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Exploring the Heritage Area – Automobiles & Roadways Part Two!

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

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

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

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

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

The Four Vagabonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National Road Heritage Corridor

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


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

George Washington Carves a Path and Starts a War

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

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

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

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

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

A Road is Forged Westward

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lincoln Highway

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

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

The Lincoln Highway Experience

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

The Original Pie Shoppe

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

Compass Inn Museum & Ligonier Valley Historical Society

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

The Road Toad

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

Brush Creek Cemetery

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

Big Mac Museum

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

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

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

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

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

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

Artist Profile: Steven Haines

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

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

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

A Message from Steven

About My Work

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

My Home

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

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

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

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

Find Me Online

Twitter: Flea Market Films

Facebook: Flea Market Films

Military Style Jeep with american flags in front of a monument

Exploring the Heritage Area – Automobiles and Roadways

By Blog

By Brianna Horan, Manager of Tourism & Visitor Experience

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

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

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

Spotlight On: The Liberty Tubes


Colored Post Card of Liberty Tunnels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Automobiles and Roadways to Visit

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

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

Bright blue sporty convertible coupe

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

The Frick Pittsburgh

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

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

Automobile Row

Baum Boulevard, East Liberty and North Oakland, Pittsburgh

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

Superior Motors

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

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


go karts lined up waiting to start a race

Go Karts at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex

Pittsburgh International Race Complex

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

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

Jerry’s Curb Service

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

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

Military Style Jeep with american flags in front of a monument

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

The Birthplace of the Jeep

Butler, PA 16001

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

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

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

Pittsburgh and the Automobile Industry in the Early 20th Century

By Blog

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

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

Pittsburgh and the Automobile Industry in the Early 20th Century

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

Five model T cars and attendants in front of a garage

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

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

Three-wheel vehicle with an open carriage seat

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

Red four-seat roadster with yellow wheels

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

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

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

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


Automobile Painting Ad


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black coupe with a hard roof

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

Bright blue sporty convertible coupe

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

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

About Kim Cady

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

8:46 We remember George Floyd

We Remember George Floyd

By Blog, Press Room

We Remember George Floyd: Rivers of Steel’s Call to Action to Ourselves and Our Region

Rivers of Steel condemns the murder of George Floyd. Starting today, we will work aggressively through our programming and projects to help put an end to racism, bigotry, inequality, intolerance, injustice, and prejudice directed toward black Americans and other people of color.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area was created by an Act of Congress in 1996 to commemorate, interpret, and help conserve the industrial and cultural heritage of southwestern Pennsylvania. Over the years, we have proudly told the stories of the industrial might of Pittsburgh and the region, and how those companies and the hundreds of thousands of people that came here to work built America. We take pride in the fact that our industrial prowess and the sweat, brawn, and blood of the workers manufactured the armaments that defended democracy and won world wars. We see this heritage still reflected in the neighborhoods where we live, the houses of worship in which we pray. We celebrate our diverse ethnicity and tell stories about how our grandparents and great grandparents came to southwestern Pennsylvania and settled in the mill towns, coal patches, and cities to build a better life for themselves and their children. Our romanticized memory has jaded the reality of our history and the conditions of our communities today that stare us directly in our faces.

The reality is that we live in a region with an ugly cultural heritage of racism, bigotry, and segregation, and it is all tied to the industrial heritage—the very issue Rivers of Steel was created to “commemorate, interpret, and help conserve.” Industrial towns and regions—which Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania are—were established to build infrastructure with the labor of their workers. These industrial towns controlled the factories and the community, imposing segregated places on the shop floor and in the neighborhoods. There is a reason why Pittsburgh and surrounding communities have distinct ethnic and racial compositions. Did you ever wonder why there are clusters of ethnic populations in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, some with names like Polish Hill and Deutschtown? Or why Aliquippa has “planned communities,” and within those planned communities there is one that was designated explicitly for black steelworkers and their families? It is not because all the people that settled in these places wanted to live with those of similar backgrounds. It is because the industrial system that we commemorate had isolated our ancestors into enclaves so they could be easily controlled. Our system of fragmented local government is the result of the industrial system, adding to the disparity of services from public safety to public education we live with today. Why does a community like Homestead, Pennsylvania, have so many ethnically-distinct Catholic churches? It’s because a Slovenian Catholic could not worship at the Irish Catholic church, and the Irish Catholics could not worship at the Lithuanian Catholic church. And if you were black…

We celebrate the greatness of our famed Negro League teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, and often fail to remember that these men, only because of the color of their skin, were prohibited from playing in the major leagues. We also fail to tell the story that many of these same men, and their teams, grew out of segregated “company teams” created to provide some recreational activity for their workers, separated by race—another aspect of our industrial heritage.

Our city and our nation have changed over the century-and-a-half of its industrial prowess. While we lost most of the mills and mines, we wake each morning to a regional economy that was once on life-support but has been reconstructed and rebirthed to a new, high-tech system. We wake to skies that once blocked almost all sunlight and obstructed our views but now permit our gaze at glittering skyscrapers and a vibrant city. We wake to a region whose hills were denuded of trees but now are green, and rivers that once were devoid of life continue to support industry today but also provide recreation and health benefits to our citizens.

And for the past week, we wake to a city, like so many other cities in America, that has erupted with anger and rage at the inexcusable and intolerable murder of George Floyd. We, as a nation, have accomplished so much over our history and changed so many things, but we have failed to solve the most insidious and destructive problem of our society—racism.

Rivers of Steel’s mission―to commemorate the industrial and cultural heritage of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania―has led us to develop successful programs and projects that embrace our culture and celebrate our diversity, but we can and must do more. We have told the stories of those who came to work here, but have skirted the stories of racism in the steel industry. We hold tours at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark and point out that it was one of the most dangerous places to work within the mill but fail to uniformly illuminate the fact it had a predominately black workforce. We fail to tell the story that black men were enticed to come to Homestead after the Lockout and Strike in 1892, to act as scab laborers, adding to prejudices and injustices they endured because of the color of their skin. Furthermore, the industrial system intentionally pitted ethnic groups against one another as a way of fending off unionization, and this included taking advantage of black / white animosities.

But today we, the staff and board of Rivers of Steel, recognize our need to do things differently and do more. Today, we issued a challenge to ourselves to work with our partners, the African American community, and our region to tell a story that doesn’t hide behind wistful, romanticized, visions of our living heritage (a term that, properly understood, describes both “the past” and “today”). Instead, we will build our arts and education programs to reach further into the communities of color, and other disadvantaged populations. We will make sure our interpretation does not end with the generalized terms of the struggles of all workers but point out those long-established discriminatory practices that kept black workers from being able to attain equal status in the factory and the communities. We will grow our education programs with our partner schools, intermediary units, and teachers, to make sure that we help break down the prescriptive barriers of the state system of public education which restrict free and equal education in the disadvantaged and black communities we work within. We will build an organization that works to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of us all, recognizing that this mosaic of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual identity, and religion should bind us as human beings―all the same, equal to each other, and deserving the constitutional freedoms that are inherent to us all.

With the Rivers of Steel board of directors, we will work to be more diverse, recognizing our desire to be more inclusive, and re-doubling our efforts to build a more diverse board. We will create a board committee of diversity, equity, and inclusion to work with staff and the board guiding our mission and our policy as we work within our communities of southwestern Pennsylvania. And we will re-examine our strategic plan to improve and establish more programs and projects that reach into our communities and to keep a lens focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion in all of our work, operations, and management.

We do this in the memory of George Floyd, who should be alive today. We do this in the memory of Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We do this in the memory of Jonny Gammage, Antwon Rose, Jr., and so many others. We do this recognizing that it should be done; it must be done. Rivers of Steel, alone, cannot solve the problem of racism in our region or our country, but we have to start to put an end to this evil. We welcome our partners and communities to join and help guide us.


August R. Carlino
President & Chief Executive Officer
Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation / Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area

The Restoration of “Miss Carrie”

By Blog

By Keith Clouse, Rivers of Steel Volunteer

Image of Keith ClousePreservation Work on the #101 Locomotive

A large part of iron making is providing the raw materials to the blast furnaces in a timely manner. The logistics require delivery and storage of those materials to allow an uninterrupted supply. The Carrie Blast Furnaces depended upon rail delivery of those raw materials even though it was located beside the Monongahela River. Incoming materials were delivered by three railroads: the Baltimore and Ohio, the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie, and the Union RR. Once inside the Carrie facility it was the job of the Materials Department to unload the freight cars and store the iron ore, limestone, coke, and other ingredients needed for the iron-making process.

Carrie used a huge elevator, called a car dumper, to quickly unload each railcar for distribution into one of three separate storage areas, called ore yards. A General Electric 80 Ton locomotive, #101, would proceed to the arrival yard to pick up three loaded cars. They would be pulled up a ramp to the car dumper. Those cars would be lifted by an elevator and turned over, allowing the contents to fall into a large hopper. After those three cars were emptied, #101 would return to the yard for another group.

For most of its time at Carrie, #101 would run back and forth on a quarter mile of track, rarely venturing from the car dumper. Maintenance and servicing were performed in a small service pit on site. #101 was just one of many diesel locomotives used by the US Steel Homestead Works. However, it had a distinctive cab that made it unique. It was a half cab, the result of an industrial accident at the car dumper. Four large steel arms, controlled by heavy steel cables, held the loaded freight cars in place while the elevator lifted them. One of those cables broke while #101 was underneath it, allowing the huge arm to crash down on the locomotive cab, crushing one side. The operator inside was not injured but was later nicknamed “brown pants” by the rest of the crew.

The car dumper and #101 worked right up to the closing of Carrie in the early 1980s, stored as serviceable for a reopening that never came. Over the years, Mother Nature took over the site, hiding #101 in a small forest of trees and shrubs, entangling the car dumper in vines. As with any machinery sitting in the open, the neglect resulted in rust and vandalism. Even though it was in a fenced in area, #101 was soon covered with an assortment of graffiti, the windows smashed out. It would remain like that, rusted and ignored, until the fall of 2019.

Kevin Scanlon and I began volunteering at Carrie in 2010; we both believed in historical preservation. Carrie was the ideal site for restoration, an example of the iron-making process. Recognizing this, Rivers of Steel was able to National Historical Landmark status for the site in 2006. Kevin and I were among the volunteers working to undo almost 30 years of neglect to open the site for visitors. Early on we worked around the car dumper, cutting away the thick foliage, uncovering the 101. Although the idea of restoring her was something we considered, it would have to wait until more pressing work was completed.

In the fall of 2019, Ron Baraff and Ryan Henderson convinced us it was time to move ahead to begin the restoration of #101. First, we needed a thorough cleaning of the accumulated debris and leaves; taconite pellets were everywhere inside. Next the big job—remove the rust. The first attempt at sand blasting didn’t work out well. It was going to take more time, but using grinders with abrasive disks proved to be a better choice.

Kevin Scanlon working on Carrie #101It was interesting to work through the layers of paint, discovering three different paint schemes used by US Steel over the years. We worked our way down to bare metal. The body was in good shape for the most part. The were some rust and holes around the sand boxes. The sand had accumulated moisture and rotted through the outside sheeting. Those areas will be covered with sheet metal patches and the missing roof hatch covers will be replaced at the same time. Because bare metal will quickly rust, Rivers of Steel provided primer to cover it. Each section was painted as the rust was removed. When the painting was completed, we stood back to admire the now renamed “Miss Carrie” in her new red dress.

So far, the work had stabilized the locomotive, but winter was fast approaching. We needed to replace the broken glass to prevent further damage to the interior of the cab. A large sheet of Lexan was cut into the appropriate shapes to replace the glass. The floorboards were warped and broken, so a temporary plywood floor was installed and braced. A decision was made to use the 1960s paint scheme—blue with orange stripes. It was decided that we would wait until spring before attempting to do the finish work. We had taken the dimensions and made sketches of the safety striping while removing the old paint. That will be our guide when we are able to add the final touches.

We are currently in a holding pattern until the virus restrictions are lifted. Even at this point, the project has been very satisfying. We were able to restore and preserve a unique part of the Carrie iron-making process. So far, the only negative was feedback from people who liked the former rusty look for photos…I can live with their disappointment.

"Miss Carrie", a GE 80 ton locomotive, Before and After

Guide to Images

Featured Image: An unrestored Carrie #101 locomotive with the car dumper, ore bridge, and the Carrie Blast Furnaces in the background

Image 1: Tour Guide Keith Clouse

Image 2: Kevin Scanlon grinds away the rust

Image 3: Before and after images of the first phase of the “Miss Carrie” restoration

Jack Boot Safety Posters

A Home for the Culture of Steel

By Blog

By Ryan Henderson, Interpretive Specialist

Ryan HendersonTo Collect, Preserve, Display & Share

A key component of Rivers of Steel’s mission has always been the collection and preservation of materials related to steel and industrial history.  While Rivers of Steel may now be best known for our historic properties, our historians have been collecting documents, objects, photographs, clothing, and all manners of ephemera for more than twenty years.  One of our organization’s earliest goals was to create a safe place for those items that threatened to disappear during the turmoil that engulfed the steel industry during the 1980s.  Hard hats, ID badges, books relating to metallurgy, work clothes, technical drawings, commemorative lighters and paper weights, industrial magazines, safety posters, and all manner of ‘everyday’ items from that era faced the potential to end up in the landfill, or consigned to a corner of the attic or basement.

When Rivers of Steel first put out the call for donations decades ago, the community responded with overwhelming support.  Our archive has had the good fortune to receive the support of local organizations and businesses, dozens of former industrial workers, and a number of dedicated longtime donors, some of whom have made thousands of individual donations.  We have managed to unearth truly incredible items: an exceptionally vibrant series of safety posters by local artist Jack Boot, letters from a National Guardsman during the Homestead Strike, the menu that once hung in the Open Hearth 5 Canteen at the Homestead Works (image below), hundreds of black and white headshots of workers from Jones and Laughlin.  We have managed to collect and retell the stories of the men and women who made this region what it is today through oral histories, audio / visual collections, and artwork.  Above all, we have attempted to ensure that these pieces will not only remain for future generations, but will be available now for all those who wish to access them.

Not only has Rivers of Steel created an archive that safely houses over 50,000 unique items, but it also makes these collections open to the public. Our archive is free to access by appointment, and almost any of the items in our collection can be viewed in person with a few exceptions.  Additionally, portions of our collection are frequently displayed in our exhibition rooms on the third floor of the Bost Building.  We have created a number of exhibits honoring the industrial and cultural heritage from southwestern Pennsylvania, with past shows focusing on topics like Jones and Laughlin Steel, the Little Steel era, folk art from around the region, industrial photography, and our current show which features hidden gems from our collection. Rivers of Steel also frequently works with outside groups or individuals to contribute both art and artifacts our exhibits, such as our current display on the 1919 Steel Strike.

Various exhibits inside the museum.Even during the current Covid-19 crisis, Rivers of Steel is working to facilitate access to our archives as safely as possible.  While we are not currently receiving visitors to the archive, our staff is more than happy to work with researchers, students, and community members to access our collections online and to fulfill requests as best we are able.  Our collections can be searched in their entirety here.  Additionally, we have created a new Covid-19 policy for the duration of the crisis in accordance with Pennsylvania State guidelines, viewable here.

We encourage anyone interested in contributing to our archives to get in touch with us at about next steps.  We have been working hard to preserve our community’s history for the past twenty plus years, and we will continue to protect our valuable cultural resources during these difficult times.

Guide to Images

Featured Image: Two of Jack Boot’s Safety Posters

Image 1: Ryan Henderson speaks to a group in the archives at the Bost Building.

Image 2: Menu board from the Open Hearth 5 Canteen at the Homestead Works.

Image 3: A view of the Bost Building’s third floor gallery, featuring the “From the Vault” exhibition.

Artist Profile: Shane Pilster

By Blog

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

About Shane Pilster

Our next featured artist is no stranger to the Mon Valley or to Rivers of Steel Arts.  Mural artist and designer Shane Pilster has made a name for himself, not only as the Graffiti Arts Curator for Rivers of Steel, but also as one of Pittsburgh’s most respected advocates for local graffiti culture and its important role in reshaping the future of this region.  While his work is not confined to the Mon Valley Creative Corridor, many of his most impactful projects have taken place in this region and his hometown of Wilkinsburg has, on occasion, identified itself as part of the Mon Valley.  Let’s just call him an adopted son that the valley can be proud to claim as their own.

A Message from Shane

About My Work

I started painting with a spray can around 1997 in the San Francisco Bay Area and instantly fell in love. There have been highs and lows with the medium for me over the years, but in the last several years I have pushed myself to experiment with new ideas, techniques, and styles more than ever before.

I am an artist, muralist, curator, graphic designer, and web developer. Bridging my expertise in graffiti and urban arts with community involvement, I pride myself in also being an educator, advocate, mentor, and well-rounded creative individual. I’ve worked all across Pittsburgh with various organizations while pioneering graffiti educational programming, workshops, guest lectures, and painting murals. 

My Adopted Home

When I first visited Pittsburgh in 2003, I was blown away at how completely different it was from the West Coast. Surrounded by brick, abandoned factories, and incredible people, I knew I had to spend more time here. The city became my new home in 2004 and I have not looked back. In that time I have lived in many neighborhoods all throughout the city, but for the last 2.5 years I have called Wilkinsburg home. 

In every neighborhood I have lived across Pittsburgh, I love to get involved in the community. Within the first few months of living in Wilkinsburg, I saw there was a new community organization being developed in an elementary school just a couple of blocks from my house. The people of the region are one of the reasons I have abandoned the West Coast, and the people at Community Forge are an excellent example. Within the last two years I have painted several murals on site, worked with the youth, conducted workshops, assisted in design projects, and made some amazing friends for life.

I am currently working with several building owners in the neighborhood, and across all of Pittsburgh, to paint murals that push my skills and bring awareness to graffiti culture and style in a positive way. The love and support I have received over the last decade of doing public art and education in the region has been amazing. And though there are a lot of uphill battles due to my medium, I will strive to create and work within the community.

Find Me Online



IG: @outafterdark

An aerosol artist works on a mural of a steelworker.

Understanding Historic Preservation in a Dynamic Frame: The Graffiti Arts Program at the Carrie Blast Furnaces

By Blog

By Caitlin Frances Bruce, PhD.   |   Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Pittsburgh

Caitlin Frances BruceUnderstanding Historic Preservation in a Dynamic Frame: The Graffiti Arts Program at the Carrie Blast Furnaces

The Carrie Furnaces are arguably one of Pittsburgh’s historic crown jewels. The only remaining intact prewar iron furnaces in the country, visiting the Furnaces provides the visitor with a tactile and powerful sense of one of Pittsburgh’s key threads for its identity: the iron and steel industry. The space with the towering and rusty furnaces with the iconic deer head surrounded by the verdant green of the grounds and the iron gardens generates a sense of awe.

I became acquainted with the Furnaces through my research on graffiti, which I have been involved in for the past ten years. I’ve studied the art form in the U.S., Mexico, France, and Germany, conducted hundreds of interviews and visited dozens of sites. When I moved to Pittsburgh to take a job at Pitt as an Assistant Professor of Communication, I wanted to know where the permission sites were in the city.

For the uninitiated, graffiti, or, style writing as many practitioners name it, is a form of expression that relies on complicated networks and spaces and it is not as simple as legal or illegal. Permission is what wall owners, communities, and sometimes the government provide to say that the expression is supported by more than the writer (writer is what most practitioners call themselves). Permission might not always be strictly legal, but it involves the assent and/or consent of multiple stakeholders. There are famous permission sites, like the Wall of Fame and (now destroyed) 5Pointz in New York; in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico Calle Regina and San Jeronimo are two of many places where one can find permission murals; and in Miami the Museum of Graffiti provides one example of institutionally sponsored works that function within the register of fine art. In Pittsburgh we have had fewer sites. In Homewood there is a beautiful permission wall, and until 2012 the Eliza Furnace Trail had a permission section. Permission walls are all run differently. Some are curated, like that of 5Pointz or the Museum of Graffiti. Some are “free walls” where anyone can walk up and paint—Austin has such a space. Others are sponsored—Red Bull has become a key sponsor for many graffiti events. They also are painted at different times—some stay the same for months at a time, others rotate daily, yet others are created in vibrant festival settings while others are more low-key.

There is much value in having permission walls in a city. First, they allow what I call “spaces for encounter”: spaces for multiple people to connect, explore, and engage with their home and its histories. Encounters are vital to a democratic society. Second, they have a pedagogical function: they help educate broader publics about the importance, history, and possibilities of graffiti art, breaking stereotypes that it is nothing but mindless vandalism (it’s not). It also provides much needed space for youth to practice in low-risk context—many have been seriously injured or died fleeing police—it’s important to have places for youth to express themselves. Third, it is crucial for the development of style – at such walls where one can paint at a leisurely pace, it is possible to implement more elaborate works, pushing what many writers name the “evolution” of style.

The Graffiti Arts Program with Rivers of Steel provides one permission wall in Pittsburgh. It is a curation model complemented by an education program and is run by Shane Pilster. I met Shane when I started developing a program named Hemispheric Conversations Urban Art Project (pronounced “hiccup”) with Oreen Cohen, and co-founded by myself, Oreen, and Shane in 2016. We were joined by Max Gonzales as a co-organizer in 2018. HCUAP has the goal of using urban art as a platform for dialogue and public engagement about issues like conscious development, youth voice, post-industrial history, and we produce murals, public conversations, and offer youth street art workshops. All of our programming is free. Shane’s role as curator of the permission spaces at the Furnaces has been key for our programming and led to our ongoing partnership with Rivers of Steel. In what follows I discuss what I have learned about the Graffiti Arts Program, how we have collaborated with Rivers of Steel and that particular program, and conclude with some reflections.

Shane Pilster lead tour.Graffiti Art Tours: Including the Whole History

Changing from a commercial iron blast furnace to a closed site that was largely dismantled for scrap metal, the dormant site became an unofficial center for urban explorers, guerilla artists, and graffiti writers. Like many industrial sites, the 1980s spelled the end of the Carrie Furnaces as an active manufacturing site. During the post-industrial period when the Carrie Furnaces were abandoned in the late 1980s and throughout the1990s, they were an informal gathering place for guerilla artists, urban explorers, and graffiti artists. Because they are not within walking distance or on a bus line from Pittsburgh, the works created by the artists from the 1990s to the early 2000s were largely left untouched—which is often impossible in more traditional graffiti ecologies where permanence is not an expectation and where city-run graffiti squads routinely erase graffiti works. As a result, the Furnaces have also become, organically, a regional graffiti museum showcasing evolutions in the style over the last three decades.  Now, it is a National Historic Landmark that combines industrial history with post-industrial culture to create an evolving relationship to the past and present (“Rivers of Steel,” 2018). In this way, the Furnaces can be perceived as a site where the fluidity and permeability of spaces and cultures to transformation is on display.

Modern graffiti culture also emerged during this post-industrial moment—in the 1960s in Philadelphia and in the 1970s in New York City (Gastman and Neelon, 2011). In New York, urban denizens witnessed the decimation of places like the Bronx. Pittsburgh’s graffiti scene emerged in the 1980s. The major crews included G-Force, Bad Asset, and TVA (The Versatile Artists).  NSF (Not Strictly Freights/New School’s Freshest) was created in the 1990s and includes old school writers. One prominent pioneer from Pittsburgh is Buda who started writing in 1983, and a piece of his painted in Millvale is featured in the eponymous book Spraycan Art (Newton, 2005). The New York scene was influential for Buda. Style Wars had massive influence in Pittsburgh as in other sites. The Martin Luther King Jr. Busway—a roadway where rapid transit buses run from Pittsburgh’s east to west sides—was a sort of “hall of Fame” for Pittsburgh graffiti. Force One, an East Liberty writer, created a shop (now located on 5450 Penn Avenue) called Time Bomb that was a point of reunion for writers. He also founded Time Bomb Crew and was influenced by the Philadelphia and New York scene. Henry Chalfant, photographer and co-author of Subway Art (with Martha Cooper) and Spraycan Art (with James Prigoff), is from Sewickley, a suburb west of the city. He met young Pittsburgh writers when he returned home and profiled some of their work and brought some out to New York (Newton, 2005). Writers took advantage of abandoned manufacturing sites and spaces (a former cork factory in the Strip District) for public transit (the Eliza Furnace trail) and used them as canvases for the growing art form. The Carrie Furnaces became one such canvas.

In the 2013, under the leadership of Ron Baraff in collaboration with Shane Pilster, the Urban Art tour and workshop began, and became integrated as part of the Rivers of Steel Arts program (Rivers of Steel arts began in 2016 co-founded by Chris McGinnis and local sculptor Sean Derry) began to offer urban art tours and workshops (Kirkland, 2013). Pilster, a graffiti artist from the Bay Area who relocated to Pittsburgh sixteen years ago, is able to tell a nuanced story about the personalities and myths behind the markings on various parts of the Furnace walls. He also offers workshop participants the opportunity to make their own works of art, familiarizing them with graffiti technique and practice and, in this way, challenging common preconceptions. Another element of the Urban Art tour was creating deterrence for illegal graffiti. Ron Baraff, Director of Historic Resources and Facilities at Rivers of Steel, has explained that developing the urban art program was a way of finding “common ground,” and if can create “understanding and partnerships” there is more space for generativity (2019). [1] In 2020, the Urban Art tour was renamed the Graffiti & Style-writing Workshop.

Such practices are part of Rivers of Steel’s creative placemaking initiative the Mon Valley Creative Corridor. As such, the Graffiti & Style-writing Workshop uses graffiti as a way to tell a story of industrial decline and renewal, site specificity, and authenticity. The tours are still controversial: they show some of the tensions between heritage tourism and creative placemaking, where the former is interested in creating a frozen moment in time, while the latter is more about generating increased foot traffic, social connections and economic activity through the arts.

I attended one of the Urban Art workshops on August 16, 2019. In it, Shane covered his relationship to the site and history as a writer, he was complemented by another Rivers of Steel staff member who provided more detail on the industrial history, and used the works at the site to educate visitors on the history of graffiti and how to understand and read different elements (e.g. dissecting what constitutes a tag, a throw up, a burner/masterpiece).

Shane framed the tour as a “choose your own adventure” kind of event where he will present a very limited history of graffiti, its relationship to the site, his personal experience, and then they will end by “painting a bunch of stuff.” The tour did feel modular and open-ended, with various opportunities for visitors to ask questions, determine the amount of time spent in one or another location, and enter spaces (or not).

Shane’s pedagogy was rooted in the site, using existing graffiti works, much of which he has curated, to help contextualize and define key terms and elements of the culture. On the whole, the tour privileges the specificity of the site. Translating and helping visitors understand the pleasure, labor, and friendship involved in the practice of graffiti and decoding the culture and, at times, the works themselves, so that they might be more open to graffiti. Near the end of the tour one of the visitors remarked, “I think that because graffiti is so hard to read, people don’t like it. If they could read it, they might enjoy it.” Though Pilster did not discuss the value of illegibility, he did help visitors understand that it is communicating to someone.

HCUAP at the Furnaces: Site Specific Aerosol Murals and Cross-Cultural Exchange

HCUAP offers youth street art workshops, public conversations, and short residencies for graffiti artists. These residencies include the opportunity to paint at the Furnaces. The first HCUAP mural painted at the Furnaces was in April 2017 with artists from Pittsburgh, Chicago and León Guanajuato. The goal included creating a collaborative mural at the Furnaces in which the local artists and visiting artists, using archival material, would envision a project with a site-specific twist. We consulted the archives at the Bost Building, and in looking at a number of photos of the Furnaces’ prior landscape, almost a forest of metal and stone, and reflecting on their experience being in the current site, where deer and ducklings happily walk around a lush green set of fields, the artists observed how nature “comes back.”

Graffiti artist Stef Skillz speaks with a family with a her mural in the background.Stef Skills reflected on how even extreme changes to landscape can be slowly repaired by the march of nature. She connected this idea to larger indigenous movements to protect water and land (she had been part of protests at Standing Rock and camped in solidarity with the water protectors, integrating themes from her Standing Rock experience into a number of her previous pieces). Wes and Orion were more interested in the scale of the site, and the strength of the workers. Devine, a more old-school style writer, was interested in the history of the trains passing by the site—as trains are a crucial surface for graffiti practice. Stef suggested that they use the design of a series of train cars, and each artist would have his or her own “car,” but that there could still be some shared concepts.

After the initial planning meeting, the artists went on a tour with one of the Rivers of Steel docents, Adam Taylor, who comes from multiple generations of steel workers, and walked us through the site explained the casting process, pointing out some elements of international exchange that were part of the labor history of the site. He noted that in the early nineteenth century, a number of Mexican workers actually helped construct the furnaces, living in dormitories in Homestead. He also spoke to the racial politics of labor, how higher-paying skilled jobs generally went to races and ethnicities seen as more powerful, and how women also worked on the site but also experienced limits in terms of the range of jobs they could perform. The artists took videos and photos throughout the tour, explaining to the camera that they wished to “pay respect to the history.”

The painting process took about two days. Orion chose to paint a portrait of a steel worker, and Wes painted a landscape including the furnaces and a deer looking out at the viewer, its antlers ending at the top of the wall. Wes placed two bricks about ten feet from the painting and sprayed “stand here” on the bricks: from that perspective the branches of a tree behind the wall completed the antlers. Kif and Stef did two freight train pieces with the theme of plants emerging from the cars, enlisting the idea of “nature coming back.” Stef did a piece with her name made up of the smokestacks of the furnaces but rusted and increasingly covered with vines. She also painted a large character of a fictional Haudenosaunee woman, including a purple wampum belt. Shane, Devine, and DuVall did burners (multicolored letter-based, graffiti-based pieces with a complementing character). Charles painted a comic-style replica of the furnaces with his iconic “Don’t do bad stuff” and his “Chu” characters. To some extent, the artists integrated elements of both site and history into their works, offering a tentative image of hemispheric graffiti worlds.

HCUAP returned to the site in 2019. The guest artists were Victor Ayala Kart from León Guanajuato and Bel2 from Chicago. Both have had long careers as graffiti artists and also have done significant sanctioned graffiti work. Bel2 and Kart had done preliminary research and gone on tours of the site to better understand its history and context which was evident in their resulting pieces.

Bel2’s piece– her name in metallic hues with three figures of steel works climbing, pouring, and stirring molten metal – functioned as an homage to the labor that went on for decades. It is also quintessential Chicago style—large, solid letters, straight from the City of Big Shoulders. Bel2 has been painting since 1990. Of her piece she said:

I wanted to put at least two people on there, poking through my piece, so that the hot metal would come out and so I really wanted it to represent the hard work that happened in there. Because there was so much hard work. And so many crazy hours were worked there. It’s like they lived there. It was crazy. So, I was thinking a lot about the history and trying to push all that through my piece (2019).[2]

Her work attempts a kind of site specificity: creating an explicit dialogue between the work of art, the site, and their audiences. The site shaped her work energetically due to its haunted character. She explained: “… it was overwhelming. It was really, really, dope…just something in the atmosphere there was like a ghost city kind of because so many people were in there at one point, that space was up and living. Hardcore. All day and all night. So to be there now where there was [almost] nobody there it was a little like tripped out” (2019).

The theme of labor is central to her work as it was for Orion. Graffiti is the product of industrial technology and economies but also uses postindustrial landscapes as canvas. Many demonize or stigmatize graffiti as “vandalism,” without considering the labor that goes into it. She explained:

It’s hard work and it’s a lot of dedication. You go up to these walls and see these pieces and people might just be like “Oh, its just graffiti.” But if you walk up closer to it you can just take so much out of it. Whether it be the little little details you don’t see until you get up close to it. So I would hope they really approach it and really kind of absorb what’s there and think about like ‘Damn, they took time to paint that.’ (2019)

Kart, too, was interested in the history of labor in the site, but also how the Furnaces historically, and in the present, are at the crossroads of global flows and ecological processes. Kart’s flatter piece that read Mesik with curls of flame and geometric detailing, reminiscent of pre-Hispanic temples, pointed to the kinds of combinations and cultural homages that occur when artists get to install their work in a new place but with the desire to share some of their background and identity. Kart has painted since 2006. In terms of themes he is very interested in what he calls “arte visionario (visionary art)” that reflects the visions he experiences as a participant in temescal or sweat lodges that are part of the indigenous culture in Mexico.

The space of the Furnaces shaped his decision to do a letter-based piece and his use of the name Mesik instead of Kart:

I think the space has an important role. It has a lot of history in Pittsburgh, a place that comes from lots of work and is now rusted—but when I was there I was imagining how it was with so many people there. Many workers from many parts of the world were there. The space was magical, marvelous. To see the entire history of human beings on the earth in one place. So, in this intervention I did something a bit more free with letters because it [the space] has a lot to do with graffiti. (2019)[3]

Like Bel2, Kart points to the role of labor as well as international flows, and the kind of energetic traces that remain in the space. He also emphasizes how graffiti is part of the industrial and post-industrial identity of the space since it became a site for guerilla intervention in the 1990s and also an ideal spot for watching painted freight trains pass.


At the Furnaces, a more complex constellation of city images emerges. Themes of work, endurance, and abundance emerged both in conversations and in their work, and those themes will be refracted and reframed in later graffiti art tours that Shane leads, in the work of artists who are influenced by their pieces, and in the ongoing transformation of the Furnaces themselves.


[1] Ron Baraff, tour for graduate Space and Place course, October 5, 2019.

[2] Bel 2, Interview, May 11, 2019.

[3] Kart, Personal Interview, May 12, 2019.


About Caitlin Frances Bruce

Caitlin Bruce’s research is in the area of visual studies, affect studies, and critical theory. She is currently investigating the relationships between public art in urban spaces in transition within a transnational milieu. Largely focusing on graffiti and muralism, Bruce argues that such public art creates spaces for encounter between different publics, and between publics and central, peripheral, or marginal spaces. Her research takes her to Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Paris, Perpignan, León Guanajuato, and Mexico City. Dr. Bruce has recently published a book on transnational legal graffiti titled Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter, with Temple University Press, and is at work on her second book about legal graffiti in León Guanajuato, Mexico.

Guide to Images

Featured Image: Orion painting Steelworker, April 2017. Photo by Rivers of Steel.

Image 1: Photo of Caitlin Bruce

Image 2: Shane Pilster leads a tour. Photo by Corrine Coulson.

Image 3: Group on a graffii arts tour in front of Wes’ piece. Photo by Corrine Coulson.

Image 4: Stef Skills discussing her work with visitors to the Carrie Blast Furnaces, April 2017. Photo by Rivers of Steel.

Image 5: Bel2’s piece, May 2019. Photo by Rivers of Steel.

Image 6: Kart’s “Mesik,” May 2019. Photo by Rivers of Steel.

Artist Profile: Rachel Sager

By Blog

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

Rachel Sager in her studioAbout Rachel Sager

Sometimes the universe brings together artists with unique places, where each possesses the capacity to breath new life into the other.  This can certainly be said about Mon Valley mosaic artist Rachel Sager and her creative investment in the Ruins Project.  Cut from the same stone as Rivers of Steel Arts, Sager’s work harnesses the power of creative inquiry and exploration to re-imagine the future of a former industrial site and in doing so, challenge us to reevaluate our relationship with history. 

A Message from Rachel

About My Work

One of my favorite lines as an artist is that “a girl can never have too many hammers”. As a mosaicist who breaks rocks, glass, and most anything else that gets in my way, I have learned that there is a hammer for every material and every quirky job. Having spent some quality time with Italian mosaic maestros, I brought back that specialized knowledge to the hills and hollows of our little corner of Appalachia and its unique geology. I use stone to tell stories and glass to weave color into the intricate patterns of nature. As an artist who fell in love with the pieces of things twenty years ago, I love to tell my students that mosaic is the most powerful medium and with it we can change the world, one small rock at a time.

My Home in the Mon Valley

My home and studio are located in Whitsett, Fayette County, along the banks of the Youghiogheny River and the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail, at mile-marker 104ish.

My mom used to tell me that Belle Vernon, where I come from, means beautiful green in Latin. The rolling hills of the Mon Valley are in my blood. I have dug my heels into this patch of earth and consider it a great privilege to represent the people and land of Southwestern Pennsylvania through my art.

In the winter of 2015, I found myself the surprised owner of a giant cement canvas that covers several acres of land; the ruins of an abandoned coal operation originally run by The Pittsburgh Coal Company. These ruins have become The Ruins Project, which is the most significant challenge of my career. In the beginning I struggled to fit these walls and rooms of concrete and brick into some kind of category, but I have come to the conclusion that what we are doing here does not fit into any existing mold.

Myself, along with mosaic artists from near and far, are in our fifth year of using art to bring back to life the stories of this often forgotten little corner of the world. The coal that came out of Banning #2 mine literally helped to build Pittsburgh and fuel the Industrial Revolution. When I met the wonderful people at Rivers of Steel, we all recognized the poetic justice of my coal mine and the Carrie Furnaces project as being once connected through industry and once again connected through art. There is no doubt that the coal from this mine traveled by train to the furnaces of Pittsburgh. Our biggest project to date is a resurrection in mosaic of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie locomotive, coal cars, and caboose that stretches almost seventy feet long and seven feet high by Stevo Sadvary of Pittsburgh.

There is no finish date and no budget. I am the guide for this lifelong intuitive art installation that encourages artists from every corner of the globe to express themselves while they help to tell the story of The American Coal Miner.

Tours of The Ruins are by appointment through the Sager Mosaics website.

Find Me Online


IG: @sagermosaics

FB: Sager Mosaics