Exploring Centre Furnace Mansion in State College

Exploring Centre Furnace Mansion is State College Pennsylvania

Centre Furnace Mansion in State College served as the home for a series of “iron masters” in the late 1700s through the mid 1800s.

Centre Furnace historical marker along East College Avenue in State College Pennsylvania.
Centre Furnace historical marker along East College Avenue in State College.

It is also the birthplace of Farmers High School in 1855, a school that would grow into what is known today as Penn State University.

Moses Thompson historical marker at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Moses Thompson historical marker.

The remains of the iron furnace are a familiar scene to those who drive along East College Avenue when visiting State College and Penn State.

Centre Furnace along East College Avenue near Penn State University.
Centre Furnace is a half-mile east of Penn State University.

But the interior of Centre Furnace Mansion is the real gem here – a magnificently restored Victorian-style home with all the period-correct furnishings to complete the look.

Second floor sitting area at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Second floor sitting area.

And you can see the inside of the mansion yourself, by taking a tour with a guide from the Centre County Historical Society.

Centre Furnace Mansion is the birthplace of what would become Penn State University.
Centre Furnace Mansion is the birthplace of what would become Penn State University.

Touring Centre Furnace Mansion

Centre Furnace Mansion is located at 1001 E College Avenue in State College.

Directions to Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania
Map to Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.

Free tours (donations suggested) are given from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Centre Furnace sign next to parking lot.
Centre Furnace Mansion sign next to parking lot.

For the most up-to-date information on hours and any potential closures, please visit the Centre County Historical Society’s OFFICIAL WEBSITE for more details.

Walkway leading from the parking lot to Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Walkway leading from the parking lot to the mansion.

What You’ll See on the Tour

Tours begin in the basement, in what is now called the Hearth Room, which dates back to 1791 when the house was a simple log cabin.

The original hearth at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
The original hearth at Centre Furnace Mansion.

Here you’ll learn about the first occupants of what would become Centre Furnace Mansion, as well as the iron-making process and the early history of Centre County.

The Hearth Room at Centre Furnace Mansion details the iron making process that occurred at the adjacent furnace.
The Hearth Room details the iron making process that occurred at the adjacent furnace.

The First Floor

The first floor of Centre Furnace Mansion has been restored and furnished to reflect the mid-to-late 1800s, when Moses Thompson and his family lived here, Moses being the last “iron master” before the furnace ceased operations.

Dining room at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Dining room on the first floor.

The decorations, some of which are original to the home, pay homage to what life was like for an upper-class family in Centre County during this time period.

Fireplace mantle in dining room at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Fireplace mantle in dining room.

The kitchen at the back of the home is less opulent, but no less functional.

Kitchen at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Kitchen.

The Founders Room

In September 1855, local dignitaries gathered at Centre Furnace Mansion to sign a document establishing a site for The Farmers High School of Pennsylvania.

Founder's Room at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Founder’s Room.

The school’s intended purpose was to encourage the application of scientific methods to farming.

Transcription of the letter written by James Irvin offering land to build Farmers High School.
Transcription of the letter written by James Irvin offering land to build Farmers High School.

Moses Thompson and his partner/brother-in-law James Irvin offered the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society a donation of 200 acres of farmland near Centre Furnace to build the proposed school, with the option to purchase even more land at a discounted price.

Copy of General James Irvin's 1855 letter offering land to build the Farmers High School.
Copy of General James Irvin’s 1855 letter offering land to build the Farmers High School.

The Agricultural Society accepted their offer, and the land agreement was signed in the east front parlor of Centre Furnace Mansion, now called the Founders Room.

Desk where James Irvin drafted his letter to the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society.
Desk where the document establishing a site for The Farmers High School of Pennsylvania was signed.

The Second Floor

The second floor of the mansion contains several bedrooms, decorated with period-correct furniture and accessories.

Children's bedroom at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Children’s bedroom.

There’s the master bedroom.

Master bedroom at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Master bedroom.

A guest bedroom.

Southeast bedroom at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Southeast bedroom.

And some rather macabre artwork known as “hair art”, which apparently was quite popular in the 1860s-70s.

Hair art shadowbox in the southeast bedroom at Centre Furnace Mansion.
“Hair art” shadowbox in the southeast bedroom.

Before this tour I had no idea that making decorations out of a deceased relative’s hair was ever a “thing”, but apparently it was in the post-Civil War years.

Explanation of what hair art was in the 1860s and 1870s.
Explanation of what hair art was in the 1860s and 1870s.

Of course there are plenty of less-macabre decorations and accessories as well.

Fireplace in the master bedroom at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Fireplace in the master bedroom.

Of particular interest is a room containing a scale model version of Centre Furnace Mansion, an amazingly accurate miniature inside and out.

A miniature replica of Centre Furnace Mansion.
A miniature replica of Centre Furnace Mansion.

Exterior of Centre Furnace Mansion

Large windows, dormers, and a grand porch dominate the front of Centre Furnace Mansion.

Front of Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Front of Centre Furnace Mansion.

From the back of the mansion, you can see nearby Mount Nittany.

Back of Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Back of the mansion.

A focal point of the back yard is a massive sycamore tree, estimated to be several hundred years old.

Large sycamore tree behind Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Large sycamore tree behind the mansion.

In fact, this sycamore tree has been recognized as having been alive at the time Pennsylvania ratified the US Constitution in 1787!

Plaque signifying the large sycamore tree at Centre Furnace Mansion was standing in 1787 when Pennsylvania signed the US Constitution.
Plaque signifying the large sycamore tree at Centre Furnace Mansion was standing in 1787 when Pennsylvania signed the US Constitution.

Final Thoughts

For lovers of history and architecture, exploring Centre Furnace Mansion in State College is an absolute joy.

Moses Thompson's parlor at Centre Furnace Mansion in State College PA.
Moses Thompson’s parlor.

Significant for both its industrial heritage and as the birthplace of Penn State, a tour of Centre Furnace Mansion is definitely one of the “hidden gems” of things to do in Happy Valley, even if it is hidden in plain sight!

Touring Centre Furnace Mansion in State College Pennsylvania.
Centre Furnace Mansion – the birthplace of Penn State.

Nearby Attractions

The Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg contains the largest and most important collection of Christopher Columbus artifacts and memorabilia on the North American continent!

Facing the altar inside the Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg Pennsylvania.
Artifacts and memorabilia inside the Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg.

Located on the grounds of the Boal Mansion, the story of just how these relics associated with the world’s most famous explorer ended up residing in Boalsburg is a fascinating chapter in Pennsylvania history.

Visiting Boal mansion and Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg PA.
The Boal Mansion in Boalsburg.

The Penn State All-Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium honors the history, heritage, and accomplishments of Penn State athletes and Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics.

The Penn State All-SPorts Museum is located on the ground floor of Beaver Stadium.
The Penn State All-Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium.

The Arboretum at Penn State is a peaceful oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Penn State’s main campus in State College.

Springtime blooms near the Greenhouse at the Penn State Arboretum.
Springtime blooms near the Greenhouse at the Penn State Arboretum.

Hiking Mount Nittany is a rite of passage for Penn Staters and a favored activity of visitors to the State College area.

Beaver Stadium as viewed from the MIke Lynch Overlook.
Beaver Stadium as viewed from the Mike Lynch Overlook on Mount Nittany.

Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center Near State College is home to an impressive aviary.

A resident bald eagle at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center.
A resident bald eagle at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

The Colyer Lake Trail near State College is a scenic and relatively flat 2.6 mile hike.

Looking out over the water from the Colyer Lake Trail near State College.
The Colyer Lake Trail near State College.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Centre County honors the service of Pennsylvanians in all branches of the military, from colonial times to the present day.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg.

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Rusty Glessner is a professional photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.