New Brighton lies along the floodplain of the Beaver River northeast of its confluence with the Ohio. The river drops steeply at this point, creating the waterfall that supplied waterpower to fuel many mills and manufacturing businesses in the early nineteenth century. The steamboat era stimulated boat-building in New Brighton, as did the completion of the Beaver and Lake Erie Canal that ran through New Brighton after 1834. The canal joined the two greatest canal systems of the early nineteenth century, the Erie and the Pennsylvania; however, it was undersized for large cargo and passenger boats. Traces of the canal survive along the river's edge behind 3rd Avenue's buildings in the commercial district. A few red brick houses date from the canal era, including Merrick House (1408 3rd Avenue), which was built in 1847 in the popular five-bay style with a central entrance. Two relatively modest c. 1840 red brick structures (1305 and 1317 3rd Avenue) stand out with handsome fanlights over the entrance doors. The southern section of the canal on the lower Beaver River continued to transport goods until 1872.
In 1851, the canal's northern portion was supplanted by what ultimately became the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad, stimulating a housing boom in New Brighton. A pair of stone churches mark the shift to the railroad era, Christ Episcopal Church (1851; 1217 3rd Avenue) and First Presbyterian Church (1866–1872, J. M. Blackburn; 1199 3rd Avenue) in two different Gothic Revival modes. New Brighton retains a number of fine houses in popular domestic architectural styles from the 1830s to the 1920s. The Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses set back from tree-lined streets are primarily located along 3rd Avenue between 13th and 17th streets and in the 1100 block of Penn Avenue. New Brighton's avenues run north–south and streets run east–west; so, for instance, the Fourth Ward Public School of 1894, now the Belltower Office Center (1011 6th Street), is located at the corner of 6th Street and 10th Avenue.
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