Swissvale, PA – July 2018 – Rust Belt History and Art

The Monongahela Valley of Pennsylvania was once the center of steel production for not only the U.S., but the entire world. At one point 25% of all steel production in the world came from the Pittsburgh area. For a number of reasons though that industry has all but left the area.

Today many of them have been completely torn down and converted into a variety of uses including office parks and shopping areas.

A portion of one remains: The Carrie Furnaces. The first blast furnaces were built in this area in 1884, closing down in 1982.

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Today it serves as a National Historic Site, open for tours of the remaining furnaces (#6 and #7). Interestingly it is also used for weddings, as evidenced by the left over high heel shoe (left side of the sign).

It should be noted the facility is not restored at all, so whomever is wearing these heels to a wedding held here clearly planned poorly.

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The tallest of the furnaces rise to a height of 92′.

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The shop building is used to check people in to the tour, as well as the aforementioned weddings.

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The site is also used for various metal based artists. The pile of automobile rotors have nothing to do with the mill, although it is likely the steel for the rotors was produced in the Mon Valley.

The rotors are used to teach high school students how to weld and make metal based art.

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As we progressed through we found a number of pieces of ‘Rust Belt Art’.

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One of the first buildings we went in is the railroad car offloading facility. The large arms in the photo would pick up railroad cars full of coal or coke and tip them over the side into the holding bin.

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Deer were a recurring themes in the artwork. This painting is on the bottom of the railroad car offloading building.

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A large steam shovel bucket was brought in to add to the atmosphere.

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The area sat vacant for many years so the park has adopted a ‘controlled’ urban art approach, since much of it had been covered in graffiti anyway.

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A large retaining wall was covered in various paintings, including this one as a tribute to the steel workers.

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Another way back in the corner of the property was very impressive with the integration of the deer with images of the mill.

I was warned of significant poison ivy in the grass and weeds that went to this far corner, but came home no worse for wear, and with a great shot.

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This far corner also provided a nice overview of the remaining furnaces. The buildings that are left are just a fraction of what would’ve been there when the mill was running.

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The tour continued underneath where the coal and coke would moved into the mill from the holding building seen previously. On this day it was quiet and comfortable. For the mill workers this was a loud, dusty, dangerous place.

Our tour guide Doug pointed out that the average steel worker in the early 1900s lived only to their mid 40s, dying of accidents, black lung, or just over worked.

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The tours final stops were in the furnace itself (or rather the buildings that house the main blast furnaces).  Outside is another large sculpture.

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While inside is an amazing collection of massive old steel components that kept the blast furnaces running.

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For the workers this again was a hot, dirty, dangerous place to work. In the early 1900s most were recent immigrants from Italy, Slovakia, Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

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To me the remains provide an awesome setting for photography.

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While virtually the entire place is as it was left, for some reason this crank is recently painted yellow.

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The tour ended in front of Carrie herself. An impressive structure, she was a critical component in the building of America and the World. The steel that came out of her built such impressive structures as the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our tour guide Doug did a great job mixing history, steel making process and personal anecdotes making the 2 hour tour quickly pass by.

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