by Karen Fetter
As times change, many towns need a new burst of energy to renew themselves and make hometown life appealing to both residents and visitors. Fortunately, West Newton is getting that chance. Located in a valley next to the Youghiogheny River in Westmoreland County, West Newton is about to undergo an amazing restoration coupled with the fantastic tourist attraction of the Youghiogheny River Trail.
The Youghiogheny River Trail is giving this small community of about 3,000 people the opportunity of a lifetime. West Newton’s prime location to this trail and to the Youghiogheny River is breathing life back into the town. With the ability to improve its economic development from the tourism generated by the trail and the funds to restore the downtown area, West Newton may become a destination for everyone to visit.
The YRT is not the first trail to pass through the area. From its conception in the late 1700s, there were three principle Indian trails that led followers from the Allegheny River along the Juniata, another across the Laurel Hill, and a third from the Ohio through southwestern Pennsylvania. Now read on to find out how West Newton will be transformed and how you can benefit from it as well!
The Bridge to Tomorrow Downtown Renovation Project
The Bridge to Tomorrow Downtown Renovation Project is lead by Downtown West Newton Incorporated (DWNI). DWNI hopes to lure trail users from the Youghiogheny River Trail (YRT) to the downtown area by developing the trailhead where the trial crosses Main Street, making it more useful and safe. Plans include developing a walking deck to the West Newton Bridge with a History Ribbon railing display and welcome sign, as well as creating a new Town Square along the riverfront. According to Ben Markle, DWNI director, the mission of the organization as a whole is to help West Newton’s downtown by stabilizing the economy, enhancing assets, and encouraging development. Markle says the Bridge to Tomorrow plan accomplishes all of these things.
- Develop trailhead
- Develop walking deck
- Create a new Town Square
This project is so impressive that it has won two major awards for its plans. The first award is Best Downtown Plan awarded by Smart Growth of Westmoreland County and the second is statewide award for planning given by the Pennsylvania Planning Association. For more information on the Downtown West Newton Incorporated, visit its website at www.dwni.org.
The Youghiogheny River Trail (YTR)
The Youghiogheny River Trail is located on the West Side of the Youghiogheny River and connects to other trails to make up the Great Allegheny Passage. The Great Allegheny Passage connects Cumberland, MD to Pittsburgh, PA and currently provides 100 continuous miles of smooth surface with an additional 52-mile branch to the Pittsburgh International Airport. In Cumberland, MD the Great Allegheny passage connects to the C&O Canal Towpath providing continuous access to Washington D.C.
The YRT North is a 43 mile limestone surfaced trail built along the right-of-way of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad tracks between McKeesport and Connellsville. This section of the Great Allegheny Passage is open and free to the public.
The YRT is designed as a recreational trail for bicycling, walking, fishing and canoe access, hiking, nature study, historic appreciation, cross country skiing, and picnicking. The section from West Newton to Cedar Creek Park has a large grassy path for horseback riders too! The trail promotes health and fitness so it is accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
The trail system continues to Meyersdale for 100 continuous miles of one of the most beautiful trails in the country. The trail parallels the west side of the Youghiogheny River and connects many small towns like West Newton and rural open spaces along the entire river valley.
The plans for the River Trail began in 1990. Local citizens, trail groups, and government officials led by the National Park Service formed a task force and prepared the concept plan for the Youghiogheny River Trail. In 1991, Allegheny, Fayette, and Westmoreland Counties formed the non-profit Regional Trail Corporation (RTC) with a mission to acquire, construct, and manage the trail.
If you have questions about the trail, contact the Regional Trail Corporation, at 111 W. Main Street, PO Box 95, West Newton, PA 15089. The phone number is 724/872-5586 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Office hours are Mon-Sat, 11 am to 4 pm.
Take a day, weekend, or week and explore this amazing trail that is in Westmoreland County.
While major plans are developing now in West Newton, lets take a look at where everything started. There are several dates that can mark the history of West Newton. Settlers first arrived in this section of land in 1731, but it wasnt until 1776 that there was a permanent settler by the name of Joseph Van Kirk. However, this area was still not known as West Newton. Instead it was called Huntingdon Township. And then in 1790 the court ordered the township to be divided into North and South Huntingdon. West Newton was a part of South Huntingdon Township until it was incorporated in 1842.
The first industry other than the typical gristmills, sawmills, and tanneries, was the paper manufacturing plant built by the Markle family at Millgrove in 1811. The business flourished for nearly 80 years until the water supply became contaminated. Some other nineteenth century businesses in West Newton were Streichers Footwear that began in 1876, Brehms Jewelry Store that opened in 1885 (serving the public for nearly 100 years before closing in 1984), and the Times-Sun, a weekly newspaper that was established in 1878. The paper began as the West Newton Press and then changed names to the Youghiogheny Times. When it was bought by George R. Kreps of Greenville it was changed yet again to the West Newton Times. A year later the paper took over another paper in town called the West Newton Sun and the operation was renamed the West Newton Sun-Times.
Fires that plagued the borough of West Newton
Unfortunately, many fires have plagued West Newton over the years. The two that are the most memorable took place in 1906 and 1922. In 1906 the fire started in Solomon Goodman general department store on Main Street, which completely destroyed the entire building and the building adjoined. In 1922 an entire block of Main Street was destroyed by fire between the railroad and Water Street.
Incidents of slavery
Around the time of 1850 there have been several incidents and stories that involve connections with slaves. For instance, one house was considered to be a stopping place for the Underground Railroad. There was also suspicion that a person by the name of Major Miles was a runaway slave who had been harbored for some time. And lastly, there is mention of a brutal attack on a man by the name of Runney. Many in the town came to protect the man and he was able to escape.
Some structures that are significant to the history of the town are the Cornerstone building, the Moose building, and the Plumer House. The Cornerstone Building has undergone a recent transformation into six affordable housing units and three commercial spaces. This structure is one of West Newtons most prized pieces of architecture. The Moose Building is one of the largest buildings in the downtown and it sits on the corner of Main and S. Water Streets. The Plumer House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. This house was designed by and the residence of John C. Plumer of West Newton. It is located on the corner of Vine Street and Water Street. The West Newton Historical Society currently owns the property.
West Newton is filled with weekly and monthly events for residents and visitors alike. Plan a visit to West Newton and take advantage of all of the activities yearlong.
- Self-Guided Historic Walking Tours: Historic Downtown and Olde Cemetery Tours, DWNI Office, S, 2nd St.
- Self-Guided Historic Driving Tours: Old Glades Trail and Whiskey Rebellion Tours DWNI Office, S. 2nd St.
- Bingo Night: Every Monday night, West Newton Fire Hall
- Wings Night: Every Wednesday night, WN Moose Hall
- Burger Night: Every Friday night, WN Moose Hall
- Dancing: Every Second Saturday night, WN Moose Hall
- Fire Co. Hoagie Sale: Every Third Saturday morning, Rite Aid parking lot
- Stock the Yough: March through June (trout and catfish), Youghiogheny River Dock
- Memorial Day Parade: May 29 starting at 9 am, Downtown to Cemetery War Memorial
- “Avenue of Flags:” Memorial Day to Flag Day, WN Cemetery
- Halloween Parade
- Election Luncheon
- “Miracle on Main Street” & Light Up Night
- Historical Society House Tour
- Community Singers Christmas Concert
Experience what people from all over the United States and western Pennsylvania are by following the Youghiogheny River Trail and visiting West Newton. West Newton is building its future!
West Newton, Westmoreland County, PA
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