Bellefonte lies in a spot where an enormous mountain spring that emits as much as 13.5-million gallons a day -- enough to supply a 17-foot-wide stream. In 1785, William Lamb used that water to power a flour mill. The community that developed around the mill was known as Lamb’s Crossing.
Lamb sold his mill, the spring, and 800 acres in the 1790s to James Dunlop, an ironmaster from Cumberland Valley. Soon James Harris and James Dunlop, his father-in-law, laid out, block by block, a village they called “Big Spring.” Tradition holds that the town was named “Bellefonte” by Nancy Harris, Dunlop’s daughter and James’ wife. It happened during a visit by the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. When Mrs. Harris showed him the massive spring, he exclaimed, “La belle font!” and that, she thought, was a most appropriate name for the town. Others believe the name sprouted from the Bell Fonte forge that was operating at the time.
Bellefonte, rich with iron-industry money, became the most influential town in Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Its big-city trappings included six opera houses, and at one point, two daily and five weekly newspapers. The Centre Democrat, founded by General Philip Benner in 1827, was one of the oldest weekly newspapers in the United States
Early on Bellefonte battled the larger Milesburg for the county seat and a display of superior political muscle landed the Centre County government in Bellefonte in 1805. The first county court house--an unpretentious two story stone building--was erected on the site of the present court house. Bellefonte was to become a political breeding ground in the 19th century - five Pennsylvania governors hailed from the town in the 1800s.
The business district that developed about the Diamond (directly in front of the courthouse) is one of Pennsylvania’s most eye-catching. Our walking tour will get there soon enough but we’ll start near the historic Big Spring, one of the ten largest springs in the Commonwealth, that gave birth to the town...
Bellefonte Passenger Station
The first depot on the site was built in 1864 and served trains from the Pennsylvania Railroad’s newly constructed Bald Eagle Valley line that ran between Tyrone and Lock Haven. When a new railroad - to be known as the Bellefonte Central - was proposed twenty years later the wooden structure was derided as “a miserable old shed of a depot that would be a disgrace to a way-station on a coal road.” The Pennsylvania Railroad concurred and the wooden station was relocated nearby to serve as a freight station, and its place taken by a new brick structure―the current station―opened on February 11, 1889. In its heyday the station hosted as many as twenty regularly scheduled arrivals and departures daily, and tracks were located on both sides of the building. The most prestigious train to use the station was the Penn Lehigh Express, which operated between Easton and Pittsburgh by way of Williamsport and Lock Haven. It catered to the travel requirements of steel company executives at both ends of the state. Passenger service in Bellefonte began to slide away in the 1930s and by 1949 the daily train to and from Lewisburg made its last run, soon after losing its milk and mail contracts. On August 23, 1950, the Pennsylvania Railroad withdrew the last pair of passenger trains on the Bald Eagle Valley line, the weary remnants of the Penn Lehigh. After a restoration in the 1970s, the station became home to the Chamber of Commerce, an office of the Centre County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and the ticket office of the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society.
LEAVE THE TRAIN STATION ON HIGH STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CROSSING SPRING CREEK.
In the 1960s, Bellefonte Borough Council developed plans for a park at the site of the deteriorated McClain block. The Talleyrand Park Citizens Committee formed in 1974 and a coalition of volunteers, non-profit and public agencies set about building the gazebo and landscaping the grounds along Spring Creek. The George Grey Barnard Sculpture Garden in the park was formerly a gas station. In 1983, the Committee installed the bust of Abraham Lincoln, cast from the original plaster head sculpted in 1917 by the famous Bellefonte-born sculptor George Grey Barnard. The memorial to Bellefonte’s seven governors (five Pennsylvania, one California and one Kansas Territory) stands along High Street.
212-220 1/2 High Street
Self-made businessman Daniel G. Bush was responsible for the erection of some 27 buildings in Bellefonte, including the massive Bush House Hotel and this ornate commercial block. The original Arcade was destroyed by fire in January of 1887 but was rebuilt almost immediately according to the design and under the supervision of P. A. Walsh, a Philadelphia architect. Still in use as a commercial arcade, the building is a fine example of the Queen Anne-eclectic mode.
southwest corner of High Street and Spring Street
James Sanks Brisbin was born in 1837 at Boalsburg. He studied at the Boalsburg Academy and upon graduating Brisbin began teaching. He later purchased and edited the Centre Democrat newspaper in Bellefonte and also studied law and was later admitted to the bar of Pennsylvania. Brisbin was prominently known as an anti-slavery orator. and served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war he remained in the military for the rest of his life, and authored several works on a variety of subjects. The Brisbin Home was built in 1865, constructed of bricks that were hand-wrapped and shipped from Philadelphia. It is an excellent example of Italian revival architecture. Once the home of the Decker Motor Company, it today contains offices.
201 West High Street
This was the site of the residence of Reverend James Linn, a vernaculartwo-story structure with pent roof and wooden porch. Linn was pastor of the Bellefonte Presbyterian Church and his son Samuel Linn became a prominent judge in Pennsylvania. Linn Street was named for him. Thepresent picturesque building was once the First National Bank, a smorgasbord of Gothic, Romanesque, and Egyptian architecture.
143 High Street
Dunlop House was built in 1795 by Lt. Col. James Dunlop, who with his son-in-law, James Harris, founded the town. The parlor of this stone structure housed the first courthouse from 1800 to 1806. Immediately to the east side is Diven House. In 1797 James Dunlop had it built for Alexander Diven. The architect for these houses, as well as many others built in that era, was John Lowery, who managed the Bell Font Forge for his cousin, Dunlop. The Diven House is a fine example of the Georgian style, favored by the early settlers. Four original fireplaces remain in the building; one still retains its original decorative style.
southeast corner of West High Street and Spring Street
This midtown corner was the site of the popular McKee’s Tavern around 1796. The current town house was built by Thomas R. Reynolds in 1880. The decorative iron railing is a product of local craftsmen.
136 High Street
Petrikin Memorial Hall was built in 1901-1902for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The Keystone Gazette in July, 1901 reported that, “On the ground floor will be two large rooms and a large hallway running through to the auditorium, which will accommodate from 600 to 800 people, with a stage that will hold at least 150 people. Underneath the stage will be the dressing rooms. The room on the east facing High street will be occupied by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the one across the hall, on the west will be used as the public library. The second and third floors will have an entrance from the front and will be divided into six apartments, each having six rooms and a separate bathroom with all other conveniences.” It is the handiwork of local builder John Robert Cole. Cole was born in Houserville in 1850 and even though he had no more than a carpenter’s training, his designs would dominate local architecture from the early 1890s until his death in 1916.
124 West High Street
The Plaza Theater Building was designed by Anna Wagner Keichline. Keichline, a Bellefonte native and Cornell graduate, became the first woman registered as an architect by the state of Pennsylvania in 1920. She designed numerous buildings, including the Plaza, the Juniata Colony Country Club in Mt. Union, and several Bellefonte homes. She was also an inventor, women’s suffrage advocate, and Special Agent for Army Intelligence in WWII. The Anna Keichline Gallery, an exhibit of her life and career, is on the second floor of the Brockerhoff House on Allegheny Street. The theater featured a 30 ft x 60 foot stage, orchestra pit, and pipe organ. A second, smaller theater showed silent movies, for the few years when both silent movies and talkies were produced. On opening night of the theater -- October 19, 1925 -- 2,500 people attended. Two showings were necessary to accommodate them. The theater also featured the “Cry Room,” a glass-enclosed space on the balcony level where parents with young children could see the movies without disturbing other patrons. Today the Plaza is a cooperative of dealers in antiques and collectibles.
120 West High Street
Andrew Gregg Curtin was born in Bellefonte in 1817, the son of a prosperous iron manufacturer. After graduating from Dickinson College he became a lawyer and entered public service, becoming Governor of Pennsylvania during the Civil War from 1861 to 1867. He became a close friend and confidant of Abraham Lincoln, visiting the White House several times in order to converse about the status of the war effort and was active in the Gettysburg Campaign. After the war, Curtin was appointed Minister to Russia by President Ulysses S. Grant and later served as a Democratic Congressman from 1881 until 1887 in the United States House of Representatives. He died at his birthplace of Bellefonte and is buried in Union Cemetery. In World War II the United States liberty ship SS Andrew G. Curtin was named in his honor. The Curtin Residence, built in 1868 of limestone, it is a superb example of Tuscan revival architecture with handsome bracketing. The front porch, constructed from the piers of a viaduct built over Spring Creek in 1895 by the Warner Company, was added in 1909 by the Elks, who purchased the property for $10,000.
TURN LEFT AND WALK UP THE WEST SIDE OF ALLEGHENY STREET.
First National Bank Building
137 North Allegheny Street
Formerly the site of the home of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas Burnside, the First National Bank Building was constructed in 1872. Following a fire in 1888 the present structure was rebuilt in 1889, along with the Crider Exchange Building next door on North Allegheny Street. Together these two buildings help anchor the Diamond, one of the most picturesque squares in Pennsylvania.
133 North Allegheny Street
In 1888 a block of stores owned by E.C. Humes was totally destroyed by fire. Fountain W. Crider, a shrewd businessman, bought the charred ruins and constructed the Crider Exchange Building. The Exchange, another creation of Robert Cole in the Queen Anne style, is notable for its unusual fish-scale tin facade.
133 North Allegheny Street
This house was built in 1810 by Philip Benner, pioneer Centre County Ironmaster. He was the first ironmaster in the United States to ship iron, made at Rock Forge along Spring Creek, southwest of Bellefonte, to Pittsburgh in 1812. The house was later occupied by Judge Charles Huston and Governor James A Beaver. Beaver was a Brigadier General in the Civil War, wounded four times. He was a Republican governor of Pennsylvania from 1887 and 1891 and resided in Bellefonte until his death in 1914. Historian John Blair Linn, who in 1883 wrote Linn’s History of Centre and Clinton Counties, and who married Benner’s granddaughter, moved into the house that her grandfather had built. The structure is of Trenton limestone, a high quality building stone that has given rise to one of the major industries of present-day Bellefonte. The Georgian-style building now houses The Bellefonte Museum for Centre County.
Potter House/Centre County Library
203 North Allegheny Street
Built at the edge of the sidewalk on the corner of Allegheny and Howard Streets in 1815 by John Miles, son of Colonel Samuel Miles, mayor of Philadelphia and founder of Milesburg, this building was jacked up and moved back twelve feet from its original site in 1896. It was then sold to W.W. Potter, lawyer and congressman. The house was bequeathed in 1935 to Bellefonte for use as county library.
Thaddeus Brew Hamilton House
251 North Allegheny Street
Thaddeus Brew Hamilton once owned the land where Denver, Colorado is now located. He traded it for a mule which he needed for his prospecting ventures in the Colorado gold rush. Of the eight prospectors who, in 1858, first settled where Denver now is, four were from Bellefonte - Hamilton, John Rothrock, James Turner, and Sam Decker. In California, for $600, Mr. Hamilton was offered the land where the city of San Bernardino is now located, but rejected it. The eclectic house features elements of the Second Empire, Gothic and Queen Anne styles.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
southwest corner of Lamb Street and North Allegheny Street
St. John’s Episcopal parish was established in 1837; the Gothic stone church was built in 1871.
northwest corner of Linn Street and North Allegheny Street
The Reynolds Mansion was built in 1883 and 1884 for Major William F Reynolds and later the home of Colonel W. Fred Reynolds, who was instrumental in locating the Diamond wooden match company in Bellefonte. With its towers and asymmetrical massing the house is primarily of the Queen Anne style with Gothic influences in the use of stone, steeply-pitched roofs and gables, and also Italianate details in the tall, narrow windows and the prominent eave brackets. Its construction of red sandstone required twenty Italian stone-masons and an army of other artisans. A two-story carriage house was added in 1893.
TURN RIGHT ON LINN STREET.
113 East Linn Street
This 1858 Pennsylvania farmhouse was the birthplace of George Grey Barnard, famous American sculptor and son of a Bellefonte Presbyterian minister. Among his famous works were the Barnard groups of statuary flanking the main entrance of the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg and a Statue of Lincoln, a replica of which is located in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also collected medieval sculpture that formed the nucleus of the collection in The Cloisters museum in Manhattan. The frame siding on this house was scored to suggest masonry blocks with quoined corners.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO NORTH ALLEGHENY STREET AND TURN LEFT.
254 North Allegheny Street
Daniel H. Hastings came to Bellefonte as principal of the high school in 1867. Later he edited the Bellefonte Republican and gained admittance to the Centre County Bar. He eventually served one term as Republican governor of Pennsylvania from 1895 to 1899. In the meantime he took possession of the former John Lane mansion in the 1890s and remodeled it by facing it in brick and adding the south wing and portico and windows fashioned after the old State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. The house is a polyglot of architectural ideas. It could be called mostly classical with dentils under eaves, bracketing, pilasters and pediments on dormers, pillars, leaded windows, large pane windows, and a mansard style roof. The Hastings Mansion, now apartments, sits on the site of the Red Lion Inn from the 1830s.
James T. Hale House
222 North Allegheny Street
James Tracy Hale was born in Towanda in 1810; he studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1832 and commenced practice in Bellefonte. Hale was elected as a Republican to the three terms n the United States Congress. He died in Bellefonte in 1865. The core of this red brick house dates to 1843 before the Victorian decorations were added to the upper floors.
Joseph Ceader House
214 North Allegheny Street
Joseph Ceader was a baker, caterer and confectioner who operated a shop at 26 South Allegheny Street. His fine brick home dates to 1899.
Centre County Courthouse
208 North Washington Street
The Centre County courthouse was first constructed in 1805 and 1806, with a wing added in 1811. The Ionic columns on the porch were built in 1835. With the exception of this porch, the entire building was replaced in 1854 and 1855. The rear section was added in 1909 through 1911, and the new east wing was built in 1963-1964. The Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial and statue of Andrew Gregg Curtin were dedicated in 1906. The Memorial was designed by Joseph M Huston, the architect who designed the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. The intersection of four streets in front of the Courthouse, known as The Diamond, has been the hub of all activity in Bellefonte since its founding and is representative of the Pennsylvania Diamond, characteristic of towns in Pennsylvania and nearby areas which were settled by Pennsylvanians.
southwest corner of High Street and Allegheny Street
In 1866, Henry Brockerhoff rebuilt the old Pennsylvania Hotel in this style. Today this building is dominated by its eclectic-style roof and attic story but betrayal of the original Italianate building is seen in the steady articulation of brick wall arches below and the surrounds on the narrow windows. This was once the site of a log cabin tavern owned by James Benner. It was redesigned by Robert Cole in the 1890s by adding a fourth floor and multi-tiered slate mansard roof.
southwest corner of High Street and Allegheny Street
Colonel W. F. Reynolds, who came to Bellefonte in 1841, established his bank on the Diamond in 1859 and amassed quite a sizable fortune through his financial transactions. When he died in 1893, he left an estate of $801,000. The Reynolds Bank was built in 1887 but experienced several fires and by 1889 was rebuilt and named the First National Bank. In 2005-2006 it was bought by the County, restored, and restructured as additional courtroom space. The third floor, formerly accessible by a ladder, had been the location of the Masonic Lodge and currently has been restored for use by the community.
TURN LEFT ON EAST HIGH STREET.
110 East High Street
his hotel was purchased by Daniel Garman in 1861. It was remodeled around 1888 and was a gathering place for politicians, salesmen, attorneys and other leading lights of the town. It is currently operating as the Hotel Dode.
Garman Opera House
116 East High Street
Built in 1887 as an opera house, the Garman was converted in the 1930s to a movie house known as the State Theatre. It closed in the 60s and became a warehouse. It became a movie house again in July 2000 showing art, foreign, and first run films but the Garman Opera House closed once more in October 2008, and was put up for sale.
RETURN TO ALLEGHENY STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Temple Court Building
130 South Allegheny Street
Another creation by John Robert Cole. Cole, this time in thin, orange Roman brick. The Romanesque Temple Court Building, constructed in 1894, also carries a sunburst ornamentation theme throughout the facade.
100 Block of South Allegheny Street
Most of this block, including the corner of East Bishop Street, was destroyed in the fire of 1885.The southwest corner, where the postal box now stands, was then called “strychnine corner” because of the notable number of bars and saloons located there.
TURN RIGHT ON BISHOP STREET.
140 West Bishop Street
This double house is the birthplace of Jacob H Meyer, inventor of the voting machine.
TURN RIGHT ON SPRING STREET.
Bush Residence/VFW Hall
123 South Spring Street
Daniel Bush was responsible for many of Bellefonte’s finest buildings and his grand 1864 Victorian residence here certainly qualified for the list. The building lost much of its ornamentation when it was converted into the Markland Hotel. Now a VFW Hall, the building looks much as it did as the Markland Hotel, sans elaborate porch.
Bellefonte’s First Hospital
113 South Spring Street
Bellefonte’s first hospital began in 1902, housed in this building on a lot first owned by Thomas Burnside. The carriage house located directly behind it is one of the finest restored buildings in Bellefonte.
TURN LEFT ON HIGH STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN TALLEYRAND PARK.