Juniata’s Hills: “Rolling Over Crags to Woodlands”

County Feature is a series of articles on each county in Pennsylvania and its history.

Oh, the hills of Juniata, Oh, her stony wooded hills,
and her flower-scented valleys and her crystal streams and rills,
Rolling over crags to woodlands, ‘Tis a sight worth far to go,
Sun-kissed hills of Juniata, Oh, they thrill and still me so.

The above lines are taken from the county poem (officially accepted as such during the 1981 Tercentenary celebration), written by the late Dr. Robert P. Banks, family physician to much of the county, and a founder of the Juniata County Histo­rical Society. The title, “Juniata Hills,” refers to the ridge and valley qualities of Juniata County, for it lies within the confines of the Blue Ridge and Shade Mountains to the north and the lofty Tuscarora Mountains to the south. These sandstone ridges, which parallel each other along a northeast-southwest plane at an elevation of about 1,900 feet, provide the region with its most striking geographical feature. Between these two ranges lie most of Juniata County’s broad and narrow valleys, where large and small farms dot the broader and more fertile sections. Mi­nor ranges within the county descend into valleys with such colorful names as Black Log Valley, Liberty Valley, Tus­carora Valley, Slim Valley, Kurtz Valley and Turkey Valley.

Juniata, an Indian word meaning “standing stone,” was the name given first to the river which cuts through the land and later to the county, one of the smallest in Pennsylvania with a total of 387 square miles and a population of 19,036 in 1980. It is long and narrow, about fifty miles in length and in some places less than ten miles in width. The county has no television stations, hospitals, colleges, or daily newspapers and no borough with more than one thou­sand residents.

Juniata County was separated from Cumberland County in 1789 as part of Mifflin County. Finally, in 1831 after several years of debate, Governor Wolfe approved legislation which created Juni­ata. This event was celebrated in the summer of 1981, during the Tercente­nary celebration of the Commonwealth, as pan of the county’s Sesquicentennial program.

There are arguments about who were the first settlers to come into the territory, but it is known that in 1740 white traders entered the valley. The first group to settle there were the Scotch-Irish, Scottish Presbyterians who originated in Ulster, Ireland, where they had been “planted” by the English in an attempt to subdue the Irish. These settlers were aggressive, hard-working and, although chased out of the area by Indian raiding parties during the French and Indian War, came stubbornly back to rebuild their houses, establish their Presbyterian Church and set up early schools. Descendants of Patterson, Crawford, Thompson, Wilson, Banks, McAlister, and Adams are still living in Juniata County, although every family has relatives scattered nationwide. These people left their language, their form of government, and the architec­ture of their barns and houses, which resembles that found even today in England, Scotland and Ireland. Most of the early doctors, lawyers, teachers and ministers came from this stock.

The second group to enter Juniata County included the people from Ger­many – called by some, the Pennsylva­nia Dutch. They were actually Pennsyl­vania “Deutsch,” or Germans, but rumor attributes the misnomer to the Scotch-Irish who reportedly failed to pronounce the word properly.

These Germans can be divided into two categories: the church people, mostly Lutherans of Huguenot ances­try; and the “Plain People,” the Amish, Mennonite and Brethren groups, such as the Dunkards and the so-called River Brethren. The Plain People hold to a strict interpretation of the Bible and their main interest is to retain their iden­tity. This is especially true of the Amish. Juniata County still has some Amish and Mennonites who maintain their own schools through eighth grade. The Amish, for the most part, are not in favor of television, radios, telephones, “store-bought” toys or clothing, trac­tors or automobiles, although most of them will accept rides if necessary. In Juniata County the Amish culture still exists. One sees their horses and buggies on the roads and their workmen em­ployed by Amish and non-Amish alike.

The other Germans, who still out­number the Plain People, established the first Lutheran Church at Church Hill in 1802. Their schools were pan of the church program where a dialect, a cross between English and German known as Pennsylvania Dutch, was spoken. Although they settled in the ar­ea nearly 200 years ago, most of them after the Revolution, their spoken Eng­lish still has a special accent and turn of phrase that amuses the “outlander” who visits.

Today these two groups make up about ninety percent of the citizens of Juniata County, for the county has but a few industries, which may explain why other Europeans and blacks did not set­tle in this area. There are no steel mills, no mines, or occupations that enticed them to stay as there were in cities like Steelton, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre. Other immigrants, such as the Chinese and Italians, only passed through work­ing as laborers on Pennsylvania rail­roads. A few slaves also arrived before the Civil War. There was reported to be a station on the Underground Railroad in the southern area of the county, but this is one of the county folk tales which, to date, has not been well docu­mented.

From the time of its creation until World War II, few changes had affected the lives of Juniata countians. With the advent of this war, however, many citizens who had never traveled outside Pennsylvania, or even Juniata County, were uprooted during their late teens and twenties. This brought about previously unheard of changes. The dominance of the Protestant churches was broken, for example, and St. Jude’s Catholic Church was established. Young men and women whose families had before been unable to go to college were attending under the G.I. Bill, and brides from other cultures were brought back to Juniata County. For the most part, countians see these changes as good – but provincialism dies a slow death in the “Juniata Hills.”

Education in Juniata County has been similar to that of other rural areas. Early schools were of the one­-room variety, and most of the early set­tlers were satisfied with a “common school” education. The first graduating class from a public high school was in 1896.

Naturally, the families who wanted their children to enter the professions were not satisfied with only elementary education, so at least four private academies were established to train young men for the professions. They were the Airy View Academy in Port Royal, the Mifflintown Academy, the McAlisterville Academy (later the Sol­diers’ Orphans Home) and the Tusca­rora Academy. The latter is best known today because it is still standing, the old­est educational institution in the entire area and presently serving as a museum for the Juniata County Historical So­ciety.

The Reverend McKnight Williamson, pastor of the Lower Tuscarora Presby­terian Church, first conceived the idea of an academy to train young men for the ministry and teachers for the public schools in 1836. He began by holding classes in his home. Shortly afterward, John Patterson, a local merchant, do­nated $2,000 plus the land and the Gen­eral Assembly appropriated additional funds ($21,000) for the school. Build­ings were erected, and in 1839 the Acad­emy opened, with David Wilson as the principal. The Academy continued as a private school until 1912, when it be­came a public high school. It was aban­doned as an educational facility in 1916, and in 1962, after years of controversy, it was donated to the Commonwealth.

Of additional interest to many Acad­emy visitors is the dilapidated building just across the road. Chartered by the legislature in 1854, a female seminary opened to educate wealthy young ladies, mainly from the southern states. As a boarding school, it attracted them be­cause it offered courses in manners, for­eign languages, music and needlework. It appeared to be a “finishing school” and although it was open for only seven years, it has been immortalized in a large painting owned and exhibited by the Juniata County Historical Society. The late Harrison Frerichs, a New York City art teacher who spent his last years in Juniata County, painted the histori­cal site.

Juniata County’s present-day school system includes nine elementary schools, two junior, and two senior high schools, with a total enrollment from kindergarten through twelfth grade of around 3,900 students. To serve this large enrollment, the Juniata School System has become one of the largest employers in the county with about 200 professional and 100 non-professional employees.

During its heyday, the Pennsylvania Railroad was also the largest employer in Juniata County. From the lace 1840s until the end of World War II, its impact was more than simply economic. Communities were established by the railroad or sprang up because of its presence. Patterson, now called Mifflin, was a town actually built by the PRR. Housing was provided for the em­ployees and for many years the Patter­son House was a place where all the pas­senger trains stopped to allow travelers to eat and drink. The town contained a large coal wharf where steam engines were serviced; offices where yardmas­ters, clerks, train masters, telegraph operators and many messengers were employed; a round house; an ice house and large tubs where water for the PRR was stored. The railroad even provided tennis courts and a dance hall, where “name” bands played and athletic and theatrical events were held. Probably sixty-five percent of the men in the town were employed by the railroad.

Another railroad, the Tuscarora Val­ley, was incorporated in 1891 with six thousand shares of stock sold at fifty dollars per share. For over forty years its trains were used to transport mail, produce, milk and lumber from towns and farms in the Tuscarora Valley to Port Royal, where hauls would be trans­ferred to the PRR or be distributed lo­cally. Mail and supplies were sent back through the valley on the return trip. The schedule included two daily round trips and took students from the entire valley to the high school in Port Royal or to picnics in the summer and the fair in September. Automobiles, trucks and improved highways eventually caused this railroad to become obsolete, how­ever, and the company was dissolved in 1934. Tourists still come to look at the old Waterloo Station which is all that is left of the TV Railroad.

An earlier form of transportation fol­lowed the same route as the Pennsylva­nia Railroad. The canal system was a way of life from 1826 to about 1900, when the last canalboat went through on its way to Harrisburg. Unfortunate­ly, the Pennsylvania Canal never earned as much revenue as was expected. It cost over $100 million to build and returned only $44 million to its backers, many of whom were happy to sell to the PRR in 1857.

Now the canalboats and the steam en­gines are gone forever. None of the Am­trak trains stop in Juniata County, and the old PRR stations in Mifflin, Port Royal and Thompsontown have either fallen down, been taken down or are in a state of disrepair. Today, there is practically no public transportation in the entire county. Until a few years ago there were local buses owned by private companies, but now even the Grey­hound buses must be flagged down on the busy highways. Privately-owned automobiles provide virtually the only transportation either within the county or to other areas.

Ironically, transportation seems to have returned to a dependence upon the invention, made some ninety-one years ago, of a Port Royal dentist. Certain books and almanacs report that the first automobile was invented in 1893, but it has been recorded that Dr. John Sellers Kilmer drove a “horseless carriage” all around Juniata County for at least two years before that. Kilmer utilized the idea of applying mechanical power to the buggy, then the principal means of transportation. Using a Shipman sta­tionary steam engine, just invented at that time, he mounted the engine and the several watertanks on the buggy. The power was transmitted to the rear axle sprocket wheels by means of a link chain belt. Two sizes of sprocket wheels were employed for the change of gears.

The most outstanding feature of this car was the method of steering, which Kilmer also designed. It was a type of short axle fastened to a main stationary axle, exactly the same principle used in the modern motor car. A shrill whistle, to warn people and animals that this “horseless carriage” was corning at the awesome speed of ten miles an hour, completed the invention.

News of Kilmer’s creation spread throughout the county and people came from miles around to see it. Although he never patented his invention, Dr. Kil­mer and his family used this auto all their lives. Many countians still consider him to be the inventor.

The number one business in Juniata County, even in the 1980s, is agri­culture. There are 690 farms in the county and farm production for 1981 totaled well over $25 million dollars. The largest share was generated by dairy fanning, but some of the revenue came from supplying grain and from selling fruits and vegetables. This should come as no surprise since farming has been vital to the region ever since the Germans emigrated there.

In the early days of the county, lum­bering was also a thriving enterprise. The Vincent Lumbering Company, the Kilmer Lumber Company, and the Gloss Lumber Company are just a few of the companies which flourished. In this industry the Scotch-Irish were the original entrepreneurs in business man­agement, but Germans did much of the actual work.

What manufacturing takes place in the county today relies upon women rather than men. Blouses, dresses, pa­jamas and other clothing have been made for decades in small sewing facto­ries scattered throughout the county.

Perhaps the strangest industry to be­come important in Juniata County is the Empire Kosher Company, which is con­sidered to be the largest and certainly the most widely-advertised source of Kosher chickens and turkeys for the en­tire East Coast. Strange, because out­side of the rabbis from Brooklyn, whose job it is to slaughter all the poultry used, there are few other Jews in Juniata County. This industry moved into the county after World War II when the hatchery business bottomed out. Em­pire Kosher now employs nearly 700 people.

Juniata County residents who do not work as farmers, lumbermen, railroad­ers, school teachers, or garment workers are usually employed in communities outside the county. There are about three hundred residents employed by the Standard Steel plant near Lewistown, and more than two hundred working for the state in various government offices in the Harrisburg area. So, for some of the local inhabitants, Juniata County is a “bedroom” community.

Why hasn’t Juniata County become urban? Why have Mifflin, Mifflintown, Port Royal, and Thompsontown re­mained small towns? Why has the popu­lation of the county remained prac­tically one hundred percent German and Scotch-Irish? Many reasons might be given, but perhaps the most apparent one is that the residents want it this way. Every time a landowner decides to sub­divide his land for housing developments or every time a contractor decides to ask for government help to build low­-income apartments, there is a public outcry against it. The local inhabitants even object to extending water and sewer lines which would make it easier for more people to take up residence.

But, is this all that motivates those who have come out of this mystical, un­changing county which seems to have been overlooked by time? No. The county has produced dreamers, doers, thinkers, players, explorers, soldiers and sailors.

A dreamer was Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine, who made the initials E.S.P. a household word. Born in Waterloo, he traveled to the Midwest for his educa­tion, and with his wife, Louisa, estab­lished the center for studies in the field of parapsychology at Duke University. A true psychic, his studies on the inner workings of the human mind have made history.

A doer is Harry Cunningham, who went to work for the Kresge Company after a year at The Pennsylvania State University. K-Mart was his idea, and he has been chairman of the board and president of the company for many years. He recently returned from Japan where he was invited to explain the tech­nology behind the K-Mart marketing theory.

Other doers include Ruth Pennell, a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylva­nia who served on the state’s Tax Equal­ization Board and Civil Service Com­mission, and stage and TV star Nancy Kulp, who was raised in the county and recently returned to settle in Spruce Hill Township.

A thinker is Dr. Richard Cramer, who studied at Juniata College and re­ceived his Ph.D. from Harvard Univer­sity. He was the top chemist for Du Pont in Wilmington, discovered many organic compounds and lectured on his discoveries in many American and European universities.

A player is Fred Frankhouse, who played professional baseball for teams in St. Louis, Brooklyn and Boston for the twenty years between 1922 and 1942. Most of the time he played he was a pitcher, and retired with a fine record.

An explorer is Dr. Edmund Stump, an alumnus of both Harvard and Ohio State universities who has gone on nu­merous expeditions to Antarctica for the U.S. Geological Survey.

General David M. Crawford, a grad­uate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was decorated by George VI, King of England, during World War II for a communications system he set up in the British Isles.

Naval heroes from Juniata County in­clude Admiral S.S. Robison, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, who was in charge of the Atlantic submarine fleet in World War I and was also the com­mandant of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis until he retired in 1932.

With an illustrious list like that above, one final question must be asked. Why do most natives of Juniata County choose to remain in the relative obscurity of its hills and valleys? Per­haps the answer lies in the observations made by a local editor in 1931:

“Every hour of the day, every change of the season, gives new truths to the mountains and valleys. The morning mists often shroud them with their veils, the tints of evening spread over them golden and purple halos. Spring clothes the landscape in a tender green; Summer deepens it into a darker tint interspersed with foregleams of ripening harvest; Autumn scatters its gems over all, tint­ing the forests with the many hues of the changing foliage; Winter brings its man­tle of white, contrasting strikingly with the verdant pines, cedars and hemlocks. In some places the railroad passes through broad cultivated valleys so nar­row that its bed seems to be carved out of overhanging rocks. Every mile of its concourse opens up new scenes, which present themselves to the eye like an ever-changing kaleidoscope.”

There is a quality in the hills of Juni­ata which calls people back, or rather, tells them never to leave.


Ruth C. Waters, mayor of Mifflin Bor­ough and president of the Juniata County Historical Society since 1979, received BA and MS degrees in chem­istry and library science from Juniata College and The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to her retirement from the Juniata County Schools, she de­voted thirty-seven years to that system as a teacher and librarian.