A Natural History of Millbrook Marsh,
A Wetland In An Urbanizing Setting

Chapter 1

Political and historical setting

Location-Political Setting

Millbrook Marsh, located at 548 Puddintown Road in College Township is surrounded by the burgeoning communities in and around State College in Centre County, Pennsylvania (Map 1). It is a unique aquatic ecosystem within a rapidly developing and urbanizing setting. A large portion of Millbrook Marsh, 20 ha (50 ac) of wetland, was previously owned by the Clover Highlands group and transferred to The Pennsylvania State University with a conservation easement held by The Clearwater Conservancy. The University placed the 20 ha, together with the adjacent 5 ha (12 ac) farm, known as "Farm 12", under the jurisdiction of the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority for a 35-year lease period with options to renew. These lands are now called the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. The Millbrook Marsh Advisory Committee was established to discuss and decide upon issues and management practices regarding the site. This included development of a combined Protection and Management Plan and Open Space Plan (Brooks et al. 1998). Some parts of the marsh, including a calcareous fen, are presently in private ownership.

The calcareous fen and wetland acreage to the north of it is zoned residential, but has been purchased by one of the residents on Puddintown Road to protect it from development (B. Niebel, pers. comm.). Another property adjacent to Thompson Run is planted in an arboretum style, with horticultural specimens and mown lawn between the stream and Puddintown Road (N. Deno, pers. comm.).

Historical-Cultural Setting

Prior to European contact, the central Pennsylvania area was occupied by indigenous peoples. There have been 5 archaeological study sites along Slab Cabin Run within Millbrook Marsh, as well as others outside of Millbrook Marsh (M. A. Graetzer, pers. comm.). Most of the dig sites are in the general vicinity of the Quonset hut, at the northeast section of Millbrook Marsh. Some of the oldest artifacts discovered along Slab Cabin were dated at 9,000-10,000 BC, evidence that Paleo-indians inhabited the Millbrook Marsh area. From about 10,000 BC until about 1,000 AD, the indigenous people were hunter/gatherers, and so led a nomadic lifestyle. They most likely only spent parts of the year here. Evidence of this is the fact that some of the stone tool artifacts found along Slab Cabin Run were not made of local materials. Other artifacts, scattered lithic material, stone tools, spear and arrow heads, drills and scrapers were found, as well as flakes of jasper from the tool making process. The main source of jasper, a yellow-orange quartz type of stone, was in a hollow between Beaver Stadium and the Centre Community Hospital. Jasper would be gathered there and then brought to the banks of Slab Cabin Run where it would be heated in fires. Some of the jasper flakes found along the stream were red instead of yellow-orange, indicating that the jasper had been heated. Pottery making began in this area at about 1500 BC. Artifacts of pottery found at one of the sites along Slab Cabin Run were dated to the 1st century BC. Also dated to that time period was a fire pit with charcoal and limestone rubble, located on Slab Cabin Run between the Quonset hut and the Rte 322 Bypass. Carbon-dating indicates that the fire pit was used some time between 200 BC to 500 AD. By 1000 AD, a strain of corn was acquired that could survive in this climate. Evidence of villages from that time can be found around the lower parts of Bald Eagle Creek and Beech Creek. Though there is no solid archaeological evidence of a village or hamlet along Slab Cabin Run, there is a chance that a hamlet existed during the growing season, possibly where the Spring Creek Ballpark is now, or at the sheep farm on the other side of Puddintown Road. Evidence of a hamlet, dated to 1000 AD - 1500 or 1600 AD, exists along Spring Creek in Bellefonte.

Three major factors that influenced the post-European contact development of the region surrounding Millbrook Marsh are, in order of occurrence, the iron ore industry, agriculture, and The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). Centre Furnace Chimney, a remnant of the iron ore period, can be seen along East College Avenue at Porter Road. Beside it, the Centre County Historical Society is housed in the historic Centre Furnace Mansion across Porter Road. Centre Furnace Chimney and Mansion are located only about one half kilometer from Millbrook Marsh. (Map 1).

Surveyors discovered iron ore in Centre County in 1784. Centre Furnace, owned along with 3238 ha of land by John Patten and Samuel Miles, was put into blast in 1791. It operated until 1809 and again from 1826 to 1858. During that time the economy of the Centre Region was based on iron ore and the wood from the forests. Charcoal for use in the iron production process was made in furnaces such as the one here and others in the vicinity. Centre Furnace shut down in 1858. The last operations at the furnace at Scotia in the Barrens (north of State College) were closed in 1912 because of competition from anthracite blast furnaces and the depletion of timber to produce charcoal. In Centre County alone there were 10 to 15 furnaces in operation, most of them within 24 km (15 miles) of Centre Furnace. The result of these operations was a tremendous consumption of most of the forests in central Pennsylvania for charcoal during what is called the Juniata iron era (Westerfield 1959, Ciolkosz et al. 1980).

In the mid 1800’s, as the Juniata iron era was in it’s declining period, agriculture was on the rise. Land in the valleys was cleared for farming, though the ridges and barrens were left to reforest (Ciolkosz et al. 1980). The area surrounding Millbrook Marsh is historically a farming community and there are several original farms in the Bathgate neighborhood in addition to Farm 12 at the Nature Center. The Millbrook Marsh Nature Center site includes farmland that belonged to the McFarlane, Fisher, Osmon, and Eaters families in the 1870’s. The barn, probably rebuilt after a fire in the late 1930’s, is a good example of the classic Pennsylvania forebay bank barn. The fields and pasture surrounding the barnyard and farmhouse are still separated by hedgerows typical of farms in the past. The main tractor path leading north from the barn to Puddintown Road is bordered by hedgerows on both sides. Until the 1950’s, there were several sun shelters located in the pastures, though they are no longer in evidence. Unlike the rest of Pennsylvania, agricultural land acreage in the Nittany Valley has remained fairly constant since the beginning years in the mid 1800’s, except for the area immediately surrounding State College.

Prior to 1981, 12 ha were farmed for vegetables in the northeast corner of Millbrook Marsh, where a metal Quonset hut remains. The vegetable farm included crops on both sides of Slab Cabin Run, and remnants of a bridge crossing still remain. Since Penn State stopped leasing to the farm to accommodate the Mt. Nittany Expressway most of the fields have reverted to shrubs, including exotic species. Until 1997, the Farm 12 lands were used by Penn State as grazing land for horses.

The next stage of development began in 1855 when Pennsylvania legislature created The Farmers High School. Moses Thompson, James Irvin (both owners of Centre Furnace) and other citizens caused the school to be located on Centre Furnace land by offering two hundred acres with an option to purchase 200 more, and a $10,000 pledge. The school became The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania in 1862. In 1874 the Agricultural College became The Pennsylvania State College, and finally in 1953, The Pennsylvania State University. The university’s presence has contributed to the gradually urbanization of this area.

An early example of growth outwards from State College related to the University is the Thompson Spring area along East College Avenue. Thompson Spring, most likely the same as the "Great Falling Spring" in a 1791 land document, was probably named after Moses Thompson. The area surrounding Thompson Run was known as Thompson’s Meadow. By the early 1930’s, Thompson Spring and Meadow was developed into a winter sports park with a skating and swimming lake, from contributions of the Pennsylvania State College classes of 1927 to 1931. The site plan included an arboretum that was supposed to have been planted on both sides of East College Avenue, although it was never completely finished. Only the land on the south side of East College Avenue was developed into a park. The remnant today is known as the Duck Pond, fed by water from Thompson Spring and stormwater from State College and the University.

In 1980, the population of Centre County was 112,760 (Table 1-1). By 1990, Centre County population rose to 124,812, and the growth projections indicate a population of 158,749 by the year 2020 (J. Sinha, pers. comm.). Of the total population in 1980, 75% lived within a 16 km radius of State College, an area known as the Centre Region which includes the townships of Halfmoon, College, Ferguson, Harris and Patton and the borough of State College. In addition, more than 90% of the Centre Region population is concentrated in State College borough, Ferguson, Patton and College townships. The population of the Centre Region in 1940 was 18,493 (Table 1-2) and has been increasing continuously. There was a very significant population increase during the mid 1970’s due in great part to increases in University enrollment attributable to the post war "baby boom". By 1990, the population rose to 71,633, of which 36,768 (51%) were students at Penn State. The estimated population of the Centre Region in 1996 was 76,210, including 39,782 (52%) enrolled Penn State students. In general, population growth in the Centre Region can be attributed to net migration related to the growth of the Pennsylvania State University and other components of the base economy. Population projections for the Centre Region indicate a population increase of more than 26% between 1998 and 2020, with about 944 people added annually. The township growth rates will increase due to the planned expansion of public utilities in areas of available vacant land, and also to the increases in light industry, retail and residential development related to Penn State’s economic development efforts (Sinha 1998). Growth trends continue as fairly high density development spreads outward from State College, much of it related to the university (Figure 1-1).

Table 1-1

Centre County Population and Projected Population
(J. Sinha, pers. comm.)

Year

Population

1980

112760

1990

124812

2000

139158

2010

150608

2020

158749

 Table 1-2

Centre Region Population and Projected Population
(J. Sinha, pers. comm.)

Year

Population

1940

18493

1950

24777

1960

35147

1970

53795

1980

62015

1990

71633

2000

82906

2010

91751

2020

100316

 Figure 1-1 Centre Region Population Growth
(Sinha 1998)

 

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