Pittsburgh is a city rich and alive with history. From its settlement in 1717 to its rise as the steel center of the US in early 20th century, from the French and Indian War to the American Revolution, the city has been integral in the development of the US. Besides checking out the fantastic Heinz History Center and Sports Museum, here’s a list of the top 5 historic sites in Pittsburgh, in no discernible order, that you can still visit today.
Point State Park and the Fort Pitt Museum
View of Point State Park, the former location of Fort Pitt, from the Duquesne Incline. Photo by chrisinphilly5448 on Flickr.
Located where the three rivers meet, Point State Park was a strategic hub during the French and Indian War between 1754 and 1763. After visiting the Point, George Washington wrote in his journal that it would make a great place for a fort, and soon one was partially built. The French and British traded occupancy of the location and its forts throughout the war, with the British finally maintaining Fort Pitt at the site. In 1763, after the war, local Indians tried to drive out the British settlers by attempting to siege Fort Pitt, but they failed due to the strength of the fort and the distraction of additional British troops nearby. During the American Revolution, the Continental Army used Fort Pitt and the Point as its western headquarters to gather troops and supplies to fight against the British. The first peace treaty between the United States and the Indians was also signed there in 1779. However, the fort’s purpose was soon lost thereafter and it was abandoned to poor conditions in 1792.
The Fort Pitt Blockhouse. Photo by bridgevillepennsylvania on Flickr.
Today, all that’s left is the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, which was built to address a weakness in the fort’s design. It is considered the oldest structure in Western Pennsylvania and is open to the public for free. All of this information and much more is expanded upon in the Fort Pitt Museum located within Point State Park. The park itself has riverfront walkways, grassy hills, and fantastic views of the city and rivers, although the iconic 100-foot fountain at the tip of the Point is currently closed for construction.
(References: Fort Pitt Museum; Point State Park)
The Aero 360 at Kennywood. Photo by Alan Jakub on Flickr.
While an amusement park may not seem historical, Kennywood is one of only two listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Founded in 1898 as a small trolley park, it found itself struggling to stay open as it competed with dozens of other trolley parks and amusement resorts in the area. The park underwent new management in 1906 and grew tremendously from then until 1930 as they built five large roller coasters (two of which are still operational today- the Jack Rabbit and the Racer) and a large swimming pool.
The Jack Rabbit, built in 1921, is still in operation at Kennywood. Photo by Brian Butko on Flickr.
The Great Depression of the early 1930s hit the park hard yet they managed to stay afloat by having numerous great dance bands play from 1930 to 1950. New rides were added as the country crawled out of the Depression and the park bought a ferris wheel and a miniature train during the Second World War. During the 1950s, Kennywood prospered as more schools began bringing their students to the park for designated Kennywood Days. The park continued to grow through the later part of the century. They added many new rides, especially in Kiddieland, were named “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World” from the late 60s to the 90s, and opened up Lost Kennywood, which was a replica of parks from the early 1900s. Today, Kennywood prides itself in mixing tradition with modern elements and lives up to its moniker of “America’s Finest Traditional Amusement Park.”
The Cathedral of Learning
Photo by AxsDeny on Flickr.
The second-tallest university building in the world, this iconic landmark is located in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Oakland. Construction of the 535-feet, 42-story Gothic cathedral began in 1926, with classes first being held in 1931. It was commissioned by the University’s tenth chancellor, John Gabbert Bowman, as a dramatic educational symbol. The Cathedral was partially funded during the Depression in a unique way: local school children were encouraged to “Buy a Brick” for a dime, with over 97,000 sold. The building has been used mainly for education purposes since its inception, housing classrooms, theaters, computer labs, libraries, a restaurant, and administrative and departmental offices.
The Cathedral of Learning’s Commons Room decorated for the holidays. Photo by LugerLA on Flickr.
The stunning Commons Room on the main floor features grand Gothic-style architecture and is used as a study area. The Cathedral also has 29 Nationality Rooms, each celebrating a different culture that has influenced Pittsburgh, from Chinese to Czech to Early American. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, tours are conducted in order to gain entrance to the Nationality Rooms.
(References: Cathedral of Learning; Nationality Rooms)
The Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines
The Duquesne Incline. Photo by Hannaford on Flickr.
At one point in history, Pittsburgh had 15 operational inclines providing easy access between the riverfronts and the hills that frame the city. Today, only two remain, both providing service to Mt. Washington. The Monongahela Incline, built in 1870 and located near Station Square, is the longest continually operating incline in the US. At the top, riders can admire the views of Pittsburgh from the south or venture to several nearby restaurants, some also offering spectacular city scenes.
Inside the Monongahela Incline. Photo by Brian Siewiorek on Flickr.
The Duquesne Incline, located further west than the Mon Incline, opened in 1877 and briefly closed in 1962 due to financial concerns. However, a group of local residents created a non-profit to preserve, restore, and operate the incline and it reopened just a few years later. The upper station contains a museum on Pittsburgh history and inclines around the world, as well as a tiny gift shop. Traveling at 6 miles per hour, both inclines provide spectacular views from atop Mt. Washington and are considered historical structures by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.
(References: Station Square- Inclines; Duquesne Incline; Port Authority- Inclines)
Photo by Chris Collins on Flickr.
One of the largest cemeteries in the United States and the oldest west of the Allegheny Mountains, the Allegheny Cemetery is located on 300 acres in Lawrenceville. Founded in 1844 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, almost 130,000 people are buried here. Included are many famed Pittsburghers, such as congressmen, senators, professional baseball players, war veterans, and other notable members of Pittsburgh’s history. The oldest graves come from soldiers of the French and Indian War, who were transfered from their original burial sites in a downtown cathedral to the large cemetery once it opened.
Photo by Matthew Niemi on Flickr.
Allegheny Cemetery aimed to get rid of the common conception that cemeteries are creepy and uninviting by beautifying the grounds and welcoming groups and individuals to enjoy the natural landscape and historic landmarks. Large monuments and statues decorate the spacious grounds, which feature rolling hills, stately trees, over 15 miles of paved paths, and numerous species of birds to watch.
(Reference: Allegheny Cemetery)