History of Portage, PA
definition of "Portage" is to transport overland between
bodies of water. The genesis of the Portage Area began out of such a
necessity to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for commerce purposes
in the 1800’s. Water travel was possible from Philadelphia to
Hollidaysburg via the Schuylkill, Susquehanna and Juniata rivers and
from Johnstown to Pittsburgh and beyond by way of the Conemaugh,
Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers. However, the Allegheny Ridge provided
a non-navigable obstacle to meeting this objective.
After several revisions,
the Allegheny Portage Railroad, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania
Canal, was to involve a 36 mile long route that contained ten planes,
each with a stationary engine at the crest; a stone viaduct across the
Little Conemaugh River; a 900 foot long tunnel; a skew-arch bridge of
the tow spans, among several other minor bridges; and 11 levels. The
portage would involve a 1,400 foot rise in elevation from the east and
nearly 1,200 feet from the west. This was to be quite an engineering
feat, even by today’s standards. The following is a thumbnail outline
of some of the major milestones in the founding and growth of the
The town was named for the function of canal boats being
lifted out of the water in Hollidaysburg, placed onto
railroad cars, and “portaged” over the Allegheny Mountain 36 miles to
Johnstown. The Borough of Portage was
incorporated on October 7, 1890. The Portage Historic District bounded
by N. Railroad Avenue, Prospect Street,
Johnson Avenue and Vine Street was listed on the National Register of
Historic Places in July 1995.
17?? The area may be
inhabited by the Turtle Clan of the Delaware Indian Tribe.
1794 The Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania grants Arent Sonman’s claim of having 5,000 acres
of land, received as debt payment from the King of England.
1826 The Pennsylvania
General Assembly gives approval for the Board of Canal Commissioner
to begin building the Pennsylvania Canal.
1829 The Itel School
was built for the farmer’s children in the Munster Road area.
1830s Portage is
1831 Construction is
begun on the Allegheny Portage, and is completed three years later.
1834 A trip across
Pennsylvania, using the canal system and the Allegheny Portage
Railroad, now took six days, instead of 22 required before its
1837 The Washington
House Hotel is built in Portage to serve the passenger taking the
1848 The Pennsylvania
Railroad Company buys both the Old and New Portage from the
1852 Locomotives begin
replacing the horse and mule teams used to pull canal boats along
the tracks and issued the birth of the first full-fledged industry
on the Allegheny Ridge --- lumbering for fuel for locomotives.
1855 The New Portage
Railroad is completely operational.
1868 The Big Survey,
later known as Cambria Mining and Manufacturing Co., bought land
from the Earnest family. The first coal mine was opened in 1872
1872 The First
Lutheran Church was established.
1874 April 29th
signaled the beginning of the coal industry with incorporation of
the Sonman Mine, Portage Colliery Company and Portage Coal Company.
Nearly 60 different shaft, longwall, slope, drift, and room and
pillar mining operations have operated in the Portage Area since
1878 Portage Township
is formed from lands of Summerhill and Washington Townships on March
1890 The Borough of
Portage is incorporated on October 7th, following
petition of the Portage Township Supervisors.