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Beaver County

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Beaver County on Pennsylvania's western boundary and northwest of Pittsburgh is part of the large Appalachian Plateau now eroded by creeks and waterways into gently rolling hills. At its heart lies the confluence of the Beaver and the Ohio rivers. The county's most populous townships and boroughs line these rivers, as do its largest cities: Beaver Falls and Aliquippa. Farther from the rivers, Beaver County is almost entirely suburban or rural. A trading path for the Delaware, Shawnee, Seneca, and Mingo once roughly paralleled the north shore of the Ohio River. By the mid-1700s, the rivers attracted European immigrants as well. Entrepreneur George Croghan opened his trading post as early as 1748 at what is now the town of Beaver. Beaver County's land was strategic to the frontier of the eighteenth century. The first federal military establishment north of the Ohio River, Fort McIntosh (1788), is marked by a series of plaques along River Road in what is now the borough of Beaver. The area remained dangerous for European settlement until U.S. troops, under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, won the battle of Fallen Timbers near Toledo, Ohio, in 1794. General Wayne wintered and trained his soldiers in Beaver County at Legionville, now an archaeological site near Ambridge.

Rochester–West Bridgewater Bridge ( BE15.4), 1933. The third bridge north of the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio rivers, its profile resembles a beaver with its head to the left and tail in the foreground, according to local lore. Its heaviest traffic was diverted in 1958 with the completion of the Rochester–Beaver Highway Bridge ( BE15.3) to the south.

The easternmost segment of the county, adjacent to Allegheny County and bordered by the Ohio River, is known as the Ohio Corridor. Two company towns, Ambridge and Aliquippa, face each other across the river, and, although linked by a bridge, they have grown in different ways. Upriver and to the west around the confluence of the Beaver and Ohio rivers are four boroughs, one city, and a wealth of bridges that are important linkages between the various parts of the county. Beaver Falls, the only city (as opposed to borough) in the confluence region, retains its wide main street parallel to Beaver River, but since the decline of the steel industry, has lost much of its river-oriented shipping industry. The county lies atop the northwestern edge of the rich Pittsburgh coal seam and has abundant clay deposits, but little evidence of either industry remains. As transportation improved and mineral resources were depleted in the late nineteenth century, these resources were imported. Beaver County sandstone was used to build the county's numerous stone houses. The small town of Koppel, located along the Beaver River in the northern part of the county, supplied the large blocks of sandstone needed to construct many of the railroad and automobile bridges that cross the rivers. Most vernacular stone buildings were constructed with stone quarried and dressed on their sites or nearby.

Although Beaver and Allegheny counties have similar topography and mineral resources, Beaver has never rivaled Allegheny as a major industrial and banking center. The Beaver River is not as easily navigable as the Allegheny, and much of the Ohio River in Beaver County has steep shorelines and narrow river flats. Moreover, canals built along the Beaver River in the nineteenth century were too shallow to allow major barge traffic to pass. Only Ambridge, Aliquippa, Midland, and Shippingport have land areas that could accommodate large industrial development. Deliberate competition from established businesses in Pittsburgh was a third factor retarding growth in Beaver County; late-nineteenth-century entrepreneurs discouraged development to the west to protect their own interests. Several smaller towns retain buildings from the canal era, notably New Brighton and Bridgewater; and Hookstown, which, while not traversed by the canal, retains several houses from the simultaneous turnpike era.

Railroads made an indelible impact primarily along river banks where the grade changes were least. The little town of Conway has four miles of shoreline completely covered with rail lines and related structures where the Pennsylvania Railroad built one of the world's largest railcar sorting yards. The impact of the automobile on the county has also been dramatic. Major four-lane expressways, PA 60, PA 51, and PA 65, as well as the turnpike (now I-76), make Beaver County easily accessible from the east and south, but the principal roads from Pittsburgh are multiple-access highways with shopping strips and stoplights slowing traffic flow and making commuting difficult. Pittsburgh International Airport, alternatively, which is close to the Beaver County line, has proved a spur to the development of suburbs and industrial parks in Beaver County.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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