7 Happy Valley, PA facts that will make you want to visit now

Unless you are a Penn State Football fan or an outdoors adventurist, central Pennsylvania, and more specifically Happy Valley may not be the first place to come to mind for a long weekend or weeklong getaway. However, visitors may be surprised to find out that there are so many things to do that they can’t fit them all in with one visit. That has certainly proved the case for me.

I visited for three days in February to do wintertime activities and I’m finding myself eager to return both to experience other seasons but also to do some of the things I missed the first time around.  I guess you could say that this was my first surprise from my time in Happy Valley.

**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.

Talleyrand Park Bellefonte PA

Table of Contents

Where is Happy Valley, Pennsylvania?

Happy Valley is probably best known for being the home of Penn State University and the Nittany Lions. But it is also smacked in the middle of the state of Pennsylvania. Visitors from, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC can make the drive in under 4 hours.  While the name might imply that Happy Valley is one valley it is actually a collection of five; Nittany Valley, Penns Valley, Moshannon Valley, Brush Valley and Bald Eagle Valley. These five valleys include the towns of State College, Bellefonte, Boalsburg, Centre Hall, and Phillipsburg.

This is a rural area and with the exception of downtown State College, things are spread out. Be sure that you build enough time into your itinerary to get from place to place. 

Centre County Courthouse Bellefonte PA

Why it’s called Happy Valley?

“Happy Valley” is a term synonymous with Centre County, Pennsylvania. It has been called this since the early 1930s having earned the moniker because the region was relatively unharmed by the Depression due to the presence of Penn State University.

Happy Pigs Happy Valley State College

7 Unexpected Facts about Happy Valley and How to Experience Each

Public art State College PA

(COVID-19 Notice- At this time,  if you plan to visit any of the sites listed in this post, you should check with the establishment beforehand as COVID19 restrictions may be in place.)

Penn State University’s Campus is Huge

Penn State’s Main Campus located in State College encompasses close to 8000 acres and has 312 buildings on the site. Features include sports complexes, educational and research facilities, residence halls, an arboretum, agricultural buildings, administrative buildings, museums, and even a creamery.

Related Things to Do

Take a bit of time to explore Penn State’s campus. A few highlights you won’t want to miss include getting your Instagrammable shot at the Nittany Shrine. On a spring day visit the Arboretum at Penn State and then stroll on over to the Berkey Creamery for one of 120 flavors of ice cream or sherbets. Art enthusiast should plan a visit to the Palmer Museum.

While the campus is walkable, some highlights are a spread across a large area and driving may be more appropriate for some visitors.

Nittany Shrine Penn State

Penn State’s Football Stadium is massive

Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions with a seating capacity of over 106K is not only the second-largest in the western hemisphere but the 4th largest in the world. Returning alumni, current students, and townspeople alike come together on weekends throughout the season to root on their beloved Nittany Lions.

Related Things to Do

Of course, if you are visiting during football season you should try to attend a game. If you can’t get tickets at least join in on some of the tailgating activities. If you can’t get there for game day or during the season then an alternative may be to attend a basketball game at the Bryce Jordan Center.

If you are a bit of an adventurer and you are up for a hike, head to the Nittany Mountain Conservancy. Here you will find hiking trails. Take the trail for the Mike Lynch Overlook. The walk to the overlook is less than one mile but there is a 600-foot vertical climb. However, once you arrive you will be treated to panoramic views of State College and Penn State’s Campus including views of Beaver Stadium.

Penn State Beaver Stadium

State College is More a Small City than a Rural Town

With 40K students enrolled at the university and a permanent residency of roughly the same number, State College provides travelers everything that you would expect to find in a much larger city. It feels unexpectedly cosmopolitan given its location in a rural region of the state and has all the energy you would expect to a college town. You can expect to enjoy everything from college sports to dining, bars, and shopping.

It’s worth noting that State College specifically and Happy Valley more generally, is a diverse and welcoming area. Credit for such openness can probably be given to the presence of Penn State University. Drawing students from around the world, the existence of the Innovation Park and first-class research facilities creates a level of multiculturalism rarely seen in rural Pennsylvania. 

Downtown State College PA

Related Things to Do

Take some time to explore the shops, restaurants, and bars. Getting off the main track is encouraged. You can find some great public art and some of the more eclectic shops and galleries.

Tucked one block behind the shops on College Avenue, you will find WC Clarkes Cheese Shoppe and Coffee Roaster. And as if coffee and cheese isn’t nirvana, they even sell a bit of chocolate.

Located on the lower level in Calder Square, this is the kind of place the locals stop in to get their coffee and mull over the issues of the day. Everyone seems to know one another.

The Cheese Shoppe State College

Happy Valley has Many Museums

If you were to think that museums were not something to be found in rural central Pennsylvania, you would be incorrect. Sure, you might think of historic sites or maybe even some small history museums but full-blow, big-city museums, probably not.

However, Penn State alone has five cosmopolitan museums on its campus including the Palmer Museum of Art, the Matson Museum of Anthropology, the All-Sports Museum, the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery, the Frost Entomological Museum, and the Pasto Agricultural Museum.

Museums are not limited to those found on campus. Downtown Bellefonte has some of its own. Bellefonte is home to the Bellefonte Art Museum (BAM), a small thoughtfully curated space. This intimate gallery offers a nice collection of artworks including pieces on loan from around the world as well as compositions by regional artists.

Also, in Bellefonte is the Centre County Historical Museum, located within the Centre County Library. The museum holds a collection of artifacts celebrating the region’s industrial heritage and everyday life in Bellefonte as well as throughout the county. Additionally, the library holds the historical county archives, 200 years of newspapers on microfilm and ancestry information for over 700 families.

Bellefonte Art Museum BAM

Related Things to Do

If the quality of the Palmer Museum is indicative of what visitors will find at the others, then you can expect to find quality exhibits. Most of the campus museums are free. Some do have suggested donation amounts typically around $5. The Palmer Museum does timed tours and requires a ticket.

Those venturing into Bellefonte should plan to visit the Bellefonte Art Museum (BAM) and the Centre County Library and Historical Museum.  Both are free.

Bellefonte was built on the Iron Industry

Today, we often hear central Pennsylvania associated with the coal industry. For this reason, it might be easy to assume that Bellefonte and the other small towns in the region were founded on that industry. However, in the 1800s, it was iron that drew moguls to the region.

Bellefonte specifically was ideal for this enterprise. Located on the “Big Spring,” the town’s main water supply; the vast supply of wood in the region to fuel the furnaces, and the plentiful limestone which acts as a fluxing material in iron and steel production all made Bellefonte an ideal place to settle.

Bellefonte is a very walkable little town. Visitors should take a bit of time to explore the downtown and enjoy the vast collection of Victorian architecture that has been preserved here.

Bellefonte PA Historic Markers

Related Things to Do

Just minutes from downtown Bellefonte is Eagle Ironworks at Curtin Village. The village depicts life in a 19th-century company town. The site features Pleasant Furnace, a waterwheel-powered cold blast charcoal furnace, the Roland Curtin Mansion, and the worker’s village.

If Bellefonte and Happy Valley appeal to you, then plan to visit Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, too. Located just 2-hours from Happy Valley, it is home to Pennsylvania’s largest state park, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and more.

Bellefonte is known as the “Home of Governors”

This politically influential town has been home to a total of seven US governors:  Five Pennsylvania governors, one California and one Kansas. 

Related Things to Do

Visit Talleyrand Parks where you will find the monument honoring all seven governors. Note that all the Republicans are on one side and the Democrats on the other.

In front of the Centre County Courthouse you will find a statue of Andrew Curtin, perhaps the most prominent of the governors and certainly the hometown hero. Head one block south of the square to S. Allegheny St (PA 144) and Cherry Lane, here you will find the marker commemorating the birthplace of Governor Curtin.

From here, head up Howard Street to the Union Cemetery. This is the burial site of Governors Curtin, Beaver, and Hastings. Other notable figures buried here include Evan Pugh, the founder of Penn State University and the United States Senator Andrew Gregg.

Bellefonte PA the Home of Governors

Bellefonte was on the leading edge of issues like slavery and women’s suffrage.

This may be one of the biggest surprises. With four documented stops on the Underground Railroad Bellefonte was an important and prominent location eb route to freedom.  

Remember BAM, the art museum in Bellefonte mentioned earlier? Well, it was part of the network of residences that made up the Underground Railroad.

Additionally, on July 4, 1913, the women of Bellefonte took part in the March of the Vote, a nationally organized movement held shortly after the first suffragist parade in Washington, D.C. Anna Keichline (remember this name) led the Bellefonte march of local suffragist.

Related Things to Do

The third floor of BAM, located in the Linn House is devoted to this piece of the homes history and offers a hint into the conditions which freedom-seeking slaves endured for that outcome. Even if you don’t visit for the art (and you should), if this bit of Bellefonte history interests you, you will want to visit. This was originally intended to be a temporary feature at the museum but is now permanent.

Additionally, the Union Cemetery holds the remains negro Civil War soldiers, members of the “Army of James.”

Downtown Bellefonte PA

Bellefonte is a Town of Firsts

Inventions and Innovation

A number of articles that were once everyday items were invented in Bellefonte, including the voting machine, the typewriter, and safety matches. Aside from the voting machine, these items are not as prevalent in today’s society as they once were but for their time, they were important innovations.

Related Things to Do

Sightseers can visit the original match factory located a little outside the downtown area. Today the building houses the National Philatelic Society (the study of postage stamps and postal history).  Not far from here at Willowbank St (PA 150) at Phoenix Ave., you will find its historical marker.

Historic Victorian Bellefonte PA

Bellefonte was the First Stop on the 1st Airmail flight from NYC.

On December 18, 1918, Pilot Leon D. Smith made the initial stop on the first scheduled westbound airmail flight out of New York City destined for Chicago. From 1919 to 1927 Bellefonte was a major refueling stop for airmail traveling this route. 

Related Things to Do

Visitors wishing to learn more about these early aviators or to visit the airfield will need to travel just a touch out of town. There is a historical marker located at the high school on E Bishop St (PA 550) at S School St.

The First Female Architect in PA

Anna Keichline, Pennsylvania’s 1st Female architect haled from Bellefonte. You can find examples of her designs in Bellefonte and the surrounding area. Keichline was also an inventor, suffragist, and World War I Special Agent.

Related Things to Do

While touring the architecture of this town be sure to check out the Plaza Theater. This is one example of Kiechline’s designs. Additionally, there is a marker honoring her located at 126 W High St, Bellefonte, just off the square.

Victorian Bellefonte PA

Bellefonte’s High School was the first racially integrated school in PA

In 1885, William H. Mills and 3 members from St. Paul AME church persuaded the Bellefonte School Board to integrate the public schools. Desegregation began two years later, making Bellefonte one of the earliest integrated school systems in the nation. This was sixty-seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the nation’s public schools to do the same. School records show that in 1891 Charles Garner became the first black to graduate from Bellefonte’s high school.

Related Things to Do

While the Mills Barbershop no longer exists, you can find a historic marker at its original location honoring another piece of William H. Mills legacy; his contribution to music history. The historical maker is located at 213 W High St, between Water & Spring.

Where to Stay in Happy Valley

There are a number of Bed and Breakfasts in Bellefonte. I recommend the Our Fair Lady. This victorian beauty has original hardwood floors, pocket doors, and stained glass details.  The rooms are well-appointed and quiet.

The location within walking distance of downtown makes it ideal. Park your car in the off-street lot and explore on foot.  

You won’t find better hospitality anywhere. The hosts, Bob and Tami are wonderful. They are so helpful. And Tami is an excellent cook. 

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7 Surprises about Happy Valley PA
Reasons to visit State College

Susan Decoteau-Ferrier

Travel writer/blogger, photographer. Avid potter and wanna-be artist. Wife, Mom to 6 fur kids, gardener, coffee snob.

23 Comments:

  1. As someone who is originally from PA, I will definitely need to check out Happy Valley! It looks like a great place to visit

  2. I needed to hear about Anna the architect today. This week. This month. Thank you for this post that tells me there is so much more to Happy Valley than football!

  3. Erin from Pina Travels

    Being Canadian I honestly know very little about Pennsylvania, so this was a really enlightening read for me! It sounds like the Happy Valley has so many beautiful spots as well as a rich and interesting history. Pinning this post in case I ever happen to visit the region!

  4. What a great list of reasons to visit Happy Valley, PA. It’s interesting that the University was able to float the town during the Great Depression. I love visiting places in winter, and the snow adds extra charm to the historic buildings. I would love to explore the museums and eat some cheese!

  5. What a list of reasons to visit Happy Valley, PA. It’s interesting that the University was able to flat the town during the Great Depression. I love visiting places in winter and the snow adds extra charm to the historic buildings. I would love to explore the museums and eat some cheese!

    • I love the comments I’m getting about the cheese place. I hesitated about including it. I’m glad I did. And you are correct about snow adding a certain charm to the small towns. I enjoyed this trip so much more than I anticipated.

  6. Penn. is actually the last state I’ve never been to in the U.S., so I’m actually planning for a trip to as many cool cities in the state as I can find, to make my trip to my 50th state special. I saved & pinned your blog because this looks like the coolest historical Penn. town.

  7. Nice post! I was not familiar with this area. State College looks like a great town. I love art museums, so the Palmer Museum is one I would surely visit.

  8. I’ve not heard of Happy Valley before reading this post, but I really enjoyed reading all of your fun facts about it!

  9. It looks like a great place — not something that was on my radar before, but it is now!

  10. So many things to do in this area–I would visit the cheese shop for sure!

  11. I love that part of PA. It is such a great place to visit to get out of some of the East Coast cities.

  12. Thanks for sharing this about Happy Valley, besides that adorable name, the architecture & history seem fascinating. The Bellefonte area looks absolutely adorable & I’ll be checking it out next time I’m in Pa.

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