From its founding in 1788 by David Mead, Meadville has been a center for trade and a home to inventors, artisans, and entrepreneurs. The town stretched in a grid between its public square Diamond Park on the east and French Creek on the west. The earliest business district grew up on Water Street, a north-south road that paralleled the waterfront and connected to the old Indian trail that traversed the area.
When the railroads arrived in the 1860s, the tracks also ran north-south, roughtly parallel to French Creek. The stations and facilities were laid out west of Water St., allowing most passengers to exit onto Chestnut St.. where any number of hotels, shops, and entertainment establishments awaited them. Later on, passengers could board trolleys to make the easy ride out Chestnut St., up the Main Street hill to Allegheny College, or perhaps out to Exposition Park, now known as Conneaut Lake Park. Postcards from the 1910s show the lively action in the center of town, identified as the corner of Chestnut St. and Water Street.
By 1971, the landscape of Meadville was dramatically changed as the state and federal governments established the highway system to accommodate the exploding automobile culture. The major redevelopment that brought the Arterial Highway through town, ended regular railway service, and established the Downtown Mall in its place, with lots of easy parking.