History of Ridgway
Until 1824, there were no houses or streets in the area upon which Ridgway now sits today, only dense forest and wildlife populated the valley. In the early 1800s, Jacob Ridgway, a wealthy Philadelphian had just returned to America after living for several years in England and Europe. He purchased 100,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania, 40,000 of which would become the area known as Elk County today.
In 1821, wanting to sell parcels of land to settlers, Jacob Ridgway hired his nephew (by marriage), James Lisle Gillis to promote the sale of land. Hoping to lure farmers to the area, Gillis first cleared a spot of land on Montmorenci. He built a house and farm buildings there but soon found that the area was not conducive to farming and moved down the summit into the valley where the town of Ridgway is situated today.
The intersection of Elk Creek and the Clarion River was an ideal place for a lumbering town. Gillis gradually convinced Ridgway and others that there was much money to be made from the timber in the surrounding forests, which could easily be floated down the Clarion River to market. It was from the booming 19th-century lumber business that Ridgway was born.
In 1833, a town site was laid out. Lots extended north and south. Ridgway and Gillis reserved two acres in the center of the area, which would become the public square, now occupied by the Elk County Courthouse and County Jail.
Ridgway eventually became a thriving center for the production of leather, lumber, iron and other goods and commodities. By the early 20th century the town boasted more millionaires per capita than any other town in the United States. Today, Ridgway continues to thrive as a tourist destination. Victorian buildings and abundant outdoor activities draw annual visitors from around the world.
For more information about the history of Ridgway or Elk County, visit the Elk County Historical Society on the web at: www.elkcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
More information is also available at: www.ridgwayheritagecouncil.com.