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The town of Bridgewater was formerly a part of Beaver which at that time consisted also of all the land of Bridgewater and Rochester. But by a decree of the Court of Quarter Sessions of April 2,1835, the original town of Bridgewater was incorporated and made that portion of the territory lying beyond the limits of the Borough of Beaver to the Beaver River.
What is now Bridgewater is the result of the consolidation of the towns of Bridgewater and Sharon. It is situated on the west side of the Beaver River, extending from its confluence with the Ohio River, back to the Fallston Borough, and from the Beaver River to the limits of Beaver Borough. The consolidated towns were incorporated in 1868.
The earliest permanent settlements within the limits of the present town were made in the Sharon part, probably as early as 1798 or 1799. The first settlers took up the land constituting the triangle where Brady's Run enters the Beaver River.
On this flat was given the scriptural name of Sharon, indicative of the religious character of the early inhabitants. One of the very early settlers was Major Robert Darragh who came from Ireland in 1798. The first public building was erected by him, and it was a place to entertain strangers, called the "Old Red Front". He also opened a store there. Among the other early settlers who made their home in Sharon for many years was the Honorable John Dickey, Samuel Dunlap, George Hinds and John Boles.
This upper part of the settlement known as Sharon was the scene of a part of Aaron Burr's operation in carrying on his great conspiracy for the establishment of an Empire in the south west of the United States and Mexico. In 1805 and 1806, he had a number of large cargo boats built near Brady's Run for use in his expedition down the Ohio River to New Orleans. Burr visited Sharon once during the progress of the enterprise to inspect the work and give directions for the future. He was later arrested in the remote west and taken in arms for many miles through the country over which he once presided as Vice President to be tried for treason. Although he was acquitted, public opinion had gone against him, and he became a wanderer in foreign lands.
Early in the 1840's, many people in Sharon became interested in silkworm culture. The cocoons were sold mainly to the Harmony Society which was then engaged in the manufacturer of silk. Later, the business was abandoned, and other kinds of business began to center in the lower part of the community.
Among the men of prominence in Bridgewater in the early days was Joseph Hemphill, who also held many County offices. He was one of the largest land owners in the neighborhood, and by him was a large part of the town laid out in 1818. He erected an inn and a store room at the end of the bridge, and for many years did a thriving business there. The land lying west of the Beaver River and running down the Ohio to Stone's Point, was bought by the Harmony Society in 1803, who built a warehouse for storing goods received and shipped by river. It was used for that purpose as late as 1850. There was a landing place for boats, and steam boats coming from Pittsburgh stopped there on their way down the river. A large building, used for a hotel, was built at the Point by Mr. Stone, and was much frequented in the days of steam boating.
At one time, there was at the junction of the Beaver and Ohio Rivers, an island for which on Sept. 20,1831, lots were advertised for sale by Mr. Steven Stone of Stone's Point. It said, "All the island is laid out in small lots which will be sold. The situation of these lots is for building not surpassed in the Western country and will make fine sites for any kind of public business. The terms will be easy and will be made known the day of the sale." This advertisement appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
In 1841, there were600 inhabitants in Bridgewater. Among them were three innkeepers, three physicians, four school teachers, three ministers, two grocers, two butchers, one dentist, besides boat builders, wagon makers, blacksmiths, and many other craftsmen. There were also 3 foundrys, tannery, pottery and grist mill. The Keystone Bakery was opened by Frederick Walters in Beaver in 1859, but in 1885, removed to Bridgewater to the corner of Bridge and Water Streets, was later incorporated and is probably the oldest bakery in Beaver County.
About this time, in 1845, Bridgewater had what was, perhaps, the best drilled Volunteer Military Company in Western Pennsylvania. Two of the commanders, John Steen and Major Joshua Logan, had fought in the War of 1812.
The first school to be built was in Sharon, date unknown. It was situated at the north end of Market Street where Lonchers Bowling Alley now stands, and was of brick with two rooms, one up and one downstairs, and all the children of the community went to this school. This school was discontinued in 1910, and all children then went to the school on lower Market Street. The property on which this school was built was bought by the Borough School District from Thomas and Jane Campbell on March 17, 1857, and the school was opened in 1859. This was a red brick building consisting of four rooms and was used as an elementary school covering eight grades. In 1915, a fine new school of ten rooms was built, also on Market Street, but above the high water mark.
Another institution of learning was the Peirsol Academy which was established in 1875, by the owner and teacher, Professor Scudder H. Piersol, and was attended by many wanting a higher education. Many teachers in the County received their education in this Academy.
In 1841, Joseph B. Shurtleff brought into the town a complete newspaper plant and started a Democratic paper called the "Beaver County Patriot". In 1843, it was sold and was succeeded by the "Western Star", which only continued for a few years.
The first bridge over the Beaver River was built between the years of 1814 and 1816, on or near Wolf Lane. It was a wooden-covered bridge, as was the custom those days. This bridge was blown down in a severe wind storm in the summer of 1821. The next bridge to be built was also a covered bridge and was built at what is now Bridge Street. It was a toll bridge and was opened to traffic in July, 1826. The cost of the bridge was twenty thousand dollars ($20,000). During the flood of 1884, this bridge was also the prey of the elements. The bridge at Fallston was swept away, came down and struck the Bridge Street Bridge and then both swept against the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Railroad Bridge, taking it out; the whole thing crashing into the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Bridge where a number of spans were destroyed. This bridge on Bridge Street was replaced by an iron bridge which was also a toll bridge, where the toll was two cents for a man one way or three cents for a round trip. Women and children went free. In 1904, the citizens of Bridgewater and Rochester persuaded the County to take over the bridge and make it free. This bridge also met its fate in April, 1931, when the wooden floor took fire, and being coated with creosote, made a very hot fire which destroyed the iron work. The present bridge replacing that one was opened to traffic in June, 1933. During the time this bridge was being built, traffic was detoured over the Sharon Bridge in the northern part of the town. The Sharon bridge was built in 1887 as a toll bridge, and was purchased in 1891 by the Beaver Valley Traction Company, who used it as the route for their cars from the upper valley to Beaver. Later they changed their route coming down Delaware Avenue to Rochester, then across the bridge at Bridge Street. But for a number of years, they continued a short line to the north of Bridgewater. The Sharon Bridge lost one of its' spans during the flood of 1913, but it was rebuilt. During the years that the traffic was detoured over it, it suffered greatly, and later was dismantled and taken away.
Early in the 1950's, it became apparent that another bridge would be necessary to carry the increased traffic going north and south on Route 51. So a bridge was built at the lower end of the town with access from Rochester to both Beaver and Bridgewater. It was opened to traffic in 1959. A new roadway was also built changing Route 51 from along the river, back to the hillside below and parallel to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad.
In 1831, a company from Pittsburgh decided to build a canal to Erie by way of the Beaver and Ohio Rivers. That necessitated the building of a number of dams in the Beaver River, one of which was just below the bridge on Bridge Street. The Girard Locks through which the boats passed were on the Rochester side of the dam, and the canal was opened to traffic in 1834. Lower Water Street, now Riverside Drive, was then the terminus of the Beaver Extention of the Erie Canal, and it was quite common to see a long line of canal boats strung from the west end of the bridge up the Beaver loading and unloading freight. There were a number of forwarding and commission houses in the community. Dunlap's Hotel was on the corner of Bridge and Water Streets, and on the opposite side of the street, where the St. Cloud now stands, was the Ankeny Hotel.
As early as 1875, Bridgewater had a Volunteer Fire Department. It was first a bucket brigade and ladders, and after city water was available, it was a hose cart hand-drawn by the members, then hooked to an automobile or a truck. Now it is a fine organization of men, equipped with motorized trucks, station wagon, and amphibious truck called a "Duck". They were first called to fires by the ringing of the Presbyterian Church Bell, but later a bell was purchased and placed on the K. of P. building where the firemen held their meetings, and kept their equipment. Later it was taken to the corner of Market and Fulton Streets where an iron tower was erected for it. Finally, a siren was purchased and placed on the Borough Building, formerly the schoolhouse, where the fire department is now located. The old fire bell is now in the belfry of the Methodist Church.
Bridgewater suffered from many floods, but the most destructive was the one in March, 1936. Many homes had water on their second floors, and the damage to homes and furniture ran into many thousands of dollars.
A very bad hurricane struck the town the evening of June 28, 1924, causing great damage.
The first post-office was opened April 1, 1879. It went by the name of West Bridgewater because there was another town by the name of Bridgewater in the eastern part of the State. The first post-mistress was Miss Emma Moore who served for ten years and was followed by a number of others. The last post-mistress was Miss Jane McKenry who served until the postoffice was discontinued in 1961, and free delivery was made through the Beaver office.
In the early days there were many wells in the town from which the public obtained their water, by operating a windless and bringing the water up in the "Old Oaken Bucket." Some of these wells were in use as late as 1920, although city water had been installed around the first of the century.
At one time, about 1880, there was a glass factory on lower Market Street and a hob-naiI factory near the corner of Fulton and Market Streets. Many people still remember the "Malt House", which was situated on what is now the school ground, and the brewery on the corner of Market and Lion Streets. Something of interest might be the "Market House", which stood on the corner of Market and Fulton Streets, across from the "Park Hotel". Directly in back of it was a broom factory. In Brady's Run there was a brick yard which is still in operation.
The Union Building and Loan Company is still the old standby for those who wish to save money or build a home. It was organized in 1886 by some of the leading citizens of the town and still continues in spite of floods and several depression periods.
"Hursts Opera House" was on the second floor of the building known as the Knights of Pythias building. It was used by traveling Stock Companies, Indian Shows, and home talent plays. In one of the shows, Tom Thumb and his wife, midgets of that generation appeared. The citizens enjoyed much good entertainment there. The earliest church association in the community was the Methodist Church which met in the homes of the members as early as 1812 in Sharon. But the organization was not effected until 1820, after which a small church was built on the hillside, south of Brady's Run. Then in 1839, owing to increased membership, Bridgewater built a church of its' own on Otter Street, and in or about 1845, Sharon Church disbanded and united with the Bridgewater Church. The church on Otter Street was replaced in 1908 by the present church on Market Street.
The Black Baptists had a church here as early as 1845, but later disbanded and united with the Baptists in Rochester.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized as a mission here in 1830, and in June 1886, was incorporated and now own a church on Mulberry Street.
The Presbyterian Church on Bridge Street was organized in January, 1845, with 81 members who had been associated with the church in Beaver. Four elders were released from the Beaver church to help with the new organization. The first place of worship was erected soon after, and was a one-story brick, to which two additions were added later.
Two other churches have later come into the community -- The Church of the Living Christ on Riverside Drive and the Peoples Gospel Tabernacle on Mulberry Street.
In recent years a number of new places of business have been added to the town; namely, a Food Distributing Company, two Motor Sales Companies, a Monument Works, Duquesne Light Company, several Gasoline and Oil Distributing Companies, and "Beaver County Times" Plant.
Since it is less than two centuries since the Indians roamed these hills and paddled their canoes down the Beaver River, we marvel at the distance we have come in civilization, even here in our own community. Instead of canoes we travel the river in beautiful motorized boats, and instead of horses, we travel the streets in fine automobiles, and travel through the air in jet planes with the speed of sound.