With the recent sale of Braeburn Alloy Steel to GO Carlson Inc. of Oil City, it’s a great time to take a look back at the company’s and community’s 125-year history along the Allegheny River.
Braeburn is part of Lower Burrell. On July 14, the small community turned 125 years old.
The district takes its name from a Scottish term: “brae” which means the slope or face of a hill, and “burn”, which is a small stream.
The steel company and the community itself began on July 14, 1897, when William Metcalf purchased 43 acres of waterfront property from Issac Irwin. The plant produced carbon steel for specialty products such as tool making.
A nearby coal mine, the Ben Franklin Coal Co., provided raw materials for steelmaking.
Metcalf sold the plant in 1917 to Standard & Bearings Co. of Plainville, Conn. In 1944, CCX Inc. took over the facility.
At its peak, the factory employed around 600 people. In the 1980s, employment had fallen to around 250 and to less than 50 today.
Braeburn still has its steelworks, but once had its own hotel, school, post office, fire station and beach.
After the steel business started, the area grew rapidly and a post office opened in 1898. The railway had been established along the river in 1855, and one of the daily trains , the “Buffalo Express”, did not stop with courier at Braeburn. Instead, a receiver’s pouch was installed and a train employee threw the mailbag over the pouch.
The post office closed in 1960 when the Lower Burrell branch of the New Kensington Post Office opened on December 1 of that year.
A popular gathering place was the Braeburn Hotel, operated by the Welsh family. For a time the hotel had the only telephone in Braeburn and the owners allowed neighbors to use it. The hotel suffered severe damage in the 1936 flood.
Braeburn Elementary School opened in 1921 and expanded in 1954, educating students in grades 1-6. High school students rode the train to Arnold every day until passenger rail travel was discontinued.
Due to declining enrollment, the school closed in 1969 and its students transferred to Bon Air Elementary School.
The Volunteer Fire Company got its start in 1941 and was an effective unit for many years until membership decreased to around seven active members in 2007 and the company was consolidated into the Braeview Volunteer Fire Company in the Braeburn Heights section of the city.
Braeburn Beach was open annually once the river level had dropped in the summer. There were no lifeguards and no admission. People just show up.
As this was an unofficial swimming area, there was no maintenance. Some late spring thaws in the 1980s raised water levels and made swimming untenable.
Also located near the steelworks is a dam on the Allegheny River, completed in 1927.
It is officially known as Natrona Lock & Dam No. 4, but people on the east side of the river refer to it as the “Braeburn Dam”.
George Guido is a contributing writer for Tribune-Review.