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Best Places To Familiarize With Pittsburgh’s Founding Fathers

August 13, 2012 6:00 AM

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(credit: heinzhistorycenter.org)

(credit: heinzhistorycenter.org)

The question should be asked, “Were the founders of Pittsburgh politicians, wealthy captains of industry, hard working mill workers or possibly the Indians who preceded them?” There were once grand old mansions, rusty iron bridges and rickety inclines in the neighborhoods surrounding today’s reconstructed Fort Pitt block house, our memorable modernistic Three Rivers Stadium and today’s state-of the art Heinz Field. Progress often means demolition in a 300-year-old city. Fortunately, some architectural icons and cultural/historic destinations have been preserved through the efforts of private citizens, grants and non-profits such as Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

With 66 city-designated historical landmarks, 13 city-designated historic districts and a plethora of designated landmarks in the suburbs, Pittsburgh’s choice of important places could be considered impossible by many readers. Architects and art historians may favor the grand and expensive contributions of ultra-wealthy Pittsburghers while others may think it is equally important that the list celebrates the heritage and pop culture of working-class Pittsburghers. This list engulfs an even spectrum of Pittsburgh’s history.

alleghenycountycourthouse Best Places To Familiarize With Pittsburghs Founding Fathers

(credit: county.allegheny.pa.us)

The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail Complex
436 Grant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
(412) 350-6500
county.allegheny.pa.us/courthouse

Considered the most prominent example of Richardson’s Romanesque architecture, the Allegheny County Courthouse was completed in 1888. “The architecture is characterized by the classic symmetry of the Renaissance, with Romanesque details, including Syrian arches, Byzantine capitals, late French Gothic dormer windows and French Renaissance roofs. Among the most impressive features of the courthouse and jail are the Courthouse tower, rising more than 229 feet; the solemn mass of the jail; the picturesque silhouettes of the roof lines, towers and turrets; the soaring arches and dignified columns; and the practical arrangements of windows, which provide an abundance of natural light.” Henry Hobson Richardson is one of the few architects lucky enough to have a style named after him. Unfortunately for him, his appetite and waistline were as massive as some of his buildings so he did not live to see the completion of the complex.

Related: 5 Must-Read Books By Pittsburgh Authors

carnegie library braddock 2  3  Best Places To Familiarize With Pittsburghs Founding Fathers

(credit: Dev Meyers)

Braddock Carnegie Library
419 Library St
Braddock, PA 15104
(412) 351-5356
braddocklibrary.org

It has been said that Andrew Carnegie was a legendary figure who presided over one of the darkest chapters in American labor history. Perhaps that is why The King of Steel was obsessed with donating libraries. In fact, Carnegie invented the branch library system. His first library, a Richardson Romanesque building, was designed by William Halsey Wood. In those days, libraries functioned as community centers.  Braddock Carnegie Library featured a swimming pool, theater, gymnasium, bathhouse and barbershop. In total, 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929. Carnegie donated money for the building and upkeep and he presumably considered himself a generous benefactor to the common folk who worked for him in the steel mills. But his associate Henry Clay Frick didn’t for one minute consider these literary amends to be redeeming. He said, “you can tell Carnegie I’ll meet him….Tell him I’ll see him in Hell, where we both are going.”

img 0242 Best Places To Familiarize With Pittsburghs Founding Fathers

(credit: Dev Meyers)

Clayton House
Frick Art and Historical Center
7227 Reynolds St
Pittsburgh, PA 15208
(412) 371-0600
thefrickpittsburgh.org

Much of Pittsburgh’s Millionaire’s Row has been demolished and replaced with apartment buildings, smaller houses, businesses, etc. So it is delightful to have an intact residence, wonderfully maintained and restored, to exemplify the period from 1882-1905. Industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) made a fortune from coal and steel. Frick’s taste in art was typical of many industrialist collectors of Gilded Age America. Many of the pieces are by 19th-century European artists. His daughter Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984) assembled her own collection. You can visit their mansion and see their collection at the art gallery adjacent to the property. Believe it or not, the garage is amazing. It houses an automobile museum that includes the original HJ Heinz car painted in ketchup red and pickle green. Clayton also has its own Victorian glass house, cafe and children’s theater.

woodvilleplantation Best Places To Familiarize With Pittsburghs Founding Fathers

(credit: woodvilleplantation.org)

Woodville Plantation
1375 Washington Pike
Bridgeville, PA 15017
(412) 221-0348
woodvilleplantation.org

If a general and commander of Fort Pitt is a founder of Pittsburgh, then his home belongs on this list. Visiting John and Winifred Oldham Neville’s house in Collier Township is like taking a trip back to the 18th century. While many grand old mansions no longer stand, Woodville has been lovingly restored and preserved for the benefit of generations to come. In addition to considering a tour, be sure to check the list of special events and classes that are available at the property.

Carrie Furnace
Rankin and Braddock, PA
riversofsteel.com

Once the heart of US Steel’s Homestead Works, the Carrie Furnace preserves the memory of Pittsburgh’s steel and iron making. The furnaces operated from 1907-1978. Today, the site has been designated as one of the focal points for Homestead Works National Park. It was back-breaking work that put food on the table. Men worked hard in the mills. Labor unions were born and Pittsburgh became the Fortune 500 capital of the world. After visiting the Carrie Furnace, you may want to learn more about the steel industry. It’s recommended that you visit nearby Rivers of Steel.

meadowcroft Best Places To Familiarize With Pittsburghs Founding Fathers

(credit: heinzhistorycenter.org)

Special Mention:

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village
401 Meadowcroft Road
Avella, PA 15312
(724) 587-3412
heinzhistorycenter.org/meadowcroft

Travel back in history to a prehistoric Indian village. Just an hour from downtown Pittsburgh is a national landmark that celebrates the heritage of the Paleo-Indians and the Native American Indians who lived in western Pennsylvania before it was discovered by George Washington. Learn how these people lived and survived, what tools they used and what they ate  Would you like to try your hand at spear throwing? Did you ever wonder how people lived in our area before the Europeans arrived? A visit to Meadowcroft Rockshelter will give you the opportunity to experience the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that dominated our region as far back as 19,000 years ago.

Related: Best Iconic Works Of Art In Pittsburgh

A freelance writer and marketing guru, Dev Meyers loves all things Pittsburgh. She is also an avid collector of mid century modern copper jewelry and a Pittsburgh history buff. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.

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