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Bridge has long, important history

Saturday, June 24, 2000

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

To say there's a lot of history in parallel bridges that once linked the Hazelwood Works and South Side Works of Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. would be an understatement.

There's also a wealth of memories, some of which were recalled yesterday when officials reopened the half of the bridge that used to carry Monongahela Connecting Railroad Co. trains.

"My dad worked there 51 years," Mayor Murphy said of the steel mills that occupied the vast tracts on both sides of the Monongahela River but phased out their last production in the early 1990s.

"I started out of high school," said John DeFazio, Allegheny County Council president and long-time official of the United Steelworkers of America. "I was elected the youngest president in the USW here."

State Rep. Ralph Kaiser, D-Brentwood, former county commissioner Mike Dawida and several dozen retirees, all of whom have worked in the mills at one time, also were on hand for yesterday's ribbon-cutting, exchanging stories, recalling pals and studying old photos on display.

The "Mon-Con" railroad half of the bridge is now open to cars; the "hot metal" half the bridge, which shares the same stone river piers, will remain abandoned until city officials raise the money to convert it for pedestrian and bicycle uses.

The steel companies operated the two bridges in tandem when Pittsburgh was the nation's steel-making capital. At one time, the mills on the opposite banks employed 12,000 people. Seven years ago, the last train crew crossed the Hot Metal Bridge.

Here's what a county engineer, Joseph White, and a mining metallurgical engineer, M.W. von Bernewitz, wrote about the bridge in 1928 in a book titled "The Bridges of Pittsburgh":

"This [bridge] was built in 1900 by the Edgemore Boiler Works and is 1,116 feet in length. When five blast furnaces are in operation, 24 trains a day cross the bridge. Each train is made up of a steam locomotive and two ladles, each weighing 87 tons and carrying 90 tons of metal, and a caboose.

"In effect, every hour of the day, about 180 tons of molten iron, or say 4,300 tons a day, is hauled across the river for converting into steel."

During World War II, 15 percent of the total steel-making capacity of the United States crossed the Mon River on the Hot Metal Bridge.

This fall, a Steelworker Commemorative Sculpture will be unveiled near the foot of the bridge on the south shore. It will represent a collection of memories of steelworkers and their experiences in Pittsburgh's renowned steel mills.

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