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History of our Sewickley Valley

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

The Sewickley Valley occupies six miles of broad bottomland and heights in Allegheny County, twelve miles downriver from Pittsburgh on the north bank of the Ohio River, bordered by Kilbuck Run on the east and Big Sewickley Creek on the west.

The Sewickley Valley originally lay within Pine Township, created in 1796 out of Pitt Township, which included the land west of the Allegheny River and north of the Ohio, as far as Lake Erie. Ohio Township was cut out of a portion of Pine Township in 1803, and a portion of Ohio Township was designated as Sewickley Borough in 1853; Sewickley Township was taken from Ohio Township in 1854. Today the Sewickley Valley comprises the eleven municipalities of the Quaker Valley School District, listed here in order of date of incorporation: Sewickley (1853), Leet Township (1869), Aleppo Township (1876, became a first class township in 1960), Glen Osborne (1883), Glenfield (1883), Haysville (1902), Leetsdale (1904), Edgeworth (1904), Sewickley Heights (1935), Sewickley Hills (1958) and Bell Acres (1960). (links to the new articles on each of the eleven municipalities) Beautiful in situation and rich in history, the Valley is in a major corridor that led westward and 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 Native Americans’ 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, the land was offered for sale and most of it 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, and most of them were farmers. Indeed, there was a complete plantation on the Beaver Road, established by the Leet/Shields family. Inns and taverns 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 Beaver Road between Pittsburgh and Beaver. Respectability and a sense of community came to the Valley in 1836, when James and Mary Oliver 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’s 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. For further reading, see the following publications, available in local libraries and in the Sewickley Valley Historical Society collection. Several titles are available for purchase on this website. Cole, Bettie. Their Story: The History of Blacks/African Americans in Sewickley & Edgeworth. C&J Enterprises, 2000. Cole, Bettie, and Autumn Redcross. African Americans in Sewickley Valley (in Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History Series). Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. Dennis, Stephen Neal. Historic Houses of the Sewickley Valley. Sewickley, PA: Edgeworth Preservation, 1996; 2nd ed., Sewickley Valley Historical Society, 2011. Ellis, Agnes L. Lights and Shadows of Sewickley Life, or, Memories of Sweet Valley. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1893. Hardie, Frances C. Sewickley: A History of a Valley Community. R. R. Donnelly Financial, 1998. Nevin, Franklin Taylor. The Village of Sewickley. Sewickley,. PA: The Sewickley Printing Shop, 1929. Orr, C. Prentiss. The Surveyor and the Silversmith: Land Speculation on the Frontier of Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, PA: Explorditions, 2022. Semple, Harton. Sewickley Cemetery: History of the Sewickley Valley Found in Sewickley Cemetery. 5th ed., rev. Sewickley, PA: Sewickley Cemetery, 2019. Sewickley Valley Historical Society. Sewickley (in Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History Series). Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.

The Sewickley Valley, c. 1895

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