FORT PITT MUSEUM, Pittsburgh, PA — Pittsburgh native Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett and officials from Ambridge, Pittsburgh, and Washington County today celebrated the Preserve America Community designation awarded to Ambridge and Pittsburgh. A designation certificate signed by First Lady Laura Bush, Honorary Chair of Preserve America, was presented recognizing the communities’ work to preserve, protect and celebrate the unique history and heritage they contain.
“In Pennsylvania, 20 cities, towns, and counties of all sizes have taken the steps to becoming designated Preserve America Communities,” said Scarlett. “I am delighted to be in Pittsburgh to recognize the importance of heritage tourism and preservation, and the lessons of history that are made authentic and accessible through those efforts.”
Designation as a Preserve America Community provides national recognition for what the community has achieved, while also enhancing the contribution of heritage tourism and other economic development strategies. This designation indicates that the community is working to preserve and use its heritage assets as building blocks for the future. Ambridge and Pittsburgh join Washington County as well as Bradford, Carlisle, Chambersburg, Cheltenham Township, Easton, Gettysburg, Hanover, Harrisburg, Lancaster County, Lower Merion Township, Media, Montgomery County, Philadelphia, Phillipsburg Borough, Tredyffrin Township, West Chester, and York as designated Communities.
Ambridge, Pennsylvania, (population 7,769) a borough in Beaver County, is located 16 miles northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. The Harmonist Society 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. By the end of the19th century, only a few Harmonists remained. 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.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (population 316,718) is celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2008. Pittsburgh began as an important trading post located at the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. Its strategic importance led to territorial disputes between the French and the English, including the French and Indian War, and to the construction of Fort Duquesne and later Fort Pitt, located on The Point where the rivers meet.
Most well known for manufacturing, especially for its role as the nation’s leading steel manufacturer during and after World War II, Pittsburgh today is a major medical and technology center. The Monongahela Wharf is home to many of the city’s old commercial buildings from the Industrial Era. Both the Armstrong Cork Factory in the Strip District and parts of the Heinz complex have been converted to housing. More than one million people each year visit the city’s downtown Cultural District and more than three million visit Station Square. Both areas are successfully combining the adaptive reuse of historic landmarks with new construction to create first-class destinations. The city is full of historically significant areas as well as many culturally rich neighborhoods. Pittsburgh is also rich in historic theaters, museums, university buildings, commercial buildings and churches, some of which are currently being restored.
Washington County (population 202,897) was created in 1781 and was the first county in America named in honor of Gen. George Washington. Thirteen years later, then-President Washington would call out the militia to quell a popular uprising in Washington County that has come to be known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington County has almost 100 listings on the National Register of Historic Places, including several historic districts. Among the county’s historic properties are more than 20 covered bridges. These are celebrated in the annual Washington and Greene County Covered Bridge Festival. Each year, at least eight bridges are highlighted, with the proceeds of celebrations at the sites supporting various county organizations. Washington County has also developed a covered bridge driving tour.
In September 2007, Washington County was awarded a Preserve America Grant for $120,000 to help develop a marketing strategy for improving and advancing heritage tourism. The project will work to present the county as an easily accessible travel destination for weekend and day trips as well as partner on joint marketing opportunities with other nearby attractions.
About Preserve America: Preserve America is a White House initiative to encourage and support community efforts for the preservation and enjoyment of our priceless cultural and natural heritage. The goals of the initiative include a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past, strengthened regional identities and local pride, increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets, and support for the economic vitality of our communities. For more information on the Preserve America initiative, visit www.PreserveAmerica.gov.