The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

an Allegheny interval

with 2 comments


– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had a couple of hours to kill recently, and decided to do a proper photowalk on the north side of downtown Pittsburgh. This area which I was in, I’m told, was an independent municipality in Allegheny County called Allegheny City until 1907, when it was annexed by another municipality. Pictured above is Downtown Pittsburgh, which is the neighboring city that did the annexation.

The waterfront in this area is part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which is a post industrial accommodation open to the public for exercise and recreation. Lots of joggers and bicyclists are moving about, and right behind me while I was shooting these there was some kid trying to figure out to ride his skateboard. This is right about where the Allegheny River feeds into the Ohio River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking along the Allegheny River, past the Fort Duquesne steel bowstring bridge and towards the “three sisters” suspension bridges. Last week, frequent commenter and wise aleck George the Atheist asked in a comment why there are so many different types of bridges here in Pittsburgh. I don’t have a definitive answer but I’ve got a few theories. First is that these bridges were largely installed over a 75-100 year period and that technologies and materials change over time. The second, and this one fits in with my somewhat conspiratorial point of view, is that Pittsburgh was the home of the American Bridge Company.

My theory is that American Bridge Company, as organized by JP Morgan, used Pittsburgh’s waterfront as a showroom for its national and international customers. Notably, American Bridge Company was one of the principal contractors used for most of NYC’s “lesser” bridges including the Pulaski Bridge spanning my beloved Newtown Creek. They also worked, and still work, on the major bridges too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One decided to shed the tripod and filter setup, and just shoot shots instead for the remaining time I’d be out. Scouting, that’s what I’m doing. What I want to be doing is shooting long exposure and loving photographs of Pittsburgh and its wonders, but it kind of bogs me down and keeps me from discovering new things and points of view. I still need to wander about and find these points of view before I get fancy… that’s what my inner narrative naggingly reminds.

I packed up the gear, and set my heels a clicking for a proper photowalk, thereby. I followed the Three Rivers Heritage trail, heading off along one of the Ohio River legs of the path.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the West End Bridge, which I showed you from above last week. Pittsburgh has been dealing with an explosion of unhoused folks camping out in tents and makeshift dwellings along the waterfront in recent years. Political outrage about this has caused the City to send in the cops and sanitation crews to clear out the dwellings and to try and convince the unhoused folks to literally come in from the cold and take a bed at a homeless shelter. This went about as well as it does in any American City, as the section of the trails in the Downtown area which the TV News people filmed the Government types “cleaning up” remains depopulated, but the zones which didn’t receive the media attention still host people living in dire circumstance. The Ohio River frontage is one of those zones.

I should mention that use of the word “explosion” in the Pittsburgh context indicates that there were a couple of hundred down on their luck street and or traveling people living rough in tents and make shift huts – at most. This made the TV news, in heavy rotation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I approached the great cathedral and spiritual center of Pittsburgh, and the most important thing in this region of the country. This structure, which occupies the thoughts, prayers, and minds of all Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties is a sports ball arena that is home to the Steelers football team. Formerly called Heinz Field, naming rights for the stadium were recently acquired by an outfit called Acrisure. Across the street from the stadium is the Carnegie Science Center, an interactive museum largely designed for kids. In between the two is a parking lot which costs $6 for all day parking, and it’s where I left the Mobile Oppression Platform while I was out walking around and shooting.

It was starting to get dark, and since I don’t know the “lay of the land” quite yet, I decided that I would be happier and quite a bit safer in the car. It’s not that things are dangerous hereabouts, but I’m ignorant of what a good neighborhood versus a bad one looks like. Additionally, there was a nearby industrial zone I wanted to take a look at which was definitively “car country” rather than being pedestrian friendly.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of those industrial zone spots which I wanted to take a look at involved the Western State Penitentiary, a now shuttered prison found in the former Allegheny City and along the Ohio River. Word has it that opportunity to visit and photograph parts of this facility might materialize during the spring or summer, notably as part of a citywide event called Doors Open Pittsburgh. Doors Open’s operation is reminiscent to me of Open House NY, whom I worked with for several years on walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek.

More tomorrow, from the Paris of Appalachia, at your 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 24, 2023 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. For many years Pittsburgh had a bridge to nowhere – I think it has been connected to the shore where the Pirates hang out. Another river, I think feeding the Mon is the Yough (Yock) igheny coming from the south and east.

    Hank Linhart

    January 24, 2023 at 1:44 pm

  2. Your voyage of discovery is very interesting. Thank you for making me look up “steel bowstring bridge” aka the Tied-Arch bridge according to Wikipedia. Explains the slender vertical supports at the ends of the chord.

    I admire you for this: you hint at the contrasts and similarities between Pittsburgh and NYC but you don’t gloat, sneer, boast with your “Big City” creds. This helps make your Pittsburgh blog a pleasure. You’re giving your new home a fair chance.

    I too don’t like Science Museums “designed for kids”.


    May 17, 2023 at 10:03 pm

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