Down Life’s Crazy Road: East Brady
By John Pozza
It’s called the “Playground of the Allegheny” for good reason.
East Brady, 54 miles northwest of Pittsburgh at the border of Clarion and Armstrong counties, has been a summer getaway for campers and boat enthusiasts along the Allegheny River for generations. Pittsburgh area families for years have escaped the hustle and bustle of the city on weekends and holidays to enjoy the more peaceful natural vista that East Brady offers.
Nestled along a picturesque curve in the river, East Brady has now attracted a whole variety of outdoor enthusiasts including those that like to fish, hunt, kayak, canoe, tube, camp, hike, and – people like me – that also like to bike ride.
The town last year celebrated its 150th anniversary. Each July, the East Brady Annual Riverfest convenes for a “four day celebration of life” featuring a parade, food, vendors, live music, contests and fireworks.
For activities on the river itself, the Pool 9 area is the most upriver pool and most popular. It features nine miles of deep water unlimited horsepower boating, with the best freshwater fish catches being walleye, muskie, catfish and bass. The Allegheny River was named Pennsylvania’s River of the Year in 2017.
Brady’s famous “Playground of the Allegheny” namesake is now beautifully articulated in artist Paul Means’ color mural that adorns the exterior of one of the town’s buildings along Kelly’s Way, the main thoroughfare. The four seasons collage of all things outdoors, on and along the river, was dedicated to John and Carolyn Olszak in 2017 by their family.
Many families own or rent homes or cabins along either side of the river in either East Brady proper, or in the Brady’s Bend and Seybertown neighborhoods on the west side of the river across the Brady Bridge.
In more recent years, the Armstrong Trail, developed from an abandoned rail corridor, has become a haven for bike riders that descend on East Brady from every direction for its scenic locale. East Brady serves as the trail’s northern terminus, with the trailhead parking area on Verner St. With a level and well maintained crushed limestone surface, the trail runs 36 miles all along the river from East Brady south through the towns of Philipston, Rimer, Templeton, Hook Station, Kittanning and Ford City, meeting its southern-most trailhead in Rosston. It will soon open its five-mile extension from Rosston south to Freeport, where it will connect to the Freeport-Butler Trail.
Five miles south of East Brady, the Armstrong Trail also connects to the equally picturesque Redbank Valley Trail, dubbed PA’s 2014 Trail of the Year by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Redbank Valley Trail runs 41 miles northeast along Redbank Creek from the Allegheny River to Brookville over bridges and stone arches, and through two tunnels. The trail also includes a separate nine-mile spur from the Lawsonham trailhead to Sligo.
Those like me that bike ride along the river will particularly enjoy riding the “share the road” portion past the new Shady Shores housing development located on the northern-most end of the trail. You will also want to stop at several historic railroad sites, such as the old railroad turntable in Philipston and the old Coal Tower near the Redbank Valley Trail access.
The East Brady Riverfront Park, a half-mile recreational park, is also accessible from the trail in town featuring a paved switchback to the river. It includes a pavilion, picnic tables for outdoor eating and an informational kiosk. Yoga in the park is held throughout the summer under the pavilion.
Several bars and restaurants complement East Brady’s inviting playground. When approaching from the east on Route 68, travelers can stop at the quaint Outlook Inn family style restaurant atop the Brady Hill next to the Brady’s Bend Overlook. They are known for their prize winning burgers.
Locals often refer to this area as “The Narrows,” a connotation for the place where the Allegheny River bends or narrows considerably. The Overlook is a spectacular 1,500-foot panoramic view of the magnificent bend in the river. The eight-mile loop of the river is particularly breathtaking when fall leaves are at their finest. Both the Overlook and the Outlook Inn have ample parking and seating.
In town on Water Street, travelers can sample the newer, more upscale, Dock 9 bar and restaurant on the riverfront, which offers indoor and outdoor seating for dinners or late night snacks and legal beverages.
Kelly’s Way also hosts the popular Old Bank Deli and Coffee Shoppe in the former Farmers National Bank building, with an adjacent parking lot and group bike rack conveniently located across the street.
For more simpler fare, Kelly’s Way also boasts Rocky’s Pizza, the St. Cloud Hotel, and All Stars pub and grille.
Two of East Brady’s biggest supporters are Marty and Toni Henry. A number of years ago, after living in the Pittsburgh area, the couple retired and sold their house to return to Marty’s hometown. They refurbished and moved into his grandparent’s home on Purdum Street. At one time Toni operated the Henry House Tea Room hosting birthday parties, Red Hat groups, meetings and casual get togethers. They are both very active in the community, with Toni a board member of the East Brady Area Development Corporation. If you ever have the opportunity to meet the Henrys, you will be struck by their friendly nature and wonderful ambassadorship for the town. It’s what makes East Brady and all its townspeople so special.
For many, the name East Brady often evokes memories of its favorite son Jim Kelly, a highly accomplished athlete at the former East Brady High School. Kelly was an all-state football and basketball player in the late 1970’s, earning a football scholarship as a quarterback at the University of Miami.
Kelly later went on to have a decorated 12-year pro football career from 1984 to 1996. He earned league MVP honors in his rookie season of 1984 playing for the former Houston Gamblers of the upstart U.S. Football League. After the USFL folded, he joined the National Football League as an all-pro quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, leading the team to four consecutive AFC Championships, and four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991 to 1994. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
The Kelly family has always had a debt of gratitude for their hometown, often giving back as much as they received, prompting the townspeople to name Main Street in Jim’s honor.
Many of Kelly’s East Brady athletic exploits are showcased in a trophy case still housed in the old high school, which now serves as the borough’s municipal building.
There’s no question that if you come to East Brady as often as I do, you’ll receive a friendly greeting from the Henrys, have an endless outdoor adventure, and find a new fresh experience each time you visit.
About the author: John Pozza
John Pozza, of Brookville, is an early childhood education advocate and veteran broadcast journalist. He retired from the Region 1 Early Learning Resource Center based at the Northwest Institute of Research (NWIR) in Erie in 2020, but keeps active as a regular columnist for the Brookville, Brockway and Clarion Mirror, and as a contributing writer for Watershed Books in Brookville, which helped publish his memoir, “Was Anybody Really Listening,” available on Amazon, and his soon-to-be-released “Conversations on The Neighborhood” on the legacy of Fred Rogers. He also hosts the NWIR Quality Early Learning Show podcast on Soundcloud. John and his wife Lisa live in Brookville with their two cats, Rusty and Tinker Belle. They have a son Matt, a US Navy veteran, who is a graduate of the Claude Pettit College of Law at Ohio Northern University and practicing attorney in Jacksonville, Florida.
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