If ever there was a place unsuited
to the building of a great city, it is the valley formed by the merging
of the Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers to form the Ohio River. The
hills, rivers, and surrounding bluffs make building difficult, and urban
sprawl nearly impossible. This is not the kind of place where you can
stake out lots, lay out a grid, and organize a city. The area, even into
the 20th century, was vulnerable to flooding, so that much of the residential
development took place in the surrounding hills. It took over 700 bridges
to overcome the rivers, and hills of the metro area, as well as some significant
flood control efforts, and some rather unique solutions to local transportation,
such as the famous Inclines. So why go to all of the trouble?
It was history, and geography, rather
than geology, which, spawned the fort, and then the city which was
to grow into Pittsburgh. The juncture of these major river groups made
this a natural trading center, and latter on, a position of great strategic
value during the French and Indian War. The French military presence
at Fort Duquesne, was set to guard the river approaches, and was a sort
of a last outpost on what was then the frontier. It was taken by the British
during the war, and eventually taken by the Americans after the Revolution.
The city's founding is set at 1758; but this is merely the date at which
the French outpost was taken over by the British. Since a settlement already
existed here, it is hard to say exactly how far back the original occupancy
of this site may reach. Incidentally, the French and Indian war was started
here, by George Washington, then a British militiaman.
Latter on, geology played it's own role,
contributing the coal and ore deposits which made this the great steel
producing center of the nation. Steel and coal created wealth, which
begot banks, commerce, culture, and the building of one of the world's
great and beautiful cities. Steel and coal may have made this one of
the world's great cities; but they also made it one of the world's dirty
cities. For decades this was known as Smoky City. By the 1920's Pittsburgh
produced one third of the national output of finished and rolled steel.
It had the world's largest tube and pipe mill, structural steel plant, rail
mill, wire manufacturing plant, bridge and construction fabricating plant.
Pittsburgh also led in the manufacture of electrical machinery, railroad
cars, tin plate, glass, fire brick and aluminum finishing. Forty percent
of the nation's coal came from within 100 miles of Pittsburgh. In addition
to the incredible steel production, the city came to be one of the world's
great manufacturing and heavy industry centers.
Next to New York and Chicago, Pittsburgh
is the most important city for corporate headquarters. It is also the
country's largest inland port, and has become a major center for medical
research, and high tech industry. The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center,
rivals any in the world. The city has numerous universities, and is still
a major producer of steel and other products. It also has great food,
a variety of cultural attractions, and nice mix of people. The sometimes
narrow, and twisted streets are heavy with history, containing a number
of historic structures. There is wealth here; but you do not need to be
rich to live well here. There is plenty of room for normal middle class
people to make for themselves a good life.
If Pittsburgh stands at a historical
and geological center, it also stands at a cultural crossroads. On
the other end of the state of Pennsylvania, stands Philadelphia and
the states of New York and New Jersey. Just to the west is Ohio and the
Midwest, while West Virginia and the South are a short drive to the southwest.
So is this an eastern town, a midwestern town, or a southern town? In fact,
it is all of these, and some other things besides. This is a very unique,
and dynamic place.