The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Monongahela, men will call thee

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I’ve learned about living in Pittsburgh in these first weeks of doing so is that you need to pick your battles, as far as the weather goes. Blue skies and bright sun have been a fairly rare commodity so far, so when the forecast called for those conditions on the 9th of January, I hopped behind the wheel of the Mobile Oppression Platform and set off for several points of interest which had caught my attention along the Monongahela River.

First stop was Clairton, found about 13 miles (as the crow flies) from Downtown Pittsburgh. There’s a “rail to trail” opportunity to be found there which is part of the Montour Trail. What drew me here was U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, pictured above. I ran into a cop who seemed to be “cribbing” in the parking lot of the Montour Trail, and started a conversation with him about me being a photographer who is new to the area and who wanted to get the skinny on what’s considered ok or not as far as local law enforcement’s point of view is concerned. Best to ask, let the cop know you’re not some freak who’s going to cause trouble, as I always opine.

After telling me to take my hands out of my pockets, the officer informed me that were I to trespass onto the Clairton property he’d have an interest in me due to Patriot Act related security concerns, but his department would otherwise have zero interest in my pursuits and then he even mentioned my First Amendment right to self expression and a lack of desire to interfere with such things. I thanked the officer, cracked out the shot above, and hopped back into the Mobile Oppression Platform and continued with the exploring.

As mentioned in the past, it’s January and the light sucks this time of the year, so I’m largely scouting at the moment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I drove through a quite lovely semi-rural area, heading southwards, and crossed the river. There are a series of public boat launches and parklets which are set up in a fairly welcoming fashion on this stretch which had caught my eye while I was scrutinizing Google maps’ satellite views during one of the several rain soaked intervals recently experienced. The shot above and the one below were captured at one of these bits of aforementioned public waterfront access infrastructure found in the community of Speers Borough.

The colossal rail bridge, which was staggering to observe in person, is the Speers Railroad Bridge, whereas the blue colored vehicular crossing with the arch is called the Belle Vernon Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The boat launch in Speers Borough allowed me to securely park the Mobile Oppression Platform and head down to the water with my tripod setup to get a bit “artsy fartsy.” The Belle Vernon Bridge is a 1951 vintage span over the Monongahela which once carried trolley service in addition to automotive traffic.

While shooting, some dude was noticed walking towards me while carrying a bucket. “Here we go” thought this long time New Yorker, but as it turned out he was a lovely chap who used to work on the tugs that navigate the Monongahela delivering mineral feedstocks to the the steel mills. The bucket? He didn’t pay his water bill and needed to flush his toilet, hence the visit to a river with a bucket in hand.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My next stop was Monessan, PA., which is the hometown of cinematic makeup artist Tom Savini. Savini has a program named after him at a business school in Monessan. The Arcelor Mittal Monessen coke plant is pictured above, as seen from a supermarket parking lot bordering the mill. It wasn’t this plant, or Tom Savini (whom I’m a huge fan of, and even have an autographed plaster casting of a human skull he created sitting on my desk), instead it was another boat launch which would offer unimpeded water views which drew me here.

One negotiated the local street grid, as it were, and found his way down to the riverfront and the small park and boat launch ramp hosted there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the distance, that’s the Donora-Monessen Bridge, aka the Stan Musial Bridge, a 1972 addition to the Monongahela River. By this point, I had throughly gotten myself lost. My goals for the day started out with trying to find a few points of view to photograph the Clairton Works from, which ended up being a lot more difficult than you’d think. If there’s a bit of waterfront property anywhere near it, that land is super valuable for commercial exploitation. Get a few miles away from the plant where the valuation of the river facing properties drops and it becomes a liability to the town rather than an asset, and you might as well use the waterfront as a park instead.

I did spot a few locations which I’m going to have to return to on foot, after I figure out someplace convenient to leave the car, and during a season which is a bit less harsh as far as temperature. There’s a number of things which I need to work out, actually. Things are chaotic at the moment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wish I could tell you the name of the rail bridge above, which is about equidistant between Clairton Works and another steel mill called the Irvin Works which I haven’t laid eyes on yet. My understanding is that the teal colored pipeline moving through the shot carries gas generated by the Clairton Works coking operation that will be pumped over to and used to fire the Mon Valley Works over in Braddock.

More exploratory wanderings in tomorrow’s Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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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

January 23, 2023 at 11:00 am

6 Responses

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  1. That’s the Coal Valley bridge, btw – a few shots from a different angle at


    January 23, 2023 at 11:48 am

  2. […] when they say that it’s usually in reference to the still quite industrial areas to the east like Clairton and […]

  3. […] why the pipes? Seems that US Steel manufactures gas at a nearby plant in Clairton and the pipes carry it over to the furnaces at the Mon Valley Works, or at least that’s what I […]

  4. […] District Catholic High School.” Amongst its many, many famous alumni is Horror Movie legend and Monessan native Tom […]

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