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Beaver County museums, historical sites worth a day trip

| Monday, April 19, 2010

Old Economy Village in Ambridge recently re-opened after being closed for a few months because of a lack of funding. Long a center of tourism in Beaver County, the 19th-century venue founded by George Rapp provides a time capsule of the Harmonist Society and their simple way of life. But there's so much else, especially in terms of history, to see in the county that is a short drive northwest of Pittsburgh.

10 a.m.

Start in Darlington, in the northwest corner of Beaver County. Greersburg Academy is not only the oldest building in Beaver County, but also the oldest advanced-education institution north of the Ohio River and the oldest building that once was a train station in the United States. Founded in 1802 by the Rev. Thomas Hughes, the academy taught many students, including abolitionist John Brown and William McGuffey, who created the McGuffey Reader. Among the exhibits are items related to the Underground Railroad in Beaver County; glassware, pottery and china manufactured in the region; and artifacts from Native American tribes and Fort McIntosh in Beaver.

Greersburg Academy, 710 Market St., Darlington. Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sundays (May 30 through September). Details: 724-843-4361.

11:30 a.m.

In the center of the county lies a gem. Director Cynthia Kundar jokes that the Merrick Art Gallery in New Brighton is one of the best-kept secrets in the Pittsburgh area.

"We keep trying to change that," Kundar says.

With good reason. Founded by New Brighton industrialist Edward Dempster Merrick more than 100 years ago, the gallery is home to an impressive collection of paintings, notably by artists from the Hudson River School including Asher B. Durand, John Frederick Kensett, John William Casilear and William Trost Richards. There also are paintings by Europeans Gustave Courbet and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, and American artists Thomas Sully and Charles Courtney Curran.

The gallery features an outdoor garden, the Victorian Lawn, and two indoor spaces, the Orientation Room and the Edwardian Room, available for weddings and other social gatherings.

Merrick Art Gallery, 1100 Fifth Ave., New Brighton. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Details: 724-846-1130, or online .

1 p.m.

Next, take a short drive down Route 65 to the William Vicary Mansion in Freedom. Headquarters of the Beaver County Historical Research & Landmarks Foundation, the landmark was completed in 1829 by Capt. William Vicary, a retired merchant seaman from Philadelphia, after three years of construction. There are many items from the period, including furniture and archives. The stone hearth the Vicary family used for cooking is viewable from a glass pane in the floor, and there are gardens around the home's perimeter. Annual events include celebrations of Military Historical Weekend, Vicary Day at the Mansion, Applebutter Fest and Christmas at the Mansion.

The William Vicary Mansion, 1235 Third Ave., Freedom. Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Details: 724-775-1848, or online .

2 p.m.

It's time to relax a bit and grab a bite to eat at the county seat in Beaver. The main business district, on Third Street, features a range of shops and eateries. Notable are Kretchmar's Bakery for cookies, cakes and other treats, and Cafe Kolache for coffee and tea. But arguably the hottest spot on Third Street is Yama Japanese Restaurant, which is being billed as the first authentic Japanese restaurant in Beaver County. The sushi and tempura offerings are sublime, and there are teriyaki offerings for less-adventurous diners. Add prompt, attentive service, and Yama has the makings of a destination restaurant.

Kretchmar's Bakery, 664 Third St., Beaver. Hours: 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Details: 724-774-2324, or online

Cafe Kolache, 402 Third St., Beaver. Hours: 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays. Details: 724-775-8102, or online

Yama Japanese Restaurant, 538 Third St., Beaver. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: 724-774-5998, or online .

3:15 p.m.

After dining, time to take a stroll. Head to River Road to the site of Fort McIntosh, which sits on a bluff looking out to the Ohio River. There are plaques commemorating the fort, which was built in 1778 during the Revolutionary War by Gen. Lachlan McIntosh, commander of the Western Department of the Continental Army. Details: Online .

4:15 p.m.

Time for one last stop, in Monaca at the Community College of Beaver County's Golden Dome. Just inside the entrance are plaques that ring the wall of the gym, serving as the home of the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame. Visitors will find tributes to Beaver County's most-esteemed sportsmen, including basketball legends Norm Van Lier, Denny Wuycik and Sean Miller, football greats Joe Namath, Babe Parilli and Sean Gilbert, and the father-and-son baseball stars Tito and Terry Francona.

Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame, Community College of Beaver County Golden Dome, 1 Campus Drive, Monaca. The exhibits are open during regular college hours. Details: 724-869-9684, or online .

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