Sunday, July 11, 2010

Recap: Rivers of Steel - Babuskas & Hard Hats Tour

Photo from Rivers of Steel Archive, Mark Fallon Collection, women in Babuskas posing in front of the Carrie Furnaces:;id=90FC3B9A-66DE-4DDF-9308-118872677844;type=102 (Beware: clicking on 'Random Image Search' may result in the loss of several hours to viewing thousands of fascinating images:)

Ever wonder why there is an abnormally high amount of hometown & neighborhood pride in Pgh? Or, why the love of the Stillers is in the DNA of every homegrown & transplant resident alike? Or, why there are so many bars in South Side? Or, why Pgh weddings have a cookie table? Or, the history behind the Hot Metal Bridge and its namesake? Or, what all those industrial relics are called and what they were originally purposed for that line our city's trail system and reclaimed brown areas (like Station Square, The Waterfront, South Side Works, etc)?

Then, I highly recommend taking the Rivers of Steel Babuskas & Hard Hats Tour. In addition to answering to the aforementioned questions, you'll also quickly discover that our great city was build with the blood, sweat and tears of several generations of men & women in this geologically and culturally unique, mini-melting pot of a region where the Three Rivers meet.

I've know of Rivers of Steel for several years as a client. While at Bally Design, I had worked on several of their interpretive panels (along w/my colleague, Brendan Wiant) that line the trail systems and many former steel sites; collectively providing the historical story of the making of the Steel Capital of the World to visitors and passer-bys. I was waiting for the return of the Babuskas & Hard Hats tour and when I recenlty saw a Fb post from Rivers of Steel Hertitage Area, I immediately signed up. With perfect weather yesterday, there's not too many better ways that I could think of for spending a Saturday morning/afternoon.

As the granddaughter of an immigrant SwPA coal miner and the daughter of a coal truck driver, I have a strong vested interest in the Big Steel era and its supporting industries. Seeing the old photos and hearing the stories of everyday life reminds me of stories that grandma, grandpa & mom would share about living & working in the coal mining community of Bakerwhitely (near Hooversville in northern Somerset County). No wonder that Pgh had a gravitational draw/appeal to me growing up -- so much so that I've called it home now for 5+ years.

Not to spoil too much of the experience, our tour took us from Station Square where we learned about the Bessemer Furnace (the single piece of technology that put Pgh on the map back in the day) to the Pump House in Homestead, location of the Battle of Homestead where a flash mob of 10K+ locked-out miners & supporting townspeople faced-off w/the Pinkertons in 1892 (

Along the way, we stopped by Gaynor's Cooking School in the South Side ( to make our own loaves of Poppyseed Bread; a favorite dessert of the Eastern Europeans. We also visited the Rivers of Steel's home base and museum in the Bost Building in Homestead to learn more about the dramatic size of a mill like the Homestead Works and the everyday working conditions/gear of the steel workers.

My favorite part of the trip was meeting the other tour participants and chatting with them throughout the day. I was honored to be invited to lunch afterward as well:) I made two new friends (and future tour buddies) and got to meet others with shared Slovak blood in their genealogical lines. It's fascinating to learn about the personal interests that each participant held to drive them to learn more about Pgh history. The era of Big Steel had and still has a far-reaching impact on many lives of this region.

With such a fantastic experience, guess who's just become a new member? Why not support the 'projects and programs that preserve SwPA's rich industrial and cultural heritage for future generations'? Membership ranges from $25-$500, but with $75+, you'll get two complimentary tickets to the Hard Hat Tours ($25 value each):

Feeling like you've missed out? You're in luck, my friend, because there's another Babuskas & Hard Hats Tour coming up on August 14th. I personally, cannot wait for the upcoming Hard Hat Tour of Carrie Furnace (one of the only standing relics of that era of steel industry history in America and maybe even the world) on August 28th:

Enjoy the remaining photos of the day and hope to see you on the next tour!

Yummy breakfast this beautiful morning:)

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