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The Mount Union Area Historical Society
History

 THE HISTORY OF MOUNT UNION

 

   W hen the  early settlers were deciding upon a name for their town, they looked to the converging geographic features of the mountains and ridges in the vicinity. From the panoramic beauty of this “union of the mountains”, the community of Mount Union  received its name.

 

     One of the earliest settlers was Jack Armstrong. History reveals that he and his two companions were murdered by Indians in the narrows. During this same period, the legendary Captain Jack emerges in history. With his family he made his home along the Blue Juniata in the narrows. Upon return from a hunt one day, he found his family slaughtered. This incident transformed him. His determination to avenge their deaths by killing Indians, evidently with much success, led to his notoriety as the “Wild Hunter of the Juniata.” The narrows in which he lived and the mountains on which he hunted, now bear his name.

 

The famed Conrad Wiser, an early Indian trader and interperter, traversed the area in pursuit of his vocation. During the same period, another Indian trader of local renown, George Croghan, came to the area and was responsible for the construction of Fort Shirley, an American frontier fort. It was the same George Crochan who held title to the land on which Huntingdon Borough now stands.

 

Fort Shirley and Aughwick Mills were active settlements during our Revolutionary War period.

It was during this period, that Samuel Drake established a ferry at the west end of present day Mount Union. Hence, the community’s early designation was Drake’s Ferry. Travelers on the Frankstown and Juniata Paths and the turnpike used the ferry as a means of crossing the Juniata on their way through the narrows.

 

Some years later, the mainline Pennsylvania canal was constructed through the center of the community. It was the canal, with its means of transporting the commodities from the nearby farms to the cities of the east and west, which made the settlement a “hub” of activity. The east end of town had warehouses, hotels, and taverns to accomodate travelers. It was during this early canal “boom” that the community acquired the name of Clintonville. This title was rather short lived, as was the name Santa Fe, for the east end of town.

During this period, Matilda Furnace was constructed across the river and to the north, and the process of iron making began. The iron ore deposits of the surrounding areas combined with the forests of Jack’s Mountain and the hauling capability of the canal made Matilda Furnace a thriving industry. It undoubtedly contributed to the growth of Mount Union.

 

When the Pennsylvania railroad was constructed through the area, the canal lost much of its usefulness and importance. The railroads arrival, however, marked the beginning of a new era of industrial growth.

 

The construction of the East Broad Top Railroad from the coal fields in the Broad Top region to Mount Union, and the coal processing facilities here, also contributed to new industrial growth.

Other industries such as tanneries, grist mills, lumbering, chair factory and clay brick plants flourished.

 

Prior to the turn of the twentieth century, the discovery of Quartzite and Gannister Rock in the mountains near town was the beginning of the area’s fastest growth and development. When the three brick refractories were in full operation, Mount Union was the world’s largest producer of Silica brick. These brick were essential in steel production, thereby, assuring the brick industry a world market. This boom” led to the construction of needed housing. Kistler, a model community in its day, Gannister Hill, East Pennsylvania Ave., and East Water St. and Hill Valley St., now, Municipal Park, were sites of company housing. However, a change in production methods of the steel led to demise of the Silica brick.

 

During World War I Etna Explosive Company constructed a huge powder manufacturing complex to the east of Mount Union in Mifflin County. A company settlement, Silverford Heights, was also established. During this period the population of Mount Union increased to over three times the present day size. The powder plant was short lived, as it and its supporting industries were dismantled at the end of World War I.

 

Shortly after, a garment factory was built on the north side of Mount Union. It proved to be the main stay of the community during the great depression. Constant growth of this sewing factory led to erection of new facilities.

 

    In the Seventies, a  shoe production plant and a wood products factory 

    were among the newer industries in the community.

   

    With the closing of the Brickyards and recently the Sewing factory; Mount 

    Union’s main employment comes from Bleyer, makers of Easter grass and

    packaging supplies. Also, The Riverside Industrial Park located in Shirley

    Township;  offers employment from Fluid Containment (Fiberglass Tanks),

    Bonney Forge, and FCI (Berg) Electronics.

   





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