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Hollidaysburg and Vicinity

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The town of Hollidaysburg is located at the midpoint of early Native American seasonal migrations from Michigan to Virginia. As such, the area was often the burial site for those who died during the journey. Its strategic location also prompted the fledgling United States government to designate several fortified houses as forts to protect the early colonists: Fort Fetter, Fort Holiday, and Fort Titus (all demolished). The first European landholders whose names are identified with the site were Adam and William Holliday, northern Irish immigrants who fought in the French and Indian War. They purchased the land in 1768, and had the town surveyed and plotted c. 1793. It was a farming community until the Huntingdon, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike opened in 1819. It was among the more than one thousand miles of turnpikes in Pennsylvania whose usage waned after the opening of the canal in 1832.

The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal dominated the trading and industry of Hollidaysburg from 1832, the year the town was incorporated, until the 1870s. This was the holding point for cargo continuing into the western territories, and, after the APRR opened in 1834, for the raw materials being shipped east from the forests and farms of western Pennsylvania. As canal traffic was seasonal, storage was an important component of the system, and large warehouses grew along the canal's edge. The canal was popular with human cargo, as well and as many as one hundred passengers arriving in Hollidaysburg aboard several packets would need overnight accommodations. The canal's influence on the town remains visible in many ways, from the name of the neighborhood Gaysport to the south—commemorating canal engineer John Gay—to the commercial buildings lining the canal's former path, such as the U.S. Hotel (1835; 401 Wayne Street). The focus of the town was initially at the diamond, a four-block rectangle of land at the intersection of Montgomery and Allegheny streets. During the canal era, however, the town's focus shifted to the canal path with its inns and warehouses.

In Hollidaysburg, the railroad followed the canal's path, and even the addition of streetcars did little to interrupt the town's gridded street pattern. The railroad's impact on Hollidaysburg was softened by the building of Altoona just four miles to the north in 1850. But this changed in 1952, when the Pennsylvania Railroad built one of the world's largest classification yards, rail service, and construction facilities in Hollidaysburg's southeastern section. The Samuel Rea yards were a major employer in this town of 5,368 until new owners, Norfolk and Southern Railroad, closed them in 2001, eliminating almost four hundred jobs.

With few development pressures and successful preservation programs, Hollidaysburg has maintained its attractive nineteenth-century appearance and the many handsome single-family houses built between 1890 and 1930. Recognizing this as a tourist attraction in the early 1960s, the borough's chamber of commerce implemented Project 60, an award-winning preservation program designed by Milton S. Osborne, then head of Pennsylvania State University's College of Arts and Architecture. Since 1988, the borough has operated under a Historic District Ordinance to preserve its architectural assets and counsel homeowner's on appropriate ways to preserve their buildings.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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