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Historic Places in Central PA

Mishler Theater

Isaac Mishler, father of the Mishler Theater, was born in Lancaster on September 30, 1862. When he was 18 years old, he moved to Altoona to work on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Isaac worked for the P.R.R. for several years then he opened a cigar store on 11 Avenue in Altoona. In 1893, he took over the Eleventh Avenue Opera House. On February 5, 1906, owned and managed by Isaac Mishler, the Mishler Theater opened. However, devastation came a short nine months later. On the evening of October 19, 1906, the neighboring Rothert Building caught on fire. The fire spread to the Mishler Theater destroying the interior. This didn’t defeat Isaac Mishler from his dream. He rebuilt and reopened the theater in 1907.

In the early days, many great performers of the Vaudeville Theater made an appearance at the Mishler. This was mostly due to the location of the theater and the P.R.R. Altoona was the first stop for acts travelling from New York and Philadelphia on tour. Sadly, the theater fell into neglect and in the 1960’s it was considered for Demolition. The Altoona Community Theatre and The Blair County Arts Foundation saved it from this fate by purchasing the building and renovating. In 1969, The Mishler Theater once again reopened. In 1973, The Mishler was placed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.

Today the theater has been restored too much of its original appearance. The Mishler Theater hosts numerous community events as well as other notable entertainers.

Baker Mansion

Located in the Mansion Park neighborhood, in Altoona, stands a three story, 28-room home known as Baker Mansion. The exterior walls of the home are faced in limestone, the decorative work is made of iron, cast at the Allegheny Furnace, and the building has six fluted ionic columns. The inside of the mansion contains black walnut woodwork and fireplaces made of Italian marble.
Originally, Baker Mansion was home to iron Master Elias Baker and his family who in 1844 contracted Baltimore architect Robert Gary Long, Jr to design him a new home. Construction started in 1845 and after some delays, it was completed in 1849. Elias spent the remainder of his life in the home until his death in 1864. Elias Baker’s wife and children continued to live in the mansion until their deaths. The home was vacant after Anna Baker’s death in 1914 until 1922 when the Blair Historical Society leased the building, opening it as a museum. In 1941, the society was able to purchase Baker Mansion and continue to run it as a museum till this day. The building is open to public with regular tours as well as a number of special concerts and events. Baker Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975

The mansion is filled with furniture owned by the Baker family. Exterior rehabilitation was completed in 2001 that returned the outside of the building to its original appearance. Work is continuing to be done on the inside too, in 2015 the double parlor was restored

Highland Hall

Highland Hall, nestled in Hollidaysburg, was designed by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan. Originally, to be a Presbyterian Seminary for both male and females, the building was built in 1865. In 1911, it became a female academy and officially named Highland Hall. It continued as a girl’s school until 1940. Highland Hall was used as an Army training center during the World War II years. From 1942 until 1944, it was the Keystone Radio School. Later, Franciscan Fathers used the building as a boy’s school. In 1968, Highland Hall became an annex for the Blair County Courthouse. The building itself has spent years in a state of disrepair until recently, Highland Hall is now being renovated to serve housing for seniors 62 years or old that make less than $32,000 a year. The building will contain 53 units, while preserving some of the exterior walls of the original Highland Hall. There will also be a historically accurate addition to the new Highland Hall to retain some of the historic character.

Highland Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1978. The Bicentennial Moon Tree planted on May 5, 1976, grown from a seed carried to the moon on Apollo XIV, is located on the land. Also, the Pioneer Family statue was placed in the same year. However, it has been moved in recent years to the Blair County Courthouse.

Interested in more info on Highland Hall history? There are more than five hundred items from the Highland Hall School available at the Blair County Genealogical Society’s Library for research.
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