Fine Art Photography in Blair County
I’m not native to Blair County Pennsylvania, but I came here to live forty years ago from a next-door county. It was for work that I moved here then, work before going into fine art photography, and I’m glad that I did. Aside from more people and more things available to do, there was abundant nature all around and that was key. Eventually, the natural world here really transformed me and I found the local history of Blair County fascinating. Both aspects later informed my photography work.
There was one small park in Blair County in particular that was meaningful, Canoe Creek. Many times I would go there to let off stress from a demanding job by walking the trails and being near the water which proved a great way to simply relax the mind. Importantly, Canoe Creek park was also the first place I used a camera as an adult by going out to shoot landscapes to enjoy when I couldn’t be there. Photography began for me at Canoe Creek, and that was the genesis of what would later become a long career selling fine art photography across the eastern United States. Further on, it was also the start of this collection of fine art photography online too.
I’ve created fine art photography in a lot of places since. There are 22 states represented in the galleries on my website altogether, gathered in all the travels to exhibit at nationally ranked fine art shows. But creating fine art photography locally has been rich with so much to work with in nature here around my home. There are plentiful other subjects in Blair County for photography like the railroad, amusement parks, architecture, mountains, parks, game lands, lakes, and rivers, including the Juniata River which is the main one in the county. Yes, and there are even attractive cemeteries here.
Canoe Creek Park
Canoe Creek park in Blair County is one of 124 Pennsylvania state parks and preserves some industrial heritage with its large lime kilns and limestone mining remains. It’s not a large park at just under 1000 acres, but it’s a jewel among the Pennsylvania state parks. A 155-acre man-made lake draws plentiful fishermen year-round, often ice fishing when the weather is cold enough. The lake is stocked with game fish such as trout, walleye, and bass.
The park is covered in woods, wetlands, and open fields, all of which provide important animal habitats, not to mention good places to walk and unwind. For me, part of that unwinding can often be some photography work too as I enjoy many natural subjects among others.
Twelve miles of trails cover all areas of Canoe Creek park with most being an easy walk for someone reasonably fit. It’s easy to make either a long or short walk out of it. The trails go through old farm fields and old woods, and there are many types of trees and other plants, including the rare lady slipper native orchid in a few places in season. Wild raspberries and blackberries can be found and enjoyed picked right off the bush in season, and there are even mulberry trees to enjoy.
I can easily say there is abundant wildlife there as well, having seen a lot of deer and other creatures while walking out on those twelve miles of trails. There are sections of the park set aside for small game and deer hunting while other places closer to the peopled areas are not, but there is room enough for all.
Birds abound in Canoe Creek park too, including the usual songbirds as well as several kinds of herons including great blues and the smaller green herons. Plentiful red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds, and indigo buntings populate the meadows there. Many migratory birds stop on Canoe Creek lake on their seasonal way through, such as tundra swans, and osprey who fish in the lake waters. Of course, Canadian geese often fly through in large numbers to land on the lake and feed on the leftover corn in nearby farm fields after harvest.
The park has a large concentration of protected bats and large bat nurseries in old limestone mines within the park boundaries too. Nearby farmers don’t need much chemical help in getting rid of insects.
Elsewhere in Blair County are some nice county and local parks too, such as Reservoir Park in Tyrone and Valley View county park just outside Altoona. Within the city of Altoona lie several city parklets of open grassy areas and tall old trees. Not far away, next door Cambria County is where you’ll find Prince Gallitzin State Park with a 1635 acre lake for fishing included in its 6249 acres total.
The Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River and the Little Juniata River
The Blair County area is drained entirely by the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River and its tributaries such as the Little Juniata River. The Frankstown Branch rises in the mountains just south of Altoona and heads east through water gaps through the mountains. It contains large and smallmouth bass, muskie, catfish, sunfish, and carp.
The Little Juniata River also lies in Blair County and rises from several small streams around Altoona. It runs for a length of 32 miles. It is one of the main tributaries to the Frankstown Branch and meets it in neighboring Huntingdon County where together they form the main stem of the Juniata River proper.
Among fishermen, the Little Juniata River is known as a very good spot for fly fishing native brownies. It holds a Class A population of wild brown trout and requires no stocking which makes it a draw for serious fishermen. The Little Juniata has one of the more dense populations of wild trout in the entire state, and Pennsylvania already has plentiful miles of quality trout fishing to begin with. To further delight fishermen and women, wild brown trout also live in unpolluted tributaries of the Little Juniata River, including Tipton Run and Spruce Creek.
Both the major branches of the Juniata River, the Frankstown and the Raystown branches, are part of the Susquehanna River watershed. The combined branches that join at Huntingdon flow eastward into the big Susquehanna river just above Harrisburg at Duncannon. Onward from there, the waters flow to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic. It’s a well-watered land here in Blair County, all of it going to the Chesapeake Bay through the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata and the Little Juniata River and their tributaries.
While doing some of my own kind of fishing for fine art photography in Blair County, I’ve been down many fishermen’s paths on local river and stream banks many times for photography in both color and infrared black and white. There is quite a bit of natural beauty there not often seen down along the banks, mostly lined with plentiful trees and frequently visited by wildlife. While looking to create photography of streamside beauty, I’ve even uncovered a few hidden swimming holes known only to locals too, treasures of another nature. It’s my intention to create a black-and-white fine art photography coffee table book of those streamside scenes.
There is another bit of river recreation going on in Blair County. Many kayakers will go down the Juniata River and the Little Juniata River in summer when the water level is right and I have too. Many kayakers put into the Frankstown Branch at points along the Lower Trail, like trailheads at Flowing Spring, Williamsburg, My Etna, or Alfarata, all old passenger stops along the Pennsylvania Railroad which the Lower Trail bike path is built upon. Kayaking is another great way to enjoy more of the natural beauty of Blair County by simply riding on the water.
The Lower Trail: Rails To Trails
Running alongside the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River for sixteen miles is the Lower Trail, a rails-to-trails bike path sometimes called the most beautiful in the state. Being a rail-trail biking enthusiast, I’ve been on many bike trails and can easily say the Lower Trail is very much indeed beautiful and enjoyable. Most of the 16 miles of the trail lie in Blair County with the rest in neighboring Huntingdon County. In fact, the western trailhead ends very close to Canoe Creek State Park in Blair County, just outside Hollidaysburg.
The Lower Trail runs past several large old limestone quarries and other gannister mining operations, all the while staying close to the Juniata River. It goes for eleven miles out through the woods without a single road crossing, so you really stay in the heart of nature as you bike along. You’ll pass through several old ghost towns from the old limestone and gannister rock mining days, all long gone. All the old quarries are there beside the trail with some being very large cut into the limestone cliffs, but hard to see unless riding when the leaves are gone for the season. Essentially, biking or walking the Lower Trail is a rather scenic ride through the woods closely accompanied by the running river water which is perfect for relaxing in nature. Take a load off…go for a ride!
Winter enthusiasts also use the trail for cross-country skiing when there is snow, and the Lower Trail has a wide grass lane just for horseback riding. The old railroad bed was two tracks wide, so there is easily enough room for both bikes and horses. The Lower Trail is one of the few rails-to-trails that can easily accommodate both horses and riders. Further, the grass is cut regularly and the trail is always well maintained by some dedicated volunteers.
Access to any non-private point along the Lower Trail beside the Juniata River is quite easy for fishermen…just take a bike! And they do.
Wild game is often seen along the Lower Trail due to being off the beaten path for miles: deer, grouse, snakes, squirrels, groundhogs, and even the occasional bear. The Audubon Society has declared the trail an important bird habitat and many bird watchers come there, especially during migration. Songbirds of all types are there of course, but there are often many kinds of ducks, geese, turkeys, hawks, eagles, and osprey. I’ve seen osprey carrying freshly-caught fish flying above the Juniata River.
Along the Lower Trail bike path through the Juniata River corridor lie the remains of the old Pennsylvania Mainline Canal from the 1830s. The trail closely follows that old canal route. Back then, pre-railroad, the canal was a massive improvement in getting goods and people across Pennsylvania and was key to opening the region and places further west. The old railroad grade of today’s Lower Trail was often built over filled-in sections of the old canal.
Portions of the old canal trench, or prism, still lie alongside the trail and can be seen from your bicycle seat riding past. In two places, two old stone canal locks and some of the canal trench can still be seen just a few feet from the Lower Trail bike path. Surprisingly, they remain after being out in the woods for nearly 200 years. They are the larger remnants from long-ago transportation history along the Juniata River still to be seen.
Transportation History in Blair County Pennsylvania
Blair County has long been a thoroughfare for travelers. The Juniata River was one of the ways Native Americans had always moved through the land, and it was also the main way white American newcomers traveled into the region as well. Following the water was the easiest way into the higher mountainous land here. Eventually, the Mainline Canal and later the railroad followed the Juniata River higher and higher west, and not surprisingly so did the first real roads. That approach has been the natural course of things over time; man follows nature’s waterways.
Eastern people came up the Juniata River itself into native American lands during the very early white settlement days. Because of large amounts of natural resources like coal and timber in Pennsylvania were waiting to be moved east to market, and the farming settlers who needed to move their goods back east for sale, the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal was built and opened in the early 1830s. It ran from east to west across the state and followed the Juniata River as it left the Susquehanna at Duncannon. Construction took several years and many engineering challenges were met, including putting canal boats across the Allegheny Mountains using the Allegheny Portage Railroad. It was considered an amazing engineering feat at the time and the canal opened the western lands to further settlement.
Not long after the canal was built, railroad and construction technology developed quickly during the 1840s, which brought the all-weather and much faster railroad. It easily proved to be far better than the Mainline Canal. And it was the railroad, namely the Pennsylvania Railroad, that dominated the transportation of people and freight in this region for a century starting in the 1850s. Canals in general, being far less efficient, fell out of use and faded away.
Natural Resources in Blair County
Iron ore, ganister, and limestone are found in Blair County and it was the railroad that broadly opened those deposits to market, particularly high-quality limestone that was shipped to Pittsburgh and other iron-making centers for making steel. High grade limestone, iron ore, and timber for charcoal making here in central Pennsylvania were plentiful enough to supply the numerous old charcoal iron furnaces around the area in the first part of the 1800s.
Through that time, the production of iron was a large industry here and Pennsylvania was the largest iron producing state in the original thirteen colonies of America. There are plentiful rocks to be seen in this area with a rusty tint to them which is actually low grade iron ore. Many small iron ore pits were opened back in the day in Blair County and ore was processed at charcoal-fired iron furnaces around the area. At one time, Juniata iron was being made and shipped on the newly opened canal and by horseback to iron foundries nearby, including a large one in Altoona. But the later centralization of iron making in places like Pittsburgh far outproduced the old methods and higher quality iron ore was found in much larger deposits in western states. The old traditional iron furnaces faded away.
There are also small lead deposits in Blair County which were mined during the Revolutionary war. One site was Fort Roberdeau, built to guard the lead mining and manufacture of lead shot during that war. At the time, what was produced there was brought out on mule and horse pack trains to Washington’s Continental Army. Along with lead as galena, small zinc deposits are here as well.
Today, there are still large limestone quarries active in Blair County but their output is mostly used in construction and road building.
Considerable logging has been done in Blair County through the years, first by the iron furnaces to create charcoal that fired them. Extensive areas around each furnace were clear cut to feed those furnaces with charcoal. Later, the demand for lumber to build the country increased and Pennsylvania produced the most board feet of lumber of any state other than Michigan. The leather tanning industry also used up much of the native hemlock forest for tannin used to treat leather. As a result, by the 1910s much of Pennsylvania was nearly cut clear of the plentiful old-growth forests.
After public outcry in the 1910s and 20s, the state of Pennsylvania began to buy up the denuded landscape for cents on the dollar. That was the genesis of the state forests, parks, and state game lands in Pennsylvania we can all enjoy today. Nowadays, Pennsylvania oversees timber harvesting on those public lands creating a sustainable yield of hardwoods, and clear cutting is forbidden.
Altoona, The Railroad City
Altoona, the largest city in Blair County and situated at the edge of the Allegheny Mountains, was first founded by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1849 as a place for locomotive shops and railroad car manufacture and repair. Over 170 years later, it is the location of one of the largest locomotive assembly and repair shops in the country. Nowadays, Norfolk Southern Railroad owns the large Altoona Works including the Juniata Locomotive Shops as the eventual successor of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Over those 170 years, literally thousands of railroad locomotives were built there from the early steam days to the giant diesel-electric railroad locomotive powerhouses of today. Most of the work today is in locomotive repair and maintenance and the NS railroad in Altoona employs hundreds.
The railroad mainline across Pennsylvania has always been humming through the heart of Altoona, with an average of sixty trains a day going through the middle of town both night and day. Living here means the background sounds of the big trains going through and the ever-present locomotive whistles blowing. It is Altoona where helper locomotives are attached to the end of the long westbound trains to help them climb over the Allegheny Mountains. All of that working diesel horsepower can often be heard too.
That long uphill railroad grade up and over the mountains, by way of the famous Horseshoe Curve, begins just at the Altoona city limits. Horseshoe Curve draws many railroad tourists to Altoona, as does the Railroader’s Memorial Museum. There is a fair amount of train watching in places like the 17th Street bridge near downtown and Brickyard Crossing as well as many other bridges and crossings. Nearby railroad attractions include the Gallitzin Tunnels with a little park and museum. There is also the Altoona Works in the Juniata section of Altoona where numerous locomotives in for repair can be seen. I’ve read that 20,000 people a year visit Altoona just to see all things railroad here.
Topographically, Altoona lies at the very edge of Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley system. Further down east, the farming valleys are wide and long and bordered by mountain ridges. Moving westward, those valleys become more narrow. Altoona lies in the last and one of the most narrow of them at about three miles wide and it’s here the Allegheny Mountains begin, right beside Altoona. The demands of crossing into the mountains are the reason why the Pennsylvania Railroad first built its main locomotive shops here where the railroad needed it the most. Being roughly halfway across the state by its mainline was another.
Altoona is a regional shopping hub and always has been, not only for Blair County but the surrounding ones too. Many people from outlying areas come here to shop at the wide variety of stores with many national retailers represented. Likewise, Altoona is also a hub for medical care for the region with large hospitals, surgical centers, and numerous doctor’s offices containing a wide swath of medical specialties.
I’ve done a fair amount of fine art photography in Blair County, even right in Altoona where I live. There are pictures everywhere if you know how to look and create. I’ve even been down into all the small local streams while tracing them, looking for more photography of stream-side beauty along the water, even within the Altoona city limits. As I wear different photographic stripes other than fine art photography, some photography done locally has been used for stock imagery and sold around the world for publishing in print and electronically. All of it stands as proof you needn’t go far to gather some decent photography.
Blair County operates its own family-style amusement park in Altoona called Lakemont Park, descended from a quaint turn-of-the-century park begun in 1894. It started out as a trolley park, a picnic grove with small amusements at the end or along the local trolley line. Years ago, streetcar companies created trolley parks to increase their ridership, particularly over the weekends. Lakemont Park is one of only thirteen trolley parks still operating out of a few thousand that once were, and of course, in most cases, the trolleys themselves are long gone.
Notably, Lakemont Park contains the oldest operating wooden roller coaster in the world known as Leap The Dips. The roller coaster, built in 1902, also has a figure-eight pattern, one of only two remaining in the world. It’s a tame ride by modern standards with a top speed of 10 mph and a height of 41 feet, but it’s still a popular ride and a step into the past.
Although it’s a true amusement park antique, coaster enthusiasts with a historical bent seek out Leap The Dips, It has won acclaim as a Coaster Classic by the American Coaster Enthusiasts group. This old and unique roller coaster has also been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
Lakemont Park has another larger wooden roller coaster called the Skyliner. It’s old too, originally built in 1960 in another location in New York and moved to Lakemont Park in its entirety in the 1980s and run ever since. If you want to raise your hair riding a roller coaster, then this is the one!
Lakemont Park also has other rides too, ones you’d expect at an amusement park like a Ferris wheel, miniature train ride, and rides that spin. I’ve been through the park when closed a few times with a camera to make some fine art photography in both color and black and white. The colorful old rides were something unusual and fun to photograph along with the roller coasters, and you can enjoy my Lakemont Park gallery on the website.
A fun and interesting annual holiday Christmas lights display called Holliday Lights On The Lake is built every year at Lakemont Park. It’s a traditional event that’s been ongoing for over 25 years. You can experience one of the most beautiful light displays in the Blair County area from the comfort of your own car, van, or bus. Plentiful carloads of people drive slowly through 50 acres of displays lit by over a million lights while listening to Christmas music over their car radios.
Next door to Lakemont Park is Peoples Natural Gas Field, also known as Blair County Ballpark. It’s the home of the Altoona Curve minor league baseball team which is affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates major league team. It’s a nice modern ballpark with a good view from every seat and most minor league ballparks offer an entertaining family-friendly atmosphere for a very reasonable ticket price. Baseball games here are very well attended throughout the season, often filling the 7000 seats of Blair County ballpark.
A few miles further north of Altoona at Tipton lies a privately owned amusement park that opened originally in 1907. Today, it’s known as Delgrosso’s Amusement Park after being acquired by the family that makes food products of the same name, things such as spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and other Italian specialty items. The park itself is a well-attended family-orientated traditional amusement park and picnic area that also has a large modern water park with it. Delgrosso’s also brings in touring bands to play in their stage pavilion and offers many other organized events throughout the year, such as their annual Harvestfest.
Interestingly, the park has an antique carousel ride over 100 years old with the original painted wooden carousel horses and a mechanical organ making accompanying music. I received special permission to make some fine art photography of the individual horses which was rather fun.
Hollidaysburg, the Seat of Blair County
Hollidaysburg is one of the oldest towns in Blair County, dating back to the earliest white settlers coming into the Native American lands. It was first laid out in 1796 and named after Adam and William Holliday, Irish immigrants who founded the small settlement earlier. They had been farming there for a while before a town was organized and platted. A few miles outside Hollidaysburg lies Frankstown, the first established Native American trading post in the region that came even before the Holliday brothers. Hollidaysburg has a long history that stretches back before the Revolution and the start of the United States, as you can see.
The Borough of Hollidaysburg was designated the county seat when Blair County was formed in 1846. This brought many politicians, lawyers, and professionals to the town and still does. Today there is the beautiful renovated Blair County courthouse near the center of Hollidaysburg.
Being that Hollidaysburg sits on the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, the coming of the Mainline Canal in the 1830s transformed the town. It was the endpoint of the canal’s Juniata Division and the start of the Portage Railroad that lifted the canal boats over the Allegheny Mountains to Johnstown using inclined planes. After traveling thirty-six miles over the mountains on the railroad, the canal boats reentered canal water at Johnstown to go on to Pittsburgh and beyond.
Imagine…a canal that went over the mountains. At the time, it was considered an engineering marvel and it opened the country westward.
In the time of the canal heydey, Hollidiayburg essentially became the gateway to western Pennsylvania and the town grew and prospered with all the canal traffic in both freight and people. However, soon the railroads became the main mover of goods and people. Not long after the rapid growth of the railroads, canal traffic dwindled and eventually disappeared. But Hollidaysburg didn’t fade away with the canal, it prospered as the Blair County seat.
Just five miles to the north and slightly after the canal era, the city of Altoona created by the Pennsylvania Railroad for its mechanical shops was expanding quickly as the railroad grew. Altoona was the Blair County town that had enduring prosperity through the many decades when the railroad was king, and today it is still the largest town in the county.
Interestingly, Hollidaysburg is the home of a unique toy called the Slinky which is known worldwide.
It’s a beautiful old town filled with old buildings, the kind of place I call a “walking town”. You can stroll through and enjoy the old architecture and tree-lined streets, particularly in the designated national historic district. Residents of central Hollidaysburg can generally walk to anything they might need, a rarity these days. It is a modern town but with a clear quaint edge to it, so in the older sections, Hollidaysburg can offer possibilities for fine art photography.
The Everett Railroad
Blair County has a unique tourist attraction in the Everett Railroad that offers train rides behind a working steam engine from yesteryear. The station is in Hollidaysburg and the enjoyable rides run out through the local farming countryside to the town of Martinsburg. Themed trains run all year, but close to Christmastime, the Santa trains are very popular and usually booked up early. The old steam train is truly a people pleaser and it’s a great time for kids and grandkids.
Passengers are helped by a friendly and attentive staff, and the small station is modern with amenities. There is plenty of parking available.
Of course, old steam trains are a good chance for some interesting fine art photography. Being interested in history and the old way of doing things, I’ve been to see and photograph several of them. When the opportunity came to go on an all-day photo charter with the Everett Railroad, I was sure to be there.
With the photo charter group, I was able to make several stops including an old Pennsylvania Railroad station with the old steam train coming into the station to pick up passengers. The train crew and several reenactors were dressed in period clothes to complete the nostalgic effect. We also photographed the train in motion through farm fields and in town at crossings with some vintage cars to help set the scene. I was able to gather a series of pictures for fine art photography sales and you can see them in my Everett Railroad Gallery. If you enjoy old steam railroading and more, you can go to the main Railroad Gallery on my website.
More Blair County Photography
Here’s a small sample of more fine art photography created in Blair County PA that’s available for purchase. The website has plenty more pictures from Blair County…and beyond from twenty-two different states as well. All the photography on the website is offered as stretched canvas, matted paper prints, and super high gloss laminate. All printing and manufacture are done by myself, the artist, with free shipping to the USA.
If you would like to see more of my fine art photography work on the DierksPhoto.com website, come on over…just click the link below.Visit The Website