As it turns 125, an embattled W.Pa. borough looks to the future

North Braddock, a Pgh suburb, has shed population and jobs. Community leaders are looking to rebuild

By: - May 2, 2022 6:30 am

By Jordana Rosenfeld

NORTH BRADDOCK, Pa. —  This western Pennsylvania community is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year.

The Pittsburgh eastern suburban borough, bordering Braddock Hills, Wilkins Township, Chalfant, East Pittsburgh, and Braddock, officially turned 125 years old on April 26. North Braddock has a population of about 4,597, according to council president Lisa Franklin-Robinson. And the borough’s population peaked about 92 years ago.

Today, its current population is slightly more than a quarter of what it was in 1930. Franklin-Robinson said. Despite the population bleed, community leaders are optimistic about the future.

“One-hundred-twenty-five years of existence gives me hope for North Braddock’s future,” said Franklin-Robinson, who also is a fourth-generation North Braddock resident.

Franklin-Robinson’s great grandparents moved to the community during the Great Migration in the early 1900s and were able to purchase a home in North Braddock “at a time when it was difficult for Black families to purchase homes.”

Since the deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s, “every aspect of borough life has suffered trauma. 28.2% of its residents live below the poverty line on streets that are lined with blighted houses,” she wrote in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper.

“But we are a resilient people that live in the hills. … Yes, we have suffered loss, but our region holds the history of America, so we have a responsibility to ensure that North Braddock has a future,” she continued. “I have a responsibility to my ancestors who sacrificed so much to live here.”

The North Braddock Network’s visitor’s guide to the borough includes an old steel baron mansion, the Grand View Golf Club, and Braddock’s Battlefield History Center, which sits on the site of the most widely recognized battle of the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Vicki Vargo, who was also born and raised in North Braddock, said she had a wonderful childhood, which made her want to return to the community. Vargo is also serves on the borough council and is the executive director of the Braddock Carnegie Library Association.

“It was a place where I always felt safe and cared for,” she told City Paper in an email. “When I found myself looking for where I wanted to spend my adult life, the opportunity to purchase a house in North Braddock came up and I moved back.”

This year, Vargo celebrates her own North Braddock anniversary, marking 25 years since she moved back home in 1997, the year of the borough’s centennial.

“Time has passed so quickly,” she said. “North Braddock has gone through many, many changes, some good changes, some not so good. But the one thing that will not change in this town is the caring concern of its residents, my neighbors.”

“We will rebuild this community,” Franklin-Robinson vowed. “We are resolute. We are alive and still living in North Braddock, and where there’s life, there’s hope.”

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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