The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Timberland Avenue

with 5 comments


– photo by Mitch Waxman

Between 1970 and 1990, Pittsburgh lost 158,000 manufacturing jobs. That resulted in its population decline, which saw some 289,000 people move to greener pastures during the same interval. If you’re a wonk, and want to read graphs and a well thought out report on the demographic collapse of this area, check out this 2003 Carnegie Mellon Heinz School report on the situation. Observationally, and according to everything I’ve read on the subject, Pittsburgh has a lot of abandoned houses.

According to this article at, Allegheny County alone has over 51,000 abandoned or blighted homes. Many solutions have been tried, including the Community Land Bank concept which my friends back in Queens and Brooklyn were very enthusiastic about. This is how that sort of scheme worked out here, unfortunately.

Combating “Blight” is a major budgetary spend for the municipal entities hereabouts. There’s all sorts of tales that are told about why somebody would abandon a property, but there are parts of Pittsburgh where every third or fourth house is abandoned. When you start getting out into the more rural areas, it’s common to see homes being overgrown by and reclaimed by the forests.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something very similar occurred in the 1970’s version of NYC I grew up in, when former industrial properties were being fenced off or abandoned, and the dormitory tenements which provided these businesses with staff began turning into crap holes and eventually got abandoned or burned out. Remember the South Bronx of the late 1970’s, both the South and North of Brooklyn, as well as the East River coast of Queens during the 1980’s. This is before the Gentrification Industrial Complex got started during the third term of Mayor Ed Koch (it all started over in Hells Kitchen and the Upper West Side, then the contagion spread to Brooklyn and Queens).

I always had the Millennials and Zennials who had recently arrived in NYC tell me that I had seen too many movies when I would describe packs of wild dogs roaming about the empty brick lots of 1980’s Williamsburg. I was there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These abandoned houses are divided from the surrounding area by Saw Mill Run, a tiny waterway discussed in yesterday’s post and which is pictured above and connected to other roads by a now closed bridge. The water looks fairly impure to me, and there’s lots of dumping that takes place along its banks – observationally.

As always, these photos always appear at Flickr before they get the write up here, and a Flickr commenter by the name of Lucien Van Elsen left me this great bit of research on what happened to these particular houses. As it turns out, they’re quite recently abandoned.

Here’s Lucien’s commentary, unedited.

“So, I wondered what the history was here… how did they get from someone’s house to this state? Going backwards…

Pittsburgh wanted to close the Timberland avenue bridge, since it only served these few houses. They were going to take it via eminent domain in 2020, but instead paid $70k for them, and left them in this abandoned state instead of knocking them down. Details in…

The houses were originally built around WWI, when the access was a wooden bridge:

You can see some of these houses just after they were built, with well-dressed gentlemen crossing the bridge:…

A good writeup on the backstory:

Back next week with more from the Paris of Appalachia, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 7, 2023 at 1:00 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Very interesting.
    I remember when you wrote about very old homes dotted amongst industry in Queens ( if I remember correctly). I have , on and off, looked for it to read again but can’t locate it. I’ve lost track of the timing but it was probably pre-covid.

    Jaye Haviland

    April 7, 2023 at 5:18 pm

    • That would be posts associated with Blissville, West Maspeth, and Berlin or Berlinville. The ‘zone’ just east of the K Bridge.

      Mitch Waxman

      April 7, 2023 at 6:15 pm

  2. I noticed the Forsythia blooming, a bright note in an otherwise dark landscape.

    Jaye Haviland

    April 7, 2023 at 5:24 pm

  3. These types of little bits of development remind me of the material washed up during an exceptionally high tide: remnants that were misplaced from the get-go. Unfortunate city did not/could not allocate the extra $ to demolish the buildings and let it return to a wooded hillside.

    PS As someone who once lived in LIC and then Greenpoint in the 1980s, I second your observations. I also suspect none of those immigrants could likely imagine a steam locomotive just left there, either, or the Greenpoint Ave. auto disposal area aka pushing your car into the East River. Did I mention crime?

    PPS Appreciate your thoughtful explorations of your new domiciliary area.


    April 8, 2023 at 10:06 am

  4. Very interesting.


    April 9, 2023 at 9:42 pm

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