History lives on in Brownsville
"Pittsburgh will never survive. It's too close to Brownsville," was an old saying when the Brownsville area was in its prime.
In the end, both cities survived, just in different ways.
Although Brownsville, in Fayette County, has seen its share of hard times, there are still sites worth checking out for visitors interested in history.
The north side of Brownsville is split in half by Route 40's four lanes that carry travelers to California in Washington County.
Both sides of the road have attractions. In one direction is historic Front Street, which houses Nemacolin Castle, run by the Brownsville Historical Society. Front Street also is lined with Victorian-era homes.
The other side of the four lanes hides Church Street, nestled just two streets back. Brownsville was once also called "The Town of Churches," and Church Street reveals why.
Until recently, there were five churches in this small stretch, and even though St. Mary's has been torn down, the street is still worth a visit.
Perched on top of the brick road that snakes up and around Church Street is St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church.
The brown stone of its walls and green metal roof hide the church's story. The church originally was thought of as the main church for the area.
A balcony was built to the altar's right side for visiting bishops, and the floor hides a small set of tombs for prominent church figures.
The church once shared heating with the Catholic school across the brick road, where a blacktopped parking lot now stands. The heating ducts ran under the cemetery that surrounds the church.
Christ Episcopal Church, also on Church Street, has a more prominent cemetery, and the people buried there include the town's founder and two of George Washington's cousins.
"The Episcopalian Cemetery blows me away," said Barb Sabo, the circulation coordinator at California University's Manderino Library and a Brownsville resident.
Leaving Church Street and continuing under the expansive Lane-Bane Bridge, people are quickly introduced to downtown Brownsville, also called "The Neck."
"The Neck," which is the narrowest part of the National Road (Route 40), is in the small valley between the steep hills at either end of downtown and is a major portion of Brownsville, dotted with small businesses.
The first place visitors should stop in downtown is the Flatiron building, operated by the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation.
The Flatiron building, besides being a building shaped like a wedge, is also now a heritage museum, thanks to revitalization grant money.
The building isn't as large as many museums, but much information is hidden inside. Brownsville High School yearbooks from throughout the 1900s cover a table, and right next to the entrance is a large map of the area with lights that show events and sites, such as where coke ovens were.
Continuing through downtown, visitors will come to the first Cast Iron Bridge in America and possibly not even notice they are over water.
Part of Brownsville was constructed over a small creek, so the buildings, even to this day, stand on stilts.
Norma Ryan, former Brownsville mayor and project coordinator for Brownsville's Revitalization Initiative for a Great Home Town, told how Brownsville got the bridge.
"The story goes that one day Henry Clay was driving his carriage across the bridge we had at the time, and the carriage went through. Mr. Clay just got up, wiped himself off, and vowed it would never happen again. And shortly after, construction began."
After crossing the bridge, a choice comes fast. Go straight and up the hill to leave Brownsville, or turn right to visit Brownsville's wharf and Fiddle's Confectionery.
The wharf, long before undergoing recent renovations, was the launching station for the steamboat, the Enterprise, built in Brownsville.
The Enterprise was the first ship to sail down the Mississippi River and back up, using only its own power.
The first thing to notice about Fiddle's is that it's perched under the smaller bridge, to the left of the wharf, like a troll waiting to pounce on hungry travelers and feed upon them. The atmosphere inside is one of a small town.
The kitchen is not hidden away in a back room, and regular customers make up much of its clientele. The inside looks much like it did when the restaurant opened. It's vintage Brownsville. Stop in and step into history, the history that's everywhere in Brownsville.
For more information about Brownsville, contact the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation, 69 Market St., (724) 785-9331.
Anthony Carpinelli, 19, of Brownsville is a sophomore majoring in English, with journalism and creative writing concentrations, at California University of Pennsylvania.
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