Major trails west to Ohio and north to Erie made this area a popular Native American meeting place between 1730 and the late 1780s. It had several names, including Sawcunk, Beaver's Town, and Shingas Old Town. In the 1750s, warriors of the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo tribes gathered here in thirty-eight houses of square logs with stone chimneys built by their allies, the French. The defeat at Bushy Run in 1763 ended Native American habitation in the area.
In 1778, Fort McIntosh, named for General Lachlan McIntosh, was built on the site of present-day Beaver as a base for American attacks against the British forces at Detroit. The fort, believed to have been designed by French volunteer Louis-Antoine-Jean-Baptiste, Chevalier de Cambray-Digny, was particularly busy between 1780 and 1782, when native tribal warriors were constantly attacking. Archaeological studies indicate that the fort was an irregular quadrilateral shape, built of hewn logs and measuring approximately three hundred feet along the southern wall overlooking the Ohio River. Corner bastions were filled with earth and stone. The structure housed barracks, a blockhouse, powder magazine, and several smaller structures. By 1793, little remained of Fort McIntosh. Today, markers delineating the fort's footprint are preserved along River Road in Beaver. In 1783, the government designated 720,000 acres north of the Ohio River as Depreciation Lands. Before awarding these acres as payment to Revolutionary War soldiers, the lands had to be officially purchased from the tribes living on them according to the treaties of Fort Stanwix (1784) and Fort McIntosh (1785). The Treaty of Greenville, signed by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne in 1795, signaled the final defeat of the native tribes.
The borough of Beaver was authorized by legislative act in 1791. Situated strategically on a plateau well above the Ohio and Beaver rivers, it commanded a view in both directions and provided a good layover spot for boats. It was also accessible from the ridge roads in the rest of the county. State surveyor Daniel Leet surveyed the town in 1792, reserving eight lots for public use: four at each corner of the grid and four in the center. The town's high location saved it from the rampant industrialization that occurred along the river edges in the nineteenth century; as a result, the original town plan is still legible. Almost all the lots in the town were sold in a month. Due to its central location and early settlement, Beaver was chosen as the county seat when Beaver County was formed from Washington and Allegheny counties in 1800.
During the canal era of the 1830s and 1840s, lands along the Beaver River were settled as Bridgewater and Rochester. The railroads accelerated the residential growth of the borough after 1851, and the majority of buildings date from 1850 to 1946. An early building is the Greek Revival Stokes House (1835; 1090 7th Street), with an Ionic-columned porch protecting its raised central entrance. More typical are the Italianate Anderson House (c. 1874; 345 Commerce Street), with elaborate cast-iron hood molds and an exquisite fanlight, and a large brick Queen Anne house (c. 1890; 404 Bank Street) with a wraparound porch. There has been little post–World War II development. The borough's main commercial and transportation corridor is 3rd Street. It is unusually wide at six lanes, and is lined with mostly two-story commercial structures. Since 1996, the central section of Beaver has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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