Origins of the Highlands Neighborhood

by Anne Cornell

Based on an article that appeared in the June 1977 Town and Gown by Julia Garner
with additional material by Gary Miller

The Highlands is the oldest residential community in State College. In the 1850’s, the land that became our neighborhood was part of the Centre Furnace iron smelting operation. In 1855, James Irvin and Moses Thompson donated 200 acres of the Centre Furnace property and a sum of money for the construction of the Farmer’s High School. The school enrolled its first class in 1859. State College grew from a small assemblage of homes located across the road from the main building of the Farmers High School.

Centre Furnace ceased production in 1858. Over the years, much of the land was sold off for farming. Many Highlands street names echo those early farms. In 1856, William Foster purchased a farm stretching from College Avenue to what is now Hamilton Avenue between South Atherton Street and South Pugh Street. Another large farm was founded in 1868 by Sam and Dan Garner. The Garner farm ran between the current South Garner Street and University Drive and was bordered by East College Avenue and East Hamilton Avenue. In 1879, John Hamilton bought the land between the Foster and Garner farms.

Julia Garner

With the subsequent development of parcels from these and other farms, State College grew large enough to warrant incorporation as a borough in 1896.

Julia Garner (born July 27, 1901), was a granddaughter of farmer Sam Garner. Julia wrote about her memories (I Remember My Grandpa’s Farm) in the June 1977 Town & Gown. “I spent many happy hours on that farm as a child and later during my life.” Her grandparents, Samuel Garner Jr. and Julia Ammerman Garner, “were hard-working people and they had difficult times down through the years. Three of their twelve children died in infancy and two others passed away early in life.” Julia was the only child of John Garner and wife Lucy Wise Garner and was named for her grandmother.

In Julia’s childhood, “the farm covered more than 160 acres of rolling hills. It was larger during the Civil War when Grandpa and his brother Daniel owned it together. Great-uncle Daniel was called to Gettysburg where he fought during the war. Sometime afterward . . . he sold his share of the farm to Grandpa. For a while after that, the Garner farm extended a distance on East College Avenue, but later Grandpa sold some of the land to his close friend and neighbor Abram Markle.”

The original Garner farmhouse was located in the area of today’s 307 South

Map of Garner Farm

Garner. “The front porch faced old Mount Nittany and the yard was shaded by a large evergreen tree. The back of the house, oddly enough, faced the street. . . . About 1901, the family decided it was time to retire, so they built a rather good-sized home . . .adjacent to East Beaver Avenue, up the hill from the old farmhouse. . . . As a youngster, I used to come out this way to gather hedge apples. They were the size of baseballs—some even larger—and light green in color, with a warty texture.”

“Besides Mr. Markle’s farm,” Julia writes, “we had as a neighbor the Freddie Decker farm, now owned by Centre Hills Country Club. The clubhouse is built from timbers of Mr. Decker’s old barn. . . . Another neighboring farm was that of John Hamilton, Sr . . . .His farm, like ours, bordered on Garner Street. The timbers from his barn were used in the building of the Acacia fraternity.”

“Grandma passed away on February 4, 1906, when I was only five years old. I still remember many things about her. . . . My grandfather lived on until 1922, remaining in the ‘new’ house at Beaver and Garner. After his death the house changed owners a few times. Its last inhabitants, I believe, were the economist O.F. Boucke and his wife. . . . Finally, the house was bought by the Grace Lutheran Church and torn down.”

Julia V. Garner died in December 1977. The Garner family is buried in Pine Hall Cemetery.

Anne Cornell and Gary Miller are members of the Hearts in the Highlands Editorial Board.

Published with permission of the Town and Gown editor.