Named for wealthy Quaker packet merchant Jacob Ridgway of Philadelphia, the borough nestles into a bend of the Clarion River where Elk Creek intersects it. Ridgway and his nephew-in-law and land agent James L. Gillis rode the hilly countryside scouting a place for the town. Jacob Ridgway is credited with laying out the town in 1833, which had a tannery, sawmill, and gristmill. He employed the grid pattern familiar from Philadelphia as his city plan, but the river, railroads, Elk Creek, and later the intersection of U.S. 219, PA 948, and PA 120 have conspired over the years to carve the grid pattern into small sections. Ridgway became a center for the lumber and tanning industry and in 1844, the county seat. It was incorporated as a borough in 1880.
Joseph Smith Hyde, who arrived in Ridgway in 1837 and opened a sawmill on Elk Creek in 1846, began a partnership with Walter P. Murphy, the owner of a nearby planing mill, in 1884. The Hyde-Murphy Company built everything for their nationwide clientele, from windows to entire houses. Their in-house architect from 1894 until his death was Henry C. Park (1849–1920). The company closed in 1961. It would stand to reason that a town processing millions of board feet of lumber every year would be built of wood, but Ridgway's major buildings are uniformly made of brick or stone. The former Elk County National Bank, now Krupski Antique Gallery (1889–1907; 255 N. Main Street), is one example and acts as the introduction to Ridgway's commercial district from the south. The YMCA (1904 Hyde-Murphy Company; 34 N. Broad Street) is representative of the commercial district along Broad Street. Since 1998, a historic facade grant program funded by the Ridgway Heritage Council, the borough, and local foundations has facilitated appropriate restorations of several commercial facades.
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