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County’s purchase of Carrie Furnace property sparks visions of past and changes to come

By Ann Belser,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, June 16, 2005

The potential of Carrie Furnace truly is in the eye of the beholder.

When August R. Carlino looks at the furnace, he sees a representation of the history of steelmaking.

When Charles H. Starrett III sees the property, he sees the future of economic revitalization for the Mon Valley.

The announcement Monday by Chief Executive Dan Onorato that Allegheny County has reached an agreement with the Park Corp. to purchase the furnace and 137 acres for $5.75 million brought people with many visions of the area together on the site.

“This is where our fathers and grandfathers worked,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, whose grandfather worked at Carrie Furnace for 40 years. His father worked across Braddock at the Edgar Thomson Works for 31 years. He said their labor, like that of so many others in the mill, made it possible for his generation to go to college.

Standing on the ground where his grandfather worked, Doyle said his generation will be the one to preserve that history.

“This is a good day and this site will be developed in our lifetime,” Doyle said. “We’re going to leave this better for our kids and grandkids and they’re going to know what our parents and grandparents went through.”

Doyle’s bill to make Carrie Furnace a national historic site has been passed twice by the U.S. House of Representatives. He introduced the measure again Monday afternoon and said this year he was going to try to get U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., to get the measure through the Senate.

And now the pressure is really on Carlino, the president of the Steel Industry Heritage Corp., to get the money to refurbish the old blast furnaces that make up Carrie Furnace.

County Executive Dan Onorato said it’s up to Carlino and his group to raise the money needed to turn the furnaces, which are rusting and have trees growing from the upper levels, into a historic site.

The heritage corporation has estimated that the stabilization and renovations of the furnaces, built in 1907, would cost about $78 million. The renovation will include a series of walkways around the furnaces.

“We’ve got all of our hard work ahead of us now,” Carlino said.

But while some are interested in the past, Starrett, the coordinator of the Enterprise Zone Corp. of Braddock, said the redevelopment of the 137-acre site, which includes some land in Munhall and Whitaker, will help spur the redevelopment of Braddock and Rankin. The plan that was developed for the site extends along the north bank of the Monongahela River from Swissvale to the Edgar Thomson Works in North Braddock and includes land between Braddock Avenue and the river in Braddock.

“This is all a state enterprise zone area,” Starrett said. He said that means that any companies that chose to locate there would qualify for state and county financing programs with 3 percent interest and qualifying companies can get a 20 percent state tax credit on property acquisition and construction costs.

The Carrie Furnace property probably will not be ready for new construction for at least 18 months while the county cleans up any environmental problems left over from years of producing iron on the site.

Onorato said Tuesday that at least the county would be moving toward redeveloping the land instead of letting it sit idle.

“A year and a half is nothing considering the steel mill left in 1983,” he said.

The redevelopment plan calls for a residential development on the property in Swissvale and the historic site with a hotel and conference center, offices, and a transportation center all in Rankin. Braddock would have areas in which more housing is built to fill in where some of the older homes have been abandoned or demolished and near the Edgar Thomson Works the county has planned to locate light industry and warehouses.

The overall redevelopment in the three boroughs encompasses 205 acres.

County Economic Development Director Dennis Davin said work has to be done to spruce up the area near Carrie Furnace. On Monday, as the dignitaries and members of the media were driving to the site, the signs to the Carrie Furnace directed them right past a home that was being demolished and through a neighborhood in which many of the buildings have been left neglected.

Davin said while the former steel site is being cleaned, Braddock Avenue is going to be spruced up, including the buildings at 849, 851 and 853 Braddock Ave. that had been renovated by the Braddock Enhancement Task Force but have been left vacant and need further renovations. Davin said the county’s Department of Human Services plans to move offices in there.

Another move on Braddock Avenue will be to create an entrance for UPMC Braddock on the Braddock Avenue site of the building. Currently that is the back side of the hospital and functions as a loading area while patients and visitors enter from Holland Avenue, a parallel street one block up the hill from Braddock Avenue.

(Ann Belser can be reached at or 412-263-1699.)

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633