The Buttermilk Falls Natural Area is located in Homewood Borough 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, now known as Buttermilk Falls, was always known by locals as Homewood Falls – and even earlier I’m told it was referred to as Smiddy’s Falls.
Recent legend has it that the falls got the name Buttermilk Falls in about 1870 from a group of Civil War veterans who enjoyed picnicking at the area, while enjoying their favorite refreshment of buttermilk. This is not true as the name Buttermilk Falls was not associated with it until recent years. I believe the popular name was “borrowed” from one of at least two nearby (and smaller) Buttermilk Falls located near the southern end of 5th Avenue in Koppel and along Wampum Run in Wampum.
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.
I can hardly find much mention of the falls throughout the first half of the 1900’s, but I presume it was a popular site for swimming and summer picnics. 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 about 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 in about 2005, and added parking spots, safety railings, and wooden benches along an improved 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. Around the falls are other historic sites, 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 Natural Area is a beautiful – 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.
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)
Looking out from behind the falls. (Jul 2011)
A feline spotted along the path to the falls. (Jul 2011)