The Borough of Saxonburg is a hidden gem in Butler County. The storybook-like town was founded by German immigrant John Roebling in 1831. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he designed the Brooklyn Bridge, a replica of which sits in the Saxonburg park that bears his name. In fact, the Saxonburg Museum (currently open for scheduled tours only) is on the site where Roebling invented the first wire cable that he used in building suspension bridges.
Saxonburg’s Main Street is an homage to its history, replete with charming buildings and shops that look as if they were there for almost 200 years. The borough is the poster child for small, independent businesses: visitors will not find any big-box or chain stores in the area, adding to the unique feel of the commercial district.
One of them—The Hotel Saxonburg—is indeed approaching its bicentennial birthday. Current owner and general manager Judy Ferree bought and renovated the 1832 structure over a decade ago. The restaurant is known for its Virginia spots, crab cakes and lobster bisque, along with a host of other dishes, much of which is sourced locally. The hotel upstairs has been renovated to look like it did in the 1800s. Ferree believes Hotel Saxonburg is the oldest continuously running bar and restaurant in Butler County.
Restaurant patrons come from far and wide. “The borough residents and the people in the area are so loyal and active in the community. They support all the local shops and restaurants, including mine. I love being here. During the pandemic, it was the local people who kept us open,” said Ferree.
Kyle Knapp is the president of the Saxonburg Area Business Association and owns Viterium, a technology management company. He estimated that Saxonburg probably has about 150 businesses.
“We have had our ups and downs, but right now we are growing. In the last year, five new businesses opened up,” he said. “The pandemic did affect us, with some local companies closing down, but at the same time, we have had more new businesses open than close.”
Some newer businesses that opened in the last several years include Scene Setter Studio, Blue Jar Candle Company, Saxonburg Heritage Wine Cellars, Unique to Antiques, and Small Town Tans.
Knapp said that there are also many long-time businesses in the area, whose longevity can be attributed to community and business-to-business support. “It’s a very close-knit community; a lot of people in Saxonburg have been here for a long time,” he said.
He added that the area is beginning to change as more people are moving into the borough from the city and populated suburbs because they want a more country environment.
Although the town celebrates and proudly displays its history, new businesses that open in Saxonburg are welcomed with open arms. SerendipiTEA is one such newcomer. Owner Ashley Stadelmaier opened her tea room in May, choosing Saxonburg because of the great sense of community, its charm and its history.
“The business community has been amazing. Everybody seems to want to help each other out. We all want to see everyone else succeed because then we all succeed,” she said. “They’ve all had lots of great advice to share, they’ve shared their products with us and we even give discount pricing to help each other out.”
Stadelmaier thinks her business is a good fit for Saxonburg. “I think it’s the antique charm. Our décor is very shabby chic, vintage looking, and that is the feel you get when you come through Saxonburg—there is so much history here,” she said, adding that when she first opened, residents and business owners popped in to welcome her to the neighborhood.
Saxonburg businesses work together in a spirit of collaboration, as they help each other out and work together to host joint events. One such event is a progressive dinner, started by Ferree when she first bought the restaurant.
“I invited everyone in town that serves food to set this up; we all plan the menu together, sell tickets together, split the money, and after it’s over, we all meet for a drink and share the dishes we served,” she said.
Another popular event is Mingle on Main Street, organized primarily by Meghan Pohl, co-owner of Batch, a shop selling small-batch items such as jams, jellies and sauces. The event is held the third Thursday in May through September and includes live music and vendors who set up booths on Main Street.
“We started with five vendors six years ago; this year we had 50 vendors,” said Pohl. “There’s live music, a couple of breweries, food trucks, artists, community businesses and a car show. We estimated 4,000 people were on the streets; everyone wanted to come out,” she said.
Pohl, who grew up just outside Saxonburg, opened Batch about eight years ago along with her business partner Jessica Brewster. “When we were thinking about where we wanted to open a storefront, we knew we wanted to be on a small-town Main Street, because we wanted to collaborate with other townspeople and have that cohesion with a town and be part of a community,” said Pohl. Like SerendipiTEA, Batch was welcomed by the community and other business owners.
Melinda Berzonski, owner of Saxonburg Coffee & Tea, also grew up in the area. She purchased her business four years ago and feels grateful to be in what she calls “a very generous community” where the businesses not only support each other but support other causes.
“The coffee shop does a lot of community service projects, and the neighborhood always rallies around the projects that we are working on,” said Berzonski. For example, she just led a charge to send care packages to the troops via an organization called Military Connections.
Brian Buchanich opened Three Rivers Art Glass in 2014, a glass studio that specializes in stained glass and fused glass. “I was familiar with Saxonburg before I moved the studio here. I had some of my pieces in another business here (Batch), and I thought my studio would be a good fit for the area,” he said.
“In Saxonburg the business owners know each other and are supportive. I've heard a phrase used around here, ‘Community, not competition,’ and that pretty much sums it all up. When businesses bring people to the area, everyone benefits,” he added.
Despite its small-town, throwback vibe, Ferree said that you could live in Saxonburg without a car if you needed to, as the borough has everything from doctors to dentists to lawyers, salons, eating establishments and more. “I think we have a lot of old-fashioned family values, we all help each other out, we are all there for each other and are hardworking, everyday people,” said Ferree.
Stadelmaier said that newcomers to Saxonburg may be surprised not only by the charm factor but by how much there is to do. “You can literally plan an entire day of things to do: pampering, shopping and dining," she said. "Even an overnight is possible here.”