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A tour group gathers in the Carrie Deer courtyard while a tour guide points at it.

A Sustainable Look at the Arts and Grounds of the Carrie Furnaces

By Blog

Guests of the Green Building Alliance take a tour of the Carrie Furnaces that examines how the site is sustainably repurposed, May 25, 2023.

A Sustainable Look at the Arts and Grounds of the Carrie Furnaces

Recently, Rivers of Steel collaborated with the Green Building Alliance to weave two divergent narratives at Carrie—its industrial and the postindustrial stories—into a unified thread that reflects the sustainable approach our organization brings to the development of the historic site.

By Jordan Snowden

A Second Life, By Chance

Over a year of Sundays from 1997 to 1998, a group dubbed the Industrial Arts Co-op broke into the grounds of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, now a National Historic Landmark, and slowly but deliberately crafted a forty-five-foot-tall deer head structure out of discarded found objects—steel tubing and structural metals, copper wire, and rubber hose.

Called the Rankin Deer at the time, the artists were inspired by the way nature was reclaiming the abandoned site. It had only been a little over a decade since the former iron mill had been largely stripped by scrappers and left to languish, and already plant and wildlife were taking charge. The collective embraced that concept—one that brings to light human beings’ use of something for their own benefit, only to turn away when it no longer serves to be profitable—to showcase evolution and an inevitable return to nature.

They thought their art would be temporary, making it not for public consumption but simply for the artists’ sake. Their thinking was that the Rankin Deer, also known as the Carrie Deer, would be torn down and bulldozed over like the rest of the site eventually would. But the Industrial Arts Co-op, made up of George Davis, Liz Hammond, Tim Kaulen, John Latell, Joe Small, Tim Yohman, and Bob Ziller, was unknowingly changing the course of history and the fate of the Carrie Blast Furnaces. They were seeding the site with a second life.

A group of mostly younger to middle age white folks in a hard hats gather around a tour guide who orients them to the space with a map behind him on a brick wall.

Tour guide Andy Schneider orients the Green Building Alliance guests to the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

Sustainability, Multiple Ways

On a sunny Thursday evening toward the end of May, the Green Building Alliance (GBA), a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit focusing on supporting sustainable buildings and community, explored the postindustrial site, located in both Swissvale and Rankin, for a special tour merging the historical, industrial aspects of the Carrie Furnaces narrative and its art-rooted resurgence that Rivers of Steel has fostered over the last decade.

“Much of our work with various stakeholders involves nurturing both supply and demand of healthier, higher-performing buildings—and we love to use inspiration as a motivating force,” explained Leslie Montgomery, Vice President of Education & Communications at GBA. “One of our favorite ways to accomplish this is through building tours to show people what is possible, and often we’ll have contractors and architects showing people how they achieved their green buildings or owners / operators will describe their efficiency updates. We also really love to showcase historic properties and talk about how preservation plays into sustainability.”

A woman examines an art installation.

Patrick Camut’s sculpture Stan, which features a fulcumb, speaks to how his grandfather balanced his life working in steel, sometimes quite literally when he drove to work with a coffee mug balanced during the ride. The artwork is now a permanent feature at the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

In the case of the furnaces, the tour not only spoke to Pittsburgh’s regional culture and history, alongside Rivers of Steel’s role in preservation, but showcased the Carrie Blast Furnaces as a shining example of one of the many ways a location can be sustainable without technical upgrades or significant changes.

“GBA does a lot of green building tours, a lot of times single buildings, but because of the nature of Pittsburgh, there are a lot of sites like Carrie that were once industrial and are now being repurposed that are of interest to us,” Montgomery said. “In the world of the built environment, when you’re reusing something that’s already there, that’s more sustainable than doing something new.”

This is true particularly in Pittsburgh, where many contaminated industrial sites were remediated into usable brownfields to be repurposed. One example is Hazelwood’s Mill 19, a previous steel mill location now being used for housing and commercial use.

“But at Carrie Furnaces, it’s so interesting because they’re just using it in its state, and they’re using it as an arts and cultural center, which is very unique,” said Montgomery. “Especially because it sounds like that’s what people went in and used it for.”

The tour passes through the Ore Yard and guests look up at the stoves, stack, and furnaces.

While graffiti writing and spray can murals are allowed in designated places, the Carrie Furnaces proper are off-limits. The historical graffiti at the base is being allowed to fade on its own.

Let’s Compromise . . . and Make Art Together

By the time Rivers of Steel began managing the Carrie Blast Furnaces, word had gotten out that some artists had broken into the dormant property and constructed a massive structure . . . and people from across the globe were interested in seeing it. At that time, in the mid-2000s, Rivers of Steel’s vision for the historic site was to focus on sharing its storied industrial heritage. The Carrie Deer added a different layer to the location and highlighted the multiple possibilities for what the site could become.

“The Carrie Deer opened us up to tell a postindustrial story,” explained Carly V. McCoy, Rivers of Steel’s Director of Marketing & Communications. “Carrie’s story doesn’t end in the early 1980s when the site went offline. As their ancestors had done before them, the next generation still came to mill, only they were looking for a new way to understand their place in the story. In a city without Big Steel, what was their destiny? Groups like the Industrial Arts Co-op, their graffiti-writer companions, and local youth, in general, had already begun their own reinterpretation of the site.”

Members of the Industrial Arts Co-op were not the only creatives to venture into the Carrie Furnaces over the years. Since its closure in the ’80s, the site became a hotbed for Pittsburgh graffiti artists to leave their mark on the former industrial space. When the site became a National Historic Landmark, this presented a challenge for Rivers of Steel. The culture of the site needed to be transformed to preserve the venerable structures. But instead of choosing to put up defenses, Rivers of Steel came up with a compromise: they fostered a collaborative relationship with the local artists. By offering up specific—and not historically designated—walls as canvases, the work of graffiti writers and street art muralists became a curated collection, featuring artists from across the globe. In doing so, they hoped to be able to curtail vandalism.

And it worked: stretching the length of the back edges of the Carrie Blast Furnaces are colorful, mostly temporary artworks, some of which are now third or fourth-generation pieces. Graffiti art became another part of Rivers of Steel’s unique draw; besides enjoying the murals, visitors to the historic site can participate in graffiti-based tours and workshops.

A table is set up in the clearing of a natural garden, where tour guest gather for a reception.

A clearing in the Iron Garden, called the Green Room, provides a place for reflection, and during this evening a place for a reception.

The Iron Garden—A Place for Reflection

As the tour concluded, the guests with the Green Building Alliance gathered for a reception in the shadow of Carrie Furnace #6. Along the eastern property line of the site, Rivers of Steel has allowed nature to (nearly) fully reclaim a stretch of land, with a path carved through it and a small clearing for reflection. Rather than planting in this garden, Rivers of Steel manages the natural growth with a light touch, allowing the story of nature’s resilience to shine through. Instead, the land has been seeded with sculptures and is currently adorned with an installation by Bradford Mumpower and Latika Sewell called Mini Greens 2. Dubbed the Iron Garden, the space resonates with the spirit of the Carrie Deer, a collaborative and organic journey that finds beauty in the unexpected.

“It’s an unbelievably interesting way to utilize the site in an additional capacity besides a bunch of nerds walking around talking about steel industry history,” said Andy Schneider, the tour guide for the evening.

Perhaps surprisingly to some visitors, the site is blossoming with connections between art, sustainability, and historic preservation.

A youthful brown skinned woman with silver and black braids, smiling in a gray mock turtleneck.Jordan Snowden is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh whose work has been published in The Seattle Times, Pittsburgh City Paper ,and elsewhere. She also runs @jord_reads_books, a book-focused Instagram account where she connects with other bookworms. In her free time, Jordan can be found with a book in her hand or DIYing something with her husband.

Read her previous story for Rivers of Steel. 

Three women and a man pose for a photo while holding paint rollers on extension poles. They are standing over a blue painted pavement that is clearly in progress.

Community Spotlight—New Parklet in Monongahela

By Blog, Community Spotlight

Volunteers Asriel Barnabei, Tom Higgs, and Rebecca Carter join program administration Ashley Kyber (center, right) in painting the pavement for a new parklet outside the Mon Valley Alliance building in Monongahela, PA.

Community Spotlight—Monongahela

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

By Carly V. McCoy

A blue on blue spiral is painted on the surface of the pavement in front of a one-story building. The area is shaded by several types of trees.

Progress is made on the new pavement mural outside of the Mon Valley Alliance building.

New Parklet Debuts in Mon City

Rivers of Steel is excited to partner with the Mon Valley Alliance and Monongahela Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the opening of a new pocket park during the City of Monongahela’s annual 4th of July Celebration. Join us at 235 West Main Street in Monongahela between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. on July 4, 2023, to see this colorfully reimagined downtown space!

A time-lapse video featuring the painting of the pavement mural.

Unveiling New Artworks

Covering the grounds of the entire Mon Valley Alliance property, the space is designed from the ground up! A bright-blue pavement mural provides the foundation for new public sculptures that were inspired by columns from early twentieth-century street fairs in Mon City. New planters featuring sustainable plants and greenspace will be complemented by orange sun sail installations that offer shade as well.

Nearby, be sure to check out a new vinyl mural measuring 100 feet wide mounted on the Aquatorium fence line. This massive mural is based on an Appalachian Cranky, a traditional story scroll, and was created with students at Ringgold Elementary and seniors from the Mon Valley Senior Center in collaboration with artist Katy DeMent.

Five women gather around a table working on a collaborative art project.

Ashley Kyber, right, collaborates with women at the Mon Valley Senior Center on an artwork that will be incorporated into a new mural near the city’s Aquatorium.

These public artworks and design interventions are part of Rivers of Steel’s Creative Leadership Program, which helps heritage partners throughout southwestern Pennsylvania develop and implement long-term placemaking strategies for their communities. Realized over a nine-month period, this new pocket park was the culmination of an action planning process led by Ashley Kyber, who oversees the Creative Leadership Program.

Two people are shown in silhouette against a twilight sky with fireworks. Copy reads Monongahela Area 4th of July Celebration!

A Celebration in Monongahela

This exciting event coincides with the city of Monongahela’s annual 4th of July celebration downtown that includes food trucks, vendors, games, and live music followed by a spectacular fireworks display over the Monongahela River. The event is hosted by the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Mon Valley Academy for the Arts.

About the Creative Leadership Program

The Creative Leadership Program is one of four key strategies in Rivers of Steel’s Partners for Creative Economy initiative. Presenting a long-term vision for the future of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the program fosters transformational opportunities for communities left out of recent economic growth and prosperity as seen nearby in the city of Pittsburgh. This initiative unites Rivers of Steel’s approach to placemaking by investing in the future success of the region’s cultural and heritage assets and building up local leaders through a range of promotional and professional development strategies, including workforce development, technical assistance, and funding. Support for Partners for Creative Economy is made possible by a grant from the National Park Foundation and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

If you’d like to know more about community projects supported by Rivers of Steel, check out other stories in the Community Spotlight series.

Educators in hard hats walk through the ore yard of the Carrie Blast Furnaces as the warm glow of a setting sun falls on the furnaces.

PSEA Educators Take a Field Trip to the Carrie Furnaces

By Blog

Educators with the Pennsylvania State Education Association walk through the Ore Yard during their mini-tour of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, on of three activities offered during their open house experience in May 11, 2023.

PSEA Educators Take a Field Trip to the Carrie Furnaces

By Jordan Snowden

A rare, cloudless seventy-degree day in Pittsburgh set the stage for Pennsylvania State Education Association’s (PSEA) Open House at the Carrie Blast Furnaces on Thursday, May 11. Hosted by Rivers of Steel, PSEA teachers and support staff working at Allegheny County public school districts had the opportunity to not only take part in an educational tour of the historic landmark site, but also participate in hands-on experiences with metal and graffiti arts.

The combination of offered activities is what drew Jessica Whiting, a teacher at Homestead’s Allegheny Intermediate Unit, or AIU, to the event. While Whiting is a Pittsburgh resident, she was unfamiliar with the industrial site and said she was excited to tour a place she had never heard of or been to, get her hands dirty, and have a souvenir to take home.

Two women smile as the work on carving their scratch mold blocks at a pop-up table.

PSEA educators work on carving designs into the scratch mold block, which will later be cast in aluminum.

After chowing down on a generous spread of fruits and cheeses, chicken and veggie skewers, chicken sliders, and grilled cheese, and in between industrial tours of Carrie Blast Furnaces, educators took turns crafting aluminum “make and take” artworks and spray-painting plastic-wrapped posts that boasted the letters PSEA.

While the aluminum scratch-mold session was a popular attraction for its keepsake ability—tools like dental instruments and forks were used to carve an inverse design into a 4×4 sand mold before 1400-degree melted aluminum was poured on top and left to cool—the graffiti art area had a steady stream of visitors throughout the evening, making for an out-of-the-box, interactive learning venture.

A man add to a "PSEA" graffiti mural.

Educator and graffiti writer Max “Gems” Gonzales adds some details to the interactive spray-painting mural during the PSEA event at the Carrie Furnaces on May 11.

“A lot of teachers assume that there’s this inaccessibility with graffiti art, like it’s not meant for them because it’s an art form that exists in the urban world,” explained Max Gonzales, a local street artist operating the spray paint station. Through hands-on involvement, Gonzales helped change this perspective while providing background and context on the art form’s origins. “It’s important to not erase the history of cultures of where it came from, Black and Brown kids in New York and Philly who fought to have their voices heard, who were jailed to have their voices heard,” he said.

By the end of the evening, the educators had created an eye-catching collaborative work of graffiti art, flush with bright spring colors, to match the pleasant mood in the air.

 

A temporary spray-painted mural colorfully reads P S E A.

The finished PSEA mural. Photo by Jordan Snowden.

Every five years, teachers in the state of Pennsylvania are required to get 180 hours of professional development credits, thanks to 1999’s Act 48. These hours can be fulfilled with standard educational courses, workshops, or modules, but rather than spend a culmination of seven and a half days in school-like classes outside of the classroom, Alisa Murray, region field director for PSEA’s western region, is always seeking ideas for attractive, unique activities that will satisfy Act 48’s requirements while providing teachers entertaining, interactive experiences. So when she discovered Rivers of Steel and its offerings, she set up what she hoped would be a delightful end-of-year event.

“We look for cool, fun things that we can do for them so they can mingle together, get together with their friends, and get their hours,” said Murray. “This seemed like it would be a super cool event for teachers because it is Pittsburgh’s history, and what we’re thinking is a lot of teachers will leave this event, then go back to their school districts and probably have field trips as a result.”

Two women in hard hats look at a rusty colored cylindrical sculpture.

Two educator pause during their tour to examine one of the many installed artworks onsite.

The activities presented to the teachers that day are the same experiences Rivers of Steel offers to visiting students. “Regardless of audience—educators, students, or the public—we are able to give context to our region’s heritage while engaging individuals in active learning that introduces them to new skills and artistic mediums,” explained Carly McCoy, director of marketing and communications at the local nonprofit. “The process of this learning is more about the future than the past.” However, even if educators don’t or aren’t able to bring their students back to Carrie Blast Furnaces, introduced skills like teamwork, creativity, community connection, and new knowledge of local history can be brought back and shared.”

“You see these places from the roads and bridges, and they look totally abandoned,” said Lindsay Cox, a first-grade teacher in the Moon Area School District. “So it’s a cool opportunity to come and see what they’re all about. The tour guide had a lot of great information. We learned about the history of Pittsburgh and why people chose to come here.”

Cox’s friend Aja Weston, an elementary special education teacher for the Mt. Lebanon School District, added that her favorite part was walking the grounds. “As a teacher, you hear about how things were run [in the industrial steel industry], you teach about these things as part of the curriculum, but actually getting to see it up close helps you realize what they were doing, how they were working, and what the conditions were.”

She plans to utilize what she learned in her life and functional skills lessons. “We look at different jobs and job skills, and it’ll be interesting to do an overview of jobs and to be able to discuss the conditions and the changes in how it used to be when you worked industrial jobs.”

Six aluminum tiles sit on a table. One displays the Superman symbol.

Finished aluminum tiles cast by the PSEA group.

Educators and administrators who are interested in booking an educational visit to the Carrie Blast Furnaces can review our program offerings here, including Science & Industry at the Carrie Blast Furnaces, which explores job roles.  Please contact education@riversofsteel.com to schedule.

A youthful brown skinned woman with silver and black braids, smiling in a gray mock turtleneck.Jordan Snowden is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh whose work has been published in The Seattle Times, Pittsburgh City Paper ,and elsewhere. She also runs @jord_reads_books, a book-focused Instagram account where she connects with other bookworms. In her free time, Jordan can be found with a book in her hand or DIYing something with her husband.

Two couples swing dance in front of a band on a low stage outside playing traditional instruments.

Homestead Live Fridays Returns

By Blog

Members of the Pittsburgh Swing Dance Community show off their moves at Golden Age Beer Co. while the Boilermaker Jazz Band performs on a Friday evening in May.

Homestead Live Fridays 2023—A Summer of Music, Arts, and Culture along Eighth Avenue

By Gita Michulka

Homestead Live Fridays is set to kick off on May 26th, and this year the series returns with a particularly special nod to Homestead’s history—live music.

“Music is the core of this event, but also, as a medium, it ties so deeply into what Homestead’s community is,” explains Jon Engel, Rivers of Steel’s Archivist and Heritage Arts Coordinator and the community and program organizer for Homestead Live Fridays. “Homestead residents are very proud of their historical musical output—a lot of great jazz singers, a lot of great gospel singers are from Homestead. They grew up in Homestead, particularly in Homestead’s Black churches, learning to sing from other community members, learning to play their instruments from other community members, and sort of going off into those art scenes as musicians and becoming nationally renowned. For instance, Betty Davis, the funk singer—she was born in Homestead, grew up here, and actually passed away here last year. So there’s just this terrific history of musical performance here in Homestead and a terrific pride in that tradition.”

Live music

A celebration of the area’s musical legacy, Homestead Live Fridays has been adding an extra sizzle to the summer since 2019.

Rivers of Steel, which is based in the Bost Building on Homestead’s Eighth Avenue, started the Live Fridays series in 2019 as a way to stimulate interest in the Eighth Avenue corridor for local residents in particular and the greater Pittsburgh community, who maybe only ever equated Homestead with the Waterfront. Funded in part by the Steel Valley Accelerator, the monthly event features local performers, art exhibitions, workshops, vendors, and activities on the final Friday of each month from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. from May through October.

Though music was always a piece of the programming for Live Fridays, this year Engel and the partnering businesses are particularly excited about drawing a crowd through a full season of dynamic events.

“Focusing Live Fridays around musical performance was both very practical and very meaningful to us,” says Engel. “What we found during the first few years of the series is that music especially is what drives people to the businesses. And that just makes sense when you look at who Homestead’s businesses are. A lot of them have performance spaces built into them already or are already connected to musicians. And we found that when we brought that focus and that idea to the businesses and other partners, they latched onto it, and have taken it and run with it to incredible places. We all found this purpose together, and it’s going really well.”

This idea of a recurring event that showcases not just a handful of Homestead businesses but the Homestead community as a whole has also struck a chord with the partners in and around Eighth Avenue. Venues aren’t just participating to boost their own revenue—they’re genuinely invested in lifting up the whole corridor and celebrating the community where they’re rooted.

Multiracial groups gather around picnic table listening to performers on a stage while socializing.

The outdoor space at Golden Age Beer Co. is an inviting for socializing.

“At Golden Age Beer Company, we are thrilled to participate in Live Fridays as we see them as an opportunity to showcase our Homestead community by both increasing participation from our fellow community members and increasing visibility of our neighborhood to visitors from around the city,” says owner Peter Kurzweg. “One of the things that makes us so excited to be a part of Homestead and its renaissance is that we believe that it is happening organically, with stable home prices, and with businesses and people that represent a wide cross section of our diverse community. We believe that programming for Live Fridays should reflect those values, which is why our bookings range from bluegrass to jazz and include live bands and DJs alike.”

Along with Golden Age Beer, participating bars and restaurants who will feature live music during Live Fridays include Blue Dust, The Forge Urban Wine Bar, Capri Pizza & Brew Pub, Eon Bar & Grill, and Voodoo Brewing Co. Despite their close proximity, there is a spirit of collegiality rather than competition—a main goal of Rivers of Steel during the planning process.

“Helping the venues work together to create an event that is a benefit to all of the Eighth Avenue corridor—that’s the dream for this series,” Engel notes. “Really what matters is that we get everyone into a collaborative space together. It’s a dialogue, where everyone comes in with their own already developed skills and interests for their business and their organization. And then, you know, we either work together on some group idea or we are very respectful of each other and looking out for one another.”

And their collaboration pays off. The array of live music and arts programming is a big draw, and a benefit for local artists, too.

A young man in a backwards baseball cap stands center stage with a rock / metal guitar with his bandmates as a small crowd gathers in front.

Voodoo Brewing Company’s Homestead Pub has added a dedicated space for local musicians to perform.

Live Fridays have been a huge boost for our business and have been a great way to support local artists and offer entertainment for this community to enjoy,” observes Ray Vellky, Events Coordinator at Voodoo Brewing Co. “We’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity to support local musicians and artists by offering our venue up for events and shows. In terms of the kind of music we’re bringing to the space this year, we’ve been casting a wide net across our events in order to represent a wide variety of genres and artists.”

Carl Valenti, who co-owns Eon Bar & Grill with Mike Reid, echoes these sentiments. “Live Fridays have been amazing for Eon and the area. Offering live music through bands and artists has brought some great energy. We have been able to see new faces from the area come in for these bands and really hope it continues to grow so we can continue to offer live music options. There are so many talented musicians in the area, we look for driven and diverse talent specializing in soul and R&B to book for our live music nights. Any way we can showcase and make it work for everyone involved—we truly enjoy doing it since there aren’t many small venues that are able to offer it at all.”

The mirrored window of Eon Bar & Grill reflects Eighth Avenue and the Homestead Grays Bridge.

Eon Bar & Grill’s logo gives a nod to the area’s steel heritage, as its mirrored window reflect the Homestead Grays bridge.

Being rooted in a community with such special ties to the gospel and jazz singers it produced is not lost on these venues, either. Eon’s interest in booking soul and R&B acts, along with Golden Age’s interest in local jazz musicians, and Voodoo Brewery’s focus on local rock, provides unique aesthetics distinct from one another, but which all tie back to those shared roots.

And Engel is eager to point out that part of the magic of Live Fridays—what sets this series apart from other events in the city—is the Homestead community itself.

“The focus of this series is on all of the citizens of Homestead. A lot of those are local businesses, like restaurants, bars, music venues, and art galleries on and around Eighth Avenue. But even beyond that—the people who have a physical presence on the street. You get a lot of involvement from individual community members who just care about their neighborhood and want to do something cool in it.”

“People have this desire to participate even when it’s not directly related to their business,” he continues. “Homestead’s community partners all have such unique and creative ways of participating and of doing things that they want to see happen in Homestead.”

Heading into its fourth active year, the Live Fridays series seeks to strengthen and deepen the ability for local venues to take ownership of showcasing both the arts and the community, and the partnering businesses are jumping at the chance.

“We believe that Homestead can become a regional epicenter for the arts and for artists, and our commitment to hosting no-cover-charge live music (while also paying musicians well) every weekend is central to our mission here at Golden Age,” notes Kurzweg. “We love Live Fridays as it gives us an opportunity to promote our commitment to that cause.”

To kick off the 2023 Homestead Live Fridays series on May 26th, Golden Age Beer has booked The Shameless Hex, a string band based out of Pittsburgh whose music is a fusion of bluegrass, rock, and folk, all done in an Appalachian string band style. Voodoo Brewing Co. will feature a show by Crombie, a jazz / funk / Latin instrumental trio from Pittsburgh, and Eon Bar & Grill will feature live music by Dennis Garner Jr. & Tempo Noir featuring Ms. Tenaj.

KSD & The Radio Room will also be hosting a closing reception for Gary Henzler Allen’s art show, Microcosm, with live music by Akrasia, Joe from Creedmoors, Berry Breene & friends, and 3rd Set Jerry.

ACORN ANEW will host a community barbecue with live music by the Difficult Times Jazz Band. Amity Harvest Community Garden will have acoustic rock by Kevin Belonzi, and Duke’s Upper Deck Café will feature live spray painting by Scott Brozovich.

And at Eberle Studios, Pittsburgh Sound + Image will launch their Essential Pittsburgh series, which explores our region’s film history by spotlighting local artists and their films created in the 1960s through the 1990s, beginning with award-winning filmmaker Billy Jackson.

The Glitterbox Theater, Dorothy Six, Live Fresh, Juicery, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream, and Retro on 8th will also participate in the 2023 Live Fridays series.

Kicking off May 26 and running monthly through October, Homestead Live Fridays will occur in multiple venues throughout the area’s Eighth Avenue business district, including Eon Bar & Grill, Voodoo Brewing Co., and Golden Age Brewing Company, among others. Presented by Rivers of Steel and the Steel Valley Accelerator, the event series features local performers, art exhibitions, workshops, vendors, and activities on the final Friday of each month from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. Grab a drink or bite to eat and check out some of the region’s best local live music! For details and updates, visit facebook.com/HomesteadLiveFridays.

Gita Michulka is a Pittsburgh-based marketing and communications consultant with over 15 years of experience promoting our region’s arts, recreation, and nonprofit assets.  

A white woman with reddish hair in jeans and a long sleeve tshirt wearing a smock stands in a concrete doorway that is adorned with mosaic artworks.

Honor What Was

By Blog

Rachel Sager’s The Ruins Project

This week we are excited to honor what was—and what is—by shining a light on The Ruins Project, a long-term collaborative mosaic art installation amidst the ruins of a former coal mine in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. The brainchild of Rachel Sager, who operates the Sager Mosaics Studio, which is located near mile marker 104 on the Great Allegheny Passage, The Ruins Project represents the rebirth of abandoned American coal country into a spiritual and artistic pilgrimage and destination for adventure seekers and lovers of art and history.

By Rachel Sager, Guest Contributor

A white woman with reddish hair in jeans and a long sleeve tshirt wearing a smock stands in a concrete doorway that is adorned with mosaic artworks.

Rachel Sager at The Front Door of The Ruins

I have been writing about The Ruins Project for eight years now, and its ideal definition still eludes me. Like a slippery, Youghiogheny trout, it refuses to hold still long enough to be captured into the exact words that freeze it into the fullness of time.

But I keep trying. And with each try, I get a bit closer as I enjoy my wordy failures.

The Ruins is an ongoing outdoor art project built on the remains of an abandoned coal mine operation in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. It is a piece of architecture that embraces the excellence of contemporary mosaic art by using stone, glass, and ceramic to tell stories of place and time. It sits just off The Great Allegheny Passage bike trail that was once the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad.

To date, The Ruins cradles the art of over 250 artists from all corners of the world. Some of the best mosaicists working today are represented here. From Australia to Scotland, from India to Russia to Italy to Puerto Rico to Israel and dozens of U.S. states, The Ruins is a new recipe for the melting pot that started it all back in the late 1800s, when the original pot of immigrants dug coal here.

The art, installed carefully on its concrete and brick walls, ranges from delicately designed micro-mosaic native birds and portraits of real people who lived and died in the tiny coal-patch town of Whitsett to ambitious maps of countries that are creating a composition of the world. Mosaic bees, bats, mice, and cicadas represent the resilience of nature on this sleepy plot of land.

Possibly the biggest mosaic train in the world at seventy feet long anchors the architecture of The Ruins. Around moss-blanketed corners, visitors find surprises. Three full-sized mosaic quilts make up The Patch House Project, a collaboration involving more than 100 artists that celebrates the domestic side of the coal mining family.

A nearly lifesize mosaic train adorns a concrete wall.

The Great Train by Pittsburgh artist, Stevo Sadvary

But the main event is the coal miner.

I set in place a trio of rules the first year before any of the collaborative art was begun. The rules apply to everyone. The artists use them to make mosaic in ways that preserve the delicate balance of my vision. The rules also help the visitors to appreciate the story that is unfolding on deeper, more meaningful levels. As you experience The Ruins tour, your guide speaks to you about the bigger picture of time and how it changes a place.

A split image with a photograph of a man in a hat with a white collar and black jacket on the left with a colorized mosaic in progress portrait of him on the right.

Photo of Charles Verba courtesy of The Whitsett Historical Society. Mosaic in progress by Russian artist, Adelaida Rosh

Rule #1 is to honor what was.

The man above is Charles Paul Verba, a miner killed in 1941 at the age of twenty-three in the Banning #2 mine. The classically trained Russian mosaicist Adelaida Rosh took on the challenge of recreating his photo into mosaic. The mosaic itself was carried from artist to artist on an arduous journey that spanned three continents this winter. It will be installed into The Portrait Room at The Ruins this spring.

With each careful portrait, I choose an artist, or sometimes she will choose me, who will honor the subject. When an emotional connection is crystalized between artist and subject, the process begins. I am hands off for this part as I consider it very important to let the artist interpret a person in their own unique way. Some end up quite realistic, like Mr. Verba above. Others can be more abstract, photorealistic, primitive, or even caricature. We have classically trained Ravenna artists and self-taught visionaries. (Ravenna, Italy is considered the mosaic capital of the world and is where many of the maestros in the art come from.) To date, we have ten portraits of men and women with many more in progress behind the scenes.

An earthtone mosaic of a miner with a lamp on this head with a beard and wearing a jacket over a sweater.

The Anonymous Miner by Wisconsin artist, Margy Cottingham

The Ruins portraits are a way to bring a person back to life. So many miners have been lost to time, their contributions swept under the rug of modern politics and our collective memory holes. I am consumed with an urgency to tell these stories while there are still descendants to help give us the details that are so important to storytelling.

We are finding that descendants will hear about the portraits of their grandfathers and husbands and uncles and come to visit. Good art makes you feel things.

A family of color, some who appear more African-American and others who may also be of Asian decent, gather around a portrait of their ancestor made of mosaic.

The descendants of William Henry Mills with his portrait by Scottish artist, Joy Parker.

Geology is everything.

We ask visitors to picture a giant timeline that stretches from where they stand, down across the Youghiogheny River and over to the next patch town. That length of time is the primordial kind that is hard for humans to grasp. The best coal in the world took its time being made. And then another slice of time, about a horsehair width, is the fifty years it took men to find it, dig it, burn it, and turn it into the modern world.

The bituminous mines that radiated out and around Pittsburgh made Pittsburgh. The story we tell here spans not just back to the Industrial Revolution, but millions of years before. Before the dinosaurs. Back when giant horsetail ferns were growing and dying and creating the recipe for these coalfields. The Freeport seamThe Pittsburgh seamThe Connellsville seam.

A group of about 20 miners, dirty from their labor, pose for a picture in front of a large arched opening to the mine.

Banning #2 miners. Courtesy of The Whitsett Historical Society

I have memories of my father listing the layers of stratigraphy under his feet. His big-picture way of seeing the world helps me as I lay plans for the second decade of The Ruins.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Industrial Revolution was born here. The Pittsburgh Coal Company enlarged the portals that had been originally opened by smaller operations as early as 1893. The Banning #2 bituminous slope mine was called The Million Dollar Mine due to its very high production rate that spanned a short fifty years. The coal that men pulled out of these hillsides burned hot. Connellsville grade, they called it, and it fired well-known places like the Carrie Furnaces.

The coal that built the world.

My imagination travels the railcars that moved it to Youngstown, maybe even Detroit and Buffalo. Its circuitous routes took it to the Connellsville coke ovens, which then turned around and headed back to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. It was the literal fuel that created the backbone of our modern world.

A mosaic interpretation of the Carrie Furnaces view from the Ore Yard.

The Carrie Furnaces, in miniature. A 2” x 5” micro-mosaic by Sager Mosaics installed at exactly the right spot of the Monongahela River on The Map Wall at The Ruins.

But there is more to The Ruins story than just the progress of industry. To take you deeper into understanding how this place cannot be defined, I need to take you back to my origin story. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather mined coal in the Monongahela Valley. They owned and ran small drift-mine operations, loaded coal onto barges for home heating, and built our family from coal.

As I grew into an artist, I became aware that my peers and artistic community heard C-O-A-L as a four-letter word. I describe this uncomfortable time as my own personal Grand Canyon. I had one foot in the pride of where I come from and the other foot in the world of my progressive colleagues. I spent years full of angst, trying to find my place. And then, I bought my coal mine, and it gave me a stage, and it gave me courage to bring the two worlds together.

Let me take you back to that first rule. To honor what was.

It’s an odd phrase but chosen carefully. It doesn’t use the formal word history, although The Ruins is a very history-centric place.

Tour Program Director for The Ruins, Erika Johnson, installing The Ruins Angel, by Illinois artist Cindy Robin in The Memorial Chapel

Honor. What. Was.

These three simple words leave room for interpretation but ask for respect. Thousands of people from all over the world interact with this story, and I need to be sure that the memory of the people who worked, lived, and died here continues to be honored in spirit. By setting the tone of honoring first, all things are possible.

The Ruins is big. Its physical composition is big in that there is more of its concrete canvas to keep telling the story. And it is big in a philosophical way in that it gives people bridges. Long-dead coal miners and contemporary artists talking to each other through time and finding common ground.

 

This is the first in a series by Rachel Sager. Rules #2 and #3 will come in later publications and help round out the rest of The Ruins story.

Rachel Sager in her studioRachel Sager, The Storytelling Mosaicist, has been making mosaic, writing about mosaic, speaking about mosaic, and teaching mosaic for over twenty years. Her signature forager and intuitive teaching styles have changed how mosaic is experienced and have helped build on the golden age that the art form is enjoying in these exciting decades.

As the owner and creator of The Ruins Project and Sager Mosaics, Rachel lives and works as an Appalachian entrepreneur in the hills and hollows of her hometown just down the river from Pittsburgh in Fayette County.  

The easiest (and most engaging) way to keep up with what’s happening at The Ruins is by subscribing to The Ruins Substack which is also where you can find the growing episodes of The Ruins Podcast, a collection of conversations that Rachel hosts with all walks of creative people who interact with her cathedral to coal.

She hopes you will join her in her quest to unearth optimism; some days with a shovel, some days with a hammer, and some days with a pen.

The Ruins is accessible through guided tours only. To make arrangements go to Book a Tour.

 

A woman in a white wedding dress with a bustle, high collar, and long sleeve, faces away from the camera.

The Marriage of Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell

By Blog

Edith Darlington, a contemporary of Carrie Clark, on her wedding day is 1885, photographed by her brother O’Hara (detail). From the Darlington Collection at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Marriage of a 19th-Century Factory Owner’s Daughter

This story is the third in a series of articles about Carrie Clark Arkell, the woman who was the namesake of the Carrie Blast Furnaces. In this piece, Dr. Kirsten Paine examines the wedding of the young Miss Clark and gives context to what may have been expected from her as a young bride from a family with new wealth.

By Dr. Kirsten L. Paine

New Connections for Carrie Clark

Last month, we began to unpack the life of the namesake of the Carrie Furnaces, Carrie Clark, and explore the latter half of the nineteenth century through some significant events in her life. Attending Vassar Preparatory Academy and then Vassar College from 1878 to 1881 proved a significant period in her life because it exemplified a broader shift in Americans’ beliefs and investments in women’s education. Even a year spent in an academically rigorous institution like Vassar differentiated Carrie Clark from many other young women from wealthy Pittsburgh families. As we [re]introduce Carrie Clark to Pittsburgh history, we should also take a closer look at some of the ways she was very much like other women in her peer group and what we can learn about the experience of womanhood in post-Civil War America.

This week, I’m exploring some of the expectations, conditions, and assumptions that people in late nineteenth-century America placed on the institution of marriage. Carrie Clark married Bartlett Arkell in November 1886. We could ask a lot of questions about this coupling, particularly about whether or not their union was the “right” one—meaning, was their marriage a socially, economically, and politically advantageous arrangement, not only for Carrie and Bartlett, but for the Clark and Arkell families? This is a particularly interesting question for me because we do not yet have any real details about whether or not this was a relationship born out of love and affection, convenience and ambition, or a little bit of both. While it would be fun to write about a swoon-worthy romance, we simply do not have the letters, diaries, photographs, or other personal mementos that would make it possible at this point in our research. Perhaps someday. What we can do, however, is glean information from newspapers and look at how the Clark-Arkell marriage fits into a bigger cultural landscape.

In our previous piece about Carrie Clark’s education, I mentioned that she lived during a period of pretty drastic change that impacted nearly every aspect of a person’s day-to-day experiences. Industrial and technological advancements in manufacturing, transportation, and communication altered physical landscapes. Rail lines crisscrossed hills, valleys, and plains so trains could carry people all over the country. Telegraph lines crisscrossed hills, valleys, and plains so messages could be transmitted further and faster than ever before. Great distances were no longer considered insurmountable because people had new ways of communicating and therefore maintaining all kinds of relationships with each other. As social and familial networks expanded, the shape of those networks did, too, thus allowing more people from different places to impact each other’s lives.

Of course, the Clarks played an important part in creating the infrastructure that allowed people to experience life beyond the boundaries of their home environments. Between the Solar Iron Works (1869) and the Carrie Furnace Company (1884), the Clark family’s investments in iron manufacturing technology helped make it possible for people to live, travel, and talk to each other in more immediate ways.

A black and white illustration of five women in bustled dresses, one of which is a bride.

Parisian fashions in Peterson’s Magazine, October 1885, show what women of means may have been wearing at the time of the Clark-Arkell wedding. From the Library of Congress.

Nineteenth-Century American Marriage

American marriage, as an institution, changed a lot throughout the nineteenth century. Before the 1850s, married women in the United States, regardless of class, were largely subject to laws of coverture. Simply put, marriage as a set of laws required women to surrender property, money, business interests, and other discernible capital to their husbands. They ceased to exist as a separate entity and were subsumed into their husband’s estate as part of the estate holding itself.

It wasn’t until some states passed married women’s property acts in the 1830s and 1840s that women were granted the ability to own and control their own property after marriage. Additionally, it was not until the late nineteenth century that married women gained the right to business ownership or their own wages from either employment outside the home or business investments. Economically advantageous marriages involved the transfer of property and the protection of investments, land, or other business holdings. There was little incentive for cross-class marriages unless one family held significant interest or promise of another, and women often played important parts in securing or protecting capitalistic interests because they themselves retained power as capital.

By the time Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell married, women could legally retain property and business ownership, although Carrie likely surrendered most, if not all, of the decision-making power outside the home. Women’s primary duty within marriage was that of household manager. Wives usually managed domestic finances, such as day-to-day purchases of food, clothing, and any necessities for the house. Wives also oversaw child-rearing, as children were a direct reflection of family unity, piety, character, and success. Well-to-do wives, especially women like Carrie Clark, were expected to cultivate a home life reflecting their family’s social standing. They needed to decorate according to modern tastes and standards, and this included cultivating the appropriate social networks, philanthropic activities, and any other domestic labor dedicated to making sure the family’s character and prospects were unsullied.

This is not to say that marriages were only contractual exchanges designed to control property, money, and children. People in the nineteenth century married for the same reasons people marry in the twenty-first century: for love, for romance, for companionship, and for family—and we have no reason to say that twenty-three- and twenty-four-year-old Bartlett Arkell and Carrie Clark married for any other reason than they were madly in love with each other.

Newspaper text that reads: Cards announcing the wedding of Miss Carrie Clark of Pittsburg, Pa. and Bartlett Arkell '86, son of ex-Senator Arkell of Canajoharie, N.Y. have been issued."

The Clark-Arklell Wedding Announcement

Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell: A Match Made in …

We do not know when or how Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell became acquainted with one another, and we do not know the personal circumstances surrounding their courtship or what prompted their engagement. It does, however, seem likely that this was a relationship that took several years to develop. Carrie Clark attended Vassar College for the 1880–81 school year. Vassar is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, and its historical counterpart, Yale University, is seventy-five miles away in New Haven, Connecticut. Bartlett Arkell graduated from Yale University in 1886. The relationship between the two institutions increases the likelihood that Clark and Arkell’s paths crossed somewhere in that seventy-five-mile radius.

By 1886, Carrie Clark benefited from familial wealth and prominence in Pittsburgh. The Carrie Furnace Company churned away on the Monongahela River while the Solar Iron Works, now under her brothers’ management, continued its own output on the Allegheny River. The Clark family lived in Pittsburgh’s well-to-do East End, somewhere near the modern-day intersection of Shady and Penn Avenues.

Bartlett Arkell had a similar pedigree. He was the son of New York State Senator James Arkell, a wealthy businessman-turned-politician from Canajoharie who placed his sons in advantageous, upwardly mobile careers in shipping and publishing companies. By 1886, Bartlett Arkell had graduated from Yale University and started on a path that would lead to the establishment of the Beech-Nut Packing Company.

The Clark and Arkell families occupied similar positions in their respective communities. They were wealthy industrialist investors who carved out visible roles in colorful social circles. At the dawn of the Gilded Age, neither family was considered old money, which meant they also had limited access to entrenched social circles out to protect their accumulated wealth and power rather than expand it even more. The newly wealthy networked with each other in hopes of creating ambitious connections in the establishment of power and influence. One group wanted to maintain their control of elite American enterprises and institutions while the other—the group to which the Clark and Arkell families belonged—wanted to expand, to conquer, and to be written about in the annals of American history as equals. By every measure, Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell’s marriage exemplified the pinnacle of upwardly mobile families throughout the mid-nineteenth century. They were the ideal, young, worldly, affable, social focal point of two extremely ambitious families. The Clark-Arkell match should have ushered in a new era, not unlike their near counterparts Henry Clay and Adelaide Frick.

A photograph of a young woman in a wedding dress with clean lines holding a bouquet of flowers.

The announcement, appearing in the June 19th, 1936 edition of The Record, includes a reproduction of a photograph showing Mary Carolyn Arkell in her wedding dress, replete with an enormous bouquet of flowers.

Engagement and Wedding Announcements

We know only a little about Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell’s wedding and subsequent marriage. An Allegheny County Marriage License Docket, entry 4377, shows Bartlett Arkell applied for a marriage license that was issued on November 26th, 1886, and that the marriage took place on November 30th. The Morning Journal Courier, a newspaper published in New Haven, Connecticut, printed the following on November 20th, ten days before the wedding: “Cards announcing the wedding of Miss Carrie Clark of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Bartlett Arkell ‘86, a son of ex-senator Arkell of Canajoharie N.Y., have been issued.” There is no further information about the time, place, or attendance of their wedding. A full announcement in local newspapers’ society columns about Carrie Clark’s wedding seems like a significant missing piece to Carrie Clark’s biographical puzzle.

What should a socially appropriate wedding announcement for Carrie Clark look like? Here are two excellent examples. In 1936 and 1943 respectively, two New Jersey newspapers announced the weddings of the granddaughters Carrie Clark never knew. Mary Carolyn Arkell, William Clark Arkell’s oldest daughter, married a man named Harry Francis O’Hara. The announcement, appearing in the June 19th, 1936 edition of The Record, includes a reproduction of a photograph showing Mary Carolyn Arkell in her wedding dress, replete with an enormous bouquet of flowers. The announcement reads, “Mrs. Harry Francis O’Hara Jr., who was Miss Mary Carolyn Arkell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Clark Arkell of 227 Maplewood Ave, Englewood, before her marriage to the son of Mrs. Dion Keith Kerr of Chevy Chase, Md. The wedding took place in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Englewood.” The announcement, though brief, includes significant detail establishing the community standing of both bride and groom and their families by providing the Arkell family’s address (showing they live in a good neighborhood) and their home church (noting denomination and congregation). The picture of Mary Carolyn Arkell shows a young woman in a fashionable wedding dress. For 1936, this wedding announcement is period appropriate and adheres to general social expectations regarding the daughter from a wealthy family.

A newspaper wedding announcement with a glamour shot of the bride.

The announcement appeared in the November 18th, 1943 edition of New Jersey’s Daily News, titled: “Sally Arkell Wearing Pilot’s Silver Wings.”

Sarah Jane Arkell’s engagement announcement is altogether more fabulous than her sister’s, despite—or perhaps because of—being married in the middle of World War II. The announcement appeared in the November 18th, 1943 edition of New Jersey’s Daily News, titled: “Sally Arkell Wearing Pilot’s Silver Wings.” Sarah Arkell married Lt. Hervey Studdiford Stockman, an Army Air Corps fighter pilot. Their engagement announcement has all the hallmarks of a splashy social affair of the season, where their wedding would be the place to see and be seen. It is written as pure romance, as “pretty Sarah Jane Arkell who is signing up to be Lieut. Hervey Studdiford Stockman’s copilot in the home.” Sarah Jane Arkell, here noted as “the packing heiress” and “a granddaughter of Bartlett Arkell,” is characterized as a lovely, adventurous, well-educated, and rich young woman. Arkell “has a date with a flier,” and the included picture of her matches that of any Hollywood studio starlet from the mid-forties. The engagement announcement also details Arkell’s educational background at both the prestigious all-girls Spence School in New York City and Sarah Lawrence College, an equally prestigious all-women college in upstate New York. Stockman, her fiancé, left Princeton to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Like her sister’s wedding announcement seven years before, the write-up contains all of the necessary information to establish this as a good match between good families, thus meriting attention, broad approval and, with the appropriately patriotic overtones, worthy of a particularly celebratory moment in the midst of war.

Both of these announcements amplify the absence of such a notice about their grandparents’ own wedding on November 30th, 1886. This is what Carrie Clark should have had in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Carrie Clark and her family had enough social, political, and economic standing in Pittsburgh to warrant money spent on copy like this. It is a kind of gap or silence that prompts more questions about Carrie Clark’s own wedding and subsequent marriage, but they are questions we cannot—and perhaps will not—have the ability to answer. Why is there no long-form article announcing Carrie Clark’s engagement or wedding to Bartlett Arkell? Were there any extenuating circumstances preventing the publication of that kind of feature? Did the Clark family prefer to keep her engagement quiet, considering William Clark was dead and therefore had no discernable social cache? Is there a piece of ephemera tucked away in an archive, or perhaps more likely, affixed in the pages of a scrapbook, that could yield more information? What happened to what should have been Pittsburgh’s social event of the season?

Marriage, Short-Lived

In the end, Carrie Clark and Bartlett Arkell were married just shy of two years. Carrie died on November 17th, 1888. That alone explains why Carrie was not named in Sarah Arkell’s engagement announcement. Why did Carrie Clark die when she was only twenty-five years old? Next time, we will explore death and dying in nineteenth-century America and what might have happened to cut her life so tragically short.

Dr. Kirsten L. Paine is an educator and researcher with more than a decade of experience working in higher education. She started working for Rivers of Steel in 2017 as a tour guide at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark and was inspired by the mission to preserve such a national treasure held in public trust. Kirsten is committed to the work of public humanities education in her role as Site Management Coordinator and Interpretive Specialist. By creating and facilitating public programs that make the National Heritage Area’s history come alive for the community, she believes in archival study and teaching from primary sources as vital community resources.

Enjoy Dr. Kirsten L. Paine’s article? Read her description about the discovery of Carrie Clark.

A youthful white woman stands behind a table with a Tree Pittsburgh table covering on it with her hands on her hips, ready to greet visitors with a smile.

Community Spotlight—Tree Pittsburgh

By Blog, Community Spotlight

Loralyn Fabian, program manager for the tree adoption event at the Pump House on April 1, 2023.

Community Spotlight—Tree Pittsburgh

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

By Carly V. McCoy

Mon Valley Tree Adoption Event

“Fun, high energy, and well-received by our partners and the public!” is how Loralyn Fabian described a typical tree adoption in advance of last Saturday’s pickup event at the Pump House in Munhall. As the Tree Adoption Program Manager for Tree Pittsburgh, Loralyn appreciates the enthusiasm of the Allegheny County residents who register to adopt free trees—and she and the Tree Pittsburgh team have a system in place for these giveaways to run smoothly.

In fact, the process starts months in advance, when Tree Pittsburgh reaches out to community partners to host the tree adoption event and to help inform locals about the opportunity to increase the region’s tree canopy, a role that Rivers of Steel was happy to assist with for this event.

Next up is preregistration: interested residents can sign up in advance for up to two trees from a varied selection of offerings. Invariably, these events sell out. For Saturday’s two-hour session, there were 150 trees and shrubs on hand and three additional Tree Pittsburgh staffers to support Loralyn, who checked in each registered person, shared information about planting and care, and handed out vouchers for their selected trees. Those vouchers were then handed over to Mel and Cedar, who accepted them in exchange for the saplings and then helped folks who needed assistance to get the trees into their cars. Maura O’Neill, the organization’s director of development and communications, was also on hand to help with check-in, tree distribution, and tree education as needed.

After an initial rush, the pace steadied, and Loralyn acknowledged that it did not end up being as fast-paced as it could have been. The weather cooperated, too; the high winds and rains held off until just after the event ended.

Two men hold plants. One is younger and wears a Tree Pittsburgh shirt. The other is middle aged, white, wearing jeans and a fleece sweatshirt.

Sean Mooney of Braddock picked up two redbuds for his yard and was assisted by Cedar.

Throughout the morning, several folks stopped by to see if there were any extra trees. At the end of these events, there usually are a number of trees that remain unclaimed, which creates an opportunity for those who missed out on preregistration. Other folks sought an additional tree or two beyond their two initial trees. Ten minutes before the official end time, these hopefuls were instructed to queue in a line, and then promptly at 1:00 p.m., the tree adopters began to thin out what was left of the supply. Fifteen minutes later, only a few American sycamores remained, along with a bur oak or two. By all standards, it was a successful event.

A white mom and her biracial daughter carry trees.

Bethany Fullwood of Lincoln Place brought along some help to assist with carrying their American sycamore and bur oak back to the car.

The Tree Adoption Program

Tree Pittsburgh’s tree adoption program has grown over the years. The first time they offered trees to the public, it was a singular event in a large park and open to residents from across Allegheny County. Since then, data on tree canopy loss has helped Loralyn and other staff to identify the particular spaces within the county most in need of tree cover.

“One of the things we learned from the data is that residential areas are currently experiencing the most tree canopy loss,” said Loralyn Fabian. She went on to explain the variety of reasons that are currently contributing to situation, from pests and diseases or improper pruning to the life cycle of trees in established communities and the choice to remove large trees for fear of them falling on homes. The latter is a concern that is increasingly valid in an era of more frequent high-wind events and microbursts.

This spring Tree Pittsburgh is hosting seven events throughout the county as part of the tree adoption program. Like the Mon River Valley event on Saturday, the remaining dates are sold out. However, interested residents in those communities can stop by at the end to pick up the trees that go unclaimed. Another option is to check back in the fall; adoption events are timed for spring and fall to go with the planting seasons.

Virginia pines in two gallon buckets.

Virginia pines were among the trees offered last Saturday. They require full sun and mature to a height of 15 to 40 feet.

The Selection of Trees

Like the communities that were targeted to receive tree adoption events, the selection of trees is tailored to fit the needs of the community as well. While large trees like the American sycamore and the bur oak were offered for residents who have enough space to accommodate them, other trees including Allegheny serviceberry, Sweetbay magnolias, and Virginia pines offered more moderately sized options. The offerings also vary by location for each event.

“We recognized the need for medium and smaller trees within the diverse mix of tree species, like the Eastern redbuds and the Red osier dogwood,” said Loralyn. “The shrubs and smaller trees provide an understory to the canopy.”

Loralyn went on to explain that the selection of trees also vary by sun and soil needs, but that the organization is careful to avoid overly complicated language when describing the tree care to make the process more accessible to residents. Instead, they rely on water quality terms, like soil moisture and drainage needs, and by offering trees that are resilient and hardy. Additionally, they offer planting education via information sheets and online videos.

A light-skinned girl of color holds up her tree and smiles for the camera.

Kenya of East Pittsburgh carried out her family’s Sweetbay magnolia.

Sourcing the Trees

Each of the thousand-plus trees that are scheduled to be given away and planted this spring were grown at Tree Pittsburgh’s Heritage Nursery, a nonprofit wholesale nursery specializing in native plants grown from seed for forest restoration. Currently the nursery has more than 14,000 seedlings, all grown from seeds of mother trees. These locally harvested seeds come from trees that have already proven to be hardy in our local climate and resilient to modern conditions, thus the heritage descriptor.

In addition to supporting the tree adoption program, the nursery provides trees for Tree Pittsburgh’s other initiatives, including its ReLeaf Neighborhoods program and its TreeVitalize Pittsburgh program. Whereas the tree adoption program targets individuals, these other efforts happen in partnership with communities, parks, and local governments.

The Heritage Nursery also works with professionals, from local environmental groups, contractors, and designers to individuals to provide locally adapted trees for planting projects and supply trees at the wholesale level.

Mr. Kane of Munhall, assisted here by Mel, found out about the event through his borough’s Facebook page.

Supporting Tree Pittsburgh

Throughout the event on Saturday, people added to the donation jar on the check-in table, and the staff warmly thanked them. If you are looking to support these efforts, too, there are several ways to give beyond donations, including by volunteering or purchasing merchandise.

For individuals seeking to support Tree Pittsburgh through the purchase of trees, there will be an opportunity to shop at Phipps May Market, where trees from the nursery will be available to the public.

If you’d like to know more about community projects supported by Rivers of Steel, check out other stories in the Community Spotlight series.

A man leans over an anvil, hammering hot metal while a small crowd watches.

Profiles in Steel: Jared Ondovchik

By Blog
Jared Ondovchik at the 2022 Festival of Combustion at the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

Profiles in Steel

Rivers of Steel’s Profiles in Steel series shines a spotlight on the talented members of our organization’s community. From staff and volunteers to collaborators and patrons, it takes a dedicated group with many and varied talents to support the community-based initiatives offered through Rivers of Steel.

In this installment, we meet Jared Ondovchik, a local blacksmith who’s been partnering with Rivers of Steel for several years and has recently joined our metal arts team as a staff member.

Introducing Jared Ondovchik

By Carly V. McCoy

If you happen to get Jared Ondovchik talking about his work as a blacksmith, it doesn’t take him long to share that he’s self-taught. He’ll mention it in a self-effacing sort of way. Take the conversation a little bit further, and Jared will be sure to acknowledge some of the artists whose paths dovetailed with his own journey, opening his eyes to possibilities, creating opportunities, and offering suggestions in pursuit of this ancient craft.

A Craftsman’s Journey

Jared Ondovchik got his start working on one of Pittsburgh’s most iconic pieces of public artThe Workers sculpture, which resides on Pittsburgh’s South Side along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. A piece created by the Industrial Arts Co-op, it is most closely associated with the work of sculptor and arts executive Tim Kaulen. However, the project incorporated twenty-four additional metal artists, including Jared.

For Jared, one of the most appealing elements of his experience participating on The Workers was the industrial scale of the artwork.

“I really liked how permanent and severe metalworking seemed,” said Jared Ondovchik about The Workers. “The other folks working on the project were awesome people and really open about helping me learn my way around the tools. Those first times that I blasted sparks everywhere from a grinder or welder were pretty addicting.”

But it was the Co-op artists’ do-it-yourself ethos that inspired him to make his first forge—crafted from a brake drum and pipes found within the abandoned warehouse in which they were working. Along with the coal to fuel it that was sourced from the ground underfoot, a nearby rail served as an anvil.

“There was also something to the space we were working in,” Jared continued. “I think it’s just condos now, but at the time, it was this abandoned coke mill. The wall facing the river had pretty much eroded away; there were huge holes in the roof so rain and snow would fall in. When I built my first forge I would go out and just pick coal up off the ground for fuel—it felt really special.”

It didn’t take him long to realize how much he enjoyed working with metal, and he applied this DIY approach to learning the craft, searching internet forums for materials, techniques, and the like.

A Damascus chef’s knife forged by Jared Ondovchik, made with eighty-eight layers of two types of steel in a twist pattern, complemented by an ironwood handle with a blackwood ferrule. Image courtesy of the artist.

Bladesmithing

From the start, crafting knives was the real draw for Jared. You can hear the reverence in his voice when he speaks about creating these functional artworks. Whether it is a reference to the process of creating to a Damascus blade, a chef’s knife that is appreciated by an actual chef, or adding handles from local hardwoods, the love for the blacksmithing tradition is plainly evident.

“Weirdly—or maybe not weirdly at all?—what drew me to bladesmithing and what I still love about it are the same things that can drive me nuts about it,” Jared explained. “Knives have to be heat treated to hold an edge and, essentially, withstand abuse. When you harden and temper a piece of steel, you are changing how the metal relates to itself. That metallurgic aspect is kind of missing from forging or fabricating with plain steel.”

“I also love the legacy that tools and weapons have,” Jared continued. “It can be dark, but our history using those items for agriculture, war, or tooling have had massive impacts on human history. Along those historical lines, and on a more personal note, it was always really important to my dad that I had a pocket knife on me. My grandpa—my dad’s dad—died when I was eleven, and he left me a shotgun and a junior buffalo-skinning knife. I never got super into guns, but that knife is in my bedside table. I’ve carried it with me everywhere I’ve moved. It just always felt really special.”

A camp chopper forged from 80CrV2 steel with dyed and stabilized cedar burl, crafted by Jared Ondovchik. Image courtesy of the artist.

In time, Jared Ondovchik began to show and sell his knives at makers’ markets around Pittsburgh, including the Polish Hill Arts Festival, Handmade Arcade, I Made It! Market, and the Neighborhood Flea. The local cottage industry around handmade / artisan-made goods provided a foundation for his own burgeoning business, and about five years into his practice Ondovchik was able to leave his other jobs (which had included bartending and construction work) to focus on his own newly incorporated business, Artifact Metalworks.

Students in green protective wear gather around the instructor as he bends hot metal at a vice.

During the inaugural Blacksmithing Basics workshop, Jared demonstrates how to add a twist for students working on their hooks and hairpins.

Informal Mentorships

While the other makers provided a creative community for Jared and his practice, it was his experiences with his blacksmithing peers that helped him further his craft. Fellow artist Glen Gardner introduced him to Touchstone Center for Crafts, which is where he met other metalworkers, including Anna Koplik. From tips on how to heat treat his blades to more nuanced approaches on how to hold his hammer, Ondovchik improved his own practice while gaining skills as an educator and teaching assistant.

“I have had a few people who have taken some form of a mentor role,” Jared acknowledged. “Glen Gardner has probably had the biggest impact. He just knows everything about metalwork. He’s been doing it his entire adult life, and he’s just a wealth of knowledge. I didn’t have anyone to talk to when I first started, for probably the first four years or so—but when I was introduced to Glen, right away he offered to answer questions.

“I was having issues with my heat treats. I’d been reading on forums and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, agonizing over it and heat treating test pieces to try and get the grain structure right—just hours of messing with this stuff. I called Glen and he just said, ‘Oh, you’re getting it too hot.’ And that was it—heat treats were fixed!

“Through Glen I met all the folks at Touchstone, which is where I met Anna Koplik, who really helped me realize how bad my form was from being self-taught. My arm hurt all the time, and I didn’t know why. Anna helped me figure that all out and shared a lot with me about tooling. Both Anna and Glen are incredibly detail oriented, and they don’t let shoddy work slide. They’ve both always been there to help me keep my standards very high.”

Jared also credits Ed Parrish, Rivers of Steel’s furnace master and metal arts coordinator, in helping to shape his view on metalwork overall.

“Ed Parish was huge in turning me onto some really influential blacksmithing work that helped me expand what I thought was possible with metal work. He’s always had this attitude that was kind of like, ‘You can make anything out of metal.’ That didn’t come naturally to me. Being self-taught, sometimes metalwork felt impossible. Ed’s taken a lot of time showing me what tooling and techniques to use to push the limits of what’s possible with blacksmithing.”

As he concluded this thought, Jared acknowledged with a soft laugh, “There are a few more people I could name, but that’s already a lot, it seems.”

Collaborating with Rivers of Steel

A man looks up from the anvil with a big smile.

Jared practicing his craft on an anvil at the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop.

It was around the time that Jared was connecting with his peers at Touchstone that he also began working in partnership with Rivers of Steel, having been introduced to our metal arts program by Ed Parrish. Showcasing his blacksmithing skills through public demonstrations, Jared participated in Rivers of Steel’s annual Festival of Combustion and at offsite events like Riverfest in Rices Landing and the 2018 Create Festival presented by the Pittsburgh Technology Council in partnership with the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

 With the introduction of several blacksmithing workshops to Rivers of Steel Arts’ offerings this year, we’re happy to share that Jared Ondovchik has joined Rivers of Steel’s staff as a member of our metal arts team.

“We had been discussing the potential of offering blacksmithing classes here at Carrie for quite a while,” said Chris McGinnis, director of Rivers of Steel’s arts programs. “It always seemed like something got in the way and the process kept getting pushed back, but Jared was always the logical choice to be an instructor. He definitely has the type of local story and clear dedication to his craft that’s so important for our program. And it’s matched by an unpretentious confidence that really fits well with the culture we are trying to cultivate here.”

A metal hook with a twist pattern and scrollwork.

An example hook for the Blacksmithing Basics workshop.

The Blacksmithing Basics series of workshops provides an opportunity to anyone who can lift a hammer to create something to take home by the end of the three-hour workshop. Skills taught include hammer control, how to move the steel, scrollwork, and creating a forged finish. The Hooks & Hairpins session is offered multiple times this season, which creates opportunities for participants to simply have a fun evening while trying out a new skill, or to return more than once to continue practicing the craft. Later in 2023, special Blacksmithing Basics classes will feature holiday themes, from Halloween and autumnal objects to Christmas trees.

A scroll-handled knife with a mustard patina by Jared Ondovchik, similar to what will be made in the Bladesmithing workshop. Image courtesy of the artist.

A three-day Bladesmithing workshop will also be offered a few times this year, in May, July, and September. No experience is required for this workshop, either. At the end of the three days, everyone will leave with a finished, scroll-handled, Iron Age-style knife. This style is also known as a Viking knife or a blacksmith’s knife.

Jared’s next Blacksmithing Basics workshop is on April 20. You can sign up for the first Bladesmithing workshop offered May 8 – 10, 2023.

Interested in reading more Profiles in Steel? Check out the features on John Mahn, Jr. or on Ed Parrish, Jr.

A sepia-toned image of seven young women in high collared dresses lounging in a field of tall grass.

Who was Carrie Clark?

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Collegiate women from the 1880s—Pennsylvania Female College, Class of 1888, Chatham University Chronological Photograph Files, Historic Pittsburgh Archives.

The Education of a 19th-Century Factory Owner’s Daughter

This story is the second in a series of articles about Carrie Clark Arkell, the woman who was the namesake of the Carrie Blast Furnaces. In this piece, Dr. Kirsten Paine examines the education of the young Miss Clark and gives context to what may have been expected from her, both from her family and from society.

By Dr. Kirsten L. Paine

Expanding the World of Carrie Clark

In my previous article that reintroduced Carrie Clark—the namesake of the Carrie Furnaces—to Pittsburgh, I compiled newly discovered information about a young woman’s life. Most of this information comes from newspaper articles and census reports, but the tidbits were enough to write a story about a woman born in the middle of the Civil War, who moved with her family to Pittsburgh at the beginning of the big steel boom, received an expensive education at an elite college, aided her father in expanding the family business, married a dashing state senator’s son, had a child, and died unexpectedly at twenty-five. This is a lot of life packed into two and a half decades.

Understandably, people had questions about Carrie Clark. What do we know about her family life? Why did her parents send her away to school? Was her marriage socially advantageous? Do we know what role she played in Pittsburgh’s industrial ownership circles? Why did she die so young? I want to try to answer some of these questions by putting some context around Carrie Clark’s life, even as we are still researching important details in her biography.

The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of drastic social, cultural, and political changes. The Civil War (1861–1865) redefined every single aspect of American life. The transcontinental railroad (1869) connected east and west coasts, streamlining transportation and communication. The National Parks project (1872) began to set aside pieces of the American landscape to be held in public ownership. The women’s suffrage movement picked up steam even as it sought to expand beyond the issue of suffrage itself. The United States’ wealthy industrialists and venture capitalists of the Gilded Age curated Americans’ tastes in music, theater, and art.

In short, Carrie Clark’s life is both singular in the enduring legacy of her name—Carrie Furnaces—and typically representative of the kind of life led by a woman in a white, upwardly mobile middle class family of the time.

A colorized illustration of women in five fashionable dresses.

Cover Image from Godey’s Lady’s Book Volume 100 January To June 1880

Ladies’ Reading Material

On June 23, 1877, The Pittsburgh Daily Post printed a small article announcing the sale and rebranding of the most popular American magazine in circulation, Godey’s Lady’s Book. It reads, “The oldest American Monthly, ‘Godey’s Lady’s Book,’ will be transferred to new publishers in August. Mr. Godey has originated and conducted it for over half a century.” Other newspapers noted the new publishers would update the paper and ink, thereby providing a better quality reading experience to a national subscription base of over one hundred thousand households. This small announcement seems unremarkable, but the Philadelphia-based magazine was a household staple for women for over fifty years. The magazine’s editor from 1837 until 1877, Sarah Hale, was an extremely influential figure in the publishing world, especially when it came to shaping the interests and tastes of white, middle-class women all over the United States.

When Sarah Hale retired from her position as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1877, she was almost ninety years old, and she had wielded the power of the press to shape ideas and expectations of American womanhood. During the course of her lifetime, Hale championed many causes on behalf of women’s advancement in the public sphere— particularly when it came to education. In fact, her advocacy on behalf of establishing institutions of higher education for women contributed to the foundation of Vassar College in 1865. She sat on the original board of trustees and frequently corresponded with the founder, Matthew Vassar. In one of her letters to Vassar from 1860, Hale writes: “I am much interested in what I have learned respecting your plans for a new Institution, on a very liberal scale, for the Young Ladies of America […] I feel solicitous to know more of the plan, in order to make it known to the readers of the ‘Lady’s Book.’” Throughout her tenure as editor of the most widely read women’s magazine in the United States, Sarah Hale would continue to advocate for women’s education as central to their intellectual, social, spiritual, and moral development.

Imagine Godey’s Lady’s Book in a sitting room or bedroom in a house in Youngstown, Ohio. Then imagine another volume in a sitting room in a house in Lawrenceville. And then, imagine still yet another volume in a ladies’ parlor in a house in the fashionable East End—perhaps in Jane Clark’s parlor, or maybe tucked in Carrie Clark’s bedroom.

A lithograph of Vassar Female College presented in gray tones from 1862 showing a massive five-story building sent among rolling hills.

From the Library of Congress, “Vassar female college, egidius,” Ferd, Mayor & Co. lithograph.

An Education

William Clark, owner of Solar Iron Works at the corner of 35th and Railroad Streets in Lawrenceville, was in business with his son, Edward, and his brother-in-law, Charles Fownes. Founded in 1869, the Solar Iron Works manufactured iron hoops, bands, and scrolls and could employ up to two hundred men when operating at full capacity. The company developed a good reputation for producing quality iron products, and their client base stretched as far as New England. The company flourished under Clark’s leadership, and by the late 1870s, he moved his family away from the smoke, grit, and thrashing metal of dingy Lawrenceville into an extremely fashionable East End neighborhood, at the time known as Shady Land.

With all of this success, however, came new responsibilities and expectations for the family. The Clarks were, by all accounts, upwardly mobile middle-class people who aspired to prestige and influence throughout Pittsburgh. Edward Clark, the oldest son, worked with his father and was expected to assume further ownership of the factory. There were two more sons before Carrie, Frank and William, and they, too, would go on to careers at Solar Iron Works. As the oldest daughter, Carrie bore the weight of familial expectation based in advantageous marriage, involvement in appropriate charitable organizations, and maintaining a public image of domestic respectability and upstanding moral character: a guide, a beacon worthy of women’s emulation.

However, William and Jane Clark sought an atypical path for success on behalf of their daughter. In 1877, the Clarks enrolled Carrie at Vassar Preparatory School. Located in Poughkeepsie, New York, and attached to Vassar College, Vassar Preparatory enrolled girls who needed pre-collegiate training, mostly to make up for a deficit in available primary and secondary educational opportunities for women. When a course of study at Vassar Preparatory was completed, a girl could then apply and matriculate to Vassar College. According to extant records of Carrie Clark’s formal education, she completed three years of preparatory school (1877–1879) and an entire year of college (1880) before returning to Pittsburgh.

Nineteenth-century women had two routes to higher education: enroll at either coed institutions (ex. Oberlin) or women’s colleges (ex. Bryn Mawr). Women’s colleges like Vassar modeled campuses not on academic villages with separate dormitories and classrooms, but on seminaries, which were characterized by multipurpose buildings in which students could live and study under one roof. Functionally, a college like Vassar existed to not only educate the middle class’s daughters, but to facilitate their destinies as the mothers and wives who shaped the intellectual, moral, and spiritual character of great American men.

This new system of providing women with higher education equal to that of their male counterparts garnered as much acclaim as it did skepticism and derision. By 1880, 46 percent of colleges and universities in the United States admitted women, and while this statistical percentage grew and more women’s colleges opened, Vassar College in particular gained something of a radical reputation.

On June 1, 1873, the New York Times printed a scathing piece on the dangerous educational environment at Vassar: “One can fancy what sort of young ladies would come forth from a four years’ university course, when they had struggled with, day by day, and often surpassed the best minds among the young men of the country. They certainly would not be the ideals which the world had formed till now, of the most refined womanhood.” In summation, women who took courses equal in rigor to the men’s classes (often taught by the same professors as Vassar’s counterpart, Yale), would grow to be too smart, too ambitious, too worldly, and directly pose a threat to the established social order. Vassar women might do the unthinkable: reject marriage and children entirely in favor of pursuing professions.

By 1893, five years after Carrie Clark’s death, anxieties about just what kind of women went to Vassar reached new heights. The Los Angeles Times published a piece called “College Girls and Marriage: Something Wrong with Higher Education, as Half Become Old Maids,” specifically about the dangers of families sending their daughters to Vassar.

But this rigorous course of study included several semesters of Latin, Greek, German, and French, and two semesters each of mathematics (including algebra), geography, history, and rhetoric. Students could then expand their course of study to cover subjects like chemistry and biology, religious studies, and literature.

Despite the potential for resistance or pushback from others in their social circle who might question the Clarks’ decision for their daughter to receive an education, they still chose to enroll Carrie for several years. Though she did not complete her degree—at the end of the nineteenth century many women who started college never finished—Carrie returned to Pittsburgh armed with a world’s worth of ideas, inevitably and invariably shaped by the books she read, the languages she learned, the professors who taught her, and the people she met.

What was she supposed to do with this education, then? Theoretically, her education would have equipped Carrie Clark to manage a household budget, participate in important dinner conversations, cultivate a stimulating and beautiful home life full of art, music, and literature, and educate the next generation of upstanding citizens.

One very interesting detail to note here is that it does not appear that any of the other Clark children went away to school. At this time, it appears as though William and Jane Clark singled out their eldest daughter, and we do not yet know why. One tantalizing possibility lays in the now-famous Pittsburgh Daily Post article from February 29, 1884: “the new furnace at Rankin Station on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, about [ten] miles from the city was yesterday morning christened the ‘Carrie Furnace’ in honor of Miss Carrie Clark who lit the fires and performed other baptismal services.” Out of all the possible women in the Clark and Fownes families who could assume such a publicly visible role, it was Carrie. There is an as-yet undiscovered relationship between the smart, amiable, and polished young woman equipped with a progressive, modern education and the position she took at her father’s side on the day she changed Pittsburgh’s history.

Next Time on Who Was Carrie Clark?

In the next installment of our investigation into Carrie Clark’s world, I am going to give us a closer look at her marriage to Bartlett Arkell, the birth of their son, William, and her untimely death.

Dr. Kirsten L. Paine is an educator and researcher with more than a decade of experience working in higher education. She started working for Rivers of Steel in 2017 as a tour guide at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark and was inspired by the mission to preserve such a national treasure held in public trust. Kirsten is committed to the work of public humanities education in her role as Site Management Coordinator and Interpretive Specialist. By creating and facilitating public programs that make the National Heritage Area’s history come alive for the community, she believes in archival study and teaching from primary sources as vital community resources.

Enjoy Dr. Kirsten L. Paine’s article? Read her description about the discovery of Carrie Clark.

A black and white image of a furnace with stacks, stoves, and sheds.

Carrie Clark: She Who Lit the Fires

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An early image of the Carrie Furnaces #1 and #2. Collection of the Rivers of Steel Archives. The Carrie Furnaces were named in honor of Carrie Clark.

She Who Lit the First Flame

After years of research, we finally know who is the namesake of the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

By Dr. Kirsten L. Paine

Who is Carrie?

“Who is Carrie?” Any tour guide at the Carrie Blast Furnaces will say that this is their most frequently asked question.

Legend had it that Carrie was Carrie Fownes, the daughter, sister, mother, or aunt of one of the Fownes brothers, who were two of the founding owners of the Rankin mill. The problem, however, is that there were very few substantive references to a Carrie—or the more formal Caroline—Fownes linking her to the mill itself. Family histories did not show a woman with that specific name.

A standard answer from tour guides alluded to the speculative Fownes family connection before providing the context behind the historical practice of naming blast furnaces after the wives, daughters, and sisters of the mill owners. Among nineteenth-century blast furnaces like Carrie, there were Dorothy, Eliza, Jane, Isabella, and Bernice, among others.

Furnaces bore women’s names as a means of acknowledging a female member of a prominent family. Simply put, nineteenth-century women were unlikely business owners. They rarely owned property, controlled bank accounts, or held positions of power and influence in public commercial circles. Women in wealthy families, like the Fownes family in Pittsburgh, exerted sociopolitical influence in domestic and home-adjacent spaces. Naming a furnace after a woman gave her both a presence and a stake in the family enterprise. It also created monuments to women’s memory by an industry not remembered for welcoming women’s presence, participation, or investment.

“Who is Carrie?” This is a tantalizing question for any historian. Ron Baraff, director of historic resources and facilities at Rivers of Steel, says, “I have been looking for ‘Carrie, the Person,’ since 1998. While there were many reference clues, they were always incomplete, a historical afterthought.”

Witnessing the magnitude of the two preserved furnaces on the Monongahela mill site makes it hard to think about Carrie as a “historical afterthought.” There she rests in her anthropomorphized glory—tended, cared for, visited, celebrated, and as full of life as she ever was. Her name runs to the heart of Pittsburgh’s living memory for those who worked at the mill when it was operational, lived in the neighboring communities of Swissvale and Rankin, and saw the glow, fire, and soot and heard the metallic rumble and roar. Baraff says, “I feel like I have been looking for Carrie my entire life!”

A postcard in muted tones showing many furnaces, stoves, stacks, and sheds.

The Carrie Furnaces in the Carnegie Steel era, a rapid expansion from the first furnace fifteen years before. Collection of the Rivers of Steel Archives.

Carrie Is Revealed

The Carrie Furnace Company began in 1884. Brothers H. C. and W. C. Fownes were founding partners and hands-on managers of the company, which had other investors and interested parties. William Clark, the Fownes brothers’ maternal uncle, was a prominent figure in the Pittsburgh iron industry and known primarily for Solar Iron Works. He became the president and manager of his nephews’ new venture.

When Furnace No. 1 smelted its first tons of iron on February 28, 1884, the whole Monongahela River valley knew about it. All of Pittsburgh knew about it. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, any time a new mill opened in the Monongahela River valley, area newspaper reporters converged on the site to write stories about opening ceremonies. These ceremonies were not unlike christening new ocean liners. The social, political, and economic elite congregated to celebrate the new venture, which contributed to expanding the global prominence of Pittsburgh’s industrial might.

The Pittsburgh Daily Post covered the excitement. On page four of the February 29, 1884, edition, the staff reporter filed an article called, “The New Rankin Station Furnace.” It reads, “the new furnace at Rankin Station on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, about [ten] miles from the city was yesterday morning christened the ‘Carrie Furnace.’”

Ron Baraff found this article while scouring Pittsburgh newspapers for information on the early days of the Carrie Furnace Company. He continued reading the article and noticed the furnace was named “in honor of Miss Carrie Clarke [sic] who lit the fires and performed other baptismal services.” William Clark’s daughter (and the Fownes’ brothers’ first cousin) had been tucked away in a few lines of local journalism!

Those lines, however, provided “the proof that eluded us for so long,” said Baraff. Those lines “give us not just a name to affix to the narrative, but they opened the door to a life and time in our region’s rich industrial history.”

Ron’s discovery kicked open a door for the rest of Rivers of Steel’s Museum and Archives department, who quickly set to finding as much information as possible about Carrie Clark. They “went on a quest to find out more about our Carrie,” Baraff says. Over the next few days, emails zipped back and forth as Ron, Ryan Henderson, Barney Terrell, and I followed her across the historical record and recovered the identity, life, and legacy of the woman whose name echoes throughout the Monongahela River Valley.

Ron remarked the “longtime assumptions were close to being accurate,” but because of the focus on the Fownes family, the Clark family and their connections to each other went unexplored. Finally, being able to reclaim a person’s entire life story with the simplest premise: “Who was Carrie Clark and what happened to her,” well, “it is a researcher’s dream.”

Ron, Ryan, Barney, and I found census records, marriage license notices, academic files, obituaries, and cemetery records. Her present biography remains short, and at first glance, it may appear sparse. However, remember this biography represents a major breakthrough in a twenty-five-year-long quest.

Two newspaper clipping mentioning Carrie Clarke

Carrie Clarke is mentioned as “she who lit the fires” in a notice about the christening of the new “Carrie Furnace” in 1884, and then news of her death is shared in 1888.

Carrie Clark, a Life

Caroline “Carrie” Bell Clark was born on March 19, 1863, in Youngstown, Ohio. Her family moved to Pittsburgh before 1869, when her father, William Clark, started the Solar Iron Works, located in Lawrenceville. In 1877, Mr. and Mrs. Clark sent Carrie away to Vassar Preparatory School in Poughkeepsie, New York. While there, she completed courses in Latin, German, French, Greek, mathematics, rhetoric, geography, and history. In 1880, Carrie Clark began studying at Vassar College, an institution that endeavored to provide wealthy young women educations equal to what their brothers received at other elite universities. Clark left Vassar and returned to Pittsburgh in 1881.

She assumed an extraordinarily public role in February of 1884 when she assisted her father by lighting that first fire in the brand-new mill bearing her name. A flurry of activity befitting a wealthy young woman in the late-nineteenth-century United States ensued. William Clark died in August 1884, a mere six months after the mill’s opening. Less than two years later, Carrie Clark married Bartlett Arkell, the rather dashing son of a New York State senator, in Pittsburgh, likely close to the Clark family home in Point Breeze on the corner of Penn and Dallas Avenues, on November 30, 1886. Clark and her new husband relocated to his hometown of Canajoharie, New York, shortly thereafter. Their son, William Clark Arkell, was born on September 28, 1887.

Carrie Clark died on November 17, 1888. She was twenty-five years old. Her obituary describes her as “charming” and “always amiable and loving” toward her friends. Her body was brought back to Pittsburgh. She rests in the Clark family mausoleum in Homewood Cemetery, Section 14, Lot 111.

A listing of people who died in 1888 next to an image of a stone mausoleum with a green door and four columns.

Carrie Clark Arkell’s is included in this 1888 Death Index. She is entombed in the Clark family mausoleum in Homewood Cemetery.

Carrie for the Ages

Restoring Carrie Clark’s identity to the record of Carrie Furnace reinforces the fact that the history of industry in Pittsburgh includes, and sometimes even centers, women. Women’s lives and contributions to the mills, regardless of whether or not their sacrifices lay at the base of a blast furnace, open hearth, rolling mill, or in a rail yard or a coal mine, matter.

Clark is a piece of Pittsburgh’s industrial story. When asked if he thought Clark’s identity would change the way people look at the furnaces and what he hopes the public will take away from knowing her name and at least a little bit about her life, Ron Baraff expounded, “We can provide a more complete narrative of the early days of the company and its founding families and of the industry and region.

“Carrie Clark is an important player in the life of the site—her name and her legacy (and that of her family) echoes from the nineteenth century into the twenty-first,” Ron continued. “No longer is she just a name. Now she is a person, a life, a connection to our collective past. History is at its best when it is viewed humanistically and with dimension, taken off the pages of books and brought to life. It becomes relatable and real. It is our job as historians and interpreters to serve as guides for others to understand the past and make it come alive again.”

This is a turning point for Rivers of Steel’s story as well. Not only does the organization steward the National Landmark bearing her name, but Rivers of Steel now stewards the memory of Carrie Clark, the young woman who lit the first flame.

Dr. Kirsten L. Paine is an educator and researcher with more than a decade of experience working in higher education. She started working for Rivers of Steel in 2017 as a tour guide at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark and was inspired by the mission to preserve such a national treasure held in public trust. Kirsten is committed to the work of public humanities education in her role as Site Management Coordinator and Interpretive Specialist. By creating and facilitating public programs that make the National Heritage Area’s history come alive for the community, she believes in archival study and teaching from primary sources as vital community resources.

Enjoy Dr. Kirsten L. Paine’s article? Read part two in the series about Carrie Clark.