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Beaver Falls

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Beaver Falls grew from a tiny riverside community into a large industrial city over the course of the nineteenth century. Founded on the west side of the Beaver River in 1800 by brothers Daniel and William Constable, it was first named for their hometown of Brighton, England. In 1806, the original portion of the town was platted by Isaac Wilson and Company. These are now the diagonal streets named 1st through 5th avenues, which remain distinct from the grid of the town's later development.

The Beaver River drops nearly forty-two feet here, creating an early source of power for mills. The narrowness of the river channel and the width of its floodplain, as well as its proximity to the Ohio River, sparked intense commerce in the lower Beaver River valley. As early as 1808, David Hoopes of Philadelphia built an iron furnace on land settled by squatters. After suing the squatters in court, Hoopes was forced to buy the land and waterpower a second time to secure his deed. The problem of ownership between government-sanctioned warrant holders and unsanctioned pioneer settlers continued into the first half of the nineteenth century in Beaver County, and delayed development. In 1815, a bridge across the Beaver River connected Beaver Falls to New Brighton. Philadelphian James Patterson bought 1,300 acres of the early town and established successful flour and cotton mills in 1829, using the Beaver and Lake Erie Division of the canal, then under construction, to navigate this treacherous length of the river.

The Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad was built on a shelf of land west of the city, later shared with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE), which had substantial support from the Harmony Society in 1876. This allowed Beaver Falls's riverside industries to flourish. Today, 11th Street best illustrates this era, with the former P&LE railway station at its base, several churches, a handsome Italian Villa–style house and carriage house (c. 1870; 404 11th Street), and commercial buildings, such as the Penn Hotel (c. 1900; 235 11th Street) and Anderson Hotel (1894; 3rd Avenue at 11th Street).

Beaver Falls became an industrial city after the Civil War, when the Harmonists ordered a new survey of the area from Henry T. and John Reeves, real estate and land agents, which expanded the older grid. Seventh Avenue (PA 18) formed the spine of the city, which was renamed Beaver Falls and incorporated in 1868. The Harmonists actively recruited industries to build along the city's wide floodplain. Among these were the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company (1868–1886); Penn Bridge Company (1868 in New Brighton, 1878 in Beaver Falls); Economy Savings Institution (1868), which became the Reeves Bank; Emerson, Smith and Company, Ltd. (1871), manufacturers of saws and saw tools for mills; Beaver Falls Steel works (1875), which became Crucible Steel; Hartman Steel Co., Ltd. (1883), absorbed by U.S. Steel in 1901; Beaver Falls Glass Company (1887); and Union Drawn Steel (1889). The town grew rapidly under the communal organization's watchful eye and generous pocketbook.

In 1880, the Harmonists donated ten acres and the community raised $20,000 to entice Geneva College ( BE29) to relocate from Ohio to Beaver Falls and serve as another stimulus to the town's growth. Two adjacent boroughs are closely tied to this development. The first, College Hill, a pleasant, residential area surrounding Geneva College was laid out in the 1880s by civil engineer J. C. Dodds, and incorporated into the city in 1892. Patterson Heights Borough, on a hillside southwest of Beaver Falls, has housing stock ranging from turn-of-the-twentieth-century frame houses to Tudor Revival and quaint brick cottages of the 1930s, especially along 7th Street Extension.

Beaver Falls prospered in the early twentieth century, adding the Carnegie Free Library ( BE26) and several grand bank buildings, including the Farmer's National Bank ( BE23). At six lanes wide and eleven blocks long, 7th Avenue has an architectural vitality despite many underused and vacant storefronts. The Union Drawn Steel Company encouraged the building of the $1.5 million Brodhead Hotel, now apartments, originally called the Union Hotel (1927, Emmet E. Bailey; 1965 remodeled, Michael Baker Jr.; 1985 remodeled, Roger A. Weaver; 712 12th Street). Since the decline of the steel industry, Beaver Falls has lost much of its river-oriented industry, but several industrial complexes remain, including the Mayer China Company building, now Royal Victoria China on 1st Avenue; Republic Steel at the entrance to Beaver Falls from New Brighton; and Moltrup Steel on 1st Avenue between 13th and 14th streets. Moltrup Steel has an office complex a block away from its mill, and the founder's house is only fifteen blocks away at 914 8th Avenue, a juxtaposition rarely seen today.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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