South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By Al Lowe
Contributing Writer 

New Allentown mural inclined to look at neighborhood's past

 

September 13, 2011

A new Allentown mural depicts the Knoxville Incline Station (inset) that once sat on the site, on the corner of E. Warrington Avenue and Brosville Street.

Allentown Community Development Corporation Board President Judy Hackel believes it is important to remember the history of her community.

The neighborhood is now focused on the future – and is improving lighting, beautifying the area's gateways and increasing public safety - but Ms. Hackel and members of the Allentown CDC also thought it important to pay a tribute to the Knoxville Incline that operated between 1890 and 1960 by adding a mural to the site where its station once existed.

The mural adorns the four outside walls of Daily Mart and part of the decoration is reminiscent of the steel girder arches of the original building.

"It turned out beautifully," Ms. Hackel said.

"It was a unique station. It was open air. No walls. It was one of the few inclines with a curve in its track, an unusual engineering feat necessary because of the area's topography," said Greg Panza, project manager who helped to coordinate the project.

He posted an ad for a mural artist on Craigslist, which offers free on-line classified advertising. He also received advice from the Sprout Fund, a non-profit organization involved in community projects.

Mural artist Kevin Szczepanski was chosen. Mr. Panza created the design for the mural and the artist refined it. The cost of the project was $750, paid by contributions from the Daily Mart, Allentown CDC and an anonymous donor, Ms. Hackel said.

"We wanted to make sure this intersection looked the best since it is across from the Zone 3 police station and people pass it coming from the South Side Slopes, Route 51, Mount Oliver, Knoxville and Station Square," Mr. Panza said.

Pittsburgh once had some of the steepest inclines in the world, most built by mining corporations.

"It was the cheapest way to get to the South Side," said Helen Baney, a lifelong Allentown resident who turned 87 on Sept. 6 and remembered her rides on it. Her grandfather, father and uncle also rode the incline when going to work at A.M. Byers, an iron and steel manufacturing company.

"It cost three cents. During the Depression that was what people could afford," she said.

The ride took passengers from the Allentown station to a terminal on Bradish Street, near 11th Street.

"This incline was not tiered. It was much larger than the inclines we see now and, in addition to passengers, carried horses, wagons and carts, Ms. Baney said.

In those days there were horse drawn hucksters who delivered milk or ice or sharpened knives.

It closed in December, 1960. "I don't know why they closed it. I guess it wasn't a moneymaker. You never hear the full story why companies shut businesses down.

"I'll bet there are young people who had no idea what was located there. I'm glad someone made a remembrance of the Knoxville Incline. The artist's vision was good," Ms. Baney said.

She has collected books about the inclines and Allentown and told of some trivia she learned from them:

The Smithsonian Institute once displayed a model of the Knoxville Incline ride that, of course, featured the curve in the tracks.

During its heyday, it cost ten cents to carry aboard a package weighing less than ten pounds. The track extended 2,644 feet and the incline ride was the longest one available in the city.

It was the second incline track in Pittsburgh that had a curve. The first was the Nunnery Hill Incline that operated from 1877 to 1899.

There are still copies available of a book titled "Allentown: Story of a Pittsburgh Neighborhood," put out by the Allentown Civic Improvement Association in the 1990s, Ms. Baney said. The cost is $15. Copies can be obtained by contacting Ms. Hackel or Ms. Baney.

 

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