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Leechburg and Vicinity

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Located on a floodplain in a deep gorge, Leechburg is surrounded on three sides by the northwesterly-flowing Kiskiminetas River on its way to the Allegheny River near Freeport. Because of frequent flooding, there was no permanent Native American settlement until a Delaware Indian named White Mattock bought land here in 1793. The area, then called White Plains, became a market center for the surrounding farms. Its transformation began in the 1820s with the decision to build a portion of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal's western division parallel to the river. The town was named for civil engineer David Leech of Sharpsburg, who secured the contract to design and build the lock and dam adjacent to the site. He also built a sawmill, gristmill, and woolen mill using waterpower supplied by the dam. With the advent of canal shipping in 1829, Leech opened a boat yard and ran a packet line in the 1830s and 1840s, supplying salt and coal to Pittsburgh and beyond. His house (c. 1827; 118 1st Street), a two-story brick house with a hipped roof and a pair of entrances on the facade, is the oldest remaining in Leechburg.

When the Pennsylvania Railroad bypassed the Kiskiminetas River valley, canal shipping slowly waned. The establishment of an iron rolling mill upriver at Apollo in 1855 maintained a steady stream of workers into the valley, and when the Western Pennsylvania Railroad company built a rail line along the west bank of the river in 1865, it became a fertile site for iron makers. In 1872, William Rogers Sr. opened a second tin plate mill at Leechburg, using natural gas for the first time in an industrial capacity, and imported hundreds of Welsh and English skilled workers to man the plants at Leechburg and Apollo. But in 1873, one of the nation's worst financial panics closed banks and called in loans. The company declared bankruptcy in 1876, and was purchased by Pittsburgh ironmaster J. C. Kirkpatrick a year later. Leechburg's commercial district is typical of the area's other boroughs, with the exception of the Moderne limestone facade of the First National Bank of Leechburg (c. 1929; 152 Market Street). In the residential area, a handsome brick, late-nineteenth-century Second Empire house at 292 Pershing Street speaks to the pretensions of the tin plate mill era.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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