The three most important factors in the growth of America were its rivers, its roadways, and finally its railroads. Brownsville, Pennsylvania profited from all three. Its rich and diverse history and the heroic efforts of its contemporary citizens have kept its historic integrity intact and are making Brownsville a model for the rest of the Mon Valley.
The Mound Builders, prehistoric Native Americans, left a number of their mounds along the clifftops overlooking the eastern shore of the Monongahela River. Today these artifacts can barely be seen on Front Street and the grounds of Nemacolin Castle. That is the earliest history we have of the area. Later early white explorers set up a fort in the area. They called the mounds "old forts" and their newly constructed wooden fort, "Redstone Old Fort."
Long before the White Man came to
southwestern Pennsylvania, Native Americans had found and organized
most direct and the easiest routes over the Allegheny Mountains. As early white explorers edged west, they followed these paths, eventually diverting from them, widening them, and grading them. These routes became our first efforts in taming the landscape. One of the most important routes west was from Cumberland, Maryland. It moved over the ridges of the Alleghenies, and met the river at its easternmost banks at what was to become Brownsville. This path was originally the Nemacolin Trail. It was widened into Burd's Road, and finally the National Road (Braddock's road did not go to Brownsville). At Brownsville, early settlers along Nemacolin Trail and Burd's Road boarded flatboats and keelboats and headed for Pittsburgh and Saint Louis. Later, on the National Road, they crossed the river and continued through the newly established pike towns of Centerville, Beallsville, and Hillsborough, bound for Washington, PA.
Nemacolin Castle, 136 Front Street. The most outstanding early structure in Brownsville and perhaps along the National Road in Pennsylvania is Jacob Bowman's old trading post at Redstone Old Fort, now known as Nemacolin Castle. There are three existing sections to the building: the original trading post, the 1800s addition, and the Italianate addition of the mid-1800s. Currently maintained and operated by the Brownsville Historical Society, it has been open to the public from Memorial Day through Labor Day since 1962 .
Monongahela Bank Building, 221 Front Street. Opened in 1812 by Jacob Bowman, the bank remained in this building as long as Front Street remained the main street in Brownsville. Once the National Road was built, it ran through Brownsville along Market Street and the bank moved to an Italianate building there. This L-shaped Federal building originally constructed in 1811 was converted into a family home.
Brownsville Academy, 401 Front Street. Brownsville
Female Seminary was the first school in this structure. It remained a school
building for some time. By the end of the 1800s it was a newspaper office run by
the Free Lance Publishing Company, who published the newspaper The Free Lance.
The building, with lovely double-panel doors, was built around 1811.
Brashear Tavern, 517-523 Market Street. Sitting at
the top of Market Street, this tavern was here long before the National Road. It
was built around 1797 by Basil Brashear and remained his tavern until 1846. It
is the oldest structure still standing in Brownsville and has seen the likes of
General Lafayette. John A. Brashear, the astronomer and educator, called it
home. The building is German farmhouse-style and is currently occupied by a beer
Christ Episcopal Church, 300 Church Street. Built in 1859 of sandstone with a slate roof, this church has stone buttresses. In its graveyard, behind the church, are prominent Brownstonians, including John H. and Archibald Washington, cousins of George Washington.
First United Methodist Church, 217 Church Street.
The site of the current church was the home of a log cabin that was used for
worship since 1776. The current building contains an outer wall from the 1806
stone building which preceded it. The Brashear family worshipped here, as did
Philander C. Knox, the statesman.