“Have you ever heard of Shoemaker’s story about a stone fortress located near Houtzdale?” I had known Gary for twenty-some years, having met him while doing research. Also a collector of folklore, Gary focuses his spare time studying the folklore of lost treasures.
“I am familiar with it,” I answered. “However, it isn’t a Henry Shoemaker story.”
“It isn’t?” I understood why he thought it came from Shoemaker’s writings. The story does read very similar to the stories he had written about Central Pennsylvania.
“As much as I would like to blame him for this one, this story is a little before his writings. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly where the legend came from. But that has not stopped me from searching for it.”
“Did you find anything?”
“I didn’t,” I replied. Despite the delusions of becoming the next Indiana Jones that filled my head at the time, my search was in vain. I made a number of trips searching for the ancient fortress in the 1990s, but found nothing that closely resembled anything close to what was described in that article.
I first encountered the story of the ancient fortress in Rung’s Chronicles of Pennsylvania History, which collected the newspaper articles of Albert Rung from the Huntingdon Daily Times (Huntingdon, Pa). In an article originally published on August 3, 1946 as “Notes Along the Way” Rung references a newspaper clipping he had been given. Rung does not provide many clues about where the article originated, just it was from a Philadelphia newspaper.
According to the article, a prehistoric fortification had been located along Moshannon Creek, approximately seven to eight miles east of Houtzdale. The fortification was marked by a semi-circular wall standing eight feet tall with a diameter of eight hundred feet. The wall was erected with a “cement of unknown composition” and “indicates an architecture belonging to some race and period wholly unknown to the present generation.” Even more amazing is the wall had many indentations “resembling the perforations of a small cannon ball.”
Running southward from the southernmost portion of the wall were seven pillars, each between six and eight feet high. Surrounding the semi-circular wall were a number of small, pyramid-like structures the builders used as a means of defense. Behind the semi-circular wall stood a number of stone altars.
Rung himself questioned the authenticity of the article and wondered if it existed, where was it and why hadn’t locals ever mentioned it? Rung stated he and a group of friends wanted to go in search of this fortress, but until more information was discovered about this supposed fortress, they were not going to waste their time.
About the same time I was given a Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa) article from the March 1, 1965 edition titled “Ancient Legend Revived: Pre-Historic Fortress Object of New Search.” In the article, it is suggested the ancient ruins were in the area of Ice Mountain on the Centre County side of Moshannon Creek of the town of Ginter. Aerial photographs had been studied, U.S. Topographical Survey Maps consulted and even Centre County’s assessment office had been contacted, without discovering where this fortress may have existed. The article ends by stating that neither historians nor local residents had ever heard of the story before.
So where did this story originate? After a lot of digging through newspaper archives, I uncovered the original Philadelphia newspaper article that ran in the December 29, 1889 edition of The Times (Philadelphia, Pa). Titled “Work of Prehistoric Man: Evidences of a Long-Forgotten Age Found in Centre County,” the article is almost identical to the one Rung recorded in his writings.
However, there are two things mentioned in the article that Rung does not record in his reprint. The first it is stated a group of men from Hollidaysburg were headed out to investigate this fortress, which makes readers believe there is an investigation going on to determine the origins of the ancient fortress.
The second thing is more interesting – The Times claims the article originated from Altoona on December 28, the day before the article was published in the Philadelphia newspaper. Looking through the Altoona newspapers, I could find no record of this story being published there.
With this in mind I believe the whole story was the creation of a bored reporter. Was it a Philadelphia reporter who needed to produce an article or a prank by a newspaper reported in Altoona on the unknowing people of Philadelphia? The origins of the story may not be fully known, but I personally lean towards a Philadelphia reporter due to no mentions of it in any of Altoona’s newspapers at the time.
However, while searching for the original article, I believe I know why it was written. At the time, newspapers were running countless articles about the mound builders of the Ohio River Valley. This fascination of the ancient cultures was most likely the driving force behind the creation of this article.
Of course, there is another possibility: the fortress did exist at one time, but has been destroyed over the years. But I personally do not believe this to be true.
Did it exist? The lack of evidence says it only existed in the mind of a bored reporter.
We finished catching up and Gary said he was still going to look into it. I wished him luck and – who knows – maybe he’ll find some clue I missed and discover the ancient fortress rumored to exist in the Pennsylvania wilderness.