Brownsville was founded in 1785. Because of it's location at the point where the National Pike crosses the Monongahela River, Brownsville quickly grew into a key center of commerce. Brownsville appears on the 1820 census as already having a population of 976. At that time Brownsville was an important point of departure for wagon trains heading to the territories in the West. In the early 1800s Brownsville was one of the most important towns in the region along with Washington, Uniontown, Wheeling and Pittsburgh. Of the early 19th century regional centers, Brownsville, is currently, by far, the smallest. The census of 1850 lists Brownsville as having a population of 2,369. From 1850 to 1890 the population of Brownsville declined to 1,417 because of the declining importance of the National Pike. Brownsville is at the Northern edge the of the "Steel Valley" section of the Monongahela river that urbanized in the late 1800s. It was never the location of a major steel plant but urban and industrial development in the region helped Brownsville start growing again. It reached it's all time high population of 8,015 in 1940. Brownsville's population has since declined sharply and is now 2,314 (2012 est.)
Because it's confined between the river and steep bluffs, and has a very long history as a commercial center, Brownsville has a unique and very densely built downtown. Unfortunately downtown Brownsville was under-utilized and it's buildings were mostly empty when I visited in 2010. The entire region Brownsville is in had been experiencing a major economic depression since the demise of the steel industry in the late 1900s. Brownsville is geographically isolated and has been by-passed by the modern highways of the area. I saw few efforts to promote Brownsville as a historic destination when I visited and few obvious preservation efforts. One major downtown building has been demolished recently and many more are at risk. This is sad because Brownsville is uniquely important in an area with many historic towns. Recently, natural gas extraction from the Marcellus shale has been contributing to an economic revival in the region. I'm not sure if this has impacted Brownsville in any way but hopefully, as the region's economy improves, people will begin to re-discover Brownsville and save it before much more of it is destroyed.
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