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Saltsburg Borough

Saltsburg Borough Hall is located at 320 Point Street, Saltsburg PA 15681; phone: 724-639-9413.

Beginnings [1]

The first settlers in the Saltsburg area appeared as early as 1769, when a new law encouraged large-scale settlement of the region and an application for the land that would become Saltsburg was submitted by Hugh and Thomas Wilson. As with much of western Pennsylvania, however, settlement was slow and sporadic due to Indian uprisings and the turmoil of the French and Indian War. Not until the Treaty of 1795 did the climate for new settlement improve sufficiently for significant new community development. The Wilsons eventually sold a portion of their tract to William Johns(t)on, one of the first to prosper in the salt industry, and he sold a portion to his sister, Jane Boggs. It was Andrew Boggs, her husband, who laid out the settlement in 1816-17 that would grow into Saltsburg and become incorporated as a Borough in 1838.

Some time earlier, between 1795 and 1798, salt was discovered by a local black woman, Sarah Deemer, along the banks of the Conemaugh River near Saltsburg, triggering the area's first industry. The abundance of salt in the low lands along the Conemaugh River, coupled with the rise in price as the War of 1812 blocked salt-shipping routes from New York west, encouraged local entrepreneurs and new settlers to bore salt wells in the region near Saltsburg known as the Great Conemaugh Salt Works. By 1830, at least 21 salt manufacturing establishments were in successful operation. (One source suggests that 35 salt works were in operation along the Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas Rivers as early as 1826.) The salt industry continued to thrive until the 1860's, when a Conemaugh River flood destroyed a number of the saltworks and increasing competition from western states rendered reconstruction infeasible.

With the salt industry thriving, an additional impetus for growth was introduced in 1829. The Western Division of Pennsylvania Canal opened through Saltsburg that year, with Lock No. 8 located at the end of the Salt Street where it met the Conemaugh River. The canal caused little disruption in the street pattern of Saltsburg. It did, however, spark the first major building boom in town, when a number of dwellings and a variety of businesses — hotels, boat making and repair works, warehouses, mills, stores, etc. — were established on or near the channel. The town's growth continued through the 1830's, 1840's, and 1860's.

In the early 1850's, it became apparent that the Pennsylvania Canal would be closed due to financial difficulties. The Saltsburg Borough Council approved the right of way across Plum and Walnut Alleys for construction of tracks by the North Western Pennsylvania Railroad (succeeded by the Western Pennsylvania Railroad in 1860) through the Borough in 1854, and the canal and the railroad co-existed in town for ten years before the canal was abandoned and filled in beginning in 1866, with removal of Lock No. 8 occurring in 1872. The Railroad subsequently experienced financial troubles of its own, and was purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which relocated the tracks to the former canal towpath in 1882.

The 1880's saw renewed growth of the town as the railroad replaced the canal and the industrial base shifted from salt to coal. Small amounts of coal sufficient to fuel the salt industry had been mined during the Salt Era. As early as 1866, the Fairbanks Coal Company was organized to extract bituminous coal employing over 100 laborers in 1875. By 1891, that number had more than tripled, as at least 325 Saltsburg residents were employed as miners by Fairbanks and the Foster Coal Company, both near the rail line within one-and-a-half miles of town.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, Saltsburg had reached its peak in terms of population and new construction. It did continue, however, as a commercial center of Indiana County, with slow, steady growth into the 1940's and a wide range of regional attractions: a car dealer, at least one theater, a roller rink, a hospital, and dances, in addition to Kiski and other local industries and retail businesses. The impact of this continued modest growth on the built environment of the town is still reflected in such extant buildings as the Saltsburg National Bank and the Delisi Theater. Since that time, the town's fabric has suffered somewhat from economic decline, the departure of the railroad in 1954, fire, and incompatible alterations, but the majority of the nineteenth century building stock survives.

Saltsburg served as a commercial hub throughout all three eras within its period of significance. Businesses which thrived as a consequence of canal and rail traffic — hotels, general and specialty stores, and banks, among others — were augmented by industries which located along the river — salt mines, saw mills, grist mills, tanneries, slaughterhouses, and foundries. Even into the twentieth century, Saltsburg retained its importance as a commercial center which continued to draw motor traffic even after the decline of the railroad.

  1. Smith Brown, Eliza, Saltsburg Historic District, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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