The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 27, 2013

Historical markers to commemorate San, Underground Railroad sites

— Two historically significant Cambria County sites, well-known to locals, are getting attention from the state.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has approved roadside historical markers for the Underground Railroad Network in the Johnstown area and The San, the state-operated tuberculosis sanatorium in Cresson Township.

“Escape of Freedom Seekers Patrick & Abraham” is the well documented story of the Underground Railroad and two brothers who escaped from a farm in Bath, Va., said Barbara Zaborowski, dean of learning resources and special assistant to the president at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College.

The historical marker will be placed at the location of the Slick farm in Geistown to tell how the brothers, both wounded, were helped by Johnstown area residents as they made the flight to freedom.

Zaborowski said Slick did not turn the brothers over to bounty hunters and instead took them into Johnstown for medical treatment. They eventually escaped thanks to help from other abolitionists in Johnstown.

“This marker commemorates the location of the Slick farm, but is also connected to the story that resulted in the National Underground Network to Freedom designation at Sandyvale last April where William Slick and other

abolitionists are interred,” she said.

The San, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, was one of three state-run tuberculosis sanatoriums in the state at a time when TB was a devastating disease which claimed thousands of lives.

“The story of the Cresson TB Sanatorium is the story of Pennsylvania’s leadership role in combating a world-wide epidemic at the turn of the last century,” said David Huber of the Cambria County Historial Society.

The San operated until the early 1960’s on land donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie at the Summit in Cresson Township.

After a cure for TB was developed the massive facility was used by the state as a center for mentally challenged residents and in later years was turned into SCI-Cresson.

The prison was closed by the state earlier this year and

the property is available for reuse.

Getting approval for the roadside markers is an involved process and often gets just provisional approval until more information is provided, the case with the Underground Railroad and San markers, said Howard Pollman spokesman for the commission.

“It has to be significant, it has to be significant on a statewide or national level for consideration,” he said.

The commission has more than 2,300 markers across the state.

Until recently, the commission was able to help local organizations with the costs, but they must now be borne locally.

The markers cost about $1,800 each, and the historical society is accepting donations, Huber said.

Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.comkathymellotttd.

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