Sunday, May 5, 2019

A visit to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Last week I spent five days in Pittsburgh visiting Celine, my eldest daughter, and her family.  Attending her wedding in California in 2016 was the last trip my late husband and I took, and I wrote a post on it at the time.  Click on "A challenging round-trip to Orange County, California."  Celine invited us several times to visit her in Pittsburgh but my husband's illness was too advanced for a trip, then last winter, it was too cold to fly north ... About a month ago she tempted me to come by sending me a link to the Pittsburgh's Frick Museum that is having an exhibit on 1940s photographs of Paris.  The flight only took about 1 1/2 hour.  I had thought of Pittsburgh as a northeastern city, flat, grey with many factories.  As the aircraft circled the downtown center I was surprised to see an interesting group of buildings, rivers, bridges and hills.

On Saturday the weather was sunny, not too warm.  My son-in-law drove us to Mount Washington, where he used to live when he first moved to Pittsburgh.  It is a 600-foot mountain, on the south side of downtown Pittsburgh, with woods, trails, stairs and inclines.  It used to be barren when several coal mines operated near its base; rock was also quarried from its hills.  Actually, until 1876, it was called Coal Hill.  I found several vintage photographs showing Mt Washington when the coal mines were in operation.  (Courtesy Wikipedia.)

The cliffs of Mt Washington border the Monongahela River. "Monongahela" is an American Indian name from the Unami tribe meaning "falling, or sliding banks."  Early on Mt Washington was covered with trees.  But by the late 1800s coal production, extracted from the mountain, amounted to 13 million tons, and the trees disappeared.  A mile-long set of wooden stairs had been built along the ancient American Indian trails.  Workers in the coal plants, mostly German immigrants, as well as horses, had difficulty getting around the mountain on the winding trails and steep stairs.  They suggested that some "standseilbahns" (inclines) as they had in Germany should be constructed.  Starting in 1869 twenty-three inclines (we call them funiculaire in French) were built.  It made it easier to carry freight on the steep hills, and more convenient for workers to reach their housing on top of the bluff.  They were popular and averaged 2000 riders a day.  But by the mid-1960s when the coal plants were closed the inclines also stopped working.  Two old inclines, now restored, are left, the Monongahela and the Duquesne inclines.  Below are some vintage postcards of the inclines then and now (in center.)

The Duquesne incline, opened on May 20, 1877, and costing 5 cents for the ride, was in operation until 1962.  Since 1964 the incline has been operated by a local preservation society after they restored it in 1963; they retained its original ornate wooden cable cars.  In December 2006 the incline celebrated its 20th million rider since 1964.  Below are more views of the Duquesne incline.

I knew the name Duquesne was French and researched on its connection to Pittsburgh.  This led me to the history of the city.  In the 1740s the French started setting up forts and outposts on the Allegheny and Ohio River valleys.  The French called the Ohio River La Belle Riviere (beautiful riviere) althought it comes from the Seneca language Ohi:yo or Good River.  To consolidate their holdings on the river the French built a fort at the junction where the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers meet.  This fort was named Fort Duquesne after the Governor of Canada, the Marquis Du Quesne de Mennville.  From then on the French and their native Indian allies fought the British to retain control of the area.  This lead to the Seven Years War, known as The French and Indian War.  By 1758 the fort was in terrible shape with few and starving soldiers and no supplies.  The British took advantage of this, fighting and taking the fort.  The site was re-named "Pittsborough" after British statesman and Prime Minister William Pitt, then Fort Pitt was built.  The site of both forts is now on Point State Park.

A 2006 landmark 750 pounds bronze sculpture, by James A. West, named "Point of View" sits at the edge of Mt Washington.  In 1770 George Washington stopped by Fort Pitt looking for investment in real estate as well as for "bounty lands" - land grants to give away to colonists and soldiers of earlier wars.  George Washington was a large land speculator and held 52,000 acres of land in the colonies.  He met Guyasuta, a member of the Seneca-Mingo tribe, for friendly campfire talks about the land.  The sculpture is based on that meeting.

There are stunning views of Pittsburgh on Mount Washington, indeed.  Looking to the Golden Triangle where the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers meet, or the landmark skyscrapers, or to the left or right, the panorama is breathtaking.  In fact, USA Weekend Travel Report ranked it America's second beautiful place in the country.  Overlook platform decks are located along the well named Grandview Avenue.  Graduates were taking photos there and also a couple of weddings.

After a tornado touched down on Mt Washington in 1998, the community rallied to form "Green is Good" to preserve the land.  They feared developers would start building ugly houses and condominiums all over.  The park was officially created on Earth Day 2007 as the 280 acres (1.1 km2) Emerald View Park.  A plaque gives the history of the park.  There are 10 miles of trails wrapping around Mt Washington, and 10 more miles are planned.  The park is free to the public.  (Be sure to click on collage twice to enlarge writing.)

We had parked along Grandview Avenue and I noticed a library sign.  We walked inside and the librarian told me that the building was going to be renovated as it had been built in 1900 as a Carnegie Library.  Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) had been once the richest man in the USA.  A Scottish immigrant he later formed the Pittsburgh's Carnegie Steel Company that he sold to J. P. Morgan for $303,450,000 in 1901.  The company became the U. S. Steel Corporation.  With his fortune Carnegie became a philanthropist and built 1689 libraries in the US, and 660 more in other countries.  At this branch a telephone booth had been kept.  The librarian told me they used it for storage or when someone needed to make a cell phone call in private.

We walked along the avenue and drove through the neighborhood.  There are many styles of lodging, apartments, condos, cute Queen Ann houses, new and old houses and churches.  The Shiloh Street business area offers restaurants, bars, banks, shops and a post office.  I was surprised at how steep some of the streets were, reminiscent of San Francisco's streets.  I can understand why Pittsburgh is proud of Mount Washington and its community and cherish it.

I'll share more of my visit to Pittsburgh in forthcoming posts.


livininlb said...

What a great post. I learned quite a bit about this city that I live in. I’ll have the kids read it as I bet they don’t know everything in your post either. We so enjoyed having you come visit. Please come back soon as there is still a lot of exploring to do! Looking forward to your next Pittsburgh post. ❤️ Celine (your eldest)

David said...

Hi Vagabonde, It sounds like you had a nice trip! I've been to Pittsburgh on business but have never visited as a tourist. This old steel town has reinvented itself since the mills shut down. It is an attractive city with the rivers and hills all around it. We'll have to add it to our list of places to visit! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for yet another informative, beauty and wonder-filled post.

Roderick Robinson said...

Glad to see Brits are your second-most-frequent pageviewers.

And that this post is devoted to what I regard as my home city in the USA. I arrived very late in 1965, took up residence in the Y, joined a publishing company based on Pittsburgh's Northside, moved to an apartment in Dormont (south of Mt Washington) and was joined by my wife and daughter who came to the US in SS United States. The publishing company moved to Philadelphia (we moved with them but it was a city I never got on with). To my delight I was head-hunted back to Pittsburgh to a fledgling magazine and for a time lived on the fringe of the swanky suburb, Mt Lebanon. The magazine failed as most new launches do. Since by then we'd added a second daughter I decided it was time to stop vagabonding. After 6 years in the USA we sent our two daughters back to their UK grand-parents by plane and made the return journey, with our car and other possessions, on the SS France on its last transatlantic crossing..

I still have a soft spot for Pittsburgh. It was the city that took us in and our Dormont neighbours were kinder than I could ever have imagined. I found myself correcting the English of professors working at MIT, USC, Ohio U, etc, who submitted material for publication, and I gained a reputation as something of a social oddity mainly, I think, because of what the natives (all far better educated than me) regarded as my enormous vocabulary and my ability to talk in parsable sentences. I, in return, learned to admire the conciseness of their chat which, forty years later, I was to incorporate in my novel Out Of Arizona.

When I lived in Pittsburgh it was still the nationwide butt of jokes about its dirtiness. Such jokes were out of date. Prior to my arrival the city had spent what had then seemed the huge sum of $60m on clean-air improvements. As to Mt Washington, a friend and I used to drink at Moike's Bar in nearby Mt Oliver.

I think you've done Pittsburgh proud. The views alone, admirably demonstrated in your pictures, reveal it to be a city worth visiting. Or, as in my case, living in.

DJan said...

I had no idea Pittsburgh has such incredible places to visit, VB. As always, your posts are filled with very interesting information. Thank you for your detailed post, and I look forward to another in the future. :-)

Z said...

I'd forgotten what an ordeal you had on your last trip. Quite awful. Glad this visit was such a success, what an interesting post. Thank you.

bayou said...

Thank you, Vagabonde, I utterly enjoyed your post. Always so interesting to see places through your good eye and your observations are always of interest.

Jeanie said...

How nice you could enjoy this getaway. I've only been to Pitt once and that was years ago, just to see a summer production a friend was in, so I didn't see any of this or learn the history. It's really quite fascinating. Thanks for that.

Nadezda said...

Hello, Vagabonde,
I see you have had a nice trip to Pittsburgh. I have not learn before about this city so I am interested in learning more. The mount Washington and the monument there - it'a amazing place.
Thanks for sharing!

Joared said...

I was interested to read about Pittsburgh and the changes that have occurred there from when I was growing up west in Ohio in the ‘40s. The city’s reputation, based partly on views of some family living there for a time was that, indeed, it was dirty from the coal mine days, but then became a hard-working steel town. My impressions were based on second-hand descriptions and views of another Pennsylvania town, Sharon, which I did visit on numerous occasions. Cities evolve and change with the times as leaders and residents dedicate themselves to a vision of enhancing their area’s finest environmental assets. The rivers and, often surrounding countryside if preserved, in Pennsylvania and Ohio are spectacular as are even many of the smaller creeks which can be as big or bigger than some bodies of water designated as rivers in other states I’ve visited. As usual with your posts, I’m always impressed with the depth and perceptive consolidation of pertinent facts you present on topics you present — also the present and past visuals you feature.

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