“What Did the Romans Ever do for Us?”

The English language is inane. I just Googled the capitalization rules from three different style books in order to type the title for this blog post. I’m still not sure if I have the capitalization correct. I couldn’t just Google the phrase itself because this phrase comes from a much longer sentence in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.”

Anyway, the ancient Romans engineered arch bridges.

You can picnic underneath the pictured stone arch bridge at Tunnelview Historic Site in Western PA (near Saltsburg).

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) built the stone arch bridge in 1907.

This bridge crosses the Conemaugh River on the side of Bow Ridge. This bridge replaced two other bridges and aqueducts at this river crossing. The bridge survived the Johnstown Flood of 1936. The Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam nearby in 1952 for flood control. This stone bridge no longer holds railroad tracks, but it now provides access to the dam’s east side.

The iron bridge that passes over the stone arch bridge IS a currently active railroad bridge. I took the above photo as a freight train carrying crude oil crossed the bridge and also crossed the Conemaugh River. Keep in mind that the Conemaugh feeds the Kiski River. The Kiski feeds the Allegheny River. The Allegheny feeds the Ohio River. The Ohio feeds the Mississippi River. Think about this as you watch a train full of crude oil traverse the Conemaugh.

Both of the bridges at Bow Ridge cross the Conemaugh River downstream from the dam.

If you cross the stone arch bridge to access Bow Ridge, you will see the remains of the Bow Ridge Tunnel. The ghost town of Livermore, Pennsylvania sits beyond this tunnel, on the other side of Bow Ridge. (The government partially flooded Livermore when they built the Conemaugh Dam and created Conemaugh Lake.)

This is very close to the boundary between Indiana County and Westmoreland County. You can reach this by driving through the Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, or from the West Penn Trail.

If you access the Tunnelview Historic Site through the entrance to Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, you will see this fantastic sign:

Drunk Elephant

Here- at the Tunnelview Historic Site – you will find a small pavilion, primitive restroom, parking lot, and canoe put-in. You will also see remains of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal.  This is where Jonathan and I put-in when we kayaked to Saltsburg twice.

Oh! I have to tell you about the FIRST time Jonathan and I kayaked from here:

We parked here at the Tunnelview Historic Site. We paddled downstream six miles, almost to Saltsburg. We stopped for lunch. It was June, and the current didn’t “seem” all that strong. As per our plan, we set off to paddle upstream back to our car.

Hey, I think that we have been paddling next to that same rock for the past ten minutes. What the – when did the current get that strong?

That’s right – we couldn’t paddle upstream. We portaged our kayaks upriver for a good part of the return trip. We smelled a dead animal rotting in the water. Jonathan didn’t tell me about the snakes that swam past us because snakes scare me.  I worried that we wouldn’t get back to our car before the sun set, that we would have to spend the night in the woods, and that somebody would find our car and report us as missing on the river. As I pulled my kayak over the stones on the riverback, I fantasized about the search party that would be sent after us, about our faces all over the news. (We did get back to our car and get the kayaks loaded right before it got dark.)

In hindsight, we should have paddled to Saltsburg, then hired the canoe outfitter in Saltsburg to take us upriver to our car. We talked about doing this when we realized that we couldn’t paddle against the current.  Why didn’t we? Because we’re stubborn.

On our second trip, we parked in Saltsburg and let the outfitter drive us to the put-in at the Tunnelview Historic Site. Then we paddled downriver to our car. Much better.

Life is easier when we aren’t stubborn.

Here is the sign that SHOULD have tipped us off that the Conemaugh River’s current “might” be sorta strong at our put-in spot:

Here’s another important sign:

(Here is a close-up of the artist names:)

We haven’t picnicked at Tunnelview or kayaked on the Conemaugh River for a while because we’ve spent so much time this year with the “new” sailboat. However, I really think that you would enjoy your visit to Tunnelview.

As I noted, the remains of the canal and aqueduct at this site were part of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, which worked in a system with the Allegheny Portage Railroad. From the 1830’s – 1850’s, this system hauled boats over the Allegheny Mountains. Pennsylvania paid to construct the entire thing. Then, after about only two decades, the system became obsolete! I WILL blog about this on some future day.

(This is a redux from the blog that I created with my husband Jonathan, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. I will shortly pull more of my favorite stories out from the crypt. I want to share more of my favorite moments and places with you fantastic readers.)

Ghost Town #1

Maybe you’re looking for “free” places to explore with your family each summer. My own awesome mom did this because she had five active daughters.

Maybe I can help you. I know of several “free” ghost towns in Western Pennsylvania.

Here’s Ghost Town #1: The Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria Counties. This is a 44-mile “rails-to-trails” trail. You can ride your bicycle or walk / run this trail from Blacklick, PA to Cardiff, PA.

Such trails here in Western Pennsylvania charge no admission. You don’t need to have a special permit to enjoy our public trails! (I vacationed once in the Adirondacks in New York State, and the bike trails there charged admission.) You can access the Ghost Town Trail through several trailheads that provide free daytime parking.

As the name “rails-to-trails” implies, this trail lived an earlier life as working railroad lines. People dependent on the economic opportunity from blast furnaces and coal mining lived along these tracks. They built houses, schools, churches, and stores along these tracks. They died along these tracks.

Some of the structures remain as ghost towns. Thus the name, “Ghost Town Trail.”

For instance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s uncle, Warren Delano, developed the railroad town of Wehrum along these tracks. Wehrum evolved into a ghost town after the mines closed in the 1930’s. Wehrum now consists of one standing house, a bank vault, and the Russian Orthodox cemetery.

Jonathan and I travelled from the Pittsburgh area on PA Route 56 to access the trailhead in Vintondale. The bike trip took us through the Blacklick Creek Valley. Adventurers can view two out of the valley’s three original iron furnaces: 1.) Eliza Furnace (AKA Ritter’s Furnace), and 2.) Buena Vista Furnace.

Folklore claims that one of the Eliza Furnace’s original owners died suddenly after a financial or personal setback. The lore includes tales that this owner still haunts the furnace.

I’m sure that other ghosts, real or imagined, also haunt this trail.

We define places through our own pasts, our own kaleidoscopes.

For instance, I grew up in Central and Western PA to Pittsburgh-area parents. PA’s steel industry collapsed. My extended family left the state for brighter futures elsewhere. My friends from school left the state. My family and friends who stayed here struggled to find (and keep) family-sustaining jobs. I know a lot of good people who suffered after the steel business imploded here.

Johnstown, near Vintondale and the Ghost Town Trail, nearly became a ghost town in its own right.

I lived in Johnstown for a few years after college. I had my own reasons for this. I struggled when I lived in Johnstown.

I organized cultural activities through an Americorps program that served (economically distressed) communities in Western PA. I shared office space in Johnstown with two fellow Americorps members who worked on remediating the section of the Ghost Town Trail that ran through Vintondale.

I lived and worked in an almost-ghost town while my office-mates preserved a tourist attraction marketed as a “ghost town.”

Then, I moved to the Pittsburgh area. Jonathan and I returned to Vintondale to pedal along the Ghost Town Trail. We now belong to the Ghost Town Trail’s “Pittsburgh tourists.”

When I pedal along the Ghost Town Trail, I reflect on my time spent with loved ones in PA’s “almost-ghost” towns.

You’ll reflect on your own truths as the you tour the Ghost Town Trail.

Maybe you’ll even see ghosts!

The Most “Pittsburgh” Part of Pittsburgh?

The Pennsylvania Shelf at my favorite used book store.

Here’s a Monongahela (Mon) River secret: I believe that one of the most “Pittsburgh” things about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania isn’t actually within Pittsburgh’s city limits.

By this, I mean the stretch of the river about ten or so miles upstream from where the Mon meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh.  By this, I mean the communities of Braddock and North Braddock, PA. The Mon flows south to north here.

Here are my reasons:

1.) Every Pittsburgh “origin story” includes the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War. In 1755, the French and their indigenous allies ambushed British General Edward Braddock’s army and his indigenous allies at Braddock’s Field (this land is now present-day Braddock and North Braddock, PA). A young George Washington served as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock. Braddock died from his wounds during the retreat. Washington lead the retreat and he oversaw Braddock’s burial.

Marker on General Edward Braddock’s grave. General Braddock was mortally wounded in Braddock’s Field during the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755.

Any internet search on “Braddock’s Defeat” and “folklore” will overwhelm you. For fun, throw in these search terms: “Simon Girty,” or else, “missing gold.” One legend even claims that divine intervention saved Washington from death. Another alleges that one of Braddock’s own soldiers (intentionally) shot him.

This re-enactor portrays a British soldier during the French and Indian War.

2.) In 1794, rebels of the Whiskey Rebellion gathered in this very same Braddock’s Field before they marched into Pittsburgh to protest the U.S. government excise tax on whiskey. President Washington sent federal troops to put down the insurrection. In the fiction novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, angry frontiersmen threatened to burn down the houses of Pittsburgh’s leaders during this rebellion. 

My copy of “The King’s Orchard” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

(My own hometown in Somerset County, PA later celebrated the Whiskey Rebellion with a festival out of memory for rebellion leader Robert Philson. Another rebellion leader, “Whiskey Dave” Bradford, fled to Louisiana and established the famously “haunted” Myrtles Plantation.)

3.) Braddock’s Field sits very close to the present-day Edgar Thomson Steel Works. 

Edgar Thomson Steel Works, Braddock, PA and North Braddock, PA

In 1872, Andrew Carnegie and his business associates built this steel mill. They named the plant after J. Edgar Thomson, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They equipped the plant for the Bessemer process. 

U.S. Steel owns this working steel mill today.

I found one travel blog in which the writer (a military history enthusiast) visited the Braddock community and attempted to retrace the Battle of the Monongahela. The blogger recounted the battle (in great detail) and provided maps. The blogger complained that later “progress” corrupted this land to the extent that he couldn’t actually view the battlefield in its pristine state from 1755.

The blogger’s complaint stuck with me. Just think about the tragedies and injustices (including labor disputes and the Johnstown Flood) that some blame on Pittsburgh’s Industrial Revolution leaders. If the blogger wants to complain about Andrew Carnegie and his business associates, he needs to take a number!

Al Roker spotlights Pittsburgh Guilded Age leaders such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and J. Edgar Thomson in “Ruthless Tide,” his book about the Johnstown Flood. Roker’s book also taught me about the Edgar Thomson Steel Works.

What do you consider to be the most “Pittsburgh” places in Pittsburgh?

These re-enactors portray French settlers in North America during the 1700’s. In the 1750’s, the French and British fought for control of the mouth of the Ohio River (present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War.
My view of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works and of the Monongahela River as I sat on the opposite side of the river, behind Kennywood Park in West Mifflin.

This was my Part 3 of my Secrets of the Mon.

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of my Secrets of the Mon.

McKeesport to Duquesne Bike Ride, Part Deux

This post is just more photos from last weekend’s rail-trail bike ride along the Great Allegheny Passage past McKeesport, Port Perry, Duquesne, and Kennywood Park.

Here are more scenes from the McKeesport roundhouse:

This is the US Steel Braddock Works. We stopped for a rest directly across the Mon River when I took this:

Peddling (AND Pedaling) in McKeesport

On April 29, my husband Jonathan and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. We drove to McKeesport to try out a “new to us” section of the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail.

The McKeesport Police Department sits next to the trail and offers free parking to trail users. So, we parked at the McKeesport Police Department.

We biked past this vacant train roundhouse.

We crossed the Monongahela River (the Mon) on this former railroad bridge.

Then we rode alongside miles of working Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Union Railroad rails. We peddled past Kennywood Park roller coasters running cars of screaming passengers. (Kennywood’s open!!!!)

I don’t have any roots in McKeesport. However, I can tell you a little bit about McKeesport’s saga and struggle with steel.

My mom grew up in Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh and McKeeport and all of the other river towns here thrived with steel mills. (Thrived with the money that steel brought here.)

When I replay the childhood visits to my grandparents’ house in the Burgh, I smell the sulfur. I see the mills glowing on Christmas Eve.

I was born in central Pennsylvania right before the Pennsylvania steel industry collapsed. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors left the state. Then my friends from high school left the state. Then my friends from college left the state. Then three of my sisters and my sister-in-law left the state.

Which is my way of saying that I know that bike trails alone won’t bring all of these people back to Pennsylvania. But it was fun to bike past all of this history last Sunday.

On the Bike Trail: Dravo Cemetery

Here is the first post about the Great Allegheny Passage (a pedestrian / bicycle trail on the footprint of railroad tracks). This post references the Youghioheny (Yough) River Trail (YRT), which follows the Yough River but is just one section of the Great Allegheny Passage.

The Dravo Cemetery dates back to 1812. A former owner built the Dravo Methodist Church next to it in 1824. The church burned down twice.

You can access the Dravo Cemetery on the YRT from the trail’s Boston (Pennsylvania) trail head in Elizabeth Township.

My husband Jonathan and I once parked at the Boston trailhead, and biked past Dravo Cemetery to Cedar Creek Park in Rostraver Township.

Cedar Creek Park provides bike camping sites, a restroom, and clean drinking water.

We camped one night. As we cooked our dinner, an SUV drove down the bike trail and deposited a family’s supplies in a neighboring campsite. That family set off fireworks all night. I lay on the ground and listened to the freight trains moving along the opposite side of the Yough River. I worried about bears. I also worried about the type of people drive SUV’s down bike trails and then set off fireworks all night in the bike trail campground.

We pedaled back to Boston the next morning.

See this below photo? This pictured drinking well, bench, pavilion (in background of photo) and also Dravo’s Landing Campground all sit next to Dravo Cemetery.

So, you can stop and eat your lunch next to Dravo Cemetery.  Or, you can camp next to Dravo Cemetery at the Queen Aliquippa Campground.

At least the cemetery inhabitants won’t drive their SUV down the bike trail and then set off fireworks all night!

Note: The first summer that Jonathan and I knew each other, we pedaled round-trip sections of the Great Allegheny Passage. We continued each summer.  At one point, we conquered the entire accessible trail in round-trip sections. (Then new sections of trail opened!) 

I based this post about Dravo Cemetary and the YRT on trips that we took a few years ago.  Very shortly, I will post about our April 29, 2018, trip from McKeesport, along the Monongahela River, on the Great Allegheny Passage. 

Bow Tunnel

Come see the western entrance to Bow Tunnel.

This former canal tunnel treks under Bow Ridge. The eastern side of this tunnel lies, sealed off, under the water of the Conemaugh River for part of the year.

You can take the West Penn Trail to reach the other side of Bow Ridge on foot. Then proceed two or three more miles to reach the ghost town of Livermore.

You can see this tunnel for yourself at the Tunnelview Historic Site.

Jonathan, his mom Fran, and I visited Tunnelview in February 2016 when I took this photo.  Here is the post that I wrote on our other blog when we returned from that trip.

Finally, here’s a photo that I didn’t post our other blog: the February ice inside Bow Tunnel.