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On the Parkway East

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The boroughs of Wilkinsburg, Churchill, and Monroeville line up in a row extending east of Pittsburgh, but they have little in common beyond a shared growth pattern as pike towns. A settlement at what is now Wilkinsburg existed even before the American Revolution, but the town grew only after the turnpike to Philadelphia was cut through on the line of the current Penn Avenue, early in the nineteenth century. A second boost came in 1852, when the Pennsylvania Railroad's tracks reached Wilkinsburg and initiated a century of commuter service. A third transportation artery arrived in the early twentieth century, when the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) incorporated Penn Avenue as part of its cross-country route to downtown and points west. Wilkinsburg was so pleased with this extra attention and the revenue it generated that in 1916 it erected a life-size copper statue of Abraham Lincoln alongside the eponymous roadway. It still stands at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard (U.S. 30).

But highways give and highways take away: in 1939, New York City's Robert Moses designed an expressway linking downtown Pittsburgh to the western extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Locally called the Penn-Lincoln Parkway or the Parkway East (officially it is I-376), the post–World War II road bypassed Wilkinsburg, with severe economic consequences from which the borough has not recovered. In 2003, the Martin Luther King Jr. Busway, which runs busses alongside the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, was extended to Wilkinsburg, but the impact of this link to downtown has been slight so far.

The original Pennsylvania Turnpike from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia was itself a direct successor to a Native American trail widened in 1758 by General John Forbes in his victorious march to dislodge the French from the Forks of the Ohio. The military trail gave birth to Churchill, a borough that profited in the post–World War II era from its positioning along I-376. Even rosier, at least superficially, was the postwar fate of Monroeville, which burgeoned in population and size as Pittsburgh's main interchange on the modern turnpike. But growth came too fast: farmland once plowed by early settlers, such as the Mellons, gave place to malls that are indistinguishable from those found anywhere in the nation.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.

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