Harrison Township History
Much of the land in Southwestern Pennsylvania was “Depreciation Land”, tracks of land land auctioned and sold off to servicemen in the late 1700’s at a time when this area was the wilderness of the west. It is therefore no surprise that Harrison Township began as a pioneer farming community in the early 1800’s
Harrison Township was incorporated in 1900 and had several neighborhoods; Natrona was there first, and as people started moving “up on the hill” they started new neighborhoods such a Ducktown, Birdville, Campton and Pughtown, all of which eventually became Natrona Heights.
The Burtner House, a National Historic Site, was one of the first homes built in what was to eventually become Harrison Township. Phillip Burtner and his two brothers, George and John, arrived in the Allegheny Valley in 1793 as scouts on the frontier and started building the home in1818. It was the residence for generations of Burtner family members and has been a reflection of the history of the community. The property once was a working farm, and people would stop at the house to water their horses before proceeding up the hill of what is now Burtner Road.
The House is now owned by the Township and has been restored by members of Burtner House Restoration Inc. under a lease with the Township. Annual events are held at the house and tours given by the Restoration Group. The Burtner House is located at the expressway exit to Natrona Heights, so all visitors to the community will see the House as soon as they enter the Township.
Allegheny Steel Company of Brackenridge (now ATI Flat Rolled Products, part of Allegheny Technologies) started operations in the very early 1900 as a part of the emergence of Pittsburgh as the steel capital of the world. Over the years it developed into a leader in the production of stainless and specialty steels, is one of the few steel mills in operations in the Pittsburgh area, is still growing, and is the township’s largest employer.
Harrison Township Historical Album (PDF) – please note that due to large file size the PDF may take a few minutes to load completely.
*this publication was from the Harrison Township Bicentennial Committee, 1976
History Time Line
(Valley New Dispatch – July 23, 1995)
1734 – Shawnee Indians inhabit Allegheny Valley.
1795 – West Deer, East Deer, Frazer, Springdale, Springdale Township, Cheswick, Fawn, Tarentum, Brackenridge, Harrison, known as Deer Township.
1805 – Highway from Sharpsburg to Freeport laid out; oil discovered.
1821 – Burtner House built.
1826 – Construction begins on canal through the Valley.
1829 – Canal begins operation in Tarentum.
1836 – Deer Township split into East and West Deer; West Deer remains today as it was.
1842 – Tarentum withdraws from East Deer.
1852 – First row of houses built on Federal Street by the Penn Salt Manufacturing Co. for employees.
1853 – Canal filled in to make a bed for railroad tracks; Harrison family settled above Natrona.
1858 – Fawn withdraws from East Deer, but still contains modern-day Harrison and Brackenridge.
1860 – 800 men employed by Penn Salt; Natrona population reaches 1,870.
1862 – More than 200 Natrona men enlist to serve in Union Army.
1863 – Harrison secedes from Fawn on February 7.
1865 – Canal closes.
1868 – Harrison population reported at 3,000.
1880 – Potts Mansion built.
1888 – 72 hours a week, $1 a day wage scale at Penn Salt.
1889 – West Penn Press organized and located at North Canal Street, prints Natrona News.
1895 – First trolley runs through Natrona, Tarentum Traction Company.
1896 – Fire destroys metals refinery at Penn Salt; Fidelity Glass Company begins in Brackenridge.
1901 – Brackenridge secedes from Harrison; First National Bank of Natrona organized, located on Federal Street.
1901 – Allegheny Iron and Steel begins operation.
1902 – Pond Street School built.
1904 – Valley Daily News organized by Charles Howe.
1906 – Valley hospital organized and operates in West Tarentum.
1907 – Natrona Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 formed.
1907 – Steel industry work hours are 12-hour days, 24 hours every second Sunday.
1918 – Fire destroys Penn Salt; flu epidemic kills hundreds.
1920 – First fire truck purchased by Natrona Fire Company for $12,500; first 40 feet of concrete completed at Natrona Dam.
1921 – Work on Natrona Dam halted due to lack of money; Harbrack High School opens, 375 wooden steps built from Natrona to top of hill to the school; Citizens Bank of Natrona opens.
1923 – Harrison Township sanitary system partially operational.
1927 – Lock No, 4 on Allegheny River officially opens to general river traffic; Birdville Post Office name changed to Natrona Heights Post Office.
1929 – Birdville School built.
1930 – Allegheny Steel Company merges with West Penn Steel Company; first air mail pickup at Natrona Air Field; Natrona Citizens National Bank merges with the First National Bank of Natrona.
1931 – Harrison Township tax levy at 7.5 mills.
1940 – Buses take over trolley line; Natrona storm sewer given OK to run from hill through Chestnut and Garfield Streets down the alley to the river.
1950 – Penn Salt closes.
1954 – Heights Plaza opens.