Brief Penn State History

Centre Furnace ironmasters James Irvin and Moses Thompson’s longest-lasting contribution to the development of Centre County was not iron-making, but in support of agricultural science and education. In 1855, Irvin spearheaded the effort to locate the newly chartered Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania in Centre County. He freely offered 200 acres of land, with the option to purchase an adjoining 200 acres, as well as a guarantee of $10,000 from the citizens of Centre and Huntingdon counties. In a statewide competition, additional proposals to locate the school came from eight other counties. The Trustees’ site selection made their first visit, however, to Centre Furnace Mansion on June 26, 1855, to inspect Irvin’s land and enjoy a dinner hosted by Irvin’s business partner Moses Thompson and his wife and Mary, who resided in the Mansion. Meeting in Harrisburg on September 12, 1855, the Trustees debated the matter, and, after several failed motions for other sites, approved Trustees President Frederick Watts’s original motion to accept Irvin’s offer. Ground was broken for a campus barn and main building in summer 1856 and the first students were admitted on February 16, 1859.