Established in 1771, Bedford County originally encompassed all the land west of Tuscarora Mountain, and was the ninth county formed in the commonwealth. Its territory was so large that it was ultimately carved into twenty-eight counties. John Russell, fourth Duke of Bedford, lent his name to the fort built in 1751 at what was then called Raystown, now Bedford, and the name Bedford was retained for the county. Bedford's ridge and valley topography consists of five mountains curving from southwest to northeast. These mountains limited east–west travel to the Juniata River valley; north–south progress was easier along the valleys from West Virginia and Maryland. Both Native Americans and European American settlers vied to live in the valleys closest to the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.
By the 1760s, farming and grain production began in earnest, and several early mills are proof of this important first step in industrialization. Growth relies on transportation, and most travelers from Philadelphia to the western frontier passed through Bedford on the old Forbes Road. Over the years, the state government recognized the need to tie the western counties to the east and authorized construction of the Pennsylvania Road, which consolidated several smaller turnpikes (generally following the path of today's U.S. 30). Hotels and inns along these turnpikes reflected the architectural styles prevalent on the Eastern Seaboard. Many farms remain in Bedford County, as for example, Mount Dallas Farm dating from the 1840s (1780 Lincoln Highway), with its stone five-bay house and red-painted Pennsylvania bank barn.
By the mid-nineteenth century, sawmills, gristmills, tanneries, carriage makers, iron makers, as well as farms dotted the landscape. However, Bedford never had the large-scale, heavy industry found in Cambria or Allegheny counties, primarily due to its poor rail connections. Coal production in Bedford was minimal until a branch line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad, was completed in the northeastern corner of the county in 1856. The railroads allowed farmers to switch from grain to dairy production, as milk could be shipped in a timely fashion over greater distances by rail. Rail lines through the southwestern corner of the county connected Bedford to Cumberland, Maryland.
Bedford County's natural beauty made it attractive as a recreational area even before rail access. In 1806, Bedford Springs ( BD16) opened; in the 1860s Chalybeate Springs ( BD15) and in 1884 White Sulphur Springs ( BD17) used their mineral springs to attract spa visitors. In the era of rudimentary drug therapies, mineral springs were patronized for their “curative” powers. For Bedford County to have three extant spa hotels is remarkable, and their preservation is vital. All three are festooned with verandas, illustrating their purpose of restorative relaxation and a southern architectural influence. In Bedford County, the eighteenth-century turnpike buildings with their eastern influences and the southern-styled spas are clear examples of these regional influences.
The Lincoln Highway, was conceived in 1915 by Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company, and Carl Fisher, a cofounder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as an automobile link between New York City and San Francisco. The 3,400 miles of roadway, completed in 1929, connected existing roads upgraded by each locality. Roadside attractions, inns, and commercial establishments dot the roadway, as well as the products of several recent publicity campaigns mounted by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Association. The latter includes murals painted on the sides of barns and buildings commemorating the road, among them, at 2708 Lincoln Highway, is a Burma Shave–type sign saying: “Times Square in the east, / Golden Gate in the west, / For cross country travel, / It was the best. / Lincolnway!” A group of fiberglass gas pumps, painted by selected artists and called the Lincoln Highway Pump Parade, includes the Vincent Van Gas in front of Lincoln Highway Auto Center at 3701 U.S. 30 in Schellsburg. Returning to its roots as a turnpike county, Bedford was an important link in the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940. When the turnpike was joined c. 1960 to I-70, connecting Pennsylvania with Washington, D.C., a new crop of roadside motels was established. Despite these ribbons of transportation-related development, Bedford remains primarily an agricultural county with more than one thousand operating farms.
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