Preserve America Community:
Ambridge, Pennsylvania, (population 7,769) is a borough in Beaver County and is located 16 miles northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. The Harmonist Society, one of America’s most successful 19th century Christian communal societies, first settled the area in the early 1800s, founding the village of “Oekonomie” or Economy in 1824. The Harmonists were known for their production of wool, cotton, and silk, and Economy became known as the American silk center in the 1830s and 1840s. Initially successful, accumulating significant landholdings, the sect later went into decline. By the end of the19th century only a few Harmonists remained. The Society was dissolved and its vast real estate holdings sold, much of it to the American Bridge Company, who subsequently enlarged the town and incorporated it as Ambridge in 1905.
Ambridge was widely known for bridge building, metal molding, and the manufacture of iron tubes. The American Bridge Company ended operations in Ambridge in 1983. Facing increased development pressure, Ambridge passed a historic preservation ordinance in 1971. In 1985 the Ambridge Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the next year, as the site of the utopian Harmonist Society community, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. The district includes more than 90 privately owned buildings and a museum complex.
Now more than 100 years old, Ambridge is refocusing its economic identity. Revitalization has started to occur in the Downtown Commercial District as entrepreneurs and investors renovate the borough’s historic buildings on Merchant Street. One notable preservation project is the rehabilitation of an 1826 manufacturing building and its adaptive reuse as the Silk House Café. This effort sparked economic development within the Ambridge Historic District, resulting in the completion of eight additional rehabilitation projects and the creation of six new businesses.
The Harmonie Associates volunteer organization, now known as the Friends of Old Economy, was established in 1956 to preserve and interpret Old Economy Village, a property of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. This attraction includes buildings, grounds, a library and archive, and more than 16,000 original artifacts. It is interpreted for visitors by costumed volunteers playing prominent Harmonist Society figures and offers a hands-on learning environment and curriculum-enhancing programs for area students.
A visitor’s center is located at the gateway to Old Economy Village and the Ambridge Historic District. Thousands of townspeople and tourists enjoy ethnic food, music, and entertainment at the annual Ambridge Nationality Days festival in the Downtown Commercial District. An annual tour of historic churches also draws heritage tourists and increases appreciation for churches ranging from St. John’s Lutheran Church, built by the Harmonist Society in 1838 and one of the oldest churches in southwestern Pennsylvania, to Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, built in 1917.
For more information
Borough of Ambridge: www.ambridgeboro.org
Old Economy Village: www.oldeconomyvillage.org
Downtown District: www.merchantstreet.org
Posted March 16, 2009