Before 1849, the year Lawrence County was created, the boundaries of Beaver and Mercer counties cut through the center of the city of New Castle. Perhaps to commemorate a tenacious fight by residents to end this confusing situation, it was named for Captain James Lawrence of the U.S. Navy, who, during a naval battle against the British in the waters near Boston in 1813, commanded, “Don't give up the ship!”
Rolling hills in the south give way to a glaciated plain north of New Castle. The region was the territory of the Delaware and Seneca tribes, who called it Kuskuskie, and who established a network of trails originating in present-day New Castle. With the final Pennsylvania land purchase in 1784–1785 and the Native American defeat at Fallen Timbers in 1794, the area attracted European “improvers” or squatters, but they built little of permanence because of land title disputes and the distance from major markets. After the War of 1812, these inhabitants migrated farther west, and Lawrence County was settled mostly by people from southern and southeastern Pennsylvania and from New Jersey. Today, farms predominate throughout the county.
In 1833, the Beaver and Erie Canal cut through the county from south to north using the Beaver and Shenango rivers. Five years later, the Pennsylvania and Ohio cross-cut canal connected Lawrence County with Youngstown and Akron to the west, using the north shore of the Mahoning River. For nearly forty years the canals were the major shipping conduits in Lawrence County and affected the area's architecture, especially near Harbor Bridge on the Shenango River, which was known as “Western Reserve Harbor.” Lawrence County's close links with Ohio's Western Reserve lands, which were settled by former Connecticut residents, explain the New England influence on architecture and town plans, such as the county's preference for frame Greek Revival structures surrounding small green central squares. Housing stock in the county also includes several polygonal houses, a popular form in the mid-nineteenth century ( LA17and LA18).
The arrival of the railroads and, in the twentieth century, the large industrial complexes, which employed immigrants to make tin plate and china, intensified European influence in Lawrence County. Company towns such as Ellwood City and the workers' housing in southern New Castle are vestiges of this, as is St. Vitus Roman Catholic Church ( LA15), built in 1963 for a congregation of Italian immigrants. Today, two national highways cut across Lawrence County's southwest and northeast corners. By the end of the twentieth century, the north–south I-79 had spurred the suburbanization of northern Lawrence County from the town of New Wilmington east into Mercer and Butler counties.
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