In its early days, Port Allegany was referred to as Canoe Place as it was an area where a party of surveyors made dugout canoes while camped at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Portage Creek.
Dick Kallenborn, borough manager and lifelong resident of Port Allegany, said the early history of the community stretches back to 1815 when Samuel Stanton purchased a large tract of land from landowner John Keating and built a cabin in the area.
Historical accounts state that Mr. Stanton returned to Williamsport for his family but later died on his way back to Canoe Place. His family, consisting of sons-in-law Lodowick Lillibridge and Stanton Steele, and their families, came in his stead and became the first settlers of the area. The Lillibridge and Steele families established the village of Keating in 1826 with logging as their livelihood. The village’s name was later changed to Port Allegheny, with that spelling changed to Port Allegany in 1840, according to historical accounts.
“When Lillibridge and Steele came up here the forest was covered with pine and hemlock,” Mr. Kallenborn said. “The first people who made money did it from sawing the pine,” which was tied together in huge rafts and floated down the river to Pittsburgh.
Mr. Kallenborn said the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad was established in the area in 1867. That line ran from Buffalo to Olean in New York, and to Port Allegany, Emporium and points south that included Harrisburg and Philadelphia. He said the railroad helped the lumber business grow and created a number of spin-off industries. In the late 1800s, the borough had several sawmills; charcoal plants; two tanneries; a sash, door and blind factory; a wool-carding mill; and a chemical plant.
“We had a lot of wealthy people in the area who built beautiful big homes because of the lumber industry,” Mr. Kallenborn said.
The discovery of an abundant supply of natural gas in the community created a new source of income for many in the area. A business created from the natural gas supply was Citizens Gas Co., which eventually merged with Potter Gas Co. in the early 1900s. The North Penn Gas Co., created in 1927, was the offshoot of those two companies and was a major part of the community for the next 70 years.
Mr. Kallenborn said a natural green limestone found in the area, along with cheap gas to heat it, helped create the glass industry in the community. He said the glass from the local industry had a green tint to it from the green limestone.
The first glass plant built was the Olean Glass Co. bottle plant, which opened in 1900 and burned down in 1903. Although the plant was rebuilt, it only was in operation until 1912. There were a number of other glass plants throughout the years, according to historical accounts. One of them was the Wightman Plant, which was acquired by Pierce Glass Co. in 1918. The company would later become one of the lead manufacturers of specialty glass in the nation. The plant eventually became the Ball-Foster Glass Container Corp., and is currently known as Saint-Gobain Glass Container Corp. It continues to be one of McKean County’s largest employers, Mr. Kallenborn said.
He said a number of wealthy people from urban areas traveled to the area during the summer months for cool, refreshing vacations in the rural utopia. The community was inviting to visitors because it had streets with gas lamps and a more-than-adequate water system that had been built by Samuel Walter Smith.
“The business people in the community built a number of large, grand hotels here,” Mr. Kallenborn added. “We also had what was called the Sartwell House, which was a big hotel that sat on one corner” across from the railroad.
“The tourism in the summers was tremendous,” he said. “Helen Keller even spent her summers here because she had a friend in town who was a Lutheran minister. As a kid I remember seeing her but I had no idea who she was.”
The borough manager said that in 1938, the community saw the establishment of Pittsburgh-Corning Corp., a plant that made a variety of glass blocks for architectural and building purposes. It was said to be the only manufacturer of this type in the Western Hemisphere.
He said the community also was put on the map by a unique structure known as Lynn Hall, located on a hillside along Route 6. Built as an inn by Port Allegany architect Walter Hall in 1934, Lynn Hall is said to have provided the architectural design for the famous Fallingwater house built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Bear Run, Pa.
After building Lynn Hall, Mr. Hall was hired to work on Fallingwater several years later. The debate continues today about whether Mr. Hall, who was assisted by his workers from Port Allegany, provided the inspiration for the creation of the famous Fallingwater masterpiece.