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Three people in conversation in a gallery with old booze labels and ads reproduced on a wall behind them.

Community Spotlight—West Overton’s New Heritage Center

By Blog, Community Spotlight
Patrons gather with Sam Komlenic, right, whose donated collection contributed to West Overton’s new Pennsylvania Whiskey Heritage Center. Photo by Savannah Butler.

Community Spotlight—West Overton’s James B. Beam Pennsylvania Whiskey Heritage Center

The Community Spotlight series features the efforts of Rivers of Steel’s partner organizations, along with collaborative partnerships, that reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the communities within the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

By Julie Silverman, Contributing Writer

A New Era for West Overton

Rye whiskey is making a comeback, and so is our way of telling stories about it. Surrounded by the agricultural countryside of Westmoreland County, you’ll find the town of West Overton, the birthplace of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. West Overton Village & Museum is also the ancestral home of the longest standing American whiskey brand, Overholt™—or Old Overholt as it’s known colloquially. This iconic brand has endured in an unbroken chain of production since 1810.

The land and home of Abraham Overholt, the founder of the brand, was preserved due to the efforts of Helen Clay Frick who purchased and conserved the site to honor her father. As early as 1928, she turned the family’s homestead, which includes a five-and-a-half story building that once housed the Overholt distillery and gristmill, into a museum.

Guests mill around in a gallery with a wall of booze bottles in dressy clothes.

Patrons celebrate the opening of a new exhibition space at West Overton. Photo by Savannah Butler.

The James B. Beam Pennsylvania Whiskey Heritage Center

This summer, the celebrated historic site is offering a brand-new experience. In collaboration with Suntory Global Spirits, the museum’s reimagined and updated second floor was recently unveiled. A key piece of this partnership’s purpose is to celebrate the history and legacy of Western Pennsylvania’s rye whiskey industry. Opening the James B. Beam Pennsylvania Whiskey Heritage Center is a watershed moment in presenting the storied history of Western Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, also known as Monongahela Rye.

Aaron Hollis, the co-executive director of West Overton Village, shared, “There’s nowhere else that has this type of exhibit and story about Pennsylvania’s whiskey industry. A historical society or museum could have a few bottles from a local distillery, but this is the largest publicly displayed collection of Pennsylvania whiskey history anywhere.”

Pam Curtin, the museum’s director of visitor engagement, added, “The breadth of the collection is really remarkable. We think of Pennsylvania industry as coal and steel and agriculture, but the whiskey industry was significant to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Rye was known around the country. Many brands were known around the world, and a lot of that history has been lost. There’s not really a place, other than right here, where you can go and see that.”

The centerpiece of the Heritage Center is the Sam Komlenic Gallery. Displayed inside this gallery are more than 450 objects dedicated to Pennsylvania’s rye whiskey production. “There are bottles, advertisements, crates, memorabilia, barrels, labels, and all sorts of different artifacts related to the industry,” Hollis said.

A jovial looking man with brown hair and a gray beard in a button down shirt and slacks gives a large smile in front of a wall of shelves filled with bottles.

Collector and donor Sam Komlenic in the gallery named after him. Photo by Savannah Butler.

The heart of the gallery is a wall of bottles. Floating glass shelves hold more than 260 whiskey bottles from Pennsylvania distilleries, including bottles from when Overholt™ was produced in Broad Ford (or Broadford), Pennsylvania, from the era after production ended at West Overton. About 40 historic distilleries are represented of the more than 70 that were present in Pennsylvania in 1900. Names such as Dillinger, Gibson, and Schenley join Overholt as some of the most successful companies in the industry.

Curtin said, “It’s amazing that some of these bottles were able to survive. We also have memorabilia, from special-edition bottles to matchsticks and playing cards, which gets into how they were branding themselves. One wall of the gallery has high-resolution images of whiskey labels. Vinyl art pieces on the wall show the artistic branding that companies started to do, and that display resonates with people as well.”

One climate-controlled collections room is dedicated to viewing fragile objects that are part of a sampling of the museum’s 96 years of collecting. Textile artifacts share a space in the collection as well as more unique items, including a two-headed taxidermy calf, a 1940s X-ray machine, and a desk from the Frick office building.

Artifacts tell stories. They bring to light life in the region that goes beyond the whiskey industry itself. “We’ll be using the space for children’s programs, for field trips, taking student groups through there. We’ll use these objects as an opportunity to talk about life in the past and what the museum does, how a museum preserves objects. It’s a nice space for people to see what a collection looks like, how we store things, and how we preserve them,” Curtin said.

The new classroom in the Heritage Center is intended to be a multipurpose room. Biergarten-style tables fill the classroom that connects to the collections room. The education space connects both to the collections, and to a vintage-inspired, handcrafted bar and lounge.

“The Overholt Stateroom has got to be one of the most beautiful bars in the county,” Hollis said. “People go in there and say, ‘Man, I want to smoke a cigar and drink a whiskey in here,’ and that’s really the vibe that it gives.” It’s a top-notch, fully functioning bar decked out in Overholt’s artwork, including a line drawing of Abraham Overholt on the wall. The bar and lounge are a space that people can rent out for special private events with the added use of the attached classroom as part of the space.

A black wooden bar with a black, bottle lined shelves is contrasted by a marble bartop.

The Overholt Stateroom. Photo by Cole Wilson.

A Resurgence for Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey’s resurgence is benefitting tourism and the economy as the legendary drink is returning to the limelight. Following the region’s whiskey trail—including sites related to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794—has been enticing new connoisseurs who are interested in a taste of Pennsylvania’s history.

“You can follow the whiskey trail all through Washington County and back around to West Overton in Westmoreland County and Broadford in Fayette,” said Jaimie Hanson, Rivers of Steel’s director of tourism. “Putting together this new exhibition is a great way to bring in people who are interested in history, tasting, and education. Not only will having the facility bring more people to see West Overton, but also the draw of the varied programming that they already have there.”

“In the past decade, there’s been a growing interest and curiosity among whiskey enthusiasts for Monongahela rye whiskey,” said Lisa Belczyk of The Fizzy Coupe, which offers cocktail experiences and spirits education. “Rye offers a spicy, peppery, and assertive set of flavors that are exciting. The combination of big, bold flavors tied to a storied rebellious legacy has made Monongahela rye whiskey the basis for a complex cocktail of local flavors and history in a glass.”

Why is Western Pennsylvania a rye whiskey hub? “The distillers coming out here may have just had a really great taste for making whiskey,” Curtin said. “There’s a lot of factors that we’re still trying to understand that made Monongahela Rye so unique. What did people think about it, and what did it mean to them back then? We don’t have recipes as you might imagine, so there’s a lot of research being done to understand what somebody in 1850 would have defined as a Monongahela Rye. It’s nice to see a resurgence of interest in distilling today and a lot of the craft distillers wanting to recreate rye of their own.”

A large brick building with "West Overton Distiling Co." painted on it, along with "Old Farm Pure Rye. A small sign reads "Museum" near an entrance.

The museum at West Overton Village that houses the new Heritage Center.

A Legacy Intertwined—Rye Whiskey and America

Distilling in America dates to before the Revolutionary War. Once the country gave up rum during the revolution, rye whiskey became the taste of American spirits. Western Pennsylvania built a reputation for whiskey and a network of shipping that took the brand as far west as New Orleans. Abraham Overholt transformed whiskey distilling into a sophisticated industry.

“A lot of people think that whiskey distilling in Pennsylvania stopped after the Whiskey Rebellion,” said Aaron Hollis. “In reality, Pennsylvania had a huge industry of whiskey production that continued largely until Prohibition in 1920. Historically, the family that created West Overton moved here nearly ten years after the rebellion. The context for us is more about when this industry was born and what the state of distilling was.”

Even though rye whiskey distilling made Abraham Overholt a wealthy man, the rye whiskey flavor fell out of favor for many years. Although James B. Beam Distilling Co. has distilled Overholt™ since 1987, the allure of having an authentic experience with the place that created the iconic brand shaped the idea for the Whiskey Heritage Center.

It is rare to be able to visit the authentic home place of a whiskey brand. “It’s the spiritual home of a legacy whiskey,” said Hollis. “Suntory wanted people to have an authentic experience at the home place of that brand. The James B. Beam Pennsylvania Whiskey Heritage Center is the culmination of that partnership.”

(It’s helpful to understand the relationship between Suntory and Beam. The Japanese company Suntory Holdings acquired Beam Inc. in 2014 and became known as Beam Suntory; in May of 2024, the Beam Suntory company name was rebranded to Suntory Global Spirits.)

A three level colonial style farm house with 13 window on the front side, several doors situated behind a white picket fence with trees around it.

The homestead at West Overton.

Experience West Overton Village

“The unique part about West Overton is that Helen Clay Frick was able to preserve the site,” said Pam Curtin. “When we were researching some of the other distilleries, we saw how quickly they were closed or dismantled, or sold off to other companies to become something else. When Prohibition happened, Helen was able to preserve the distillery building as a museum. She helped make the site publicly accessible. That’s another rare dimension of this site: that the historic house and the whole collections building have been able to survive at all.”

The James B. Beam Pennsylvania Whiskey Heritage Center adds more depth to an already layered experience, one that begins with the historic legacy of Abraham Overholt, touches upon our region’s industrial history with Henry Clay Frick, and was preserved with the help of his daughter Helen. The compelling new display provides one more reason to visit the Village near Scottdale, Pennsylvania, adding a highlight to the already award-winning museum where guests follow the lives of 19th-century West Overton inhabitants. In 2020, the nonprofit opened its own Educational Distillery, producing its own brand of Monongahela Rye varieties. Three years later, its Forging Ahead and Falling Behind: Industrial Growth in a Rural Community exhibit was honored with the nationally prestigious Award of Excellence by the American Association for State and Local History.

Three liquor bottles: Monongahela Rye, Pennsylvania White Rye, and a Rye Whiskey cobranded with Dad's Hat.

West Overton Distilling Company Products

Stroll through the homestead of West Overton Village, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Regular site and museum visiting hours are May – October, Thursday through Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The lively history of West Overton Village will become a tactile experience for visitors who take part in the upcoming annual DIY History Weekend festivities, on Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21. There will be an array of activities in which to participate, from history-inspired crafts to playing games that were popular in the 19th century. (Rivers of Steel will have a tent set up with samples and stories of steel industry and production, much of which was made possible by the manufacture of coke from the local area’s natural resources.)

Although the Whiskey Heritage Center will not be open for the DIY History Weekend, the Educational Distillery will be! Guests can stop by for rye whiskey samples, cocktails, and bottle purchases. Even for those who have visited West Overton before, there’s a whole new chapter to discover!

A woman in midlife with tight, short curls in a black blazer and earringsJulie Silverman is a museum educator, tour facilitator, and storyteller of astronomy and history for various Pittsburgh-area organizations, including Rivers of Steel. A Chatham University 2020 MFA graduate, her writing is most often found under the byline of JL Silverman. Occasionally, under the name of Julia, she has been seen on TV.

If you’d like to read our previous Community Spotlight story about West Overton, click here.

A young broad-shouldered man with a mop of curly hair gives a thumbs up with one hand and displays forged steelwork with the other.

Summer Internships at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop

By Blog

2023’s summer intern, Enrico DePetris, gives a thumbs-up after his first blacksmithing workshop.

The William Miller Summer Internship at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

The future of our region’s industrial history will be in the hands of the next generation.

That is a reality Rivers of Steel understands. Between its workforce development initiatives, public tours, demonstrations, and educational programs, Rivers of Steel is actively engaged in making sure that coming generations will be both interested and prepared for the challenges of preservation and interpretation at all of its historic sites. One of the most recent efforts is a unique internship at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop in Greene County, a site Rivers of Steel has overseen since 2008.

A young middle aged man and an older man pose for the camera in matching t-shirts.

T.J. Porfeli and George “Bly” Blystone, who help run and care for the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop.

“I am currently the youngest worker here,” says 42-year-old T.J. Porfeli, historic site coordinator for Young & Sons, which received National Historic Landmark status in 2017. “It was always my goal to bring younger generations in here to learn the historical aspects of this shop. If that means a 22-year-old takes my place who knows everything about it—that’s what I’d like to see!”

Porfeli’s vision got a boost in 2022 through a chance encounter with a local businessman, William Miller, who visited the machine shop for a tour.

“I was just telling him at one point that we’d like to keep the place alive by teaching younger people about it,” explains Porfeli. “This really struck a chord with him, and he said he also wants the place to continue to be here. So he asked what we hoped to accomplish and how he could help.”

A red clapboard building with dozes of six-over-six windows.

The exterior of the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop, Rices Landing, PA. Photo by Richard Kelly Photography.

Soon after, Miller reached out to Rivers of Steel to brainstorm, and the result was a $50,000 endowment for an ongoing internship program to train Greene County youths in the machines, operations, history, and programs surrounding the foundry and machine shop.

Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel’s director of historic resources and facilities recalled, “When Mr. Miller approached us about setting up a scholarship at the machine shop, we were ecstatic. He saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community in which he grew up and a fantastic opportunity to bring a new generation into the story—and we are so thankful for his generous donation.”

2023 saw the first student awarded the aptly named William Miller Summer Internship at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop. Enrico DePetris, who goes by Ricky, was a 16-year-old student learning welding at Greene County Career & Technology Center, and he took the opportunity with energy and enthusiasm. Porfeli recalled a remarkable coincidence that occurred toward the end of the summer internship: “In August, Ricky was shadowing the tour guide and keeping an eye on the site. A guy shows up wanting a tour, so Ricky started explaining the machines and the history. And it was Bill Miller himself that wanted the tour! He got to see right there the fruits of his contribution.”

A young man with curly brown hair hammer a hot piece of steel at an anvil.

Ricky DePetris at the forge on a recent Sunday afternoon.

Porfeli continued, “I always said, if an intern walks in with the same feeling I have for this place, then that’s really what we’re looking for.”

Ricky remains involved at the site, returning to help with tours and special events.

The W.A. Young & Sons shop is located in the historic district of Rices Landing on the Monongahela River. It is a nearly 124-year-old facility where time stood still and its vintage machines remained intact. Its original owners, the Young family, and their workers kept the twenty-five belt-driven machines, such as lathes, drill presses, milling machines, and pipe and bolt threaders, running smoothly for decades, with few updates except replacing the power source, from steam to Bessemer gas to electricity. Currently, it’s powered by a tractor engine. The building also houses a small foundry with a blacksmithing forge.

the interior of the facitily showing the machines in the shop and the line shaft system

The interior of the front shop, featuring the machines and the line shaft system. Image by Richard Kelly Photography.

Over the years, the shop’s talented machinists and pattern makers crafted parts to repair local factory and mine equipment as well as pieces for the paddleboats and steamboats that once docked along the banks of the nearby Monongahela River. When the doors were closed in 1965, local residents and volunteers watched over the site. For a while, it was stewarded by the Greene County Historical Society—that is, until Rivers of Steel took charge of it in 2008 and began securing funding for improvements. Restorations to the building and refurbishments to the machinery have since occurred. Regular tours and public events, like the annual Hammer-In Festival that features area blacksmiths, are becoming increasingly popular.

The site is a true industrial heritage gem and the only one of its kind in the nation, so it also provides an unmatched training ground for students who want to learn more about traditional machining, metal casting, and blacksmithing.

A young woman with long brown hair works on a machine with an older gentleman wearing goggles.

Kiera, the 2024 summer intern, works on a machine with Steve, a dedicated volunteer at W.A. Young & Sons.

This year’s summer intern, fifteen-year-old Kiera, is learning to become a machinist in trade school. Porfeli was impressed by her intense interest in everything: “Her very first day, she watched a volunteer oiling one of the machines and said, ‘Can I do that?’ Then she jumped in to learn how to cut and help install a damaged machine belt.”

Among the variety of machines these interns become familiar with are three different lathes, a milling machine, a shaper, a planer, a radial-arm drill press, belt-driven hacksaws, and a keyway cutter. The internship program teaches what each of these machines was used for and the kinds of parts they made. Interns also assist during the blacksmithing and small aluminum-casting demonstrations. Kiera will suit up and help pour molten aluminum, as well as learn how to hammer an iron hook, or hairpin.

Equally important to learning the nuts and bolts of the time-honored equipment and metalworking skills is the ability to tell the stories—to interact with the public and make history come alive.

Rivers of Steel’s director of education, Suzi Bloom, helped refine the application process and got the word out about the scholarship to high schools, trade-training centers, and youth groups, such as the Boy / Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs, across Greene County.

She described the additional benefits of this internship: “There’s a big focus now on career readiness, and this is a great opportunity for students to get those kinds of hands-on skills. That’s something not always thought of when you hear ‘preservation internship.’ They also get to do the tours, learning those ‘soft skills,’ like how to greet people, face them when you’re talking, projecting your voice in a room, and how to break down and explain the complex machines to anyone who walks in. Those are hard-to-get skills. Public speaking can be nerve wracking, so this is a nice small environment to learn those things.”

To apply for the internship, students are asked to share their personal interest in machinery and historic preservation, to describe why local history is important to them, and to relate how what they learn in this internship could benefit their education.

“It’s a good resume-builder,” said Bloom. “I have my position because someone gave me an opportunity to work and learn. It is important for us to reach into this rural community, which may not have as many experiences available for young people. It’s also important for them to learn about the ingenuity at W.A. Young & Sons. Some of what was done there was genius. There were no hardware stores to run to, so they had to make parts for whatever needed to be repaired.”

An older middle aged man offers a microphone to a young man.

Rivers of Steel’s CEO August Carlino recognized Ricky DePetris at the 2024 Hammer-In Festival.

Porfeli is involved on a daily basis with the interns, and he believes that by the end of their internship, they will understand even more strongly how important it is to save these sites and traditional skills. “I want the legacy to be for future generations to come experience this site—there is not another like it without any modern-day machines at all. It was an art form what people did here. It will be lost—it’s going to be gone if new generations are not engaged to learn about it, care about it, and share the passion of it.”

Ron Baraff added, “We are always looking for ways to get people excited about our region and its rich history, especially at such a gem as the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop. Through projects such as the Miller internship, I feel confident that we can move the site into the future in capable and motivated hands!”

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on Rivers of Steel’s new workforce development program.

A woman with graying hair look slightly away from the camera with a soft smile.

Norma Ryan, a Remembrance—1931 – 2024

By Blog
Norma Ryan, former Mayor of Brownsville, Pennsylvania

Norma Ryan, a Remembrance—1931 – 2024

By Julie Silverman, Contributing Writer

Augie Carlino’s first encounter with Norma Marcolini Ryan was through food, which is not surprising if you’re of Italian heritage.

“Norma found out I was Italian,” said Augie, president and CEO of Rivers of Steel, “which isn’t hard to discover with my last name. So she invited me down to Brownsville for lunch. She made polenta for me in the old-school—the traditional—way, the way my grandmother used to make it. I hadn’t had it for years, since my grandmother passed away, and Norma wasn’t sure if I would like her version. It was just like my grandmother had made the polenta! That’s how spot on it was. I was just blown away. And that’s how I met Norma.”

In the early 1990s, the Mon Valley Initiative (MVI) was housing the Steel Industry Heritage Task Force, as Rivers of Steel had yet to become its own nonprofit. At that time, many of the MVI communities were working together to create a heritage area in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Brownsville, a former industrial town, was legendary. In the 1700s and 1800s, it was a booming and bustling hub of transportation and industry. Starting as a trading post along a well-worn Native American trail, its location on the Monongahela River made it advantageous to steamboat and barge building. When George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planned for the National Road to go through ninety miles of western Pennsylvania, Brownsville’s status as a hub for western expansion was sealed. Anyone heading into the western frontier of early America headed through Brownsville.

For those who knew her, Norma Ryan was the modern-day heart and soul of Brownsville. When she was growing up, Brownsville was lively and energetic. The town was still the intersection of railroad traffic, coal and coke transportation, barge making, and the National Road. Later in life, Norma would tell stories of the downtown sidewalks being so crowded that you had to step into the street to get around people.

Then things changed. As the steel mills and coal mines in the region put people out of work, stores began to close, and as it is in so many industrial towns, properties became neglected. Norma stepped slightly away from her long career as a beautician at Norma’s Beauty Salon to become a founding member of Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp (BARC), whose mission it is to achieve economic development through historic preservation, heritage tourism, outdoor recreation, community stewardship, education, youth advancement, and the arts.

Joe Barantovich, a community advocate for Brownsville and a collaborator with Norma, said, “She wanted to save every building. She thought they all could be saved, and she wanted the town to be the town she remembered.”

It wasn’t only the industry downturn that blighted Brownsville. In the early 1990s, Pennsylvania was considering riverboat gambling. A developer who wanted to capitalize on the idea bought more than 100 properties—some for only a dollar that were still in good condition. Riverboat gambling gave way to land-based casinos, and the developer’s plans for the buildings were scuttled.

Barantovich said, “The train station, which is called Union Station, was purchased. One day people were working there, and the next day the doors were locked. That’s how quick it was. Family photographs are still on the desks. The developer bought basically the whole downtown and then just let it sit. Norma was adamant about saving the unique architecture of every building.”

Barantovich leads Brownsville’s Perennial Project, a successful effort of planting flowers around the downtown area and creating an annual community project of beautification events and art installation (a project that has been supported by Rivers of Steel’s Mini-Grant program). But it was the Perennial Project’s Portals collaboration with local students that captured Norma’s memories of traveling to Kennywood via Union Station, combining that recollection with virtual reality.

“We kind of butted heads sometimes,” Barantovich laughed. “You can’t save all of the buildings, and we did lose a couple of really nice ones. But Norma was bound and determined to get things done. She had her vision.”

Carlino said, “Sure, she and Joe often disagreed, but they worked together for the betterment of the town. Norma wasn’t the type of person to hold a grudge. She always wanted to find a way to work with you.”

When the MVI and BARC were working on the renovations of the Flatiron Building, Rivers of Steel helped with interpretive planning and exhibits. It was more than a ten-year process to restore the building. Currently, the Flatiron Building also houses a museum for Frank Melega, a local artist and good friend of Norma’s. Melega was a coal miner’s son, and Norma was a coal miner’s daughter. His portrayals of life in southwestern Pennsylvania in the height of the coal and coke era became nationally famous.

Norma once said, “I’ve always been civic minded, always interested in people.” Add to that her drive and determination to revitalize Brownsville, and it might have seemed a natural progression for someone to suggest that Norma run for mayor. She was serving on the borough council and overseeing restoration of the Flatiron Building when the advice propelled her into history. In 2002, Norma Jean Ryan became Brownsville’s first and only (to this day) female mayor.

After her years as mayor, she again worked with BARC, giving tours in the historic St. Peter’s Church. It was the church of her childhood and where, as a devout Catholic, she attended mass as an adult. Her nephew Keith Ryan said, “She was a tour guide in our church. She studied the stained-glass history and the Irish coal-mine towns. ‘Patch town’ history was a big interest of hers. Any research she could do for the old history of the town she would try to preserve.”

Norma’s nephew Timmy Ryan shared: “Nobody’s ever been more positive than her. One of her sayings was, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. She lived by that, and her faith in God and her family and friends and keeping everybody together in a positive manner.”

A graying woman wearing oven mitts hold out a tray of food.

Norma Ryan taking pleasure in serving her food to others. Photo courtesy of Augie Carlino.

Her house was the place to gather, and the place to eat. Along with restoring Brownsville, cooking was one of her great passions. “She baked every day. Her life was in the kitchen. You never left her house hungry. She always had cinnamon rolls, pies, cookies, chicken, homemade pasta. If she wasn’t cutting hair, she was cooking,” Barantovich said.

Carlino said, “The last time I saw her, I was taking a group of people from Carnegie Mellon University through a tour of the Valley, and one of the stops was Brownsville. We were touring the Flatiron Building, and she showed up with all these cookies—I mean, a big, big tray of cookies! Then she came over to me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘I’m sorry it’s only cookies.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she said, ‘I wanted to make a gnocchi or polenta for you, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy to do it.’ She was really, really regretful about that. There’s not enough words in my vocabulary to describe her. She was just an amazing person.”

When Carlino went to Brownsville for his first lunch with Norma, he returned to his coworkers complaining. In the staff meeting, they lamented that in all the years of working in Brownsville, Norma never invited them to lunch.

“I come in,” Carlino said, “and I’m on the job literally a month or two, and not only do I get invited down there by her, but she’s serving me polenta. Polenta! Homemade sausage. Homemade bread. And I realized my coworkers were joking with me . . . I’m so thankful that she shared a number of years in my life with me. We just had a great time together!”

During the past year, in her role as Coordinator of Rivers of Steel’s Creative Leadership Program, Ashley Kyber had weekly—sometimes daily—conversations with Norma. She spoke fondly of her: “Benevolent in her love of Brownsville, Norma Ryan was a wealth of cultural history and a visionary optimist for the future of her community.”

Norma embraced a joie de vivre. Even with her boundless energy and countless hours of research, Barantovich said, “She always made the time. Her saying was, ’Stop and smell the roses’ and enjoy life. That was how she answered her phone on her message—it’s still on there. If she didn’t answer the phone, she would say, ‘I’ll call you back, and take time to smell the roses.’ She was a good people person. Great smile. She was a lot like a rose—beautiful, but she could be prickly if she wasn’t getting her way. She was bound and determined to see the way she wanted to get things done.”

Keith said, “One funny story: She was always looking for volunteers for any work everywhere. She finally got a volunteer one time to do some job like pulling weeds or pulling up poison ivy—things like that, and she called me wanting me to give him some advice on how to go a little bit faster. And I said, ‘Aunt Norma, he’s a volunteer! He’s working for nothing! If it takes him all week or all month, what’s the hurry?’ She figured that if he was going to volunteer, he should be up to her speed. We talked her out of that.”

There was Norma time, and there was everyone else’s time. But even Norma slowed down. Eventually, she spent winters in Florida, from late fall to late spring; however, no distance could keep her from calling to make sure things got done in Brownsville. Her heart, her smile, her determination—and perhaps a wafting aroma of homemade sauce—continue to weave their way through the town Norma loved so much.

“Brownsville has lost its greatest spokesperson,” said Dick Wallace, Rivers of Steel’s Board Chair.

Born in a time when Brownsville was the place to be, Norma passed away on April 30, 2024. Brownsville has reclaimed much of its former glory because of Norma and the people she brought together. Her life was celebrated on Saturday, June 1, at her beloved St. Peter’s Church by the people she loved and who loved her.

Read more about Norma Ryan in this article from the Observer-Reporter.

A white woman with coily hair in a blue shirt smiles in front of a white background.

Julie Silverman is a museum educator, tour facilitator, and storyteller of astronomy and history for various Pittsburgh area organizations, including Rivers of Steel.  A Chatham University 2020 MFA graduate, her writing is most often found under the by-line of JL Silverman. Occasionally, under the name of Julia, she has been seen on TV.

Seven people stand in front of a red caboose inside a large industrial space.

The Restoration of the Unity Railways Caboose 53A

By Blog, Historic Preservation

The caboose restoration volunteer crew: Keith Clouse, Mike Lickert, Kevin Scanlon, Shelley Parkerson, Ken Dunay, Matt Kory, and Andy Wagner. Dave Dudjak and Rich Proctor participated in the restoration, but are not included in the image.

The Restoration of the Unity Railways Caboose 53A

With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers—and a donation from a longtime community partner—a second railroad car has been restored at the Carrie Blast Furnaces. The Caboose will help interpret the relationships between local railways and the mills, and also share the specific stories about a short line operation and small mining communities in eastern Allegheny County.

By Rivers of Steel staff

Restoring the Caboose—A Volunteer Story

“Yes, we’ll do it!” Kevin Scanlon spoke for a crew of volunteers, including his friend Mike Lickert.

Both volunteers, the two men organize a cadre of helpers who regularly rise to the occasion to maintain and improve the condition of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark. When presented with the opportunity to restore a historic caboose, which is housed in the Blowing Engine House on the landmark site, it was an easy “yes.” After all, the volunteers had already rehabilitated the exterior of the Pusher Engine onsite a year or two prior.

“The caboose had been sitting inside the Blowing Engine House since being donated to Rivers of Steel by the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pennsylvania,” said Kevin. “Over the years, the paint had been peeling, and the wood siding had some rotten spots. The idea was to make it presentable so that it eventually can be an interpretive piece on the role of railroads’ interactions with steel mills.”

The volunteers’ activities generally stop from late October until landscaping duties pick up again in the spring. While this project gave the volunteers something to work on indoors during the winter, it—like the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill—was a project that had been in an arrested state, waiting for a moment when time and resources could converge.

An image of the 53A on painted on wooden boards with peeling red paint.

The only identifying mark on the caboose when it came to Rivers of Steel was a white 53A. The number indicated the year that the Unity Railways purchased it.

“The caboose was painted a deep red, and the only identifying mark was the number ‘53A’ painted on one side,” Kevin continued. “Scott Becker, the executive director and CEO of the trolley museum, provided a starting point for the restoration. He shared that while it was built in 1915 by the New York, Ontario & Western Railway at the Middletown, NY, shops, Unity Railways purchased it in 1953. And since Unity Railways was a small coal-hauling railroad serving the town of Renton in eastern Allegheny County, Scott suggested we restore it using the Unity Railways paint scheme since that was what could align best for our eventual use as an interpretive object. He went on to share that the interior was the same as when they received it from Unity Railways in 1965, so it only made sense for us to match the exterior.”

Unity Railways was a three-and-a-half-mile short line interchanging with the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Bessemer & Lake Erie (B&LE) Railroad in North Bessemer, Pennsylvania, a historic industrial neighborhood now within Penn Hills Township, along the border with Renton region Plum Borough. The B&LE was one of U.S. Steel’s railroads. It took coal and iron ore from the Great Lakes and mines near North Bessemer down to the Pittsburgh-area for the steel mills. When the coal plant on the Unity closed in 1965, the caboose was donated to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, where it often housed Santa Clause during its Christmas celebrations.

After establishing the provenance of the caboose, the volunteers got to work. Working with Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel’s director of historic resources, it was decided to repaint the caboose as close as possible to its appearance during its time with Unity Railways.

Four people, two on the ground and two on scaffolding, strip paint from an old caboose.

Andy Wagner, Shelley Parkerson, Matt Kory and Mike Lickert strip paint from the caboose.

“The exterior paint was separating from the primer,” Kevin went on to say. “This may have indicated that the oil-based paint was applied over latex primer. Some of the wooden siding was so rotten that you could poke a finger through it, and a quadrant of tar paper was missing from the roof. New paint could not go over the bad base, so we began stripping the paint. That took place from November of last year through March 2024. It was done using heat guns and a propane torch, then sanded—not an easy task on those cold winter days!”

Ten of the tongue-and-groove siding boards had to be removed and replaced with new wood. Other spots were patched with fiberglass. The platform floor on one end was completely replaced. In March, the first coat of primer was applied, followed by a new shade of red that was close to the original color.

A black and white image of a train car parked under a structure with a nondescript background

The Unity Railways Caboose 53A parked under the Pennsylvania Turnpike overpass at Unity, PA. Original photo from 1954, courtesy of David Dudjak.

David Dudjak, a railroad enthusiast who has provided technical assistance to Kevin and the volunteers in the past, supported this project as well. “The proper lettering was a bit of a challenge,” said Kevin. “David helped quite a bit with finding the correct font. As only Dave would put it, ‘It appears the lettering is Railroad Roman . . . not to be confused with Lulu Roman of Hee Haw fame.’” Kevin went on to share that David provided good advice on how to create and use lettering stencils, in addition to locating an original negative image of the caboose from 1954 that established the placement of the lettering.

Additional volunteers were involved with the restoration of the interior, which retails its original Caboose Interior Green paint. “The interior was in good condition,” Kevin shared, “but a few features were missing and others were added. Rich Proctor, with assistance from Andy Wagner, has been working on wiring to add interior lighting and outlets for future displays. And, since the short rails on the Unity sometimes had to back up a distance, the caboose was equipped with an air horn to warn motorists at crossings. Mike Lickert restored the horn; it’s now connected to a small air compressor. You should hear it!”

A woman on a ladder lifts her arm to paint the word "Unity" which is masked off by paper.

Retired paint chemist Shelley Parkerson had the honor of painting the new lettering stencils.

“The Carrie volunteer crew never ceases to amaze me,” said Ron Baraff. “They approach their tasks—often those that would be considered the most mundane—with such great enthusiasm. Their excitement about a project gets us excited as well. I’m thankful for all of them but especially Kevin Scanlon for his leadership in orchestrating the recent restoration efforts on the Unity Caboose. Our generous volunteers brought our cool little caboose back to life with great skill and devotion. They are such knowledgeable folks with so much to offer. Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about them.”

Kevin Scanlon also warmly extended his gratitude to the team: “A big THANK YOU to all of the restoration crew: Keith Clouse, Dave Dudjak, Ken Dunay, Matt Kory, Mike Lickert, Shelly Parkerson, Rich Proctor, and Andy Wagner!”

Interested in volunteering? We’d love to hear from you! Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, volunteers assist in maintaining the landscaping at the Carrie Blast Furnaces, in addition to helping with projects such as the restoration of the Unity Railways Caboose 53A. Work sessions are generally Wednesdays and / or Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to noon. No special skills are required, but you might just learn some new ones! Email to learn more.

A white woman in a long sleeved t and ball cap poses for the camera in an industrial space.

Partners for Creative Economy: Workforce Development

By Blog, Partners for Creative Economy

Malayna Arambula, now an employee of Rivers of Steel, first joined the organization through a pilot workforce development program.

Partners for Creative Economy: Workforce Development

Partners for Creative Economy is an economic development initiative of Rivers of Steel that combines five strategies for uniting, uplifting, and empowering communities throughout the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Long-standing efforts, such as the Mini Grant program and community partnerships, have been expanded and paired with newer enterprises, including the Creative Leadership Program and the forthcoming Center for Heritage Tourism. This article is the first in a series that explores each of these key elements; it focuses on new workforce development initiatives recently launched by Rivers of Steel.

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

Why Workforce Development

In its more than thirty-year history, Rivers of Steel has been devoted to preserving the region’s industrial and cultural heritage, including its labor history. In saving some of the last remaining physical artifacts of iron and steelmaking in the area, Rivers of Steel is also rekindling labor skills that were fast disappearing, training a new workforce who will be able to contribute to historic preservation projects or apply their knowledge to more conventional industries.

This focus on workforce development is one pillar of Rivers of Steel’s ambitious Partners for Creative Economy, an initiative that works in collaboration with heritage and cultural organizations and municipalities in the eight southwestern Pennsylvania counties that compose the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland. The goal is to strengthen and uplift communities that were hard-hit by and are still struggling to recover from the collapse of Big Steel and related industries in the 1980s, using preservation efforts, creative placemaking, and tourism, along with funding and other community development support.

“These historical assets offer unique opportunities to train local individuals in hands-on traditional trades like welding, masonry and blacksmithing—through projects that help preserve an important piece of their own history,” explains Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel’s senior director of programs and regional partnerships. “In the ’80s, these industrial relics were like an open wound—a fresh reminder of the jobs that no longer existed. In the intervening years, resulting from the work of Rivers of Steel, many people now recognize the value of these assets.”

He continues: “These remnants of industrial life were saved, but a vision was needed to encourage people to come back to the area. In order to support tourism and revitalize these communities, our efforts in redeveloping these landmarks were—and still remain—targeted at helping local communities and former steelworkers weather the lean years after the collapse of Big Steel. In the process, we created a destination that shares stories essential to understanding the heritage and legacy of southwestern Pennsylvania.”

The scale stove and stacks of the Carrie Furnaces seen from the Ore Yard dwarfs a tour group in hard hats at its base.

An Industrial Tour of the Carrie Blast Furnaces

The Epicenter of American Heavy Industry

A walk around the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark site offers a scaled-down reminder of the massive network of mills and factories that lined the entire Monongahela Valley for more than a century, virtually all of them now gone. The greater Carrie site itself occupied 107 acres along the river, which was part of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works, which employed more than 15,000 people. Blast Furnaces #6 and #7 at Carrie were rescued from demolition, along with an array of infrastructure, including the AC Power House and Blowing Engine House. In its prime, six furnaces at Carrie churned out 9,000 tons of iron daily.

Workers at the Homestead Works possessed highly specialized skills and had colorful job titles such as batch pickler, pig machine operator, scarfer, larryman, babbitman, skull cracker craneman, and the more obvious stove tender, salt thrower, cinderman, and car dumper operator. Millwrights also possessed a variety of general talents, too, for welding, machining, engineering, carpentry, and bricklaying—all required for maintaining the furnaces and mills.

The workforce development program will focus on the skills a millwright would need—and the more specialized skill set on how to preserve and restore industrial artifacts and infrastructure. While there is a need to develop expertise in the manual trades in general, this program will help establish industry standards for what is required when addressing historic, industrial preservation projects.

Two men work on a crankshaft weighing 132,000 pounds.

Rick Rowlands and Adam Taylor, who help to train apprentices, burn off old grease on the crankshaft of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill.

Developing a Specialized Workforce

Rivers of Steel hopes to remedy this talent vacuum by recruiting and educating a new workforce in the region who will be capable of performing specialized skills that not only support Rivers of Steel’s own preservation efforts, but also those in other regions of the country.

The first project of Rivers of Steel’s workforce development effort is the historic preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill on the Carrie site.  The last mill of its kind in the world, it currently sits in pieces, waiting to be restored and rebuilt inside the Blowing Engine House, ultimately forming the centerpiece of Carrie’s future visitors center, museum, and archives.

A pilot program in the summer of 2023, funded by the Department of Conservation and National Resources, allowed Rivers of Steel to train two apprentices, Malayna Arambula and Derek Stein,  to begin learning about the work of historic preservation from the ground up, explains project manager Rick Rowlands.

“They started with cleaning ten tons worth of dirt, grease, and grime off the parts,” he laughs.

As the project transitions into full restoration, with support from an Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant and a Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, among other sources, these apprentices are being immersed in more specific experiences. Says Rowlands, “They’ll get to do a bit of everything: metalworking, welding, some machining, learning about rigging and lifting—even some concrete work. The best way of learning is to have to do a little of everything.”

Mentoring workers in this way echoes the kind of apprenticeship that went on in the mills and factories along the Mon River for decades. “We’re recreating what was commonplace in the Mon Valley,” Rowlands explains. “It’s kind of something that’s not done anymore.”

The 48-Inch Mill project is just the first of many projects to come. Skills taught through the program will include traditional masonry, welding (ARC & MIG), foundry work and pattern making, blacksmithing, basic carpentry, basic structural engineering, metal fabrication, and more. Participants, made up of youth and adults from the region, will actively assist on Rivers of Steel’s preservation projects as well as on test models, learning valuable decision-making and problem-solving competencies. Graduates from the program may continue working with Rivers of Steel as paid staff when positions are open or take their experience to other organizations in need of this valuable knowledge.

Creating Opportunities

In many ways, the work of this new labor force will be as specialized as that of the millworkers who came before them. These trainees will work on and around sensitive surface areas that have been exposed to the elements and require highly specialized techniques and handling. They will learn to restore historic masonry and do structural welding, as well as perform artisanal blacksmithing and foundry work. Rivers of Steel’s historic landmark sites are a vast classroom for honing these critical skills.

A headshot of a woman with brown hair, fair skin, in a black top.

Samantha Swartz, the director of the historic preservation workforce training program.

“Having this workforce development piece lets Rivers of Steel use restoration and preservation as a springboard for this exclusive training of talent,” adds Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel’s director of historic resources and facilities. “The next Save America’s Treasures grant is for the Blowing Engine House, to restore and stabilize that building, which requires many facets of skills. This will all become training grounds for work skills that can be used here and at other historical sites and workplaces.”

Samantha Swartz is the new director of the historic preservation workforce training program and is excited for the challenges ahead. “One of the great things about workforce development at Carrie is it is full circle. It is a site where opportunity was lost, and now it’s a footprint for opportunity for the whole Mon Valley. It’s pretty incredible—the potential for these efforts!”

An Early Foray into Workforce Development

Years before the workforce development initiative became a formal part of Rivers of Steel’s vision and mission, the organization used its historic sites to retrain area workers. One of the earliest efforts was at the Bost Building National Historic Landmark—a building recognized for its connection to the tragic 1892 Battle of Homestead and the subsequent lockout and strike.

Rivers of Steel’s President and CEO Augie Carlino, an advocate in the initial community-based efforts to save the Carrie Furnaces in Swissvale, along with the Bost Building in Homestead, and the Pump House and Water Tower in Munhall, describes an early workforce development effort following the massive mill shutdowns:

“A federal economic development grant in the late 1990s was Rivers of Steel’s first workforce development project at the Bost Building,” Carlino explains. “We trained mostly former, displaced, and some retired steelworkers as tour guides. They had the stories and the experiences; they just needed some guidance in how to be docents to interpret those stories for visitors. The intent was—and still is—to get into these communities that have been left behind and employ people—to get them interested and invested in these new means of economic identity and opportunity.”

A man in a welding helmet leans over a project that casts sparks as he works on it.

Michael P. McCauley, Jr., Rivers of Steel’s maintenance manager, who is also a millwright, is part of this growing workforce.

Contributing to the New Economy

Augie Carlino points out how all of these places fit Rivers of Steel’s mission and vision. “Philosophically—the Bost Building, Pump House, Carrie—these preservation projects we see as beyond ‘save and sit.’ Preservation is not static. They are symbols of who we were—and are—contributing to a new economy in the area. The workforce, along with tours, events, and demonstrations, contributes in new and different ways to these communities and economies,” explains Carlino.

Chris McGinnis agrees. “Carrie and similar sites can be just passive places to enjoy, or it can be much more impactful when the community gets to take part in restoring, interpreting, and keeping these places alive.”

Summing up the workforce development initiative, Samantha Swartz notes, “I am a history nerd, and I most love the history of the working person. When you discover the history of Carrie, you are walking on truly historic land where lives were lost and futures destroyed. You can sense it! But I also sense the phoenix coming up out of the ashes and giving back to the community, bringing hope for the region.”

In 2009, former Homestead steelworker and grievance man-turned-songwriter Mike Stout wrote a lyric celebrating Pittsburgh’s glorious industrial history. It touches on what inspires Rivers of Steel’s workforce development program:

To the millions who worked in your factories and mills,

The ghosts of their labor are living there still.”

Rivers of Steel’s vision embraces the powerful lingering spirit of ingenuity and hard work that built not just this region, but the entire nation. In restoring and preserving the physical remains of the once-mighty iron and steel industry, Rivers of Steel is able to preserve and promote marketable skills and grow a small but knowledgeable labor force in the region who will be dedicated to carrying on the task of saving priceless industrial artifacts for future generations and visitors near and far.

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on the Historic Preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill.

A hulking piece of machinery in a warehouse type building

The Historic Preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill

By Blog, Historic Preservation

The 48-inch Universal Plate Mill as it appeared in the fall of 2022, immediately prior to recent preservation efforts.

The Historic Preservation of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill

After spending decades in storage, the 48-inch Universal Plate Mill from the Homestead Works is undergoing historic preservation work with support from an array of funders and a collective of workers. Since May is National Preservation Month, we’re excited to take this opportunity to share some of the important work that is currently going on, outside of public view, at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

The 48-Inch Mill, a Part of Our Nation’s Story

It rolled out the steel that built the Empire State Building in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and scores of other iconic American structures in its 80-year history from 1899 to 1979.

Known as the 48-inch Universal Plate Mill—and originally located at U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works—it was one of the mighty workhorses that defined the Steel Valley. When steel was king in the region, the mill churned out slabs of thousand-degree metal that became rolled plates used in large-scale construction.

Today, it sits in pieces inside the Blowing Engine House, part of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, waiting to be cleaned, restored, and rebuilt to recall its former glory. Even in pieces, it is the only surviving steam-powered rolling mill in the nation—and even the world. When restoration is complete, it will be the centerpiece of an ambitious visitor center and museum with exhibition and artifact space at the Carrie Blast Furnaces. Before then, it will help train a small workforce in crucial industrial restoration skills.

The task of resurrecting the 48-inch Mill is no small feat. However, the dedicated team at Rivers of Steel is undeterred, armed with the energy, vision, and expertise to make it happen. The effort is already in motion, fueled by funding from key grants and private foundations.

Ronald Baraff

Rivers of Steel’s Director of Historic Resources & Facilities, Ron Baraff.

“This is a really exciting time,” says Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities for Rivers of Steel. “All those years of pushing, working to save and preserve structures and artifacts from the steel industry, hoping to do all those things people thought were just too big to do—now, they’re all coming to fruition. And the restoration of the 48-inch Mill is so vital to telling the history of this area.”

Reassembling the 48-Inch Mill

Baraff describes the task of reassembling the mill as a monumental challenge, akin to constructing a massive toy model without complete instructions. The pieces, including the main crankshaft weighing up to 132,000 pounds, present a significant logistical challenge. With only a handful of photos and drawings as references and perhaps no living steel worker with firsthand knowledge, the restoration project requires a unique blend of expertise and dedication.

A man stands on a flatbed trailer in front of a crankshaft that nearly doubles his height that could be 30 feet long.

Rick Rowlands with the crankshaft from the 48-inch Mill when it was being moved to Carrie a decade ago.

Enter Rick Rowlands, the project manager heading up the mill rebuild for Rivers of Steel. As the executive director of Youngstown Steel Heritage, Rick became the only nationwide expert on old steam-powered rolling mills by restoring the Tod engine of a rolling mill in Youngstown, Ohio, and poring over the existing documentation on Homestead’s 48-inch Mill.

“Rick is an iron, steel, and railroad savant. He kind of showed up at Rivers of Steel’s doorstep like a feral cat,” Baraff laughs. Rowlands started doing modest restoration projects at the Carrie Blast Furnaces site, but upon hearing about the 48-inch Mill, he told Baraff, “You know, I love blast furnaces, but I really love rolling mills!”

Rowlands explains, “The best way of learning something is because you have to know it. There are two parts to this mill: The first half is the steam engine restoration, which will be completed by the end of 2024—then we’ll switch to the actual mill.”

A sign that acknowledges the Save America's Treasure grant.

A sign hangs on the 48-inch mill that acknowledges support from the Historic Preservation Fund.

Assembling the Resources

After more than thirty years of storing the mill parts, hoping for the day when it could be put back together, Rivers of Steel received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to launch this three-year restoration effort. Rivers of Steel made the case to save this vast historical artifact that tells the important story of how regional steelmaking was pivotal to building our nation. In a separate project, with support from the Hillman Foundation, a second Save America’s Treasures grant, and a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Rivers of Steel is working to stabilize and restore the Blowing Engine House, the building where the 48-Inch Mill will permanently reside.

A white man with graying stubble on his chin in a ball cap and glasses smiles for a headshot.

Rivers of Steel’s Facilities Operations Director & Construction Project Manager, Adam Taylor.

Working on the massive mill rebuild is a dedicated crew comprised of Adam Taylor, Rivers of Steel’s facilities operations director & construction project manager, and new recruits Malayna Arambula and Derek Stein. Machinist Chad Fetternick was also contracted to assist Century Steel and DCI Field Services with the heavy lifting and cement pouring.

The first step was for Adam Taylor to locate and purchase special equipment for the job—things like a sixty-ton crane and large lathe—and to create a machine shop for fabricating essential parts. All of this equipment will remain onsite at Carrie for this and future projects. While most of the enormous mill and engine parts survived intact, smaller pieces went missing, and others must be repaired or completely remade.

“We have to make things like five-inch bolts, parts of shafts, and keyways that we can’t just go out and buy somewhere,” says Taylor, a trained millwright working in tandem with Rowlands to supervise the efforts and oversee the recruits.

Malayna Arambula and Derek Stein came through a Rivers of Steel pilot workforce development project in the summer of 2023, funded by the Department of Conservation and National Resources (DCNR). They were both interns in that program and were charged with doing some of the gritty prep work for this project. With funding from several private foundations and public sources to support further workforce development, Arambula was hired full-time this spring. Stein was hired part-time as maintenance crew to assist with the mill and engine rebuild, among other tasks.

Arambula and Stein will be learning on the job, doing everything from cleaning decades of grease, dirt, and corrosion from parts to painting, repairing, or machining new parts. They will also learn how the giant pieces will be lifted into place and even help with the concrete work required to support the massive structure. Stein has some machinist experience, and Arambula operated heavy machinery and did welding during her time in the Coast Guard.

“It’s kind of like the old days,” says Rowlands about Arambula and Stein, “where you’d come to the plant as an apprentice and get put onto different jobs to assist and do a little bit of everything.”

The workforce development initiative is part of Rivers of Steel’s ongoing commitment to developing a regional labor force of people who will have the skills to help with industrial restoration projects elsewhere in the country or who can apply what they have learned to other, more conventional jobs.

“This project also trains them in fast pivoting—being able to switch gears, to envision and problem-solve,” adds Baraff.

A film by the Steel Industry Heritage Task Force, the organization that evolved to become the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation, which details the dismantling of the 48-Inch Universal Plate Mill at the former Homestead Works in 1990.

The 48-Inch Mill’s Post-Homestead Journey

The fact that this mill and engine were salvaged and stored for decades with most of the parts intact is nothing short of miraculous. Its long, circuitous journey to its permanent home at Carrie is equally incredible.

Augie Carlino, the president and CEO of Rivers of Steel, has been there since the beginning of the mill’s resurrection story—back in the days before Rivers of Steel was even established. In the late 1980s, the Steel Industry Heritage Task Force, which later evolved into Rivers of Steel, operated under the Mon Valley Initiative and fought to save some portion of the vast steelworks in the area after the collapse of Big Steel. The Smithsonian Institution identified the 48-inch rolling mill as the last of its kind in the world. Permission was granted in 1990 to save the mill, and it was a three-month-long challenge just getting it dismantled.

Carlino was onsite in Homestead as two massive cranes tilted in the struggle to lift the foundation elements of the mill. Standing next to him was the mill’s last foreman, Leonard Fleming.

“Leonard was this humble, soft-spoken, elderly guy who was foreman from the 1940s to the end. He was there to record some oral history about the mill,” says Carlino. “Suddenly, he starts yelling, ‘Mr. Carlino, they’re not doing it right!’—meaning how they were taking it apart. At that point, I shouted out to shut the work down.”

The work stopped. The original blueprints were consulted, and they contradicted the foreman’s advice. Fleming then explained that the drawings were intentionally not modified during the 1940s as a form of job security for the older workers. Many World War II GIs returned to the mill for jobs, but only the old-timers knew how the mill actually went together.

“So the crew went back to work using Leonard’s memory, and the mill came apart as he said,” adds Carlino.

Following dismantling, the 900 tons of mill parts were hauled to an old Westinghouse Electric site at RIDC’s Keystone Commons in Turtle Creek, where they were generously stored for free for roughly five years until that space was needed for new development. Once more, the mass of mill and engine pieces were transported, this time up the valley to Trafford, which cost Rivers of Steel a considerable amount in storage fees.

Ron Baraff came on board in 1998 and recalls seeing the mill “in hundreds of pieces, very few labels, some parts with trees growing through them—crazy, strewn about. It was a daunting set of pieces. We thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’”

In 2013, Rivers of Steel secured funds from the Colcom Foundation to finally move the parts to Carrie, a site Rivers of Steel had begun maintaining in 2010 via a long-term lease agreement with Allegheny County. Three years later, after addressing the landmark site’s most urgent preservation needs, Rivers of Steel brought the 48-inch Mill to its new home inside the Blowing Engine House at the Furnaces—and there were just enough funds left to do some start-up prep.

Two workers guide a large section of the mill into place with help from a crane.

Rick Rowlands documented the process of bringing the 48-inch mill to the Blowing Engine House. See his flickr photo album.

“In 2014, Rick Rowlands did some basic assembly getting the roll stands and cylinders in place, but we quickly ran out of funds,” recalls Baraff. A decade later, the DCNR and Save America’s Treasures grants kick-started the real work of training, preservation, and rebuilding. The team can now reassemble the roll stands, rolling tables, drive mechanism, and steam engine.

In Rowlands’ opinion, “The building part is easy. We’ll figure it out and make it happen. Each piece is a little challenge to overcome. The hardest part is finding the money. The rest of it is just fun! I get up each day and beat my head against this heavy machinery and couldn’t be happier!”

A black and white image inside the steelworks.

A Library of Congress image of the general interior view of the 48-inch Mill at the U.S. Steel Homestead Works.

The Work of the 48-Inch Mill

When it operated at its original location on the Monongahela River in Homestead, the mill was housed in a 60’x150‘x75’ steel-frame building with riveted Fink trusses and a monitor roof. Corrugated metal covered the roof and sides with a crane way on the east and north. In addition to the mill and its engine, the building also contained an operator’s pulpit, a scale pit, and a parts storage rack.

The rolling mill was fed steel ingots that were heated to a minimum of 1,100 degrees, depending on the product required, and would roll out long plates of finished metal up to 100 feet long. The Mill’s name is a designation of the maximum width of the plate that could be extruded, with varying widths up to a maximum of 48 inches. It rolled steel slabs up to two inches thick under extreme force and pressure, which also cleaned and eliminated scale that would cause surface defects. Hot rolling produced high-quality steel that was stronger and more formable and weldable than that produced using other methods.

In its early days, the mill was driven by a steam engine rated in the tens of thousands of horsepower—easily the largest engine in the country and perhaps the world in the early part of the twentieth century. It made a constant, thundering, puffing sound that could be heard for miles.

A digital rendering of the 48-inch Mill in a restored historic building.

A rendering of what the completed 48-inch Mill will look like in the Blowing Engine House, after both have completed their historic preservation journeys.

The Layers of Significance of the 48-Inch Mill

When completed, the restored mill and engine will take up almost 23-thousand square feet— roughly one-third—of the Blowing Engine House.

Though the finished, restored 48-Inch Mill will not be fully functional, the Rivers of Steel team plans to make certain parts movable, such as the rollers and crankshaft, so that the public can get a sense of the power and majesty of this state-of-the-art technology in its heyday.

When this behemoth ruled the Mon Valley, only employees were allowed near it. Ron Baraff elaborates: “In a few years, people will be able to be right on top of this thing, at angles you’d only see if you had worked in the mill way back. This project ties together production, American ingenuity, and the impact of what was produced in this region. Beyond saving the Carrie Furnaces, it’s a real feather in our cap to restore this 48-inch Mill!”

“This is a pretty important piece in terms of technology and from an engineering point of view,” says Adam Taylor. “This is it. This is the last one in existence.”

Rick Rowlands adds: “Tens of thousands of people spent their lives building and working in this mill. They had their own communities around it. Then it all closed down, and you have these empty fields. Who were these people, and how did they do this? I like to think I’ve helped keep something around of those people and their lives.”

Baraff, Rowlands, Taylor, and the team realize that this is a labor of love and pride in the region, with their desire to accomplish the nearly impossible. Helping preserve and continue to tell the story of the steel industry in the Mon Valley with the 48-inch Universal Plate Mill at the Carrie Blast Furnaces will be priceless for future generations to experience.

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on the Intercollegiate Iron Pour.

A color image of the same colonial home.

The Historic Preservation of the LeMoyne House

By Blog, Historic Preservation
The front of the LeMoyne House National Historic Landmark in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is currently undergoing historic preservation work; image courtesy of Washington County Historical Society.

The Historic Preservation of the LeMoyne House

Established in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, May has been recognized as National Preservation Month for more than fifty years! To help celebrate, Rivers of Steel is sharing the story of LeMoyne House, a National Historic Landmark in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is currently undergoing historic preservation work.

By Julie Silverman, Contributing Writer

From a Home Built in 1812 to a National Historic Landmark

Shakespeare might have said, “What’s in a name?” but as we celebrate National Historic Preservation Month, we could ask, “What’s in a home?” In Washington County, the LeMoyne House has withstood time and history’s tests for more than 200 years.

Dr. John Julius LeMoyne built the pale stone house on 49 East Maiden Street in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1812. His son, Francis, also a doctor, was a staunch abolitionist who offered his home as a stop along the Underground Railroad. The house was passed down from father to son to daughter, Jane, then Madeleine LeMoyne. When Madeleine passed away in 1943, the house was donated to the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS). In May 1944, the WCHS moved their offices from the third floor of the Washington County Courthouse to the LeMoyne House, which became both offices and museum, opening to the public in the fall of 1944.

With only the LeMoyne family as occupants of the house until 1943, any changes, upkeep, and maintenance were made under the supervision of the family. Eighty years and countless footsteps through the house later have made repairs and preservation vital. There are special challenges for a house that in 1997 received designation as a National Historic Landmark—the first of six Pennsylvania National Historic Landmarks of the Underground Railroad to be registered.

Several signs posted on plywood credit funders for preservation work.

Signage highlights the funders and collaborators in the LeMoyne House’s preservation efforts; image courtesy of WCHS.

A Historic Preservation Begins—and a Story Unfolds

Ellis Schmidlapp is an architect hired by the WCHS’s project manager, the StoneMile Group, to work on the restoration and preservation project. He recommended repairs to the exterior stone and mortar and rebuilding a section of the main front stairs. “For a landmark house that is to be used as a museum, the challenge is to preserve the historic materials and spaces as near to their original appearance and condition as possible,” he said. Attention is also aimed toward “updating mechanical, electrical, and safety systems in a way that is minimally intrusive to the historic character of the building.” WCHS is going to great lengths to preserve and maintain the integrity of the home, retaining its original features and giving it an opportunity to last for centuries to come. Part of the preservation work is handling some older materials that are no longer commonly used, such as “fragile interior finishes of leather, wallpapers, and paint.”

A set of four concrete steps that are clearly worn at the edges and discolored.

The portico entry steps of the LeMoyne House before preservation work; image courtesy of WCHS.

Bright white concrete steps with sharp edges and defined details.

The portico entry steps during preservation work; image courtesy of WCHS.

As the house receives an uplift, so will the way it tells its story. When the WCHS first opened the home as a museum, they set up displays of family artifacts and papers. Through the years, extended family members have continued to donate items for the collection; however, the visitor experience remained a general exhibit of Washington County history. Sandy Mansmann, current president of the Board of Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation, first saw the LeMoyne House in 1970. “There was lots of old stuff,” she said, “but not much of a story to tell of the depth of the local, and later national, importance of the LeMoynes.”

Beyond preserving artifacts, showcasing key moments of history remain a focus. Clay Kilgore, executive director of WCHS, and Tom Milhollan, director of operations and development, are spearheading an exhibit to highlight the involvement of Francis Julius LeMoyne and others in the Abolitionist Movement and its practical extension, the Underground Railroad.

A long, new building with a historic look to it.

Washington County Historical Society’s new Research & Education Center; image courtesy of WCHS.

Four years ago, construction began on WCHS’s new Research & Education Center. This effort allowed WCHS’s offices to move out of the LeMoyne House as its center of operations and make the focus the house on the story of the LeMoynes’ place in social reform. While some grants for the house facilitate preserving facades, other grants, including a mini-grant from Rivers of Steel, are bringing to life the Arcs of Freedom exhibition.

A oil painting of a wealthy man with sideburns, a black suit, and arched black eyebrows, and a widow's peak hairline.

Dr. F. J. LeMoyne’s portrait; image courtesy of WCHS.

Representing The Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad

This project continues the story The LeMoyne House has been telling for decades. In his time, Dr. LeMoyne was a radical abolitionist. He believed not only in ending slavery, but also in the equality and education of enslaved people once they were freed—that all people deserve equal rights. He medically treated Black Americans and was the only doctor in Washington County at the time to do so. But as LeMoyne’s involvement the Abolitionist Movement increased in the 1830s, he began to realize that it would not be enough to simply talk about abolition, and that more practical steps would be necessary.

Building on the story of Dr. LeMoyne, Tom said, “The Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad represented the convergence of a lot of different people coming from different racial backgrounds, different social backgrounds, different economic backgrounds, different religious denominations—all coming together for the common purpose of defeating slavery.”

Arcs of Freedom, the upcoming interpretive project, will add previously hidden pieces. “We want to tell the story of the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad through the eyes of the participants—first and foremost, through the freedom seekers themselves,” Tom said. These are the stories that have been forgotten. This new exhibit seeks to preserve stories of the free Black community that had been bypassed. “We feel that history has been kind of slanted to where freedom seekers were totally dependent on wealthy white benefactors to take them to freedom, and that is an incorrect narrative.”

Tom said, “The African American Underground Railroad conductors helped build that movement.” Clay adds, “We had an artist from Washington & Jefferson College—a student there—who obtained photographs of the descendants of one of the freedom seekers and made a composite of what this freedom seeker might have looked like. We’re going to add faces to names—names that people really don’t know. Now, not only are they going to get the name, but they’re going to get the face to it.” For example, this professionally designed exhibit will feature people such as George Walls, who was one of the most prolific African American Underground Railroad operatives in this area. Photographic images and even key details of his life were missing; however, with a bit of luck they found a newspaper interview with him and were then able to find photographs of his descendants.

“We’re interacting with a descendant of one of George Walls’s brothers,” Clay said. “Her name is Lorraine Walls Perry—she lives in Pittsburgh and is a member of our steering committee for this exhibit. She has been really helpful in us understanding the whole enterprise from the perspective of the African American operative. Lorraine, herself, is not only a descendant of an Underground Railroad operative, but she’s also a descendant of a freedom seeker on the Underground Railroad by the name of Alfred Crockett. We have put tremendous effort into uncovering obscured resources—resources that were previously hidden from common view. And we’re trying to bring all of that information to the foreground in this exhibit.”

Dr. F. J. LeMoyne’s Philanthropy

Francis Julius LeMoyne was less visible in the movement after 1850. He suffered from arthritis, and travel was increasingly painful. At this point in his life, he refocused most of his efforts on philanthropy and other social reform causes. His activities emphasized his interest in education and included establishing Washington’s first public library, currently known as Citizen’s Library. During the Civil War, he donated money to Washington College, keeping it from bankruptcy and ensuring that education continued for those who returned home. He donated $20,000 to a small seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, so that many newly freed people could go to school; it’s called LeMoyne-Owen College, even though he requested that his name be withheld. As early as 1835, he started the Washington Female Seminary so that girls, including his own daughters, could receive an equal education. (At that time, the norm was that boys went to academy, and girls studied at home.)

A small brick building with a red roof, two doors, and a headstone-type monument in front of it.

Dr. F. J. LeMoyne’s crematory; image courtesy of the WCHS.

In 1876, LeMoyne again challenged the norm by creating the LeMoyne Crematory—the first crematory in the United States and only the second in the world. He believed that cremating human remains would be more advantageous to health and sanitary conditions. He built the crematory on his own land just outside of Washington, Pennsylvania. Restoration was completed in 2020, and the LeMoyne Crematory is now also part of WCHS and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A sepia-toned image of a large colonial style home with a front entrance with columns that offers steps down to a sidewalk that runs right along the street. A second entrance to the right is less ornate and disrupts the home's symmetry.

A historic image of the LeMoyne House; image courtesy of WCHS.

Connecting the Past to the Present

Historic homes allow unique insights into a specific era. The LeMoyne House, from its inception in 1812, has been both stage and witness to history. “It has seen the construction of the National Road,” Clay said. “It has seen freedom seekers come in and out. It has seen abolitionists come here and speak. It has seen women’s suffrage movements and Susan B. Anthony here in this house. It has seen the Civil Rights Movement through the movements of today. We want to weave an entire story that tells not only of the LeMoynes, but of the struggles that people have had and how everything here fits into it—how the movements of today tie to the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movements of the past.”

The LeMoyne House in Washington, Pennsylvania, intertwines the articles of the house and the history of Dr. LeMoyne himself, with the context, circumstances, and rich heritage of the Western Pennsylvania region. It was honored with a competitive grant from the National Park Service’s History of Equal Rights grant program for which ten historic sites were selected in support of their preservation work and historical connection with advancing civil rights.

“Saving and restoring the house is a valuable resource to tell this story, even with its creaks, groans, and smells. The structure definitely has outgrown its capacity to effectively house and maintain historic county records and documents. Its return as a primary history museum is most welcome. Its renewal and the construction of an adjacent center for research and document storage will once again revive the interest of continuing generations to visit and appreciate the legacy of Washington as a center of our heritage,” said Sandy Mansmann.

To read more about the LeMoyne House and its role in the Underground Railroad, read this contribution by the Washington County Historical Society from this past February.

A white woman with coily hair in a blue shirt smiles in front of a white background.

Julie Silverman is a museum educator, tour facilitator, and storyteller of astronomy and history for various Pittsburgh area organizations, including Rivers of Steel.  A Chatham University 2020 MFA graduate, her writing is most often found under the by-line of JL Silverman. Occasionally, under the name of Julia, she has been seen on TV.


A group of young black women of a variety of ages with natural hair pose with a sign that reads "FROGANG LOT OF LOVE" with balloons on it.

Getting to Know: Shiftworks

By Blog, Getting to Know

The FroGang celebrates their Lot of Love in Beltzhoover.  Photo by Ishara Henry.

Getting to Know: Shiftworks

Getting to Know is a new column that offers an opportunity to become better acquainted with some of Rivers of Steel’s partners throughout the eight-county Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area via a series of articles featuring one of our community allies. In this article, writer Jason Vrabel examines how Shiftworks Community + Public Arts serves its mission through civically engaged public art crafted in collaboration with an array of communities, both geographic- and affinity-based, and how this work elicits stronger connections among those stakeholders.

By Jason Vrabel, on behalf of Shiftworks

Public Art + Community: Building Resilience Through Collaboration—Four Stories from the Pittsburgh Region

Let’s Eat

Dozens of community members sitting under a canopy tent discussed the handmade, colorfully painted ceramic plates on the tables—no two were the same. From a distance, the plates looked like family heirlooms. One plate was an illustrated sweet potato with instructions for how to grow one, and circling the edge of it was an anonymous quotation about the pandemic’s impact on the cost of food.

A team of servers dressed in black and white fanned out to serve the first of a three-course meal. As the guests began eating, the servers commenced the second part of their dual role—as performers.

 Whether they knew it or not, everyone was participating in Let’s Eat: Abundance, Access and Community, a public art project designed to address food insecurity. This project was led by multimedia artist Lindsey Peck Scherloum and her team, which included The Brashear Association, Inc., a nonprofit organization serving South Pittsburgh neighborhoods, as a community partner.

A multicultural group of women sit to eat together.

The Let’s Eat event. Photo by Ishara Henry.

Let’s Eat was one of four collaborative projects undertaken as part of the Public Art and Communities program (PAC), a program of Shiftworks Community + Public Arts (formerly known as Office for Public Art), in collaboration with Neighborhood Allies and the Borough of Millvale. Overseeing the program was Divya Rao Heffley, Shiftworks’ associate director, and Tamara Emswiler, senior program manager for social impact design at Neighborhood Allies. Between 2021 and 2024, PAC engaged approximately 1,000 people in creating temporary works of public art that addressed a community-defined need, such as persistent racism or social isolation, that was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Under the tent, Donathan Arnold, one of the servers-turned-performers, announced, Here are some of the words people shared when we asked them to tell us about food.”

“I’m proud when food tastes good, when I cook and people compliment me, when I’m cooking with my family. I live in Allentown,” responded another server / performer, embodying a resident who had responded to a request for statements about their relationships with food. Many similar statements followed.

A year prior, during the project’s community engagement phase, the Let’s Eat team had identified food insecurity as their theme—an issue of great importance to The Brashear Association, which operates a food pantry year-round—with the goal of reducing stigma by “celebrating food” in a communal way.

“But what about that is art?” Scherloum asked at the time. “It’s a cool idea and could not be art, but we’re going to make it art.”

And they did. Let’s Eat combined ceramics, performance, and community-inspired dishes to create an event series that was entertaining, educational, and empowering. The Brashear Association’s community engagement, combined with Neighborhood Allies’ project management, enabled the team to find consensus around conflicts that arose. It was a supporting cast, however, that included dramaturge Nick Grosso and his actors, event planner Tara Ferderber, and chef Carlos Thomas of Feed the Hood that made Scherloum’s vision a reality.

Public Art and Communities: A Program of Shiftworks, Neighborhood Allies, and the Borough of Millvale

Logo reads Shift Works Community plus Public ArtsThe PAC projects might have taken different paths toward completion, but they all followed a process designed by PAC’s Program Team and Advisory Group. Through a Call for Artists, each of the four selected community partners—The Brashear Association, Steel Smiling, Etna Community Organization / Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization, and the FroGang Foundation, Inc.—chose their artists. Primary and secondary project managers (mostly staff from Shiftworks and Neighborhood Allies) with expertise in community-based public art were assigned to support each team.

Everyone convened at Placemaking Academy, a six-week training program led by Shiftworks that introduced the newly formed teams to the work ahead. Community engagement best practices, discussions about the possibilities of what public art could be, and establishing a common urban design language were some of the topics covered. Artists then embarked on an engagement process in the communities where they would work for the next two years.

The Let’s Eat passage above and those that follow are excerpts from a report titled, “Public Art + Community: Building Resilience Through Collaboration.” Through storytelling, the report captures the personalities, struggles, and triumphs of creating public art in the Pittsburgh region.*

Black women sit at a table with flowers in a vase and appear to be working on baking something as their hands are covered in flour.

The Black Queer Affinity Series. Photo by Ishara Henry.

Black Queer Affinity Series

A walled garden on a former nineteenth-century estate in Pittsburgh’s East End was recently claimed by artist Noa Mims for anyone who was Black and Queer and wanted to participate in an experiential public art project. In collaboration with Steel Smiling, a nonprofit organization committed to Black mental health, Mims created the Black Queer Affinity Series, a three-part project that incorporated group yoga sessions, social gatherings, and ceramics into a creative healing process centered on Black Queer mental health.

All public art needs space. Like murals and sculptures needing walls or plots of land, events need to happen somewhere. Mims had studio space for the ceramics workshops they wanted to incorporate, but where would they find—in Pittsburgh—an indoor space for a group of Black Queer people to come together and engage around shared mental health experiences?

Knowing that Black-run spaces accommodating of large groups were scarce in Pittsburgh, Mims said, “At a certain point in time, I stopped looking at it as a challenge and started looking at it as an initiative to carve out space within the city for us to exist, to gather, to find community. Curating that kind of experience came down to, ‘How can I make everyone comfortable with this thing that normally doesn’t get to happen?’”

Mims’ needing to create space where none existed highlights current cultural realities of the Pittsburgh region that no single project or organization can change outright. But cities are made up of communities, which can change and also effect change. The Black Queer Affinity Series impacted Steel Smiling and a segment of the city’s Black population in ways big and small, but it also raised questions about the nature of Pittsburgh communities—how they’re defined, how they’re created, and how they’re sustained.

“Sometimes community isn’t where we are; it’s who we’re with, what we’re doing, what we’re talking about, and how we show up for each other,” Courtney Abegunde, Steel Smiling’s operations director, said. “Many people don’t feel like a part of the community they live in.”

“Communities have been self-identifying for millennia,” Divya Rao Heffley, a project manager for the Black Queer Affinity Series said. “Communities can be place-based but can also transcend place. The Shiftworks approach is to ask communities, ‘How do you define yourself, and then how can we support that?’”

Along with their project team, Mims organized twenty-one events. Their goal of confronting social isolation through togetherness for Black Queer people was achieved and, in doing so, revealed the persistent struggles unique to Black residents of the Pittsburgh area.

“People were able to come together,” Mims said. “For folks who had been isolated for quite some time, it was really refreshing to say, ‘I’m not alone with these experiences that I’m facing.’ That was a huge success in and of itself: You’re not alone; you’re isolated. And that takes active engagement to counteract. That’s where the success lies—in breaking down that isolation.”

A white man listens to a black man standing by a freestanding window like structure.

Artist Jason McKoy, right, discusses his We Are Windows installation, 2023. Photo by Ishara Henry.

We Are Windows

The similar mill town histories of Etna and Sharpsburg have led them on similarly innovative post-mill town journeys toward becoming sustainable communities. Sitting side by side along the Allegheny River, these two communities seem too alike to be separate boroughs.

Community leadership has enabled the kind of collaboration needed to further long-term community goals for both boroughs, including investing in public art. As the executive director of Etna Community Organization (ECO) and a member of Etna Borough Council, Megan Tuñón said she originally envisioned pursuing a “traditional” public art project through PAC.

“I came into it thinking we were going to do something like a mural, but it turned out to be so much more than that,” she said.

 Sharpsburg’s mayor, Brittany Reno, who was executive director of the Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization (SNO) at the time, said that artist Jason McKoy’s “tech-based, out-of-the-box” art was just what these communities needed. Being accepted as co-applicants into the PAC program, ECO and SNO collaborated on a public art project unlike any other in the region. We Are Windows, the project undertaken by McKoy, demonstrated how innovative public art can facilitate, or provoke, civic engagement in unexpected ways.

While all PAC teams needed to respond to the pandemic in some way, McKoy would have the added challenge of working in two municipalities simultaneously. Early on, he found the longstanding rivalry (a “beef,” he called it in jest) between Etna and Sharpsburg amusing, but he respected each community’s autonomy and identity. With personal interaction limited by the pandemic, McKoy used postcards to solicit input about the issues the communities wanted to address. The response showed two boroughs speaking with one voice.

“What was coming directly from the community was isolation, isolation, isolation,” McKoy said. Both places experiencing the same thing became the impetus to create “one work of art that would knit the communities together, instead of pursuing two separate projects.”

McKoy’s concept featured electronic “windows” that “looked” from one borough into the other. Placed in publicly accessible locations, digital screens (think vertical flat-screen TVs) displayed multiple video feeds from cameras placed in the corresponding community—kind of like a group Zoom call, featuring places more than faces.

An online forum held to discuss We Are Windows brought about mixed reactions. Privacy and possible “surveillance” were central to community concerns. As a project manager for We Are Windows, Derek Reese, Shiftworks’ program manager for artist services, said real community engagement allows for these kinds of issues to arise.

“We don’t steer away from controversy. We don’t try to sanitize situations,” he said.

Noting that “compromise is the only way to get things done,” Reno said candid neighborhood discussions led to a scaled-back version that satisfied the communities’ privacy concerns.

Reflecting on the community-based approach to creating art, Tuñón said We Are Windows was valuable to her as a community leader who wants to invest in more public art. “I appreciate how innovative [this project] is, and that it aligns with how we see ourselves as a community … We want to do innovative things moving forward.”

Reno added, “This process challenged us and definitely led to me feeling more cognizant of the fact that the entire process is art, the reaction is part of the art.”

McKoy, who has historically sought an element of disruption in his art, anticipated some resistance to We Are Windows. When asked if his project shifted public awareness about cameras in the public realm, he said, “I want to say yes, even if only an increment.”

About the project’s impact on public perception about art, he said, “In places where art isn’t in the forefront . . . part of my job is to change people’s minds, or at least make them think deeper and more critically about what art can even be. I believe—I hope—I accomplished that.”

A mural on panels affixed to a brick building with a blue background that features representations of black women with natural hair and inspirational quotes.

The FroGang Mural in the Lot of Love in Beltzhoover. Photo by Ishara Henry.

FroFully Connected

On a grassy parcel in Beltzhoover known as the FroGang Lot of Love, dozens of guests arrived for FroGang’s long-awaited mural dedication ceremony. Several event-day hiccups kept them waiting, but Kelli Shakur, FroGang’s founder and CEO, was unfazed.

“There were a lot of challenges that could have deterred the whole mood and atmosphere,” Shakur said afterward, “but instead, because of the love of FroGang and the love of what’s going on on that lot, people stayed. That’s what the Lot of Love is all about: bringing people together and turning things that should be bad into good.”

FroGang Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote positive self-image for Black girls by celebrating natural Black hair and culture. The Lot of Love is a modest-sized lot of outsized importance that FroGang had been seeking to adopt and enliven as an outdoor center for activities and events. Shakur’s organization had long-envisioned a mural that would commemorate the Lot of Love when it’s in use, and claim the space for FroGang when it’s not. Through PAC, artist Rell Rushin created Frofully Connected, a mural celebrating Black girls and women, painted on large panels designed to be installed on the brick facade of an adjacent building.

Rushin’s artwork, as big-hearted and unafraid as FroGang’s mission, was completed on time, but its installation was held up by onerous city regulations for more than eight months. Frofully Connected is a story of the unwavering determination of an artist who was new to public art and a community organization with a vision.

Rushin began attending FroGang’s recurring Successful Sister Sessions as an observer at first, later as a participant. While conceptualizing what the artwork would be, she was struck by one activity in particular: girls reciting affirmations—positive statements about themselves that they had written in journals—while looking into self-decorated, handheld mirrors. She was moved by seeing them “loving themselves and each other and causing no harm by judging or being cruel.”

The latter is learned behavior, Rushin said, and “seeing them unlearn that was really cool.”

Rushin’s bold color palette and her figurative illustrations of Black girls and women were influenced by the FroGrang girls, whom the artist acknowledged when signing the artwork. The 32’ x 8’ mural accomplished the initial goal of claiming the land for FroGang, but it’s the text accompanying the images that directly speaks the goals of confronting racism and replacing feelings of isolation with belonging:


Rushin’s smooth journey (her first) through the city’s Public Art and Design Commission  helped her grow as an artist, but even with the help of an architect, engineers, project managers, and a professional sign installer, countless delays throughout the permitting and zoning phases kept her mural grounded.

“If we were struggling—a whole team of people—to get this mural up, what would this process look like if I wasn’t working with Shiftworks? There would’ve been no chance of my artwork getting out there,” Rushin said.

Almost nine months later, the Frofully Connected mural is finally out there.

Five black people practice yoga in a park

Artist Noa Mims Steel Smiling series seeks to bridge the gap between Black people and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Photo by Ishara Henry, 2023.

Place Matters

There is a strong sense that public art, over time, belongs to more than whoever commissioned it, created it, or owns the deed for the land upon which the artwork resides. By intention or accident, public art invariably becomes part of the public realm in ways that can’t easily be measured. Created by many hands, public art belongs to many people.

If public art is to be an effective means of addressing inequality, it must confront the complex environments where it is placed. Launched during the greatest health crisis in a century, PAC shifted collective and individual perspectives by directly confronting root causes of persistent racism, stigmatization, and social isolation. PAC’s final artworks will be temporary, but the aesthetic experiences produced by them and the processes that created them will endure.


To learn more about the people and processes behind these four transformative works in the Pittsburgh region, please read the publication Public Art + Community: Building Resilience Through Collaboration, also written by Jason Vrabel on behalf of Shiftworks.

* The excerpts above have minor modifications to reflect the style guidelines and writing conventions of Rivers of Steel. No substantive changes have been made that reflect the content or intent of the original author. 

About Shiftworks

Shiftworks Community + Public Arts envisions a region in which the creative practices of artists are fully engaged to collaboratively shape the public realm and catalyze community-led change. Shiftworks builds capacity for this work through civically engaged public art, artist resources, public programming, and technical assistance.

If you’d like to learn more about Shiftworks, read about their transformation in this article by Sallyann Kluz and Ashley Anderson, Art. Works.

A blacksmith hammers on an anvil.

Event Preview: The 2024 Hammer-In Festival

By Blog

A blacksmith demonstration at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop for the Hammer-In Festival.

The 2024 Hammer-In Festival

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

Step back in time to the age of blacksmiths and local machine shops at the annual Hammer-In Festival in Greene County, about an hour south of Pittsburgh. Set in the charming town of Rices Landing, overlooking a rural stretch of the Monongahela River, the festival takes place in and around the wonderfully restored W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop. The event traditionally happens the third Saturday of April and promises something for everyone.

the interior of the facitily showing the machines in the shop and the line shaft system

The interior of the front shop, featuring the machines and the line shaft system. Image by Richard Kelly Photography.

“This is a must-see attraction! And it’s surprising in this quiet neighborhood to have this amazing marker of our industrial heritage,” says Greene County Tourism Director JoAnne Marshall.

Approaching the 123-year-old shop with its red-barn clapboard exterior, the clang of hammers on anvils greets the ears. Tristate area blacksmiths will be demonstrating their artistry for the public to enjoy inside this National Historic Landmark. Metal casting, copper working, and a tour of the facility and its machines are also part of the experience, along with an auction, food, and a first-ever local crafts market.

“The Hammer-In has been going for 36 years (with two years off during COVID times),” T.J. Porfeli, Rivers of Steel’s historic site coordinator, explained. “It’s a rare chance to have access to blacksmiths. Here you’re surrounded by multiple blacksmiths with a variety of skill sets.”

Blacksmiths from Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmiths Association (PAABA) and the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association (ABA) will be crafting things such as hooks, kitchen utensils, animal and botanical forms, and more. A different smith will demonstrate every hour, taking questions, and describing this age-old process of heating and hammering iron into versatile, attractive, and functional items. It is a chance for craftsmen to meet and collaborate with one another, as well as to offer their skills for public hire. The event has become an immersive and educational way to keep the trade of blacksmithing alive and evolving.

A blacksmith works in front of a crowd.

A small crowd observes a blacksmithing demonstration during the 2023 Hammer-In Festival.

Chris Holt, secretary and editor of PAABA, who is also a blacksmith, describes the fascination of watching her fellow artisans at work: “Instead of mass-produced stuff, people like to see the beauty of hand-crafted items. And if we don’t teach and use this skill, we’re going to lose it.”

The blacksmiths will also present some of their original craftworks that day at a public auction during the festival.

“There will be hooting and hollering as the auctioneer engages the public to open up their wallets to benefit the site,” says Porfeli. “There’s always amazing stuff there.”

Proceeds of the auction will go to PAABA and ABA and toward the continuing restoration of this local treasure—efforts led by Rivers of Steel after taking ownership of the unique facility in 2008. Funds from Save America’s Treasures and four Keystone Historic Preservation Construction grants helped restore the building itself.

A red clapboard building with dozes of six-over-six windows.

The restored exterior of the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop, Rices Landing, PA. Photo by Richard Kelly Photography.

Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities for Rivers of Steel, elaborates: “We have been able to replace the roof and repair the gutters and clapboard walls and windows and stabilize the building. If you lose that shell, you lose everything.”

“There is no other site like it, in terms of beauty of place and being completely untouched, and that’s largely because—and this is a good thing—it’s on the way to nowhere, in this cute little hamlet where time stood still,” Baraff shares. He goes on to say that the machines themselves were well maintained by the Young family and subsequent owners while the shop was open. “It’s also fortunate that it had and will continue to have neighbors and volunteers who are really interested in preserving and protecting this site. They’ve kept an eye on it for many years.”

Young & Sons is the nation’s last of the “small job” machine and metal-working shops that once supported local communities and industry. Before the early twentieth-century move to mass-production machining facilities, workers at Young & Sons would repair and make replacement parts for anything from bikes and automobiles to steamboat, coal mine, and small factory equipment. Unlike other such shops around the country, Young’s did not upgrade its late-1800s technology, except to switch its power sources over the decades—from steam to Bessemer gas to electricity. A period-accurate Bessemer engine will be on display at the event.

“This place is the epitome of being like the workers went to lunch and never came back,” according to Baraff. “Everything is just like it was when the last machine was turned off and more: every invoice was there, every chewed pencil. Everything was preserved, even the hardware store upstairs with all the little drawers and screws and bolts.”

A multigeneration family tours the machine shop as a guide demonstrates how a machine works.

A family tours the Machine Shop during the 2023 Hammer-In.

The Young & Sons interior is both quaint and impressive, with its twenty-five line shaft-driven machines that fill the front shop, animated by a web of pulleys and belts that whirl and dance when switched on to run the old drill presses, lathes, pipe and bolt threaders, and milling machines. Currently, a lawnmower engine powers the entire system of functional machines.

Chris Holt reflects: “To see it all oiled and moving and gracefully doing its task . . . it’s amazing.  It’s a whole ballet of machines happening in unison!”

The floor of the forge room is earthen, to prevent fire from flying metal sparks and the small smithing furnaces in the past. It makes a perfect setting for modern-day blacksmiths to ply their old-time trade.

The fact that time has not touched this gem of a workshop, which opened in 1900 and shut down in 1965, has been an asset for Greene County and all those who love industrial history and nostalgia in general. It has become a meaningful backdrop for the visiting blacksmiths, too.

“Other than how people are dressed, it could all be seventy, eighty years ago. The sounds, the sights, the smells. The volunteers and blacksmiths—they’ve breathed new life into this intimate space,” observes Baraff.

Chris Holt agrees: “The whole environment, the river, the machines. You can just imagine a paddle wheeler coming up the river, docking to get parts repaired. It’s this amazing frozen spot in time. It has to be seen to be believed!”

Three metal workers in leather protective gear pour molten aluminum into a mold.

A moment from an aluminum pour demonstration during the 2023 Hammer-In Festival.

Rounding out the Hammer-In experience will be a first for the festival: a copper raising demonstration (hammering flat sheets of metal to create a vessel or tools) paired with the popular molten aluminum pour demonstration. Spearheaded by T.J. Porfeli, there will also be a first-ever makers’ marketplace, where local craftspeople will display their goods for sale to the public. The Boy Scouts will be selling food, and proceeds will benefit their organization.

“This place contributed to the economy of the region, and it’s still here and doing that,” says JoAnne Marshall. “I make sure I attend every year. You just never see blacksmithing like this. And then the crafts and the people . . . it just makes for a wonderful day.”

This family-friendly event happens on April 20, 2024. It is free to the public, and donations are always appreciated. Festivities begin at 9:00 a.m., with a welcoming ceremony at noon, followed by the auction at 1:00 p.m. and an aluminum pour. Don’t miss this opportunity to watch the past come alive!

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out Lynne’s previous article on the Intercollegiate Iron Pour.

Three people in protective leather gear pour molten iron into molds while four more watch.

The Inaugural Intercollegiate Iron Pour

By Blog

Coral Penelope Lambert works with five students to pour iron from a smaller ladle while two more students observe during last Saturday’s inaugural Intercollegiate Iron Pour at the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

The Inaugural Intercollegiate Iron Pour

By Lynne Squilla, Contributing Writer

With Carrie’s majestic Blast Furnace #6 towering behind them, thirty college students and mentoring artists gathered on a brisk March weekend to pour their own iron creations and forge ongoing connections among the metal arts community.

Rivers of Steel’s first Intercollegiate Iron Pour drew students from Carnegie Mellon University, Alfred University in New York, Shepherd University in West Virginia, SUNY Cortland in New York, Seton Hill Greensburg, Chicago Art Institute, and NYU, who were joined by seasoned Rivers of Steel staff and alumni from past iron-pouring events hosted at the National Historic Landmark. Suited up in protective leather aprons and chaps, spats, boots, gloves, masks, and safety glasses, the students put their faces near the fire for a one-of-a-kind encounter with iron casting, sharing their passion for working with this challenging but captivating medium.

A group photo of 27 people in leathers, hard hats and uplifted masks posed on the pour floor with mold in front of them and the furnace behind them.

The crew of the first Intercollegiate Iron Pour.

“It’s just brilliant,” said Alfred University’s Coral Penelope Lambert, professor of sculpture dimensional studies and director of the National Casting Center Foundry. “This place is a sacred site, almost like Stonehenge. The grounds we walked on have this spirit of the industrial past, and that is a really rich thing for artists.” Lambert has been coming to Carrie since 2017, and her own work, called Gushers, was cast on site and now permanently graces the Iron Garden on the eastern side of the landmark site. For this pilot intercollegiate pour, she brought one undergrad and one graduate student from Alfred’s School of Art and Design, Sculpture Dimensional Studies Division, plus two Alfred alumni.

A small group in hard hats stand in a garden area not yet in bloom.

Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel’s director of arts, leads students through the Iron Garden. Coral Lambert’s sculpture is visible to the right of Chris.

“The ‘big sell’ here is you’re going to meet people who will become part of your network after college. It shows what can happen outside of academia and in the future,” Lambert continued.

Josiah Shuman, a junior studying Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, brought nine fellow engineering students to the event; eight are members of a group he founded, called The CMU Forge Club. Shuman and his friends started with an interest in learning how to create sword and knife blades, and Josiah has been to the Carrie Blast Furnaces for blacksmithing workshops. But, he pointed out, he and his colleagues are more steeped in metallurgical theory, as well as research in such technologies as electronic high-density storage materials and capacitors. Most of them had never witnessed this centuries-old technology—a glowing mass of molten iron smelted and poured.

“It was truly awesome,” said Shuman, “and when it sparked, the staff yelled ‘Turtle!’ and you hunch up your shoulders and tuck your face mask in to protect yourself.”

“Everyone working with the students was so organized and enthusiastic and so helpful,” Shuman continued. “Engineers, and I guess a lot of artists, are really kinda shy and not really outgoing types, but as soon as you make connections, you go out of your way to talk to others at this event, which was a little out of our comfort zone. But I think we’ll maintain a lot of these relationships in the future.”

Five people in protective gear pour iron from a large ladle into resin-bonded sand molds.

The crew pours iron from the primary ladle.

Building a community in the metal arts is the Pour’s primary objective. Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel’s director of arts, explains the inspiration behind this new event: “Rivers of Steel is part of a small but fierce community of people who are passionate about metal casting. And we want to grow that community to more people outside of that fray, to get students excited about metal and the trades and handwork, and share the history of Carrie that they may not know about.”

Carrie provides a truly unique experience for students of metal arts, where 300 to 500 pounds of iron can be melted and poured. The portable furnace used for the event is a scale version of the two giant early twentieth-century blast furnaces that dominate the site, providing a setting unlike any commercial or university campus foundry.

Rivers of Steel has hosted public pours at Carrie, including at the Festival of Combustion and an Iron Casting Spectator Event, but this is the first program focused specifically for university-level students to give them a sense of the history of iron-making in this region and to keep interest and these time-honored technical skills alive.

The scaled-down furnace at this pour is named “Bumblepig” and was designed and built by two of Coral Lambert’s past students, Paige Henry and Kay Dartt. While both are artists, Henry is now Rivers of Steel’s metal arts technician, and Dartt is a professor of art at Shepherd University. Ed Parrish, the metal arts coordinator for Rivers of Steel, who organized and supervised this event, elaborates: “Her full name is Frannie van Bumblepig [local blast furnaces were traditionally named after women from prominent mill families], and she’s an intermittent cupola-style furnace, which means we plug a tap hole with clay, and when the well is full of molten metal, you tap out 300 pounds. We poured a total of about 3,000 pounds of iron at this event.”

The iron is all recycled scrap from such things as old bathtubs, brake rotors, or radiators, combined with limestone and coking coal, heated by propane and then forced air. It duplicates, in scale, the same process that the Carrie Furnaces employed from 1907 through 1978, with the exception that hematite and taconite (iron ore pellets) were used rather than scrap iron.

Experienced artists and those seeing iron poured for the first time all got an up-close, hands-on experience, whether suiting up and actually poking the tap hole and ladling the 2,500-degree liquid iron, or standing by with essential tools.

Three students in leathers mug for the camera, while a fourth is unaware of the photographer.

Students prepared to participate in the pour.

“All those who wanted to were given a chance to pour,” Parrish said. “It’s hard work, and it’s a team process. Very orchestrated and controlled. But everyone is generally in awe because it’s very dramatic; there’s a natural theater to this process.” The molten iron was poured into resin, sand-packed molds that many of the students premade and brought with them.

Along with the spectacular visual elements, there was the steady hum of people communicating during the intricate process, the clang of pulley chains as the ladle was hoisted, the hiss of sparks, and the bang-bang as cooled metal was knocked off the poke-hole lance. It was all a faint reminder of the heat, glowing skies, and steady noise that emanated from the massive furnaces #6 and #7 at Carrie, along with up to 1,250 tons of iron daily that each of those two produced in their heyday . . . the entire site produced up to 9,000 tons a day!

A sculpture of three hands, two are silver and one is dark.

Stay, 2023, aluminum and bronze, by Clark Clark of Shepherd University.

In addition to the big pour on Saturday, students also participated in a pop-up suitcase exhibition on Friday, where they shared “suitcase-sized” works they had created at their schools or studios. Displayed on 55-gallon drum pedestals inside the AC Power House on the grounds of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, there were a variety of cast metal pieces, sculptures, and even a work in neon.

Participants also had a chance to make their own Doodle Bowl, a popular workshop offered at Carrie where molten metal is poured into small molds that can be custom designed by carving out shapes and patterns in a preformed resin bowl. For this premier student event, the bowls were cast in iron, rather than the usual aluminum used during The Doodle Bowl Experience, the publicly offered version of the workshop.

Josiah Shuman and his fellow CMU students cast preformed 4×4-inch tiles as well as the Doodle Bowls. “As engineers, we were laughing, like, ‘We have to get creative now!’ But it was a great chance to explore our artistic side that engineering doesn’t always allow.”

Ed Parrish adds, “Teaching creativity no matter what your field is can be one of the most important things in your toolbox. There’s always a give-and-take with the students, too. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

Participants were also given a tour of the Carrie grounds and part of furnace #6. Shuman, who had been to a Rivers of Steel’s Blacksmithing Basics: Hooks and Hairpins program in the past, gained even more insight from this event: “Before this weekend, I knew little of iron and steelmaking in Pittsburgh. [On the tour], you could imagine yourself as one of these iron makers decades ago all day, every day, year after year, pouring heaps of hot metal. You feel small next to those furnaces.”

A group of nine people in hard hats pose for a photo in an industrial setting.

Chris McGinnis, left, led the students through the historic furnaces. Here, they posed for a photo on the stove deck.On Sunday, once the molten iron had sufficiently cooled overnight, Rivers of Steel’s metal arts staff and crew broke the students’ cast pieces out of their molds. The works ranged from very intricate, lacy designs to solid mountain-like forms. “They came out perfect,” said Coral Lambert, who helped with this final stage.

A gloved hand holds an iron heart.

An anatomical heart was one of the items cast.

For mentors like Lambert, the Intercollegiate Iron Pour goes well beyond academics and what can be learned in a classroom. “This is just a melting pot of information that you can be part of and can help shape it for the future. It’s not just the technical stuff, but the important interactions and relationships created.”

Students like Josiah Shuman hope to return to Carrie to work again with staff and other artists. “I’d love to do more of these pours and see what other collaborations—like even a bladesmithing workshop—could come out of it.”

“The connections sparked at this event will serve these artists and engineers well as they complete their schooling and pursue their careers,” said Chris McGinnis. “We hope to see them all again soon!”

A headshot of a white woman with salt and pepper hair, light blue eyes, and a cropped haircut in front of a black background.

Lynne Squilla is a skilled and creative storyteller. She honed her craft as a writer and producer / director of original scripts, documentaries, articles, web content, stage, and other live presentations. While her work has taken her across the globe, she’s rooted in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and has a passion for sharing stories about our region’s past.

Check out the metal arts programs offered by Rivers of Steel.