Brief History of Brownsville, Pa.
[Picture of Old Brownsville not available from original source] The Flatiron Building (far right) can be seen in this historic photo of Downtown Brownsville, Pennsylvania.
Brownsville played an important role in the settlement of America's first frontier and in the industrial development of western Pennsylvania. The site where Brownsville now stands, home to Native Americans, was known as 'Redstone Old Fort'. A road connecting Maryland to the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains followed Nemacolin Trail (blazed by the Indian Chief Nemacolin); was the first road paid for by the Government; and was known as the 'National road' or 'National Pike'. The road was later improved and used for pioneer and military use by the British.
Photo by Dan Visnauskas Brownsville situated, at the western most point of Fayette County, on the National Road and overlooking the Monongahela River was the gateway to the west. Thomas Brown, realizing that pioneers would be drawn to the Brownsville area to get to the Ohio Valley and the state of Kentucky, purchased land in the 1700's and by mid 1700's a town was being mapped out. It was then, that the town of Brownsville (named for Thomas Brown and formerly known as Redstone Old Fort) became a "keel-boat" building center as well as other businesses for travelers. The businessmen from Brownsville supplied transportation and supplies to the traveling pioneers, and the town became very prosperous. The steamboat industry soon took over to facilitate traffic along the Monongahela River. The very first steamboat, the Enterprise, to travel to New Orleans and return by its own power was designed and built in the Brownsville boatyards and launched from the Brownsville Wharf in 1814. Project to renovate wharf in progress. Plans to establish a Steamboat Museum in progress.
Photo by Dan Visnauskas The town began to decline in the mid 1800's due to the completion of a railroad designed to connect Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Brownsville's transportation system wasn't able to surpass the fast track of the railway. The steel industry soon appeared and shortly after that in the twentieth century, Brownsville's rich coal veins provided the necessary product for making steel and became an important railroad and commercial center. This boom lasted until the mid 1900's when many changes in industry affected the atmosphere of this twice prosperous town and many other communities in this Monongahela Valley.
Photo by Dan Visnauskas The many attempts to revitalize Brownsville by residents and organizations laid the foundation that made it easy for this community to join the efforts of MON VALLEY INITIATIVE, a coalition of 17 communities striving to revitalize the Monongahela Valley. The method used in each community is unique and varied. There are successes and failures, but the common bond is 'we are TRYING!' Brownsville's main asset is its history and location. There is a rich story to be told about the role this area played in the 'Making of America'. The Heritage Park Program sponsored by the state of PA promotes tourism and development of sites relating to its heritage. Brownsville is located within two heritage areas, the National Road Heritage area and the Steel Industry Heritage area. This Heritage Park Program and other funding sources recently made possible the adaptive reuse of a historic structure, the Flatiron Building, to create economic development and bring life back to this once prosperous community. This is one way to add to the upcoming industry of tourism for this area. Brownsville has many historic sites that allow a visitor to step back in time and enjoy the days of the past. Some of the sites include:
Nemacolin Castle, a 22 room house museum, 1789-1852, on the National Register.
Two significant bridges on the National Register: Dunlap Creek Bridge, the
first Cast Iron Bridge in America 1839, and the intercounty (crosses the
Monongahela River) steel truss bridge, 1914.
Brownville Wharf. Site where the Enterprise, the first steamboat to travel
to New Orleans and returned was designed, built, and launched from this
site in 1814. Henry Shreve, captain relocated in LA; Shreveport was named for him.
Many historic churches from 1845 to early 1900's with interesting
cemeteries, unique architecture, tiffany windows and many other features.
1845 Historic Church of St. Peter, on National Register.
Railroad arches and remains of few railroad buildings.
Vacant buildings displaying architecture from the early eras.
Tree line streets with historical significant houses.
Two istorical Districts, Northside and Downtown "neck" district Panoramic view
of the Monongahela River that flows north to Pittsburgh and joins Allegheny
River to form the Ohio River and flows into the Mississippi River.
Historic Thompson House/Wayside Manor, 1906, on National Register,
adaptive reuse of historic structure into restaurant, tavern and upscale shops.
Walking, Driving Tour booklet available at Flatiron Building Gift Shop.