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Montour County

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County text and building entries by Patricia Likos Ricci

Montour County (1850) was named in honor of the French Indian family who negotiated between the provincial government and the Native Americans. Isabella Couc, known as Madame Montour, and her son, Andrew, whose father was an Oneida chief, played a critical role as interpreters during treaty negotiations in the French and Indian War. Andrew was rewarded for this service to George Washington with several land grants that included the Montour Ridge.

The county was originally part of the vast territory acquired by the proprietary at the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 and was incorporated into Northumberland County when it was formed in 1772. Its earliest settlers were Pennsylvanians of English, Scots-Irish, and German ancestry who migrated from the southeastern counties on the eve of the Revolutionary War. During the war, the frontier settlements were temporarily abandoned as the population fled to Fort Augusta in Sunbury or Bosley's Fort in Washingtonville. In 1813, what is now Montour County was included within the newly created Columbia County with Danville as its county seat. After parts of Columbia County were annexed to Northumberland, Columbia's geographic center shifted east and Bloomsburg was made the seat of government. Danville residents then petitioned the state government for county status, and in 1850 Montour County was created and Danville became its county seat. With only 130 square miles, Montour is the smallest of Pennsylvania's sixty-seven counties.

Between the Muncy Hills on the county's northern boundary and Montour Ridge on its southern is a fertile valley watered by Mahoning Creek in the east and Chillisquaque Creek in the west. In the 1970s, Pennsylvania Power and Light Company (PPL) created Lake Chillisquaque to provide a water source for its coal-fueled power plants. The 165-acre lake is now part of Montour Preserve, a recreational and environmental studies natural area. Before 1830, the local economy was based primarily on farming. But the availability of high-quality iron ore in the Montour Ridge, ample limestone deposits in Limestone Township, and coalfields in Conyngham Township provided the necessary ingredients for an iron industry, which flourished from 1838 to 1938 when the last foundry was torn down. This century of iron manufacturing became known as Montour's “Iron Age.” The Montour Iron Works furnished iron rails for the Allegheny Portage Railroad and as Pennsylvania's railways expanded, built a company village surrounding the plant with three hundred houses for its workers. Danville became an industrial hub manufacturing pig iron and wrought- and cast-iron products that were shipped on the North Branch Canal and the railways located at the edge of town.

The increased demand for a workforce brought ironworkers from Wales to Danville; the brick Greek Revival Welsh Congregational Church (1853, C. S. Boaks) stands on Chamber Street near 1st Street. Other immigrants included Jews from Baden and Alsace, who founded a school in Danville in 1853 and the B’nai Zion Temple (E. Front and Church streets) in 1871, as well as Russian Jews and Irish and Slovak coal miners. The First Catholic Slovak Girls Academy ( MT12) was constructed near Danville in 1929.

The Panic of 1873, the opening in the late nineteenth century of the Mesabi iron mines in Minnesota, and the rise of Pittsburgh steel all contributed to the demise of the town that had “cradled the metallurgical industry.” In 1895, Danville's already ailing factories were consolidated into two firms: Glendower Iron Works and Reading Iron Company's “Big Mill,” which survived until 1936. By the 1920s Danville's economy was in decline. As the twentieth century ended, the obsolete furnaces and forges had been torn down. Reminders of the so-called Iron Age are everywhere from the cast-iron fronts of commercial buildings, the ornamental wrought-iron fences that frame the lawns of the old residences, the aluminum Ironmakingbas-relief at the post office, the names of the school teams (the “Ironmen” and the “T-railers”), and the Iron Heritage Festival held in July. Today about half of Montour's land is farmed and the county is a regional center for the health-care industry. Most of Montour County's significant architecture is located in the Danville area where local architects and builders constructed buildings in a range of styles. The Geisinger Medical Center ( MT13) and the Danville State Hospital ( MT14) represent the evolution of the nineteenth-century hospital into the twentieth-first-century medical complex.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas

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