Driving along Freeport Road, it's just a hop, skip and a jump from one end of town to the other for anyone who doesn't know to make the turn into the cozy confines of Aspinwall.
But for those who do, the riverfront borough that will celebrate its 121st year of incorporation with a communitywide cake-sharing party today boasts a close-knit mix of homes and businesses that the borough manager describes as "exactly what you picture when you think of small-town America."
As the chief municipal officer, manager Melissa Lang said she "loves" working in a place "where people recognize you and know your name." A native of Indiana Township, she had been working for 10 years as an administrator at Mercyhurst College in Erie until she began her tenure in Aspinwall in April.
She believes the borough of about 2,800 has been discovered as a jewel that "has it all:" nice homes on easily-maintained lots; an array of about 160 businesses from drugstores and delis to a spa, boutiques and specialty restaurants; two borough parks and an Allegheny Riverfront park that's under development; a 10-minute drive to Downtown, a local hospital and a local mall; and walkable and bike-able streets within the 12-square-mile community.
"We're not even 3 miles from end to end. You can see the same people every day and get to know each other. There's a feeling of comfort in that," Ms. Lang said.
The result has been a burgeoning business community along the spokes of Commercial and Brilliant avenues and an influx of younger families that are converting rental properties to single-family homes.
"We know property values are going up because we see it in our tax revenue,'' she said. In fact, because of the growing tax base, the property tax rate for 2014 is to remain at the current level of 4.86 mills.
Lifelong resident Sandy Woods, 64, co-chairman of the borough civic association and a parking enforcement employee since 1971, said the borough and its assets will be celebrated with a party around 10:30 a.m. today in honor of the borough's official incorporation 121 years ago on Dec. 28.
"We've done this every year since the centennial in 1992. We get a cake and set it up in the council room and we invite the community to stop in and have a piece of cake and celebrate," she said.
Already, plans are in the works for a big party to mark the 125th birthday year for the borough.
"What it comes down to is that this is a very nice place to live and work and walk in. But, you can drive on Freeport Road and, unless you know to turn in, you might not realize what all we have here -- and we have it all," she said.
Karen Kane: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-9180.