In 1798, Valentine and Margaret Cunningham built the first gristmill along Wolf Creek in the southeast corner of Mercer County. Their son's brick house of 1845, now part of Grove City College ( ME23), remains on E. Main Street. The town, first known as Pine Grove, grew around the several mills that followed, and was incorporated as Grove City Borough in 1883. Located approximately midway between two busy north–south routes, U.S. 19 and PA 8, the town prospered as a commercial crossroads for local farm produce, and for nearby coal and oil resources. In 1872, the Pittsburgh, Shenango and Lake Erie rail line opened to Pine Grove.
There are four major employers: Grove City College; George Junior Republic, a residential treatment facility for delinquent and dependent boys, founded in 1909; Bessemer Gas Engine Company founded in 1898 on the eastern edge of town; and Wendell August Forge, established in 1923, which operates as both a manufacturing and a retail outlet for aluminum gift items. A vibrant, mostly two-story, brick commercial core along Broad Street and two handsome twentieth-century Gothic Revival churches provide an anchor for the adjoining single-family residential area. The churches are Grace United Methodist Church (1907–1909, 1926) and Tower Presbyterian Church (1925) at 210 and 248 S. Broad Street. The downtown includes two limestone Beaux-Arts classical corner banks, Citizen's Bank, formerly Grove City National Bank (c. 1932), and National City Bank (c. 1930) at 165 and 201 S. Broad Street; a U.S. Post Office (1929–1933) by W. Holmes Crosby at E. Pine Street; and the Moderne Shellco-Bashlin Building housing offices (c. 1950) at 119 W. Pine Street.
In 1994, over 140 stores collectively called Prime Outlets–Grove City opened four miles northwest of town at the intersection of PA 208 and I-79. The traditionally styled pyramidal-roofed stores of checkered Dryvit on a brick base draw shoppers from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Erie. Gas stations, restaurants, and four hotels often prompt visitors to remain overnight, bolstering local tourism.
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