The Bellefonte Governors Club
Since Pennsylvania was founded in 1787, forty-seven people have served as governor. From Thomas Mifflin, who began in 1790, to the current governor, Tom Wolf, who took office in 2015 and was reelected in 2017, there is a long list of men who have held the office.
Centre County may hold the local record for supplying people to that list. They have had a total of seven men who have become governors: five in Pennsylvania, and two in other states.
If you take a drive along the I-80 Frontier of the Pennsylvania Wilds, you’ll be passing just north of Bellefonte, in Centre County. Bellefonte is a beautiful Victorian community, in spite of being built entirely on a steep hill. Down at the bottom, across from Route 150, you’ll find Talleyrand Park, which is a lovely park with a playground, walking trails, and historic displays. My son, who is 4 years old, always has a great time there. And in Talleyrand Park is a monument, showing all of the governors who lived or worked in Bellefonte.
The earliest was William Bigler, elected in 1852. Bigler was a journalist in Bellefonte and served until 1855. He went on to be elected to the United States Senate, and afterward, became president of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad. He had a brother, John Bigler, who is also on the monument. John was an attorney, and by sheer coincidence, he was elected governor of California on the same day William was elected governor of Pennsylvania. Both of them had lived and worked in Bellefonte, running the Centre Democrat newspaper.
Journalism seems to have been an important qualification in those days. William Fisher Packer was an editor and publisher at the Bellefonte Patriot before becoming governor in 1858. In the days just previous to the Civil War, Packer saw the Southern secession movement brewing and was a strong supporter of national unity, attempting to keep the country together.
Packer was succeeded in office by Andrew Gregg Curtin, a lawyer who served from 1861 to 1867. He was known as the Civil War Governor for obvious reasons, and was repeatedly consulted by President Abraham Lincoln, which was kind of a big deal. He was, in fact, by Lincoln’s side during the delivery of the Gettysburg Address. Curtin was Bellefonte born and raised, living there the majority of his life. He’s buried in Union Cemetery there.
Robert Walker grew up in Bellefonte, living there until 1814. He traveled through the country gaining experience, going from Pittsburgh to Mississippi before moving to Kansas and becoming the governor there, serving for half a year in 1857.
James Addams Beaver was an attorney before being a Brigadier General in the Civil War, where he was wounded four times and lost his leg. He became governor in 1887, and was influential in educational policies. He practiced law in Bellefonte before the Civil War, and joined the local military company, the Bellefonte Fencibles, where he served under Curtin.
Daniel Hartman Hastings served as Beaver’s Adjutant General of the Commonwealth. Born in Salona, Clinton County, Hastings got his first job teaching in McElhattan at age 14. In 1867, he became a teacher in Bellefonte, and also wrote and edited for the Bellefonte Republican. He was elected the governor of Pennsylvania in 1895, serving until 1899. He died in 1903, and is also buried in Bellefonte.
These were great men, who accomplished great things. And they are remembered–carved in stone in a place that was once home to all of them.
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