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Ballpark artifacts offer peek into past of North Side

Thursday, July 05, 2001

By Walt McGough, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Pirates aren't exactly making history this year, but PNC Park is definitely a part of history. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the park's own museum, located in the executive offices.

The museum, starting point for all tours of the facility, features several artifacts that were dug up during construction of the ballpark. Divided into four sections, the exhibit offers insight into the site's rich history.

The first section, titled "Unearthing the Past," shows photographs of the excavation of relics, performed by archaeologists from Christine Davis Consultants of Verona. It has a glass case with layers of soil, each representing a time period, ranging from the wetlands of the 1700s to the asphalt and pavement of the 1950s.

The next section, "Wild West," is a window into the time when the Allegheny River shoreline was controlled by various groups of American Indians. Arrowheads and stone tools that were uncovered during the archaeological dig are displayed, as is a diagram of Killbuck's Island. The island, now part of the North Side and an island no more, was the site for Pittsburgh's first baseball field, Exposition Park.

"Rags to Riches," the third section of the museum, tells the story of Gen. William Robinson, owner of most of the artifacts on display in the museum. Robinson was the son of James and Martha Robinson, two of the first settlers in the Allegheny Valley, and was the first child of European ancestry born in Allegheny city (now the North Side).

Robinson became the first mayor of Allegheny city and served as a Pennsylvania legislator. He was president of the first railroad in the Pittsburgh area and a partner in the city's first rolling mill, which opened the way for Pittsburgh's industrial development.

Most of the artifacts that were unearthed are believed to have washed out of his house during a flood in 1832. The exhibit includes china plates and a teapot from Robinson's home, bottles, flasks and crystal glasses.

The door to Robinson's home is displayed in its own glass case, with a picture of its unearthing in 1999.

PNC Park is built over the Robinson homestead, on which archaeologists also uncovered a brick patio and the foundations of several buildings.

The fourth and final section of the exhibit, "Twin Cities," discusses Allegheny City, the Pittsburgh Canal and Exposition Park.

Exposition Park was home of the Alleghenies baseball team, which in 1891 changed its name to the Pirates. The field also was site of the first World Series in 1903.

The park remained the home of the Pirates until the team moved to Forbes Field in Oakland in 1909.

Pirates Vice President Steve Greenberg said the museum is a vital part of PNC Park.

"I think it's important to show people the history behind the park," he said, "so that they can really experience the North Shore's history."

The last stop in the museum is a model of the newest addition to North Shore history: PNC Park itself. The model is complemented by photographs of the groundbreaking.

After the museum, visitors see a film about the making of the park, then the rest of the facility. The museum serves as a reminder that there is more to the area than baseball and pierogi races.

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