Photos by Lynne Deliman The business district is abundant with shopping, eating and plenty of accessible parking.
River town revitalization maintains small-town feel
By Jamie Wiggan
Touting its bustling main street, close-knit community and affordable housing stock, readers named Coraopolis their favorite locality in Gazette 2.0’s inaugural “best town” contest.
After decades of steady decline, Coraopolis residents say they’re now watching their town reinvent itself as a walkable community, abuzz with restaurants, breweries and independent retailers.
“Over the past 13 years [since I’ve lived here], it’s really been growing and flourishing,” said resident Richelle DeVito. “It’s becoming what it used to be — or even better.”
The influx of trendy attractions isn’t coming at the expense of history and community, though, according to DeVito, who said Coraopolis embodies the friendly small-town stereotype.
“Everybody knows everybody in the community,” she said. “Police wave to the kids when they patrol the streets, they’re always out and about.”
Although she welcomes the new eateries and enjoys browsing the assortment of secondhand and vintage shops, DeVito said it’s community events like the annual Memorial Day parades and Christmas nativities — not landmarks or locations — that define the town for her.
The business district is abundant with shopping, eating and plenty of accessible parking.
After taking a new job in the Pittsburgh area about a year ago, New Jersey native Bruno Lucarelli said he chose to settle near Coraopolis to take advantage of its diverse amenities and affordable pricing.
He voted Coraopolis “best town” because its many attractions are matched by accessibility and ample parking, which he has found to be rare since arriving in Western Pennsylvania.
“Almost anything you need in Coraopolis, you can walk to get there,” Lucarelli said. “There’s a good entrepreneurial spirit in the city, and that’s really cool… There’s a lot of diversity in that small space.”
Incorporated in 1886, Coraopolis grew rapidly from a rural settlement into a bustling town, peaking at more than 11,000 residents in 1940.
Fueling its growth, the Pittsburgh, Neville Island and Coraopolis Street Railway Company laid down one of the first high-speed streetcar lines in 1894, connecting Coraopolis to the industrial centers of Neville Island and McKees Rocks. One year later, the Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company relocated to Coraopolis from Fostoria, Ohio bringing with it hundreds of new jobs.
Coraopolis is home to beautiful architecture and some lovely churches, such as the First United Presbyterian on Broadway Street built in 1915.
But Coraopolis wasn’t spared the havoc of deindustrialization that swept through
the Pittsburgh region after World War II. By the time of the 2010 census, the town’s population had halved from its pre-war peak and many of its storefronts lay empty.
Beneath the bleak surface, seeds of regeneration had been sown, which would later take root and flower.
Mayor Shawn Reed got involved in local politics through grassroots revitalization efforts involving residents and business owners that led to the formation of the Coraopolis Community Development
Foundation (CCDF) in 2006.
At the heart of CCDF’s mission is a longstanding effort to restore the town’s historic train station into a community center with coffee and dining options, but it also has a community development arm focused on reenergizing the business district.
Reed attributes the town’s comeback success in part to its strategic location and well-preserved main street architecture prized by independent business owners.
“Coraopolis has this great blend of historic significance… with very much an eye to the future,” he said. “I used to think Coraopolis was the best-kept secret that had all this potential. Now I realize it’s not really a secret anymore, but we still have the potential.”
to ‘maiden city’
The Coraopolis VFW Honor Memorial sits at the corner of 5th and Mulberry, after having previously residing in front of the library and old high school.
Ever wondered how Coraopolis got its enchanting name?
Prior to its incorporation as the Borough of Coraopolis in 1886, the small settlement of less than 1,000 inhabitants had been referred to as Middletown — a somewhat unimaginative indicator of its midway placement between Pittsburgh and Beaver.
Shaking off these humble beginnings, the optimistic founders thought Coraopolis deserved a touch of classical grandeur to help it on its way. They settled on a rough Greek rendering of “maiden city” by combining “kore” (maiden) with “polis” (city).
When columnists from the now-defunct Pittsburgh Dispatch poked fun at the new name, Coraopolis’s first mayor Josiah Dillon rushed to its defense in a scathing rebuke published by the (also-defunct) Coraopolis Review:
“The name is appropriate. It does not apply, as sneeringly intimated, to an ‘old maid’ Middletown. This ancient town died over a year ago, in giving birth to Coraopolis,” Dillon wrote in 1887.
“Coraopolis is a beautiful soft-flowing, rhythmical name, derived from the most poetical languages, and is as easily pronounced as the kindred names of Annapolis, Gallipolis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, or any other opolis to which no one objects."
Sometime later, rumors emerged that the town was named after the daughter of an early settler named Cora Watson. It’s unclear whether such a person ever existed or how the rumor arose.
vote borough to
second place win
With a population of roughly 3,000, Ingram is one of the smallest municipalities in Allegheny County, both in terms of size and population. But loyal residents showed outsized support for the 277-acre borough, carrying it to number two in this year’s contest.
Ingram voters championed its friendly neighborhood atmosphere, inclusion in the Montour School District and accessibility both to Downtown Pittsburgh and the retail outlets at Robinson.