New Castle was laid out in a grid pattern on fifty acres of flat, open land at the confluence of the Shenango River and Neshannock Creek. It was designed with an open market square, or diamond (actually an oval). Settlers from New Castle, Delaware, led by John Carlyle Stewart, settled here in 1798 and gave the town its name. Unlike other confluence towns in western Pennsylvania, the river's point is not the town's centerpiece; instead, the confluence is now entirely industrial and lost among utilitarian buildings.
The construction of the Beaver and Erie Canal and the Cross-Cut Canal to Youngstown between 1834 and 1872 spurred development of the city. The canal offered both passenger service and shipping, and connected the area to the Western Reserve of Ohio. In 1849, New Castle became the county seat of newly formed Lawrence County, putting an end to the town's division by the Beaver and Mercer county line; it became a city in 1869. Rail service soon followed the path of the canals and placed New Castle in a position for larger industrial developments. By 1894, five different rail lines traversed the city, and the population more than quadrupled between 1890 and 1950, reaching 48,834. The more prosperous residents built Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, and Second Empire houses on the hillside north of the commercial district between 1890 and the 1920s. In the commercial district along Mercer and E. Washington streets, several six- to eight-story bank and office buildings took shape.
New Castle came to specialize in the manufacture of tin plate and china. The Shenango China Company made place settings for the White House and other distinguished patrons. But the closing of the tin plate mills, beginning as early as the 1930s, and the closings of Shenango China, Johnson Bronze, and Rockwell in the early 1990s eroded the industrial base, and the population has returned to its c. 1900 size of 26,300 people.
Cascade Park, the city's largest, began as a trolley park southeast of the city, and at one time boasted amusement rides, boating, dancing, a zoo, and baseball fields. Today, the park has gardens, trails, and picnic pavilions, and the carefully restored Dance Pavilion (1898) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown, new street lights and street furniture help to define the public spaces.
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