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.