Pittsburg – The Great Iron City

The Monongahela River coming from the southward, and the Allegheny River flowing from the northward, drain the western defiles of the Alleghenies, and at Pittsburg unite to form the Ohio River. Each comes to the junction through a deeply-cut canyon, and at the confluence is a triangular flat upon which the original town was built. Like most American rivers, all these have names of Indian origin. Monongahela is the “river of high banks, breaking off in places and falling down.” Ohio is a Seneca word, originally pronounced ” O-hee-o,” and meaning the “beautiful river” or the ” fair water,” and Allegheny in the language of the Delawares has much the same signification, meaning ” the fairest stream.” All the Indians regarded the two as really the same river, of which the Monongahela was a tributary. The first white men exploring this region were the French, who came down from the lakes and Canada, when they spread through the entire Mississippi Valley. In 1753, however, Washington with a surveying party was sent out by Virginia and carefully examined the site of Pittsburg, advising, on his return, that a fort should be built there to check the advance of the French, and the next year this was done. Scarcely was it completed, however, when the French sent a summons to surrender, addressed “From the Commander-in-chief of His Most Christian Majesty’s troops now on the Beautiful River to the Commander of those of Great Britain?” A French force soon appeared, and the fort was abandoned. This began the French and Indian Colonial War that continued seven years, the French then erecting their famous fort and trading-post guarding the head of the Ohio, which they named after the great French naval commander of the seventeenth century, Marquis Abraham Duquesne. Then came Braddock’s defeat in 1755, and for some time the region was quiet. Moravian missionary influence, however, had by 1758 detached many of the Indians from the French interest, and after another British attack and repulse, General Forbes came with a large force, and the French abandoned the fort and blew it up. Immediately rebuilt y the English, a Virginia garrison occupied the post, and it was named Fort Pitt. Then a larger fort was built at a cost of $300,000 and garrisoned by artillery, which the enemy vainly besieged in 1763. The next year a town site was laid out near the fort, and in 1770 it had twenty log houses. After the long succession of wars and massacres on that frontier had ceased, the village grew, and business began developing—at first, boat- and vessel-building, and then smelting and coal mining and the manufacture of glass. In 1812 the first rolling-mill started, and the war with England in that year caused the opening of a cannon foundry, which became the Fort Pitt Iron Works. The village of Fort Pitt had become Pittsburg, and expanded vastly with the introduction of steam, and it became an extensive steamboat builder for the Western waters. Railroad connections gave it renewed impetus; natural gas used as a manufacturing fuel was a wonderful stimulant; and it now conducts an enormous trade with all parts of the country, and is the seat of the greatest iron, steel and glass industries in America.

Few views are more striking than that given from the high hills overlooking Pittsburg. Rising steeply, almost from the water’s edge, on the southern bank of the Monongahela River, is Mount Washington, three hundred and fifty feet high. Inclined-plane railways are constructed up the face of this hill, and mounting to the top, there is a superb view over the town. The Allegheny River comes from the north-east and the Monongahela from the southeast, through deep and winding gorges cut into the rolling table-land, and uniting form the Ohio, flowing away to the northwest also through a deep gorge, although its bordering ridges of hills are more widely separated. Pittsburg stands upon the low flat surface of the peninsula, above the junction of the rivers, which has some elongated ridgy hills, stretching eastward through the centre. Its situation and appearance have thus not inaptly been compared to a flatiron, the point being at the head of the Ohio, and these ridgy hills making the handle. The city has over-flowed into extensive suburbs across both rivers, the aggregate population being more than a half-million. Numerous bridges span the rivers, the narrow shores between the steep hills bearing a mixed maze of rail-ways and factories. Countless chimney-smokes and steam jets come up in all directions, overhanging the town like a pall; and so impressive is the obscuration, combined with the lurid glare of furnaces and the weird white gleam of electric lights, that the elevated view down into Pittsburg seems a veritable pandemonium. So startling is it on a lowering day that it has been pointedly described by one who thus for the first time looked upon the ” Smoky City,” far down in its deep basin among the high hills, as appearing like “Hell with the lid off.” There are plenty of railways in the scene, and scores of odd-looking, stumpy-prowed little steamboats built high above the water, having huge stern-wheels to drive them, with their noses thrust up on the sloping levee along the river bank, whereon is piled the cargoes, chiefly of iron products. The swift current turns all the sterns down stream, so that they lie diagonally towards the shore. Fleets of flat, shallow coal barges are moored along, waiting to be made up into tows for their journey down the Ohio, as Pittsburg has an extensive river trade, covering over twenty thousand miles of Western waters. Out of the weird and animated scene there come all sorts of busy noises, forges and trip-hammers pounding, steam hissing, railroad trains running, whistles screeching, locomotives puffing, bells ringing, so that with the flame jets rising, and the smokes of all colors blowing about, there is got a good idea of the active industries of this very busy place.