blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Discovering Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh lies in the hilly woodland at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monogahela Rivers, the starting point of the great Ohio River. The Ohio, in turn, becomes the Mississipi as it continues beyond Cairo, Illinois, so in principle you could sail from Pittsburgh to Mexico.

In the 1750s the Marquis du Quesne / Duquesne, Governor General of New France, sent an expeditionary troop from the north to establish a military base on the spit of land where the rivers meet, claiming the surrounding territory for France. A world war between the French, the British and other nations was taking place in those days, a quest for Empire and supremacy; three years later, Fort Duquesne was destroyed by a British troop arriving from the east, who built Fort Pitt in its place. George Washington, at that time a Major in the British army, was involved in the skirmishes.

On Wednesday morning I stood above the fountain in the Point State Park where these forts used to be.

The native tribes also played a major role in the fighting, on both sides, for although their traditional culture was the antithesis of land ownership, they needed to make alliances with the Europeans for practical purposes. In the 1760s the natives tried to drive out the incomers and laid siege to the fort, but failed to capture it. Captain Ecuyer, the commander of Fort Pitt, gave two Lenape (Delaware) envoys blankets that had been exposed to smallpox, with famously devastating consequences. Then later, in the 1770s, the "colonists", British settlers from Virginia, took over Fort Pitt in their turn.

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, peopled by English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and German settlers and their descendants, Pittsburgh became industrial, building boats and manufacturing iron and then steel, brass, tin and glass products. Coal was mined nearby. Important railroads ran through it and still do. We saw an extremely long train of coal trucks pass us by, rattling up the Allegheny valley, on Wednesday evening. The passenger trains are all but gone, though.

On Wednesday morning, I caught the 91 bus from our Comfort Inn and Suites all the way to its furthest stop downtown, getting out on Liberty Avenue. It only cost $2.75. A bus ride is a good way to learn about a city and its outskirts. Leaving the RIDC park behind (along Alpha Drive, Beta Drive, Gamma Drive, etc.), the bus rattled me down Freeport Road past the Waterworks Plaza and the old Pinwall Pumping Station itself, built in the days when water treatment plants were palaces. Opposite is a hospital and then you're in pretty and prosperous Aspinwall. Still only three passengers on the bus. Beyond the Highland Park Bridge the smaller houses have clapboard sides and here more people got on. Unlike Aspinwall, which has little shops like the Nota Bene Fine Paper Boutique, Sharpsville (built around James Sharp Landing on the Allgheny River) is the sort of district where people use rolls of dollar store wrapping paper in place of window curtains. Thence across the river on the R D Fleming Bridge, the one I'd crossed by mistake on my way back from the zoo the day before. From the bridge I got a view of the distant skyscrapers. Onto Butler Street for a long ride through Lawrenceville and other suburbs, past an extensive park-like cemetery. Again, the area became more gentrified, with cherry trees along the sidewalks and artistic graffiti. Dark brown cliffs loomed above us. Butler Street turned into Penn Street, lined with red brick buildings and a long series of warehouses, one large building labelled Ironworkers Union. The road surface was terrible. We passed a Mother's Milk Bank, a Blumengarten (sic) and a sign that said German Motorwerks. Now we were on Liberty Avenue, "Entering Strip District" where a former PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad) station stood. Finally the bus announced that we were "Entering Downtown" at which point I had to pay attention and request my stop.

Then I walked and walked, first up and down the streets, finding at 9th Street the series of bridges over the Allegheny and seeing Pittsburgh Pirates' stadium on the "North Shore" across the river, then further, under flyovers busy with traffic and through a tunnel to the Point State Park and its fountain, marvelling at the trees in blossom there. This must be the very best time of year to visit this city. Having admired the meeting of the waters, I returned to the city streets for a bite of lunch with office workers then crossed the grid of streets to the footpath over the Smithfield Street Bridge, my plan being to ride the Monongahela Incline, the funicular cog rails, up the cliff to "Mount Washington" at the top, 400ft above the city. I got into the cable car with a Chilean family, also tourists. Seniors ride for free and are supposed to show their Medicare cards for ID, but the kind man at the top let that go. I then walked another mile along the cliff top, along Grandview Avenue, although the buildings on my right rather obscured the Grand View, except at the lookout points. All the same I got some good photos. The view from the Duquesne (pronounced Doo-Kane) Incline coming down, was even more splendid, the Ohio flowing away to the southwest, although the ticket lady at the bottom was not lenient enough to grant me a senior's free ride because I failed to show her a Medicare card. My Canadian ID was not valid as a substitute. Anyhow, from there I could see that there was a footpath (part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail) across Fort Pitt Bridge, that also carries the very busy Lincoln Highway to and from a tunnel in the cliffs; this is the main access road between the city and its international airport and it vibrated with heavy traffic. I descended from the bridge at the Point Park again, to spend at least an hour in the excellent Fort Pitt Museum where, earlier in the day, I'd seen a woman in 18th century dress load and noisily fire a rifle for the entertainment of a party of schoolkids. I think I was the only visitor at the museum, that afternoon.

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