Charles H. Rowland
Charles Hedding Rowland

December 20, 1860November 24, 1921 (60 years old)
Hometown: Philipsburg, PA
December 20, 1860November 24, 1921
(60 years old) | Philipsburg, PA

Life Story

Charles Hedding Rowland left behind a legacy in Philipsburg that lives on to this day. The Rowland Theatre on Front Street bears the name of the man who brought the magnificent playhouse to life. In 1917, the Rowland Theatre opened its doors to the public for the first time with the silent film Within The Law being the first movie on the large screen. Charles H. Rowland had the 1,000-seat movie playhouse built at the pinnacle of his business-life. He was 56 years old at the time of the theatre’s opening. He had been approached about building a high-class theatre – one that would offer silent films as wel las live shows on its large stage. 

Rowland rarely said no to requests to improve the community he loved. While the theatre is his lasting legacy, he was not known as a theatre man at the time of his death on Nov. 24, 1921. The story of Charles Rowland is every bit as interesting as the movies that have flickered on the Rowland screen for more than 100 years. 

Charles Rowland was born in Hancock, Md., on Dec 20, 1860, to John and Sarah Rowland. The Rowlands returned to their home state of Pennsylvania in 1866, settling in Huntingdon. Eight years later, in 1874, John Rowland moved his family to Houtzdale, one of Clearfield County’s newest boroughs. Houtzdale was incorporated as a borough in 1872, and history of the small community states that the land was underlaid with high quality un-touched veins of bituminous coal. 

Rowland tapped into the growing coal industry. In 1890, Rowland was operating the mines of United Collieries Co., chartered by Samuel Langdon. This would be a stepping stone to the Moshannon Coal Co. In his later years, Charles Rowland was president of the Moshannon Coal Co. 

Rowland’s connection with Samuel Langdon also led to his life-long involvement with railroads, in particular, the "Alley Popper" Railroad. In 1892, Langdon was granted a charter to build the Altoona and Philipsburg Connecting Railroad as a way to get his coal to market. Rowland was one of the principal bondholders of the railroad. The railroad had many reorganizations in its short life and became known by its nickname, The Alley Popper. Rowland never gave up on the railroad and, at the end of his life, was the owner of the railroad. 

Charles Rowland married Rachel Ann “Annie” Cutshall in 1885. They had five children: Lulu in 1887, Howard in 1889, Margaret in 1891, John Edward in 1894 and Charles Hedding Rowland Jr. in 1896.Charles moved his family to Tyrone in 1900 and lived there three years before moving to Philipsburg. He moved the family into the Lloyd property on South Centre Street, and the large home became known as the Rowland mansion. Philipsburg would be his home for the rest of his life. 

In addition to the Moshannon Coal Company and his railroad operations, Rowland’s efforts in the next two decades would leave a lasting mark in the Centre County community. Projects in which he helped played a part in their development include The Centre & Clearfield Railway Co., locally known as the "Trolley", the Moshannon National Bank, the Philipsburg Elks, the Philipsburg City Band and the Philipsburg Hotel Corp., which built The Philips Hotel. 

Two notable events occurred in the life of Rowland in 1914. His Alley Popper railroad made national news in September of that year when Rowland and his associates planned the first staged train wreck for a silent film, using a few engines that had outlived their usefulness. The Lubin Film Company staged the head-on train crash in Chester Hill and it drew a huge crowd. The trains were placed a mile apart and once they got going, the engineers wired the throttles to full and jumped off. Unattached pusher engines were also used to get them going. The crash was used in several films including The Valley of Lost Hope and A Partner to Providence. 

In November 1914, Charles Rowland was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he would serve two terms. On April 2, 1917, Congressman Rowland was in Washington, D.C., listening to President Woodrow Wilson ask for a declaration of war against Germany. On April 6, Rowland cast his Yea vote on the resolution declaring a state of war. That afternoon President Wilson signed the declaration of war, officially entering the United States into the conflict that would become known as World War I. Two months after the historic vote, Rowland was back in Philipsburg opening the doors to the Rowland Theatre on June 4, 1917.

The theatre came near the final act of Rowland’s life. Charles Rowland died on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 1921, at the age of 60, one month shy of his 61st birthday.Today, the Rowland Theatre is owned by the borough of Philipsburg and run by a non-profitboard of directors, charged with keeping the lasting legacy of Charles H. Rowland alive.