PA Great Outdoors: The Origin of Punxsutawney

Punxsutawney-view-scaledThe town of Punxsutawney was originally settled and inhabited by the Lenni-Lanape Indians (“the Original People”) and the town’s name is derived from its traditional name Ponsutenink, meaning “Town of the Ponkis” (Ponki meaning sand fly).

By Mike Troutman

Shawnee wigwam villages once occupied this site on the Mahoning Creek. The first settlement that included non-indigenous people was in 1772, when Reverend John Ettwein, a Moravian Church missionary, arrived with a band of 241 Christianized Delaware Indians.

Swarms of gnats plagued early settlers and their livestock for years and are blamed for Ettwein’s failure to establish a permanent settlement there. The clouds of biting gnats eventually drove the Indians away.

The Indians called the insects ponkies (living dust and ashes) and called their village Ponkis Utenink (land of the ponkies), from which the present name Punxsutawney evolved.

The area was originally settled by the Lenape (Delaware Native Americans), and “Punxsutawney” derives from a Native name in Unami (a Lenape language): Punkwsutènay, which translates to “town of the sandflies ” or “town of the mosquitoes” (punkwës- ‘mosquito’ + -utènay ‘town’).

Punxsutawney-Name-from-Indian-sign-Carla-Wehler

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Keystone Marker lists that Punxsutawney was founded in 1818. By 1840 it was reported that Punxsutawney was a village of about 15 or 20 dwellings.

Settlers drawn by lumbering and coal mining eventually drained the swamps and exterminated the insects.

The Borough of Punxsutawney was incorporated in 1850 and had a reported population of 256 at that time.

In 1907, Punxsutawney and Claysville boroughs were consolidated and incorporated as Greater Punxsutawney.

A high-grade bituminous soft coal was mined in the surrounding region. Shortly after 1850, mining was being supplanted by factories which included brickworks, glassworks, tanneries, foundries, ironworks, machine shops, and wood planing, flour, feed, and silk mills.

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