The founding of Philipsburg requires no enhancement. It is a story of pioneers and their families who came to an unsettled wilderness to begin a new life. It is a story of three brothers -- Henry, James, and Hardman Philips -- and a cousin, Nathaniel Philips. It is a story of the triumph of the human spirit, and for some a temporary setback.
The Philipsburg Historical Foundation provided the following account of Philipsburg’s history, which is based on their research of several sources.6
In the late 1700s, Henry Philips left England to open a Philadelphia branch of the family shipping business, called John Leigh Philips and Brothers of Manchester. Record books indicate business accounts in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Alexandria, Norfolk, New York, and Charleston. Business was also transacted in the West Indies. Imports included cocoa, ginger, molasses, rum, pimento, and tea. The main exports were wood and furs. Sometime around 1795, Mr. Henry Philips, on behalf of the shipping company, purchased a large tract of land on the western slope of the Allegheny Mountain which included parts of Centre, Clearfield, and Cambria Counties. The original survey of the area was done by a Polish civil engineer and ex-baron, Charles Trcziyulny and his associate, Mr. Behe. Trcziyulny is credited with choosing the location and layout of the new town of Moshanon -- from the Indian “mos” meaning female elk and “hanning” meaning stream. The town of Moshanon was later renamed Philipsburg. No one is sure when the name was officially adopted but there are references to “Philipsburg” or Philipsborough” as early as 1799.
The land was unsettled virgin woods. Its only inhabitants were a few native Cornplanter Indians, who being friendly gave no resistance to the changes that were about to take place. In later years, Hardman Philips wrote the following account: “The property was a complete wilderness without a road, and my brother expended considerable sums making the first improvements such as roads, a saw mill and grist mill, etc., having to be carried by pack horse from 30 to 50 miles.” The date of Philipsburg’s founding is not well documented. However, in the Day Books and ledgers kept by Henry Philips who had a store in Milesburg (founded in 1793), it is clear that there were settlers living in Philipsburg as early as 1796. It was in Milesburg that Philips kept a store of supplies available to those pushing westward.
Sometime in 1796, Henry Philips came into the area to supervise the development of his holdings. The first settlers and their families who were willing to come and settle in Moshannon were promised a town lot and four additional acres of land outside of the village. By the means of less than honest and downright unscrupulous advertising, Philips told of a town already developed. Philips’ promise of free land to those who would come with the intention of staying helped him reach his goal.
The location of the town was considered suitable for several reasons:
• It was close to Moshannon Creek which served as a major supply of water and a method of transporting logs to the lumber mill.
• The general area was elevated enough to offer protection from any possible flooding of the Moshannon Creek, but not so steep to restrict home and street construction.
• A state highway completed in 1796 offered easier access to nearby towns (East Presqueisle and North Front Streets).
The first to accept Philips’ offer of free land were:
• Joseph Barth (Bart)
• Dr. Conrad Bergman (Barrickman)
• Jacob Deimeling
• Eberhart Klumbach
• William Leary
• Rev./Dr. Leipoldt
• James McAuley
• Jacob Meyer (Myer)
• Christian Ries (Rees)
• John G. Schultz
• John Shiloh (Schilloh)
• John Henry Simler
• Jacob Weis
• John Coulter
• Samuel Turner
It is believed that most of these men came to Philipsburg from Standing Stone (Huntingdon) in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. What the settlers found upon their arrival in Moshanon (Philipsburg) was a total wilderness. The land was covered with a heavy forest inhabited by wild animals. The only signs of people having been in the area were axe markings showing the location of future streets and home lots. The dense forest consisted of hemlock, spruce, and pine trees with great thickets of laurel underbrush. Some of the pine trees were reported to have been from 100 to 150 feet tall. (The “Founder’s Oak” still stands at almost 100 feet tall and is estimated by Penn State and the State Forestry Department to be between 350-450 years old; this tree still stands in the Union Church Cemetery.) Some soon became discouraged and returned to settlements and towns to the east. Each of them forfeited the lots given to them by the Philips brothers. Some stayed longer, but in the end John G. Shultz was the only original settler to stay with his family, die, and be buried in Philipsburg. A notice appearing in a Huntingdon Newspaper dated November 26, 1802 gave some people understanding to the problems and end result of some who came to Philipsburg in 1797.
An early report states “There was some terrible cursing and swearing done by some of the pioneers when they arrived; they cursed the place, the Philips brothers and their agents for their deception.” The agent for the Philips Company had told them the Moshannon “River” was a navigable stream large enough for sloops to sail right up to their town, and provisions were cheap and plentiful. (Provided that any provisions could be had at all. So much for truth in advertising.) The nearest neighbor at the time was the town of Milesburg. There were a small number of Native American camps with a few of the Cornplanter tribe still remaining. The “Indians” were friendly giving the settlers little or no problems.
In 1796 the State Road was completed through the area. In 1797, both Henry and James Philips came to their new town. With them came a number of willing men who began the work of clearing the land. Along with these general improvements was the building of a large log home for the Philips brothers located at what was at the time the lower end of town (now in the general area of North Front and Pine Streets). Additional improvements included a grist mill and a small sawmill located on the Cold Stream, which was located approximately one half mile east of the town. Although there are no remaining records to show the exact extent of improvements made in 1796-1797, and in turn how much land was cleared or how many cabins were built, it is known that the settlers were successful in putting up and making habitable several buildings in which they resided during the first year.
The Simler House was constructed about 1810 by John Henry Simler, who arrived in America in 1780 having volunteered in Armand’s Corps seeing active duty in the American War for Independence. (After a restoration effort completed in 2001, this is the oldest standing structure in Philipsburg.) Due to poor health, Henry Philips returned to Philadelphia where he died in January 1800. Upon his death, his brother James and cousin Nathaniel became the executors of the estate. Upon the death of James in 1808, the youngest of the Philips brothers, Hardman, came to Philipsburg to carry on and continue the development of the estate. Through family agreement and an act of the Pennsylvania State Senate, Hardman became the sole owner.
Hardman Philips initiated an intensive effort to populate and industrialize the area. One of his first projects was the building of a manor house in 1813. (This house is still standing and is presently known as Halehurst, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.) A map by George Shultz from 1868 shows how the town looked in 1813 and shows less than 30 buildings in the small town. In 1817, a forge and saw mill were constructed. Around 1820, the turnpike leading from Philipsburg through Clearfield to Curwensville was completed. One of the first screw factories in the United States and a bridge over the Moshannon Creek were built in 1821, and the turnpike between Philipsburg and Bellefonte was completed.
From 1814 to 1843, the town of Philipsburg saw continued growth, and as long as Hardman Philips continued to spend money on the development of the area, the population grew. After his death, and likely because the railroad and canal system bypassed Philipsburg, growth was stalled for approximately two decades. In 1864 a rail line from Tyrone to Philipsburg (part of the Tyrone and Clearfield Railroad) was finally completed. That same year the first bank was established and the Town of Philipsburg was incorporated. The years after incorporation showed the most growth in the community. With the Tyrone and Clearfield Railroad (later the Pennsylvania Railroad) and New York Central Railroad serving the community, many businesses, residences, and hotels were constructed. In addition, rail access supported the growing coal and timber industries.
6 Sources referenced by the Philipsburg Historical Foundation include: A Book of Stories, and Relations: of Essays, and Narrations Part One Stories of our Early Town by John G. “George Shultz” ca. 1868; History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania by John Blair Linn, 1883 and reprinted 1975 by Centre County Historical Society Bicentennial Edition; Philipsburg: A History 1797-1997, by Philipsburg Bicentennial Committee, 1997; Illustrated Souvenir History of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, by SB Row 1910; A History of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania 1797-1860, A Thesis by Mahlon R. Hagerty, Jr, 1942; Day Books and Ledgers of John Leigh Philips and Brothers, 1797-1800.
Philipsburg Firsts (and one Second)
• The first mining lamp for use in underground mining was patented by Gill Manufacturing Company of Philipsburg. This lamp used a wick and oil to illuminate the area underground.
• St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Philipsburg was the first church in the world to be lighted by electricity. It consisted of one large arc light, which later was removed because it made too much noise and people could not hear the service.7
• In 1821, Hardman Philips built a screw factory for the manufacture of blunt metal screws. This was one of the first screw mills in the United States. The mill was run by steam and water power, and the fuel used was hardwood charcoal. The screws were made from wire prepared by “rolling and wire drawing apparatus” from iron manufactured at a nearby forge. The screw mill was in operation until 1836, when the forge was destroyed by fire. The mill was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1859.
• The first deliberately staged train wreck for silent movies was filmed in Philipsburg on the “Alley Popper” train line by the Lubin Film Company on December 8, 1914. One of the first motion pictures to use the scene was the “Valley of Lost Hope” but the wreck scene appeared in many movies.
• The Electric Light Plant of Philipsburg was the second electric light plant in the state of Pennsylvania.
• Two doctors, McGirk and Richards, of Philipsburg, performed the first operation on an appendix in 1878, for an injury to the area. It was not until 1886 that appendectomy was recognized as a surgical procedure.
• The first machineless permanent wave procedure was invented by a Philipsburg barber named Fred M. Winkel. He sold the idea to Lilt and died penniless.