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Aliquippa and Vicinity

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Located on the Ohio River's west bank twenty-two miles northwest of Pittsburgh and known as Woodlawn until 1928, Aliquippa was sparsely populated as late as the mid-1870s, when the area began to attract railroad speculators. In 1878, the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad laid its route to Youngstown on the west bank of the Ohio River, and laid out Aliquippa Park, a popular attraction, to boost ridership on its new line. The name “Aliquippa” commemorates a Seneca woman who died in 1754.

By 1905, Woodlawn's proximity to Pittsburgh, easy rail and water access, large tracts of undeveloped land, and available natural resources attracted the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company (J&L), which had outgrown its Pittsburgh factories. The company purchased five-and-one-half miles of land along the river, including the former park, and by 1907, its first blast furnace was under construction. The Aliquippa Works of J&L manufactured raw and finished steel in its integrated plant. Its workforce grew to 14,000 laborers, larger than the neighboring American Bridge Company across the Ohio River. J&L not only transformed Woodlawn's waterfront from light agriculture to heavy industry, it also engineered the layout and management of the town. The Woodlawn Land Company, a subsidiary of J&L, designed and built worker housing and managed the company store, the local trust company, and many of the public offices. More than 1,500 homes were built in the ten years following 1907; the first year averaged one finished home a day. By 1913, there were twelve housing plans, each sensitively sited according to natural boundaries, although the houses within the plans were typically arranged in straight rows. Each plan was designated for a different ethnic group, including Italians, Serbians, African Americans, Croatians, Slovaks, Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Greeks. The ethnic enclaves proved convenient for the immigrants, who could preserve their languages and customs, and, even more convenient for the company, which could better control its workers by setting each group in opposition to the others: no joint demonstrations of unity could occur to oppose company proclamations. The houses, noted for their efficiency and modernity, were constructed primarily of brick or concrete with anywhere from six to ten rooms, and were sold on easy terms to steel mill employees. Paul M. Moore, contractor, and R. E. Murray, architect, have been credited with some of the buildings. Plan 6 High, including Larimer Road, was reserved for management; here the houses are set atop the hillside, with larger lots and an overlook to the steel mill below.

Through the late 1960s, Aliquippa grew with and because of the steel industry. Thus, when the mill, then owned by LTV Steel, shut down in the early 1980s, the city suffered greatly. Today, the workers' housing remains in tight clusters, but suburbs to the west, with easier access to major highways, have drawn many residents from the town. The throngs of shoppers once patronizing Franklin Street were drawn first to suburban strip malls and then to the regional megamalls accessed by Beaver County's superhighway, PA 60.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.

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