Sewickley History

The Sewickley Valley

The Sewickley Valley is beautiful in situation and rich in history.  Because the Valley is in a major corridor that led westward, the area was witness to momentous events in the last half of the 18th century: the French and Indian War, Pontiac’s Rebellion and the American Revolution.

After the Revolution, the American Indians’ title to the land north of the Ohio River (including the Sewickley Valley) was extinguished by treaties and appropriated for the redemption of depreciation certificates, given to Pennsylvania veterans in lieu of money for services during the war.  Surveys were conducted in 1785, and the land was offered for sale, most of which was snapped up by speculators.  Not until the last Indian resistance was crushed by General Anthony Wayne and his Legion at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 was it safe to settle in the Sewickley Valley.

The first settlers arrived here in the late 1790s.  Most of the early residents were farmers, but inns and taverns soon sprang up to accommodate increasing traffic heading westward.  Flatboats and keelboats, and after 1811, steamboats, crowded the Ohio River. In time, daily stagecoach service was added on the already busy Beaver Road between Pittsburgh and Beaver.

Respectability and a sense of community came to the Valley in 1837, when James and Mary Olver moved their school for young ladies from Pittsburgh to what was known as Sewickley Bottom, naming it the Edgeworth Female Seminary; and in 1838, when John B. Champ and William M. Nevin  founded an academy for boys, today the coeducational Sewickley Academy.  Students from up and down the river were soon seeking a genteel education in Sewickleyville, as the residents decided to call their settlement in 1840.

The pace quickened with the arrival of the railroad in 1851, transforming what was a sparsely settled rural community into a very desirable suburb of the City of Pittsburgh.  Eventually there were stations at Haysville, Glen Osborne, Sewickley, Roseburg, Quaker Valley, Edgeworth, Shields and Leetsdale.  By 1910 there were fifty commuter trains a day, one leaving about every ten minutes.

On July 6, 1853, the Borough of Sewickley was incorporated.  Osborne Borough followed in 1883, and Edgeworth and Leetsdale in 1904. 

The heights above Sewickley remained undeveloped. Cochran Fleming purchased much of this land in 1881,  attempting to develop a dairy farm, but the operation went bankrupt.  Fleming’s 2200 acres were purchased for $38 an acre by four Pittsburgh businessmen, who retained acreage for themselves and sold some to carefully chosen men of wealth.  Before long, magnificent houses and attendant farms covered the hilltops, tenanted by some of America’s wealthiest families.  The Heights became even more attractive when Allegheny Country Club moved to the Heights in 1902.  As roads were improved and the automobile made access more convenient, some of the great houses were converted to year-round use, and a permanent community grew with the country club as its focus.  In 1935, Sewickley Heights Borough was formed.

In 1911, the Sewickley-Coraopolis Bridge was completed, uniting the north and south banks of the Ohio River and rendering the three local ferries obsolete.  A second bridge replaced the original in 1981.  In 1929, the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad were moved closer to the river, making way for the construction of Ohio River Boulevard, completed as far as Sewickley in 1934.  Increased reliance on the automobile eventually spelled the end for passenger rail service, which ended in 1989.  Sewickley was conveniently near the Pittsburgh Airport when it was constructed after World War II, ensuring a bright future. 

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What We Do

The mission of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society is to promote interest in and to record, collect, preserve, and document the history of the Sewickley Valley.

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Are you interested in the history of Sewickley, the greater Pittsburgh region, or Western Pennsylvania? Join the Sewickley Valley Historical Society to both learn more about local history and help preserve it for future generations.

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