Preserve America Community:
Blairsville, Pennsylvania, (population 3,600) is located on the Conemaugh River, about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh. The town was originally laid out in 1811 along the planned route of the Huntingdon, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike. Formally founded in 1818 as a stagecoach town, the community was named in honor of John Blair, president of the turnpike company.
The local economy expanded when the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal opened in 1829, and it flourished following the arrival of the railroad in 1851. In the years preceding the Civil War, Blairsville was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
The town’s economy began to decline in the early 1950s when the Conemaugh Dam, a flood control project, put much of the town in the floodway. The highway was moved to bypass Blairsville, further contributing to the end of the downtown era.
Recently, Blairsville established the Passport to Freedom program, which highlights the town’s involvement with the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. A historic marker commemorates an 1858 incident where townspeople drove off a U.S. Marshall and a Virginia slave hunter who were attempting to capture a fugitive slave.
Walking tours highlight sites related to the Underground Railroad, and visitors can take a driving tour along the Underground Railroad in Indiana County. The Blairsville Underground Railroad Museum and History Center is located in the original Second Baptist Church, built in 1918 and the oldest African American church in the area.
Each year Blairsville hosts Diamond Days, a street festival celebrating community heritage that includes a reenactment of the “Rescue of 1858.”
For more information
City of Blairsville: www.blairsvillepa.com
Blairsville Underground Railroad: www.undergroundrailroadblairsvillepa.com
Posted May 13, 2009