Posted by: norstarnewengland | June 27, 2009

Waymarks and a Benchmark While at a Conference in Pittsburgh, PA

Over the last weekend in May (28-31), I attended a conference and annual meeting for the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA). The meeting portion was on Saturday. Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, however, there were tours available.

At the Smithfield Cafe, a diner type eating establishment not far from the hotel I was staying at, I read about my own conference in the Post-Gazette (how cool is that!). The newspaper article noted that the SIA has been here three times, and the last time was 35 years ago. A couple things about change noted in the newspaper:
“…and to take the measure of how the city has changed since then, check out the group’s 1974 itinerary:
-A tour of the open hearth furnaces of the South Side’s Jones & Laughlin steel mill. The mill closed in 1986.
-A tour of the Westinghouse Extra-High-Voltage Test Laboratory in Trafford. The lab closed in 1986.
-Lunch at Sarah’s Restaurant, serving Serbian and Eastern European food on the South Side for more than four decades. The restaurant closed in 1992.”
More:
“-In 1974 the Homestead Works was still operating, in ’93 it was shut down. And now, to drive through the lifestyle center, it’s a very complete and almost shocking transformation.”
-More changes: When society members visited the P&LE Terminal in 1974 Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation was still trying to figure out a use for it; now conference-goers can dine at the Grand Concourse, opened in 1978. In 1993, members toured the empty, former Chautauqua Lake Ice Co. warehouse, where there’s now much more to see at the Senator John Heinz History Center, opened in 1996.”

There was more evidence of Pittsburgh’s past. While biking the south shore path along the Monongahela River, there were displays of foundry machinery and historical plaques that were remains of the old steel industry that has pretty much disappeared from the city.

I was on two tours.

One on transit around Pittsburgh, which included a ride on a light rail trolley from the center of the city south, a tour of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, a tour of the facilities at Bombardier, and a ride up the Duquesne Railway Incline. All stops were super!

The other tour was a bike ride along the trails that make up the Three Rivers Heritage Trail which are along all three river segments: the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio. We stopped to admire the bridges, primarily, but our guide also commented on the industry and history at other locations, such as Fort Pitt, Herrs Island, and a former steel mill by the Hot Metal Bridge.

The weather was really good for the time I was there. Friday was cloudy but remained mostly rain free and broke out into glorious sun when I went up the incline. Saturday and Sunday were sunny most or all of the time. The temperatures were a very comfortable level of about 70-75 degrees.

When not on tour or at the conference, there was time, mostly either early in the morning or toward sunset to walk around downtown Pittsburgh.

Where I was at, there was plenty of opportunities to log visits to existing waymarks and posting new waymarks. I was able to visit one benchmark, but the others required some walking. Geocaches were scarce in the downtown region.

Benchmark:

http://www.geocaching.com/mark/details.aspx?PID=KX1466

Waymarking Posts (highlights):

Duquesne Railway Incline – What a great way to see the city of Pittsburgh! It is now privately run, and every trip goes to keeping this marvelous artifact going. This and the other incline, the Monongahela Railway Incline, are Mechanical Engineering Landmarks. But the view from here is spectacular, as well. I think a group of kids attending a prom were there at the time, as well.

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum was in Washington, PA. I had been there some 25 years ago. I remember being transported by trolley to the Washington County Fair. Well, they talked about how they do that, today. The guide was very knowledgeable and provided more information and stories than what were on display.

One of the treats while at the trolley museum was to ride on possibly the oldest operating diesel locomotive in the country. It was a short ride – maybe 100 feet each way, but it was great to be crowded in the cab listening to the grumble of the engine – the power plant since the 40s.

Greeting me both arriving at the airport for Pittsburgh and leaving out of the airport was this T. Rex dinosaur bones display between the escalators. It was sort of Jurassic Park meets Night at the Museum.

I simply love this set of sculptures of musicians jamming to the music. It gives a festive air to the area. Coincidentally, Liberty Avenue was closed at this block and a music event was being set up with tents and chairs and a stage. I could not attend it since the conference was happening that day. I think this event was part of a city wide event to kick off its summer concert series. There were fireworks at night (like 11:00!). I only learned about them when I was watching the weather point out the fireworks on background to his weather forecast. Then I heard the sounds of the explosions outside my window.\

And I won’t forget the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that I was on all day on Sunday. The trip was a blast from start to finish. One thing to note about trail maintenance was that part of the trail was closed west of Heinz Stadium. We had to take a detour onto streets. We stopped at a 7-11 to tank up, then went through residential and industrial areas to eventually rejoin the trail by the prison. We traveled back along the river but had to go back into the industrial area where the closed off area was encountered, again.

I left Pittsburgh with a deeper impression of its heritage and was thankful of how much of its old architecture has remained. I don’t think even Boston has that much!

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