A new survey of Pittsburgh’s bridges, and another of its “lost steel plants” | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A new survey of Pittsburgh’s bridges, and another of its “lost steel plants”

Local authors offer photo-heavy histories

Pittsburgh is known for, and by, its bridges. But nearly 200 years after Allegheny County’s first bridge was built, one pleasure of Pittsburgh’s Bridges (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99) is that it highlights not just our iconic river spans, but also the ravine bridges, footbridges and railroad overpasses that so mark everyday life.

In 128 pages of concise text and copious photos, locally based co-authors Todd Wilson and Helen Wilson offer histories of some 140 bridges past and present. You’ll learn everything from the birthdate of the Allegheny River’s Three Sisters (1926) to the role a succession of bridges played in forging the Point as Pittsburgh’s now-bridgeless cynosure. The black-and-white, mostly archival photos also cover the construction and use (and in some cases the demolition) of such ravine-spanners as the South Side’s Mission Street Bridge, Duck Hollow’s now-vanished McFarren Street footbridge and two dozen of the railroad overpasses that bind the city like steel staples. 

Todd Wilson is a transportation engineer and life-long bridge enthusiast, and supplies plenty about these bridges’ technical aspects. But even if you can’t tell a Parker truss from a tied arch, if you read his book, you won’t look at Pittsburgh the same way again.

Another new one from Arcadia (the South Carolina-based publisher of photo-heavy local histories) is Lost Steel Plants of the Monongahela River Valley ($22.99), Robert S. Dorsett’s 95-pager documenting Big Steel’s corpse. These photos were shot mostly in the 1980s, after most of the plants had been idled. The book chronicles not the powerhouse that once produced half the nation’s steel, but an industry’s painful, protracted erasure. You’ll see U.S. Steel’s Duquesne blast furnaces, whole but dormant, then witness it undergoing demolition. 

This isn’t ruin porn. Partly because Dorsett favors wide, matter-of-fact framing (and partly because some photos have printed up rather dark), few images are conventionally picturesque. But what resonates is the vast scale of, say, U.S Steel’s Homestead Works — a scale illegible now that even Big Steel’s ruins have been supplanted by office parks and retail playgrounds.

A favorite image: the once-mighty Carrie blast furnaces, laying crumpled as mushrooms left too long on the sill. Other bits of Brobdingnagian litter — like a towering set of industrial tongs — suggest these leavings as some giant’s discarded toys. Which, in some sense, they were.

Dorsett will sign copies of Lost Steel Plants from 1-4 p.m. Sat., Dec. 19, at the Monroeville Mall Barnes & Noble. 412-856-0369 or www.stores.barnesandnoble.com