The area of Pennsylvania known as Centre County was originally inhabited by the Shawnee Indians, who later came under control of the Iroquois. The first records of colonial exploration of the region came from James Potter in 1764, and the first white settler made his home there in 1769.
By the early 1770’s Potter returned and brought Scots-Irish settlers with him. The first official survey of the region was done in 1776, and land was divided among proprietors. Most early settlers made their living from wheat farming, until 1784 when iron ore was discovered, and over time iron making attracted many new settlers to the area. Much of Centre County’s population is of German and Irish descent. Many of the German immigrants settled in the Penn’s valley area.
Centre County was officially formed in 1800 from sections of Mifflin, Northumberland, Lycoming and Huntingdon counties. The name derives from its geographical central location within the state.
Between 1818 and 1820, the borders between Centre, Union and Lycoming Counties changed slightly, with another border adjustment between Centre-Lycoming in 1836. In 1839, several Centre county towns were surrendered to newly formed Clinton County.
Between 1800 and 1850, Centre and its surrounding counties made up the leading iron producing region in the nation. Bituminous coal has also been a strong source of income for the county. Centre County also remains one of Pennsylvania’s leading areas for agricultural production.
Graveyard and Barn, State College, Centre County, Pennsylvania
Edwin Rosskam photographer, 1941
(Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-012795-D)
Today, the area covers 1,115 square miles which is mostly made up of farms and forests. Bellefonte is the county seat.
1861 Centre County Map; Published, S.D. Tilden, N.Y. (#23, Pennsylvania State Archives)
Penns-Valley Area Historical Museum [Aaronsburg, PA]
(Centre County Township Map courtesy of Kristin Bryson and Bare Roots Publishing)