We’ll Go Under That Bridge When We Get to It

Originally posted 2015-12-30 17:15:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Far more people traveled under the Greenfield Bridge before it disappeared Monday than ever traveled over it. That isn’t what was envisioned when it opened 92 years ago.

It was supposed to be part of a landscaped thoroughfare making travel through the city a leisurely experience in the wondrous age of automobiles.  Therein is the story of Beechwood Boulevard, the longest convoluted street in a city of many, and a romantic vision that ultimately made Pittsburgh more livable.

If you drive through Squirrel Hill, you may wonder why the boulevard meanders so much without changing names. It is because a century ago, Beechwood went on a growth spree, trying to sidle up to every recently created park it could reach.

Many cities developed similar park-oriented roads at that time. Some called them, get this . .  parkways. We’ll get back to that.

An art commission reviewed the design for the Beechwood Boulevard bridge at Greenfield.  The commission wanted to ensure it would appeal to what were called Sunday drivers, those out for recreational cruises.

It approved a graceful arching concrete expanse. Drivers would be culturally elevated by beauty, and relieved not to crash into the valley below. That came close to happening.

The wood structure it replaced, sometimes called the Schenley Park Bridge, was falling down, falling down. City Photographer pictures dated  1909 show a major effort underway to jack the bridge up and get its sliding feet firmly replanted on the hillsides.

Photos dated 1921 show a splintered debris field across the valley. A “Closed Bridge Sign” teetering over one edge indicated the span had already been closed when it fell.

Not that it would have hit much.  Down below,  you would not see cars sitting six abreast and motoring impatience rising with the fumes. There was just unpaved Forward Avenue and Four Mile Run lazily tracing the bottom of the ravine.

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Coal: Exploring Belly of the Burgh in 1866

Originally posted 2015-11-17 22:34:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


James Parton

James Parton

We are accompanying James Parton, a well-known author in his day, as he explores Pittsburgh in an article he wrote for Atlantic Monthly 149 years ago.

He has already experienced a day with only about 30 minutes of daylight, and a night that inspired him to write of looking “into Hell with the lid taken off.”

Now, he ventures into the darkest dark. He follows a mule and a “black white boy” into a coal mine under what is now Mount Washington.

Let’s join him.

Coal Made It All Possible

The “great fact” of Pittsburg is coal.

Iron and copper can better afford to come to coal to be melted, than send for coal to come and melt them. All those hills that frown down upon Pittsburg, and those that rise from the rivers back of Pittsburg, have a stratum of coal in them from four to twelve feet thick. This stratum is about three hundred feet above the water’s edge, and about one hundred feet from the average summit of the hills. . .

To observe the whole process of getting coal out of the hills, it is only necessary to walk half a mile from the city. Cross one of the bridges over the Monongahela, walk up the hill that rises from the banks of that tranquil stream, and you behold, in the side of the hill, a round hole about large enough for a man to stand upright in.

In "A Family Coal Mine, a Pittsburgh Sketch," children remove coal from an abandoned mine on Coal Hill (Mount Washington). The wood engraving by Harry Fenn appeared in an 1871 issue of Every Saturday magazine.

In “A Family Coal Mine, a Pittsburgh Sketch,” children remove coal from an abandoned mine on Coal Hill (Mount Washington). The wood engraving by Harry Fenn appeared in an 1871 issue of Every Saturday magazine.

This cavity has smooth walls of coal, and there is a narrow railroad track in it. The air within is neither damp nor chilly, and often delicate flowers are blooming about the entrance.

Strangers usually enter this convenient and inviting aperture, which may lead into the hill a mile, or even three miles. (Parton’s GPS unit was off. The transit tunnel through the wider base of the hill, for instance,  is only about two-thirds of a mile.)

After walking a hundred yards or so, strangers usually think it best to go no farther. It is as dark in there as darkness itself, and as silent as a tomb. The entrance shows like a distant point of light. The visitor listens for the sound of the pickaxe, or the rumble of a coal-car; but nothing breaks the horrid silence of the place, and, re-tracing his steps, he sees with pleasure the point of light expanding into a round O.

Reassured, he peers again into the mountain’s heart, and discerns in the far distance, a speck of light. This speck slowly, very slowly, approaches. A low and distant rumble is heard.

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Logstown2: Where Drowned Trees Went

Originally posted 2018-05-23 21:25:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Do you know Logstown?

Well, you know it better now after reading the first post of this series . You learned the Indian village downriver from Pittsburgh was more


company town than quaint Indian village.

Now, we’ll explore another reason for its name — other than the log cabins built there by a French fur-trading company.

Charles Dickens and Conotocaurious will act as our guides.

What? You don’t know Conotocaurious?

Wax likeness at Mount Vernon of 19-year-old George. The figures at the museum show him at various ages. They were created under the guidance of Jeffrey Schwartz, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh.

Sure you do. You carry his picture around.

His Iroquois name means devourer or destroyer of villages.

You know him by his English name: George Washington.

He was only 21 when the governor of Virginia sent him to this region to find any French official and formally tell him to get lost.

It was all about getting wealth; the rich getting richer and everyone else looking for a piece of the action. It was there for the taking. The British took it,  Indian land, that is.

Land is worth little, though, if people won’t settle there. Aren’t people afraid of Indians?

No problem. Build forts, safe havens, with government money when possible. Raise armies and militias, again with taxpayer money when possible, to get rid of the Injuns. They will go away., and the money will flow. And, that’s how it went down.

When the bills came due,  though, taxpayers didn’t want to pay. And, the United States was born.

Common sight along bends in the Ohio after it rips out trees upriver.

By the way, it’s only appropriate for the rich to get richer. It’s not greed. It’s good stewardship.

Isn’t it interesting, though,  that George’s face ended up on our money?

Believe it or not, it was not an unhandsome face.

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Originally posted 2016-02-24 18:20:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Next generation keyboard, as in the next human generation. This child's model has the same letter arrangement as first created six generations ago.

Next generation keyboard, as in the next human generation. This child’s model has the same letter arrangement as first created six generations ago.

The Striking Story of a Keyboard Design

Look down at your keyboard. See it? The first six letters spell QWERTY.

That’s what they call the keyboard layout we’ve been using for 140 years: the QWERTY layout.

It looks very much like an emphatic adjective: QWERTY! I propose we start using it that way.

Well, that’s very QWERTY! . . . She’s had a lot of trouble, but she is so QWERTY!

It would certainly be easy to type. Just slide a single finger across that row of keys. I’ll let you decide which finger. It may depend on your mood.

It would mean enduring.

Not only that. It would mean many good stories are told about the subject. Not all are true.

That certainly is the case with the QWERTY  layout.

Early "literary piano." It's resulting typewritten sheets were hidden inside until you brought them out.

Early “literary piano.” It’s resulting typewritten sheets were hidden inside until you brought them out.

It appears QWERTY may have been conceived in the mind of an investor from Meadville, 90 miles to the north of Pittsburgh. It was then born in Milwaukee, WI.,  and grew up in Kittanning and Pittsburgh.

We’re talking about the late 1800s. There seems to have been a lot of tinkerers looking to get rich, at least in the just-victorious North. They often put their heads together, and their money, to come up with things that would sell.

Christopher Latham Sholes wanted to make a typesetting machine for his Milwaukee print shop after his typesetters went on strike. That idea failed. So he used it to make a machine for print shops that could be used to number pages, tickets, etc.

Christopher Sholes

Christopher Sholes

He and a fellow inventive printer patented a prototype . The patent attorney they went to also was an inventor. I told you, everybody was.

“Couldn’t this print letters and words, too?” he asked. That, of course, was Sholes original idea.

The attorney joined the partnership, providing development money.

The trio came up with the “literary piano.”

Seriously. It looked like a small piano. It was wooden. The keys were ebony and ivory. The alphabet ran the way it’s supposed to: ABCD. . . They got a patent in 1868 and typed hundreds of letters on the machine seeking investors.

One letter went to James Densmore who lived in Meadville at the time. He was so taken with the typed solicitation, that he bought a quarter of the patent without seeing the device.

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A Book Waiting to Be Read

Originally posted 2016-05-11 21:01:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 7.32.22 PMA sober look at our historic — if drunken — past still awaits at an empty tavern in Pittsburgh’s West End.

In the last post, we described the valiant efforts of the local Daughters of the American Revolution to save the Fort Pitt Block House, Pittsburgh’s oldest structure, more than a century ago.

Now, we look at what’s going on at the second oldest building in the city. The Old Stone Tavern in the West End is a book waiting to be read, says Paul Sentner.

He is president of the Pittsburgh Old Stone Tavern (POST) Friends Trust, which was formed in 2013 to study, buy, restore and re-use the building .

That all entails raising money, which hasn’t happened yet.

The tavern sits empty along a curve at the bottom of Greentree Road,  where Woodville Avenue intersects. People pass by every few moments. Few know the derelict-looking saloon could tell stories played out 240 years ago and every year since.

An Older Story Yet

Sentner says the tavern’s storytelling may go back even further. It sits on land likely never plowed, at the intersection of two paths walked by prehistoric people. That means artifacts likely remain there undisturbed. So, why not get to reading the stories? If only it were so easy.


Members of Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern Friends Trust (from right): Paul Sentner, Norene Beatty, Cris Mooney, John McNulty, Rich Forster and Lorraine Forster

[/media-credit] Members of Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern Friends Trust (from right): Paul Sentner, Norene Beatty, Cris Mooney, John McNulty, Rich Forster and Lorraine Forster

The people smitten by the tavern’s historic value do not own it.

“The DAR had an advantage because the block house was given to them,” Sentner notes.

He and his group are talking to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, representatives of the mayor and others to find a way to acquire the property from Lee Harris. He operates a masonry business on three sides of the tavern.

Harris bought it in 2009 for about $38,000, intending to clear it away and expand his operations.

Those aware of the tavern’s historic significance got word and voiced alarm. Harris held off the bulldozer and the city’s Historic Review Commission quickly designated it a historic site.

That means the owner has to get approval for any exterior changes. That includes changes that make it disappear.

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