Filed Under: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By
Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By
20 Years Ago This Week: On Aug. 28, 1987 --- 20 years ago this week --- the last crew of employees punched out of USX's National Works, closing the door of what had once been the largest pipe-making mill in the world and which gave McKeesport its nickname, "The Tube City."
A few months later, the electric-resistance weld pipe mill, built in the early 1960s in McKeesport's First Ward, reopened under the management of a separate company, Camp-Hill Corp.
But the old "piercing" and rolling seamless pipe mills that had employed thousands would be dismantled and most of the buildings torn down.
To mark this occasion, I went into the dusty, musty archives and pulled out five interviews I conducted in 1997 for the Daily News on the 10th anniversary of National Plant's closing. These "National Works Memories" are now posted in the "Steel Heritage" section of Tube City Online.
And if you haven't already, be sure to explore the section of Pitt's "Labor Legacy" website devoted to National-Duquesne Works information.
. . .
Right Church, Wrong Pew: State Rep. Bill Kortz is mad as hell about the disgraceful condition of the W.D. Mansfield Memorial Bridge, according to Raymond Pefferman and David Whipkey in last night's News. (No story online, unfortunately.)
At a hearing Wednesday before the state Transportation Commission, the freshman Democrat legislator from Dravosburg called the rusty superstructure of the bridge spanning the Monongahela "disgusting" and said the crumbling sidewalks and concrete deck are posing a safety hazard to pedestrians and motorists.
The bridge is the main western entrance to McKeesport for motorists driving to the city from Pittsburgh, West Mifflin and Allegheny County Airport.
Unfortunately, the bridge isn't maintained by PennDOT. It's a county bridge. And Allegheny County wants to rehabilitate the Rankin Bridge first. (Someone make sure to tell PittGirl.)
They've been working their way up the Mon, repairing the Glenwood Bridge in 2000 and 2001, and the Homestead Grays (nee High-Level Bridge) last year and this year.
Nobody asked the Almanac, but just running the darned street sweeper across the Mansfield Bridge and especially the approach ramps would do wonders for the entire area. The loose dirt, gravel and debris on the McKeesport end of the span hasn't been cleaned in ... well, forever, I sometimes think.
. . .
To Do This Weekend: Are you ready for some football? Woodland Hills inaugurates the newly renovated Wolvarena in Turtle Creek tonight when it takes on Mt. Lebanon at 7 p.m. I can safely predict the joint will be rocking.
Elsewhere around the district ... your McKeesport Tigers are traveling to North Hills High School. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Serra Catholic opens its season tonight at home against North Catholic; kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
Other local home games include (all kickoffs 7:30 p.m.):
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By
Briefly Noted: Pop City profiles Book Country Clearing House, the remaindered-book wholesaler located on Walnut Street in Christy Park at the old Potter-McCune Co. warehouse. (The Almanac last wrote about Book Country back in September 2004.)
According to John Altdorfer's feature, Book Country now has almost 100 employees and has grown by "nearly 100 percent" every year since being purchased by Richard and Sandy Roberts.
(Tube City hard-hat tip: Several alert readers.)
Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By
The continuing population decline of Western Pennsylvania and the nationwide shortage of Roman Catholic priests claimed three more victims in the Mon-Yough area this week.
On Sunday, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced that nine church buildings would permanently close, including St. Peter's on Market Street and Sacred Heart on Shaw Avenue in the city, and St. Paulinus in Clairton.
Although Sunday Masses were no longer being celebrated at the buildings, they were still in use for weekday Masses and on special occasions.
St. Peter's and Sacred Heart, along with St. Mary's German on Olive Street, became part of St. Martin de Porres Parish in 1993, while St. Paulinus had merged with St. Joseph Church to become St. Clare of Assisi Parish in 1994. St. Mary's German has since been demolished; new houses have been erected on part of the old parish grounds.
. . .
Among the Oldest Catholic Churches: Of the three churches, St. Peter's is by far the most historic. The Diocese of Pittsburgh's website claims that St. Peter's was founded in 1846.
But according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Peter's predates the Diocese of Pittsburgh itself. According to the Encyclopedia, St. Peter's was one of seven Catholic churches in Allegheny County that were taken over by the new diocese at its creation in 1843. The first pastor, Father A.P. Gibbs, split his time between St. Peter's and three other parishes in Wexford, Pine Creek and Crafton.
Three years later, Catholics in McKeesport (mostly German immigrants) purchased the plot of land at the corner of Seventh and Market streets to erect the first permanent sanctuary. The first permanent pastor was Father Nicholas Haeres. No matter what you consider St. Peter's official founding date, it's clearly one of the oldest Catholic churches west of the Alleghenies, and possibly among the first 100 in the United States.
The present church, which would do many smaller dioceses proud as a cathedral, was built between 1873 and 1875. (When it was dedicated on Sept. 12, 1875, one of the local Swedish newspapers commented sarcastically that the building was dedicated with "all the pomp that catholics are capable of.") Though a little bit worn now, it remains majestic.
. . .
Mother Church: Many if not all of the Catholic parishes surrounding McKeesport that were founded before 1900 started as "mission churches" or "daughter parishes" of St. Peter's. St. Peter's also was the site of the city's first Catholic high school until its students were absorbed into the new Serra High School in 1963.
Sacred Heart, an ethnic Croatian church, was founded in 1906 and the first permanent sanctuary was on Jenny Lind Street, in a former Swedish Baptist church. When Sacred Heart School opened in 1928, the church moved its sanctuary to the third floor and sold the old building to the Greek Orthodox Church. The present Sacred Heart building was constructed in 1955.
St. Paulinus was founded in 1923 in Clairton's Wilson neighborhood (the independent Borough of Wilson until 1921), and the first Masses were celebrated in the old Wilson Municipal Building or the Walnut Street School. The church was built during the Depression by laid-off mill workers using salvaged stones, bricks and lumber.
. . .
Reusing St. Peter's?: Two years ago, the Christian Science Monitor reported on a number of possible uses for old church buildings, including housing.
Unless some Protestant or other congregation purchases Sacred Heart and St. Paulinus, I fear the future of those church buildings will be grim. They're destined to sit empty for years or even a decade until they're torn down or purchased as a "development opportunity" like St. Stephen's Magyar Church, which I wrote about in July.
Because of its history, I hope St. Peter's can escape that fate. It's within one block of the marina and Gergely Riverfront Park, a few blocks from the Palisades, and visible throughout Downtown. There's ample parking nearby, and the historic building would make an ideal performance space for the McKeesport Symphony and other groups; it would also be a wonderful place for a banquet hall, a meeting facility, or a restaurant like the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh.
I think the need could be demonstrated. Other than the auditorium at McKeesport Senior High School, the city lacks a large indoor performance space (the Palisades is a nice dance hall, but the acoustics leave a lot to be desired) and there also aren't many dining options within easy distance of the marina.
So, do you know someone who's looking to start a business? Would they rather be in some pre-fab building with no character, or a building that's more than 125 years old?
Tell them to take a chance. Call the Diocese of Pittsburgh at (412) 456-3000.
. . .
In Other Business: The new school year for former Duquesne High School students started without a hitch at East Allegheny and West Mifflin, according to Tim Puko in the Tribune-Review.
One mom says her son seems to be happier at his new school. "Duquesne just made him miserable," she said.
Will there be problems in the future? Sure. But there will always be problems; let's allow the students and faculty to solve those without finger-pointing and micro-management.
So, despite the best efforts of shameless politicians and a few hysterical parents, everyone got along. The "kids are all right," and the teachers are too.
Thank God for common sense and simple human decency. Personally, I'll take it wherever I can find it.
Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By
I know what you're thinking, but lung cancer didn't get Jack Webb. He had a heart attack.
In lieu of real content this Monday morning, here's some more alleged humor from my alleged radio shows. It's a large file (3.3 MB) so be patient.
Feel free to light a Chesterfield while you wait.
The WRCT Crime and Incident Report (8/19/2007)
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By
The current debate over our trade imbalance with China, and news stories about lax quality control in Chinese factories, came home this month.
My two pairs of Florsheim shoes, each about one year old, fell apart in the same week.
Like most American men, I suspect, I only have a few pairs of shoes. For work I have --- well, I had --- the brown shoes and the black shoes. I've been buying Florsheims since high school, first at Rubinstein's on Fifth Avenue, and then via the Internet after Rubinstein's closed.
Florsheims used to be American-made, and then they were made in South America. The last two pair were made in China.
In the past, I always wore the soles out --- in fact, one pair was resoled twice. But I never had Florsheims split apart along the upper until I got these latest, Chinese-made shoes. The talented Anthony Macchiaroli at Valley Shoe Repair in North Versailles says they're unsalvageable.
So, to quote "South Park": "You go to hell, Florsheim! You go to hell and you die!"
. . .
Where could I get a good pair of American-made shoes (actually, two) at a price I could afford?
My preference is to buy locally, but finding a locally-owned shoe store in the Mon-Yough area isn't easy. Gordon's Shoes at the Homestead Waterfront is about the last option. There's also Ponsi Shoes in North Huntingdon, but they sell mostly orthopedics, and while I may act like I'm ready for the nursing home, I'm not quite there yet.
The next step was to find a shoe company still manufacturing in the United States. It's not easy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 98 percent of the shoes sold in this country last year were imported, mostly from you-know-where.
A website called U.S. Stuff helped, but it's not being updated very often, and unfortunately most of the updates are of this nature: "out of business ... closed the factory July 2005 ... closed its only US operation ... now importing all shoes ... all made outside USA."
. . .
Naturally, the companies' websites try to hide where their plants are located. Plenty stress "American style" or "American tradition" or "American craftsmanship" or talk about how their founder opened his first shoe factory in Maine or Michigan or Minnesota in 1898.
They don't brag about the fact that they laid off 1,400 workers a few years ago or shipped all of the machinery to China.
To learn which companies still made shoes here, I looked for articles in newspapers; doing Google searches for "(company name)" + "shoes" + "factory" + "closed" was, sadly, very helpful.
. . .
Price and value are important. One company that makes almost all of its shoes in the United States is Allen Edmonds. They also make an excellent product. But you pay for that quality, and I can't afford shoes that cost $300 per pair. I needed something in the Florsheim price range of $100 to $150.
I also didn't want horribly ugly shoes. I found a lot of steel-toed work shoes and boots made in the United States, but I wasn't about to clomp around all day like Herman Munster.
. . .
Well, believe it or not, I found one pair of shoes not only made in America, but made in Pennsylvania, and only about two hours away. The Cove Shoe Company of Martinsburg, Blair County, makes private-label dress shoes as well as Corcoran and Matterhorn boots. I ordered a pair of black dress Oxfords from them.
Cost? $120, or about what I paid for the last pair of Florsheims.
Cove's products are aimed at the military, police officers, postal workers, and other public employees who have to buy American-made shoes, so the pair I just got will win no awards for cutting-edge style. But they're handsome, fit well, have a thick, Vibram sole, and feel really sturdy.
And after a day or two to break them in, they are comfortable. (They have to be ... cops and postal workers are on their feet all day.) Places that sell uniforms might have them; I ordered mine through a website called Shoeline.com.
Shoeline.com is owned by H.H. Brown Shoe Co., which is controlled by Warren Buffett. If you search on the keyword "USA," you'll find all of the items they carry that are made in the United States.
That led me to another of Buffett's companies that's still making shoes in the United States, Dexter Shoe Co. Many Dexter shoes are sourced from overseas, but some are still American-made; so I ordered a spiffy pair of American-made brown dress shoes from them.
. . .
If you need shoes and want to buy American, first, rots of ruck, and second, I hope this information helps you.
One thing frosts me, though. Cove Shoe can make a comfortable, solid, good-looking product right here in Pennsylvania, and sell it at a competitive price.
That tells me that Wal-Mart, Target, DSW, Payless, etc., could stock American-made shoes --- and other products --- if they wanted to.
They'd rather lower their manufacturing costs and their quality, and keep the money they save rather than pass it along to consumers. Because the prices of, say, Florsheim shoes haven't dropped in the last 10 years. In fact, they've gone up significantly.
Where does the excess money go?
Did you say "executive compensation"? Shoe better believe it.
. . .
To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., holds auditions for "Over the River and Through the Woods" from Sunday and Monday night. Men and women ages 25 to 35 and 55 to 75 are needed. Call (412) 673-1100 ... Resurrection Church, 3909 Donna Ave., West Mifflin, holds a chicken parmigiana dinner and bake sale from 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 461-8087.
Category: Good Government On The March, Politics || By
I have a friend who works at a group home for the severely mentally ill. They're mostly former patients of Western Center, the state-run psychiatric hospital in Cecil Township that closed for good in 2000. For reasons you can guess, I'm not going to identify this person in any way.
My friend has been after me for sometime to write an "expose" on the private health-care company that runs the group home. I try to tell my friend that if no one wants to go on the record or cooperate, an expose becomes difficult if not impossible. And any sources who would cooperate could face legal repercussions.
Nevertheless, I've heard some stories that would curl my hair, if I had any left. The patients in my friend's group home are not functional adults who can participate in meaningful, mainstream activities. They have extreme emotional and developmental problems.
So when the state announced it plans to close Mayview State Hospital, I emailed my friend. "What do you think?" I said.
"Oh, (expletive), they'll be sending them down here," my friend replied. "I'll probably end up with Richard Baumhammers." Well, no. Baumhammers, a former lawyer who went on a racism-fueled shooting rampage in 2000, was eventually ruled competent to stand trial and is now on death row.
. . .
But Baumhammers was marginally successful at navigating society, at least until his internal demons drove him to a deadly burst of violence. My tongue is only partly in my cheek when I say someone like Baumhammers would be an improvement over the patients in my friend's group home:
Category: Good Government On The March, History, Politics || By
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y
The state Department of Transportation has released its list of "structurally-deficient" bridges, and if you live in the Elizabeth-Forward School District, you might want to make sure your life insurance is paid up. By my count, a total of 30 bridges in Elizabeth Borough and Elizabeth and Forward townships are ranked "structurally deficient."
OK, I'm exaggerating the danger. PennDOT is quick to say that bridges deemed "structurally deficit" are safe, but need "costly repairs" to come up to modern-day standards. I'm interpreting that to mean that the bridge might not be falling apart --- it might just be too narrow or rated for smaller loads than modern traffic requires.
Still, the list is fairly sobering. Besides the EF bridges, 20 are "structurally deficient" in neighboring Rostraver, and 10 in North Huntingdon.
Five of North Huntingdon's "structurally deficient bridges" are along Route 993 near Ardara and Larimer.
I regularly drive Route 993 and Route 136, which has five "structurally deficient" spans in Westmoreland and several in central Washington County. So I'm not too surprised to hear that the bridges on those highways are narrow or otherwise in poor condition.
But secondary highways like 993 are hardly major arteries. It's more disturbing to read that nine bridges on the Parkway East are rated "structurally deficient," including the bridges that cross Old William Penn Highway and Haymaker Road.
Or that seven bridges on Interstate 70 near New Stanton and Belle Vernon are "structurally deficient."
In general, the PennDOT chart is a little bit confusing, because it doesn't list the common names for roads --- just the state's four-digit highway numbers. If I get any time this weekend, I'll try and identify some of the offenders, but here are the raw numbers, as best as my calculations allow.
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y
(Editor's note: As a public service to the thousands of people who will be attending International Village today, tomorrow and Thursday, as well as the tens of dozens who read the Almanac, we are reprinting last year's handy guide to attending the area's premier food and music festival. It's been updated slightly. Feel free to clip and save it, or if you can't clip things from the screen, just carry your computer with you.
You may also enjoy this 1972 look at the Village, reprinted from Ford Times.)
. . .
Every year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians descend on Our Fair City's Renziehausen Park for the ethnic food, dancing, food, music and food festival known as "International Village." Though other communities have imitated it (and I'm looking at you, Picksberg), they have not been able to duplicate the experience.
For months ahead of time, churches, ethnic clubs and other associations prepare foods and crafts for sale, while performance groups prepare traditional costumes and practice folk songs and dances.
Did I mention food? I did? Good.
Well, that time is here again! Today, tomorrow and Thursday, the balalaikas, tamburas and bass guitars will be plunking, the dancers will be twirling, and thousands of Westinghouse electric roasters have emerged from pantries and basements and been pressed into service to keep pierogies, pirohis, perogis, pirozhkis and pirogies warm. Some people will even be making piroghies.
In the past, International Village was mostly made up of those "nations" that stretched from, oh, say, Dublin to Minsk, and south to Palermo. But over the years, as different ethnic groups have settled in Western Pennsylvania, more and more traditions of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are being represented at the "Village." For those of us who enjoy eating sweet and sour pork, cheese ravioli and halushki while listening to Slovenian music, this is a definite plus.
Lifelong residents of the Mon-Yough area know that the Village represents a great time and a chance to get in touch with your ethnic roots. But for those Almanac visitors who aren't in WEDO's coverage area, here's an insider's guide to International Village, telling you the kinds of things that you don't get in the free souvenir program.
. . .
International Village is held at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport's Renziehausen Park for three days every August.
Contrary to popular belief, you can reach McKeesport quickly and easily, and we do have paved roads. Renzie Park is particularly easy to get to --- from Westmoreland County, take Route 30 west to Route 48 south. Take Route 48 south to Route 148 north. Follow Route 148 north about three blocks to Eden Park Boulevard.
From Pittsburgh, you may take the Parkway East to Forest Hills, then take Route 30 east to East McKeesport. Turn right onto Route 148 south and follow Route 148 to Hartman Street, then turn left.
Unlike what you may have seen reported on the Pittsburgh TV news, we are largely friendly and harmless, and we do have such conveniences as electricity, telephones and indoor toilets. No Starbucks yet, but we're hopeful. (We'll probably get one just as that trend finally dies.)
. . .
Parking is at a premium during International Village. Some of the local churches offer paid parking in their lots, but any free parking near Stephen Barry Field tends to fill up quickly.
Luckily, Renzie Park is a large, regional park, so there are spaces available, but they're not necessarily adjacent to Stephen Barry Field. If you can walk, simply plan to wear comfortable shoes, and give yourself plenty of time. You will enjoy the stroll. Renzie is lovely on a summer evening.
If you are elderly or disabled, I hope you can find a space close to the entrances.
But if you're able-bodied, and you insist on circling the parking lots near the tennis courts endlessly for hours hoping that a space opens up, I reserve the right to mock your wardrobe, grooming and parentage.
. . .
In a related matter, have some common courtesy --- for crying out loud, don't park on the end of the aisle and block other people in. Your legs aren't broken. But maybe they should be. At the very least, someone should steal your hubcaps.
Also, there is no valet parking at International Village. I don't know who you gave the car keys to, but I sure hope you have a bus schedule handy.
. . .
Other Activities: McKeesport Heritage Center, located on Arboretum Drive, will have special extended hours during International Village. If you haven't purchased a copy of Images of America: McKeesport, this is an ideal time to do so.
The Heritage Center also has copies of a recent documentary on the life of pioneer aviator Helen Richey and other memorabilia on sale, as well as exhibits documenting life around the Mon-Yough area and McKeesport's first school house. It's well worth a visit, and I say that not just because the Center supplied about 30 of the photos for the upcoming Murphy book.
Also, the Renzie Park Arboretum, which is surprisingly also located on Arboretum Drive, is open until sunset. It's one of only about 100 nationally recognized rose gardens in the United States, so take a break from the Village and stop to smell the roses. (Rimshot.)
. . .
Do: Wear your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," "Treat Me, I'm Dutch," "Proud to Be Italian," etc., T-shirt.
Don't: Tell Polish jokes, or say something like, "Wow! Look at all the hunkies!" And speaking in an exaggerated, "Mamma-mia! That's-a speecy-spicy meatsaballa!" accent around the Italian booth is considered bad form.
. . .
If you are over the age of 10, and are eating hot dogs at the "American" booth, you should be ashamed of yourself. You probably think burritos heated in the microwave at Uni-Mart are "authentic Mexican cuisine."
. . .
The food prices at the Village are set by the individual groups doing the vending. You may find $5 for a kolbassi sandwich too much to pay, and decide to eat somewhere else. That is your prerogative.
But for some of the groups exhibiting at International Village, this is the one big fundraising event they have each year. They will no doubt invest the profits from your $5 kolbassi sandwich into silly, frivolous extras like the water bill, the gas bill, the light bill, and educational and cultural programs.
Choose instead to stop for a 99-cent "extra value" cheeseburger on the way home, and contemplate all of the ethnic and social programs the Wendy's Corporation has funded in your community over the last year. I hope the mustard and pickles cover up the taste of regret, you cheapskate.
Or, buy something at the Village to eat. It's your choice. There's no pressure.
. . .
Admission: There is a small admission charge to enter International Village. For a long time, it was 50 cents, and before that, it was free. It's $2 this year.
There are still people who think it should be free, and mark the city's "decline" to the year that they started charging people four bits to walk around International Village. Many of these people are also still upset that CBS cancelled "Ed Sullivan."
If you're one of the people, I'm wondering how you made it onto the Internet to read the Almanac, so please write to me.
A postcard to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134 is acceptable. Feel free to steam a stamp off of a Christmas card, or just send Bob Cratchit over to deliver it.
Category: History || By jt3y
A McKeesport councilman was once denounced in The New York Times and on the floor of the United States Congress as a "tin-plated liar" for arguing that American workers could produce tin-plated steel as good as that imported from Europe.
Indirectly, he helped to elect William McKinley to the presidency in 1896.
You probably didn't know that, did you? Neither did I until a few weeks ago.
And you may know that the part of McKeesport and North Versailles Township that's under the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge is known as "Demmler." In fact, the CSX Railroad facility there is still called "Demmler Yard."
But do you know who Demmler is named after? I didn't, either, until recently.
Read all about the growing pains of the Mon Valley's steel industry in "The 'Tinplate Liar' of McKeesport." It's the latest article in Tube City Online's new "Steel Heritage" section.