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North Hills Monthly

Community Guide: Etna

Jul 30, 2015 01:36PM ● By Jennifer Monahan
The Borough of Etna was once so intertwined with steel mills and blast furnaces that its name is actually a reference to Mount Etna, the volcano. Today, this small but vibrant community is working to add green space and riverfront accessibility, and has emerged as an up-and-coming mixed-use neighborhood. Etna hosts a thriving industrial park and healthy business district, and offers affordable housing. The borough covers approximately one square mile on the north shore of the Allegheny River, and is home to about 3,900 people.

Mary Ellen Ramage grew up in Etna and has worked for the borough for 37 years, serving as borough manager for the last 25. She remembered, “When I started out, people used the term ‘river town’ and it had a negative connotation. Etna used to be a mill town. When the steel mills closed, people lost their jobs and the town was decimated. PennDOT projects over the last half-century eliminated 400 homes; it was a huge hit to our tax base.”

Despite these significant challenges, Ramage is extremely proud of the way the town has started to transform. She explained, “It has been so great to see the changes in the last 30 years. We have this beautiful park, pool, nature trail and walkable town. People want to live here.”

Positive Momentum and Affordability
Ramage pointed to a number of improvements that have helped the borough attract young families. The town recently added the Dougherty Nature Trail, and has plans to develop a riverfront park and bike path. Borough leaders have partnered with six neighboring communities to create a bike and walking trail that will eventually connect to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

Reasonable housing prices and easy commuting access make the location desirable, and Etna’s community park and municipal swimming pool have proven appealing for families. The Tony Damiano Memorial Deck is home to a popular Dek Hockey league, which draws about 200 participants each year.

Investing in the Community
Etna just completed a street-scape renovation along one block of the business district, utilizing a half-million dollar grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Ramage explained, “The purpose was to separate rain water from the sewage system. We disconnected all of the downspouts, and now there is this artsy drain snaking down the sidewalks that collects rainwater by allowing it to infiltrate underground. It’s gorgeous.” The borough has already received a second EPA grant to begin working on the next phase of the project. “Our plan is to keep going block by block until the whole area is complete,” Ramage said.

Etna boasts a strong volunteer base among its residents. The Etna Garden Club is comprised of individuals who personally take care of 14 public gardens. The Garden of Etna, a separate project, is the result of a partnership between the borough and the local Presbyterian church. Volunteers converted a vacant lot into a large vegetable garden where residents can get an individual plot free of charge. The garden also has four large beds dedicated to growing food that is then donated to local food banks. To date, the garden has provided about 3,500 pounds of fresh produce to food pantries in the area. The Etna Neighborhood Association offers free outdoor movies and concerts in the park during summer months, helps to organize Etna’s annual Community Day, and assists with its Light the Night festivities.

Local Flavor
The E-Town Bar and Grill is hugely popular and a past winner of WPXI’s “Best Fish Sandwich in Pittsburgh” award. Amato’s Pizza, another local favorite, has had a presence in Etna since the 1950s. Pollak’s Candies is a town staple; the confectionary is third-generation family-owned and operated, and has been making chocolate in Etna since 1948. Homemade kielbasa and custom cuts of meat are available at Stumpf’s Meat Market, a local business whose origins date back over 100 years. The popular store regularly has lines out the door around Christmas and Easter.

Etna boasts a flourishing industrial park, and the town has a number of successful businesses. One such enterprise is Forms+Surfaces, a world-wide manufacturer of signs and street furniture. The company gives back generously to the community, including a recent donation of large planters to enhance sidewalks in the business district. Etna is also home to Winschel Hardware, remarkable in that it has been owned by the same family since 1885, and Ranalli's Barber Shop, which was started by Frank Ranalli back in 1963, and is now run by his daughter, Denise Ranalli Russell.  

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Upcoming Events
  • Aug. 8: Community Day
  • Sept. 26: Etna Art Tour, 6-10 p.m.
  • Nov. 28: Light the Night celebration: The town is known for its annual festivities the Friday after Thanksgiving. Light the Night is a free event complete with live reindeer, a photo booth and fireworks.