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The Ohio River Valley

Once forbidden territory for settlers and reserved for the various Native American tribes who hunted and camped in the area, the lands north of the Ohio River became part of the Depreciation Lands used to pay Revolutionary War veterans for their service. The numerous small boroughs and townships along Ohio River Boulevard are collected into slightly larger (but still compact) school districts, befitting their continued status as popular hometowns to raise families generation after generation.

photos by kristi jan hoover


What’s Here?

Once a day-tripper getaway for excursion boats from Pittsburgh, Sewickley is a word that comes from the original inhabitants and is believed by many to mean “sweet water.” Though it’s not clear if they meant the river, a spring or tree sap.

It’s hard to be much more of a company town than Ambridge, which takes its name from the American Bridge plant that turned out the Golden Gate Bridge and countless others.

Harmony Township
The moniker of this hilly residential area around Ambridge harks to the Harmony Society, a dissident sect of German Christians who founded what now is Old Economy Village.

​Both the tiny town, home to Quaker Valley High School, and the township next to it are named for surveyor Jonathan Leet, who helped to parcel out the area for Revolutionary War vets.

​Leet Township
The main artery, Camp Meeting Road, is a reminder that this area once was the site of religious retreats. Jonas Salk first tested his polio vaccine here on volunteers at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children.

Ohio Township
A principally residential community with previously limited options for shopping, the township is seeing a burst of new home-building and related development on the bluffs overlooking Interstate 79. 

Neville Island
This large island in the Ohio River was the prize in a 1799 Supreme Court case between two Revolutionary War commanders. It is named for a third, Gen. John Neville, a key figure in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Ben Avon
Homes along Ben Avon’s tree-lined streets are quite a bit larger than the Dickson Log House, built here in 1796, which can be seen at the bend in Western Avenue.

Ben Avon Heights
Former farmland bought by a Ben Avon resident to build a golf course, this small community was a popular place for summer homes a century ago.

Bell Acres
Formerly Sewickley Township, Bell Acres covers the site of a lumber mill that once chopped down the thick forests to make railroad ties. Plenty of trees still are standing tall, as are some impressive homes, such as those lining Beech Ridge Drive.

​Sewickley Heights
When air pollution from manufacturing made the East End and North Side unpleasant for Pittsburgh’s millionaires, they built mansions here near the then-new Allegheny Country Club.

​Sewickley Hills
Landowners in eastern Sewickley Heights banded together to form this municipality in 1958 to avoid being annexed by neighboring Ohio Township. 

Glen Osborne
The riverside residential area upstream of Sewickley was a popular place for riverboat pilots, and later, railroad conductors, to build homes.

Aleppo Township
Aleppo broke away from Kilbuck Township in 1876, only to see itself chipped away to form new neighbors. What remains is segmented by ravines; to drive through it east to west, you have to leave Aleppo at least five times.

German immigrants settled this town in the mid-1800s. The I-79 bridge opened in 1976 as the last piece of the highway, cutting the borough in half.

​Kilbuck Township
Once much larger but eroded by breakaway municipalities, the township is named for a Lenape chief who left the British to back the Americans during the Revolutionary War. A hillside here broke away and fell on Route 65 in 2006 after developers tried to build a Walmart atop it.

The site of the first dam downstream of Pittsburgh, this steep borough is a mostly working-class neighborhood contained within a single square mile.

It’s quite possible that apple orchards here — which led founders to choose the name Avalon (the “apple island” of Arthurian legend) — were planted by John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

An old-school, boosterish sign on Ohio River Boulevard invites commuters to “live, worship, shop” in this borough, incorporated in 1867 with a fancy French name.

How tiny is Haysville? Its main drag, River Road — its only drag, really — has room for about a dozen modest houses before it peters out into the hillside.


Locals crowd the waiting area at no-frills Pizza House in Ambridge, better known as “Police Station Pizza,” for the crunchy Sicilian-style crust and warm-but-not-cooked artisanal pepperoni.  1007 Merchant St., 724/266-3904.

The eponymous sandwich at GoodFellas Deli and Drafthouse in Ohio Township is the GoodFella. Order this, and you’ll receive a New Orleans-style muffaletta on asiago ciabatta with salami, mortadella and sopressata from Parma Sausage, Boar’s Head rosemary ham and a house green-olive tapenade.  1518 Mt. Nebo Road, goodfellasdrafthouse.com.

photo by sean collier

After refurbishing an old Neville Island dive to open Carmody’s Grill, brothers Paul and Sean Carmody offer a variety of upscale pub fare and microbrews alongside the turtle soup and fried zucchini that were standards at their grandpa’s place in Franklin Park.  4905 Grand Ave., carmodysgrille.com.


Hand-markered signs and hand-coopered barrels add to the moonshiner vibe at secluded McLaughlin Distillery in Sewickley Hills. The small-batch Grandma’s Rocking Chair Whiskey is made pretty much as the name suggests, with the aid of an interesting contraption in the tasting room.  3799 Blackburn Road, mclaughlindistillery.com.

Some Sewickley residents jump-start their mornings with a shot glass of “Jamaican Sunrise” — layered wheatgrass, lemon and acai berry juices — at Salud Juicery.  Also available are smoothies, berry bowls and all manner of fresh juices, one at a time or in a six-pack cleanse.  348 Beaver St., 412/259-8818.

Toast the decision of Bellevue voters to overturn the borough’s longstanding ban on alcohol at Grille 565. Do it with a glass of the special “565” amber lager, which comes from a mini fridge tap behind the bar.  565 Lincoln Ave., grille565.com.


Eco-conscious new parents will find plenty of green-friendly supplies at Happy Baby Company in Bellevue, from wraps, cloth diapers and BPA-free sippy cups to mueslix with fenugreek and other herbal remedies to promote healthy milk production.  558 Lincoln Ave., happybabycompany.com.

You don’t even need to show up to browse the trendy summer dresses and rompers at Rosewood Boutique in Sewickley. This bright and airy shop keeps its Facebook and Instagram game strong with a daily fashion shoot.  412 Beaver St., shop-rosewood.com.

The new owners at SweetWater Bicycles in Ambridge, formerly Ambridge Bike Shop, have a full line of two-wheelers, jogging strollers, accessories and clothing.  518 Merchant St., ambridgebikeshop.com.


Get your dancing skates on at Neville Roller Drome on Neville Island for jam skate on Wednesday nights — or organ music on Thursday mornings for those who are more foxtrot- and waltz-oriented.  5109 Neville Road, nevillerollerdrome.com.

The Laughlin Memorial Library in Ambridge, with its immense marble columns, is one of the most ornate libraries in the region. The parents of Alexander Laughlin Jr. built it in 1929 to honor their son, a World War I veteran and president of the family’s tube company.  99 11th St., beaverlibraries.org/ambridge.asp.

Bellevue Mayor Paul Cusick calls Bellevue’s John A. Hermann Jr. Memorial Art Museum an “unpolished gem.” The free collection in a grand old house showcases about 100 amateur oil portraits and landscapes painted a century ago by a local resident.  318 Lincoln Ave., johnhermannmuseum.org.

Photo by laura petrilla

Food Critic’s Pick

If you live in the city and you’re looking for a good excuse to drive upriver for dinner, do what I do and visit quaint Cocothé in Sewickley. The charming restaurant, which recently expanded into the neighboring building, is one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2016 Best Restaurants. You’ll see why it made the list when you eat Executive Chef David DeVoss’s cuisine. (541 Beaver St., cocothe.com) — Hal B. Klein

Signature Event

Gear up for the sweetest holiday of the year and attend Explore Sewickley’s annual Chocolate Walk every February. Get one of the 300 tickets available, pick up your map at Explore Sewickley and eat your way through town at various shops and restaurants serving chocolate of all kinds. At the end of the route, vote for your favorites and enter a prize raffle. It’s an event worth attending; after all, as the late Charles Schulz once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” (exploresewickley.com) — Lauren Davidson


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