Genealogy of the Woodcock Valley

Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania


Iron Ore in the Valley

Posted on April 15, 2013 at 12:25 AM

Lonnie Smith shared some photos of Aitch on his website, Huntingdon County PA History and Heritage, and he had a photo there that I had never seen before of an engine surrounded by miners of iron ore in the Woodcock Valley.

I was "raised" in Penn Township, Huntingdon County, and always heard my dad talk about the ore mines.  As a child, I always had visions of large mines you could walk into and explore.  However, in reality, all he could show me were rocky areas with small holes or piled up mounds of dirt on the side of Tussey Mountain.  This was certainly not what I had hoped to find.  One local family had an iron ore cart relic sitting in their yard, so I knew at one time the holes in the ground had to have been much bigger than what my dad was showing me.  It took until I was an adult to have a better understanding of what an ore mine might have looked like.  A  family friend was doing some excavating on his property, and actually uncovered an opening to an ore mine in 2003.  When I heard the news, I had to go and  investigate.  It was quite exciting to finally see a mine shaft going into the side of the hill with the wooden support beams still visible.  We only graced the entrance, as the shaft was small and potentially unstable, but I couldn't leave without some rock samples and photos.  For the historian in me, it was neat to think about what life was like back in the days of the miners in Penn Township.

Clair Grove can be seen above inspecting the opening of an iron ore mine that was opened up in 2003 on private property along Redstone Ridge Road in Penn Township during some construction excavation.

In the chapter on Penn Township, J. H. Wintrode wrote in the History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania for J. Simpson Africa in 1883:

"Within the last eighteen years over one hundred and fifty thousand tons of this ore were shipped from Marklesburg and Grafton Stations, mainly to the Cambria Iron Company of Johnstown, and to the furnace of the Grove Brothers, of Danville, Montour Co., Pa. At present the Grove Brothers are almost the exclusive owners of the ore leases of the township."


The engine in the above photo says J. H. Grove on it.  The back of the photo offers the following description:  

"Grove Brothers of Danville, Montour County were almost the exclusive owners of ore (iron) in Penn Township.  One hundred 50 thousand tons of ore were removed from 1865 to 1883.  The mines on Tussey Mountain operated till 1918.  A tipple was built in Isett hollow and the ore was shipped by the Huntingdon Broad top RR to Cambria Iron at Johnstown and the Grove brot. furnaces at Danville.  Huntingdon Co. now claims the ore lease left by the Grove brothers.  There are literally thousands of tons still left in Tussey.  This picture shows the engine and crew and miners.  Note ore car above the front of the engine loaded with ore.  Dumped car on the right is dumping tailings.  Engine hauled cars to the tipple where H & BT backed cars for loading the coasled loaded cars to Brumbaugh to be hauled on the mainline to the Penna. RR."  It is unknown at this time who wrote this information, but obviously the first part was taken from Africa's History.

I grew up at the entrance to Isett Hollow, where James K. Isett and his wife Elizabeth (Garner) Isett lived.  Their property had been in the previous ownership of Elizabeth's father, John Matthew Garner, and surrounded by her brothers.  It is apparent that there was strife over the iron ore rights as can be seen in the following pages from the book, The Mining Reports: A Series Containing the Cases on the Law of Mines Found in the American and English Reports, Arranged Alphabetically by Subjects, With Notes and References, Volume 2, by R. S. Morrison (1883), pages 698-711, that involve the Garner family and Michael J. Grove, owner of Grove Brothers of Danville:  

The Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad was completed by 1864.  The H&BTM RR left the Pennsylvania Railroad line in Huntingdon and traversed the Woodcock Valley area of Huntingdon County into Bedford County and ended at Mount Dallas.  Within the Woodcock Valley area, there were many stops at Grafton/Hesston, Stump Hill, Brumbaugh, Marklesburg, Fouse, Entriken, Hummel/Beaver, Russell, and Cove to name a few where iron ore could be loaded for transport to a larger rail line.  

The above map shows the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad line with stops throughout Huntingdon County.  In 1877, there were 32 stations located on the line, 81 bridges, 10 wood and water stations, and the line had run 16,938 tons of iron and other ores.

In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad built their own north-south line, which took traffic away from the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad.  The iron ore mines closed along Tussey Mountain about 1918.  Eventually, the Broad Top coal fields were depleted, and the H&BTM RR was reduced to predominantly passenger trains through 1953.  The H&BTM RR officially closed in 1954. 

It is amazing that there was such an industry in such a small area that necessitated rail line stops and spurs to haul the iron ore out of the Tussey Mountain.  Mining was a livelihood for many local people.  The Huntingdon & Broad Top Mountain Railroad also provided jobs and a means of transportation for both iron ore and passengers of the Woodcock Valley.

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