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Seven Mountains

Historian Paul Fagley sheds some light on the name

Submitted photo
Siebengebirge, an area in Germany that means ‘Seven Mountains,’ looks similar to the central Pennsylvania Seven Mountains area. Historian Paul Fagley presented the idea that immigrants simply transplanted the name to their new home.

BELLEVILLE — How did Seven Mountains get its name?

A room full of people wanting to know the answer attended the annual Kishacoquillas Valley Historical Society meeting Monday, where guest speaker and local historian Paul Fagley presented the facts.

After establishing with the crowd that the area of Seven Mountains is situated between Milroy and Potters Mills, Fagley listed every mountain present.

There were 21 mountains.

He listed the seven highest peaks: Sand Mountain, Bald Mountain, Broad Mountain, Long Mountain, Spruce Mountain, Front Mountain and Sand Hole Ridge.

Sentinel photo by KATY DIVIRGILIUS
Local historian Paul Fagley discusses the topic of how the name Seven Mountains originated during his presentation at the Kish Valley Historical Society annual meeting Monday night at the Union Township office in Belleville.

Fagley jumped into history of the area, guided by maps, to determine when the Seven Mountains named appeared.

He started in 1681 with a map created by Charles Penn. The map did not contain any evidence of mountains.

A 1729 map made evident the presence of the Susquehanna Valley and the Iroquois spelling of Juniata, “Onnoyoute” (oo-knee-ah-tah) — but did not have mountains.

The modern spelling of Juniata was introduced to maps in 1749, but the mountains remained absent.

Finally, in 1756, Jack’s and Tussey mountains were depicted but did not have names.

The first map constructed based on survey, the 1816 Melish Whiteside map, shows Seven Mountains, at the top of the map, but it is distinguished as the Path Valley Mountains.

The first mention of Seven Mountains came around 1771, from a journal belonging to the Rev. Philip Fithian, after the first road was constructed through the mountains.

Fithian was traveling the road in a wagon and titled his diary entry “Crossing the Seven Mountains.” In the entry, Fithian stated his disbelief at the number of mountains and advised patience and perseverance to those who intended on making the journey across them.

Road improvements continued through the years. The next map with indications of mountains appeared in 1812. This map named Tussey and Jack’s mountains.

Four years later, the Melish-Whiteside maps were produced using actual land surveys. The map of Mifflin County depicted the Seven Mountains area, but had it labeled as the Path Valley Mountains. Path Valley, Fagley said, is approximately 70 miles to the south of the Seven Mountains area.

Fagley theorized the map-makers encountered a misreading, which misconstrued “Penn Valley” into “Path Valley.” This misreading would remain in maps for 40 more years.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike appeared in 1822, consisting of 21 miles between Bellefonte and Reedsville. In a turnpike report, the name Seven Mountains was published.

In 1836, the first geological survey of Pennsylvania contained the name Seven Mountains, but by 1846 different materials published varying names of the mountain ranges.

Fagley did offer theories about how the name Seven Mountains potentially originated.

He said since Rome was founded on seven hills, perhaps residents of central Pennsylvania wished to “tie themselves to the glories of Rome.”

In Germany, an area called Siebengebirge, which means “seven mountains,” has similar appearance to the Seven Mountains area in Pennsylvania. Fagley said immigrants could have transplanted the name Seven Mountains.

Another idea Fagley proposed is that Seven Mountains may have come from Still House Hollow, a whiskey establishment created in 1809 in Milroy. The brand of their whiskey was called “Seven Brothers.”

Finally, Fagley asked the crowd if they recalled a sign on highway 322 in the Seven Mountains area that said “Entering Seven Mountains, Seven miles of scenic beauty.” He based the last theory of the Seven Mountains name arising from the seven miles it takes to cross Seven Mountains.

In short, Fagley said there is no definitive list of what seven mountains comprise the Seven Mountains, and that reputable sources he has researched cannot agree on specifics of Seven Mountains.

“It seems to be more of a romantic name,” Fagley said.

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Kish Valley Historical Society also held its annual meeting Monday. Board President Fred Brown informed the attendees of some progress the board has made over the past year.

“We resurfaced the outdoor shed and will use it as a blacksmith shop to continue that heritage in the valley,” he said.

The museum received upgrades and newly-painted rooms. As a result of the renovations, Brown said items were re-discovered and put in their rightful spots.

The museum has increased parking spaces, more available tour guides and a growing membership.

“We started a heritage fund,” Brown said. “It will provide funding for a sustainable future for the museum.”

The museum, located at 138 E. Main St., Allensville, is open April through October on the second and fourth Sundays of the month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and second and fourth Mondays of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If these times are inconvenient, patrons are asked to call the museum at (717) 483-6025 to establish a suitable appointment time.

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