Like I mentioned in my previous post, Brownsville (and the entire Monongahela River Valley) is struggling with a massive population exodus due to the disappearance of heavy industry in the latter half of the 20th Century. These communities are struggling to find their place in the modern economy while also dealing with a surplus of real estate left over from a more prosperous time.
However, there are bright spots, and groups like the Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation are working to promote economic growth and community pride in the Mon River Valley. In a part of downtown Brownsville known as “The Neck,” BARC has kept up with the continued use of the Flatiron Building, which houses two museums and has also been home to a cafe and other businesses.
The Flatiron Building was built in 1835, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This building predates more famous buildings with similar structures, like New York City’s version with the same name. It is arguably one of the best-preserved older buildings in Brownsville, and is one of the few that has also undergone extensive modernization.
One of the two museums in the Flatiron Building is the Brownsville Heritage Center, which is strikingly informative and well-designed, and contains hundreds of artifacts from Brownsville’s rich history.
The Heritage Center takes up the front part of the building (the part that includes the point of the structure), and is designed to feature three different parts of Brownsville history, depending on what visitors can see out each window. A section of the museum is dedicated to railroad history in Brownsville, and thus windows in that section face north and west across the access road to the railroad and the former Union Station. The second section is themed around coal and coke history, and those windows face south and east toward the hills along the Mon River, which at one time, were home to coal and coke production in Brownsville. Finally, a large section of the museum is dedicated to the National Road, and windows in that section face the National Road (Market Street). There is also a large interactive map that lights different sections of the region depending on this history/industry involved.
I didn’t really expect a whole lot when I first found out that this museum existed, but I ended up spending at least 40 minutes exploring what the museum had to offer. Since I’m big into history, especially that of Appalachia and the Rust Belt, all three exhibits were equally fascinating. It was also cool to learn about the variety of industry that once called Brownsville home – from coke/coal to steamboat construction to a brewery.
The museum is connected to the Frank L. Melega Art Museum, and admission is free, but donations are accepted (and likely appreciated). Since the museum is also the tangible representation of BARC, a slew of information on BARC and Brownsville-area activities are also available.
The Flatiron Building is located at 69 Market Street in Brownsville, and the building is too unique to be missed. Parking is available throughout downtown, and parking is also permitted in front of the old Union Station. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and can be reached at 724-785-9331. There is also a small gift shop within the museum.