Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, downtown skyline and incline.

Which US City Is Known As “The City Of Bridges”?

Once just a bare, rugged terrain of deep valleys, creeks, and rivers, the "City of Bridges" has 446 bridges of various designs connecting its residents. Long before the majestic bridges soared above the Three Rivers, the first European settlers arrived on site in the 1700s, finding it challenging to travel across the region of countless streams and hillsides. They spanned the newly-constructed roadways with wooden bridges, along with the rivers and valleys. Today, the city's topography is world-renowned for boasting the most bridges, with three more than Venice. Pittsburgh is set at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which unite into the Ohio River in the business district, also known as the "Golden Triangle." Turning the wooded areas into parks and spanning the hills and valleys with bridges, the city today is the center of an urban industrial complex, as well as full of natural outings. The complex includes the surrounding cities of Aliquippa, New Kensington, McKeesport, Washington, and the borough of Wilkinsburg. Pittsburgh’s 2020 population count comprised 302,971, while Pittsburgh Metro Area added to 2,370,930 residents. 

Early History Of Pittsburgh

A large steel company opened in 1881 along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
A large steel company opened in 1881 along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The few remaining buildings are a tribute to the men who worked and died there. Editorial credit: StacieStauffSmith Photos / Shutterstock.com

The site was initially occupied by the Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking people in a conflict-ridden region between the British and French over territorial claims. Upon the expulsion of the French by General John Forbes and his armies from Fort Duquesne in 1758, the site turned into Fort Pitt in 1761. Named after the British statesman William Pitt the Elder, the new fort ensured British dominance at the source of the Ohio River. Following the defeat of the Native American forces in 1763, more British settlers began arriving in the area. An agreement between the Natives and the Penn family ended a boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia. Pittsburgh's layout was established around the fort (now the Golden Triangle) by John Campbell in 1764. After the American Revolution, it served as an outfitting stop for settlers traveling westward via the Ohio River. George Anschutz erected the blast furnace at the end of the 18th century, making the town a forerunner in the iron and steel industry of the following century. Proving the city's economic mainstay, Pittsburgh was known as the "Iron City" by 1850. Its strategic location, along with "striking gold" in natural resources, turned the city into a commercial and industrial mecca of the 19th century, spurring further growth and development. Completed in 1834, the Pennsylvania Canal and the Portage Railroad opened the routes for the city's vital trading and shipping markets. Hit by a tragedy in 1845, some 24 blocks of businesses, homes, churches, and more buildings were destroyed in a fire. After the Civil War, European immigrants arrived in fleets, including several key industrialists who built their steel empires. The rise to regional power put the city at the focus of historic friction between labor and management, initiating the birth of the American Federation of Labor in 1881.

Modern History Of Pittsburgh

Reaching a population count of 321,616 by the turn of the century and growing steadily through World War II, the war benefitted the "Steel City's" economy but came with a cost of Pittsburgh becoming the epitome of the grimy, polluted industrial city. The 675,000-population in 1950 declined to almost half by the end of the century, with the main ethnic make-up of European descendants and one-fourth of African Americans. An extensive redevelopment program curbed smoke pollution, set up flood prevention and sewage disposal, as well as made Pittsburgh the country's first city to generate nuclear-powered electricity in 1957. However, due to foreign competition and decreased demand, the steel industry virtually disappeared by the early '80s, causing many surrounding towns to fail drastically from unemployment. Pittsburgh's diversified economy emphasized light industries of metalworking, chemicals, and plastics, as well as high-technologies of computer software, robotics, biochemical, and environmental technologies. Industrial research laboratories and the service sector also grew from demand, while Pittsburgh well-established itself as the nation's largest inland port that is still leading in transportation.

Culture And Education In Pittsburgh

Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
View of the Art of the Brick, the world's largest LEGO exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Editorial credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

The Golden Triangle was rebuilt to include the Mellon Arena, Point State Park, the Gateway Center, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, along with their subcomponents. The University of Pittsburgh was chartered in 1787, with more educational institutions opening up over the next two centuries. Central to cultural life, the Carnegie Museums of Pitts comprises an umbrella organization over the fine arts and natural history museums (1895), the Carnegie Science Center (1991) with its Henry Buhl, Jr., Planetarium and Observatory (1939), and the Andy Warhol Museum (1994). The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh contains more than 3.3 million volumes, and the Carnegie Music Hall. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performs at a former movie theater turned into the Heinz Hall. 

The Bridges

Waging a massive road and bridge campaign to meet the needs of the region’s booming population through the 20th century, the development of the Interstate Highway System comprised chiefly of steel bridges of various designs, including suspension, cantilever, and arch. The hundreds of Pittsburgh bridges connect residents, neighborhoods, and other areas while adding a unique touch to the city’s recognizably-beautiful skyline.

The first bridge to span any of the three rivers in the Pittsburgh area was the wooden Monongahela Bridge, built in 1818. Destroyed by the Great Fire of 1845 in less than ten minutes, it was replaced with a new wire rope suspension bridge designed by John Roebling, the designer of the future Brooklyn Bridge. The additional weight from increased traffic created a precarious situation for its endurance, resulting in the closure and replacement of the bridge by the Smithfield Street Bridge. 

Downtown Pittsburgh and Smithfield Street Bridge across the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania
Downtown Pittsburgh and Smithfield Street Bridge across the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania. 

The recognizable Smithfield Street Bridge was erected in 1894 spanning the Monongahela River at Smithfield Street. Standing today as the oldest through-truss bridge in the United States, it has undergone many cosmic and cosmetic changes since then. The portals with arches, designed by the City Architect, Stanley L. Roush, took grotesques of men to realize and incorporate into the original downstream half in 1915. The bridge breathed a sigh of relief in 1934 when its wrought-iron floor was replaced with aluminum, which significantly lightened the dead weight, along with having its iron railings replaced by plain hollow aluminum ones. 

The Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge, also known as Hot Metal Bridge, was erected on April 27, 1887, over the Monongahela River between the Blast furnace and Mill. Jones & Laughlin. It mainly served to transport molten iron from the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporations' Eliza Furnaces to the Bessemer Converters and open hearths from Jones & Laughlin's South Side mills across the river. Established by ordinance, gold and black became Pittsburgh's official city colors in 1899, with several downtown bridges getting "sun-kissed" by painters.

The yellow Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The yellow Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reflects in the calm waters of the Allegheny River. Editorial credit: James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

Sixth Street Bridge (1892-1927), designed by Theodore Cooper, replaced the second Sixth Street Bridge (1859-1892), designed by John A. Roebling, spanning the Allegheny River. The fourth Sixth Street Bridge then replaced it with a self-anchored suspension that received a reward in 1929 from the American Institute of Steel Construction for its innovative design. Renamed in honor of the late Pittsburgh Pirate, it is now called the Roberto Clemente Bridge, part of the famous trio. Reserved for the fans traversing over to PNC Park for a Pirate game, it gets closed to all the vehicular traffic on game nights.

Rachel Carson Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Rachel Carson Bridge (Ninth Street Bridge) spans the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Ft. Duquesne Bridge experienced severe delays in 1963, earning the moniker of the "Bridge to Nowhere." The world-famed trio of identical bridges includes the Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol, and Rachel Carson suspension bridges, pulling traffic across the Allegheny River to the North Side of the city. The 7th Street Bridge was renamed The Andy Warhol Bridge in honor of the Warhol Museum's 10th anniversary in 2005, retaining its golden color. Honoring the Pittsburgh-born author and founder of the modern environmental movement, the 9th Street Bridge was renamed Rachel Carson Bridge in 2006.

The Hot Spots In Pittsburgh

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial is on the National Register of Historic Places in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Editorial credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

The astounding array of museums includes everything from the Bicycle Heaven Museum and Shop, showcasing the world's most extensive collection (some 6,000) of bicycles, to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Just east of Downtown Oakland, it comprises the nation's most significant memorial honoring the entire military personnel throughout viable history. The Andy Warhol Museum, set in a restored warehouse and distribution center, is North Museum's largest museum dedicated to a single artist. Located right across from the Andy Warhol Bridge, it showcases an extensive permanent collection of art and archives by Pittsburgh-born popular art and film icon Andy Warhol. Near the museum, the Mattress Factory is an inspirational contemporary art museum that started as a pioneer of site-specific installation art, with permanent installations by Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, and Greer Lankton, among others. 

Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Mary Schenley Memorial stands in front of the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania campus. Editorial credit: James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

The Cathedral of Learning is the nation's tallest education building and the second tallest in the world. The 42-story skyscraper is the university's centerpiece, while its first and third floors contain 31 Nationality Rooms, each representing an ethnic group that settled in Pittsburgh filled with relative memorabilia from each culture. The funicular-like iconic and historical inclines of the city, the Duquesne Incline, and the Monongahela Incline ride to the summit of Mount Washington, with breathtaking vistas of the Downtown skyline along the way. The view from the top puts the whole of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers, along with many neighborhoods, in the palm of one's hand. 

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Editorial credit: photosounds / Shutterstock.com

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1893), with extensive 2.5 acres (1-hectare) greenhouses, comprise one of the city's most scenic places for a stroll or relaxation. The city's zoo with an aquarium is set in the north-eastern Highland Park neighborhood, while the national Aviary is the country's only independent indoor non-profit zoo that hosts more than 500 birds belonging to more than 150 species from all over the world. Its walk-through habitats offer an intimate experience to interact with and hand-feed the species rarely found anywhere else in the world.

PNC Baseball Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
PNC Baseball Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Editorial credit: photosounds / Shutterstock.com

The PNC Park is home to the Pirates, the city's professional baseball team, while Heinz Field is home to the Steelers, the city's professional gridiron football team. Comprising the two new sports venues opened in 2001, they are set on the Allegheny River's north bank, opposite the Golden Triangle. The Carnegie Science Center, set on the shore at the convergence of the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, contains the world's largest permanent robotics exhibition, Roboworld, and the United States Navy's first Radar Picket submarine, the USS Requin. For more entertainment, there's the amusement park to the southeast in West Mifflin, as well as summertime riverboat excursions on Pittsburgh's waterways and Kennywood.

Urban Life In Pittsburgh

A young adult man bikes to work on the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
A young adult man bikes to work on the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Editorial credit: James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

Despite being a megalopolis, the city of Pittsburgh provides an array of outdoor opportunities for the active, thoroughly enjoyed by its residents on land and water, such as great kayaking on any of its three rivers. The 24-miles of riverfront trails comprise scenic biking, hiking, and walking paths, while the 150-mile non-motorized path, the Great Allegheny Passage, known as the GAP trail, is biking galore. Spanning between the C&O Canal Towpath and Washington, D.C, one can choose a section of the trail or enjoy a leisurely ride along the Monongahela River with “The Golden Triangle Bike,” renting out bicycles in the city.   

The intriguing layout of the city makes it interesting to get some exercise while exploring Pittsburgh on foot, such as the 446 bridges that comprise a bucket-list a-waiting to hit. One can also scavenge for landmarks, such as the Roslyn Place last wooden brick street in the city. For those "up" for the challenge, there are 700 sets of Pittsburgh's public steps throughout the city, while Canton Avenue in the Beechview neighborhood is the steepest street in the nation. Conquering Mount Washington comes with a reward of the city's most scenic and panoramic views. Comprising a maze of ridges and valleys intertwined with trails and parks, Pittsburgh's atmospheric neighborhoods sit on the steep hillsides with streets that have steps for sidewalks. A must-see destination with many record-holding attractions, Pittsburgh is also a city full of activities, events, fantastic restaurants, and nearly 50 local breweries. Sitting wrapped in rivers and bridges, many claims to be awakened by the incredible experience of an industrially-rich city with a historically significant downtown and natural beauty.

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