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Exploring the Heritage Area—Planes & Aviation

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Westmoreland County Airshow in Latrobe by Bill Rigsby. Image courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranExploring the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Planes & Aviation!

Surprising Contributions in Flight

As we explore our region’s legacies in transportation, it seems natural to focus on our the crisscrossed network of railroads or even the auto industry of the early 20th century. After all, those industries were intrinsically connected to the iron and steel that the Pittsburgh area was so famous for. For the third segment in the series. we delve into the somewhat surprising, but highly relevant, contributions that have been made in the field of aviation. From a pioneering female aviator to the heroic Tuskegee Airmen, pilots from Western Pennsylvania have left a proud legacy. Read on to learn more about these exemplars, the flights and fields that helped birth aviation here, the places you can visit and the experiences you can have—including a special event on August 25—to celebrate planes and aviation in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

But first, we have to share the story of the 1956 disappearance of one B-25 bomber that crashed into the Monongahela River…

Illustration of the B-52 "Ghost Bomber" descending into the Monongahela River

Illustration of the B-25 “Ghost Bomber” descending into the Monongahela River, Image courtesy of the B-25 Recovery Group.

The Enduring Mystery of the “Ghost Bomber”

One of the region’s most well-known aviation-related incidents is surrounded by what many consider to be mysterious circumstances. This much is agreed upon: Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on January 31, 1956, a B-25 Mitchell bomber with crew onboard fell out of the air, skimming low over what is now the Homestead Grays Bridge and splashing into the icy, 34-degree Monongahela River downstream of where Sandcastle Water Park in West Homestead is today. The men were on a routine training flight from an Air Force Base in Nevada to pick up a cargo of airplane parts at Olmstead Air Force Base in Harrisburg when it became clear they were quickly running out of fuel and had a malfunctioning engine. All six crew members survived the initial crash, but sadly two drowned while attempting to swim to shore. After the crash, a Coast Guard cutter caught the wing of the submerged plane with its anchor, but when the line slipped it was the last sign ever seen of the B-25 bomber. Official search efforts continued for two weeks with no luck finding the aircraft, and a number of additional attempts in the years since have also been fruitless.

This is where the questions arise—though there are many locals who swear they know exactly what happened. Some say they witnessed the military secretly recovering the plane’s wreckage in the dead of night to conceal its sensitive cargo, which is said to range from nuclear weapons to Soviet agents, or even a UFO from Area 51. (Remember, this was at the height of the Cold War.) Others contend that the aircraft’s aluminum body would have been eaten away decades ago by the polluted waters of the Mon, leaving only the steel engines and landing gear remaining. Some believe the craft was washed down the Mon to the Ohio River and may have landed somewhere around Emsworth. But if you ask the B-25 Recovery Group, who are determined to rescue the aircraft, it’s settled in a gravel pit near where it first sank, under 32 feet of water and 15 feet of silt. The Senator John Heinz History Center has a detailed account of the incident, including original newspaper clippings and official documents pertaining to the mystery of the “Ghost Bomber.”

Aviation Destinations in the Heritage Area

If you’re planning to hit the road on these itineraries during the global pandemic, please be mindful of the health and safety guidelines in place from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to contact the sites, restaurants and attractions directly to confirm their operating statues and the safety protocols they have in place. We encourage you to bookmark these itineraries as travel inspiration to return to when things are less uncertain.

Image courtesy of Air Heritage, Inc.

Air Heritage Museum and Aircraft Restoration Facility

35 Piper St., Beaver Falls, PA 15010 | 724-843-2820 | airheritage.org

This working museum in Beaver Falls has a large collection of displays and ephemera that tell the rich history of flight, specializing in World War II and Vietnam era aircraft and artifacts. Members of the organization have repaired and restored numerous aircrafts over the past 30+ years, and visitors can see active restoration in progress in the large hangar.

Spirit of Freedom, image courtesy of Visit Greene, the Greene County Tourist Promotion Agency.

Aviation Day in Greene County

417 E. Roy Furman Hwy., Waynesburg, PA 15370 | soarofgreenecounty.org

This annual two-day festival celebrates the history and thrill of flight every August at the Greene County Airport in Waynesburg. The historic Spirit of Freedom takes flight for a Candy Drop as a kid-friendly way to re-enact the Berlin Airlift, and children aged 8 to 17 can take a free Young Eagles flight. The event is presented by Support Our Aviation Resources (SOAR) of Greene County, which brings together aviation enthusiasts and professionals to support the community airport and inspire youth to embark on careers in flight. The 2020 Aviation Day has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Butler Flying School, image courtesy of Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau

High-Flying History and Dining at Butler County Airport

Serventi’s on the Runway, 473 Airport Rd., 2nd Flr., Butler, PA 16002 | 724-481-1213 | serventisontherunway.com

The flat spread of land that makes Butler County well-suited for agriculture also made it an ideal place for early pilots to land. In 1908, a member of the Wright Brothers’ Exhibition Team soared over Butler in a one-man dirigible from the current site of Butler High School to the Courthouse and back, completing the first flight in the county. By 1929, a 230-acre site made up of the former Nixon and Dodds Farm was officially opened as the Pittsburgh Butler Airport, which served as the primary airport for the Pittsburgh region until Pittsburgh International was built in the early 1950s. The Penn School of Aviation was originally housed here and was regarded as one of the most state-of-the-art air transport and mechanical schools in the nation. Amelia Earhart attended the airport’s dedication, and she returned in 1930 to train in Butler’s skies for three months to earn her instrument flight certificate prior to her flight across the Atlantic. She had long-range fuel tanks installed on her Lockheed Vega (dubbed the Little Red Bus) while in area. The 2015 Butler County Visitors Guide has a detailed timeline of the county’s aviation milestones. Read up and let history come alive as you settle in for a meal at Serventi’s on the Runway, which serves fine Italian cuisine overlooking the Butler County Airport. At dinnertime you can watch jets taking off against the setting sun.

Helen Richey in a U.S. Mail Carrier, image courtesy of McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center.

McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center

1832 Arboretum D., McKeesport, PA 15132 | 412-678-1832 | mckeesportheritage.org

The collection of this museum is extensive, and includes an exhibit honoring McKeesport native Helen Richey, a pioneering female aviator who was started her flying career as a teenager out of high school. In 1929 at age 20, she became the first licensed female pilot in Allegheny County, and by 1932 she and Frances Marsalis set a new women’s endurance record, staying aloft for nearly ten days. She beat out eight men for the job when she was hired as the first female pilot for a commercial scheduled passenger carrier, Central Airlines, in 1934. She was forced to resign soon after, however, following a gross case of sex discrimination when male pilots threatened to strike if she stayed on – women wouldn’t become airline commercial pilots again until 1973. Later, Richey became the only female flight instructor for Army Air Corps cadets at Pittsburgh-Butler Airport. During World War II, she ferried combat aircraft around England as a member of the British Air Transport Auxiliary. Take a look at McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center’s webpage dedicated to Richey to see vintage video footage of her in a Universal Newsreel titled “Lady Mail Pilot.” Pittsburgh International Airport’s Blue Sky News blog also recently wrote about Richey as the Amelia Earhart of Pittsburgh.

Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of Greater Pittsburgh

Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of Greater Pittsburgh

501 Hopkins St., Sewickley, PA 15143 | 412-741-4409 | sewickleycemetery.com/the-tuskegee-airmen-memorial/

The Sewickley Cemetery is home to the largest outdoor memorial to Tuskegee Airmen in the country. Ninety of these legendary first Black military airmen were from western Pennsylvania—the largest contingent involved in the Tuskegee experience. The memorial is one of the first displays on the road into the cemetery, with four handsome granite monuments, an honor roll of local Tuskegee Airmen, and an airplane tail sculpted from red granite inspired by the Tuskegee unit’s nickname, the “Red Tails.”  Like most things in the United States, the U.S. Armed Forces were segregated in the leadup to World War II. Racist beliefs that Black people couldn’t learn to fly aircraft prevented African-American men from joining the newly expanded civilian pilot training programs to prepare the country for war, until 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt listened to the lobbying campaigns of the NAACP and Black newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and announced a new training program for Black pilots. Nearly 1,000 African-American and Caribbean-born airmen volunteered to train at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, flying more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen’s impressive performance—they are especially known for their protection record, having lost only 27 of the 179 bombers they escorted, compared to an average of 46 among other units—earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. This heroism and excellence helped to encourage President Harry Truman to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces and mandate equality of opportunity and treatment in 1948, three years after the end of the war. In 2007, 350 Tuskegee Airmen and their widows received the Congressional Gold Medal. WQED produced a documentary called Fly Boys: Western Pennsylvania’s Tuskegee Airmen, featuring the stories of more than 40 aviators from the region.

Pittsburgh International Airport

The Pittsburgh International Airport also honors the legacy of local Tuskegee Airmen, with a museum-quality photographic display in Concourse A, which can be seen by non-travelers who get a myPITpass at the third-floor ticket counter. This memorial and the display at Sewickley Cemetery were both created by Regis Bobonis Sr., a retired Pittsburgh journalist and amateur historian who was inspired to pay tribute to Tuskegee Airmen from the region after meeting with dozens of them in a quest to capture their stories. Pittsburgh International Airport’s Blue Sky PIT blog has more information about the memorials, and how to view them.

Special Event at the Tull Family Theater

Tull Family Theater, 418 Walnut St., Sewickley, PA 15143 | 412-259-8542

On Tuesday, August 25, 2020, Chauncey Spencer’s traveling museum dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen will be parked in front of the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Tull Family theater will also host two free showings of a 30-minute documentary, Tuskegee Airmen: Fight and Flight, at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Spencer is taking his museum on a cross-country tour from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to honor his father, Chauncey Spencer Sr., who flew a plane with Dale White in 1939 between the same two cities to convince Congress that African Americans had a place in aviation. What became known as the “Goodwill Flight” did include a stop in Pittsburgh, where they were forced to land in the dark after they were refused arrival at Morgantown’s airport. After landing safely in Pittsburgh, they were grounded the next day by the Civil Aeronautics Authority—ensuing legal proceedings drew Robert Lee Vann, an attorney and then publisher and editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, to come to their legal defense. Spencer Sr. and Dale’s flight convinced Congress to allow Black people to be included in the pre-WWII Civilian Pilot Training Program in Tuskegee. This article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has more details about the traveling museum, and the Tull Family Theater website has information about the documentaries.

Westmoreland County Airshow by Denise Eidemiller. Image courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

Westmoreland County International Airshow

148 Aviation Ln., Latrobe, PA 15650 | 724-539-8100 | palmerairport.com

The Arnold Palmer Regional Airport usually hosts a two-day airshow each May, often featuring the Navy Blue Angels, who are slated to perform at the 2021 event. Daredevils and fighter jets entertain the crowd with stunts and narrated re-enactments of war missions. Attendees can step onboard static aircraft to peak into the cockpit. The Westmoreland County International Airshow is on hiatus in 2020.

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If you missed them, be sure check out the Automobiles and Roadways itineraries, part one and part two, as well as the Trains and Tracks itinerary.

Stay tuned for more itineraries through the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, as we continue to explore the region through the lens of transportation. 

Celebrating National Aviation Day

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Photo: Huffman Prairie, National Aviation Heritage Area, courtesy of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance.

Across the United States, there is a vast network of National Heritage Areas, each one designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area is just one of 55 National Heritage Areas, each one focusing on a special that’s defined America. Today, we’re transporting you about 260 miles west in the comfort of your own home to learn more about the National Aviation Heritage Area, which encompasses eight counties and more than 15 aviation sites radiating out from Dayton, Ohio—the birthplace of flight. Learn more about the experiences that the region offers at VisitNAHA.com!

Logo for the National Aviation Heritage Area with the tagline "Come. Discover. Fly!"

Celebrating the Wright Brothers on National Aviation Day

 

By Elizabeth Connor, APR.   |  Director of Communications, National Aviation Heritage Area

 

Today, on National Aviation Day, we take a moment to celebrate the national success of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Their invention in Dayton, OH connected the world in real life before the internet shifted our perception of time and space. Started in 1939 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Orville Wright’s birthday (National Aviation Day) is now annually a time to honor connections, share resources, and discover new adventures.

We invite you to read and enjoy this story, shared with us by our friends and neighbors in southwest Ohio at the National Aviation Heritage Area.

During the late 1800s, the Carnegie Steel Company managed the steel mills in and around Pittsburgh, PA including the Carrie Blast Furnace. For a massive sale price of $492 million, Andrew Carnegie sold his company to J.P. Morgan in 1901. The new conglomerate: United States Steel Corporation.

But that wasn’t the only business investment J.P. Morgan was making at the turn of the century. On February 17, 1901, W.H. Ogan of Boston represented the financial interests of Morgan at the first run from Springfield, OH to Urbana, OH on the Dayton, Springfield and Urbana interurban rail line(DS&U).[i]

While the rise of the automobile signaled doom for the interurbans, in the early 20th century these electric streetcar lines were a primary means of transporting passengers between cities and provided new access to rural farms and small towns. Two brothers became some of their best customers.

Wilbur and Orville Wright took the DS&U daily from their west Dayton shop to the farm of Torrence Huffman about eight miles to the east. The DS&U had a small shelter called Simms Station there and the 100-acre farm was perfect for an impromptu airfield, as long as you didn’t mind a few cows and horses grazing on the runway.

Beginning first with the Wright Flyer II on May 26, 1904, the brothers flew 25 feet across Huffman Prairie. Their father had come to watch the spectacle and caught the 3:30 DS&U back to Dayton after his sons’ flight. It took less than 30 minutes to get back home.[ii] Six years after that first flight, almost to the day, the Wright brothers took their father up into the air for the first time. As we all are, the brothers were nervous about their father’s reaction. But his words were only, “Higher, Orville. Higher.”[iii]

As word of the brothers’ success spread, tourists and supporters frequently traveled the DS&U to Simms Station to watch history unfold. At Huffman Prairie in 1904 and 1905, through a series of unique experiments, the Wright brothers mastered the principles of controlled, powered flight, and developed the world’s first practical airplane.

In 1904, the brothers made 105 flights, totaling 49 minutes in the air with their 1904 Wright Flyer II. With this flying machine, they made the first turn and the first circle in the air. They also employed a starting derrick for the first time and Wilbur set a new distance record.

When the brothers returned to the Huffman Prairie for the 1905 flying season, they brought along an improved machine, the 1905 Wright Flyer III. This flying machine, which evolved throughout 1905, could bank, turn circles, and make figure-eights. On October 5, 1905, Wilbur piloted the plane for a world record of over 24 miles in 39 minutes. About two weeks later, the brothers ended their experiments for 1905 feeling that they now had a practical airplane that they could market. In the 1905 flying season, the brothers stayed aloft for 262 minutes in just 50 flights.

The Wright brothers returned to Huffman Prairie Flying Field in 1910. The field was used by their new business, The Wright Company, as a testing ground, flying school, and home to their exhibition team. The Wright Company ceased use of the flying field in 1916.

You can no longer travel on the interurban today, but you can visit Huffman Prairie. Located on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the area includes the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center, the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, and the Wright Memorial.

At the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center, you’ll see exhibits that focus on the achievements of the Wright brothers at Huffman Prairie Flying Field, and the story of their continuing legacy as embodied by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Dedicated in 2002, the interpretive center is owned by the U.S. Air Force and operated by the National Park Service.

________________________________________

[i] Keenan, J. (1992). Chapter III, 1901 – The Year of Promise. In The uncertain trolley: A history of the Dayton, Springfield and Urbana Electric Railway (p. 33). Fletcher, OH: Cam-Tech Pub.

[ii] Ibid, (p. 62).

[iii] Crouch, T. D. (2003). The Bishop’s boys: A life of Wilbur and Orville Wright (p. 12). New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

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Join the National Aviation Day Conversation

Want to keep learning about everything there is to celebrate on National Aviation Day? The National Aviation Heritage Area is facilitating a #NationalAviationDayChat all day on Twitter. Follow their high-flying Twitter handle, @visit_NAHA to join the conversation and enjoy the connections that aviation—and the internet—provides!

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About Elizabeth Connor

Elizabeth Connor is the Director of Communications at the National Aviation Heritage Area in Ohio. She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and an avid Pens fan. Elizabeth has worked in tourism throughout the globe since 2008 and was named the 2019 Emerging Leader by the Ohio Travel Association. The National Aviation Heritage Area is the recognized center of aviation heritage tourism and aerospace innovation, sustaining the legacy of the Wright brothers.

Artist Profile: Latika Ann

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Rivers of Steel Arts is excited to launch the 2020 Mon Valley Featured Artist Series. Showcasing some of the exciting creative professionals working across the Mon Valley Creative Corridor, this monthly blog highlights an artist each month—from a variety of boroughs—to provide a snapshot of the region’s growing cultural vitality.

About Latika Ann

During the month of August we are excited to showcase the artwork of Braddock resident Latika Ann as our featured artist in the Mon Valley Creative Corridor.  In addition to her studio work as a painter and printmaker, Latika also channels her creativity through the Braddock Carnegie Library’s Neighborhood Print Shop.  Working with youth and adults across the region (Rivers of Steel has worked with Latika on numerous community silk screening events in the Mon Valley) Latika’s dedication to her craft and passion for her community shines through in all aspects of her practice.

A Message from Latika

About My Work

This work of art is based off of all the events that are going on in the world and my perspective on how it affects me. There are pieces that represent things from the past as well, our history is still so present that even when I’m not aiming to add an element from the past somehow an element from the past still makes its way to my pieces, they always connect back to the issues we are now facing. I try to capture everything that comes to my mind when things are happening in the world. I get a lot of inspiration from listening to interviews and catching a word or phrase a person may say, I’ve also been really inspired by my youngest sister and the protest she has been attending.

My Home

I currently live in Braddock, PA. I like the area I live in because this is home. Braddock is where all my family is and where I have connected with people I would have never imagined connecting with. Although Braddock gets a bad name, people outside of the community don’t understand the love “Braddodians” have for one another. Most of the community knows my family so it has automatically been love since I was young, now that I’m older most people now know me for being an artist and a screen printer at the Braddock Carnegie Library. I believe my work always has some sort of representation of where I am from and where we as a community are trying to go whether it’s screen printing or painting. My job provides me with a lot of opportunities and a large range of individuals to network with. Braddock is like a goldmine and most people aren’t even aware of half of the hidden gems we have in our community. I believe we as a community try our best to support those we really see trying to evolve, there is still work to be done but I feel as though we are making progress in the Mon Valley area.

Find Me Online

Instagram: @latikaann

Web: latikaann.wixsite.com/hightalentstu

Exploring the Heritage Area -Trains & Tracks

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A CSX train approaches Station Square, August 2020.

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranExploring the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Trains & Tracks!

Transforming Travel & Industry

Railroads and streetcars were once vital to the movement of people, natural resources and manufactured goods throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to power the Big Steel industry. The first tracks were laid here in the 1840s, but it was in the 1870s that railroad networks spread throughout the region, crisscrossing what is today the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. To get people to their jobs, streetcar lines reached into every neighborhood in major towns, and Interurban lines connected mine patches and market towns with each other and with Pittsburgh. Long-distance mainlines—like the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, the Norfolk & Western, the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, and the Bessemer & Lake Erie—carried raw materials, products, produce, and people between southwestern Pennsylvania and the rest of the nation. Steel companies built rail spurs to carry coke fuel from their mines to riverfront barge landings, and workers from one plant or patch to another. And that’s not even counting the hundreds of miles of train tracks on mill sites themselves to move materials and molten iron between shops—there were more than 150 miles of track within U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works alone.

 

7 Pullman Porters (black men) stand with a steward and a conductor (white men).

Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Pullman porters, steward and conductor standing in front of a New York Central Railroad car, September 8, 1950. Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh via Historic Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company Records Collection.

The Complicated (and Even Subversive) Legacy of Pullman Porters

Many physical remnants of tracks and rails exist to visit throughout the region today, whether preserved as a museum or historic site, repurposed into a new dining or entertainment venue, or still moving people and things from one place to another. But as time passes, memories of the height of train travel dwindle and become even more valuable. This 2009 article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review captures recollections of former KDKA-TV reporter Harold Hayes and the late Harvey Adams Jr., a prominent civil rights leader who helped integrate the Pittsburgh police force, both of whom were grandsons of Pullman porters. This 2002 article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shares more locals’ memories of the pride that porters took in their work, and the racist treatment they endured from passengers and their employers.

The legacy of Pullman porters has ties in cities across the United States. To bring luxury and convenience to the rising railroad industry after the Civil War, industrialist George Pullman furnished plush sleeper cars that included the service of a porter. Pullman hired only African-American men—often former slaves—for this role, who were expected to be at the beck and call of the passengers they served. Common duties included carrying luggage, shining shoes, ironing clothing, minding children, tidying the train car, and serving food—some passengers even expected porters to entertain them with song and dance. “When Lincoln freed the slaves, George Pullman hired them,” is a saying often associated with Pullman porters.

Harvey Adams Jr. told the Tribune-Review that with all of the work to be done, his grandfather, Wister Adams, “walked” to California and back on the cross-country trains that he worked on for decades. With trains traveling across the country at all hours of the day, porters also had grueling schedules. They generally worked 400 hours each month, and usually were allowed only three or four hours of sleep between their 20-hour daily shifts. Porters had to pay for their own meals, and the purchase and care of their uniforms was also their responsibility.

Margaret Tardy, a Cincinnati resident, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2002 that she remembered her father, Harold T. Tardy Sr. of East Liberty, proudly wearing a black uniform and white shirt with a starched collar, topped by a black cap with a small bill. She said her father, who passed away in 1964, liked to go to baseball games in New York City when he had time off, and that he avoided traveling below the Mason-Dixon line to the Jim Crow South. For generations, porters were all addressed by passengers as “George”—after George Pullman, just as slaves were called by their master’s name before emancipation. Margaret remembered that her father, who was a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, rejected that treatment. She told the Post-Gazette, “Dad would point to his name tag, greet the passenger with a smile and respond that he had a name, and his name was Harold.”

A single porter stand in a unpopulated dining car with dressed table settings.

View of a porter posing in a new side-door Pullman dining car, May 22, 1935. Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh via Historic Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company Records Collection.

Life as a Pullman porter was demanding and often demeaning, while also allowing Black men to bring decent wages home to their families and information from other parts of the country to their communities. Harold Hayes told the Tribune-Review that his grandfather, Thomas Burrell, earned $3,200 in wages and $700 in tips in 1950, an income that allowed him to build a house in Beltzhoover and send his daughter to Howard University. Burrell worked on the Pittsburgh to Detroit run on the Pennsylvania Railroad for 13 years.

In 2002, a 77-year old James Austin of Homewood reminisced to the Post-Gazette about visits uncle, Spurgeon “Sonny” Austin, would make to his childhood home, preferring to stay with family instead of at a boarding home in the Strip District like many Pullman porters did. James remembered his uncle sharing dozens of stories from his travels, and that he “could make a bed faster than anyone in the house.”

Pullman porters were key in expanding the reach of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most widely circulated and well-respected Black newspaper in the country in the 1930s and ’40s. At that time, sheriffs in the Jim Crow South banned the publication and frequently burned those that made it into their towns. To get the paper into the South, the Courier launched a clandestine distribution campaign in 1936 that lasted until the mid-1940s. The Post-Gazette reported that porters helped to deliver 100,000 papers a week into the south.

The elaborate operation started when the Courier camouflaged its trucks and smuggled bundles of papers to the railroad station in Pittsburgh, wrapped in special weather-proof paper. Porters hid them aboard or under the trains, and then dropped the bundles off about two miles outside major cities like Chattanooga, TN; Mobile, AL; and Jacksonville, FL. A network of Black ministers would then secretly retrieve the papers and distribute them to their congregations.

Porters distributed the papers for free, but sometimes received as tip from the Courier. The success of these secret deliveries led other Black newspapers to turn to the porter network to distribute their papers in the South, as well. Frank Bolden, a former city editor and foreign correspondent for the Courier, told the Post-Gazette in 2002, “They were the guys on the front lines. They were foot soldiers.”

A contemporary image of the front facade of the Wilkinsburg train station. Courtesy of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Rail-related Destinations in the Heritage Area

If you’re planning to hit the road on these itineraries during the global pandemic, please be mindful of the health and safety guidelines in place from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to contact the sites, restaurants and attractions directly to confirm their operating statues and the safety protocols they have in place. We encourage you to bookmark these itineraries as travel inspiration to return to when things are less uncertain.

Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad, courtesy of the Carnegie Science Center.

Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village

One Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212 | 412-237-3400 | carnegiesciencecenter.org

For more than 100 years, this miniature replica of regional landmarks has captivated visitors with scenes of the way people in the Pittsburgh area lived in an era spanning the 1880s to the 1940s. This detailed, animated display started in the home of Charles Bowdish of Brookville, PA, in 1919; it was moved to the Buhl Planetarium in 1954, and then opened at the Carnegie Science Center in 1992. The 83-foot by 30-foot platform usually has about five trains and one trolley operating on a landscape that includes key historic and cultural sites like Kaufmann’s Grand Depot, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood House, Fallingwater, Punxsutawney Phil, and many more.

DiSalvos Station, Latrobe by Deborah Stofko.

DiSalvo’s Station Restaurant

325 McKinley Ave., Latrobe, PA 15650 | 724-539-0500 | disalvosrestaurant.com

This restored 1903 train depot of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Latrobe serves classic Italian fare that has earned numerous accolades. Guests enter the restaurant by walking through a tunnel that leads to a spacious, cobblestone atrium. A full-sized dining car sits inside the restaurant, and the former luggage and ticketing area is now a tap room. The lower level of the restaurant is a cavernous, speakeasy-style cigar bar.

Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington with Duquesne Incline Station. Photo by Richard Nowitz.

Duquesne Incline

Lower station parking lot 1197 W. Carson St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219 | 412-381-1665 | DuquesneIncline.org

The 794-foot long double tracks of the Duquesne Incline have been lifting passengers in twin cars a height of 400 feet up and down the face of Mount Washington since 1877, closely following the path of an earlier coal hoist. At one time there were nearly 20 funiculars servicing Pittsburgh’s bluffs, carrying cargo, livestock, and people. But today the Duquesne Incline is one of the few remaining in the country—along with the Monongahela Incline further east on the face of Mount Washington. Be sure to take a tour below the operator’s room at the Duquesne Incline’s upper station to see the hoisting equipment in action!

Grand Concourse Restaurant and Station Square

100 W Station Square Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15219 | 412-261-1717 | GrandConcourseRestaurant.com

At the base of Mount Washington lies a dining and entertainment complex along the Monongahela River called Station Square. This area is where passengers once arrived on the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, first chartered in 1877. It soon became known as the Little Giant for the amount of tonnage that it moved through the region. Shops, restaurants and nightlife now make their homes in the terminal and freight station; the historic Pittsburgh Terminal Train Station has been preserved as a multi-purpose building. The ground floor houses Grand Concourse restaurant, a local favorite for more than 40 years, resplendent with stained glass, intricate woodworking, a grand staircase, and many reminders of the building’s past life.

Harry Clark’s Indian Creek Valley Railroad Model Railroad at Connellsville Canteen

131 West Crawford Ave., Connellsville, PA 15425 | 724-603-2093 | connellsvillecanteen.org/harry-clark

Image courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

All aboard to the Connellsville Canteen, home to a local World War II museum, a charming café, and a world-renowned model railroad display. After returning from World War II, Connellsville native Harry Clark started to build train cars by hand at the kitchen table as a way of relaxing. Clark came from a long line of B&O Railroad employees, and was a carpenter by trade. Over fifty years, he built what became a world-renowned display that he called the Indian Creek Valley Railroad, depicting Connellsville, Meyersdale, and other mountain towns in western Pennsylvania from the 1940s and ’50s in loving detail. Nearly all of the buildings, train cars, stations, saw mills, patch towns, coal mines and coke ovens were made by hand. In 2012, about a year after Clark’s death at age 91, the display was moved in one 28,000-pound piece on a tractor trailer from Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, where it was formerly showcased, to its new home. A crane lifted the 25-foot by 50-foot model railroad in place, and the Connellsville Canteen was built around it, modeled after the town’s old B&O station. Clark’s display was featured in Model Railroader Magazine with a centerfold, and Model Railroad Academy produced a nine-part video series about the Indian Creek Valley Railroad display and Clark’s passion and talent – a great way to enjoy the display virtually!

Thomas Town at Kennywood, courtesy of Kennywood.

Kennywood Park

4800 Kennywood Blvd., West Mifflin, PA 15122 | 412-461-0500 | kennywood.com

This historic, beloved amusement park in West Mifflin has tracks galore – on rickety wooden coasters, adrenaline-packed steel coasters, and retro favorites like The Turtles or the Auto Race. Younger railroad enthusiasts will delight with a visit to the park’s Thomas Town, with a number of kiddie rides and a Thomas-themed train ride that guests of all ages will enjoy.

­Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association

3032 Idlewild Hill Lane, Ligonier, PA 15658 | 724-238-7819 | lvrra.org

The Ligonier Valley Rail Road’s 10.3-mile long main line connected Ligonier and Latrobe—a relatively short amount of track that was a long time coming. It took about 25 years of planning, surveying, and legislating before Judge Thomas Mellon finally stepped in and agreed to complete and operate the railroad line in 1877. His main goal for the venture was to give his sons, Andrew and Richard, business experience. Idle Park, or Idlewild, was a venture established by the Mellons to increase passengers on their train, but the real boon for business was hauling freight – coal, coke, stone, and lumber. The “Liggie” made its last run in 1952 after 75 years of operation, but today the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum keeps the line’s history alive in an original station that was built around 1896.

Open car at Museum Road, courtesy of Trolley Museum.

Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

1 Museum Rd., Washington, PA 15301 | 724-228-9256 | pa-trolley.org

Step back to the dawn of the Electric Age when in 1918 the Pittsburgh Railways Company operated some 2,000 trolley cars, 65 different lines, and more than 600 miles of track. A nickel would take you where you wanted to go! After enduring hard times during the Great Depression, streetcars were returned to service during World War II when fuel and rubber were rationed. But after the war, the rise of the suburbs and the auto culture spelled out the end of the trolley’s heyday. Lucky for us, staff and volunteers at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington have been preserving the nostalgia, history, and streetcars of this era since 1949. Visitors can step aboard and see the restoration in progress of more nearly 50 cars including the original “Streetcar Named Desire,” take a roundtrip ride on a vintage trolley, and engage with hands-on exhibits that even put them behind the controls of a street car.

A restored streetcar is in the History Center’s Great Hall. Courtesy of Senator John Heinz History Center.

Senator John Heinz History Center

1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222 | 412-454-6000 | heinzhistorycenter.org

There are a number of transportation-themed exhibits to explore at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Pittsburgh Streetcar #1724 greets you upon arrival into the museum’s Great Hall, where you can step onboard and imagine what it would have been like to travel through the South Hills communities on this streetcar – as it did until 1988. Visit the History Center’s Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation exhibit to see pieces of the extensive Westinghouse Collection. George Westinghouse’s influence on the world was wide ranging, including the invention of the air brake, automobile shock absorbers, the development of railroad signaling, and much more. After your visit, you can also take a ride by the nearby Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters on Liberty Ave. between 24th and 25th Sts., which was built in 1869 as Westinghouse’s original air brake factory.

Youngwood Railroad Museum and Station Cafe

1 Depot St., Youngwood, PA 15697 | 724-925-7355 | facebook.com/YoungwoodRRMuseum/

Home to an assortment of locomotive paraphernalia, photographs, uniforms, equipment, and miniature train collections, this museum opened in Youngwood’s depot building the same year it was set to be demolished, 1982. Concerned citizens and railroad enthusiasts couldn’t let the legacy of their town’s rich railroad industry be forgotten. The original train crossing was established in the 1870s at the junction of John Young’s and James Woods’ properties, and by 1902 the newly chartered borough of Youngwood boasted a 15-bay roundhouse, a switch tower, miles of mainline and spur tracks, and the depot building, home to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s baggage and passenger station. Twenty years later, one-seventh of the nation’s supply of coal and coke ran through the Youngwood yard, which sometimes saw as many as 700 train cars per day.

Wilkinsburg Train Station 1916, courtesy of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Coming Soon: The Wilkinsburg Train Station Restoration Project

Across the street from Wilkinsburg Public Library, 605 Ross Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15221

After sitting vacant for more than 50 years, this beaux-arts beauty is being lovingly restored to its original glory and is set to once again become a hub of community activity in the revitalizing town of Wilkinsburg. Originally built in 1915, the opulent station earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. When the $6.5 million renovation is complete, it is intended to be a center for indoor and outdoor dining, shopping, and community gatherings.

Holiday Displays

A number of local model railroad collectors open only during the holiday season to showcase the miniature scenes and tracks that their members lovingly preserve and create. Visit their websites for more information:

  • Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum in Gibsonia | wpmrm.org
  • Ohio Valley Lines Model Railroad in Ambridge | ohiovalleylines.org
  • McKeesport Model Railroad | mckeesportmodelrr.com
  • Allegheny West Toy Train Museum in Pittsburgh’s North Side| tinyurl.com/yc7cyaac
  • Beaver County Model Railroad and Historical Society in Monaca | bcmrr.railfan.net

If you missed it check out the Automobiles and Roadways itineraries, part one and part two.

Stay tuned for more itineraries through the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, as we continue to explore the region through the lens of transportation. 

B/W images of train tracks and buildings in WV

Mill Marks: A Legacy Stamped in Steel

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Photos and Essay by Kevin Scanlon, Rivers of Steel Volunteer

Mill Marks

The latter part of the 1800s was the era that made Western Pennsylvania a leader in steel production. Several events added up to enable that growth. In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed. This spurred growth of all railroads. 1872 saw the invention of George Westinghouse’s automatic air brake. In 1873 the automatic coupler was patented. This all meant that trains would be longer, heavier, faster and with bigger locomotives. The existing railroad bridges would have to be replaced with stronger ones, and the iron rails themselves needed to be replaced with steel rails to withstand the pounding. 

Andrew Carnegie saw opportunity during the time he spent working for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroads were going to need lots of steel to improve their right of way and he would be their primary supplier. His Keystone Bridge Works took on spectacular projects such as spanning the Mississippi River. Carnegie Steel built the Edgar Thomson Works in 1875 to provide steel rails for the PRR. It was his first steel mill and is still in operation, though no longer producing rail. It can be argued that Pittsburgh would not have become what it was without the era of railroad growth.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years walking along railroad tracks. Anyone who does so will notice that all of the rails have mill marks: cast-in “labels” identifying who made the rail, the size, when it was rolled and other specialized details. The marks are repeated every few feet along the side of the rail. Not only are the rails identified this way, but often bridge girders, tie plates and equipment have mill marks or builders’ plates. All of the rail infrastructure was made for heavy use and made to endure. Railroads can’t repave their tracks every 7-10 years like we do with roads. It is not unusual to see rails on secondary routes and yards that are still doing their job 80-100 years after being rolled in the mills. 

Often I find myself daydreaming about what was going on when a particular rail was being made. It’s kind of like looking at an autograph and thinking about the person who signed it and what was going on in their life when their hand held that pen.

Here are a few examples:

Thurmond, West Virginia

Carnegie Steel, Edgar Thompson, 1899

B/W images of train tracks and buildings in WV

This rail was rolled at the Edgar Thomson Works in November 1899 when the works were still owned by Andrew Carnegie and just 24 years into the mill’s life. Also in 1899 the Pittsburgh Zoo and Kennywood Park were only one year old. Iron City Beer maker Pittsburgh Brewing Company and the Duquesne Brewing Company were newly established. This rail was in a yard of the CSX Railroad in Thurmond, WV.

Lackawanna Steel, 1956

Steel plate reading Lackawanna Steel Construction Corp'n 1956"

The Lackawanna 1956 plate was on the cantilever signal bridge at the town of Thurmond. By 1956 Lackawanna Steel was a part of Bethlehem Steel. They specialized in plate and structural steel although they did roll rail at Lackawanna and their former Pennsylvania Steel plant in Steelton, PA. The Lackawanna fabrication shop made a lot of these distinctive cantilever signal bridges for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

Spruce, West Virginia

Lackawanna Steel, 1904

Green valley and hills with a stream running through it

Rail stamped "LSC Buffalo 900 10 1904"

This section of rail was rolled by the Lackawanna Steel Company in Buffalo, NY at their brand new steel mill on the shore of Lake Erie. The mill was built in 1902 to compete with Carnegie Steel for the railroad business. The rail in the photo was still in service at Spruce, West Virginia when the photo was taken. Spruce was an isolated mountain town which had no road access. A lumber mill opened there in 1902 and the railroad was the highest elevation of any mainline east of the Mississippi at 4033 feet a few miles from Spruce. Nothing is left of the town except a concrete pad where the railroad engine house stood and some crumbling foundations of the old lumber mill. The photo of Spruce shows the Shavers Fork River flowing through the townsite, the railroad is on an embankment on the left.

Tobin, California

Fort Pitt Bridge Works, 1909

A deep canyon with a steel truss train bridge crossing close to the canyon floor, and a high steel arch bridge passes above it.

This is a builder’s plate on a Western Pacific Railway bridge in Feather River Canyon at Tobin, CA. The famed California Zephyr streamliner crossed this bridge on its run between Oakland, CA and Denver, CO. The bridge was constructed in 1909 during the 20 year span when Pittsburgh lost its “h”. The Fort Pitt Bridge Works was Pittsburgh based and specialized in bridges, steel structures, and blast furnace topworks. They supplied the steel for the Sewickley, Smithfield, McKees Rocks, 16th Street, and 31st Street bridges as well as bridges for the Parkway East and the PA Turnpike. When this bridge was being built, the Pittsburgh Pirates won their first World Series at the brand new Forbes Field. Honus Wagner led the Buccos in seven games, outplaying the Detroit Tigers with Ty Cobb.

Buffalo, New York

Lackawanna Steel, 1917

Lackawanna Steel Company rail from 1917. This was in service in Buffalo, NY at a grain elevator on the Buffalo River. In 1917, Buffalo was the hub for grain shipments coming out of the midwest through the great lakes. The big news for Buffalo at that time was the opening of the Glenn Curtiss Aeroplane manufacturing plant, the largest plane factory in the world. Just in time, too, since the US entered WWI that same year.

Coopers, West Virginia

Carnegie Steel, Edgar Thompson, 1926

Train tracks crisscross through a green valley with homes and industrial buildings.

Rail stamped "Carnegie ET USA 1926"

A lesson in reading mill marks: this rail was rolled by the CARNEGIE Steel Edgar Thomson Plant USA in 1926. The slash marks are for the month rolled, so this one is a September baby. 13031 indicates the rail weight, 130 lbs per yard. PS is Pennsylvania Section, the profile spec of the rail and OH indicates that it is Open Hearth steel. It must have been good quality because it was still carrying coal trains in Coopers, WV on the Norfolk and Western Railway. Coopers and the branchline this rail was on is near where a blacksmith named Jordan Nelson used coal from a nearby seam to fuel his forge. A representative from the railroad stopped by in 1881 as they were surveying their line. Jordan showed him where he got his coal, a 13 foot thick seam on a hillside. This was the start of the billion dollar Pocahontas coal field in the southern border of West Virginia. 

Johnstown, PA

Carnegie (US Steel), 1949

Johnstown was built around steel. This photo shows the Gautier Steel mill on the left and the Little Conemaugh River with a Norfolk Southern eastbound train starting the climb up to Altoona. The tracks of the Johnstown Inclined Plane climb Yoder Hill in the background.

This rail type is pretty unique. It was rolled by Carnegie (US Steel) in 1949 specifically for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR was rebuilding after WWII and specified the largest rail profile ever produced, 155 lbs per yard. This heavy duty rail was like everything the Pennsy bought for their railroad: built to last. They were called the Standard Railroad of the World because they set the goal that other railroads hoped to achieve. A four track mainline, stone bridges that are still rock steady over 100 years later, the most tonnage moved and the largest employer in the US at one time. It’s no coincidence that the mill where this rail was made was named by Andrew Carnegie after the president of the PRR, J. Edgar Thomson.

Nellie Bly—A Pioneering Traveler

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A lifelike figure of groundbreaking journalist Nellie Bly will join Franco Harris and George Washington at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Courtesy of Senator John Heinz History Center.

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranNellie Bly: Investigative Journalist, International Celebrity & Inspiring Traveler!

Elizabeth Jane Cochran, better known by her nom de plume Nellie Bly, was a pioneering investigative reporter. Her journalism career began in her teens at the former Pittsburgh Dispatch. At age 24 while working for The New York World, Bly set out to circle the globe faster than Phineas Fogg, the fictional hero of Jules Verne’s novel, “Around the World in 80 Days.” She set a world record by completing the journey in just 72 days, six hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds, travelling by  steamship, railroad, rickshaw, and sampan boat, horse and donkey. Her trip spanned November 1889 to January 1890, and Bly travelled solo with just one small piece of luggage—though she did purchase a pet monkey while in Singapore who made the rest of the journey with her.

Bly’s editors initially doubted that a woman could successfully undertake such a voyage, but upon her return The World’s publisher Joseph Pulitzer heralded her as a heroine on the paper’s front page, declaring her as, “personifying the independent American girl, the fascination of travel and the excitement of journalism.” Crowds awaited to cheer her on at each train station as she made the homestretch across the country from San Francisco, and when she arrived at her final destination, Jersey City, thousands were waiting to celebrate and welcome her home. The January 25, 1890, cover of The World’s Evening Edition proclaims tales of “The Little Lady’s Triumphal Journey Through Her Native State” with “Ovations at Pittsburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia,” and also marks her arrival time in Pittsburg (as it was spelled in 1890) as 3:10 a.m. One has to admire the tenacity of those who flocked to the train station in the middle of a winter’s night!

Bly gained international celebrity for her race around the globe, but her investigative reporting often spoke for people who were forgotten. She pioneered undercover reporting to expose the abuses of a New York mental asylum, the conditions of working women in various industries, the environment in women’s prisons, and became one of America’s first female war correspondents during World War I.

With her tenacity, wide-ranging knowledge, and sense of adventure, one can imagine that Bly would be the ultimate travel companion! Soon, passengers arriving and departing at Pittsburgh International Airport will be able to tip their hat to her when a lifelike statue of Bly is added to the iconic figures of George Washington and Franco Harris, made possible by a collaboration between the Senator John Heinz History Center and the Allegheny County Airport Authority. One likes to imagine that Bly is keeping an eye out for anyone who might try to upstage her record-breaking race around the world on a new-fangled airplane! Be sure to check out the Heinz History Center’s article about Bly’s big trip – and don’t miss the photo of a “Round the World” boardgame that was inspired by her globetrotting!

Portrait of Nellie Bly, c. 1890. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This story is part of a series of transportation-themed articles highlighting modes of travel throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.  Click through to read about Pittsburgh’s early automobile industry or to discover driving itineraries showcasing automobiles and roadways—both part one and part two. Stay tuned for more stories and itineraries through the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, as we continue to explore the region through the lens of transportation. 

Exploring the Heritage Area – Automobiles & Roadways Part Two!

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Model Ts on the National Road’s Turkeynest Curve, heading down from the historic Summit Hotel. Courtesy of the National Road Heritage Corridor.

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranExploring the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Automobiles & Roadways, Part Two!

In part one of our Automobiles & Roadways itinerary, we explored Allegheny, Beaver, and Butler Counties. Today we’ll follow the National Road Heritage Corridor through Somerset, Fayette, and Washington Counties before hopping on the a historic stretch of the Lincoln Highway through Westmoreland County! Then we’ll close out this virtual journey with a trip through time at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter.  But first, let’s take some inspiration from the “Four Vagabonds.”

The Summit Inn Resort, courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The Four Vagabonds

There’s a lot of talk lately about forming a “quarantine pod” with a few friends or family members—a small group of people who share similar interests and risk tolerances who get together to keep cabin fever at bay during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prepare to have squad envy:  Back in the early 1900s, a foursome of recognizable men established an annual camping trip filled with escapades, innovations, and adventure. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs gathered each summer from 1915 to 1924, and called themselves the “Four Vagabonds.”

The summer of 1918 brought the group together in Pittsburgh, before they set off to Hempfield and Connellsville as they travelled the National Road by car and camped in tents along their way to Maryland and West Virginia on a mountainous route. These titans of industry were legends of their day, and the press loved to follow their exploits every year. Local headlines included, “Electricity Wizard Edison Arrives in the City,” and “Ford Chops Wood; Edison Lights Camp,” according to 2018 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about a 100th anniversary commemorative Model T tour that retraced the original route through what today is known as Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.

The group—along with a cook and photographer—spent their first night after leaving Pittsburgh in Miller’s Woods, which is now the Westmoreland Mall. The next day on the road, a fan blade went through the radiator of one of the group’s Model T’s in Connellsville. Who better than Henry Ford himself to have around when there are car troubles? He fixed the issue, but the delay and poor weather prevented the group from making it to their campsite that night. Instead, they spent a memorable evening at the Summit Hotel in Farmington, known today as The Historic Summit Inn Resort—where you, too, can enjoy an enjoyable stay with friends. The six-foot tall mantel that the Vagabonds took turns kicking cigars off of is still there, and so are the steps where they had a stair jumping contest! (Ford won, bounding the ten steps in two leaps.)

The Summit Inn is so named because it rests at the top of Summit Mountain of the Chestnut Ridge, its grand porch offering views for miles. The grueling climb was a perfect opportunity to test how Firestone’s tires worked on Ford’s cars. You and your road-tripping companions will also delight in the winding roads and scenic vistas throughout the southern stretch of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area that lead to historic roadways. And if you’re waiting a while to hit the road, you can live vicariously through photos and recollections recorded by Vagabond John Burroughs in Harvard’s Library Collection blog, The Shelf. A sure sign that the trip ahead is going to be a good one: “It often seemed to me that we were a luxuriously equipped expedition going forth to seek discomfort.”

If you’re planning to hit the road on these itineraries during the global pandemic, please be mindful of the health and safety guidelines in place from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to contact the sites, restaurants and attractions directly to confirm their operating status and the safety protocols they have in place before you go. We encourage you to bookmark these itineraries as travel inspiration to return to when things are less uncertain.

National Road Wagon Train entering Addison, PA by Charlotte Pletcher, courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The National Road Heritage Corridor

Driving through the National Road Heritage Corridor as it tears across the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania means following a patchwork of trails first worn by Native Americans and migrating buffalo, tracing a chronicle of historic events that were integral to the founding of the nation, and traveling an eye-opening journey through the shaping of American culture. Today it’s marked on maps as Route 40 amidst a tangle of other highways and traffic arteries, but when President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation to construct what was then the Cumberland Road, it was the singular–and first–federally-funded highway to link multiple states. Originally named for its eastern terminus, the National Road begins in Cumberland, MD, and then crosses six states to end in Vandalia, IN. The first segment of the road, between Cumberland and Wheeling, WV, is known as the Eastern Legacy, and was completed from 1811 and 1820. But the highway’s history and influence reach much wider than that timespan. The National Road Heritage Corridor has a detailed timeline of important events and list of sites to visit on its website, but below are a few of the Pennsylvania highlights that put the National Road on the map!

 

Fort Necessity Visitors Center, courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

George Washington Carves a Path and Starts a War

George Washington spent a lot of time in southwestern Pennsylvania as a young officer of the British army. In 1753, he was sent into the Ohio Country (present-day western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio) with orders to deliver a diplomatic message to the French ordering them to evacuate the area. The French had already begun to erect forts in what the British viewed as their territory, and 21-year-old Washington returned to Virginia to report that the French had politely told Washington they would not obey his commands to leave.

The future first president was then ordered back to the Ohio Country, this time as a newly commissioned lieutenant colonel overseeing a regiment of men ordered to build a road to present day Brownsville, PA, to help defend a small fort that the British had built at the forks of the Ohio River (today Pittsburgh’s Point State Park). Before he’d reached his destination, Washington learned that the French had overtaken the British stockade and built Fort Duquesne on the prized piece of land where the three rivers met. While waiting for further orders, Washington and his men were involved in a skirmish that left 13 Frenchmen dead—including the leader of their detachment, Ensign Josephe Coulon de Jumonville—and no clear picture of who fired the first shot. Explanations were lost in translation, and Washington eventually ended up signing a document that placed the blame on him. This would become the catalyst for the French and Indian War. In the meantime, Washington and his men scrambled to build Fort Necessity out of… necessity. A battle occurred there soon after that left more British casualties than French and Indian losses, and Washington and his men marched back to Virginia as Fort Necessity burned.

Taking things more seriously, the British sent Major General Braddock to North America with two regiments of infantry and a plan to simultaneously attack numerous French forts in the New World. George Washington joined the campaign as a volunteer aide to General Braddock – and for more road building. It was grueling, slow work to widen and extend Washington’s original road (which often followed Native American foot paths) to accommodate large wagons and artillery. Braddock forged ahead with Washington and half of the troops, finally confronting the French and Indians in a wilderness battle in what is today Braddock, PA, about 10 miles from Pittsburgh’s Point. The British losses were tremendous, and a severely wounded General Braddock was carried off the field as they retreated back to the slower-moving half of the regiment. At an encampment about a mile west of the site of Fort Necessity, Braddock died on July 13, 1755. His men buried him in the road they’d been building, and then marched over the grave as they retreated further East to obliterate evidence of it to prevent the enemies from desecrating it. Braddock’s Road would later become a foundational part of the National Road.

The Washington’s Trail driving route begins on the National Road in tracing Washington’s first military ventures—and follies—throughout western Pennsylvania. The National Road section of the trail includes a number of fantastic sites to visit to experience this history. Fort Necessity National Battlefield features an interactive education center that brings to life Washington’s first military battle and the events that ensued, along with the development of the National Road. The National Park Service site also has a re-creation of Fort Necessity, along with walking paths that trace remains of the original Braddock Road. You can also visit Jumonville Glen and Braddock’s Grave nearby. If you don’t mind straying a bit from the National Road, Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, Braddock’s Battlefield History Center in Braddock, and the Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park in Pittsburgh all tell fascinating pieces of this world-shaping history.

Stone House Restaurant, courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

A Road is Forged Westward

The completion of the National Road to Wheeling in 1818 opened up the Ohio River Valley and the Midwest for settlement and commerce. Thousands of travelers headed west over the Allegheny Mountains, prompting small towns to pop up along the way with the National Road as their Main Streets. Hopwood, Uniontown, Brownsville, Washington, and West Alexander are all examples. Their positioning allowed them to become hubs of business and industry, and they still boast charm and intrigue for travelers who visit today. Picturesque Eberly Square in Uniontown even features full-sized bronze sculptures of Thomas Jefferson and Albert Gallatin planning the National Road. Gallatin was the first person to suggest the plan for building the National Road; the square is named in honor of Robert Eberly, a Fayette County philanthropist. The National Road Heritage Corridor has mapped out a Sculpture Tour along the Pennsylvania stretch of Route 40.

Taverns also opened up along the way to serve as a resting place for stagecoaches and their travelers. Mount Washington Tavern was built in the 1830s along the National Road and in the “backyard” of Fort Necessity. Furnished rooms and interpretive signs inside show visitors where men would drink and socialize in the barroom while women and children relaxed in the parlor. There’s a kitchen, dining room, and dormitory bedrooms, as well. At The Historic Stone House Restaurant & Inn, you can stop in for a delicious meal and even spend the night at an original wayside tavern of the National Road, just as travelers have been doing since it opened in 1822. In that time, many travelers were seeking the health benefits of the nearby Fayette Springs.

The 1830s saw the Federal Government transfer ownership of the National Road to the states through which it passed, at which point it became known as the National Pike. This gave states the opportunity to erect toll houses to collect fees from the large number of travelers along the road; Pennsylvania constructed six toll houses at 15-mile intervals along its 90-mile segment of road. Two stand today: Petersburg Tollhouse in Addison, Somerset County, and the Searight Toll House in Uniontown. They were in use until the turn of the 20th century.

Railroads would eventually put stagecoaches out of business, but these historic taverns and toll houses offer a view into the past. The invention of the automobile revived the National Road, which became US Route 40 in the 1920s. It was a major east-west artery until the modern interstate system was created in 1956 by the Federal-Aid Highway Act, diverting a lot of the traffic to Highways 70 and 68. The National Road was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1976, and a State Heritage Park in 1994. Along the 90 miles of road in Pennsylvania, 79 sites have been deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau offers more itinerary inspiration with a four-day, three-night trip called All Along the National Road.

The famed Seven-Mile Stretch of the Lincoln Highway, courtesy of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.

The Lincoln Highway

Another monumental roadway winds through the region—though this one goes from coast to coast, stretching from New York City to San Francisco! The Lincoln Highway opened in 1913, and was completed in 1925. This feat of feat of infrastructure gave Americans somewhere to go as the price of cars became more affordable. An entire car culture grew up along the roadway, with shiny new filling stations, tourist cabins, motor courts, restaurants, and tourist attractions—plus post cards to document it all for the folks back home. In Pennsylvania, where much of the Lincoln Highway is known as Route 30, the highway stretches across the southern part of the state. Two hundred miles of the road is designated as Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, running between Abbottstown in the east, and Irwin in the west. A drive along this two-lane road is best enjoyed at a meandering pace, but the quirky roadside structures, vintage diners, and scenic views put the nostalgia factor in overdrive.

The Lincoln Highway Experience in Latrobe, PA, courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The Lincoln Highway Experience

In Latrobe, The Lincoln Highway Experience brings all of that to life in one place at the largest museum in the country dedicated to the transcontinental roadway. Visitors can watch a short, award-winning video called “Through the Windshield” to learn about the 100+ years of history of the Lincoln Highway. There are interactive exhibits, including an authentic tourist cabin, an antique Packard, and a gas station from earlier times. The tour keeps getting better—it ends with a slice of pie and cup of joe, served in the gloriously-restored Serro’s Diner, a local establishment that operated between 1938 and 1990.

The Original Pie Shoppe

The Lincoln Highway inspired Americans to see the country, and you should too! Some signature sites in the region on Route 30 include The Original Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown, which was opened in 1947 by former World War II Navy cook Melvin Columbus and his mother Mildred, who had previously baked and cooked for guests of her boarding house. The cinnamon roll recipe used at the bakery is the one Melvin created using the rations supplied on his battleship! In addition to sweets, The Original Pie Shoppe also sells lunch items.

Compass Inn Museum & Ligonier Valley Historical Society

The Compass Inn Museum & Ligonier Valley Historical Society tells a different story of transportation of days gone by. Docents in period dress guide visitors on a tour of this authentically restored stagecoach stop in Ligonier, which opened in 1799 as a rest stop for wagoners and drovers taking animals to market. The completion of the Philadelphia Pittsburgh Turnpike in 1817 brought a steady flow of stagecoach traffic to the inn, which was used as a stop until 1862. At that point, railroads and canals were making stagecoaches obsolete. Today the inn is restored to its 1820 days, and features a serving kitchen, a ladies’ parlor, and four bedrooms. Three outbuildings have also been reconstructed, and the barn features an authentic stagecoach and Conestoga wagon.

The Road Toad

As you travel down the Lincoln Highway through Ligonier, The Road Toad restaurant’s sign is sure to catch your eye. A handsomely dressed amphibian waves his hat at drivers as he steers his antique automobile, beckoning you in to enjoy a meal. This stop is right off the road, but the dining room overlooks woods and the beautiful Loyalhanna Stream—delivering a respite into nature while you refuel and relax.

Brush Creek Cemetery

As you drive through Irwin, be sure to tip your own hat to a fellow auto enthusiast as you pass by Brush Creek Cemetery, just off of Route 30. George Swanson, who was a local beer distributor and World War II veteran, was buried inside his beloved 1984 Corvette—just as he always said he would be. Mourners at his 1994 funeral watched as an urn with his ashes was placed in the driver’s seat of the ‘Vette, which was then lowered by crane into the ground while Swanson’s favorite song, Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me,” played from the cassette player.

Big Mac Museum

Just a few minutes away is the Big Mac Museum, celebrating a roadtrip staple that was invented right here in southwestern Pennsylvania! Jim Delligatti first served this now world-famous sandwich at his McDonald’s restaurant in Uniontown in 1967. Today the Big Mac Museum in North Huntingdon is conveniently located just off of Route 30, making it an easy stop to pay homage to the double-decker Big Mac. Inside is a fully functioning McDonald’s, and an area with displays and classic memorabilia—including a 14-foot-tall replica of the burger to snap a photo with! A stop here will satisfy your hunger, and will likely leave you with a certain jingle stuck in your head when you get back on the road…

A historic image of a stagecoach rolling through a town in Washington County, Pa.

A stagecoach rolling through a town in Washington County, Pa. Courtesy of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

A visit to the Trails to Trains exhibit at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village explores the evolution of transportation over 19,000 years in southwestern Pennsylvania, using five different vehicles from the collections. Learn about the foot power that our prehistoric predecessors used to traverse the rugged terrain surrounding the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, and compare that with the Conestoga wagons and stagecoaches that sped things up as the National Road was established. Transportation was revolutionized again when the development of railroads cut a path through many rural Pennsylvania farmsteads. On display is a Conestoga wagon built in 1837 in Cadiz, OH by wagonmaker Samuel Amspoker. Designed to transport heavy loads of freight across mountain ranges, these vehicles were named for the Conestoga River Valley in Lancaster County where they were first produced. Meadowcroft’s blog post, Transportation Through Time, explores how each advance in technology brought conveniences and complexities.

Stay tuned for more itineraries through the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, as we continue to explore the region through the lens of transportation. 

Artist Profile: Steven Haines

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Rivers of Steel Arts is excited to launch the 2020 Mon Valley Featured Artist Series. Showcasing some of the exciting creative professionals working across the Mon Valley Creative Corridor, this monthly blog highlights an artist each month—from a variety of boroughs—to provide a snapshot of the region’s growing cultural vitality.

portrait of the artist, a young man wearing a mask and glove with a coffee mugAbout Steven Haines

As we move these artist features to a new monthly format, we are pleased to focus the month of July on local Homestead artist Steven Haines. Steven’s multidisciplinary work moves between fine art photography, painting, and analog film curation, amongst other mediums. His affinity for historic footage and community-focus draw meaningful connections between the Steel Valley’s industrial legacy and a new vision for the community through creative placemaking.

A Message from Steven

About My Work

I work in many different visual mediums—including film/video, painting, drawing, collage, and sculpture—but I consider myself to be most accomplished with photography and film curation. In both, I am largely committed to working with analog processes. For still photography, I do most of my shooting on film, which I hand-process, and print (both B&W and color) in my darkroom. Creating is a relaxing process for me, so I like to be able to step away from the stresses of the internet, but there are times when I welcome a more hybrid approach, such as when I’m designing posters for my film screenings. For the film events themselves, the majority of the content is shown on film, with some video sprinkled in to some shows. One of my primary goals with the events is to present work that is otherwise unlikely to be shown anywhere in the region, and to contextualize it in such a way so that people will appreciate it. If I were to sum-up all of my art-making practices in two words right now, those words would be organization and preservation.

My Home

I live in Homestead, right on the Homestead / Munhall border. My home has had a big impact on me as an artist, since at this time I consider my primary influences (in broad terms) to be space and materials. I really enjoy sitting with those things until they speak to me. I don’t mean that literally, but I’m instead referring to coming to an understanding of the constraints / possibilities that come with any space or materials.

In practical terms, I’m just referring to the way I walk around my home and my neighborhood and appreciate a particular view dozens of times. Finally, I take my camera, find the right distance, angle, lighting conditions, etc., and I preserve the image on film. I do it for myself primarily. I’m amateur and proud of it.

The microcinema events I organize are my most public-facing events. I’m constantly watching old 16mm films—such as educational films, home movies, commercials, industrials, etc. —and there is just endless amazing work that has been left out of film histories and forgotten by all but the most dedicated of film scholars. While I do love working with contemporary artists, the bulk of my programming is old films that I’m pulling from my collection, organizing into shows that fit a particular theme, and hopefully contextualizing everything in a way that allows the audience to appreciate at least some aspects of each film. I get so excited by so many of these films that I’m compelled to share them. I constantly have to tell people that educational films are not all hokey time capsules portraying outdated social values. There were many brilliant artists making beautiful films in that realm. The sharing of the films with audiences is a key part of the preservation aspect.

To return to the subject of how the place I live has impacted my art: it’s important to note that the lower home prices in my neighborhood (compared to across the river in the city of Pittsburgh proper) is what allowed me and my partner to buy a house, which is so essential to my artmaking. I have space for my film archive, a darkroom, studio space to work on everything else, and room for storing my materials. That was impossible in the one-bedroom apartment we previously rented in Greenfield.

Find Me Online

Twitter: Flea Market Films

Facebook: Flea Market Films

Military Style Jeep with american flags in front of a monument

Exploring the Heritage Area – Automobiles and Roadways

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By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

Brianna HoranExploring the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Automobiles and Roadways!

Transportation keeps us moving, so it’s a fitting theme to embrace on your next road trip through the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area! The hilly terrain crisscrossed by rivers and waterways that defines the region—and the need to move people, raw materials and manufactured products across it—has shaped a history rampant with innovations that pushed transportation to new speeds, modes, and destinations. Local residents contributed an immense amount of labor and incredible ingenuity that were foundational to these advances.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing transportation-focused itineraries filled with museums, attractions, collections, and sites that show getting there is more than half of the fun when traveling. It’s also the very means of human connection, opening up throughways between different people and their cultures. The upcoming itineraries will each feature a different way to move: Automobiles and Roadways, Trains & Trolleys, Boats & Bridges, Bicycles, and Aircraft.

Spotlight On: The Liberty Tubes

 

Colored Post Card of Liberty Tunnels

When they opened in 1923, the Liberty Tunnels were the longest automobile tunnels in the world, 
boring through Mt. Washington to connect downtown with communities in the South Hills. 
Such a feat made them a landmark worthy of being pictured on postcards.

Over, under, around, across, through… a description of the ways that Pittsburgh-area roadways conquer geography can end up sounding a lot like a grammar lesson on prepositions! A terrain defined by hills, ravines, waterways–and winding roads to cover it all—really does make getting there half the fun around here. It has also led to innovative infrastructure to get drivers from point “A” to point “B” during the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century.

Take the Liberty Tunnels, which opened after four years of construction that removed about 400,000 cubic yards of rock from Mount Washington, building what were the longest automobile tunnels in the world when they opened in 1923. Pittsburgh Quarterly reports that the dig involved an average of 200 men per day, and lasted for 388 working days. The fact that motorists shared the road with horse-drawn wagons traveling between downtown and the South Hills in the 5,889-foot-long tubes until 1932–with a brief re-appearance during World War II when gasoline was rationed–demonstrates the changing times that the tunnels were built for.

While tunnel constructions was not new, designing longer tunnels for gasoline-powered vehicles was. The Liberty Tunnels engineers needed to accommodate a novel side effect: carbon monoxide emissions. The New York, New Jersey Hudson River Tunnel Authority looked to Pittsburgh’s U.S. Bureau of Mines to help them determine the potency of exhaust and the physics of airflow through the tunnels. The findings, as Tom Imerito writes in Pittsburgh Quarterly, were used to design the ventilation system not only for the Liberty Tunnels which were already under construction, but also a proposed project in Boston and a number of tunnels being planned in New York–including the Holland Tunnel, which would dethrone the Liberty Tubes as the longest automobile tunnels when they opened in 1927.

The ventilation system took longer to complete than the Liberty Tunnels did, and with the public eagerly awaiting the new throughway, the decision was made to open them to traffic without a functioning fan and vent system. Initially, natural drafts worked as hoped until the first traffic jam occurred eight months later. When the Pittsburgh Street Railway Company went on strike, it sent South Hills commuters into their cars–a record 649 entered the inbound tube between 7:30 and 8 a.m. on May 10, 2924. This surge in rush hour traffic brought cars to an idling standstill. Soon drivers were gasping for air and abandoning their still-running vehicles as they ran to the emergency exits. Thirty-three people were hospitalized for carbon monoxide inhalation, and when the tunnels re-opened that afternoon traffic was limited to six vehicles entering per minute until the ventilation system was completed in 1925, making the Liberty Tubes the first artificially-ventilated tunnels. WESA reporter Margaret J. Krauss takes listeners inside the Liberty Tunnel Fan House to experience the technology that keeps the tunnels safe today.

Perched atop Mount Washington on Secane Avenue, the fan house is the output for the 200-feet-high ventilation shafts pull exhaust out of the tunnels– it spews the fumes out through four tall stacks that are easy to spot atop the bluff. In his comprehensive survey of the city’s tunnels for Pittsburgh Magazine, Joe Grata reveals that there are eight fans, 12 feet in diameter and powered by 250-horsepower motors, that maintain a 15-mph airflow through the tunnels. Today approximately 65,000 vehicles pass through the tunnel each day.

Automobiles and Roadways to Visit

As a fitting companion to guest author and The Frick Pittsburgh Assistant Curator Kim Cady’s recent article, Pittsburgh and the Automobile Industry in the Early 20th Century, we’ve assembled an auto-themed itinerary that will take you through Allegheny, Beaver, and Butler counties—starting at the Frick’s Car and Carriage Museum, of course!

If you’re planning to hit the road on these itineraries during the global pandemic, please be mindful of the health and safety guidelines in place from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to contact the sites, restaurants and attractions directly to confirm their operating status and the safety protocols they have in place before you go. We encourage you to bookmark these itineraries as travel inspiration to return to when things are less uncertain.

Bright blue sporty convertible coupe

American Austin Car Company, Butler, PA. American Bantam Model 65 Convertible Coupe, 1940.
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.14. Gift of G. Whitney Snyder.

The Frick Pittsburgh

7227 Reynolds St., Pittsburgh, PA 15208 | 412-371-0600 | thefrickpittsburgh.org

The Frick’s Car and Carriage Museum traces the transition in American life at the turn of the 20th century, as horse-drawn carriages phased out in favor of “horseless carriages.” Housed on the grounds of industrialist Henry Clay Frick’s Gilded Age mansion, the Car and Carriage Museum displays a large number of the Frick family’s carriages and automobiles, and also captures Pittsburgh’s role in the development of the automobile industry.

Automobile Row

Baum Boulevard, East Liberty and North Oakland, Pittsburgh

You won’t be far from the storied Automobile Row when you’re at The Frick’s Car and Carriage Museum. Take a stroll down Baum Boulevard in the East End of Pittsburgh to see the remains of repurposed former auto dealerships, manufacturers, and even the site where America’s first purposely-built, drive-in gas service station once stood at the corner of Baum Blvd. and St. Clair St. (Gulf Oil opened it in 1913, and the eye-catching pagoda architecture also offered free air and water—in addition to the first commercial road maps in the United States. Click here see a photo and learn more from the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.) Read up on Pittsburgh’s important contributions to the automobile industry in the early 20th century in a guest blog post from Kim Cady, The Frick Pittsburgh’s Assistant Curator of the Car and Carriage Museum before you go. You won’t be able to miss the turquoise dome of Motor Square Garden, which opened as a public market in 1900 and later hosted frequent car shows. It was also a Cadillac and then Ford dealership throughout the years; today it’s owned by West Penn AAA. In the past, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has offered occasional public walking tours of Automobile Row.

Superior Motors

1211 Braddock Ave., Braddock, PA 15104 | 412-271-1022

This Braddock restaurant is housed in what was once one of the first indoor car dealerships in the country. The open kitchen looks into the former Chevy showroom, which has been converted into a main dining room of exposed brick and concrete. A meal at Chef Kevin Sousa’s Superior Motors is a dining experience in overdrive—Time magazine named it one of the “World’s Greatest Places” in 2018, and Anthony Bourdain savored a meal there during Parts Unknown’s exploration of Pittsburgh.

 

go karts lined up waiting to start a race

Go Karts at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex

Pittsburgh International Race Complex

201 Penndale Exd. Wampum, PA 16157 | 724-535-1000

This auto racing road course hosts amateur and professional automobile, motorcycle, and karting events, offering drivers of all levels a way to get on the track. The 400-acre complex, located in Wampum, offers spectator events, performance driving education, Test & Tune days, and a number of group experiences.

Jerry’s Curb Service

1521 Riverside Dr., Bridgewater, PA 15009 | 724-774-4727

Hop in the car and back into a spot at Jerry’s Curb Service in Bridgewater. Peruse the menu before flicking on your headlights to let your carhop know you’re ready to order from the diner-style menu–just like in the old days. The business was opened in 1947 by Jerry Reed after his tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force, and has held on tight to 1950s nostalgia—chrome and neon adorn the restaurant. It’s the perfect place to show off your favorite set of wheels—or admire someone else’s!

Military Style Jeep with american flags in front of a monument

Military-style Jeep at Diamond Park. Photo Courtesy Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau.

The Birthplace of the Jeep

Butler, PA 16001

Butler County, in the northern part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, is the birthplace of the always-off-road-ready Jeep! When the War Department requested proposals from domestic tractor and auto manufacturers to design a four-wheel drive, 40 horsepower, 1,300-pound reconnaissance car that could haul WWII soldiers and heavy artillery–to be ready in 49 days, only two companies responded. Butler’s American Bantam Car Company delivered the vehicle in 45 days and won the contract. A Bantam Jeep Exhibit is in the works to open sometime in 2021, but you can always visit the Jeep Marker at Diamond Park in downtown Butler in the meantime. You may want to time your trip for the next annual Bantam Jeep Festival, which celebrates Jeep history, culture, and off-roading. Diamond Park is on Main Street in downtown Butler across from the Butler County Courthouse, 124 W Diamond St., Butler, PA 16003. The Heinz History Center’s Great Hall showcases the oldest surviving Jeep, a BRC-40 Reconnaissance Car from 1941 nicknamed “Gramps,” which is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Stay tuned for Part Two of our Automobiles and Roadways driving tour itineraries.

A black and white street scene of Baum Blvd, showing Motor Square Garden

Pittsburgh and the Automobile Industry in the Early 20th Century

By Blog

Image: A view of Baum Boulevard at South Beatty Street with a view of Motor Square Garden, Pittsburgh Auto Club, and the East Liberty Presbyterian Church steeple. Image courtesy Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh.

By Kim Cady   |  Assistant Curator Car and Carriage Museum, The Frick Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh and the Automobile Industry in the Early 20th Century

When asked about the American automobile industry most people think of Detroit and the Big 3—Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors—but at the turn of the 20th century hundreds of automobile manufacturers could be found throughout the Northeast, in cities like Cleveland, Toledo, and Buffalo which benefited from their location along the shipping lines of the Great Lakes. Pittsburgh also found success in the emerging auto industry with its proximity to the shipping lines along the Ohio River as well as its abundance of manufacturing resources—steel, glass, aluminum, and skilled labor.

Five model T cars and attendants in front of a garage

A car dealership and repair shop located on Penn Avenue 1903-1906—the Atlas Motor Car Company 
later turned manufacturer with a three-story fireproof facility on Ellsworth and College Avenues 
from 1906-1907. From the Collections of the Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Automobile manufacturing prior to World War I developed from two sources, existent manufacturing—carriages, bicycles, railroads, and boats—and novice machinists, tinkerers, and inventors who were mechanically inclined. Those in the manufacturing field already had the set-up, and often the capital, to venture out into the booming auto industry. Carriage builders like the Studebaker Brothers in South Bend, Indiana, and bicycle manufactures Société Anonyme des Automobiles et Cycles Peugeot—in France—saw an opportunity to retool their works to manufacture automobiles, a relatively smooth transition. While still other car manufacturers came from various industrial sectors. The Stanley brothers of Maine created the Stanley Motor Carriage Company to develop a car propelled by steam. Prior to the steam car, the innovative brothers were known for inventing a dry-plate photographic process. This innovative spirit could also be found in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.

Three-wheel vehicle with an open carriage seat

The running gear of this vehicle reflects bicycle technology, while the body is typical of 
carriage construction. The driver steered this tricycle-style vehicle using a tiller. 
Knox Automobile Company, Springfield, Massachusetts Model A Runabout, 1901. 
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.2. Gift of the estate of G. Whitney Snyder.

Red four-seat roadster with yellow wheels

Stanley Motor Carriage Company, Newton, Massachusetts. Stanley Steamer Model R Roadster, 1909. 
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.1. Gift of Laurie Graham in memory of George McKay Schieffelin.

By the mid-1800s, Pittsburgh was ranked the 17th largest city in the US and was home to nearly 1,000 factories making it a force in industry, especially in the area of steel production. By 1900, Carnegie Steel was the largest steel company in America with three million tons of capacity. The increase in manufacturing jobs in Pittsburgh created a population explosion. According to Pittsburgh Quarterly, from 1870 to 1910 the city’s population grew from 86,000 to over 530,000. The surrounding region’s population grew at a rate twice as large as that of the entire country. This growth provided Pittsburgh with a huge labor force able work in the booming iron and steel factories as well as the growing automobile industry.

Since early automobiles were expensive to purchase early demand came from wealthy clientele—men from Pittsburgh, like Carnegie, Heinz, Frick, and Mellon. As the demand intensified a robust and independent auto industry grew steadily in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. As early as 1896, Empire Motor Company became one of the first automobile manufacturers in Pittsburgh, specializing in 2-cylinder engines. The following year the Pittsburgh Motor Vehicle Company (later renamed Autocar) produced various three- and four-wheeled vehicles. It wasn’t just new innovators making a go of it in the auto industry, bicycle and carriage manufactures threw their hat in the ring as well. Although carriages would share the road with cars until the 1920s, the carriage industry knew early on that its days were numbered. Carriage part suppliers—body builders, wheelwrights, painters, and lamp makers—were able to transition their skills into the up-and-coming auto industry. L. Glesenkamp & Sons, a prominent Pittsburgh carriage builder who retooled their shop to create car bodies and offered painting and varnish services produced their first motor wagon in 1909.

Early newspaper ad for Empire Motor Company, Pittsburgh, PA.

 

Automobile Painting Ad

 

Empire Motor Company advertisement from 1896. Image courtesy Early American Automobiles.
Advertisement for the services offered by L. Glesenkamp Co. Image courtesy Coachbuilt.

Auto manufacturers could be found throughout the city but many opened shops in the East End. Baum Boulevard, later nicknamed Automobile Row, offered service stations, dealerships, part suppliers, and the Motor Garden—now the AAA building—which held annual car shows featuring the latest models. The Penn Motor Car Company established their production on Thomas Boulevard in 1910 and advertised their 30 horsepower Penn 30 Touring Car as “the best at any price,” which in this case was just over $1,000. In 1912, the company built a $90,000 factory in New Castle, Pennsylvania, but when investors pulled out, no cars were ever produced there. While this marked the end of the line for Penn, their former sales manager Elmore Gregg stayed in the Pittsburgh car business, introducing the Pennsy a few years later.

Billboard for "Autocar Motor Trucks" in front of a large victorian mansion.

The Guffey estate, seen here in 1920, 
would make way a few years later for 
a new Autocar (formerly the 
Pittsburgh Motor Vehicle Company) 
branch. This corner of Baum Boulevard, 
at Liberty Avenue, was in the middle 
of the city’s burgeoning Automobile 
Row. Image courtesy Pittsburgh City 
Photographer Collection, 
University of Pittsburgh. 

A four wheel, four seater car with open sides and a canvas roof.

Penn Motor Car Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Penn 30 Touring Car, 1911.
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.7. Gift of the estate of G. Whitney Snyder.

Venturing out of the city manufacturers built factories in Washington (Universal, Croxton), Connellsville (Paragon), Meyersdale (Gurley) and a number of other communities. Fort Pitt Motor Manufacturing Company organized by German immigrant B.G. von Rottweiler built the 60 horsepower racecar known as the Pittsburgh Six at their factory in New Kensington from 1907-1911. The Munch-Allen Motor Car Company moved their factory from Yonkers, New York to DuBois, Pennsylvania—about 100 miles from Pittsburgh—in 1909 creating only one model, the Keystone Six-Sixty, but the company folded in 1910.

A two seater with running boards, solid doors and a canvas or convertible roof

Paragon Motor Company Roadster, 
Connellsville PA, c. 1921. 
Image courtesy All Car Index .

Munch-Allen Motor Car Company, DuBois, Pennsylvania. Keystone Six-Sixty Roadster, 1909. 
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.3. Gift of the estate of G. Whitney Snyder.

In 1913, the Standard Steel Car Company of Pittsburgh, a well-established builder of railroad cars, built a $2 million factory north of Pittsburgh in Butler, Pennsylvania to begin manufacturing automobiles. The Standard was built in Butler from 1914 to 1923, with its highest production rates, about 2,500 vehicles, in 1917. In 1930, seven years after Standard ceased manufacturing, the factory was repurposed for production of the American Austin and American Bantam mini-cars. Established in 1929, The American Austin Coupe was developed in an attempt to combat the effects of the Depression on automobile sales. The company would change its name in the late 30s to the American Bantam Company and continued to make lightweight mini-cars, including the prototype for the Jeep used by the US military in WWII, before ceasing production in the early 1940s.

Standard Steel Car Company, Butler, Pennsylvania. Model E Touring Car, 1917.
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.10. Gift of the estate of G. Whitney Snyder.

The American Bantam Car Company was one of the last Pittsburgh-area auto manufacturers. Unfortunately, long-term, sustainable success eluded many Pittsburgh automobile companies. Due to high production costs and a limited consumer base early on most local manufacturers, like Munch-Allen Motor Car Company produced only one or two models before losing the support of investors. Those that did survive through the 1910s were required to cease auto production during the war and use their facilities to aid in the war effort. The independent manufactures that remained after WWI were either bankrupted by the Great Depression or another factory take-over for the WWII war effort. Following the wars and the Depression most surviving independent firms were consolidated (AMC) or bought up by the Big 3- Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors.

Black coupe with a hard roof

American Austin Car Company, Butler, PA. American Austin Coupe, 1931. 
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.13. Gift of G. Whitney Snyder.

Bright blue sporty convertible coupe

American Austin Car Company, Butler, PA. American Bantam Model 65 Convertible Coupe, 1940.
Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.14. Gift of G. Whitney Snyder.

During its heyday, 1890s-1940, the auto industry in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region had roughly 50 automobile manufactures. The abundance of manufacturing resources, proximity to shipping lines, a skilled labor force, and a wealthy population that could afford the new machines led to industry success in the region. Although the bulk of automobile manufacturing moved to Detroit following WWII, Pittsburgh resources—steel, glass, paint, and aluminum—still played a major role in the production of automobiles. Where we live and work, how we travel, our landscape and environment have all been profoundly shaped by the car, and the car has been profoundly shaped by Pittsburgh steel.

About Kim Cady

Kim Cady has been the Assistant Curator of the Car and Carriage Museum at the Frick Pittsburgh for three years where she cares for and develops exhibitions related to the organization’s historic transportation collection. Kim has a BA in Liberal Studies from Mansfield University and a MA in Museum Studies from the University of Oklahoma. Prior to her work at the Frick, she served as the Collections Manager at the Pennsylvania State Police Museum in Hershey and the Assistant Curator at the Tioga Point Museum in Athens, PA.