History & Historical District Information


Williamsburg  was originally know as Aketown, named for Jacob Ake (1754- 1838), a German immigrant who founded the town in 1795.  It was laid out  in a grid pattern with a central public square sometimes called a “diamond" along an oxbow bend in the Juniata River.  In 1810, Jacob Ake gave the town its current name Williamsburg in honor of his son William.  The town's distinctive natural feature is the “Big Spring” - a five million gallon a day natural limestone spring that emerges from a hillside on the south side of town at Union and High Streets.  Big Spring provided water power for local mills and early industries. Williamsburg’s growth was spurred by the opening of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal in 1832. The Canal was operated until 1875, but was overshadowed by the success of the Pennsylvania Railroad which opened in 1852 with a branch rail line to Williamsburg in 1873. The town’s primary industry the Williamsburg Paper Manufacturing Company which began in 1905, which was funded by Charles M. Schwab, the president of the US Steel Company who was born just outside of town.  Schwab continued to support Williamsburg, building a downtown hotel in 1911 at 223 High St. and mill workers housing at the east end of town creating a neighborhood sometimes known as Schwabtown. The paper mill employed many workers in the community until it closure in 1974. The paper mill was demolished in 1980.


Kendra Brubaker researched the origin of the school mascot name the Blue Pirates.  According to local accounts, “Legend has it that when the river was functional as a way to transport goods to Williamsburg, pirates invaded the boats and stole the cargo. As the captains were getting tired of losing their goods, they dumped blue paint onto the pirates. When people saw the men with blue paint, they would shout there goes the blue pirates! “  Local residents also remember when the school teams were called the “Little Giants.” But in the 1940s that name lost out to the colorful name the Blue Pirates in a naming the team contest.

Historical District Information:

The Williamsburg Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 as a significant collection of 19th and early 20th century buildings that reflect the commercial and residential growth of Williamsburg in the period from 1800 to 1944. The buildings of Williamsburg possess the distinctive characteristics of a wide variety of architectural styles and historic vernacular methods of construction that convey a strong sense of the town’s past as a canal and railroad town.  The historic district boundaries include the commercial core of the community and its surrounding residential neighborhoods.  The National Register nomination form includes an inventory of all contributing buildings and accompanying maps and photos and can be found here: 

Williamsburg PA Historical District.

Listing in the National Register of Historic Places recognizes the historic significance of buildings, districts, structures, sites and objects in the United States as places worthy of preservation.  Listing can help build community pride and support heritage tourism. Listed and eligible properties ae identified early in the planning process for federal and state  funded and permitted projects. Listing enables use of the federal and state Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit programs and aids in the application for preservation related grants such as the PHMC Preservation Grant Program.  Listing in the National Register does not restrict what a non-federal owner may do with their property unless involved in a project receiving federal or state funding or permitting.  More information about the National Register of Historic Places can be found here:  https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/what-is-the-national-register.htm