History of Pittsburgh's South Side

History of Pittsburgh's South Side

= History =

In 1763, King George III gave John Ormsby about 2,400 acres along the south bank of the Monongahela River as payment for his services during the French and Indian War. This land is known today as South Side. The land was then divided into four boroughs: South Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East Birmingham, and Ormsby. These boroughs were annexed into the City of Pittsburgh in 1872.1 In the early to mid 1800s, South Side was known as the center of the glass industry in America. In 1876, there were about 76 glass factories in the neighborhood. Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Monroe ordered glass tableware for the White House from the South Side companies. These factories produced all types of glass, such as goblets, window glass, bottles, tableware, etc.2 General James O’Hara and Major Isaac Craig, the pioneers of the glass industry in Pittsburgh, opened the first glass factory in the county. This factory was located on the South Side near the present day Duquesne Incline parking lot. By the 1920s, most of the glass factories had moved away due to high taxes and lack of room to expand.

Iron and Steel Mills

Iron and Steel mills in South Side were the workplaces of the world. In 1854, Benjamin Franklin Jones and James Laughlin became business partners and formed the American Iron Workers. Jones and Laughlin created the first ever blast furnace and named it Eliza, which was located on the north side of the Monongahela River. This furnace was connected to South Side by the Hot Metal Bridge. By 1916, J & L had six blast furnaces and nine 200-250 ton open furnaces. By 1929, J & L was producing 1.74 million tons of steel each year. However, the steel factories started to experience economic trouble in the 1960s. Due to these economic problems, there was a rapid decline of J & L factories and they began to demolish the older buildings. Then by 1989, the steel industry was gone. Today, many stores and restaurants have developed in South Side where the steel mills once stood.3


Before bridges were constructed, the only way to cross the river was by ferry. Pittsburgh, which is known as the “City of Bridges”, has many bridges that cross the Monongahela River into South Side. The Monongahela Bridge (formerly known as the Smithfield Street Bridge) was designed in 1818 and built of wood and iron. During the great Pittsburgh fire of 1845, the bridge burned in less than 10 minutes. The bridge was then rebuilt in 1846. The Liberty Bridge was built in 1928 and was designed by George S. Richardson. This bridge connects downtown Pittsburgh to the Liberty Tunnels and then to the South Hills. Some of the other bridges of South Side are: The Wabash Bridge, The Panhandle Bridge, The Tenth Street Bridge, The Birmingham Street Bridge, and The Hot Metal Bridge.4


Before cars or other ways of transportation were invented, the horse-drawn trolleys were the only means of transportation in South Side. After the horse-drawn trolleys, then came the cable traction cars, and then finally the electric trolley. Horse cars operated in South Side until 1923. In 1915, the horse-drawn trolleys and the electric trolley met at the corner of Eighteenth and Sarah Streets. The electric cars turned into what were called street cars. They were the most common means of travel around Pittsburgh and South Side, until the first incline was opened. In 1877, The Duquesne Incline opened and ran from West Carson Street to Mount Washington. In 1870, the Monongahela Incline was built and it connected West Carson Street with Grandview Avenue. The Duquesne and Monongahela inclines are still in operation today. Some inclines that are not in operation today are: The Castle Shannon Incline No.1, The Knoxville Incline, The Mount Oliver Incline, and The St. Clair Incline.5

South Side Today

Southside today is a neighborhood of approximately 10,000 people. It is home to one of the largest Victorian streets in the United States. East Carson Street in its entirety is designated as a historic district. The Southside Flats and Slopes are where most of the residents reside. In recent years, Southside has become home to a large student population because of its proximity to the Monongahela River and three large universities.6


1 History of Pittsburgh’s South Side, 2005.

2 South Side Facts

3 Stuart P. Boehmig, "Pittsburgh’s South Side" (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 15-24.

4 Boehmig, 85-94.

5 Boehmig, 41-52.

6 South Side (Pittsburgh), 2006.


* Boehmig, Stuart P. "Pittsburgh’s South Side". Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
* History of Pittsburgh’s South Side. 2005. http://www.southsidepgh.com/live_and_work/ history.php (accessed October 30, 2006).
* South Side Facts. http://www.phlf.org/spotlightonmainstreet/resources/ss_ facts_industry.pdf (accessed October 30, 2006).

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