The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Hot Metal, 3 Rivers Heritage Trail

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The path which the Monongahela River enjoys is somewhat serpentine in nature, prior to the waterway’s juncture with the Allegheny River, where they mutually become the Ohio River nearby Downtown Pittsburgh. Last week, I drove the Mobile Oppression Platform (the Toyota) over to a neighborhood called the Southside Flats and parked in a lot associated with a park and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. The MOP was left directly beneath the Birmingham Bridge, pictured above.

It’s a young bridge for this section of the world, having been opened for business in 1977. It’s another bowstring arch bridge, not unlike the Fort Penn bridge discussed last week. The fact that it’s not painted yellow indicates that it’s a state – rather than a city – bridge. My plan for the afternoon was pretty simple – I’d walk eastwards along the trail, cross the river and then walk westwards, whereupon I’d circle back to the MOP. It was overcast in Pittsburgh, with roiling clouds bolting around up in the vault, and the temperatures were comfortable and in the mid 50’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is another one of the sections of Pittsburgh where there used to be a steel mill, I’m told. The trail itself follows active freight rail tracks on the south side of the river. In tomorrow’s post, the north side of the scene will be explored, but for the first half of my walk it was all about the south side and getting to where my crossing would be found.

There’s gigantic infrastructural elements available for inspection and appreciation along the way – storm sewers, enormous concrete and iron retaining walls that keep the slopes of sedimentary soil deposits from sliding into the river. One section had steel plates holding up a wall of soils, with the steel plates bolted into place with giant lug nuts that were the size of dinner plates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the 1887 vintage Hot Metal Bridge. During the Second World War, 15% of American steel production would travel over it on the rails. In 2000 AD, it was converted over to vehicle and pedestrian/bike usage. Its “official” name is the “Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge and Hot Metal Bridge.” On the path approaching it, there’s historic signage which describes the steel industry and the railroads which served it.

There’s post industrial development everywhere you look in this zone, and a few large corporate anchors are located nearby, including the clothing company American Eagle Outfitters.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Hot Metal Bridge’s pedestrian path, which is completely separated from the vehicular lanes, and heading north – that’s where this shot was gathered. I didn’t have any particular goal for the afternoon other than kicking my feet about and getting some exercise, but I was able to piece together a mental map of where I was scuttling based around prior explorations – which I’ve described here – of the Monongahela Valley. Locally, it’s referred to as the Mon Valley by the politicians, but when they say that it’s usually in reference to the still quite industrial areas to the east like Clairton and Braddock.

There were just a few other people on the bridge. A bike rider or three, joggers, one or two other pedestrians. No dogs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This one looks back towards the south side of the river across the Hot Metal Bridge. My original plan was to circle back to the south side and the MOP using the Birmingham Bridge… but more on that tomorrow.

The north side has quite a different circumstance than the south does, with high speed roads like I-579 riding on elevated structures and an industrial and commercial zone. When you get to the north side, the Three Rivers Heritage trail is renamed as the Eliza trail to commemorate the J&L Steel mill which was located here. This bridge is also part of the Great Allegheny Passage trail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the north side, I turned westwards. The neighborhoods around this intersectional area are Oakland and the Hill District. The terrain here is difficult due to its verticality, and I can tell you that it’s a real challenge to climb these hills on foot. Luckily, the path I was walking on was graded for rail, meaning one foot of elevation for every hundred feet horizontally.

Tomorrow, I find myself walking through the sort of place which most would logically go looking for my corpse, if I’d gone missing.

“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

February 14, 2023 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. Wayne Cole, a local (Beaver County) author, has an excellent line of books called “Ghost Rails”. Volume XV Monongahela Connecting Railroad contains history of the bridge and the J&L Steel works on either side of the river in this area.

    Jon H

    February 16, 2023 at 8:18 am

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