How Did Altoona Get Its Name?

by | Jul 1, 2020 | News

When you live in the mountains, you tend to be a more-hardy folk. Blair Countians share a history with our Country’s first frontier families, surviving harsh winters and hot summers. They first lived off the land and later played a key part in our industrial revolution. America’s Independence Day is a time to reflect on our history, the good and the bad. It is a story of perseverance, hard work and common yearning to breathe free.

Our Country’s story is ongoing. As we face our current challenges, we likely will again see shifts in lifestyles and workplace culture. Those may bring new opportunities for our smaller towns and communities. Against today’s backdrop, some suggest people will increasingly uplift from bigger cities in favor of smaller towns – trading ties for flannel as we like to put it.

If so, we will be ready. The Altoona Blair County Development Corporation is working hard to keep our smaller businesses – those that make a place unique – above water during these tough times. With loans, grants, deferred payments, or even helping to close the streets to increase customer capacity – we will do what it takes.

This is a great week to offer up a bit of a history lesson to all you rebels out there – those independent minded, strong willed, hard headed doers who march to their own beat. While Hollidaysburg is our County Seat of Government, Altoona is our largest city and namesake. So how did Altoona get its name? That is still open for debate. Enjoy the Wikipedia abbreviated explanation below and have a safe, great Independence Day Celebration!

One explanation of the city’s name is that the word “Altoona” is a derivative of the Latin word altus, meaning “high”.[11] Although Altoona is popularly known as “the Mountain City”, its name has no direct or indirect etymological relation to the Latin adjective Altus, signifying “elevated, lofty.” Two very different explanations of the origin of this name are current. The one which seems to be the most natural and reasonable runs as follows: “The locomotive engineer who ran the first train into Altoona in 1851 was Robert Steele, who died several years ago, aged nearly 90 years. He was then the oldest continuous resident of the city. He was much respected and had long been one of the private pensioners of Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Steele is authority for the statement that Col. Beverly Mayer, of Columbia, Pennsylvania, who, as a civil engineer of what was then the Pennsylvania Central Railway, had laid out the tracks in the yards of the newly projected city, named the place Altoona after the city of Altona in Danish Holstein, which became part of Germany in 1864.” The German Altona, which is today a district of Hamburg, lies on the right bank of the Elbe, immediately west of Hamburg city center, and is an important railway and manufacturing center with a population of nearly 200,000.

John A. Wright, who laid it out in building lots, became one of the founders of Altoona, and was responsible for the naming of the town. According to his own statement, he had spent considerable time in the Cherokee country of Georgia, where he had been especially attracted by the beautiful name of Allatoona, which he had bestowed upon the new town in the belief that it was a Cherokee word meaning “the high lands of great worth.”/p

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