Discover the Juniata River Valley

By Wendy Royalfall 2009

Discover our good nature is the slogan used by the Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau to introduce Juniata and Mifflin counties to those who aren't familiar with the gorgeous landscape of the region. The catchphrase speaks to more than the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities; it also refers to the good-natured people who welcome visitors to their Juniata River Valley home.

Discover the Tradition

The entire region is steeped in history and tradition. One tradition that visitors are rarely familiar with is Goose Day. Every Sept. 29th, the good folks in Central Pennsylvania proudly celebrate this obscure holiday. Goose Day is actually derived from the English tradition of St. Michaelmas Day.
Michaelmas Day was named for St. Michael, the patron saint of soldiers and the protector of good people. So began the centuries-old European tradition of settling debts on this day. It also was believed that eating goose on Michaelmas Day would bring luck.

The tradition was brought to the valley in 1786 by Archibald Hunter, an English immigrant. The young man jumped from his ship while the British fleet was docked in Philadelphia. He planned on making his way west when he met up with Andrew Pontius, who was looking to hire a tenant worker for his farm in Snyder County.  Pontius was so impressed with the perseverance of the young man that he offered the job to him.

When it came time to settle accounts, Hunter arrived with his accounts under one arm and a goose under the other. The young tenant farmer explained to Pontius about the St. Michaelmas custom, and from that day forward the landlord's family followed the tradition.

Today, many restaurants, churches and community organizations serve goose on the holiday. Other events, such as the Goose Day Road Rally and the 5k Goose Day Run, are also scheduled to mark the holiday.

Discover the History

The heart of the valley is the Juniata River itself. The Onojutta-Haga or Juniata Indians first inhabited the land surrounding the 90-mile river that meanders through Juniata and Mifflin counties. Onojutta-Haga is Native American for "standing stone" or "people of the standing stone." Later, the Lenape (Delaware) and Shawnee also called the region home.

Early in the 18th century, the area opened up to European settlers, angering many Shawnee and Lenape who lost their lands. This led to raids and abductions of white settlements in 1755 to 1756. The unrest was often incited by opportunistic French who wanted control of the land.  The raids resulted in fierce retaliation by Colonel John Armstrong, who burned the Indian stronghold at Kittanning. Raids, abductions and skirmishes continued throughout the French & Indian War.

Discover the People

The 25-mile area situated between the Standing Stone Mountain and Jack's Mountain is called Big Valley. It was originally called Kishacoquillas Valley to honor the Shawnee Indian Chief who loved to hunt and fish in the valley.

Mostly rural and blanketed with farms, quaint towns and villages such as Belleville and Reedsville also share Big Valley. Many of the farms are owned by Amish and Mennonite families. Three different groups of Amish live in the valley and are differentiated by the color of the top of their buggies. The black tops are recognized as more liberal (remember, this is relative to the other two groups and not people in general); the yellow are more progressive; and the white tops are conservative. The Amish have lived in the valley since 1791 and are relatively unaffected by the outside world.

Visitors can catch a glimpse of the Amish lifestyle at the Belleville Sale and Livestock Auction every Wednesday. As soon as the sun comes up, Amish and Mennonite vendors are preparing for a day of selling produce, baked goods and other handmade items. The market is open year-round except for holidays.

Discover the Beauty

In the 18th century, people chose to live near the Juniata for food, water and transportation. Today the river is popular for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and tubing. The Juniata River Valley also draws outdoor enthusiasts for hiking, mountain biking, camping and bird watching.  

Throughout the Juniata River Valley, landmarks have enhanced the postcard-quality of the scenery. A frequent subject of the photographer's lens is the 1813 Stone Arch Bridge located on Jack's Creek Road in Lewisburg. It is the oldest single stone arch bridge in Central PA. The bridge that was once part of the Harrisburg to Pittsburgh Turnpike was completely restored in 2006.

Another, often photographed landmark is the 272.9-foot Pomeroy Academia Covered Bridge. The structure, which spans the Tuscarora Creek in Academia, is the longest remaining covered bridge in Pennsylvania. The 107-year-old bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The landscape becomes even more picturesque in fall when nature's canvas takes on a golden hue. Folks in these parts celebrate the beauty of the season at several of Juniata River Valley's autumn festivals.

Sept. 5 -12
155th Annual Juniata County Fair
Juniata County Fairgrounds, Port Royal, PA

Sept. 12-19
118th Annual McClure Bean Soup Festival & Fair
McClure, (Snyder County) PA

Oct. 2-3
Mifflin County Youth Park, Reedsville, PA

Oct. 17-18
Old Home Foliage Days
Juniata County Fairgrounds, Port Royal, PA

Oct. 10
Reeds Gap Fall Festival
Reeds Gap State Park, Reeds Gap, PA

Adding to the appeal of the valley is its proximity to other nearby attractions. It is just a 30-minute drive to State College, where you can experience a fall favorite, Penn State football. It's also only about an hour away from the attractions in Hershey and Harrisburg.

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