Altoona PA is a city nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of Blair County Pennsylvania. The City of Altoona rests at the base of the Allegheny and Brush Mountains within Logan and Pleasant Valleys, and consists of 9.8 sq. miles. Altoona PA is the tenth most populous city in Pennsylvania based on the 2010 Census with a population of 46,320. Altoona PA is in Blair County. During the 2010 Census Blair County had a total population of 127,089. The area around Altoona was first known to be inhabitited by Iriquois Indians. The first settlers arrived in the mid 1700's. These settlers built several stockades and forts near what is now Altoona. One fort, Fort Roberdeau, is still a nearby Altoona area Attraction.
There are several stories as to how Altoona got it's name. The more popular version says the city of Altoona was named after the Cherokee Indian name Allatoona by John A. Wright. John was said to have been given the land by his father Archibald Wright of Philadelphia, PA. Archibald Wright purchased a farm and land from David Robinson in 1849 and then transferred the property to his son, John. John was one of the founders of Altoona helping to design the building lots and town. John said he named the town Altoona after the musical Cherokee Indian word Allatoona wich is said to mean "the high lands of great worth". John spent alot of time with the Cherokee Indians of Georgia. A former local resident, Robert Steele, who ran the first train into Altoona in 1851 is said to have stated that the civil engineer of the Pennsylvania Central Railway, Colonel Beverly Mayer, of Columbia Pennsylvania named the city after a city in Germany called Altona. This German city, Altona, is west of Hamburg Germany and is known as a manufactoring and railway center for Germany. Colonel Steele helped layout the Railway tracks in the city.
In 1811, the Allegheny Furnance was built near Altoona to make iron. The Allegheny Furnace was sold to Elis Baker in 1836 following which Mr. Baker built the nearby Baker Mansion for his family in 1849. Baker Mansion is an Altoona Historical Landmark. The iron was transported east by way of The Pennsylvania Canal System. With the creation of the Allegheny Portage Railroad in 1834 iron was transported west to Pittsburgh by using the Canal System located in Hollidaysburg PA which would send flat canal boats full of iron to the base of the Cresson Summit. These flat boats were then loaded onto railroad cars and hoisted by steam engines up the mountains and down the other side to Johnstown. From Johnstown these boats would go back into the canal system to continue to the city of Pittsburgh PA.
Altoona owes much of its origins to the Pennsylvania Railroad which was charted by Pennsylvania in 1846. By 1849 the Pennsylvania Railroad began using the community as a construction location for the railway system. Altoona saw much growth in the late 19th century due to the demand for locomotives for the Civil War. In the course of 30 years Altoona went from a population of 2,000 in 1854 to a population of 20,000 in 1880. The Pennsylvania Railroad had a huge influence on the growth of the city of Altoona. From having the hospital built near the main gates of the rail yard, to the creation of the city fire departments and the building of Cricket Field, which is a nearby Altoona sport park. The Altoona Railroad built the first Mechanic's Library in 1853. This library was the first United States Industrial Library and is still available to visit. It is located at the Altoona Public Library.
Altoona's railways aided the Union Army during the Civil War sending much needed supplies to the soldiers. The Union's Loyal War Governors' Conference was held at the Logan House Hotel in Altoona PA on September 24, 1862. Thirteen governors were able to attend and discuss President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Union Army war efforts. General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army was targeting Altoona during the 1863 Confederate Northern Virginia invasion, but this invasion was defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863. After the Battle of Gettysburg the first Interstate Commission meeting was held in Altoona PA. This meeting was held to discuss the design and creation of the Gettysburg Soldiers' National Cemetery which was dedicated 4 months after the battle on November 19, 1863 when President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.
During the peak era of the Pennsylvania Railroad industry the city of Altoona was key to establishing a railway system across the state of Pennsylvania. The Altoona Railroad Works, located along 12th Ave in Juniata, was the largest railroad complex in the world. The Altoona Works employed approximately 15,000 people. The complex consisted of 218 acres of rail yards, 122 repair and manufactoring buildings located over 37 acres and covering a total of 3 miles. Thousands of locomotives and rail cars were built at the Altoona Rail Works. Records show around 7,873 total locomotives were built there with the last one being completed in 1946. Altoona's location in the valley at the base of the Allegheny Mountains was the hub of connecting the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelpia to Pittsburgh. The 132 miles of PA Railroad from Harrisburg to Altoona climbed more than 800 feet in altitude. From Altoona to the Gallitzin Mountain top the railroad needed to climb another 1,000 feet in only 12 miles. In 1854 the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed what is now the world famous, Horseshoe Curve, which is a giant level curve tha goes around the mountain side. The Horseshoe Curve is 1,800 feet across and 2,375 feet long. The west side of the Horseshoe Curve is 23 feet higher than the east side. Once across the Horseshoe Curve the Pennsylvania Railroad tackled the Allegheny Mountain range by creating a 3,600 foot long tunnel called the Allegheny Tunnel, which goes under the mountaintop town of Gallitzin in Cambria County and then leading west to Pittsburg PA. Upon completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains could travel between the two major cities of the state in as little as 13 hours. This trip previously took 3 1/2 days to complete using the existing railways in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Canal system.
Altoona business, having relied on the railroad industry, is currently working to recover from the decline of this industry. Altoona has promoted much local growth in retail business and tourism. Present day Altoona is home to the Altoona Curve baseball team which is the Double A affiliate of the Major League Baseball team Pittsburgh Pirates. Altoona is one of the dual seats of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Altoona is also home to the over 75 year-old Altoona Symphony Orchestra. Sheetz, the fast growing convenience store chain, started their business with their first Sheetz which was located in Altoona. The Sheetz Corporate Offices are currently located along 58th Street in Altoona. Other popular landmarks in Altoona include the Railroaders Memorial Museum, the Mishler Theatre, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the Jaffa Shrine Center, and the world's oldest wooden roller coaster, the Leap the Dips, which is located in Lakemont Park.