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PGH: 1905

1905. "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Mount Washington." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

1905. "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Mount Washington." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Green space

A neatly manicured green space can be seen by the heating plant on the right side of the bridge; flower beds included. No doubt that was mowed with a "push" mower powered by muscle. Look at the golf green pattern; nice job. This was a common site on railway properties large and small. These were probably sacrificed due to cost cutting: pity.


The radius curves there in the lower right in the yard are pretty tight. A few even has guard rails to aid the cars and locos around them. I wonder why kind of engine serviced this facility? 0-6-0? Probably nothing with a pilot wheel set unless they were very nimble.

Wagon Gauge

The wagons traveling across the bridge are yet another rarely seen example of wagons having the same wheel gauge or width as railroads, or in this case, streetcars, 56½ inches or Standard Gauge. In close quarters like these, one set of wheels would eventually fall into the inside wheel flange groove while the other set of wheels rode just outside the rail. Certainly easy enough to pull to the side to get out, but usually one just "rode the rail". In cobble stone streets wagons commonly "rode the rails" as it was a smoother ride, while not literally on the rails, but just to one side. This width or gauge began with the Roman chariots fitting behind two horses and became standard down through the years. The beginning of railroads used horse drawn wagons or carts on wooden plank with the same gauge as the wagons previously. Early automobiles such as the model T also used the same width to run in the wagon ruts made before it. The wheel width is still in use as standard gauge.

Sentimental Journey

The night before Amtrak took over rail passenger service I took the last westbound B&O Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh, repeating a trip I'd taken more than a dozen times as a kid. As they had for decades, the B&O used this station which the P&LE kept in immaculate condition. I remember walking up the grand staircase with the shining brass handrails, and out that door to the bridge. It looked the same, with streetcars still running on the right side. There was even a steamboat -- a dinner boat -- tied up where the two are in this photo. As I walked over the bridge to get a better look, they cast off and chugged up the river. I truly felt I'd stepped into a time warp.

PGH railroad cars

Once again the old axiom is true: Every old railroad train picture has to have at least one Northern Pacific freight car in it!

Pittsburgh Steam Explained

The boilers placed in these buildings usually served a variety of applications at once. Each application may have required different steam pressures and/or temperatures. So a boiler would be configured to generate steam for the biggest load. To serve a smaller thermal demand, steam would be branched off the main distribution line and the throughput would be “stepped down” by simply venting the excess steam, which is what you see here. Thermally wasteful? Sure. But fuel was cheap then.

[On a more basic level: The large buildings here would have used boilers (mostly coal-fired) for steam heat and hot water. Hence the many vapor clouds in skyline photos from the era. - Dave]

Ahead of its time

In the foreground and to the right of the flatcar load of stone is a rarity for 1905. The P&LE coal car is steel, rather than wood. Steel cars of any type were just starting to appear on the nation's railroads at this time.

The extra deep bottom side sill on that car was totally unnecessary, however the earliest steel cars were built that way because some railroads initially didn't trust the steel and so overbuilt.

The small freight yard in the foreground is an excellent example of a "team track." Customers were notified by the railroad their load had arrived (or empty car spotted for loading) and the customer would send a crew with wagon down to work the car, as seen being done here.

Team tracks allowed businesses without their own rail siding to use a railroad's service, and allowed firms with limited capacity rail sidings or desire to use other carriers to move their freight.

Most towns, even small ones, had at least a team track. Big cities had a number of team yards like this one.

Los Angeles, 2019 A.D.

Heads down when those flying police cars buzz just overhead.

Pittsburgh Today

It's such a clean, beautiful city. What a change.


Quite a few buildings have a plume of white steam coming from a funnel-shaped exhaust, often located on the chimney stack, where the coal-fired smoke would exit. Is this an early form of pollution control? If it is, the air quality is still pretty grim. Or maybe it would have been even worse without the steam treatment. Since steam heat was common at this time the vents could just be excess steam escaping from the heating system. But it seems unusual to have such a vent arrangement like that. Did Pittsburgh have a central steam plant that delivered steam to buildings downtown? That might be the answer.

[What is the coal heating? Boilers. Which are the source of the vapor. - Dave]


The railway cars and those tracks look like a very elaborate train set and across the river, the smog and smoke in the air serves to hide most of the visible city. Based on the plumes of smoke the wind during the shot seems to have been from this side of the river. Maybe the photographer waited for just the right moment.


So many landmarks to pick out. This is one I'll come back to over and over. I can almost see my office building from there, but it's just a tad too far away.

Also still standing.. The courthouse!

Also still standing is the magnificent Allegheny County Courthouse, designed in 1883 by Henry Hobson Richardson, built between 1884-1888. It's the humungous stone building near the top of the image, just to the right of the center. I've never seen it standing so proud; the march of progress has surrounded it with taller buildings that make its presence less profound.

I'm sure there's significance to the fact that it has no smokestack billowing puffy steam/smoke. Off-site heating? Government holiday? Thermal inertia?

Asthmatics Beware

Clicking on the "view full size" button might cause you to need your inhaler!

This one is for Train Lovers.

The four-lane road to the left, crossing the Monongahela River, is Smithfield Street. The lovely masonry arches are still there by Google Earth Streetview (the lower tier anyway). Also still there is the 12 story building on the far side of the river, to the right of Smithfield.

It looks like there were two railway passenger stations, one on either side of the river. The building in the lower left, with the two-level roadway access is still there too. The sign out front calls it "The Landmark Building" with address "One Station Square". The station across the river is gone, as are the tracks on that side. There are still two tracks parallel the river on the near side which probably belong to the CSX Railway (At least there are current pictures of CSX trains on these tracks.) CSX predecessor roads include Chesapeake & Ohio and Baltimore & Ohio, so perhaps the still-extant station building belonged to one of those.

I really get a kick out of pictures of old towns, and old railway infrastructure. There seems to be many more pictures of locomotives, some trains, but few views of yards, stations, etc.

PGH 2011

Here is a very recent night view from a different location on Mount Washington.


with its hat off.

Fill 'er Up!

Looks like water being pumped into the open-top structure in the rail yard. I guess it got some natural fill from Mother Nature whenever it rained.

Mon Incline, Smithfield St Bridge, P&LE to either side

We're probably on the Monongahela Incline, looking at the Smithfield St Bridge with the P&LE Station to the immediate left. Some of the buildings on the far river bank, to the left of the bridge, are still standing, and we've seen them in other Shorpy photos. On the right of the bridge you can see a sign for "Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad" I think that may be the old B&O station. On the right on the near bank, those are 'team tracks' for the P&LE, where local freight would be loaded onto wagons by teamsters (hence the name 'team track'). There's a flat car with what looks like marble or granite spotted by the stiff leg derrick on the far right, and closer to the river there's a wagon being loaded from what I'm pretty sure is a 'beer car', an insulated car like a reefer that does not have ice hatches. The barrels in the wagon would reinforce that view :-) To the left of that car, note the C&O car on the adjoining track with a noticeable dip. That car needs to have its truss rods tightened.

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