Etna, PA History 1

The Borough of


(Allegheny County)

Founded -- September 16, 1868

"A Warm and Friendly Place"

The following pages of information about Etna, PA were provided by two "warm and friendly" borough employees, upon request, at the Etna Borough Building. There is no indication that any of this material has been copyrighted, therefore it is presented here as a service to the residents of Etna for the sake of bringing a little bit of light onto the historical records of that community. Additional contributions are welcomed!

Part 1: Why the Name of "Etna"?

Communities are said to be the assemblage of many institutions and the people associated with them. Etna has a proud history enriched by the presence of famous people and events, and also by immigrant and frontier families who worked hard to make their starts here.

One such family was the Henry S. Spang family, who moved to Etna in 1818, and bought the Pine Creek Iron Works in 1828. Spang changed the name of the company to the "Etna Iron Works", in that year according to History of Pittsburgh and its Environs, copyrighted 1904.

"The original motives of setting up the Etna Iron Works in both Altoona and the Pittsburgh areas was to establish the "Etna" name as a primary supplier to the Pennsylvania Canal System."

The book said the name "Etna" was also applied to many other industries in the area owned by Spang in 1828. By September 16, 1868, the industries of the village had grown so much there was a constant glow from the industrial furnaces. When the furnaces were opened, fire, sparks and ash erupted 150 feet into the night sky.

River travellers wrote, "The combination of the glowing sky, and the rumble of industrial operations filled the air and aroused the senses--as if one were witnessing the eruption of a volcano." It must have been notable, because the name "Etna", instead of a number of other options stuck.

Guyasuta's Town

By 1732, all areas north and west of the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers became known as the "Northwest Territory" or "Indian Country."

Etna was part of Guyasuta's Town, a Seneca Indian village, that was ruled by the Great Chief Guyasuta. Guyasuta earned a reputation as the greatest Indian leader in Western Pennsylvania.

In strategy, even the best whiteman had trouble dealing with the wily chief. His quick thinking, and devotion to protect his Indian lands and ways, allowed him to negotiate a number of victories for his people.

Guyasuta's real hope was that the whiteman would leave. From 1753 to 1783, Guyasuta changed allegiances between the French, British and Colonists whenever he could get something out of the allies to help his people survive.

He also was speaker for all of the Indians at Colonel Bouquet's peace conference in 1764. After that, he became the "model" Indian chief, trying to get other tribes to adopt peaceful ways.

The Pittsburgh Dispatch called Guyasuta, "a wise politician and great chief, who knew things were changing, and that they never would return to the old Indian ways." The paper said Guyasuta made a very good impression on the U.S. Congress, bu tthat he needed to be watched, "because he still was a savage."

The Senaca village was dismantled and moved to Salamanca, New York in 1784. Guyasuta remained and died destitute in 1795.

Croghan's Plantation

The first white settler in Etna was George Croghan, a "rough-hewn" Irishman who came to Pine Creek to trade with the Indians in 1746. Croghan set up a trading hut and "plantation" of 300 acres on the current site of downtown Etna.

George Washington also travelled through the area in 1753, and camped at the mouth of the Pine Creek in December before crossing to Shannopin Town. He used the Indian trails along Pine Creek to escape the Indians.

Croghan and Washington's paths crossed many times after that. Croghan purchased land rights to all of the lands at the forks of the Ohio River back to Turtle Creek, and along the river valleys on August 2, 1749.

In 1770, he tried to sell them to Washington, who had also laid claim to them. It made Washington furious.

Croghan Plantation was base for the largest frontier trading operation in the New World. Croghan directed the operation of over 48 trading huts from Pine Creek. Using his Indian connections and help from Guyasuta, Croghan established a trading operation that extended into Kentucky and Illinois and north throughout New York and south through West Virginia.

The local operation boasted of over 200 horses, pack mules, 130 canoes, and a multitude of rafts. Croghan's Plantation was burned to the ground by Indians in Pontiac's uprising in 1763. It wasn't rebuilt.

Croghan was charged by Washington for treason over his land deals in 1782. He died two weeks later.

Depreciation Lands and the Canal

As a result of negotiations with the Iroquois, the lands north of the Allegheny River had been promised to the Indians living in that area, but that treaty was broken after the Revolutionary War. The Pennsylvania Legislature in 1783 ordered this land to be surveyed and divided into portions, each with a name and a number. The area was called "The Depreciation Lands", because of the depreciation of the value of money after the war. Soldiers were given the first opportunity to purchase these sections to meet part of the state's obligation to them for their service. Each purchaser was given a sheepskin deed to his portion of the land.

"The Depreciation Lands Museum" is located off Route 8, at 4743 South Pioneer Road in Allison Park, PA (heading North, pass Wildwood Road and turn left immediately before the Mellon Bank building, at the Hampton Cemetery entrance). Hours: Sunday 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. (412) 486-2187 or (412) 486-0563.

According to the Warranty Atlas of 1876, the Depreciation Lands of the Etna area were held by five people: George Wallace "Dodridge", John Wilkins Sr. "Newberry", Edward Bartholemew "Willy Brook", Thomas Bradford "Bradford", and Paul Zantzinger "Canaan and Tarshish".

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The italicized names in quotes above represent the section names found on the map.)

John Wilkins Jr. bought up much of these lands and built his "Newberry Estate" on what is much of Etna today. The Estate's mansion was a large federal structure known as the "Blue House." It was the first house in Etna, and lasted until 1936. It stood where Etna Lanes is today.

The largest influx of immigrants came in 1826, when over 1,000 workers were put in camps at Pine Creek to build the Pennsylvania Canal. They stayed for three years when the Etna area became the temporary Western Terminus until an aqueduct was finished across the Alleghey into Pittsburgh. The canal created a boomtown between 1826 and 1868, bringing all kinds of industry.


NOTE: Genealogical information on some deceased residents of The Borough
of Etna, PA can be found on the Tombstone Inscriptions for St. Mary of the
Assumption, Pine Creek (Glenshaw) PA; St. Mary's, Sharpshill, PA, and
St. Joseph's, Sharpshill, PA are also listed there too.
Anyone with additional "history/recollections" of Etna is invited to
forward it to me via E-Mail and I will include it within these pages
and name YOU as a contributor.

Please send any/all E-Mail to adddres on my Home Page. (link below)
Norm Meinert, Webmaster, O'Hara Twp., PA

Next: Part 2, Centreville and Stewartstown

Etna Cemetery Tombstone Inscriptions

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