When it comes to Pennsylvania's Civil War story, Gettysburg most often comes to mind. Altoona, however, played a pivotal, albeit less-known role in the war.
Almost exactly 150 years ago, Altoona hosted the Loyal War Governors' Conference.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the event, held in September of 1862 at the Logan House Hotel (which has been since demolished at the site of the current U.S. post office), the Blair County Historical Society is hosting an event Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. at Baker Mansion in Altoona.
The Pennsylvania Civil War 150 Road Show will be at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton from Sept. 28 to 30.
Guest speakers include Gov. Tom Corbett and several other area elected officials.
"About a dozen northern governors met there to pledge support to President Abraham Lincoln and announce the recently released Emancipation Proclamation," said Jared Frederick, a member of the Blair County Historical Society. Frederick coordinated efforts for the 150th anniversary celebration of the conference.
"It's a very important political event that happened in Altoona," he said. "For the most part it's overshadowed by everything else that was going on in the war at that time."
Shortly before the Loyal War Governor's Conference was the Battle of Antietam, where 23,000 Americans were killed - the bloodiest day in American history. Days after the horrific battle, Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation and met with Union governors at the conference in Altoona - which was chosen by Pennsylvania's governor at the time to be an ideal location because of the proximity to the railroads.
The Loyal Governor's Conference has often been overlooked by Americans, and also by Blair County residents, who should be proud of the significant event hosted in their hometown, Frederick said.
"It's arguably the most historic event that took place in the city. It had national consequences. It was directly tied to Abraham Lincoln's political agenda," he said.
Frederick hopes people attend the commemoration to learn more about the conference and Altoona's role in the Civil War. The Pennsylvania Railroad was significant during the war, and the local iron furnaces, forges and mines furnished materials for guns, cannons, cannonballs and railroad ties.
The Horseshoe Curve provided the main railroad transportation route between Washington, D.C., and the west, said Jeannine L. Treese, executive director of the Blair County Historical Society.
The commemoration of the Loyal War Governor's Conference is part of a bigger celebration of the major events of the Civil War. The Pennsylvania Civil War 150 Road Show, which has been traveling in Pennsylvania since April 2011, will make its last stop at DelGrosso's Amusement Park in Tipton Sept. 28 to 30. In conjunction with Harvest Fest at DelGrosso's Amusement Park, the PA Civil War 150 Roadshow will feature Civil war encampments and interactive exhibits.
"The road show is a high-tech, highly interactive exhibit. There are things to touch, things to read and things to feel. There are videos that tell the story," said John Seitter, project manager for the PA Civil War 150 Road Show under the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission and Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation. "One of the things with this exhibit is we wanted to try and tell lesser known stories."
Unlike other Civil War exhibits that focus mainly on battles, the PA Civil War 150 Road Show tells the stories of people on the homefront in Pennsylvania and how the state contributed to the war. At the time, Pennsylvania was the nation's leading producer of coal, lumber and oil and was home to many soldiers who died on the battlefield. Artifacts unique to Blair County will be on display, and historians will describe life in the county during the Civil War.
For a year and a half, the PA Civil War 150 Roadshow has been traveling around the state and has stopped at 35 locations along the way. DelGrosso's will be the 36th and final stop, Seitter said.
"We really want to tell the side of the story that most people don't know about," he said.
DelGrosso's was a natural fit for the roadshow, considering the amusement park hosts its annual Harvest Fest that weekend, which features Civil War encampments. "That's been part of our Harvest Fest for a number of years," DelGrosso's Marketing Director Amy Mearkle said. "We're honored we're the last stop on the tour. The roadshow will appeal to history buffs and just Pennsylvanians in general. It's your chance to literally walk through history."
Admission to Harvestfest is $5 per person, but parking is free and there is no additional admission for the PA Civil War 150 Roadshow.
For more information about the roadshow, visit www.pacivilwar150.com.