northern section of the county which became part of Northumberland County. In 1795, Lycoming County was created out of part of Northumberland County, so the northern portion of Indiana County was for a time part of Lycoming County. Indiana County traces its parentage from five other counties!
The two parts of Indiana County, north and south of the Purchase Line, were joined when the county was created by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1803. With the formation of the county, competition developed among various areas for the honor of having the county seat. This was settled in 1805 when George Clymer of Philadelphia, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, donated out of his considerable holdings 250 acres of land in the center of the county to be used as a county seat. This cinched the title for the town of Indiana which by 1810 had a population of 125.

In 1806, the official business of the county was transferred from Greensburg when the first session of the Indiana County Court was held on the second floor of Peter Sutton's Tavern in the town of Indiana. Three years later the first Court House was built. According to the census of 1810, the new county had a population of 1,214. The first newspaper was started in 1814 and hewed to the Federalist line in politics. The town of Indiana became a borough in 1816, the same year Pittsburgh was incorporated as a city.

Transportation was developing in the county in the early 1800's. In 1807, the Frankstown Road was improved and tolls were charged when it became a turnpike. In 1825, the fabulous financial success of the Erie Canal in New York State and of the Schuylkill Canal which connected Pottsville and Philadelphia, ushered in the Canal Age. The construction of the Pennsylvania Canal to link Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with a system of waterways and railways began in 1826. The Conemaugh River was an important link in the section from Johnstown to Pittsburgh. By 1829, the first canal boats were passing the Indiana County towns of Blairsville and Saltsburg and by 1834, the canal was opened it full length. Within 30 years the canal had been replaced by railroads and the State government was almost bankrupt as a result of the canal building fever. A spur line of the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed in Indiana in 1856.

In the 1830's and 1840's Indiana County became a hotbed of abolitionism. The Center Township Anti-Slavery Society was organized in 1838, and an abolition newspaper, The Clarion Freedom, was established in 1843. The county was on one of the mail lines of the Underground Railroad and many prominent citizens risked their lives by harboring runaway slaves. A fervent Indiana abolitionist, Dr. Robert Mitchell, was convicted by a Federal Court in 1847, and fined for helping slaves. During the Civil War, Indiana County sent several regiments of troops to fight for the Union.

Houses of worship in the county represent many religious denominations. Bethel Presbyterian Church is believed to be the oldest Protestant Church and dates back to 1788. The oldest Catholic Church is St. Patrick's in Pine Township, built in 1827, but the deed for the land was given in 1806.

In 1855, a Normal School for training teachers was begun in the old Indiana Academy and in the basement of a church. By 1870, a movement had started for the founding of a state Normal School which bore fruit in 1875, when Indiana State Normal School was established. It became a four-year State Teacher's College in 1927, and began granting degrees.

The county's first major industry was the manufacture of salt, made from evaporating salt water pumped from wells. The salt boom in the southwestern part of the county accounted for the name of the town of Saltsburg.

Bituminous coal was being dug from exposed outcropping as early as 1795, but there is no record of the date or location of the first mine. However, coal mining soon rivaled farming as the backbone of the county's economy. Several iron furnaces were built in the 1830's and 1840's, but ceased operations when timber from which charcoal was made gave out. By 1905, coke production became a major industry with the construction of beehive ovens at Ernest. Another industry started in 1914, with the building of the McCreary tire plant in Indiana.
After the disastrous St. Patrick's Day flood in 1936, a movement was begun to assure that protection of Pittsburgh from further ravages. In 1946, construction was started by the Army Corps of Engineers on the mammoth Conemaugh Dam on the Conemaugh River near Blairsville. Several towns were demolished and moved out of the way and two railroad tunnels and old Pennsylvania Canal tunnel were sealed. The work took seven years to complete and the finished project is the largest flood control dam in the Allegheny River system.

Yellow Creek Park was created in 1963, located along on one of the first 'highways' in the state, the Kittanning Path, used by the Delaware and Shawnee Nations and by early settlers. The park includes 3,140 acres and provides numerous recreational activities.

More recently, Indiana became know as the birthplace of film star, Jimmy Stewart and as the Christmas Tree Capitol of the world. Visitors and locals alike can relive Indiana County's past by visiting the area's many historical sites including:
Four scenic covered bridges, including the newly rededicated Thomas Bridge, the longest in the county and the only one still in use today;
Tunnelview Historic Site, featuring the remains of past railroads, canals and the third tunnel ever built in America, the Pennsylvania Canal tunnel and aqueduct; historic Saltsburg, where you can relive life in a booming canal town of the 1800's.

Historic structures from the late 1800's like Ebenezer Church, Bethel Church, the Silas M. Clark House, and historic downtown Indiana.
And, of course, Smicksburg Amish Settlement.

These features, along with the county's rich history, make Indiana County one of the top scenic spots to visit in Pennsylvania!

Indiana County Census Totals

1820 - 8,882
1830 - 14.252
1840 - 20,782
1850 - 27,170
1860 - 33,687
1870 - 36,138
1880 - 40,527
1890 - 42,175
1900 - 42,556
1910 - 66,210
1920 - 80,910
1930 - 75,395
1940 - 79,854
1950 - 77,106
1960 - 75,366
1970 - 79,451
1980 - 92,281
1990 - 89,994


Indiana County Community Facts*

*Source: 1990 Census
Indiana County is a close knit community of quiet neighborhoods and friendly individuals who care about the future of the area. Convenient shopping, vast recreational areas, and sophisticated cultural offerings combine to help the community grow and prosper, while still maintaining its small-town charm.

Community size: 43.3 square miles (White Township/Indiana Boroughs: 15 square miles)
Townships: 24
Boroughs: 15

Percentage of Population by Age: Under 18 years = 23.6%
18 - 24 years = 17.0%
25 - 34 years = 13.8%
35 - 49 years = 19.1%
50 and over = 26.5%

Average age: 31.8 years

Location: 41 miles from Pennsylvania Turnpike
Nearest Interstates: I-76 (41 miles) I-80 (48 miles)
Closest Major City: Pittsburgh, PA (45 miles southwest of Indiana County)

Transportation: Highways: North-South: U.S. Route 119
East-West: U.S. Route 22, U.S. 422, PA Route 286
Airports: Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport, Charter, Private, Corporate and General Service Nearest scheduled service: Pittsburgh International, 70 miles