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Early Settlers and Trolley Suburbs

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Were one to draw a crescent of about forty miles in circumference—from the Allegheny County Airport ( AL60) near the Monongahela River, west to the Pittsburgh International Airport (1992, Tasso Katselas Associates; bordering PA 60) not far from the Ohio River, the crescent would encompass a number of important eighteenth-century settlements for Pittsburgh, together with suburbs that were born early in the twentieth century. The south half of the crescent is, today, thick with the bedroom suburbs collectively called the South Hills, while its southwestern component remains so spottily settled that it lacks any name at all (theoretically it would be the West Hills).

In terms of development, this crescent marks the sleepiest part of the Pittsburgh orbit. Numerous farmhouses and selected isolated mansions survive from the early nineteenth century, but just a few of these nuclei transformed themselves into urban entities, compared to the dozens of parallel settlements east and north of Pittsburgh that did. The probable reason is the lack of access to major roads or rivers in this crescent. The South Hills had the Washington Pike to link it southward with the National Road (U.S. 40), but real growth came only with the opening of the trolley tunnel through Mount Washington in 1904. An even greater growth spurt came when the Liberty Tunnels, a second cut through Mount Washington, gave motorists similar access to the South Hills in 1924. The (theoretical) West Hills remained cut off from Pittsburgh a good deal longer. It was served by just a few trolley lines, and had no significant roadway until a parkway to the previous Pittsburgh International airport opened in 1952.

Writing Credits

Lu Donnelly et al.

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