Campus History

Campus History

Penn State Mont Alto is in its second century of educating excellence. In May 1903, the governor of Pennsylvania established the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy in Mont Alto.  It was one of the first forestry schools in the nation along with the Biltmore Forestry School and Yale Forestry School. Over 100 years later, the Forest Academy, now Penn State Mont Alto, still educates America’s foresters as well as students in many other academic programs.

The goal in the early 1900s was to crusade for a change from the barren hills caused by forest fires and charcoal production. George Wirt, the Academy’s first administrator, patterned the curriculum after curricula in Germany, a leader in reforestation.  In 1929, much to the distress of the Mont Alto students, the Commonwealth decided that the Academy had trained enough foresters. The Pennsylvania State College (now University) also offered forestry and was merged with the Academy to form the Mont Alto campus. Students were adamantly opposed to the merger, and they protested by hanging two state officials in effigy in front of Conklin Hall. Going further, many of the students in 1929 transferred to North Carolina State University to complete their education.

Beginning in 1930, the campus was used as the first year of training for Penn State forestry students. They completed the remaining three years of study at University Park. By 1963, Penn State Mont Alto had become a Commonwealth Campus, offering the first one or two years of most Penn States majors. This was the first time that the campus was considered “coeducational.”  Today, Mont Alto offers seven baccalaureate degrees and eight associate degrees, and serves more than 1,200 students annually. The campus also serves the business and community through its Continuing Education Center.

“We are proud to be the oldest Penn State campus outside of University Park, and we are excited to celebrate the impact that this institution has made in the lives of so many for more than 100 years,” says Dr. David Gnage, former Penn State Mont Alto chancellor.

"We are proud to be perhaps the most historic of the Commonwealth campuses and to have been at the forefront of the sustainability movement as early as the turn of the twentieth century," says Dr. Francis K. Achampong, Chancellor of Penn State Mont Alto.

More Interesting Historical Facts

Ralph Brock, First African-American Forester
Penn State History
Penn State Historical Markers
The Alma Mater
Penn State Myths
All Things Nittany

  • Penn State Mont Alto was founded in 1903 as the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy. It was one of the first public forestry schools in the nation.
  • All first-year students were required to bring a horse with them to the academy until the late 1920s. The horses were used to fight forest fires in the Michaux State Forest.
  • As the price of a horse rose, the students often shared the expense of a horse and took turns riding it.
  • The last student horse at the academy was owned in part by Harry Howard in 1927. The horse's name was Firpo.
  • Freshman in the early years of the academy were required to wear dinks (hats) and signs around their necks with their nicknames on them.
  • Students in the early 1900s helped to build their own dormitory, known today as Conklin Hall. The campus administrative offices are currently housed in Conklin Hall.
  • The first African American Forester, Ralph Brock, graduated from the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy in 1906.
  • Early forestry students often had dances with the girls from Wilson College, a nearby women's college.
  • When the state announced that the forest academy would be merged with Pennsylvania State University in 1929, the forestry students protested by hanging state officials in effigy out of the windows of Conklin Hall.
  • The forestry students also held a huge bonfire to protest the merger, which was attended by over 1,000 people and covered on the front page of the local newspaper.
  • The campus closed from 1943 to 1946 because some students and faculty were fighting in WWII.
  • Emmanuel Chapel, located at the entrance of the campus, is believed to be the worship place and the site of the last Holy Communion of abolitionist John Brown just before his raid on Harpers Ferry.
  • Wiestling Hall, built in 1807, is the oldest building in the entire Penn State system. People claim that Colonel Wiestling still haunts his former house.