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4.11.2014

Semple and Ward Street Street Digging Discovery

The city workers in the PWSA and any other utilities organization have a really cool job that in addition to their trade, they are almost like archaeologists for city history. They dig down five to ten feet and find all kinds of spectacular things from days gone by. I walked by them the other day as they were fixing a leak in one of the old city water pipes and I was truly amazed with what I saw. Every time they dig they see a piece of the puzzle as to why things are a certain way.
 Streetcar rail! This is a relatively quiet side street these days so I was surprised to find this. 
  Not only was there Streetcar rail, but there was also a tie that broke off as they were digging. These guys have a tough job trying to maneuver around this things to make repairs.
 You could also see some cobblestones and bricks from the road prior to it being paved. They may also have been used for fill at one point.
 A closer look at the old tie

Here you can see the repair on the waterline. We have to remember that our infrastructure in regards to our water, gas, and sewer lines are this old and if we wish to avoid tragedies like those that have occurred in places like Allentown with old gas lines, we need to replace our infrastructure. Through doing this we can also put people to work

I did not take pictures of the full corner, but this is an awkward intersection in that the one corner has a curved building, clearly for a turning streetcar, and other road entering the intersection goes off center straight into it. It is clear that something is off about the intersection, but it is hard to determine why it is that way. There are many subtleties when you are dealing with an area with over a century's worth of building and action. This intersection of Semple and Ward used to not exist in that the curve of the road actually meant that this was one road. At one point Ward used to also cover the area that is now Semple. The area that extends past this intersection to Dawson Street was a different road entirely.

Photo from the City Photographers Collection
That trolley passed that exact spot just a few moments before this 1934 shot of the old 81 Atwood Trolley. Notice how a few of the cars are sporting the "National Recovery Act" logo for the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal.
I posted this photo a while back and wondered what had gone on in this spot over the last century or so. This photo is a near inverse of the other photo, facing the other direction. If you put your head out of the trolley and looked back, this is similar to the view you would see. If you scroll back up to the photo of the trolley you can see that the tree in the picture. That blue addition to the house is approximately where that tree is. The cars on the far left hand side of this picture are parked in the same exact spot as the cars in the photo. My favorite movie of all time is Back to the Future and pictures like that trolley shot are so cool, but so creepy at the same time. I am very familiar with what is in that photo because the buildings are all still there, but the weird aspect is how different it is. Looking at old photos of familiar places like that is almost like time travel. 
This Pittsburgh Press Article from 1951 announces the end of the streetcars going on this route. Those rails have not seen streetcar action in 63 years. That is amazing to think about. Was it progress getting rid of the streetcars? They replaced the streetcars with shuttles and those are even gone now. I do not call that progress at all. Either way, seeing those trolley rails peeking out was a pretty awesome glimpse into the neighborhood's past. 


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