~ History ~
Brownsville is a borough located at the westernmost point of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, situated on the east (convex) side of a broad sweeping westward bend in the northerly flowing Monongahela River.
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Birds Eye View of Brownsville Postcard: Photographer unknown
Because of the mysterious mounds, believed to be a historic fortifications by colonial settlers, Brownsville began as Redstone Old Fort and later in the 1760s-70s, eventually became known as Redstone Fort or by the mid-1760s, Fort Burd—named eponymously after the officer commanding the forts establishment in 1759.
The fort was constructed on the bluff above the river on what may have been a fortification or burial ground of native peoples during the French and Indian War and which stockade was later occupied and garrisoned by a force from the Colony of Virginia during the 1774 Indian war against the Mingo and Shawnee peoples, known as Lord DUNMORE's War.
It was situated commanding the important strategic River ford of Nemacolin's Trail, the western part to the summit—which when improved, later became known as "Burd's Road"—an alternative route down to the Monongahela River valley from Braddock's Road, which George WASHINGTON helped to build.
A forward thinking entrepreneur, Thomas BROWN, a colonial era husbandman, businessman, and land speculator, who, along with his brother Basil, acquired the bulk of the (Brownsville) lands in what became Fayette County around the end of the American Revolution from non-other than the somewhat infamous Thomas CRESAP, of Cresap's War/Dunmore's War fame.
He realized the opening of the Cumberland Gap and the wars end, made the land at the western tip of Fayette County a natural springboard to points west such as Ohio, Tennessee, and the in-fashion destination of the day, Kentucky—all reachable via the Ohio River and its tributary, the Monongahela River flowing past his lands.
The sparse primitive settlement at the time—around the fort—eventually became known as Brownsville, after its landowner, Thomas BROWN.
By the 1780s, Jacob BOWMAN bought the land on which Nemacolin Castle was constructed, beginning his trading post and a business expansion of settler services providers—as foreseen by Thomas BROWN. Since Brownsville had been a frequent point of embarkation for travelers heading west, via the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, it became a natural center for the construction of many flat bottom keel-boats. Floating on a keel-boat, even against hundreds of miles of river current, was usually safer, easier and far faster than overland travel.
The major attraction of these early settlers to Brownsville was twofold. Brownsville was positioned at the western end of the primitive road network (Braddock's Road to Burd's Road via the Cumberland pass) that eventually became known as the National Pike, today U.S. Route 40. The other was the Redstone Creek and its terraced banks gave easy access to the wide and deep Monongahela River where a vast flat bottomed boat building industry was well established—later evolved into the largest steamboat building industry—during the 19th century.
This access to the river provide a "jumping off" point for settlers headed into the western frontier. The Monongahela river converges with the Ohio River at Pittsburgh and allowed for quick access for settlers traveling to the western frontier.
Brownsville borough was an industrial center, transportation hub, outfitting center and river boat building powerhouse, acting as a gateway city for emigrants heading west to Ohio. The industrious and bustling town of Brownsville, early on, easily eclipsed both by size and dynamism the nearby city of Pittsburgh well into the 1850s. However, the railways through to Kanesville, Iowa in the midwest, left Pittsburgh with the better transportation system and made Kanesville the newest and best gateway city to the far west. Brownsville's flat boats couldn't cross Nebraska, Wyoming and the Continental divide either, but by 1869, trains could.
Even while emigrant outfitting began to decline steadily from 1853's, completion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Ohio and the steel industry building and adding capacity, giving the Brownsville borough a new growth spurt as a Railroad Yard and Coking center.
The first Jews to settle in Brownsville were H. and M. LEVY, Joseph and Frank GOLDSTEIN, A. LEWIS and later, William LEVY.
A number of houses built along Front and Brashear streets, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, were purchased by Jewish merchants and professionals. They were part of a relatively small, but influential Jewish community, which operated almost half of the businesses in Brownsville.
Prominent were the department store owner, R. S. GOLDSTEIN who erected the two-story, brick dwelling at 638 Brashear Street in 1918. Residing in the 600 block of Front Street were Maurice GROSSMAN (department store proprietor), Maurice LEVINE (hardware merchant), Max LAPONSKY (a lawyer) and David FRANK. Also on Front street was auto dealer, Max GOLDMAN.
In 1940, 8,015 people lived in Brownsville, and it experienced a postwar growth spurt which allowed it to develop cross-county-line suburbs like Malden, Low Hill and Denbo Heights which were mainly bedroom communities within commuting distance, but a bit flatter too being farther out of the foothills.
After the boom-bust-boom of the fifties and sixties, Brownsville went into a third and more severe decline again in the mid-1970s, along with much of the Rust Belt of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Brownsville still has a handful of buildings condemned or just boarded up. Some of the abandoned buildings are Union Station, several banks and other random businesses. The sidewalks around the town are still intact and very usable.
Popular tourist attractions in and around Brownsville include Dunlap's Creek Bridge (built in 1839), carrying old U.S. Route 40 over Dunlap's Creek in Brownsville and is the nation's oldest cast iron bridge in existence. (Capt. Richard DELAFIELD, engineer; John SNOWDEN and John HERBERTSON, foundrymen)
The bridge has an engineering significance like that of the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and Hoover Dam. The Flatiron Building (built c. 1830), was constructed as a business building in thriving 19th-century Brownsville, and is one of the oldest and most intact iron commercial structures west of the Allegheny Mountains. Over its history, it has housed private commercial entities as well as public, such as a post office. It is the unofficial "prototype" for the flatiron buildings seen across the United States, the most notable, the Fuller Building in Market Square in New York City.
Brownsville is the location of other properties on the National Register of Historic Places, such as Bowman's castle (Nemacolin castle), the Philander Knox House and the Brashear House.
Brownsville has a more recent claim to fame according to Mike Evans, author of Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul, where he relates that the hit song, "What'd I Say," was first concocted as part of an after-show jam in the borough in December, 1958.
At one time, "The Neck" (Market street) was the lifeblood of Brownsville and the National Road, US Route 40—next to the Monongahela river—between the Lane Bane and Intercounty bridges. Most of the commercial and retail businesses were located on Market street, but with the fall of the steel industry, "The Neck" and Market street have become a skeleton of the past, a modern day ghost town. Brownsville has, for several years, making efforts to clean up abandoned properties in hopes of revitalizing the town.
The Monongahela River, sometimes called "the Mon," riverfront at Brownsville has boat docks and a fishing area.
Brownsville is where flatboats and keelboats were built from 1780 to 1820 and from 1825 to 1903, over 700 steamboats were designed, built and launched here.
The Brownsville boat dock is the site where the paddle-wheeler "Enterprise," was the first steamboat to travel to New Orleans and return, in 1814.
Henry SHREVE, it's captain, relocated from Brownsville to Louisiana and Shreveport was named for him.
Today, Brownsville is a still a small town with about 2,804 inhabitants (2000) and is currently trying to revitalize itself. No Jews live within the city limits of Brownsville today. (2011)
(Click the images below to view a larger image.)
Notable citizens (listed alphabetically):
James G. BLAINE, (b. W. Brownsville, 31 January 1830) was a U.S. Representative, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine, two-time Secretary of State. He was nominated for president in 1884, but lost a close race to Democrat, Grover Cleveland. Blaine graduated at Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in nearby Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1847, where he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Theta chapter). Subsequently, Blaine taught at the Western Military Institute in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, and from 1852 to 1854, he taught at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind in Philadelphia. Blaine was elected as a Republican to the 38th United States Congress and to the six succeeding U.S. Congresses and served from March 4, 1863, to July 10, 1876, when he resigned. He was Speaker of the House for three terms, during the 41st to 43rd United States Congresses. He served as chairman of the Rules Committee during the 43rd to 45th United States Congresses, followed by over four years in the Senate.
Dr. John Alfred BRASHEAR, (b. Brownsville, 24 November 1840) apprenticed himself to a machinist and at age 20, he mastered the trade. In 1861, he moved to Pittsburgh and worked as a wheelwright for the next 20 years, and also expanding his knowledge of astronomy and furthering his education. He lacked the means to buy a telescope, so he set to work to construct one—completed in 1874—after more than 10 years, further devoting his time to experiments and the manufacture of astronomical and scientific instruments.
From 1898-1900, he was director of Allegheny observatory and for several years, acting Chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburgh. The crater Brashear on the Moon, the crater Brashear on Mars, and Asteroid 5502 Brashear are all named after him. In 1915, Governor BRUMBAUGH named him "the most eminent citizen of Pa."
Vincent COLAIUTA, (b. Brownsville, 5 February 1956), a drummer based in Los Angeles, began playing drums as a child at the age of 14. He is notable for his technical skill and his musical versatility, having played with many artists from a wide variety of genres. After attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year, Colaiuta had his first big break as a member of the Christopher Morris Band in 1976-1977. Playing and recording with the Christopher Morris Band (MCA 2282) in 1977, Colaiuta relocated with the band to Los Angeles. After leaving the Christopher Morris Band, he made a mediocre living playing with lounge bands. His next break came in April 1978 at the age of 22, when Colaiuta auditioned for Frank Zappa, an audition that involved performing the notoriously difficult piece entitled "The Black Page". The audition was successful and Colaiuta went on to work with Zappa as his principal drummer for studio and live performances. He played on the successful Zappa albums Tinsel Town Rebellion, Joe's Garage, and Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar. Joe's Garage was named one of the top-25 drumming performances of all time in a 1993 Modern Drummer article.
Richard Gary COLBERT, (b. Brownsville, 12 February 1915), nicknamed "Mr. International Navy" as one of the very few senior admirals in the U.S. Navy identified with international naval cooperation during the Cold War.
Commissioned an Ensign, he served aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown; In 1939, he was assigned to the destroyer Barker, Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Barker operated in Southeast Asian and Australian waters, then in May 1942, escorted convoys. In 1944, he assumed command of the destroyer Meade, operating with the Pacific Fleet. After the war, Meade was in the Tonkin Gulf combating Chinese pirates. Promoted to commander, he spent the next two and a half years in the Bureau of Naval Personnel and as a social aide in the White House. In June 1948, was sent to London as aide to Admiral Richard L. Conolly, (CINCNELM). In December 1950, he accompanied Adm. Conolly to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Next, assigned to Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OP-35), where he helped establish naval commands in the newly created NATO alliance. From 1953 to 1955, Colbert was executive officer of the heavy cruiser Albany. Promoted to Captain in 1955, he attended the Naval War College. In the spring of 1956, was assigned to organize and direct a new course at the Naval War College. In 1959, was assigned to the Long Range Plans and Basic War Plans Branch of the Joint Staff. In 1960, he became commanding officer of the Sixth Fleet's general stores ship Altair. In October 1961, was assigned as Captain of the guided missile cruiser Boston. Next was assigned to the Policy Planning Council (PPC) of the Department of State. In May 1964, he was selected for Rear Admiral and assigned as Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla 6 in 1965. In 1966, was deputy chief of staff and assistant chief of staff for policy, plans and operations and received the Legion of Merit. In July 1968, he selected as President of the Naval War College and promoted to Vice Admiral. In June 1971, He was promoted to full Admiral (four star) and appointed Commander in Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH) in 1972.
Alfred HUNT, (b. Brownsville, 5 April 1817), was the first president of Bethlehem Iron Company, precursor of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. He was elected president on July 15, 1860 by the board of directors of the fledgling Bethlehem Iron Company. He remained president until his death. Alfred Hunt was born of Quaker parentage, at Brownsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, the eldest child of Caleb Hunt (1786-1834) and his wife Rhoda Matthews (1789-1829), widow of Joseph L. Bartlett (1781-1810). Alfred Hunt is a grandson of Joshua and Esther Hunt, who had removed with their young family from Moorestown Township, New Jersey and settled near Brownsville in 1790. Shortly after his father's death, Hunt and his six youngest siblings were brought by family members to Moorestown. Here they lived with Elisha Hunt, their father's brother, and his wife Mary Hussey Hunt on their 82-acre (330,000 m2) farm. His career in the iron and steel industry began in 1849 when the firm of Rowland and Hunt was formed for the purpose of operating The Cheltenham Rolling Mill, Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania. Hunt and John C. Fremont formed a business relationship in 1850 to mine gold from Fremont's property in California.
Jacob SWEITZER, (b. Brownsville, 4 July 1821), was a Pennsylvania lawyer and soldier who commanded a regiment and then a brigade in the Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. He and his men were significantly engaged at the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, where they reinforced and helped temporarily stabilize the Union defensive line on the second day of fighting. His brother, Nelson Bowman Sweitzer, who became a career army officer, was born in Brownsville seven years later. Sweitzer studied at Jefferson College, graduating in 1843. He later studied law, passed the bar exam, and established a legal practice. Sweitzer was named major of the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry on July 4, 1861. He became lieutenant colonel on November 17 of that year and colonel on June 27, 1862. Sweitzer served in the Seven Days Battles, being wounded and captured at the Battle of Gaines Mill. After being exchanged on August 15, 1862, he led his regiment in the First Division, V Corps at the Second Battle of Bull Run and at Antietam in the brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin. When Griffin became commander of the First Division, Sweitzer was temporarily his successor in brigade command, including at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Subsequently, Sweitzer returned to his regimental role. He resumed command of the brigade at the Battle of Chancellorsville, succeeding Col. James McQuade. (McQuade was senior to Sweitzer, but he had missed Fredericksburg.)
Amos TOWNSEND, (b. Brownsville, 1821), attended the common schools of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and clerked in a store in Pittsburgh. He moved to Mansfield, Ohio, in 1839 and engaged in mercantile pursuits.
He served as United States marshal during the Kansas troubles, afterwards he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1858 and engaged in the wholesale grocery business. He served as member of the Cleveland City Council 1866-1876, serving as president for seven years. He served as member of the State constitutional convention in 1873. Townsend was elected as a Republican to the Forty-fifth, Forty-sixth, and Forty-seventh Congresses (March 4, 1877-March 3, 1883). He served as chairman of the Committee on Railways and Canals (Forty-seventh Congress). He declined renomination. He served as member of a wholesale food packing firm. He died while on a visit to St. Augustine, Florida, March 17, 1895.