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Dedication today for rebuilt Homestead landmark

By Jan Ackerman,
Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Monday, September 30, 2002

More than a dozen years after a group of Mon Valley residents started thinking about preserving some of their steel-making history, the centerpiece of their work, the Bost Building in Homestead, is about to be dedicated.

Gov. Mark Schweiker will attend the ceremony at 9 a.m. today. So will U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, who is trying to push legislation through Congress that would incorporate the Bost Building, the vacant Carrie Furnaces in Rankin and the pump house at the Waterfront development into a $100 million “Homestead Steel Works National Historic Site.”

It cost $4.5 million to renovate the Bost Building, which served as headquarters for the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steelworkers during the 1892 lockout and strike at the Homestead Works, said August R. Carlino, executive director of Steel Industry Heritage Corp.

That seems like an astounding price, but Carlino said renovation of the former hotel that was headed for sheriff’s sale in 1991 was an 11-year project fraught with unexpected problems.

“At one point during the reconstruction, the building had no foundation. It was sitting in the air on steel beams without most of the flooring on all three floors,” Carlino said. “It was a remarkable feat of construction.”

After completion of the reconstruction earlier this year, Carlino and his staff of 13 settled into the building at 623 E. Eighth Ave. which they hope will someday become a visitors center for a national historic site in the Mon Valley. They still don’t own the other two parts of the proposed museum or have Congressional approval or funding to turn it into a national historic site.

While Carlino’s organization is best known for its work on the steel museum project, its mission is much broader.

Each year, the Steel Industry Heritage Corp. receives $1 million from the National Park Service and more than $350,000 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as contractor for the “Rivers of Steel” national and state heritage areas, Carlino said. Both areas were created in 1996 through mandates from Congress and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as part of an effort to promote and develop historical, cultural and natural resources in areas across the country.

In southwestern Pennsylvania, the Rivers of Steel heritage areas include Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties and focus on industrial towns along the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Kiski-Conemaugh and Youghiogheny rivers.

There are 11 state heritage areas in Pennsylvania and five of them also have federal designations, Carlino said.

Carlino said his nonprofit organization has funneled more than $40 million into Western Pennsylvania since it was formed in 1991. Some funds come from federal appropriations, others come from grants.

“There is always money out there,” said Carlino, 42, a Pittsburgh native who spent 10 years in Washington, D.C., as a legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. William Coyne and lobbyist for a law firm. “If you don’t ask for it, someone else will get it.”

According to the organization’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the money is being spent on everything from bicycle trails to building riverfront parks in communities to planning for future historic sites to developing bus and riverboat tours. It also has catalogued historic archives, developed promotional brochures and developed a Web site.

Carlino said Steel Heritage contributed $250,000 to the production of the short film, “Forge of a Nation,” which plays at the Rangos Omnimax Theater at the Carnegie Science Center before every feature film. The total cost for the film was $650,000.

His organization also has provided money to help repair Carnegie Library buildings in Braddock and Homestead, the B.F. Jones Library in Aliquippa and the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society Museum in Tarentum, and to help convert the W.A. Young & Sons Foundry and Machine Shop in Rices Landing, Greene County, into a museum and interpretive and educational facility.

The corporation has funded the installation of signs and exhibits and additional work for the Flatiron Building Interpretive Visitors Center in Brownsville, Fayette County, and sunk money into development projects on the North Shore and at the Port of Pittsburgh.

“We have 120 projects going on in seven counties,” Carlino said. “It is truly regional. It is not just Homestead.”

Carlino said his agency’s day-to-day working budget is about $850,000 year. His own salary was $93,475 in 2000, according to the IRS. Its 13 employees have expertise from the worlds of museums as well as from recreation, planning and community organizing.

Doris J. Dyen, who holds a doctorate, is director of the cultural conservation division which gathers, documents and catalogs the oral histories and the industrial heritage of the region.

There are a folk life and education specialist, an archivist who catalogs historic documents and several planners and community organizers on staff.

Larry Ridenour, a former Allegheny County planner who now is a recreational conservation coordinator, is developing bicycle trails and riverfront projects for Carlino’s organization, which works with the Steel Valley Trail Council to link the trails being built in Pittsburgh to those that run to Washington, D.C. His effort is centered on the 18.35 miles of trail from the Glenwood Bridge to Clairton.

“Our job is to establish the trail, build it and take care of it,” Ridenour said.

The organization runs Big Steel boat tours for tourists and field trips for students to explore industrial sites and ethnic communities of the Mon Valley. Part of its effort involves building docks and moorings and riverfront parks for communities including Kittanning and Ford City in Armstrong County and Brownsville.

The dedication of the Bost Building is significant because it is the first time that Carlino’s group has a building to show as evidence that a national museum could someday be built.

The late U.S. Sen. John Heinz was an early champion of establishing a national steel museum. Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, and David Bergholz and Robert B. Pease, formerly of the Allegheny Conference, helped to launch the initiative.

“In the early years, we limped along,” said Pease, among 17 non-paid members of the heritage corporation’s board of directors. “The one thing that was exciting was that John Heinz thought this was super.”

“Sen. Heinz was our champion. He sponsored the original legislation,” said Jo DeBolt, then head of the Mon Valley Initiative and a key player in the early efforts to save the Bost Building.

More than a decade later, there’s still no museum or national historic site, only a Congressional bill that would create one and determination by those who have worked on the project that eventually it will happen.

Jan Ackerman can be reached at or 412-263-1370.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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