The Newtown Pentacle

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One last week of posts from my 72 hours in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania starts today. As mentioned in the past, one travelled around the Northeastern United States a bit in September, using an Amtrak rail pass to move about. After riding Pittsburgh’s funicular railways – or Inclines, as they refer to them here – one made his way down to the south side of the Monongahela River and resumed scuttling along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail pathway. Pittsburgh’s volatile weather kept on churning the sky, so it was overcast and in the high 60’s during this part of my day.

Pictured above is the Fort Pitt Bridge. Even for a city of 446 bridges, this 1959 vintage double decked bowstring arch bridge is a fairly major crossing. Fort Pitt Bridge is (entrance to exit ramp) 1,207 feet long, and the main span over the river is 750 feet. It clears the water by 47 feet, replaced an earlier span called the Point Bridge, and is operated by the PennDOT. Fort Pitt Bridge connects downtown Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle” with several local, State, and Interstate high speed roads via the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which is dug through Mt. Washington. It’s apparently the first computer designed bridge, and this structure continues the practice here in Pittsburgh of a bridge having multiple names. It’s also known as the “Parkway West #1 Bridge” apparently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The boat tour I had a ticket for didn’t leave for a couple of hours, and I was hoping to find someone somewhere to sell me a cold beer. Unfortunately, due to Covid and the economic fallout thereof, this was a somewhat quixotic quest for a humble narrator. I found myself, thereby, at “Station Square.”

Station Square is a 52 acre property housed in the former environs and properties of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad company. There’s a sports stadium (Highmark Stadium), a Hard Rock Cafe, a marina, a hotel, a mass transit “T” station, and a bunch of other chain store hospitality businesses which would be quite familiar to anyone who’s wandered off a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Unfortunately for me, due to Covid, almost everything was closed. Fortunately for me, the practice they seem to employ here in Pittsburgh of creating elevated and public overlook platforms continued. I noticed this bit of kit when walking towards one of those overlooks.

That’s a Bessemer Converter pictured above, which sat alongside another piece of industrial equipment left behind from the Steel City era. The old office building of P&LERR is also still standing, and I’ll show you that when the “from the water” shots start tomorrow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From that public overlook platform, which I guess was the equivalent of about three stories up, a great view of the 1883 vintage Smithfield Street Bridge was there for the taking. This is a verrrrrrry important bridge, from the “history of civil engineering in these United States” POV. Next time I’m in Pittsburgh, I plan on getting all granular about this particular span and photographing every single rivet. That’s how important it is. I’ll talk about the why’s and wherefore to back up my interest in subsequent posts from the water when I was able to get the camera closer to it. Suffice to say, for now, that the second oldest steel bridge in the United States is still standing in Pittsburgh. The oldest steel bridge in the USA is the 1874 Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis, before you ask.

I literally found out about this bridge and its significance while I was physically in Pittsburgh, by the way. I had a prepared shot list and itinerary for the trip, but had also built lots of “serendipity” time into the camera’s schedule. One of the mistakes you can make on a journey like this is to have decided in advance what you’re going to discover or encounter. It’s good to have some sort of structure for your travels, but you also don’t want to limit where the camera wants to be pointed. I had no idea this outlook viewing platform even existed until I was standing in front of it, let alone that it would be publicly accessible, for example.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If I had stuck to a proscribed list, thereby, I never would have gotten the shot above of a CSX freight train roaring along what – I believe – were once the tracks of the B&O railroad which are still quite active here on the south side of the Monongahela River. CSX is a freight railroad operator that is fairly continental in size, ranging along the east coast of the United States and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The company was formed in 1980, and is one of the private capital entities which has grown up in the ashes of the post Conrail/Amtrak era which saw the bankruptcy and collapse of the PennCentral mega corporation which forced Richard Nixon to nationalize the rails as a strategic national asset. Again – I’m not a railfan, or a rail historian. I’m an interested lookie loo, and I highly suggest you read up on this interesting topic, or talk to an actual expert about it. I mainly like taking pictures of trains.

Later in the day, I also witnessed Norfolk & Southern led freight trains broiling through here. The haul in all cases seemed to be a combination of mineral (coal, coke, etc.), tanker, and cargo box cars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally, it was almost time to board the boat for my appointed 60 minute tour. A pedestrian tunnel allows one to travel under the rail tracks from Station Square, and I soon found myself on a dock set into the Monongahela River. While I was cooling my heels waiting for the excursion to begin, a masonry structure caught my eye. There’s two bridge towers, bereft of their crossing span, which can be observed on either side of the river. I was told that the span used to operate as a railroad bridge. The rail bridge fed into the Golden Triangle river delta section of downtown, and after the deindustrialization era began it had no purpose so it was torn down. The masonry towers that supported it were left in place and they’re supposedly “for sale” but there are serious limitations on what you can do with them so nobody wants to purchase the things.

The deckhands for the boat tour began to check our tickets and it was time to board the boat. I was alone, of course, but there were probably thirty or so other people on the boat.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gateway Clipper is the analogue of NYC’s Circle Line here in Pittsburgh. They’re been operating in the Steel City since 1958, and employ a small fleet of excursion vessels. The founder of Gateway Clipper was John E. Connelly, who went on to become quite wealthy in the Riverboat Casino business on the Mississippi River, and was also the founder of NYC’s World Yacht which operates out of Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers complex on the Hudson River. He was also, I’m informed, instrumental in developing Chelsea Piers as a tourist and leisure destination.

Gateway Clipper does ferry service for Steelers and Pirates games, but their main interest is in the tourist and “function” business. As I was opining to my NY Harbor pals when I got back to New York, they have a novel solution for high capacity excursion vessels in their fleet – a tug push boat which is permanently affixed to a flat top barge that has a thousand seat catering hall built on top of it. That’s the Empress and the Empress 2 for all of you vesseltracker peeps.

Tomorrow – the long foreshadowed boat tour of Pittsburgh, and revelations about the Smithfield Street Bridge.


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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 blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 8, 2021 at 11:00 am

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