CRM Journal

Media Review

Rivers of Steel

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Homestead, Pennsylvania; maintained by Levy MG; accessed on June 22-23 and August 30, 2004.


Since the 1970s, steelmaking in the Pittsburgh region has experienced a steady decline. In the late 1980s, the United States Steel Corporation began to demolish many of the company's great structures, taking with them the physical reminders of over 125 years of a way of life in the Three Rivers area. Alarmed by these events, local activists urged Congress to establish a task force to look into ways to preserve parts of the steel industry's heritage in Pennsylvania. Efforts by the Steel Heritage Task Force included preserving machinery such as the 48-inch rolling mill; compiling thousands of oral history interviews; creating collections of artifacts, photographs, and blueprints from workers; and multiple documentation projects of historic sites by the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record. Subsequent to these efforts, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area was established by Congress in 1996.

Rivers of Steel highlights some of the historical attractions, accomplishments, and ongoing initiatives related to the heritage area's mission of historic preservation, cultural conservation, education, recreation, and resource development within a seven-county area in southwestern Pennsylvania. The goal of the heritage area is to create a national historical park based in Homestead, which includes two remaining blast furnaces from the Carrie Furnace site across the Monongahela River, and the Pump House, the site of an infamous battle during the 1892 Homestead steelworkers strike.

Rivers of Steel offers an introduction to the steel industry and steel-making communities in western Pennsylvania. The heritage area and related endeavors are presented in a straight-forward fashion, with limited access to more in-depth research. The sections tie cultural and industrial heritage together. The Tradition Bearers radio series features voices of different cultural points of view within the heritage area, from African, Latin, and Native American mill workers, to church kitchen volunteers who discuss preparing local ethnic food favorites. Snippets of the interviews aired on local radio station WEDO are features with supporting text and images. The All About Us section promotes Reel Steel, the latest exhibit at the Rivers of Steel headquarters, the restored Bost Building in Homestead. The exhibit features screenings of three historic steel-related movies, including a film from the 1950s when steel was king.

The most interesting section is Sites and Attractions. It begins with a map of the seven-county area divided into thematic regions. The section promotes Rivers of Steel-sponsored field trips, with links to a dozen local historical attractions and local heritage festivals. Each region has a name to entice visitors, such as "Big Steel" for the area centering on the city of Pittsburgh, "Mountains of Fire" for Connellsville Coke, "Mosaic of Industry" for the Allegheny Valley, "Fueling a Revolutionary Journey" for the Upper Monogohela River, and "Thunder of Protest" for the Ohio Valley.

Overall, Rivers of Steel offers a solid introduction to the impact of the steel industry on the heritage of the Pittsburgh region. Rivers of Steel is also a good resource for those interested in effects of industrialization on cultural landscapes. It is attractive, easily navigable, and has great potential as a research and promotional tool for the heritage area and western Pennsylvania region.

Christopher H. Marston
National Park Service