Water Made 'Canoe Place' Natural Site for Town
George Petrisek

The Canoe Place is a natural site for a town, in a broad plain at the confluence of a river and a fair-sized creek. But while Seneca Indians traveled extensively through the area, it wasn't until the white men came that any permanent settlements were built here, and it was the middle of the 19th century before it became Port Allegany.

Contrary to local mythology, the Canoe Place name came not because Indians built canoes here, but because white men did.

Francis King, surveyor for John Keating, camped at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Portage Creek after coming over the ridge from Emporium. He and his party made several dugout canoes to continue on down the Allegheny, and King marked the spot "Canoe Place" on his map.

In 1815, Samuel Stanton, always called "Judge" in the old writings, bought a large tract of land from Keating. The next year Stanton came to look at his purchase, apparently built a cabin and returned to Williamsport for his family. Stanton died on the way back to Canoe Place and his sons-in-law Lodowick Lillibridge and Stanton Steele, along with their families, became the first permanent settlers.

They established the village of Keating in 1826, but in 1838 the name was changed to Port Allegheny. For a reason no one ever recorded, the spelling became Port Allegany in 1840, but the United States Post Office didn't make the change until May 26th, 1885.

Port Allegany prospered in its early years largely because of logging and several timber related industries such as a toothpick and a butter dish manufacturer. It was also the site of several hotels in the 19th century, and an important stop on the Buffalo and Washington rail line.

The town was chartered as a borough in 1882 with 731 residents. By 1900 that figure had almost tripled. In the last quarter of the century, Port Allegany had two tanneries; a sash, door and blind factory; a wool carding mill; a chemical plant, and several saw mills.

Discovery of abundant natural gas supplies near the end of the century led to the formation of the Citizens Gas Company. CGC eventually merged with the Potter Gas Company in 1908, becoming North Penn Gas in 1927. The company headquarters was a major part of Port Allegany for 70 years, but now has been absorbed by a larger corporation (PFG Gas, Inc.), and the building stands empty.

Other industries that flourished in Port Allegany during the early part of the 20th century included the Cameo Doll factory, which produced the world famous Kewpie doll from 1932 until the late 1960s. The Port Allegany Manufacturing Corporation started building pallets for industrial use in 1946 and for a time made wooden wingbows for Piper Aircraft. But the major part of Port Allegany's history in the 20th century is the story of its glass production.

Port Allegany's first glass plant, the Olean Glass Company bottle plant, opened in 1900 and burned in 1903; it was rebuilt and operated until 1912. The town had several other glass factories; one of them, the Wightman Plant, was acquired by Pierce Glass Company in 1918 and became one of the nation's leading manufacturers of specialty glass bottles. That plant became Ball-Foster Glass Container Corporation, one of McKean County's largest employers. (The industry recently changed owners and is now called St Gobain Glass Container Corporation.)

The other glass plant, although a late arrival, sends its product all over the globe, making Port Allegany the "glass block capital of the world." Pittsburgh-Corning Corporation opened its plant in 1938 making a variety of blocks used for architectural and structural purposes - the only such manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere.

While the town's business center has shrunk to only a half-dozen shops, the community as a whole thrives as a residential site for employees of the two plants and for an influx of people who work for Adelphia Communications Corporation of nearby Coudersport.