Scotia: An Area Rich in History
Starting in the late 1700’s, the mining and smelting of iron ore played a major role in the development of Centre County. At that time, mining efforts were hampered by large amounts of clay in the soil. In the 1840’s the invention of the ore washer, and the introduction of the steam engine to power it, created a new beginning to iron ore mining. However, the region’s largest mine operator, Centre Furnace, did not implement an ore washer at any of its ore pits. Instead, they had started to focus on developing the lands previously cleared for charcoal into agriculture. The focus on agriculture led to the establishment of the Farmer’s High School in 1855, eventually becoming The Pennsylvania State University. Centre Furnace’s interest in iron ore diminished over time and was taken out of blast in 1858.
Prior to 1880, Andrew Carnegie was operating at Pennsylvania Furnace and shipping his ore through the Lewisburg and Tyrone (L&T) Railroad to his furnaces in Pittsburgh. Hearing of other deposits a few miles to the northeast, he sent men to dig test holes on the River Hill Tract, owned by the then out of operation Centre Furnace. The River Hill tract was one of the earliest ore mines in present day State Game Lands 176, located in the north of the Scotia Barrens. The report was promising and by the summer of that year Carnegie bought the land from Moses Thompson, the iron master at Centre Furnace. Carnegie named this area Scotia, after his native Scotland.
Workers, and a community to support them, were needed to run Carnegie’s new ore mining operation. In less than 2 years, he had the L&T tracks extended to Scotia. The railroad brought the machinery to build a huge ore washer and other materials to Scotia. He also added other technologies to iron mining. He used steam shovels in the ore pits and narrow-gauge railroads to haul the ore to the ore washer. His operation expanded quickly and grew to around 200 workers. Carnegie’s operation revolutionized area iron ore mining to a level that could not have been conceived providing production at a dramatic level. But unlike other area operations he never had an iron furnace at Scotia.
To support all this activity over a dozen houses were constructed as was a boarding house, school, church, company store, and blacksmith shop to support the effort. The settlement became a functioning town and even had its own baseball team and a band.
Today the 5-mile rail spur to Scotia can be traced from Pennsylvania Furnace to where it enters the Game Lands and follows Range Road to Scotia. It is difficult to visualize now, as one travels on Range Road, but at one time two trains were running daily along this route hauling ore but also providing freight and passengers service to the Scotia station. Yes, there was a railroad station. We can assume that Andrew Carnegie traveled by train to visit his Scotia.
The Red Bank and Tow Hill are two other iron ore mining operations that began in the 1880’s and are also located on State Game Lands 176. Both were dwarfed by Carnegie’s operation. Red Bank was operated by the Bellefonte Furnace Company beginning in 1887. Like nearby Scotia, and many mines of its generation, it used an ore washer and hauled the washed ore by rail to their furnace. Unlike Scotia, however, there is no evidence that a narrow-gauge railroad was used to haul ore to their washer. Bellefonte Central had tracks constructed in 1886 from Bellefonte to Waddle where it cut into the new town of State College. At Waddle, tracks were added to head west and made a loop to gain elevation and arrive at Red Bank. Although Red Bank was a modest operation, they did have company houses. The operation, and the serving railroad, ceased function by 1896.
The other settlement, Tow Hill, began as a community of people who lived off the land–sometimes working for area farmers. They did some small-scale iron ore mining using primitive methods and sold their mined ore to Carnegie in Pennsylvania Furnace. In 1882, a more significant mining operation was started by James Pierpont who had previously worked for Carnegie at Scotia. A railroad spur was constructed, from the rail line that ran to Scotia, to the Tow Hill site after it reached sufficient production. However, steam shovels, used successfully at Scotia, were of little use at Tow Hill due to the small size of the ore pockets.
In 1885, Pierpont sold his operation to the Tyrone Mining and Manufacturing Company, but Pierpont continued to run the company store. In 1886, the operation was sold to the Juniata Mining Company, and then abandoned in 1892. The remains of the company store still exist today, along with machinery bases and the parallel “stone walls” that supported the ore washer.
In 1899, Carnegie found a higher-grade ore in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. He shifted his focus and sold the Scotia to the Bellefonte Furnace Company that had previously operated the nearby Red Bank.
With its iron furnace in Bellefonte, the company’s only option was to haul the ore to Tyrone heading southwest and then northeast to Bellefonte. Such a roundabout route was undesirable and so a spur of the Bellefonte Central was added to the line that served Red Bank. The line crossed present day Meeks Lane about a mile from Grays Woods Blvd., then crossed Scotia Road, and continued to the Scotia site.
In 1910, the McNitt-Huyett Lumber Company began operating at Waddle, northeast of Scotia. It was along the Bellefonte Central’s line and, in fact, a small railroad station was built at Waddle. In order to lumber in the Scotia area, an agreement was reached with the Bellefonte Central to use some of their tracks. The lumber company, though, used a narrow-gauge rail line and Bellefonte Central used the wider, standard gauge. Bellefonte Central added a third rail to their standard gauge line so the lumber company’s narrow-gauge railroad could reach timber plots. The McNitt-Huyett Lumber Company ceased operations around 1920 but even before then, in 1917, the Bellefonte Central abandoned the branch to Scotia. Rail service continued through Waddle to State College however, running from 1886 to 1976.
After the abandonment of the mining operations and logging, Colonel Theodore Boal of Boalsburg acquired much of the land. He had a military background as a machine gunner during World War I. His vision was to turn the Red Bank area into a military training ground. Had that happened, the railroad to Red Bank would have remained active and the fate of the Barrens would have been significantly altered. Instead, the Barrens remained largely undeveloped. In December 1942, the Pennsylvania Game Commission acquired 5,100 acres from the Boal estate, adding to 700 acres already in Commission hands. The combined tract was designated State Game Lands 176.
During World War II, the federal government established the Defense Plant Corporation (DPC) to reactivate factories idled during the Depression and exploit sources of raw materials that had not been economical during peacetime. The looming threat of war which would affect shipping resulted in a focus on domestic sources of materials. As a result, the DPC invested a half-million dollars to reopen the Scotia mine. The DPC contracted operations to the newly formed Scotia Mining Company, headed by M. E. Wallace of Sunbury. Wallace had already engaged Penn State mining engineering professor David Mitchell to evaluate the ore reserves. Mitchell calculated with confirmation from the U. S. Bureau of mines that millions of tons of ore existed at Scotia. To transport the ore a railroad spur to the Bellefonte Central’s State College line at Toftrees was built. To do so a high timber trestle was built over route 322 just beyond where Home Depot is today.
The Scotia Mining Company shipped about 40 rail cars of ore, only to have it rejected when it was determined it was of a worthless grade. Mining operations promptly ceased and the government tried to recoup their loss. Some equipment and materials were salvaged and what was left deteriorated.
Most of the artifact concrete structures are from the attempted WWII operation and included quarter-mile ramps to the receiving hopper. The land from that operation notably affected the landscape.Thankfully the WWII operation was largely offset from Carnegie/Bellefonte Furnace Company operation. And there is leaving evidence from Carnegie’s venture, the most notable are the concrete bases and support pads for the massive ore washer.
It is hard to believe when visiting the Scotia area and State Game Lands 176 today that it was loaded with such activity and such a big part of our local history.
Special thanks to Bob Hazelton and the Centre County Historical Society for their contributions in recording the history of the area and dedication to preserving its story.