The Early History

Based on the 1976 research of Bernice Dravis Tkacik, the area now known as Geistown was first inhabited by a tribe of Shawonese Indians, a tribe of approximately 250 led by Chief Okewlah in the first half of the eighteenth century. Their camp was called Kickenpawling. Other tribes also roamed this area: Delawares, Asswikales, and Mingoes. Of the twenty-six Indian trails in the area, the principal one later became old Route 56, or old Bedford Pike, a winding trail over the 2,711 foot elevation to Bedford, which was then called Raystown. The trail began in Johnstown (called Conemaugh by the Indians) then progressed up the hill to Geistown to Elton to Paint Creek and then over the mountain.

The first white settlers in Cambria County were Rachael, Samuel, and Solomon Adams in 1769, prior to governmental permission for settlements on Indian land. In 1774, the family was given a warrant for their settlement; however, Samuel was ambushed and killed by a group of hostile Indians at the angle of Geistown and Elton, Solomon escaped to Bedford and settled there, and Rachael was later killed by Indians in Elton next to Rachael’s Stream, subsequently named for her. Not until the early nineteenth century when the Indians were paid for their land did the settlements become safe.

In 1812, William and Rebecca Hemphill Slick moved from Johnstown up to the hilltop that is now Geistown. The Slicks purchased a large tract of land, largely wilderness, and called it Slicksville. Their home housed the first church in the area, a Methodist church, beginning December 25, 1829. William Slick, always a member of the Whig Party, joined the Republican Party when it was organized in 1856, and he served as justice of the peace for Richland Township for twenty years. The Slick farm and tannery secretly served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Slicks lived on their farm for fifty-four years—until 1866—but during that time their original homestead was divided into three parcels. One parcel, consisting of 1.8 square miles, was purchased in 1842 by Squire Horner for $950.00; Horner, in turn, sold it to Joseph Geis, who, with his young wife Mary Ann Fleckinstine and a party of seventeen, was emigrating from Bavaria in hopes of settling in Ohio. Along with the Geis couple and from the same Bavarian hometown was Charles Sebastian Ruth. As the group with Geis and Ruth traveled west on the Portage Canal, one of the travelers fell ill and the group stopped in Johnstown while he recuperated.

During the friend’s recovery, Charles Sebastian Ruth decided to settle in Johnstown and opened a paint and wallpaper store on Clinton Street in what is now Coney Island Hotdogs. Charles Ruth’s son James moved to Geistown (Radian Street) around 1914 and later became the borough’s first Burgess and also served as a magistrate for many years. Another son, Leo, settled in Geistown (Rosewood Street) around 1919.Also during the traveling party’s stay in Johnstown, Joseph and Mary Ann Geis took a ride up into the mountains and discovered a beautiful piece of land (Horner’s parcel bought from Wm. Slick), and it was the first of several that he bought. Within fifteen months, Joseph Geis settled his homestead and traveled back to his home in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, to bring his parents (Conrad and Anna Maria Geis) back to his farm.

The early twentieth-century businesses that have survived until the present are Schrader’s Florist and Greenhouses (1904), Niessner’s Florist and Greenhouses (1908), and the Orchard Hotel and Tavern (1913).

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