Tube City Almanac

February 23, 2011

Remembering 'Wood's Works'

Category: History || By

Click to embiggen

Though almost all McKeesporters realize that the city was once home to U.S. Steel's massive National Works, many have probably forgotten or never even knew about its most important predecessor, known to old-timers as "Wood's Works."

W. Dewees Wood traveled from Philadelphia to McKeesport in 1851, bringing with him a patented process for "planishing" iron --- a method of hammering and polishing iron to make it flexible and shiny. "Planished" iron resisted heat and rust and was much in demand for use on locomotive boilers, roofing materials, and for stoves and stove pipes.

The mill, which was eventually absorbed into U.S. Steel and was modernized to produce stainless and chromium steel, closed in 1954. It was demolished to allow the expansion of National Works.

But Wood was here first --- more than 20 years before National Tube Works Co. was founded by a group of Boston, Mass., investors, and before even the railroad arrived in McKeesport.

Just added to Tube City Online's "Steel Heritage" section is a circa 1948-49 brochure about "Wood's Works" that you can download. The cover includes three photos of Downtown that I've tried to stitch together into one continuous view.

You can click that photo to enlarge it, but here are a few things I found particularly interesting. (Apologies for the watermarks on the enlarged image, but lots of things from Tube City Online seem to be turning up on other people's websites, without so much as a link back here.)

. . .

Tech High: That "white castle on the hill" is McKeesport Technical High School, which was built in 1916 and later converted into Cornell Intermediate School. In 1948-49, vocational students still attended "the Voc," now Founder's Hall Middle School, at the corner of O'Neil and Eden Park boulevards.

Besides "Tech High," the castle property was also then home to the McKeesport School District's football field. The school was demolished last year and will be replaced by a new building.

. . .

Tube City Beer and McKeesport Tin Plate: Although the Wood Works brochure isn't dated, I can make a reasonable guess at the time period from the fact that Tube City Brewing Company still seems to be operating --- or at least smoke appears to be coming from its smokestack. The brewery closed in 1952.

In the background, the stacks of the old McKeesport Tin Plate Co. are visible. Located in Port Vue, the plant was then part of Jones & Laughlin Steel. J&L in turn would sell the plant to Kelsey-Hayes for the manufacture of automobile wheels. Today, it's ELG Metals.

. . .

First National Bank: That's the First National Bank of McKeesport at the corner of Walnut and Fifth, with a streamlined Pittsburgh Railways streetcar in front of it. The bank was modernized a few years later, which resulted in the loss of its elaborate columns and capstones. Eventually, it became Western Pennsylvania National Bank and later still, part of Equibank. The building is currently vacant.

Not visible is the H.L. Green Co. store that was a longtime landmark just across Fifth Avenue from the bank. It was built in 1949, which is another clue that this photo was taken sometime after World War II, but before 1950.

You can download the history of the Wood Works by clicking here.

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In the enlarged pic of the bank, is that not the old P&LE RR station in the foreground? When did that disappear?
ebnut - February 25, 2011

Pittsburgh Railways acquired their streamlined PCCs after 1936 so this photo would have to be after that date.
Bill - February 26, 2011

Neat story/photos Jason….Thanks!
Dave - February 28, 2011

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