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Rust Belt Riviera: 1941

Rust Belt Riviera: 1941

January 1941. "A section of Rochester, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio River. Photographs show Ohio River town in western Pennsylvania -- bridges, houseboats, coal barges, railroad yards. Abandoned stove and glass works. Automobile graveyard. Cemetery and gravedigger. Substandard housing occupied by Negroes." Photo by Jack Delano for the FSA. View full size.


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Small Town, Big Railroad

"The Standard Railroad of the World" - The Pennsylvania Railroad (Now part of Norfolk Southern) looms large in the town.

Tony Dorsett (Footbal) and Christina Aguilera (Singer) hail from here.

High Water

In 1937 there was a devastating flood. So my guess is that there is not a whole lot close to the river. I live in Leavenworth, Indiana. A town that was moved uphill after that flooding.

Still Standing

The large building in the upper center of the frame and the smaller buildings farther away from the camera are still there as are all four mainline tracks. The Pennsylvania Railroad signal bridge has been replaced by another one a a few hundred yards west of this location. This view is looking east toward Pittsburgh from Rochester and likely was taken from the bridge crossing the tracks and then the Ohio River.

Looks uninviting

A short distance behind the photographer is the Beaver River, where it joins the Ohio. Across the Beaver River is the town of Beaver, where my grandfather died 5 years to the month from when this was taken. There's little wonder why my grandmother packed up dad and his brother and moved back to the Philly area where she had family.

Hollywood beckoned

The large brick building was the Beaver Valley Brewery, and is now home to the Beaver Valley Bowl. The bowling alley appeared in two movies: Wonder Boys and Kingpin. You can see the exterior and interior in this clip:


Beaver Valley Bowl also appears in the Netflix series: I'm Not OK With This.

Mostly Highway Now

It's difficult to approximate exactly where the original photo was taken. The area now has a divided highway and a jumble of access ramps running though much of it, but my guess is that the photographer was standing somewhere along Pleasant Street at the top of the bluff.

The large building in the center of the photo still (mostly) stands, and appears to now house a bowling alley and pool hall.

Beaver Valley Bowling

The tall building has been repurposed as a bowling alley, and a Goggle street view spin around Rochester shows it has survived in the Rust Belt better than many places.

Prime Real Estate

Other than that gaggle of railroad tracks that property right next to the river should have been prime real estate. So why was it a slum area? Did it flood often? What is it now? Inquiring minds want to know.

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