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-4.6% since 2010
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Altoona is a historic railroad town and transportation gateway. Its roots are as a company town for the Pennsylvania Railroad, still a major artery today. But after the railroad ceased to be an independent entity, the town’s shops and facilities, which once employed 15,000, went into permanent decline. Its role as a transportation gateway likewise declined when the Pennsylvania Turnpike bypassed the area by 50 miles. A modest amount of light industry has taken the railroad’s place and Interstate 99 now does connect the area with the major east-west Turnpike.
Entertainment amenities include a minor-league baseball team and railroad-heritage sights, such as the Altoona Railroader’s Memorial Museum and Horseshoe Curve, both destinations for train buffs worldwide. The small but enterprising Altoona Symphony Orchestra was rated a “Leading Small Community Symphony” and has received other national accolades. Although far from big-city amenities and services, the area has a low cost of living and low median home prices with a self-sufficient, small-town character. Altoona also serves a gateway to the Allegheny Mountain region.
Altoona is located in a narrow valley along the main Allegheny ridge, which runs west of town from southwest to northeast. A series of lower parallel ridges rise to the east. The mountains are heavily forested with mostly deciduous trees and a few rock outcroppings. The climate is humid continental modified only slightly by nearness to the Atlantic seaboard and the Great Lakes. Due to the mountain alignment warm air flows in from the southwest generating humid summer days with occasional relief from the northwest. Air-mass collisions can produce significant snow in winter. Weather can change rapidly at all times of the year. First freeze is early October, last is early May.
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