History and Architecture

Bellefonte, the home of governors

Bellefonte, the Centre County seat, is 10 miles northeast of Penn State’s University Park campus. Named in honor of the town’s central spring ("la belle fonte") by the French statesman Talleyrand, Bellefonte has been home to seven governors from three states.

Gov. James A. BeaverJames Addams Beaver
Governor of Pennsylvania: 1887-1891
Beaver was born in Millerstown, Pennsylvania, and attended school at Pine Grove Academy in Centre County. He graduated in 1856 from Jefferson College in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania (now Washington and Jefferson College). He went on to study law with Hugh McAllister in Bellefonte. As governor, Beaver was a pioneer advocate of using state revenues to promote industrial education, good highways, and forest conservation. Beaver was a Republican. He served in the Union Army and was promoted to Brigadier General. Following the Civil War, Beaver practiced law and served as president of Penn State’s Board of Trustees for 24 years (1874-82, 1898-1914).
John Bigler
Governor of California: 1852-1856
A native of Cumberland County, Bigler attended Dickinson College at Carlisle, but had to leave when the family moved to Mercer County. First an apprenticed printer, Bigler eventually bought the Centre Democrat newspaper in Bellefonte. At the age of 14, his younger brother, William (see below), worked for him. John Bigler later sold the Centre Democrat and studied law. In 1849, at the time of the California gold rush, Bigler moved with his family to Sacramento, California, where he was elected governor as a Democrat. After two terms, President Buchanan appointed him Minister to Chile. In 1854, the California legislature honored Bigler by naming a lake after him, since renamed Lake Tahoe.
William Bigler
Governor of Pennsylvania: 1852-1855
The younger brother of John Bigler, William Bigler worked at Bellefonte’s Centre Democrat until he was 19 years old. He later published the Clearfield Democrat, selling it in 1836 to enter into the lumber business where he accumulated considerable wealth. In 1842, he was elected to the state Senate and served two three-year terms, and in 1851 he was elected governor as a Democrat. While in office, Bigler oversaw reforms in state finances and curtailed much of the corruption that plagued the state’s system of public works.
Bust of Gov. A.G. CurtinAndrew Gregg Curtin
Governor of Pennsylvania: 1861-1867
Born in Bellefonte, Curtin started in politics as a Whig and served as Governor Pollock’s Commonwealth Secretary and Superintendent of Public Schools. An early supporter of President Abraham Lincoln, Curtin was among the most prominent leaders of the new Republican Party and rallied the Northern "war governors" in support of Lincoln’s policies. Curtin served as Minister to Russia from 1869 to 1872 and as a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention of 1872-1873. He eventually switched to the Democratic party and served in Congress from 1881 to 1887.
Daniel Hastings
Governor of Pennsylvania: 1895-1899
Hastings was born in Clinton County. He started his career in teaching when he was 14 years old, working at his father’s farm over the summer. In 1867, he became principal of the Bellefonte High School. By 1887, he had worked his way up to adjutant general of Pennsylvania. Hastings won the governorship largely on the popularity he gained as head of the state commission that brought relief to Johnstown after the great flood of 1889. However, he was unable to implement his platform of social and political reforms because of strong machine politics that dominated the state at that time.
William F. Packer
Governor of Pennsylvania: 1858-1861
Packer grew up in Howard, Centre County, and at the age of 13, went to work for an uncle’s newspaper in Sunbury. After the paper failed, Packer got a job at the Bellefonte Patriot, and by 1825 he was working at another newspaper in Harrisburg. In 1827, Packer moved to Williamsport to study law, but instead bought the Lycoming Gazette, eventually transferring the paper to Harrisburg and changing its name to The Keystone. There he became widely known and was elected to the state House of Representatives. After one term as a Democratic governor, he retired to Williamsport. Packer governed in difficult times, trying in vain to keep the state Democratic Party from being torn apart by states rights, the extension of slavery into the West, and other divisive issues on the eve of the Civil War.
Robert J. Walker
Governor of the Territory of Kansas: 1857-1861
Walker was the son of Jonathan Hoge Walker, who was one of the first men approved to practice law in Centre County after it had been created in 1800. Robert attended the Bellefonte Academy and went on to the University of Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1819. In 1825, he married Mary Bache, a great grand daughter of Benjamin Franklin. They sought wider opportunities in Mississippi, where Robert practiced law with his brother, Duncan. Walker, a Democrat, was elected from Mississippi to the U.S. Senate in 1836. In 1845, President Polk appointed him Secretary of the Treasury, and in 1857 President Buchanan appointed him governor of the Territory of Kansas, a position he held until Kansas became a state in 1861. He spent the last years of his life practicing law in Washington, D.C.
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