Miniature Railroad & Village cements Donora into its visual history | Blogh

Miniature Railroad & Village cements Donora into its visual history


click to enlarge Cement City model features seven cement houses, six completed and one under construction. - CP PHOTO: JOSH OSWALD
CP Photo: Josh Oswald
Cement City model features seven cement houses, six completed and one under construction.
The Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad & Village has been capturing the interest of Pittsburghers both young and old since 1919. And on Nov. 15, the railroad reopens to the public with its newest model: Cement City.

Cement City, which is located in Donora, Pa., an hour south of Pittsburgh, was created by Thomas Edison as an answer to the slum-like conditions created by housing shortages common to industrial boomtowns. Edison dreamed "to see the day when a workingman's house can be built of concrete in a week," according to Brian Charlton of the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. 

Edison's goals were speed, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and altruism (Charlton says Edison was worried his philanthropy would pale in comparison to Andrew Carnegie's). His idea won hearts and minds, and 120 cement-poured houses were ordered for completion between 1916 and 1917. Only 80 houses were built before unforeseen costs curbed construction. But the houses and the history remain strong, and Cement City landed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District in 1996.
click to enlarge Copies of original Cement City blueprints - CP PHOTO: JOSH OSWALD
CP Photo: Josh Oswald
Copies of original Cement City blueprints
In order to bring Science Center guests into the blue-collar ambiance of 1900s Washington County, the designers at the Science Center built each house using a combination of manual dexterity and 3D printing. They first selected five of the original floor plans from blueprints on loan from the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum to reproduce the houses' structures.


Prairie-style pitched roofs, arts and crafts windows, porches, and trellises were then added by Exhibit Technician Andrew Spate to flesh out the era's aesthetic. And Curator of Historic Exhibits Patty Everly and Program Assistant Nikki Wilhelm put the proverbial cherry on top by applying acrylic paint with a sand-based medium to replicate the cement texture of the houses' walls.

To set the scene, the Miniature Railroad team created a block party to represent the bustling activity and excitement emanating from an era of true promise.     
click to enlarge One of the completed Cement City model houses featured in the Railroad & Village - PHOTO: CARNEGIE SCIENCE CENTER
Photo: Carnegie Science Center
One of the completed Cement City model houses featured in the Railroad & Village
click to enlarge One of the completed Cement City model houses featured in the Railroad & Village - PHOTO: CARNEGIE SCIENCE CENTER
Photo: Carnegie Science Center
One of the completed Cement City model houses featured in the Railroad & Village
click to enlarge PHOTO: CARNEGIE SCIENCE CENTER
Photo: Carnegie Science Center
Location Details

Carnegie Science Center

1 Allegheny Avenue, Pittsburgh North Side

412-237-3400

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    @ BoxHeart Gallery

    Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays, 1-5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 22