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Juniata River History

Canoe and Kayak into the History of  Pennsylvania Scenic Juniata River & Frankstown Branch



The word "Juniata" is thought to be a corruption of the Iriquoian  word Onayutta-haga, meaning "Standing Stone". There was a large standing stone where the town of Huntingdon now stands. It was reportedly 14.5 feet  tall and contained carvings recording the history of the local Juniata Tribe.  It disappeared in 1754, when the tribe left; tradition says they took it with them. A second stone was raised by the new settlers but destroyed.

In 1896 a third  monument was built that stands in a small park at Penn and Third Streets in Huntintgdon and bears this inscription:


Standing Stone Erected Sept. 8th, 1896 As A Memorial Of The Ancient Standing Stone Removed .




In the 17th century, the Juniata River valley was home to the Onojutta-Haga Indians.


In the early 1700s, a band of Shawnee Indians led by Chief Kishacoquillas lived at the junction of the Juniata and the creek that bears his name. He was chief of the town that today is called Lewistown.

In the 1750s, many Lenni Lenape from eastern Pennsylvania joined the Shawnees, having been driven from their homeland in the Delaware River Valley. The Lenni Lenape became known as the “Delawares” by the colonists, and shortly thereafter began occupying land farther west as they were forced from their homelands.

Early in the 18th century, A treaty negotiated by  topened up the area to European settlers, angering many Shawnee and Lenape who lost their lands. This led to raids and abductions of white settlements in 1755 to 1756.


The unrest was often incited by opportunistic French who wanted control of the land.  The raids resulted in fierce retaliation by Colonel John Armstrong, who burned the Indian stronghold at Kittanning. Raids, abductions and skirmishes continued throughout the French & Indian War. 



The Juniata River Water Trail is a part of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway, a 320-mile corridor of natural wonders, history, culture, and recreation following the path of the historic Main Line Canal. 


The canal was organized into five divisions. The Juniata Division, completed between 1827 and 1832, linked the Eastern Division with the Allegheny Portage Railroad and spanned the rugged mountainous terrain between the Susquehanna River and Hollidaysburg.


The Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal closely paralleled the Frankstown Branch and the Juniata River through Huntingdon and Blair counties. 


The Juniata Division Canal was approved in segments starting in 1827 with a canal from near Duncan's Island in the Susquehanna River to Lewistown, 40 miles  upstream. Subsequently the state agreed to extend the canal to Hollidaysburg and the eastern end of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, 127 miles from the Susquehanna. 


A total of 86 locks were required to overcome a change in elevation of 584 feet over the full length of the canal, which opened in 1832. 


 One cannot emphasize enough the importance of the canal system in its day. It meant prosperity and growth for the communities along

its path by opening opportunities for trade.


Gradually, as the railroad became a more practical means of transportation, rumors were heard up and down the valley about the closing of the canal. •


Standing Stone Monument at Huntingdon
Shawnee Indian Brave

The Shawnees were the deadliest of forest warriors. 

Painting by Doug Hall.

One of the many inclines of the Portage Railroad that lifted canal boats over the hills.

Jacks Mountain in Huntingdon County Pennsylvania


Jacks Mountain is located in PA's central mountain region, also known as the main range of the Appalachians. This area in Pennsylvania is quite rugged and the mountains are a lot steeper and higher than many people realize when they think of PA.


The little former-mining towns of Mount Union and Mill Creek are at its base. Also, the Juniata River cuts this mountain in two and creates one of the more rugged and spectacular areas in the state, known as Jacks Narrows.

You almost get a western feel standing at the trailhead as the two mountains rise nearly 2,000 feet above you on either side. 

Jacks Mountain  is named for Jack Armstrong, an 18th-century fur trader. In the autumn of 1743, Armstrong confiscated the horse of Mushemeelin, a Delaware Indian  from  Shamokin  who was in debt to Armstrong. Mushemeelin and two Delaware companions tracked Armstrong to the  Juniata River  narrows and, in 1744, killed the trader and his two servants. The site was thereafter known as "Jack's Narrows".


Jacks Mountain is home to the famous "Thousand Steps" which are part of the National Heritage Trail. Jacks Mountain at 2,321 feet is quite a large mountain, especially for Pennsylvania. Also, when you consider that the base to summit elevation gain is 1,715 feet, you'll understand that you've got quite a hoof ahead of you. 

This mountain is also a geological wonder known for its fossils. There is petrified wood everywhere along this trail. Some of the actual steps themselves are made up of huge chunks of the fossils. This area was heavily mined from 1900-1950 which is partially the reason for the unearthing of all these specatacular fossils. 

The gully that is climbed by Thousand Steps will remind you of the White Mountains or the west when you see its high and steep ravine-like appearance. That is because it is a glacially carved cirque from the last Ice Age which receeded from Pennsylvania  about 10,000 years ago.   •

1000 STEPS
Raystown Dam in Huntingdon County Pennsylvania

Raystown Lake is  the largest lake that is entirely within Pennsylvania. The original dam was built by the Simpson family of Huntingdon as a hydroelectric project in 1905. The current 8,300-acre  Raystown Lake was completed in 1973 by the Army Corps of Engineers . Raystown is around 300 ft deep in the deepest area near the dam. 

The lake was created primarily to control floods, provide electricity, and support recreational activities. Allegheny Electric Cooperative  operates the Raystown Hydroelectric  21 MW, hydroelectric generating project.

The First Raystown Dam

The first power dam on the Raystown Branch was the product of private enterprise. It was conceived in 1906 when ten area men formed the Raystown Water Power Company. The corporation financed the construction of the dam, which took from 1907 to 1912 to build. The dam also brought a new diversity to the area in which Italian immigrants set up a small village and built the dam by hand and horsepower.

The history of the Raystown Dam is not limited to the history of the dam and lake itself but also includes the human history of the watershed.  Part of the town of Aitch is now under the level of the lake. While it is rumored that there are entire towns (and dead bodies of townspeople who refused to leave) still intact under the water, only a few more permanent structures were left in place. Some roads, a bridge over the old river, the original power station and the original dam still remain. •

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