Monday, November 01, 2010

A Short History of Pittsburgh

by Steph

A couple of days ago we passed through Pittsburgh on our way from Pennsylvania into Ohio. Most things there are named either ‘Carnegie’ or ‘Mellon’ or ‘Carnegie-Mellon’ after Pittsburgh’s most famous industrialists. Back in the 19th century, Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie made a fortune here on steel, and the city of Pittsburgh is so steeped in their metallic history that their football team is still called The Steelers. It’s a town with working class roots, a home to several prestigious universities, and a BIG sports town.

IMG_6114We took a stroll downtown and while pleasant enough, it was pretty unremarkable. So we decided to brush up on a little area history and checked out the Fort Pitt Museum, which focuses on the French and Indian War.

This little altercation started in 1754—back in the days when Pennsylvania was the Western frontier of the colonial new world. There was a wonderful little point of land back then, where the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers all came together. These rivers flow down from the great lakes in the north and empty out into the Mississippi in the south, so if you were interested in, say, trading some stuff along the vertical length of the country, this would be a good spot to do it from. If you were into that sort of thing.

fort pitt modelHere’s a model of downtown Pittsburgh as it once was when it was just that little point of strategic land, before it was Pittsburgh.

Several nations of Native Americans lived in the area. There was a kind of federation of five of the tribes along the south side of the great lakes, including Iroquios, Huron, and three others that I can’t think of right now. These guys had their own political stuff going on, as you can imagine.

Meanwhile, The Frogs had claimed the area to the north (being what is now Canada), and also down south at the mouth of the Mississippi (being what is now Louisiana). They were into fur trapping and trading, and the wonderful point of land in the middle seemed like a great place to stake a claim and connect trade between their two territories, and make a fortune.

Unfortunately for them, Roastbeef had other ideas. They wanted to own land, as much of it as possible. They had occupied the territories all along the east coast, and settlers were pushing further and further west—Roastbeef needed more land to turn around and sell to the settlers, and make a fortune.

The Settlers, on the other hand, were getting pretty fed up with Roastbeef by now. They just wanted to get some land, kill the natives they found on it, farm it, govern themselves, and stop paying taxes to Roastbeef. They thought if they could just do that, they could make a fortune.

Oh dear. Lots of people got killed over this one. Some of the Natives decided that the Frogs would protect their interest, and others decided Roastbeef was the best bet. Frogs and Roastbeef fought it out, each with various factions of Natives helping them out. Roastbeef won. Once they had their land, they didn’t give a crap what happened to the Natives, all they did was sell the land on to the Settlers. The Settlers killed the Natives as best they could, then got fired up about dumping tea into Boston Harbor and you probably know the rest. Now, go watch The Last of the Mohicans (or read it, for you literate-types) again with all this in mind.

IMG_6132We left the museum somewhat enlightened about the history of the area, and went off in search of lunch. Stopping at Primanti Brothers’ on Market Square, we each ordered a sandwich and expected to get…a sandwich. What we got was this:

Good lord! Every sandwich contains the filling of your choice plus a load of french fries and cole slaw, squished between two pieces of bread as thick as your arm. Delightful!

That night we camped in the Mohican State Park, and I dreamed of Daniel Day-Lewis telling me to stay alive, he will find me…

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