Bellefonte is a borough in Centre County, about twelve miles northeast of State College. It is the county seat of Centre County and is home to about 6,400 people. The town features many examples of Victorian architecture, as well as a natural spring, which is how the town got its name. Legend has it that French ambassador Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, for whom Talleyrand Park is named, exclaimed “La belle fonte!” – “beautiful fountain” – upon seeing the Big Spring, source of 11 million gallons of spring water per day.
In 1795, James Dunlop and his son-in-law, James Harris, laid Bellefonte out in a Philadelphia-style grid pattern with the main intersection widened into a market diamond. The County Courthouse became the diamond’s architectural centerpoint. Early Georgian-style stone houses were built close together and close to the street. When Bellefonte grew in wealth, political prestige, and population, particularly during the 1860s to 1880s, new residential neighborhoods and commercial buildings were designed in a cosmopolitan range of the latest in Victorian architectural styles. Many of these homes now operate as bed-and-breakfasts.
Pennsylvania’s first registered female architect, Anna Keichline, was born in Bellefonte and ran her successful lifelong practice here. She is honored with a state historical marker in front of one of her local designs, the Plaza Theater, now an antiques co-operative on West High Street. A gallery including architectural drawings, photographs, and other materials related to Keichline is located on the second floor of the Brockerhoff building on Allegheny Street.
Bellefonte has been the home to seven United States Governors, is rich in history related to the iron and lumber industry, and contains many natural resources.
In 2004 The Match Factory (officially called the Pennsylvania Match Company), was renovated by the American Philatelic Society as its new home. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and is a must-see for stamp collectors. The APS is the largest, nonprofit society in the world for stamp collectors. There are nearly 44,000 members in more than 110 countries.
The Bellefonte Air Field, where the current Bellefonte High School stands, was the initial stop on the first westbound air mail flight by Leon D. Smith in 1918. The site was chosen by aviation pioneer Max Miller and was in regular use until 1925. The town was even smaller then (population 3,996 in 1920), but during the 1920s it performed a vital service as the first airmail refueling stop in the nation. Bellefonte was also the first and last stop on Amelia Earhart’s round-trip trans-continental flight from New York to California and back.
Bellefonte has transformed through the years from a hotbed of industry and politics into a beautiful town boasting a unique melding of history, tradition, and culture.