Friday, August 14, 2015

The Golden Triangle

 click to enlarge   |
This 1859 map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania shows how the Allegheny River (at the top) joins the Monongahela River (on the bottom) to form the head of the Ohio River. This point was valued even in America's colonial days as strategic for both trade and military defense, and today it is often referred to as "The Golden Triangle."

Fort Pitt   |
When the French established Fort Duquesne on the triangular spit in 1754, the British sent troops led by 21-year-old Major George Washington to serve an ultimatum and retake the land. Washington was defeated by the French, as was General Edward Braddock, in 1755.

These were early battles of what became known as the French and Indian War (1754-1763), so called because Native Americans sided with the French.

The French eventually retreated from Fort Duquesne, burning it to the ground as they left. The English, led by General John Forbes, reclaimed the point and Forbes named the area around it "Pittsburgh," in honor of William Pitt the Elder, the Prime Minister.

Fort Pitt (shown above) was built between 1759-1761.
George Washington, who surveyed more of the United States than most Americans realize, surveyed much of the land in the vicinity of Fort Pitt with the aim of parceling it to French and Indian War veterans.

Pittsburgh Then and Now   |   Arthur G. Smith
Now, you would think that with a history like that, the Point — as it became known — would be prized and preserved. But that was not the case. By the mid-1800s, the area was an industrial site. The 1908 photograph above shows that there was a huge logging trade along the Monongahela, and that the heavy industry of the city was already establishing Pittsburgh as a notoriously smoggy, dirty place. In fact, well into the 1940s and 50s, Pittsburgh was so dark with smog that it was not unusual for streetlights to burn throughout the day, and for traffic police to wear masks.
This 1948 view shows railroad tracks leading to the Point and water in which one wouldn't want to swim.
Then in 1945, Pittsburgh elected Democratic Mayor David L. Lawrence, a remarkable man. Over the course of four consecutive terms, he forged alliances with Democrats, Republicans, bankers and industrialists, and through his own vision and determination created an urban renewal that the people of Pittsburgh called "The Renaissance." It took more than two decades of work, but today the Point looks as you see it below.

click to enlarge   |   shutterstock
My very first job was in "Gateway Center," and I looked out from a window where there's a red "X." By that time, Pittsburgh was working hard to clean its sources of pollution, though people who hadn't actually visited there still referred to it as "the Smokey City." Eventually Pittsburgh's steel industry died (the tallest building in this photograph is the U. S. Steel Tower), and Pittsburgh became a center for computer technology.

Today one can visit Point State Park and walk along inset granite markers that delineate the foundation of Fort Duquesne. Then at the very tip of the triangle is a basin with a 150-foot (46 m) fountain.
The interesting thing about that fountain is that it's fed by a fourth, subterranean river that runs approximately 54 feet below the city. Water is pumped up from the river, which is a remnant of ancient glacial flows.

click to enlarge  |  the course of the Ohio River  |

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
Three Rivers


  1. Fascinating Mark. It is so good to see a city work on turning itself into a beautiful place to live and visit.

    The Arts by Karena

    1. Hi, Karena,

      It took a long time for this turn-around, and I lived in Pittsburgh when it was still happening. There were times (in the 1960s) when I would see what appeared to be gorgeous red sunsets, but in actuality I was viewing steel mill pollution through the setting sun.

  2. Dear Mark - Seeing the smokey air filled photograph of Pittsburgh in 1908 and then recalling similar scenes in early images of our big cities brings home the fact that the root of our environmental problems today must have started more than 100 years ago.
    Pittsburgh now looks to be a clean and smart place - have all the iron and steel producing areas been rehabilitated now, or just the area where you worked?

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      The short answer to your question is that the steel industry never came back to Pittburgh proper, though it still has operations near Pittsburgh. It went through a major decline through the 1960s and 1970s, even as the Point was being rehabilitated.

      It declined for a number of reasons. When steel was first produced there in the 1800s, the raw materials of the industry — primarily iron ore and coal — were locally abundant. By the end of the 20th century, those materials had to be imported from other locations. Perhaps a greater factor, however, was that after World War II, the U. S. shared steel technology with other countries to help get them back on their feet, yet failed to upgrade their own (Pittsburgh) plants. Today other countries, including China, out-produce the United States in steel.

      Pittsburgh locations that I remember as steel plants are now office parks.

  3. Dear Mark, It is very interesting to read about your early work experience. Unless we see old photographs we don't realize how very polluted some of our large cities were. We have been forced to clean up our act, kicking and screaming along the way. It was all worth it.
    I have heard of the Golden Triangle but didn't know anything about it. Thank you for the post...learned another piece of America's history today.

    1. Dear Gina,

      The interesting thing about the clean-up in Pittsburgh is that initially the industries there — ALCOA Aluminum was also a presence — masked some pollution with chemicals, so though the air appeared clean, it really wasn't. While today it is truly a clean city, I remember pollution alerts through the 1970s that were part of the weather reports one would hear on the radio. Pregnant women and those with heart conditions were advised to stay indoors.

  4. I've heard that the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium is just gorgeous, Mark. You can view the bridge from the stadium. Pittsburgh, I think, is a testament to what can be done for and by a city if people with real vision and energy are in charge.

    1. Dear Yvette,

      I notice that Pittsburgh occasionally makes the lists of most liveable cities, and it has indeed become a beautiful place. It has a number of ethnic neighborhoods because all sorts of immigrants worked in the steel mills, and so even today it is quite a diverse city. I revisited in the 1980s and 90s and was heartened to see that many great old buildings were repurposed rather than torn down, and I think that's very healthy for urban areas. I compare that to my own town of St. Petersburg, Florida, which has a great need to tear down almost anything that has reached 40 years old.

  5. Hello Mark, People from rival city Cleveland are supposed to make snide remarks about Pittsburgh, but really their industrial histories are similar, and I have enjoyed all my visits to the Steel City. The Point has an interesting history, and you were lucky to have such a great view of it, and be a part of its revitalization.

    1. Hello, Jim,

      I enjoyed the culture of Pittsburgh very much, and of course the steel barons like Andrew Carnegie contributed a lot to that as well. I also went to college in Pittsburgh, so there are some sentimental ties there. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh had too many gray days for me, and I discovered only after I moved to the sunshine of Florida that my well-being must be sustained by more light than most people need. I think it's called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Anyway, I ended up working here for a newspaper that gave away free afternoon editions on any day the sun didn't show itself.

  6. My hometown too! I'm always happy to visit in the summer with friends and show them around as it's a good overnight trip distance from DC.

    1. Hi, Stefan,

      My parents retired about 80 miles south of D.C., and I'm guessing that I made the same trip as you, along the same route — many times.

  7. I lived in Avalon for 8 years, but never saw much of the downtown area - coming from the flatlands of Illinois, a triangular traffic pattern was pretty scary to me! Also, I was an avid 18th century reenactor at the time, so understood the history of the point long before I moved there. It was a thrill to go East on US 30, knowing that it was based on one of the two major "roads" built to reach Fort Duquesne by the British. Walking in history's footsteps a bit. I'm back in Illinois now to be near my son and grandson, but I miss so many things from Pittsburgh. I'm glad I was able to see so many things there!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Carol! I lived in Pittsburgh for eleven years, but I also lived in the Chicago area, in a suberb called Park Forest. I have fond memories of both cities, but ultimately opted for a warmer climate . . .