"on the ohio river . . ." Ambridge by followyourbliss

Ambridge Travel Guide: 26 reviews and 54 photos

an old mill town with historical significance . .

i grew up in ambridge, long before the steel industry had a crisis and collapsed in the '70s, which ravaged the local economy. j & l steel co. in aliquippa, corapolis, and the american bridge co. (where the town got it's current name (am . . . bridge, get it?), all closed down, dealing a devastating blow to the region's economic well-being. the main drag, merchant st., was once a bustling, crowded, busy thoroughfare full of shoppers, browsers, diners, but now seems to be in a fossilized state of dilapidation. i grew up high on a hill (pine st.) that overlooks the ambridge basin, which is right on the ohio river.

as a kid we used to play all over the wooded areas and would always find lots of stone arrowheads, left over no doubt from when the indians had roamed the area freely in previous centuries. we found so many of them that it was common; as young children we didn't even put much historic impact or relevance into these finds. now as an adult i see how archeologically significant these finds really were. there were several major indian paths along the ohio river, going toward baden. also during the revolutionary war, the british passed through these paths, camping along the ohio, as well as american forces, the notorious general "mad" anthony wayne, among them.

of particular note is the very well preserved village of old economy, also on the ohio river, near what are now 12th, 13th, 14th streets in ambridge. the economites are offshoots of the quakers, who passed through this area and went to ohio and beyond. the economites became a stern society, eschewing over the decades any form of pleasure, such as dancing, etc., and eventually took the vote in the form of a group consciousness to note participate in sex at all, as it was considered pleasurable and therefore a sin, and it is the only society i know of anthropologically that has ever been recorded to take such a drastic step, and of course the society eventually died out. not only in the village itself, which is sort of fenced in and very well kept up, but in the surrounding neighborhood, you can see splendid examples of 18th c. architecture still extant. the neighborhood around old economy is very charming, whereas the rest of the town, especially the commercial districts, have this worn-out, tired feel to them. along merchant st. however you can still see some interesting examples of some vernacular art deco and art moderne shops, with curved front windows made of glass, and there is kind of a tidy orderliness in some of the small neighborhoods where all the houses seem to have front and back yards, that you can see dot the slope and the hills going away from the river. indeed as a kid i remember that there were a lot of gardens that people kept up very nicely on their properties.

also as a kid i remember the multi-ethnic quality of the town. it seemed that a lot of us spoke english when we were playing on the street, but when it was time for dinner, we would go to our respective homes and speak a different language there--polish, italian, ukrainian, croatian, slovak, greek, etc. as the town was peopled to a large extent by european immigrants who came to the usa to seek economic prosperity at the turn of the century. i entered school at age 5 and was taught by nuns at st. stanislaus school who were bilingual and spoke both polish and english. my education was not "dick and jane" at all, but i remember these bilingual texts and there would be a picture of a horse and it would say of course "horse" and then the polish word for horse which is "kon" (pronounced something like 'koon'). if you go to any of the cemeteries up in the hills behind town, or out in an adjacent town called fair oaks, the names on the tombstones are all eastern european in origin, like wojtkowski, or kwiatkowski, or hlista, or dzubiak. of course there are greek and italian counterparts.

it was a safe and nourishing place to grow up. i still have a lot of family there whom i love, but for me now, when i go back, there are a lot of ghosts.

can it make a comeback?

when the steel industry collapsed, so did the economic and to a large extent cultural engine of ambridge. not only have businesses closed over the decades, but so have churches, parishes, ethnic cultural institutions such as social clubs, credit unions, etc. i often wonder, can ambridge make some sort of comeback, like other towns that were ravaged by the collapse of the steel economy, such as the southside of pittsburgh--if you go along carson street it is absolutely revitalized, trendy and jumping, really. and i think no, not in my lifetime, as i write this (2005) prospects look grim, even though i see some hope and promise that the town is right on the ohio river, and near the greater pittsburgh airport. but i don't think there will ever be one mega-economic engine like the steel mills that will pump cash flow and income into the town as before. the american bridge co. made steel girders for, among other things, the empire state bldg., the golden gate bridge in san francisco, the verrazzano narrows bridge here in new york city, and i remember as a child i used to look out my window and see the bessemer furnaces at night, a huge orange glow, that were used to melt down iron ore and form it into steel, those furnaces used to be aglow 24/7. but those were the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, a time long gone from now.

  • Last visit to Ambridge: Nov 2004
  • Intro Written Feb 20, 2005
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