The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 22nd, 2021

lower meadow

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking northwards from the 31st street Bridge, high over Pittsburgh’s Allegheny River back towards Herr’s Island. My chosen route along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail commanded that I go no further than this bridge on the Allegheny. Being able to calculate what’s possible for you to photographically capture in a certain amount of time is paramount on excursions like the one I embarked on when boarding an Amtrak back in NYC. You’ve got to be realistic, and not wander too afar of field.

The section of Pittsburgh I was heading towards is called “the Strip.” a bit of reading reveals that this was an industrial outpost by the early 19th century and that by the 1920’s – US Steel, Westinghouse, Alcoa, and Heinz were all running operations here and feeding their manufactured products to distant customers via a combination of rail and maritime shipping. There were also hundreds of smaller mills and factories, and it was a beehive of economic activity. A significant number of produce wholesalers were apparently based here as well, but that makes sense given the train tracks. There was also an important manufacturer of military equipment hereabouts, cannons in particular, called the Fort Pitt Foundry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Strip began to decline in the 1960’s, and industry began to pick up stakes and look for greener pastures that were not yet despoiled. This is a regional issue that occurred all over the northeastern United States. When the Interstate Highway system was created, and industry no longer had to crowd along the rail and or port infrastructure of the north eastern cities, the CEO’s and bean counters began to relocate their operations first to the American South (which was and still is politically hostile to Organized Labor), and then to other countries like Mexico, and in modernity – East Asia.

Somehow, many of the industrial mill buildings and factories in the Strip have survived “the future” and have been repurposed as part of a historic district. Driverless car technologies are being developed in this area by several huge technology firms, and the Strip has become a sort of hip place to live – if you believe what the real estate people tell you.

Don’t know. Literally didn’t talk to a single person when I was moving through here. As you can see in the shot above, a long distance walk stood between me and photographing any more bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the peculiar topology of Pittsburgh. The center of the City, which has had some absolute whopper flooding events in the past (notably during the St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936 which saw the water level rise some 46 feet which devastated Pittsburgh) is on a water level triangular delta formed by the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers. The delta is surrounded by riverine valleys and ridges, many of which are quite steep. Walking from one corner to the next on a block in Pittsburgh might involve walking a hundred feet up or down.

That ornate religious building on the hill is the landmark Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, or so I believe. The landform it’s nestled in is called Polish Hill, so named for the immigrant population who settled here. I’m told that a significant part of Pittsburgh’s population are descendants of Slavic immigrants, with notable numbers of Poles and Croats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself wishes that it would’ve been possible – time wise – to scuttle around those local streets down there and explore, but as mentioned in prior posts, a line of thunderstorms were scheduled to blast through Pittsburgh in just a few hours and I needed to keep moving if my “Day One” shot list was to be accomplished.

Remember what I said about the volatility of Pittsburgh weather? The day started off wet and overcast and about 60 degrees. By the time I was walking off the 31st street bridge, it was 87 degrees and super humid with clearing skies. The skies were clearing and despite that thunderstorms were coming. It’s a mad house, I tell you, a mad house.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I noticed this old school building on my way, which is dubbed as being the Springfield Public School. It was erected in 1870, operated as a school house until 1934, then was used as a warehouse until a recent residential conversion turned it into housing. It’s on the National list of Historic Places, so there you go.

Finally back on land, I began heading back towards the Golden Triangle’s pointy bit. The water was kept in sight, and I followed still active freight rail tracks through the strip. Old breweries and warehouses sat next door to new construction. Obvious thought about height, massing, and density had guided the newer construction. Older buildings were converted to new uses. There were no soulless glass rhombuses or rectangular towers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every now and then, you’d spot scenes like the one above, with historic homes built for laborers. Small and efficient houses, the bosses used to have to make sure their employees had dignified homes to live in. That helped keep a revolution from breaking out, which was a lot more likely back in the pre New Deal era than you’d think it was. Pittsburgh was a Union town, back in the day. A working man will only take it for so long before he pops. The lesson of the 1877 strike in the link above, for the Bosses and the bullies they employed, was not to screw around with a labor union in a city where there’s a gun factory.

Back next week with more from Steel City, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 22, 2021 at 11:00 am

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