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Historic Preservation

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 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.


The Historic Preservation of the Carrie Blast Furnaces

By Blog, Historic Preservation

The Carrie Blast Furnaces in 2006.

The Historic Preservation of the Carrie Blast Furnaces

This past fall, when the tour season ended at Carrie, construction season began. Working along with Century Steel Erectors, Rivers of Steel has initiated the first of several significant projects that will facilitate the stabilization of the Carrie Blast Furnaces and allow for expanded access to previously restricted parts of the site for visitors.

These latest projects are part of the historic preservation work on this National Historic Landmark that began when Rivers of Steel first started to manage the site in 2010. In these first dozen years, the reach and impact of Rivers of Steel’s work at the site has been exponential. Tens of thousands of visitors experience the Carrie Blast Furnaces each year. Now, as the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC)-led development of the adjacent Carrie Furnace site has begun, including the building of two tech-flex structures, we anticipate this trajectory to continue. With more exposure and visitation projected, the historic preservation and stabilization of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark is crucial now more than ever. 

A view of the Ore Yard, partially landscaped.

A view of the Ore Yard in 2011; one year after Rivers of Steel began its stewardship of the site, a path has been cleared for tour groups.

Dispelling the Myths

Beyond being an industrial and cultural icon in our own region, the Carrie Blast Furnaces are a standout in international industrial heritage preservation. Following benchmarking trips as part of a comprehensive master planning project Rivers of Steel undertook over the last year, we discovered that the Carrie Furnaces have one of the best-preserved cast houses in the world. Additionally, Rivers of Steel’s arts programs—including metal arts and graffiti arts—are lauded by our global counterparts as an innovative way to introduce audiences to our site and the importance of industrial heritage preservation. Most people who stumble on Carrie—through channels outside of our word-of-mouth or marketing presences—are introduced to it as an “abandoned” place; it became internet famous (with the help of cable television shows) for its rust and overgrowth, as well as for the Carrie Deer guerilla art sculpture.

To be fair, the site sat empty and unsupervised for quite some time. Furnaces #6 and #7 (which remain today) went offline in 1978. The rest of the plant closed in 1984. It sat, as is, until 1988, when the Park Corporation took ownership and focused on scrapping most of the buildings—including two of the remaining four furnaces—while Rivers of Steel fought to save what it could from demolition. Then, the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County took over ownership in 2005. The following year, Rivers of Steel secured National Historic Landmark status for the Carrie Blast Furnaces #6 and #7 and became stewards of the site in 2010. Thus, there were over twenty-five years when Carrie was not in daily use. However, locals know that it was never truly “abandoned.” It was frequented by artists, graffiti-writers, and everyday folks—people who were looking to connect with part of our region’s heritage by entering a place that was off limits to the public during its heyday.

From the last years of the plant’s operation until Rivers of Steel took stewardship of the historic site in 2010, the structures of the National Historic Landmark did not undergo any care or maintenance. This essentially means that Rivers of Steel has been playing historic preservation and stabilization “catch-up” for those decades of neglect.

Vast overgrowth between buildings.

A view of the Central Courtyard as it appeared in 2006. Image by Randy Harris.

What It Means To Be a National Historic Landmark

National Historic Landmarks represent an outstanding aspect of American history and culture; they are places that illustrate the nationally significant history of the United States.

The Carrie Blast Furnaces contribute to the understanding of how the Pittsburgh region was responsible for creating the steel that transformed the world’s infrastructure during the 20th century, a time when it also earned the title of “arsenal of democracy” for its military supply contributions for our national defense. On a more human scale, this vestige of the past helps Rivers of Steel to share the stories of our region’s workers and their families, their accomplishments and sacrifices—actions that help define the character of our communities even today. Yet when you consider Carrie’s landmark status from a maintenance point of view, it represents both challenges and opportunities that are as unique as the stories it represents.

A black and white image of sun coming through holes in the roof of the Power House.

Sun streams through the roof of the AC Power House in 2008, reflecting the state of neglect prior to Rivers of Steel’s stewardship. Photo by Ron Baraff.

Historic Preservation Work on an Industrial Scale

Upon being granted stewardship of the Carrie Furnaces, Rivers of Steel immediately began addressing the preservation of the site, guided by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Rivers of Steel’s staff and a handful of volunteers worked tirelessly to pull back overgrowth, especially from the structures where it could continue to degrade the architectural integrity. In 2011, staff raised the funds for the first major stabilization project, installing a new roof on the AC Power House, along with other smaller initiatives. This triage work, occurring roughly from 2010 to 2015, helped to slow the rate of degradation and open up spaces to make them safe for visitors . . . but there was more work to be done.

“2010 marked the beginning of our hands-on work at the site to reclaim it as a historic landmark,” said Ron Baraff, Rivers of Steel’s director of historic resources and facilities. “Not only did we have to learn how to creatively manage the landscape and formulate best practices in preservation on the fly, but we also had to change the culture of the site that had developed over the previous twenty-plus years. No longer was it an “abandoned” or dormant site, it was a National Historic Landmark that needed to be protected and nurtured.”

“While we fully understood the attraction that the site had become,” Baraff continued, “it was incumbent upon us to ensure its long-term safety. To do so, we had to tackle not just the encroachment by nature, but also by scrappers, urban explorers, and the curious. To this end, we worked diligently to secure the site and initiate stabilization efforts.”

Safety has always been the first priority. Rivers of Steel performs regular structural surveys to determine a priority listing of issues to be addressed. In 2017, on the second major stabilization project, with funding from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) Keystone Preservation grant fund, Rivers of Steel worked with Songer Services to remove 75 feet of distressed steel and brick from the Hot Stove’s Draft Stack and place a cap on it. This project ensured that Rivers of Steel could continue to safely bring visitors onsite.

Over the last five years, much needed work has been done by a few full-time staff members of Rivers of Steel. Life safety, security, electricity, and lighting systems were installed, including in the AC Power House, where most events and programs take place.

A man looks a motorcyle in the AC Power House

The Glory Daze motorcycle show is just one of the events that was hosted in the AC Power House last year. Photo by Adam Piscitelli / Primetime Shots, Inc.

Big Challenges and Big Money

The historic preservation efforts at Carrie exist beyond the scope of many historical landmarks. Most of the time, professionals that are versed in historic restorations specialize in more traditional types of structures, like historic homes or brick or stone buildings. Preservation and restoration experience on industrial structures is quite limited, especially within the United States. Last year, Rivers of Steel’s efforts to determine the best path forward led to researching work that’s been done in Europe, particularly in Germany’s Ruhr and Emscher Valleys, the Saarland, and in parts of Belgium and Luxembourg. Rivers of Steel also joined TICCIH, the International Congress on the Conservation of Industrial Heritage, to connect with colleagues globally to discuss the unique challenges we face.

Over the past two years, with the support of Senator Jay Costa and other state and federal elected officials, Rivers of Steel has raised significant funding for continued preservation and stabilization, including funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program; the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures grants program; the National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant; and the PHMC’s Keystone Historic Preservation grant program, along with support from local foundations and corporations.

A digaram shown from an aerial overhead view outlining the structures onsite with a pink box over a small area behind the cast house and a blue box that goes behind the stove deck, designating phases 1 and 2 of the work.

This site maps shows the areas of work for the project currently underway in the offseason at the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

Our current project—the first major undertaking since the stack stabilization—includes stabilizing the #6 Cast House, rebuilding the sluiceway behind the Cast House, opening up the sluiceway alley to visitors for the first time, and additional stabilization work that will continue to allow visitors on the Stove Deck. Funded by the Save America’s Treasures and Keystone Historic Preservation grants mentioned above, this work is crucial to Rivers of Steel’s interpretation of the site, which features industrial tours that follow the iron-making process.

Additional projects are also pending. With the support of U.S. Senator Bob Casey in 2021, Rivers of Steel received a Save America’s Treasures grant for stabilization work on the shell of the AC Power House, including concrete and masonry repair, along with the paving of the internal ramp. Beyond structural integrity, this will improve the usability of this historic building.

Recently Senator Bob Casey and former Congressman Mike Doyle both announced separate federal grants for stabilization work on the Blowing Engine House. These funds will support the work necessary to preserve and stabilize the building following historic guidelines, and lay the groundwork for securing occupancy of the building. This is the first very important step toward the Blowing Engine House becoming the Visitors’ Center for not only the Carrie Blast Furnaces site, but for the entirety of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Augie Carlino, president and chief executive officer of Rivers of Steel, lauded the support from the elected officials and said, “Senator Casey, Congressman Doyle, and State Senator Jay Costa are strong advocates for Rivers of Steel and our work at Carrie and throughout the National Heritage Area. In addition, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald is delivering on his promise to work with Rivers of Steel, RIDC, and the communities surrounding Carrie to make the site’s development a priority for Allegheny County, positioning the development for 21st-century jobs.”

The Furnaces at night, awash in colored lights.

How the Furnaces looked during the Festival of Combustion in 2022. Photo by Ron Baraff.

A Vision for the Future

As mentioned briefly above, Rivers of Steel has completed a comprehensive master plan for the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark site. Approved just this past December by the Board of Directors, the master plan not only recommends steps to stabilize and preserve the historic structures, but also includes plans to renovate and reuse existing interior spaces—and build new structures—for interpretation, exhibition, education, recreation, and special events. The Carrie Blast Furnaces are the centerpiece of Rivers of Steel’s operations—the hub reaching out to the spokes of our other historic and touristic sites as well as our many heritage partner sites throughout our eight-county National Heritage Area.

The implementation of this master plan is on the horizon. Rivers of Steel’s vision dovetails with what has been planned by RIDC and the Pittsburgh Film Office for the adjacent commercial development, as well as with what Allegheny County plans for the Rankin Hot Metal Bridge, also a National Historic Landmark.

Each step of the way, we have been working with our community partners in Rankin, Swissvale, Braddock, and North Braddock, along with the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, and now, RIDC, on the preservation and redevelopment of the entire development site.

As Rivers of Steel has done with other redevelopment projects in Duquesne and McKeesport, we are working to ensure that former industrial sites are interpreted for the public and their stories are told. Unlike those other redevelopments, including the much-lauded Hazelwood Green, the Carrie Furnaces development is a National Historic Landmark. While this adds more stringent guidelines for redevelopment, the result will be an internationally known destination—an asset for our immediate neighbors in the Monongahela River Valley and to the many visitors the site will draw to the region.

It has been a long time coming for Carrie, for the team here at Rivers of Steel, for our partners, and for the residents of the region who have been working to build its future. We are on the precipice of a new era and we are grateful to be the stewards of this landmark—a space that reflects the resilience of our region’s people, both historically and today.

Interested in reading more about the work of Rivers of Steel? Read our story.