Monday, August 12, 2013

An Honorable Man

William Williams was in charge of the blast furnaces at the Homestead Mill during the strike of 1892. He was summoned by Henry Clay Frick and asked to re-light the furnace fires so that the people in the town would think that the strike had ended and the men would return to work. Williams refused.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gone and Forgotten?

In 1907, 27 miners were killed in an explosion in the Naomi Mine in Fayette City, Washington County. Those miners were buried in the Mt. Aubern Cemetery on the top of the hill in Fayette City. They are interred in a special section with a dedication marker to those who lost their lives in the disaster over a century ago. Unfortunately that section, as with much of the rest of the cemetery, is seemingly forgotten. It is very much overgrown, markers and headstones have fallen, are broken and in disrepair.

More on this to come...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Take a Bow, Both of Yunz!

Before there were value meals, turkey wraps or ultimate snack anythings, downtown lunch goers went to George Aiken’s or the Smithfield CafĂ© to fill their bellies.
Combined, these two culinary anchors of Downtown Pittsburgh served countless numbers of delicious meals for over 112 years. Both closed in the spring of 2012 due to many factors including high rent, the competition of fast-food eateries and downtown progress and development.
As a Point Park student in the 1980s who knew where the best meals were at the best price, I frequented the stools and booths of both. Thank you, you will be missed.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Did You Know...

Did you know that between 1825 and 1880 there were nearly 80 coal mines along or near the Monongahela River?

These mines employed thousands who worked as miners, haulers, and on the mine's railways. Many of these mines were owned and operated by large corporations but most were worked by small "mom & and pop" companies. These mines produced thousands of bushels of lump coal everyday under the worst labor conditions. These conditions, by today's standards, were harsh and dangerous. Countless workers lost their lives to accidents and sicknesses related directly to the conditions.

Let me know if you'd like to learn more.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Remembering Officer Vic Cianca

Taken in 1965, this is a photo of Pittsburgh Police Officer Vic Cianca, pictured left, became a world famous icon as "The traffic cop with flair." His flamboyant style of directing traffic with his trademark white gloves landed him on many television shows in the 1950's and 60's such as Alan Funt's "Candid Camera", Real People and The Tonite Show.

His entire career was with the Pittsburgh Police Department retiring in 1983. Pittsburgh lost a true icon when Officer Cianca passed away in 2010 at the age of 92.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pittsburgh Sports Fandom!

When we think of local history, what usually comes to the minds of Pittsburghers is the fort at the Point, Braddock's crossing on the Mon below what is now Kennywood Park or the hey-day of steel production.
We usually don't relate our history to our sports let alone the history of our "Fandom" and how we celebrate our teams.

On Saturday, May 12, the Heinz History Center honored Robert Garritano with the Ray Mansfield Humanitarian Award. Robert was better known to Pittsburghers, especially Steeler fans as the "Terrible Fan." Few knew Robert's name but if you were conscious or even slightly coherent in Pittsburgh in the 1980's, you saw the "Terrible Fan" costume and the games in and around Three Rivers Stadium.

Congratulations Robert! You've given us a great character to cheer and celebrate with. We'll learn more about you and the rest of Pittsburgh's sports fan icons later soon.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pittsburgh's Waterways (Part 3)

The Monongahela River wharf has its own colorful past as many expeditions, western explorations and historically significant events began on the shore of the Mon. In 1770, George Washington made his exploration down the Ohio as he began his journey from the bank of the Monongahela near the point. It was also from the Mon Wharf that a steamboat made its first inland cruise from Pittsburgh in 1811.

Other events included the shipment of supplies to General Andrew Jackson’s army in New Orleans during the War of 1812 by Major William B. Foster, father of one of Pittsburgh’s favorite sons Steven Foster, and an 1817 visit from James Monroe, the first U.S. President to come to Pittsburgh. Many celebrations during the Civil War were held on the wharf as well as a great centenary celebration of steam navigation in 1911. At one time, the Monongahela Wharf was a popular open market for goods and produced shipped into the city and off-loaded at the river bank.

The River’s Ghosts and Lore

Pittsburgh’s river history is includes many tales of strange events predate even modern river traffic as the early Indians believed that the Ohio River was a place where evil spirits dwelled in the dark and muddy water. An early story dating from 1786 tells of a “hole” at the bottom of the Ohio River near McKees Rocks. The Pittsburg Dispatch of 1910 reported “Just below the bend of the river is deep water which has been sounded by a line of 60 fathoms and no bottom found.” Although the existence of a hole in the river was never proven, many swimmers and river boatmen fervently avoided the area.

Many Pittsburghers are aware of the story of the B-25 airplane that crashed into the Monongahela near Homestead in 1956, but most don’t know of the many forgotten stories of eerie events and strange sightings handed down by riverboat captains and deckhands.

Another of these tales of the unexplained came from a steamboat captain in the 1930’s who described an eerie yellow light in the rocks along the shoreline in the Ohio River just below Parkersburg. Many believed that it had something to do with the wreck of a packet boat in 1916. On a cold February night, the Kanawha capsized for no apparent reason and 17 people drowned. Shortly after the Kanawha went down, the strange yellowish light appeared. Many packet boats passing the place of the wreck would point it out to their passengers who too saw the eerie glow in the water.

The history of Pittsburgh’s three rivers is as vast and far-reaching as the waterways themselves. From the early packet boat traveler on the Ohio, to the barge captain on the Monongahela, to the fisherman on the Allegheny, all Pittsburghers know how these great rivers have defined our community and shaped our history.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pittsburgh's Waterways (Part 2)

An Early Account of Doing Business on the River -
One of the first known written accounts of river trade between Pittsburgh and New Orleans took place nearly 200 years ago. In the early spring of 1807, a group of farmers in Greensburg were in need of basic supplies such as coffee, tea, and flour but had little money to purchase these provisions. What they did have was an abundance of distilled whiskey but not much of a local market for the liquor. A businessman from Irwin named James Fleming, Sr. proposed a solution to the farmer’s plight: transport the whiskey from Pittsburgh to New Orleans on a flatboat to sell or trade for the much needed supplies. Fleming kept a well written account of his journey.

The voyage began on April 3, 1807 on the flat boat laden with 14 barrels of whiskey, totaling over 500 gallons, over 500 pounds of deer skins that would later be sold for ten cents a pound, and various supplies for the trip. Along the way, stops for trade and sales were made in Steubenville, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Baton Rouge, Louisiana and then New Orleans. The river trip took seven weeks and, except for a “strong spring storm”, was fairly uneventful. After traveling from Steamer ship from New Orleans to New York, home via stage coach, Fleming arrived back in Greensburg in August with a nearly $200 profit for the farmers. Little did Fleming know, this same trip would be made countless times in years to come by riverboat captains, merchants, and packet boat travelers.

River Trade was Prosperous -
It’s hard to visualize a time when the air around Pittsburgh, especially at the Point, was thick with smoke. Smoke not from the area’s steel mills but from the steamboats that clogged the three rivers and lined the shores of the Allegheny and Monongahela. During the 1830’s Pittsburgh was the hub of industry in boat building as some of the finest steam ships and sternwheelers that sailed the Mississippi and beyond were constructed in the Pittsburgh area.

Mrs. V.D. Drynan, the 1929 Pittsburgh Civic Club President was quoted then as saying; “In 1837 before Pittsburgh was considered much, most of the boat building business was centered in Glenwillard or Shoustown as it was known then. The boatyards employed several hundred people and they were among the best boat builders on the river.”

American writer Mark Twain helped conjure the images of life on the Mississippi River that was traversed by the grand paddle wheel steam boats. Not only were these ships ornate and graceful but they were also the powerhouses of the waterways. In the early days of river traffic, these steam driven workhorses moved massive amounts of materials.

The mid 19th century brought much prosperity to the trade companies who operated on the waterways. In one shipment from the upper Allegheny to Pittsburgh, over 3 million feet of board lumber was floated down river to be used for the construction of homes and buildings. The cost to move this material was about nine dollars per 1,000 feet. Another load saw 14,000 barrels of salt from mines in New York State transported south down the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers at a cost of 8 dollars per barrel. On the return trip to Pittsburgh and points north, many water craft were loaded with apples, cider, bacon and other useful household items as a river trip was rarely wasted with empty cargo bays or ship’s holds.

While transportation companies often reaped great profits, the average roustabout or deck hand was paid about 50 cents a day. Work on the rivers was hard and dangerous and many were exposed to hazards including falling over board into the frigid and unforgiving waters or being crushed by tons of shifting cargo.

The opportunity for work on the rivers was plentiful. In 1918, the tonnage of materials transported on the Monongahela River exceeded the tonnage transported through both the Panama and Suez Canals combined. The Monongahela saw 17 million tons of cargo transported past Pittsburgh while both canals combined saw less than 15 million tons pass through their locks. This cargo included the fresh cut lumber from the Allegheny Forrest passing through Pittsburgh on its way south as well as steel produced in Homestead and Duquesne in route to destinations in the west.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pittsburgh's Waterways (Part One)

Pittsburgh’s rivers have meant many things to many people. For some, the waters have held fortune through trade and industry while for others, heavy spring rains or large ice jams brought the promise of flooding and destruction. From the early days of exploration through over two centuries of industrial development and travel, the rivers of Pittsburgh have held the promise of prosperity and adventure to those willing to navigate their waters.

As early as the 1730’s, the land where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers met to form the Ohio was a meeting place for those who traded with the Indians. In 1753, George Washington, under orders from Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia, explored the land at the confluence and wrote, “I spent some time in viewing the rivers and the land in the fork, which I think extremely well suited for a fort, as it has absolute command of both rivers. It has well timbered land all around and is very convenient for building.” In 1754, a fort was constructed by a few Virginia Militia under the command of Captain Trent representing the Ohio Company and the first white settlement on the site of modern day Pittsburgh was established.

Although by 1790 there were nearly 130 families in Pittsburgh occupying 36 log houses, one stone house, one frame house and five stores, the area didn’t see any real growth until the end of Indian hostilities in 1795. By the time the city was incorporated in 1816, the population exceeded 6,000 and the village by the rivers was fast becoming the hub of travel and trade.

As the population of the area grew, many towns along the rivers played an important role in the development of the region and the nation. Towns such as Elizabeth, Homestead and Clairton along the Monongahela prospered from their industries which depended on the river. Business was now becoming part of the river’s history.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Love Letter Unread

One day, a Pittsburgh woman was going through an old attic trunk. In her mother's belongings, she discovered an 88 year old letter that was written to her mother's then 6 month old sister by her young brother who was fighting in France during World War I. The letter is dated April 8, 1919.xx

"Dear Little Sister,
Having not seen you yet but having heard so much about you I thought I would write you a few lines of course knowing that you will have to wait some time before you are able to read it, that you have a brother in France who is very anxious to see you and I am sure that you have another brother who is also over here that is anxious to see you, and we expect to be home and see our new sister soon. Hoping this finds you well and that I may soon be home with you I am your anxious, brother Bill.

Her brother Bill did return home to see his new sister, but unfortunately died a few short months later after being exposed to mustard gas in Europe. Bill's brother Peter who also served in France had returned to the states after the war but also died as a result of exposure to chemicals at the German Front.

It is interesting to note that since it was found in the belongings of the baby's older sister, in nearly nine decades, the true recipient never read what was intended for her eyes to see.