Penn State Shenango is nestled in a valley rich in history, which was once occupied by the Seneca and Delaware Nations. According to local historians, prior to the arrival of settlers in the Shenango Valley, the Seneca Nation governed the land now occupied by Penn State Shenango. For a short time before the actual arrival of settlers, this section of the Shenango Valley was inhabited by a displaced clan of the Delaware Nation. Their leader, Kiondashawa, acted as a political liaison between his people, the displaced Delaware, the Seneca Nation, and for a brief period, the new settlers in the valley. Actually, the name Shenango, is said to have been derived from the Indian who once dominated the hunting land along what is now the Shenango River.
In 1795, the first settlement was established in Sharon by Benjamin Bentley who set up a claim of 400 acres on the east side of the river. He and his wife, and family of six, built a log cabin along the river. Then in 1796, other settlers, including William Bud, whose son, William Jr., later became the first Justice of the Peace of Sharon, and Charles and Frances Reno, moved to this territory.
Charles Reno, a squatter with a large family, actually settled on the very spot where the campus is now located. According to historians, after our nation’s war with Britain, the new government granted plots of land to soldiers who had fought on the front lines. While there’s still a great deal of speculation, Reno is believed to have fought in the War for Independence—however, there has never been any formal document found to support this claim. Years later, Benjamin Reno, Charles’ son, along with the founding members of the community, named the street in honor of his father, hence Reno Street. Until recent development in the campus, Reno Street ran straight through the campus. The area is now occupied by a beautiful pedestrian walkway and garden on one side of Shenango Street and by the Lartz Commons area on the other side of Shenango.
Throughout the early 1800s, the town grew slowly until the mid 1800s, when McDowell National Bank was established; the canal, which provided inexpensive transportation was built; and the first railroad, which allowed the coal and iron business to develop was completed. With these developments, Sharon began to grow rapidly and several other smaller towns throughout the region were established. Sharon was officially incorporated as a borough in 1841.
Looking Back 40 Years Ago
In 1963, the idea of a University in the Shenango Valley was discussed by a group of local citizens organized to form “The Shenango Valley Citizens College Procurement Committee.” This group of local individuals realized that an affordable college, close to home, was needed for the students of our area to continue their higher education.
In 1964, the Penn State Board of Trustees met with the College Area Procurement Committee, which researched areas of interest for young people to begin their first two years of college while living at home, and concluded that Sharon would be an ideal place for an institution of higher learning.
The State Board of Education endorsed the proposal, and the first students were enrolled at the Penn State Shenango Valley Campus in September 1965. These 93 students would begin their education at Kennedy Christian High School which agreed to allow Penn State to occupy the east wing of the school for the first two years of operation.
During this time, the community held many fund-raisers and managed to acquire $200,000, part of which was spent on buying land and existing buildings from the Sharon School District. The remaining monies were spent on matching funds to attract federal and state grants, which helped to finance and remodel construction problems.
The oldest building now occupied by the campus, Lecture Hall, was constructed 100 years ago in 1903. It was originally built as the city’s Central School, combining many of the community’s one-room schoolhouses. In 1913, this structure was one of many buildings and houses that would barely escape the worst disaster in the town’s history—the flood of 1913. This unexpected flood left the city of Sharon devastated by damage and ruin. During the week of March 24, 1903, many of the townspeople felt that the entire town of Sharon would be lost. Reports of deaths were coming in every hour; however, by week’s end, amazingly, only one woman actually lost her life to the flood thanks to the many heroes of the town.
The second building purchased from the city of Sharon by the University, Sharon Hall, was built in 1928. This building, a spacious brick edifice with neo-classical trim, will long be remembered by older campus students as “the old junior high school.”
In the fall of 1967, 250 students were enrolled at the Shenango Valley Campus of Penn State. At that time, the Sharon School District was still using the Lecture and Sharon Hall buildings until the new Sharon High School could be completed; therefore, during the summer of 1967, the campus, moved from Kennedy Christian High School into the old, vacated Sharon High School building on South Water Avenue. Also in 1967, ground was broken at the campus’ present location for a new science facility and, in the fall of 1968, the facility was completed and the college began to hold some of its biology and chemistry courses there. It wasn’t until 1970, however, that the administrative offices, the library, and all other classes moved from the South Water Avenue building into the renovated Sharon and Lecture Halls.
Then in 1972, the Forker Laboratory, adjacent to the existing science building, was constructed and dedicated to Henry P. Forker III, former head of the campus’ first advisory board and a member of the Shenango Valley Citizens College Procurement Committee. This building houses the Forum, the largest student classroom on the campus.
Over the last thirty years, Penn State Shenango has seen significant growth and many changes to the campus. Now located on 14.5 acres in downtown Sharon, Penn State Shenango—“Valley” was dropped in the late ‘80s to recognize areas outside of the immediate area—the only urban campus in the University system has seven buildings, including the Chadderton Laboratory, a robotics lab; McDowell Hall, which houses a street-level bookstore and learning center; and the Lartz Memorial Library, which once served as the local American Laundry and then as Sharon Steel Union’s hall. The library building, which was purchased and renovated through a generous donation by Shenango campus’ friend and benefactor, Mrs. Vera Lartz, is the signature building on the campus.
The campus has seven associate degrees; five baccalaureate degrees, including its most recent acquisition, administration of justice; and several professional development certificate and non-certificate programs.
As those who came before us and strove to make a better life for the people of this region, Penn State Shenango continues that tradition by committing its resources and knowledge to the people of this community.