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Ambridge: A Work in Progress

Ambridge, Pennsylvania
Ambridge, Pennsylvania

At 1.7 square miles, the Borough of Ambridge in Beaver County, nestled along the east side of the Ohio River, may be small in size, but it has a considerable history. Founded by the American Bridge Company in 1905, the town grew around this industry. The American Bridge Company purchased the land from the Harmony Society, a theistic religious sect originating in Germany, who had established roots in the area 90 years earlier. Originally named Economy, the company town became known as Ambridge. Today, the American Bridge Company is headquartered in Coraopolis, but Ambridge is on the cusp of a growth spurt, capitalizing on both its history and its outlook toward the future. With a population of nearly 7,000, there are nearly 200 businesses headquartered in Ambridge, 35 in the last three years alone, with more on the way.

“Major revitalization is happening along Merchant Street in the Downtown Commercial District and on Duss Avenue. Entrepreneurs and investors are renovating the facades of the commercial storefronts. Antique shops are opening in the Historic District, which is also a National Historic Landmark, and a former industrial warehouse area is being converted to condominiums, shops, and parks. Convenient to Pittsburgh along the Ohio River Boulevard and just across the Ohio River from the Pittsburgh Airport, Ambridge is at the heart of this region,” said Valerie Pedigo, president of Ambridge Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Although there are some empty storefronts, new businesses are gradually trickling in alongside established businesses. One such business is Harkins Mill Wines, owned by Keith Ditmore and his wife, Deana Rape. The couple has been making wine at home as a hobby for 15 years and has been selling wines at local markets while searching for a permanent location for their small batch winery. After participating in Ambridge’s annual wine walk, they knew it was the place for them. “The bottom line was, there were people in various capacities within the Borough along with various organizations that wanted us in Ambridge. They made us feel welcome,” said Ditmore. He added that it was their goal to transform Ambridge into a destination. “In the six months or so that we’ve been open, we’re seeing more and more people coming in from outside the area. We’ve recently opened an outdoor seating area where we hope to hold some of our weekend entertainment.”

Another relative newcomer to Ambridge is a small craft brewery called Altered Genius Brewing, established in 2020, also on Merchant Street. The tap room seats about 100 people, and in addition to a rotating selection of beer each season, they also have a full kitchen and menu. “The brewery itself has an indoor space, a covered patio that is enclosed and an outdoor space,” said Co-owner Michael Haas, who chose Ambridge for its affordability and convenience to Sewickley, the city, and other parts of the North Hills.

Many Ambridge residents are patrons of The Maple Restaurant, a staple in the community for the past 60 years, occupying a building that used to house a synagogue. “Everything is made from scratch, just like it was sixty years ago. We are famous for our hot roast beef sandwich,” said Nicole Thompson, the front-of-house manager, adding that there are only three businesses in town that are older than The Maple.

“In the last three to five years, there has been an uptick in new business, which are bringing in people from outside of Ambridge,” she added, such as a Latin American market called Monroy, coffee shops like Merchant Coffee and Fermata, and several new breweries.

Ann Sutherland, owner of Rivertown Antiques, a vintage and antiques co-op, enjoys being part of the Ambridge community. “We have eight vendors curating vintage treasures in a large 7500 square foot 1920s building. In 2018 we opened on Merchant Street in the 32-acre Ambridge Historic District encompassing the six-acre Old Economy Village, an 1820s historic site,” she said.

Though the Harmony Society died out in 1905 due to its tenets of celibacy, the village that they established is part of Old Economy Village, now operating as a museum and perhaps the jewel of Ambridge. Designated an historic site, the property, which also includes magnificent gardens, consists of 17 of the Society’s 100 original buildings.

“We offer tours Friday through Sunday, have demonstrations in our historic trade areas as well as garden activities, and we run a variety of events and celebrations throughout the year,” said Heather Hicks, site administrator. In fact, one major event in 2024 was Old Economy Village’s celebration of its bicentennial in June, along with the annual German festival in October and Christmas at the Village.

In addition to the appeal of the businesses and Old Economy Village, Ambridge has green spaces, parks, a pool, and other amenities, such as a brand-new playground and water splash pad at Walter Panek Park, which also has a running path, dog park and baseball field.

Ambridge residents also look forward to the annual Holy Trinity Greek Food Festival, this year slated for July 16-20. Co-chair Raina Kanakis said that this is the church’s main fundraiser, and it often draws people from other parts of the city. “It’s nice because not only do we have food, but we’re able to showcase our culture,” she said. Live entertainment, such as Greek dancing, and a boutique for purchasing goods will also be available.

Many business owners believe that Ambridge has a lot of potential for growth and that it is a community in transition. “Like many areas in western PA that have been through or are in the revitalization process, there are challenges to overcome. That being said, it’s rewarding to be a part of the process. We feel that our particular six-block area of Merchant Street is near the forefront,” said Ditmore.

“The main street has come a long way in the four years we’ve been here but has a long way it can go. There is a lot of space for additional business. It still has unlimited potential to become something incredible. I think we have a lot of ambitious leadership, with people that have big ideas and great ideas for what this community has the potential to be,” said Haas.

Ambridge’s well-preserved history and its old status as a ‘company’ town make it a unique place to live and work.

“Knocked down in the demise of the steel mills in the 80’s, small business is again growing, and the Borough streetscape projects are revitalizing the town. With nearly one-mile-long Merchant Street and buildings yearning for renovation, Ambridge provides an opportunity for startups. This is reflected in unique new business openings, with enough variety to draw people into town,” added Sutherland.

“We have so many beautiful river towns and former steel mill communities in western Pennsylvania. What makes Ambridge special is the ability to respect the past whilst embracing the future. There is a rich history here that is fascinating, there is amazing momentum, and Ambridge deserves to be in the spotlight,” said Pedigo.


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