The county’s industrial cradle
Though the industrial revolution came to Cambria County, Pennsylvania, with the opening of the county’s first iron furnace here around 1845, Vintondale, as a real and lasting town, like nearby Twin Rocks and Nanty Glo, began taking shape in the 1890s. Like them, it was known by several names (Barker City, Vinton, Vintonvale) before the one that eventually “stuck.” Taking the middle name of Ebensburg industrial developer Augustine Vinton Barker, the United States Post Office played a role in the naming, by objecting that “Vinton” or “Vintonvale” was too easily confused with nearby Vinco. However, it’s not certain just when “Vintondale” came into general use.
The small borough incorporated in 1907 (11 years before its larger and dominant neighbor, Nanty Glo) nestled deep in the Blacklick Valley is immediately adjacent to the Indiana County line at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Blacklick Creek. Its first permanent (still-standing) houses were built for workers at the Vinton Lumber Company which thrived in what is now Vintondale and, shortly after, in Rexis, just northwest across the line in Indiana County, several years before the first successful coal mines. The lumber operation harvested and milled the hardwoods in the local forests, bringing in the first railway spurs and mud wagon roads, via the northern branch of the Blacklick Creek (Redmill, White Mill, Adams Crossing, and points beyond to Ebensburg for the railroad; Belsano to Ebensburg via what is now known as State Game Lands Road or Stoy’s Lane and Redmill Road, South Street, and U.S. Route 422 for the first wagon road.
Once promoted by Ebensburg and Indiana interests as the route of the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Conemaugh Valley and Johnstown beat the Blacklick Valley and Vintondale in that competition, relegating Vintondale to, temporarily, the status of a coal and coke boom town and, more permanently, of small-town rather than major industrial center. After the Vinton Lumber Company was done exploiting the Blacklick Valley, it relocated to Kentucky. From just after the beginning of the 20th Century on, Vintondale, guided till his death (1920) by capitalist-entrepreneur Warren Delano, flourished, for coal mining (with up to six miles) at first, and coke production beginning later. Vintondale’s last commercial mine closed in 1968, and the coke ovens ceased operation in 1945. Though only 12 miles from a major production center of Bethlehem Steel in that era—Johnstown—ironically Vintondale’s production was generally marketed more than 150 miles away to Buffalo, New York, plants, because of historic ties to Buffalo’s Lackawanna Steel and its Lackawanna Coal and Coke.
Now, Vintondale is most likely to be noticed to the outside world as the midpoint on the Ghost Town Rails to Trails park and site of the best-preserved early-19th Century Iron Furnace in Pennsylvania, Ritter’s Eliza Furnace. Two once flourishing coalmining towns now extinct, Bracken and Wehrum, are on the trail east and south of Vintondale, respectively. (“Ghost town,” which usually describes a collection of abandoned buildings, is something of a misnomer as there’s hardly even a foundation, much fewer buildings, visible at the site of Bracken, and only one house still stands where Wehrum was.)
Vintondale has four churches: First Baptist and a Hungarian Reformed Church on Main Street, Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church on Third Street at Lovell, and Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church on Fourth Street. In its first half century of history, Vintondale had a succession of other churches established but eventually closed, including a Church of God (Anderson, IN), c. 1900; a Presbyterian Church, 1912, and a Christian and Mission Alliance Church founded in 1923 or ’24.
In fact, the main Vintondale presence on the Internet, excepting this, is the home page of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, on the Western Pennsylvania diocesan Internet server for the Orthodox Church in America. The church was originally organized in Wehrum, a few miles from Vintondale in Indiana County, around 1903 under the sponsorship of the top-ranked Russian clergyman in the United States at the time, who later went on to become Patriarch of Moscow and to be glorified as an Orthodox saint, St. Tikhon. The church history on the parish home page says the Vintondale parish was begun in 1907 on a lot provided by the Vintondale Colliery Company for one dollar.
The boroughs of Vintondale and Nanty Glo and Blacklick Township jointly comprise the Blacklick Valley School District. Three separate districts into the 1950s, the boroughs united in that decade and Blacklick Township joined the union in 1967.
The webmaster gratefully acknowledges Delano’s Domain, A History of Warren Delano’s Mining Towns of Vintondale, Wehrum, and Claghorn, by Denise Dusza Weber, 1991, 445 pages, a treasury of historical information about Vintondale and Blacklick Valley, consulted in the preparation of these pages.PHOTO OF ELIZA FURNACE BY RUTH TROUTMAN