Tag Archives: flatiron building

Mile 75 – Frank L. Melega Art Museum, Brownsville, Pa.

A portion of the recreated studio at the Frank L. Melega Art Museum in Brownsville, Pa.

Most towns have monuments, statues or signage to commemorate the accomplishments of past residents of the said town. In Brownsville, a museum and art gallery is dedicated to a long-time resident of the area, Frank L. Melega, an artist who lived across the Monongahela in West Brownsville. An Indiana (the state, not the Pennsylvania city) native, Melega’s family moved to West Brownsville during his childhood; his father worked for a local coal mine. Melega produced art for  myriad of institutions, concentrating in Southwest Pennsylvania, and received various honors for his work. Melega also operated an art shop in Brownsville.

The Melega Art Museum features a variety of work from the late Frank Melega.

Melega dabbled in a variety of media during his life, including mosaics, sculpture and paint. His work focused particularly on the region, notably the period when coal and coke reigned in Fayette County and surrounding areas (a history chronicled by the Coal and Coke Heritage Center north of Uniontown). All types of Melega’s work is featured in the gallery, which even includes a recreated portion of the artist’s studio, using actual furnishings.

Exhibits are rotated throughout the year, and the museum is home to the National Road Festival Juried Exhibition, which occurs this year from April 21 to May 27, with the award ceremony taking place on Friday, May 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The art gallery itself is located in the back half of the historic Flatiron Building in Brownsville, and is open to the Brownsville Heritage Center, which takes up the front of the building. In other words, both museums are in the same building and open to one another, making it easy to visit both facilities in the same visit.

An exhibit at the Melega Art Museum.

The Frank L. Melega Art Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. There is no charge to visit the museum. Appointments outside scheduled hours are available by calling 724-785-9331, or by e-mailing barcinfo@barcpa.org or manager@barcpa.org.

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Mile 75 – Brownsville, Pa.

"The Neck," or Market Street, seen from the front of the Flatiron Building.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Brownsville, Pa., was a center of industrial activity along the Monongahela River. At its peak in the mid-20th Century, Brownsville had over 8,000 people, and had been a major producer of steamboats and flatboats (especially since the Monongahela is one of the two rivers that forms the Ohio in Pittsburgh), and had also become a major industrial center for the steel and coke industry.

However, beginning around the 1970s, the steel industry and the coal industry declined all across southwest Pennsylvania, and as industry left, so did the people. The Mon River Valley from Pittsburgh to West Virginia was hit especially hard, and dozens of towns like Brownsville line the river as shells of their former selves. The economic situation remains bleak, as the Mon River Valley is one of the most economically distressed areas in the state.

Today, Brownsville is a shell of its former self, with just over 2,300 residents as of the 2010 census. Most of the taller buildings along Market Street (particularly the section along the river) are boarded up and have broken windows. A former hospital on 5th Avenue is also abandoned (though Brownsville still has an operating hospital), and there aren’t a whole lot of local businesses, at least in the main part of town.

The former Union Station, across from the Flatiron Building, Brownsville, Pa.

But, there is still life in Brownsville, and the borough is one of many that are trying to move forward despite a high vacancy rate. Two great museums exist in the Flatiron Building in Brownsville, and community groups, like the Brownsville Area Redevelopment Commission (BARC) have been working to promote the town and make the town more inviting. Nemacolin Castle is also a gem in Brownsville, as is Fiddle’s Restaurant, which has been in existence since 1910. Additionally, the Mon-Fayette Expressway is nearing completion of the southern portion, which, although controversial, is expected to help improve the economy of the Mon River Valley.

When visiting Brownsville, it’s important to note that the original National Road is not the current routing of U.S. 40. Instead, follow (from east to west) National Pike, Broadway Street, Market Street, Bridge Street (over the Mon River) and Old National Pike. See the map for a visual idea.