Edinboro is an urban center with a "small town atmosphere" located in a rural setting. It is a college town, and a lake resort in the summer months. There are attractive residential areas, busy commercial districts, an industrial park, a lakeside resort, and recreational opportunities. There is also a "sense of community pride" maintained by most permanent residents. They like Edinboro as a place to live, to work, to raise a family or to retire. Even newer residents believe that Edinboro is a special place affording educational, cultural, social and recreational opportunities in a small town atmosphere not found in many communities. A better understanding of present day Edinboro is possible only through an understanding of its historical development.
Edinboro in 1898 - Click to Enlarge
The area now known as Edinboro and Washington Township was first inhabited by the Eriez, Iroquois, and Cornplanter Native Americans. The region itself was a dense forest with no accessible roads. The Native Americans referred to the region as Conneauttee, meaning "land of the living snowflake." In 1801 William Culbertson built a gristmill near the outlet of Conneauttee Lake, subdivided a portion of his 500 acre tract, and established the beginnings of present day Edinboro.
Farm land was cleared in the surrounding countryside and the future community began to take form. Congregations of the Presbyterian and Methodist church organized and formed the roots of the still-active churches. The first school was built by William Culbertson around 1825. Edinboro's postal service traces back to 1837 when a branch office was established as part of a postal circuit through Erie and Crawford Counties. Through the early 1800's the community continued to grow in support of the surrounding farms, and in 1840 it incorporated with a population of 232 and land area of 500 acres. Edinboro continued to develop as an old New England town architecturally. The second half of the 1800's saw significant changes in Edinboro. A turnpike made of planks was completed in 1852 between Erie and Meadville via Edinboro. The road south of Edinboro to Venango still bears the name Plank Road. An academy was started in 1855. This academy became the State Normal School in 1861 and evolved into the present day PennWest Edinboro University.
By the 1900's an electric railway had made its way between Erie and Edinboro. A trolley station was subsequently built by the railway company which later served as the Borough Municipal Building until the construction of the new building in 1975. Three fires severely damaged the commercial section of town in the early 1900's. The fires dated 1902, 1905, and 1909, destroyed the original wood frame buildings but were replaced with the brick structures still in place today. Through the 30's, 40's, and 50' Edinboro matured as a summer resort community as Lakeside developed, summer camps operated at capacity, and the Lakeside Association actively promoted tourism and its "resort colony".
The 1960's brought dramatic growth and development to Edinboro. About 400 building permits were issued during this decade including eight apartment complexes and seven new subdivisions. Over one million dollars in building permits were authorized during this decade. Assessed valuation of property in 1960 was $1,161,670 and increased to $5,500,000 in 1969. Borough staff numbered eight full-time and four part-time in 1960 increasing to eleven full-time and nine part-time in 1969. The number of maintained roads almost doubled from 10 miles in 1960 to 18.5 miles in 1969. Water consumption tripled in the same period from 52,732,000 gallons to 167,284,000 gallons. Such growth prompted the construction of a new sewage plant, completed in 1970.
The 70's, 80's, and 90's were a period marked by change, innovation, and improvement. The Borough's Home Rule Charter was adopted in 1974, followed by the construction of the current Municipal Building in 1975. The 1980 census placed the Borough first in population among all Boroughs in Erie County, with a total population of 6,324 an increase of 30%. The Borough continued to experience growth in the business districts, in housing, and in the University. The 80's also served as a time of transition. Edinboro State College transformed to Edinboro University. In addition, the Borough developed a new water source on the EUP campus with newly acquired Community Development Block Grant Funds and upgraded the Sewage Treatment Plant. Further upgrades to the sewer system were made in the 2000's as additional capacity was created to allow for increased flows from Washington Township. Billings Park on Lakeside received a new playground in 2016, funded in part by the generous donations of the community. A new, state-of-the-art Water Treatment Plant was constructed next to the Municipal Building in 2018, along with other drinking water system improvements such as new water lines and a new water storage tank on Dundon Road. 2018 was also the first of multiple years of downtown improvement grants from ECGRA, which brought a new life to the look of downtown Edinboro.
The Borough's population peaked at 7,736 in the 1990 census. Population declined to 6,950 with the 2000 census, and the downward trend continued with the 2010 census to 6,438 Borough residents. Despite the decrease in population, Edinboro continues to have a flourishing business district and the permanent residents maintain an ever-growing sense of pride in the Edinboro community. Annual events such as the Downtown Edinboro Arts & Music Festival, July 3 fireworks, PennWest Edinboro University Homecoming, and the Highland Games & Scottish Festival give residents plenty to look forward to throughout the year, in addition to the beautiful lake that brings joy to thousands of residents and visitors each summer.
For more information on the history of Edinboro, please contact the Edinboro Area Historical Society at 814-734-6109.