Blacklick Township is the rural area north of the boroughs of Nanty Glo and Vintondale, comprising the area of Cambria County west of Cambria Township to the Indiana County line. Presumably named for the Blacklick Creek which is its main waterway, the township is bisected by US Highway 422, which connects US 22 at Ebensburg to Indiana, Pa., and goes on through Kittanning, Butler, and New Castle into Ohio at Youngstown.
Like its neighbors, Nanty Glo and Vintondale, both of which originated later, the Blacklick Township towns of Bracken, Twin Rocks, and Cardiff (Nettleton) were bituminous coalmining boomtowns of the early half of the twentieth century. Though not as large as either Vintondale or Nanty Glo, Twin Rocks, too, had a movie theater and many stores serving all consumer needs in its heyday.
The township’s villages are Twin Rocks and Belsano, with smaller hamlets of Cardiff (also known as Nettleton), Bethel (perhaps technically a village because it does have a church, but one that has not been used on a regular basis in many decades), Red Mill and C&I or “the C&I Houses,” also known as “Eleanore,” a community between Cardiff and Nanty Glo built by the old Cambria and Indiana Railroad for its employees. White Mill is also a familiar place name locally, but only a tavern and a single house remain there.
The best theory about the meaning of “black lick” has been put forth by the late town historian of Nantyglo, Wales, Trevor Rowson, who believes the name refers to outcroppings of coal on the banks of the creek, which in turn “licks” them when the creek washes the coal seams. In that case, the names of Nanty Glo and Blacklick refer to the same phenomenon, one in the English and the other in the Welsh language. There is also a Black Lick Township and a town of Black Lick in adjacent Indiana County.
BELSANO—Despite the fact that the state of Pennsylvania claims that its name traces to a town in Italy, Belsano is of interest as the most Anglo-Saxon Protestant settlement in, possibly, all of Cambria County. It has two churches, both Methodist (one of which—Faith United Methodist—was Evangelical United Brethren until the two denominations merged). And in keeping with the campaign led by Methodism and supported by other Protestants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries against alcohol, it has no tavern, the only town I know of in the county that can make this claim. (There are taverns about a mile out of town in both directions on US 422, however!) Its oldest families have venerable names like Adams and Edwards; the Adamses claim ties to the family who produced two early US presidents, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Edwardses were kin to Jonathan Edwards of Great Awakening/Princeton University fame.
Perhaps the Valley’s main claim to lasting fame (if a biographical entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica is a measure of such) is Belsano native son Malcolm Cowley, a leading literary figure and critic who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Thornton Wilder, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others of the inter-war and post-war eras.
The Valley’s most famous athlete also is a Blacklick Township native, former jockey Bill Hartack.
Among other leading former residents are Cambria County Judge Samuel Lemon Reed, 1864-1934, who built the school that became Blacklick Township High School and left funds for the rebuilding of Belsano’s former Methodist Episcopal Church; Dr. William Prideaux, 1873-1953, who was the area’s physician and a leader in the township’s public life for many years; David Carney, a 1961 graduate of Blacklick Township High School who is now retired as a vice president of AT&T, one of the world’s largest corporations, and the late Marty Myers, 1938-2001, who served as a member of the Selectboard of Essex, Vermont, for 16 years including chairing it for 11 years, and was also elected to and served in the Vermont State House of Representatives.
Blacklick Township and the boroughs of Vintondale and Nanty Glo jointly comprise the Blacklick Valley School District. Three separate districts into the 1950’s, the boroughs united in that decade and Blacklick Township joined the union in the 1960’s.
Cardiff and Nettleton are both names for a hamlet (defined as a village with no church), former coalmining town, in Blacklick Township, about two miles northeast of Nanty Glo (via Cardiff Road) and two miles east of Twin Rocks. Though most local villages had more than one name in their history, Cardiff / Nettleton seems to be the only one that has kept both names in use throughout the years, some apparently preferring one, others preferring the other.