Ridgway was founded by Philadelphian shipping merchant Jacob Ridgway and James Gillis. Jacob Ridgway earned substantial wealth both in Philadelphia and abroad in London. In the early 19th century as part of a larger land purchase, Ridgway acquired 40,000 acres that became Elk County. One of Jacob Ridgway’s nephews, James Gillis, convinced Ridgway that the area could become a very lucrative spot for a lumber camp due to the proximity of Elk Creek and the Clarion River, a tributary of the Allegheny River. Coal and natural gas abound in the district.
In the past, the industrial interests were manufacturing leather, iron, clay, and lumber products, silk goods, railroad snow plows, dynamos, and machine tools. Many historic structures are located within the boundaries of the Ridgway
Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The O.B. Grant House and Ridgway Armory are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ridgway is located in central Elk County, and is surrounded by Ridgway Township. The borough is in the valley of the Clarion River, where it is joined from the east by Elk Creek. U.S. Route 219 passes through the borough
center, leading north 44 miles to Bradford and south 28 miles to DuBois.