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Buttermilk Falls - Homewood Borough PA

The Buttermilk Falls Natural Area is located in Homewood in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, near the intersection of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Route 18. The main feature of the park, which runs along Clark’s Run, is a picturesque thirty-five-foot waterfall that seemingly cascades off of the old railroad tracks above. The waterfall, known as Buttermilk Falls, was a popular destination in years past and brought people to Homewood to take in its scenic beauty. It reportedly got its name in about 1870 from a group of Civil War veterans who enjoyed picnicking at the area, while enjoying their favorite refreshment of buttermilk.

The sleepy little rural area later known as Homewood Junction (or later yet as simply Homewood and sometimes as Racine) was first settled in about 1831. The area was jumpstarted in 1852 when trackage of the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P) was built through the area. The area became a railroad junction as lines branched out south to Pittsburgh, west to Ohio and on to Chicago, and north towards New Castle and beyond to Lake Erie. The O&P was consolidated under the new Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, & Chicago Railroad Company (PFW&C) in 1856 and was later absorbed into the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) in 1869.

The burgeoning village of Homewood Junction was laid out in 1859 and employment was plentiful with the railroad, a saw mill, an ice house, and at a stone quarry established just downstream from the falls. The village, which achieved borough status in 1910, got its own Post Office in 1862 and a Methodist Church (also serving as the local school) was also established in 1869. Years later, during 1914-15, a two-story brick schoolhouse was opened and the Harmony Short Line interurban streetcar system passed through the area.

The area along Clark’s Run had an exposed layer of Homewood Sandstone, a hard gray stone useful in heavy duty construction efforts, and was quarried (beginning in earnest in about 1852) for this valuable resource. The stone quarry was in its heyday throughout the remainder of the 1850’s when the nearby railroads helped transport the stone blocks out of the area. The quarry was in business for many years and at its peak employed about a hundred or so men from around the region. Work at the site died out in the 1870’s, but was restarted for a time in early 1902. The Homewood Quarry was one of a slew of heavy stone, bituminous coal, or limestone quarries established along the Beaver and Connoquenessing Rivers in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Newspaper articles reveal that Buttermilk Falls, and a nearby ballfield, was a popular picnic area for school and church outings from about 1905 until the late 1930’s. The area unfortunately fell into neglect for many decades after World War II and was sadly even used as a dumping ground for old tires. In the mid-1970’s a local initiative pressed the Beaver County government to take action to preserve the site, however it was years before anything happened on this front. The county finally purchased almost four acres along Clark’s Run from a private interest in March 2000 and also received a generous donation of adjoining property from the nearby Conley Motor Inn.

The county cleaned up the site, named it as the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area, and added parking spots, safety railings, and wooden benches along an approved trail. A large sign marks its location along Route 18 north of Beaver Falls, but the park is still a little known gem of Beaver County. The park is county-owned but by agreement is maintained by the borough of Homewood. Above the falls are other historic relics, including the old Homewood United Methodist Church, several old railroad bridges, and remnants of the Harmony Short Line.

The fortunes of Homewood Junction rose and fell with the railroad industry. With the general decline of the railroads beginning in the 1920’s the area soon returned to its sleepy roots. Today, Homewood is a quiet little settlement with a population of only about 150 people and Buttermilk Falls is its main – though seemingly unknown – attraction.


An old photo of Buttermilk Falls c1900. You can see part of the railroad bridge in the upper left of the photo that spans Clark’s Run above. The old railroad station and St. Cloud Hotel would be just off photo to the left.


The sign for the park entrance along Route 18 while headed south towards Beaver Falls. (Photo taken Aug 2010)


As you park your car you can start walking along a winding path towards the falls. (Aug 2010)


A historical marker tells the story of the old stone quarry that once occupied the area. (Aug 2010)


Evidence of the stone walls left behind is clearly visible. (Aug 2010)


Wooden steps help guide you along the way to the falls. (Aug 2010)


Clark’s Run, which meanders below to the left of the path, is quite picturesque. (Aug 2010)


Further evidence of the massive stone columns in the area. (Aug 2010)


The view after a short walk and climb down to the falls area. (Aug 2010)


An old carving from 1899 is clearly visible in a stone underneath the falls. (Aug 2010)


Notice the old railroad bridge up above. (Aug 2010)


A closeup of the cascading falls. (Aug 2010)


The view from the left side of the falls. (Aug 2010)


The view from the old railroad bridge up above the falls. It’s hard to see but the water plummets over the falls in about mid photo. I do not recommend attempting to get this shot in such similar weather conditions. (Feb 2011)


Standing almost directly on top of the falls and looking towards the old railroad bridge. At the bottom left the swift-moving waters of Clark’s Run are just about to go over the frozen falls. (Feb 2011)


A wider view of the frozen falls and the bridge above. In the extreme upper left of the photo the old St. Cloud Hotel is partially visible. (Feb 2011)


A spectacular shot of Buttermilk Falls in all its frozen glory. (Feb 2011)


Looking down from atop the frozen falls. A wintertime visit to this location is well worth the trip, but be extremely careful. (Feb 2011)



Yes, it was as cold as it looks that day! And for good measure it started snowing and then raining on me. (Feb 2011)


Looking out from behind the falls. (Jul 2011)


A feline spotted along the path to the falls. (Jul 2011)

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Comment

  1. Question: I am going nuts trying to find my Robinson ancestors. My great grandmother said they came from Homewood, Lawrence county, PA. My first question is: Was the Homewood that is now Beaver county once part of Lawrence county? Or was there another Homewood in Lawrence county?

    I love your pictures. This is a very nice website.

    If you could answer my questions, I would be very grateful.

    Thanks!
    Jackie Tulumello

    Jacqueline Tulumello · 04/01/2012 09:17 PM · #

  2. (EDITOR’S NOTE) Jackie, Thanks for the compliments. Homewood Station or Homewood has always been a part of Beaver County. It was also known as Racine for a time, based on the name of the local Post Office. The reason for that was there is a “Homewood” near Pittsburgh, now a section/neighborhood of that city and known for the famous Homewood Cemetery. Any reference to “Homewood, Lawrence County” is undoubtedly referring to the town in Beaver County – just south of the Lawrence County border. But be careful because most references to Homewood are usually referring to the more populated neighborhood in east Pittsburgh. Jeff

    Jeff Bales · 04/02/2012 09:19 PM · #

  3. The Civil War picnic story is not accurate. Our church, at the falls has references to Buttermilch (German Derivative)Falls before the 1870 Date. In this time period our church membership contained several Civil War veterans. There are eight CW Vets buried in our cemetery. If that picnic happened as in the article quoted it certainly would have included the church and some of the members. The earlier date as to the name clinches that the fireside story of the train excursion cannot be accurate.

    Hap Wichryk · 06/25/2014 06:56 AM · #

  4. Ms. Tulumello,
    I am thoroughly acquainted with the history and genealogy of the Homewood area. It is close to Lawrence county as half of Big Beaver was clipped off when Lawrence County was formed. If you can give me some more information on your family I may be able to help you. There is also the Genealogy and Research Center in Beaver where many records from the inception of Beaver County to the present are located. Hope to hear from you.

    Hap Wichryk · 06/25/2014 07:01 AM · #

  5. (EDITOR’S NOTE) Hap, Thanks for your informative posts. Let’s explore this a little deeper. I wrote that the falls “reportedly” got its name during the picnics commencing about 1870, meaning that is the popular belief or folklore. It could have been named many, many years earlier. I really don’t know. And “about 1870” could mean anytime after the Civil War ended – so lets say 1865-1869. I believe the church did not relocate to the falls until 1869-70. Is that correct? Do you know the exact date it was dedicated or opened? I’m missing something when you dismiss the tale as a “fireside story.” Your post is almost a tease as it leaves out a major detail… i.e. when you say your church “has references to Buttermilch (German Derivative) Falls before the 1870 Date.” What are the dates? That’s a major nugget of info! Late 1860’s? Even earlier than the Civil War? 1850’s? Did your church members visit the falls when congregation was still located to the south? Thanks. Jeff

    Jeff Bales (EDITOR) · 06/29/2014 04:39 PM · #