The borough of Clarion was laid out in 1839 by John Sloan Jr. with lots among the pine trees one mile southeast of the Clarion River's banks. James Campbell, who arrived in 1840, said it looked more like a camp meeting than a town, according to a pamphlet in the Clarion Free Library; although by 1841, a voluntary census revealed a population of 714. The commercial district stretched along the Bellefonte Meadville Turnpike. Ground was broken for the courthouse, jail, and Clarion Academy in 1840. All three buildings were demolished and replaced during the late nineteenth century. Clarion Academy became a public school. The iron and oil industries left their legacy in the housing stock of the late nineteenth century. Jacob Black's handsome Italianate house at 721 Liberty Street has interesting Gothic Revival trim, and at 715 Liberty Street a frame Stick Style house has excellent integrity. A Queen Anne house at 342 Wood Street has a distinctive corner wall dormer.
In 1876, Clarion was the terminus for a short-lived narrow-gauge railroad, the Emlenton, Shippenville and Clarion (ES&C), built to bring lumber, produce, and oil products to the Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVRR) along the river. By 1881, the ES&C was dismantled. Later on, the Lake Erie, Franklin and Clarion line served the borough.
The Owens-Brockway Glass Container Company (c. 1907; 151 Grand Avenue), before a series of mergers, was the Illinois Glass Plant, which made milk bottles. Lumbering and the manufacture of wood products continue in Clarion at a reduced rate of productivity.
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