Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Carrie Furnace Tour

Once upon a time, steel mills lined the river banks and clouds of soot filled the air throughout Western Pennsylvania. Very few are in existence today.  Shopping malls, industrial parks, and decaying remnants are what remain in towns once dominated by the industry.  One of these dilapidated structures, the Carrie Furnace, located along the Monongahela River in Rankin/Swissvale has sat abandoned, since 1979.  The Carrie Furnace was founded in 1884 and was acquired by Andrew Carnegie in 1898 to supply iron to his Homestead works across the river.  At the Carrie Furnace, coke, limestone, and iron ore were put into one of the seven blast furnaces and cooked at 2,800 degrees. It was then transported across the Rankin Hot Metal Bridge to Homestead via torpedo cars, where the pig iron was made into steel.  Ninety-two feet tall Furnaces #6 and #7, which were built in 1907 by U.S. Steel are all that remain of the site today.  Years of neglect left the structures to rust and decay.  In 2006, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark and the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area opened the 38 acre site to tourists.  The Carrie Furnace is constantly being restored by volunteers in order to preserve history.  The site has also attracted filmmakers and photographers, as several movies and music videos have been filmed here over the years.

Torpedo car used to transport iron to Homestead

To capture Pittsburgh's past, Rivers of Steel offers tours of the Carrie Furnace on Saturdays (10 AM) April 27 through October, and Fridays (10 AM) June through August.  On the roughly two-hour guided tour, visitors walk through the cast house, furnaces, and ore yards where thousands of Pittsburghers' worked 24 hours/day, 365 days/year to create 1,000 to 1,250 tons of pig iron per day.  Tour guides provide a historical perspective of the site, the iron making process, the different jobs an employee held, and describe the working conditions of a mill worker at the Carrie Furnace.  One of the highlights is seeing the Carrie Deer that was erected in 1997.  The Carrie Deer is a 40' tall structure created by a group of artists that snuck into the Carrie Furnace and spent a year constructing using materials extracted from the site.  This is the only mill of its kind that one can tour.   It is a great way for people to learn about Pittsburgh's steel heritage.  Rivers of Steel envisions this historical site as the focal point for development in the future.   

Carrie Deer

Years of driving across the Rankin Bridge to get to my grandparents' house I always looked off into the distance at the ruins of the former mill. When I read that a restoration project was underway and tours were going to be offered I made sure to sign up.  On a recent Saturday morning, I took the tour and was fascinated with the preservation effort and scenery. The tour was very interesting and the tour guide was very knowledgeable. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in history and Pittsburgh. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that is a must-see.  I hope they get the necessary funding to continue to develop the site for everyone to enjoy.

Reservations for tours can be made at www.riversofsteel.com.

Monday, March 25, 2013

KSWA: Wrestling in Lawrenceville?

Any Yinzer knows that Lawrenceville has become a haven for the working class, hipsters, and young adults alike over the past few years.  Whether it is window shopping dahn Butler St. on a sunny afternoon, enjoying the variety of unique bars, or taking part in karaoke bowling at Arsenal Lanes there is always something to do.  Most people only stay within a few blocks of Butler and Main Streets and rarely venture past the Allegheny Cemetery.  Past the cemetery Lawrenceville is not as developed and still shows signs of the former industrial neighborhood.  Nestled about a block past Butler Street towards the Allegheny River at 120 51st Street sits the Loyal Order of the Moose Lawrenceville Lodge Number 581.  This is where the night life of Lawrenceville may not be as well known. 

A few of us were tipped off that on Saturday, March 23 there would be some WWE style wrestling taking place at the Lawrenceville Moose.  The cost of entry was $10 and $2 PBR pounders were on special.  Being fans of the WWE throughout our youth, RKorn and I decided what better way to spend the night than watching some old-fashioned studio wrastlin'.  We were not sure what to expect so we decided to head over to the Moose Lodge and check it out.  The lodge looked like a nondescript run down warehouse.  Upon entering and paying our $10, the Star Spangled Banner was blasting through a cheap PA system in a giant smoke-filled fire hall with 70's era wood paneling and a bar off in the corner.  There were a few rows of seats surrounding the ring and we were quickly introduced to the world of the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA).

KSWA was not ECW wrestling, which I was hoping for, but rather a cheesier version of WWE.  There were about 6 matches featuring a wide array of megastars of the KSWA which in many cases were low brow imitations of studio wrestlers and managers from yesteryear.  It was the cheese factor, however, that made this night unforgettable.  Each of the wrestlers stayed in character throughout, clear plot lines were acted out, and interviews featuring the megastars were conducted between matches.  The wrestlers seemed to be from the western PA area as it was woven into the characters' profiles as it was announced that "The King" Del Douglas lived in a mansion overlooking Millvale.  KSWA t-shirts and memorabilia were available to purchase for the most ardent supporters.  Overall, the matches could have used some work, but the heels, baby faces, referees, and announcers made the most of their talent.  I thoroughly enjoyed this throwback to my past. 

Who attended this event you ask?  It was a great mix of Moose Lodge members and their families, the Lawrenceville hipsters, yinzers galore of all ages, curious onlookers, and friends and families of the wrestlers.  It was a sight to see. 

After the matches ended all ticket holders were invited downstairs to the Moose lounge to grab some drinks, a bite to eat, and socialize with the wrestlers.  They were all very accessible and engaged curious fans if approached.

Apparently, the Moose is a popular stop for these wrestlers as everyone in the crowd knew the wrestlers, created signs, and wore t-shirts from past events.  If you want to check out the KSWA it is definitely worth the $10.  They'll be at the Moose next on Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:30 PM. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pittsburgh's Distillery: Wigle Whiskey

Southwestern Pennsylvania has a long storied history when it comes whiskey.  The Pittsburgh region was once the most important whiskey-producing area in the country being home to more than a quarter of the nation's distilleries.  Monongahela Rye was the most consumed whiskey in the country in the 19th century and after a significant lull in legal production and a new state law, local entrepreneurs are reviving the craft. 

Wigle Whiskey, founded by the Meyer family in 2012, is the first distillery in the city of Pittsburgh in since prohibition.  Located on Smallman St. in the Strip District, the distillery is named after Phillip Wigle, a rebel who was sentenced to hang for treason after burning down the home of a federal tax collector and sparking the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.  Wigle Whiskey produces an unaged White Rye Whiskey, White Wheat Whiskey, Wigle Ginever, a Dutch-style gin, and the Aged Whiskey.  The unaged liquors are available anytime, but the Aged Whiskey is released periodically from their Small Cask Series after 6-8 months in the barrel.  The first release was on December 15, 2012 and sold out in about one hour.  For those interested in making their own whiskey, do-it-yourself kits are on-sale.  Tours and special event bookings are made available to the public where one is able to observe the distilling process and sample Wigle's products.