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.
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.