Pittsburgh and its River Towns

Residence, Mitchell Power Station

I recently visited Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to present at the International Visual Sociology Association‘s annual meeting and explore the region. I particularly enjoy working in Pittsburgh, but my time photographing the end of an era in Johnstown instilled an interest in the region’s smaller towns. When I visited Pittsburgh in 2011, I made sure to spend a little time in neighboring borough of Braddock, but I wanted to go farther afield this time. In part motivated to see the borough of Donora, whose 1948 environmental catastrophe raised awareness of the need for clean air regulations, I visited more than a dozen towns in the Monongahela River valley, and then several more along the Ohio River.

Wedged between the rivers and the hills, the towns are similarly caught between the remaining industrial operations and the otherwise increasingly derelict industrial landscape. For every resident who boasted to me about her town’s architecture or community, another would offer warnings about the “bad” part of town or lament the moribund central business district. Braddock continues to capture headlines for its attempts at creative revitalization, but it is easy to see how many residents interpret continuing depopulation and unemployment as foretelling a more desperate future.

There are reasons for some optimism. Pittsburgh is undergoing a renaissance, a few towns are successfully capitalizing on their historic character, and the rivers offer an undeniable beauty. Still, as even the power plants wind down their operations, it’s easy to see how so many are dispirited about the future of the outlying towns.

The following images are selections from my excursions along with a few Pittsburgh images. As always, you can view more photographs on flickr.

Riding Bikes in Braddock

Steel City Appliances

Overgrowth, Mural

Towards Downtown Pittsburgh

Siding House Outline

Jump Rope, Hula Hoop

Downtown Donora, Pennsylvania

South Side Slopes

Fishing Along the Ohio River

Don's Diner

Walking

Train, Residential Street

Along the Monongahela River

Elrama, Pennsylvania

6 comments

  1. jazellers

    I get a real feeling for- and sense of these places looking at these images, David. Your photography blends artistry and social comment in a unique “Schalliol Style”.

  2. Emmy

    Really, really nice work Dave. Looking at these, I can’t help but also think of Walker Evans’s work from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with all the hills of houses and power lines. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Melissa Wolfe

    I was also reminded of the great Walker Evens. These are wonderful stories that you tell David

  4. Wes Campbell

    I’m a native of the Pittsburgh area, living in Texas now. Growing up in the 50s, I can still remember the slate dumps and the sulfur fumes. Mom would check the wind direction before hanging out the clothes. The wind had to be blowing TOWARD the dumps. Most of the dumps have been leveled, all the coal washed out in the process. “Red Dog” was the slate that burned. It turned a deep red and was a good agragate for roads and drive ways. We lived in a ‘Company’ house, bought our groceries at the ‘Company’ store, bought out gas at the ‘Company store gas station’, just like the Tennessee Ernie Ford song, Sixteen Tons”.

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