History

1849

Altoona is founded by the Pennsylvania Railroad as the site for a shop complex.

1850

Construction begins at Horseshoe Curve. The Curve opens on February 15, 1854.

1880

As a major railroad town, Altoona's population rapidly grows to 20,000.

2015

Altoona is home to 46,320 residents, the 10th most populous city in Pennsylvania.

The Early Years

As a town created to serve the railroad, the tracks formed the backbone of the Altoona community.  During the Civil War, the demand for locomotives to transport troops and supplies, stimulated the city’s growth and from 1860 to 1870, the population more than tripled.

By the later years of the war, Altoona was known as a valuable city for the North.  It was considered by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, as a target during the Army of Northern Virginia’s 1863 entry into Pennsylvania, before being repelled at the Battle of Gettysburg.

By the end of the 19th century, the Altoona rail yard and shop complex was one of the largest railroad repair and construction facilities in the world, and widely admired for its efficiency and scale of production.

The 20th Century

In the early 1900’s, Altoona saw tremendous growth.  The population grew from 39,000 in 1900 to an all time high of 82,000 in 1930.  At it’s peak, PRR’s Altoona Works complex employed approximately 15,000 people.

The mid-20th century brought great changes to the railroad industry.  As automobiles became more popular and the nation developed interstate highway systems, the Railroad Era came to an end.

As the local economy shifted away from the railroad, local leadership diversified the area’s economy by attracting new manufacturing jobs.  Major sections of the city were revitalized, creating new housing, educational and professional opportunities.

Altoona Today

Today, Altoona is a major center on the Norfolk Southern Railroad’s Pittsburgh Line.  In Altoona, helper engines are added to heavy trains to give them extra power up and over the Horseshoe Curve west of town.  The Juniata Heavy Repair Shop Complex, originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, is the primary repair and maintenance facility on the Norfolk Southern.

Altoona is served by Amtrak trains daily. On an average day, 60-80 trains pass through Altoona. The historical importance to the railroad industry and the current high level of railroad activity has made Altoona a mecca for rail fans for over 60 years. The Altoona Railroader’s Memorial Museum and the Horseshoe Curve are popular spots for rail fans to take photos of passing trains.

For more information visit:  Blair County Historical Society.

ALTOONA TRIVA

War Governors

In September of 1862, Altoona hosted the Conference of Northern War Governors at the Logan House. The leaders publicly endorsed the efforts of President Lincoln, including his plan to emancipate the slaves.

The Logan House

Notable guests at the Logan House included seven U.S. Presidents, Mary Todd Lincoln, circus promoter P. T. Barnum and Edward Albert, Prince of Wales, who in 1901 became Great Britain’s King Edward VII.

Nazi Sabotage Plan

The transportation infrastructure at Altoona was considered so vital to American security that during World War II it was guarded against attack by foreign agents, including a Nazi plan to sabotage the rail lines.

Roman Catholic Diocese

Altoona is one of the dual seats of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Sheetz Corporation

Altoona serves as the corporate home to Sheetz, a rapidly growing convenience store chain the United States.

Pom Wonderful

In 2011, Altoona sold the naming the rights to the town, renaming itself Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, PA.