Once upon a time, Brownsville was a booming area, home to the barge-making and coal mining industries, an area so prosperous, that it was purported you couldn’t walk on the sidewalks because they were so crowded.
Considered the river gateway to the West, like many small towns in Western, Pennsylvania, the prosperous times didn’t last.
“There is an old newspaper article that says, ‘Pittsburgh might amount to something if it weren’t so close to Brownsville,” said Brianne Bayer Mitchell, “That is how amazing our economy was.”
When the railroads forked away from Brownsville and industry moved to Pittsburgh, Brownsville’s economy faltered.
By the late ‘80s, we were one of the rust towns along the Monongahela,”
But now Mitchell and others in the area are committed to revitalizing
the area along the National Road Heritage Corridor. National Road is one of the 12 HeritagePA sites in the state, dedicated to preserving the heritage, natural and cultural resources of the regions.
Only about an hour from the Pittsburgh area and home to many
historical sites including the Dunlap's Creek Bridge, the nation’s first cast iron bridge – built in 1836-1839; the Flatiron Heritage Museum and Visitor Center, an unique historic building open to the public; the Frank L. Melega Art Museum and the Monongahlea River, Railroad and Transportation Museum.
“We have these amazing buildings and landmarks – the Nemacolin Castle alone is worth the trip,” said Mitchell.
The Nemacolin Castle was the home of one of the pioneers of the area, Jacob Bowman. The castle is estimated to have been built in the 1790s and on the National Register of historic places.
Bowman was Brownsville’s first postmaster, appointed to the position by
President George Washington and founded the Monongahela Bank. He lived in Brownsville until his death in 1847.
Nemacolin Castle – named after the Indian leader Nemacolin who had served as a guide to early settlers. When the National Highway was built in 1806, its path followed much of Nemacolin’s trail leading to Brownsville. The castle is constructed of brick, stone and logs with a turreted tower and 22 furnished rooms.
The castle is now open to the public for tours and is celebrating its 50th anniversary July 27- 29th, but there are tours available on an on-going basis including holiday candle light tours and haunted tours.
In addition to serving as an unofficial historian and ambassador of her hometown, Mitchell and her husband, Mitch, are so committed to the area that they have not only moved back home to raise their girls, they have purchased one of the old, historic buildings, renovating it to house an upscale restaurant, Mitchell’s Café.
Brianne is a communications and public relations specialist who now teaches at West Liberty University and her husband, Mitch, is an attorney who practices in town with his father. When they married and were planning a family, they wanted to be close to their families and moved home.
About a year ago, the two decided to make even more of a commitment to the area and purchased one of the “beautiful, old buildings” that Mitchell loves, but then they were stumped
“It was like, ‘O.K., now we have this building, what should we do with it?’” she said.
After a good amount of thought, the two focused on food.
“Food brings people together, it builds a bridge for people – we thought a café would bring people together, bring people to our area,” Mitchell said.
Other than a brief stint working in a restaurant while in college, Mitchell and her husband have no restaurant experience. But they didn’t let their inexperience stop them and on July 30th, the café will host their grand opening.
Since the building is located next to the post office and the library, there is a good amount of foot traffic; Mitchell feels the location is perfect for their venture.
“Plus, we want to be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. so that people know they can come here for good food and coffee,” she said.
The Mitchells have landed a Starbucks contract and will carry their products. They have also hired executive chef, Bill King, and her brother, Michael Bayer, to serve as their general manager.
“He found out what we are doing, and he was all for it and wanted to join us,” she said.
The café will feature homemade bakery goods including fresh bread made daily, sandwiches, quiches, salads and homemade ice cream.
Mitchell said she hopes the history, cultural and new businesses such as theirs help to put the crowds back on the sidewalks.
“It would be great if people have to walk in the streets again,” she said.