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West Brownsville

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West Brownsville was laid out by Ephraim L. Blaine, whose wife's family, the Gillespies, were the first European owners of the site in 1784. A ferry crossed the Monongahela River here until 1833, when a wooden covered bridge was built to accommodate coaches on the National Road. The present bridge, the second on the site, was built in 1914 reusing the stone piers of the covered bridge. Constructed by the Fort Pitt Bridge Works, its 519-foot span is an unusually long example of the Pennsylvania (Petit) type truss perfected in the 1870s by engineers of the Pennsylvania Railroad; it has an inclined top chord and substruts to resist and transmit stresses.

The village's largest industry was the Pringle Boat-Building Company, which, with its successor firms, built well over five hundred boats between 1844 and 1912. A rail connection to Charleston, West Virginia, by the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad (PVCRR) opened in 1881, and, later, the Pennsylvania Railroad developed an extensive rail yard just below West Brownsville, prompting another growth in the town's population. A stone, four-bay house built for the ferry operator is one-and-one-half-stories on the west elevation that is flush with the old route of the National Road (c. 1825; 4 Main Street), but is two-and-one-half-stories on its east elevation toward the river. Today, this one-time home of the Krepps family, who also ran the Malden Inn ( WS22), is overshadowed by the hulking, brick, derelict Samuel Thompson distillery buildings surrounding it. The board-and-batten Gothic Revival St. John's Episcopal Church, was under construction in 1860, but only completed in the 1870s after the Civil War. Later, it became the mission for Slovak Methodists, and was often called the Coke Mission, after the coal product manufactured nearby; today it is the Apostolic Temple (132 Main Street). The Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (1915; 118 Main Street) brought services to the Carpatho-Rusyns who came to work in the nearby coal mines, summoning them with a quartet of onion domes.

Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, West Brownsville. Onion domes are common in western Pennsylvania, but are usually not as well maintained as those seen here.

Driving south along PA 88 and following the course of the Monongahela River takes one through several other small river towns. At Fredericktown, the only surviving ferryboat service on the Monongahela River transports about 150 cars per day across the water in three to four minutes.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.

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