Roland Curtin was founder of the Eagle Ironworks and patriarch of the Curtin family that included a son who was Pennsylvania’s governor during the Civil War.
Curtin, a native of Ireland, moved to the Bald Eagle valley in 1797. He lived in Milesburg initially but later moved to Bellefonte, Centre County’s new seat of government, where he operated the community’s second store. By that time, he had married Margery Gregg, a niece of Congressman Andrew Gregg. They had six sons, two of whom died in infancy.
From 1806 to 1809, Curtin served as the county’s sheriff and a member of the Bellefonte Borough Council. While operating the store and holding public office, he began acquiring large tracts of land, including 748 acres in Spring Township.
With partner Moses Boggs, he built Eagle Forge along the Bald Eagle Creek in 1810. Boggs initially handled the day-to-day operation of the forge, but five years later Curtin bought his partner’s share of the business. By that time, Curtin’s wife had died and he had married Jane Gregg, Margery’s cousin. The couple had seven children, including Andrew G. Curtin, the future governor.
In 1819, Curtin erected Eagle Furnace about one and half miles south of Eagle Forge. To attract workers to his ironworks, Curtin built a “village” that included mansions for the family, worker housing, a company store, and a school.
Seeking to expand production, he started a second ironworks on Bald Eagle Creek called Martha Furnace, named for his eldest daughter, and bought thousands more acres of land. He also acquired a gristmill and sawmill.
However, Curtin had assumed large debts, and by the mid-1830s he was unable to meet many of his obligations. The country’s economic Panic of 1837 crippled iron-making across the state and Curtin’s operations could not recover. He was forced to sell various properties including Martha Furnace.
In 1848, Curtin conveyed most of his property to his sons. The sons and their children continued operating Eagle Ironworks. Curtin died on November 8, 1856, at the age of 86. Curtin Township is named for the Curtin family.
Eggert, Gerald G. Making Iron on the Bald Eagle: Roland Curtin’s Ironworks and Workers’ Community. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2000.
First Published: May 20, 2021
Last Modified: October 3, 2021