The History of Seven Mountains
Author: Jeffrey R. Frazier
Research from Kathy Bobeck
About the Author
Jeffrey R. Frazier began collecting stories from long-time residents of central Pennsylvania in 1970. At the same time he began travelling to many of the state’s unexplored treasures which harbor some of the best secrets and tales from the past. He collected these stories in the seven volume Pennsylvania Fireside Tales series; books that take the reader back to a fireside in an early log cabin that sits somewhere in the dark hollows or on the windswept peaks of Pennsylvania's legend-shrouded hills. Frazier is a native of Centre Hall, Centre County. A 1967 graduate of Penn State University with a BS degree in Science, he also has an MBA in Finance from Rider College in New Jersey.
Mr. Frazier welcomes any letters or phone calls from those who would like to provide him with stories he can use in future volumes of his Pennsylvania Fireside Tales series. He is especially interested in ghost stories associated with the Seven Mountains Scout Camp, Poe Valley State Park or Poe Paddy State Park. If you know any stories or know someone else who does, please contact him.
Jeffrey R. Frazier
113 Cottontail Lane
Centre Hall 16828
Pennsylvania Fireside Tales:
Old-time Legends & Folktales from the Pennsylvania Mountains
by Jeffrey R. Frazier
One of the earliest written references to the Seven Mountains mentions that the ‘Path Valley mountains of Mifflin County are “sometimes referred to as the Seven Mountains.” Presumably, the Path Valley mountains would have to include Blacklog Mountain, Glue Mountain, and Jacks Mountain of Mifflin County, and Shade and Tuscarora Mountains of Juniata County. These are the five mountains of the Path Valley area in Mifflin and Juniata Counties, but they don’t correspond to the ridges of the Seven Mountains on Route 322.
Another definition of the Seven Mountains comes from Henry W. Shoemaker, an early collector of Pennsylvania legends, who says the Seven Mountains are comprised of Tussey Mountain, Sand Mountain, Short Mountain, Thickhead Mountain, and Bald Mountain – all of Centre County, Shade Mountain (Juniata and Huntingdon Counties), and Path Valley Mountain (Juniata County?). Shoemaker was not known for his accuracy anyway, and his Seven Mountains are just too widely separated to be the ones along Route 322.
When topographical maps of the Seven Mountains are consulted, however, there is still no immediate revelation as to which mountains might be the seven upon which the name is based. There are seven major ridges between the two towns. Going west from Milroy toward Potters Mills the major elevations along the way or which must be scaled are: Sand Hole Ridge (1,555 feet), Front Mountain (1,921 feet), Spruce Mountain (1.732 feet), Long Mountain (2,046 feet), Broad Mountain (culminating at Milligan’s Knob, 2,330 feet), Sand Mountain (2,000 feet), and Bald Mountain (2,285 feet). There are also other mountains adjacent to them, but these are the highest seven closest to the old turnpike. But here again we’re left with just the barest satisfaction as to why early settlers named this section in this way.
Some scholars who have delved into the history of the area seem to think that the name “Seven Mountains” is a romanticized title, with no historical basis whatsoever. Others claim that the name of this stretch of road was originally Seven Mile Mountain, and that the name Seven Mountains is based on this original title. Indeed, the distance by auto today between Potters Mills and Milroy is approximately six miles. So the distance between the two towns via the original route could have been about seven miles, and the name could certainly have been based on that fact.
Local legends of the Seven Mountains area of Centre County once related that the name was based on a story about seven Indian brothers. The Indians of those days had many quaint legends, and a lot of the tales dealt with the sky and the objects in it. They also had a legend about the seven stars that comprise the constellation called the Pleiades, but that doesn’t mean that they also had another one about the Seven Mountains.
There is no doubt that Indians could once be found throughout the Seven Mountains and the surrounding valleys in Colonial times. However, the claim that they had a legend about the Seven Mountains which involved seven Indian brothers may have been a colorful touch from the pen of Henry Shoemaker, who tended to invent such tales. What might have happened over time was that Shoemaker’s imaginative story of seven Indian brothers overlaid a tale of seven other men, an entirely different story brought to this region by German immigrants.
Many of the German settlers who came here in the 1700’s emigrated from Germany’s Rhineland, that section of the county through which the mighty Rhine River flows. It was a loan noted for its wars, its castles and its legends, and it is one of these legends of the Rhine that must have given our Seven Mountains their name.
Along the right bank of the Rhine River between Königswinter and Cologne-Frankfurt am Main Autobahn, in West Germany, there is a nature preserve knows as the Westerwald. Forming the northwestern part of this popular tourist resort is a group of wooded hills known locally as the Siebengebirge, or “Seven Hills”. There are actually about forty hills, all of volcanic origin, in the Siebengebirge area, but there are seven principal hills, which can be seen from Bonn. These seven are Dranchenfels (1,053 feet), Wolkenberg (1,066 feet), Petersberg (1,086 feet), Grosser Olberg (1,522 feet), Löwenberg (1,493 feet) Lohrberg (1,427 feet) and Nonnenstromberg (1.101 feet).
There may be a legend connected with each and every one of the forty or so hills in the Seibengeberge, but there is also a legend about the origin of the entire group of seven principal hills. According to this ancient Germanic tale, there was once, above the town of Königswinter in the Eifel Mountains of the Westerwald, a huge lake formed by the Rhine. Often the lake and the river would flood the surrounding countryside, wreaking havoc on peoples’ homes and farms. People in the Westerwald knew something had to be done, but they also realized that it could only be accomplished by some “great savior”.
A message was therefore sent to the land of the Giants, asking them to cut a gap through the mountain that formed the lake. Handsome rewards were offered for the completion of the task, and so one day seven huge men, carrying enormous shovels, marched into the valleys of the Eifel Mountains. When they got to the lake, the giants began their task. Each giant took several scoops out of the mountain with his spade, and, with that, the waters of the lake rushed through the gap widening it even more. Then the river flowed freely through the opening and the lake eventually dried up altogether.
Good as their word, the people brought the giants the rewards they had promised, and all were happy. Today the seven heaps of rocky ground that each giant had shoveled out of the mountain lie amid the Westerwald nature preserve. There they remain, ever since knows as the Sienbengebirge, or Seven Mountains, a quaint reminder of the legends of long ago.
The fantastic legends, romantic castles and magnificent scenery of the Rhine’s Seven Mountains seem to have a lasting effect on people. [Pennsylvania’s Seven Mountains] would have reminded these settlers of the familiar scenery they had known back home.
The German pioneers who settled in the valleys of Pennsylvania’s Seven Mountains not only found the soil they liked, but had an added bonus of living amid hills much like that of home. It may have seemed so much like home, in fact, that they named the area after the Siebengeberge in Germany. There is no way to prove today that this is what happened, but this seems to be the best of any explanations that have been proposed yet. Perhaps old Shawnee John, reputedly one of the last of his race to live in the Seven Mountains area, could have confirmed whether the Indians had a legend about the Seven Mountains, but he apparently was never consulted. The geographical and cultural facts we have today, on the other hand, seem to support the idea that the name came from Germany. Obviously, though, the evidence is not conclusive, but this may be a blessing in disguise. There is, hopefully, just enough mystery and romance left that future generations will be inspired by these scenic hills and will want to preserve them, in their natural state, for all time.
Frazier, Jeffrey R., Pennsylvania Fireside Tales: Old-time Legends & Folktales from the Pennsylvania Mountains Jostens Commercial Publications: State College, PA 1999 pp 1 – 8