Located at the confluence of the Juniata River and Standing Stone Creek, Huntingdon was laid out in 1767 by the Reverend William Smith, a provost of the University of Pennsylvania who owned land in the area. He named it for the university's most generous benefactress, Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, England. Because it was a proprietary town, deed holders had to build a substantial house within a prescribed time of purchase or the lot would revert to Smith, who, in the meantime, could collect annual rental fees.
Huntingdon's close ties to the power structure of Philadelphia are reflected in the fact that the town has sent two native sons to the governorship, David R. Porter, a Jacksonian Democrat, in 1839 and Martin G. Brumbaugh, a Republican, in 1915.
Most of Huntingdon's buildings are of stone or brick. The borough's oldest stone house is at 105 William Smith Street, built in 1797 for Reverend Smith. It is two stories and four bays wide, with the gable ends perpendicular to the street. While several brick houses predating 1830 survive, most buildings date after 1850 and typify the enormous impact that railroad access had on a small town. Some were built according to the mail-order plans of George Franklin Barber (1854–1915) of Knoxville, who between 1887 and 1913 sold over twenty thousand sets of plans through popular magazines, and published a monthly journal called American Homes. The Queen Anne house at 317 Penn Street is a typical Barber design.
The diamond between 421 and 510 Penn Street is, as is common in Pennsylvania towns, a wide place in the street, and in 1792, it was labeled “Market Square.” Banks and other commercial buildings were built around the diamond from 1868 to 1926. Juniata College ( HU9) on a hilltop west of the borough and the large state prison to the southwest in Smithfield have assured a steady stream of visitors, students, parents and relatives, all needing accommodations and sustenance. Most of today's new buildings are located on the Juniata College campus or near Raystown Lake in the form of cottages and tourist-related conveniences, including an information center. In 1983, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a Main Street program in Huntingdon, which has helped preserve the best of the old and encourage appropriate new development.
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