The little town of Montrose, Pennsylvania, in Susquehanna County sometimes seems part myth, part truth. There’s some great stories and amazing characters that have called this place home, but nestled amongst the truth, we often find misinformation about the town. Over the years, I have tried to correct some of these misconceptions, but nevertheless, they find their way into discourse. In an effort to dispel some these purported truths, I thought I’d write about a few here.
Let’s take for example the founding date. For years, coming north into Montrose on Route 29, there was a sign on the golf course that said founded in 1799. That date, however, was not true. Bartlett Hinds, as Emily Blackman writes in her History of Susquehanna County, did not come here until 1800, and then went home, and brought the rest of his family here to settle permanently the following year. However, that sign stood as long as I could remember, at the edge of the golf course with the wrong date, having only in the past year been replaced with new signage that denotes the actual establishment of Montrose as 1800. It’s been a long time, but history has finally won the day.
Another interesting piece of misinformation about Montrose has to do with its elevation. In a newspaper article from the turn of the century, the author touted Montrose as having a courthouse at the highest elevation in Pennsylvania, which measured 1900 feet above sea level. The same article suggested that the air around Montrose, because of this great elevation, had an almost medicinal quality for the people coming here. That’s a pleasant thought, and surely, might attract visitors. In reality, however, the highest county courthouse is in Laporte, Sullivan County, with a height of about 2000 feet above sea level while Montrose, now that we have better means of measure, sits at only about 1400 feet. All this information is easily found on Wikipedia and the internet.
The most enduring myth, however, about Montrose focuses on the name, and here, Wikipedia is more of a hindrance rather than a help, because the website claims that Montrose was named by way of “mont” for mountain and “rose” for Robert Hutchinson Rose, who was a founding father of the county. Certainly, that seems a likely story, but Rose was not a part of the Montrose community. Rather, Rose resided in Silver Lake where he owned a massive acreage and promoted the area as an ideal place to live in advertisements recruiting new settlers that were placed in major cities like Philadelphia.
We haven’t the need to look beyond Emily Blackman’s History to correct the myth, however. She writes, “Capt. B. Hinds and Dr. R. H. Rose were friends. They agreed to name, each for the other, their places of residence. The former named Silver Lake, and the latter Montrose, after a town in Scotland” (Blackman 317). It’s that simple. Just three sentences, but from none other than Emily Blackman. I often wondered, however, why he chose that Scottish town. Were there similarities? At one point, I even spent some time researching the background of Montrose, Scotland. That town, too, has a rural location with supposedly good air quality, according to Wikipedia. It also sports what claims to be the 5th oldest golf course in the world, and while Montrose, Pennsylvania, doesn’t have nearly the oldest golf course in the world, the Montrose Club was established during the late 19th Century in 1898.
Obviously, the golf course wasn’t here when Hinds and Rose traded names, but it’s interesting to think about the reasons he might have chosen Montrose. I’d like to think that Rose wasn’t just self-interested in preserving his name. And Rose’s biography certainly suggests an interest in geography and the sense of place. For example, Rose published a collection of poetry called Sketches in Verse in 1810, which includes a poem entitled “Written at Niagara.” Noting the grandeur of Niagara Falls, this poem relates the feeling of being overwhelmed by the vast power of nature. But as the poem continues, Rose tells the reader that he’d rather his life were not spent in the shadow of these potent displays like Niagara Falls, but rather “cool and clear . . . free from all taint.” No, he doesn’t want to dwell beside a “torrent that bursts to affright or amaze.” Instead, Rose would rather “the smooth, gentle stream through the valley that strays.” That sounds much like our little piece of land here and around Montrose, Pennsylvania.
Maybe it’s just as significant, too, that the word “susquehanna” comes from the Native American for “muddy river” or “winding river,” as described in Stephen A. Runkle’s report for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission called “Native American Waterbody and Place Names Within the Susquehanna River Basin and Surrounding Subbasins.” As our county name, therefore suggests, we are a place of “winding” waters, similar to those waters that “stray” in the mind of Robert H. Rose. For me, I imagine a peaceful valley—not the hard crash of water upon rocks—but rather quiet, wandering streams through these mountains and these hills where many of us call home.