History Comes Alive in Victorian Bellefonte
Step Back In Time
Today's visitors can take a delightful step back in time with a visit to Bellefonte, the historic crown jewel of the Bellefonte Intervalley Area.
Nestled in the Allegheny mountains a few short miles south of I-80, Bellefonte was home to seven governors, as commemorated in a monument overlooking beautiful Talleyrand Park. Legend has it that French ambassador Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, for whom our park is named, exclaimed "La belle fonte!" ("beautiful fountain") upon seeing the Big Spring, source of 11 million gallons of spring water per day. Bellefonte has transformed through the years from a hotbed of industry and politics into a beautiful town boasting unique melding of history, tradition and culture.
Art and Architecture
The town was laid out by James Dunlop and his son-in-law, James Harris, in 1795. Bellefonte's prosperity in the 19th century spurred the building of many exquisite homes and building, now painstakingly preserved for future generations. The stately Hastings Mansion on Allegheny street is a testament to those days, as is the Curtin residence on West High Street. Many wear the ornate ironwork and gingerbread of the period, like belles of the ball. Some operate today as bed and breakfasts where friendly innkeepers will pamper you with Victorian-era hospitality and luxury liberally sprinkled with, of course, modern amenities. A complimentary historic walking tour map is available at our visitors center, located in the restored railroad depot in Talleyrand Park. See images.
Our unique architectural details are a highlight for many visitors, with styles ranging from stately Georgian, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Classical Revival, Pennsylvania's first registered female architect, Anna Keichline, was born in Bellefonte and ran her successful lifelong practice here. She is honored with a state historical marker in front of one of her local designs, the Plaza Theater, now an antiques co-operative on West High Street. A gallery including architectural drawings, photographs and other materials related to Keichline is located on the second floor of the Brockerhoff building on Allegheny Street.
The father of the iconic and prolific Mills Brothers vocal quartet also called Bellefonte home, and Bellefonte was even a stop on the Vaudeville circuit, with such notables as Houdini, Burns and Allen, and Tom Mix performing at the Garman Opera House, built in 1890. From arts to architecture, bed and breakfasts to museums, we're proud to welcome you to Victorian Bellefonte, a town deservedly proud of it heritage. . . a family-friendly town of old-world charm kissed with small-town friendliness, creating a visit of historic proportions.
Central Location Aided Early Flight
Bellefonte's history was not confined to the ground and water; The Bellefonte Air Field, where the current Bellefonte High School stands, was the first stop on the first westbound air mail flight by Leon D. Smith in 1918. The site was chosen by aviation pioneer Max Miller, and was in regular use until 1925. The town was even tinier then (population 3,996 in 1920, 6,200 now), but during the 1920s it performed a vital service as the first airmail refueling stop in the nation. Bellefonte was also the first and last stop on Amelia Earhart's round-trip trans-continental flight from New York to California and back.
The railroad tracks leading through the park and over Spring Creek pass by the Pennsylvania Match Factory, now home to the American Philatelic Society headquarters and a must-see for stamp collectors. With nearly 44,000+ members in more than 110 countries, the APS is the largest, nonprofit society in the world for stamp collectors.
Dining in a Victorian Town
Digesting all this history making you a bit hungry? Dining selections abound in and around our Victorian town. Savor your morning coffee or a hearty sandwich and Penn State Creamery ice cream on the deck at Cafe on the Park, literally perched above the mill race (a water channel that converges with Spring Creek, the focal point of our waterfront district). Relax with an cocktail at Big Spring Spirits, who are brewing artisanal spirits in the historic Match Factory. Just a short drive from the central business district, Bonfatto's has been a staple of Bellefonte cuisine since 1919, and even has a trademark on their Bonanza sub sandwiches.