A wonderful turnout last night. A full house.

posted by Frank Kurtig
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George Westinghouse is not given his due today and has not received it for decades, being overshadowed by his rival. Thomas Edison, an inveterate self-promoter who outlived Westinghouse by seventeen years. Tonight’s presentation in the East Liberty Valley Historical Society’s Marilyn Evert Lecture Series was a double-billed effort to begin to restore some of the inventor-businessman’s luster.
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Christine Davis spoke about the archaeological discoveries she made at the site of Westinghouse’s East End home, “Solitude.” One of the most fantastic subterranean finds was a 200-foot tunnel that once connected the basement of Westinghouse’s home to a private experimental laboratory secreted beneath his stable!
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David Bear followed by talking about the park itself and how he would like to see it come alive through preservation, interpretation and activities. Living nearby, the impetus for his drive to call attention to Westinghouse and his property was the recent centennial of the park. He organized the Westinghouse Park 2nd Century Coalition to bring his ideas to reality.
I’m sure this will happen. How can I be sure? Well, of course, we all know: “You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse!”
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Foamers Point

 

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Few visitors to Westinghouse Park notice the sign located in its back, northwest corner.

That’s not surprising since the message on it faces toward the railroad tracks, the same right of way over which trains have run daily for the last 165 years.

 

 

The sign may be a mystery even for those who see it.

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Well, perhaps not that much of a mystery.

Foamers, a little internet research reveals, is one, slightly derogatory term for people who like to watch trains.

There are others terms, delineated as follows by one avid railroader’s reckoning.

Rail-fan – An otherwise normal person who enjoys the pursuit of railroad related activities. That could involve sub interests including but not limited to observing trains as they pass, photographing, researching, studying, discussing, modeling trains, not to mention the railroads of the past, present or future.

These people are hard to spot in other circles as they are functional in normal society.

Foamer – A person who apparently loses all mental control when in the presence of: an actual train, railroad tracks (and in some places railroad property, an item of railroad memorabilia, conversation or other communication related to the subject of railroading.

They are easy to detect as most of them are social disaster areas anyway.

 Railroader – There are three categories.

  • Non rail-fan – A person who could care less what the rest of us who fall in any of the above categories think about them. They are there to do a job, earn a living, and make it home safely every day till retirement.
  • Closet rail-fan – A person who typically enjoys their job whether they admit it or not. They are likely to be industry insiders and participants of railroad related forums. They are easy to spot as they typically use aliases or nicknames but are otherwise forthright with their experiences and opinions, regardless of what foamers think.
  • Rail-fan – A person who enjoys their profession and is willing to share their experiences and/or wisdom with the rest of the railfan community. They are easy to spot due to their honesty, integrity, and passion for railroading and railroad related subjects while feeling no need to hide their identity.

At any rate, Dick Wilford, longtime superintendent of the park, remembers that early in his tenure, an employee who was a true rail-fan who put the sign.

Whether or not this corner of Westinghouse Park actually served as a meeting place for generations of foamers remains something of an open question.

Anyone with personal memories, please get in touch.

Westinghouse Park: A Bird’s Eye View Through Time

westinghouse park area - 2015

Today’s Westinghouse Park is situated in Pittsburgh’s East End area, in the neighborhood of Point Breeze North and adjacent to Homewood.

Here’s how the park looked from above in 2018.

westinghouse park area - 2016

At 10.2 acres, Westinghouse Park covers an entire city block, bounded on the north (top) by the rail line/busway, Thomas Boulevard on the south (bottom), North Lang Street on the east (right), and North Murtland Street on the west (left), both of which run one block more to Penn Avenue.

But that’s not the whole picture of course. While Westinghouse Park is now more than 100 years old, its history can be traced back more than 150 years. Using the excellent on-line tool Pittsburgh Historic Maps, which correlates historical city plat maps over a Google overlay, one can easily peel back the layers of time.

westinghouse park area - 1862

 

 

Here’s how that same acreage was allocated in 1862, when the earliest map of this part of then semi-rural East Liberty Valley was recorded.

The Civil War was raging and the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which has ever since defined the real estate, had been laid down less than a decade earlier.

Yet, ten years later, the area was already being defined and updated, if somewhat belatedly.

westinghouse park area - 1872

 

Here’s how the property was recorded on the 1872 plat map. Although other records show that the then 21-year old George Westinghouse purchased the 5-acre parcel along the tracks in 1871 (that’s the unassigned square), his name did not appear on the map drawn the following year.

At this point, Lang Avenue and Murtland Street run from Penn Avenue to level crossings at the rail tracks into Homewood, but neither McPherson nor Thomas Boulevards have yet to appear.

westinghouse park area - 1882

During the ensuing decade, as Westinghouse’s fortunes ballooned, so did his real estate holdings.

By 1882, he owned not only the full 5-acre rectangle between the tracks and McPherson Boulevard, but also half of the 5.2 acre tract on the south side of McPherson, which now appears on the map as a proposed street, along with Meade Street two blocks south.

Furthermore, Westinghouse has acquired all of the property between Murtland Street and Dallas Avenue from the tracks to Penn Avenue.

westinghouse park area - 1890

 

By the time the next plat map was drawn in 1890, the Solitude estate has been defined in its entirety, with the grand house, the stables (with underground laboratories), and a garden conservatory, and several outbuildings.  The block of Macpherson Boulevard that previously crossed the estate has been turned into a “paper street.”

Interestingly, there is no indication of the three natural gas wells Westinghouse had drilled in 1884 on the south strip of the property along Thomas Boulevard.

Still no sign of the Heinz estate, Greenlawn, which would be created in the block across Thomas Boulevard to the north of Solitude.

westinghouse park area - 1905

Solitude remained unchanged on the plat map of 1905, but other transformations are happening in the area.

North Lang Street now has an arched stone bridge over the tracks into Homewood.

The property between Murtland and Dallas has been divided into lots for residences, and several homes have been built. Note Gordon Street, which now runs from Murtland west along the tracks.

And there’s Greenlawn, the Heinz estate which took root in 1892 when H. J. purchased a house and parcel along Penn Avenue and starts to steadily expand its footprint on that block.

westinghouse park area - 1910

By 1910, the neighborhood has reached its zenith.

In addition to Solitude, H. J. Heinz’s Greenlawn has taken over nearly the entire city block, boasting its own three-wing conservatory and large stables.

A string of handsome homes have been erected along nearly the entire east side of Lang Avenue from Penn Avenue to Homewood station.

And while the housing development envisioned for the Westinghouse plan is still on the map, few of the lots seem to have been purchased.

westinghouse park area - 1923

Yet the area’s gilded age didn’t long endue. In fact, by the time of the next plat map was drawn in 1923, much of its the grandeur was already gone.

In 1914, both George Westinghouse and his wife Marguerite died, and their son and only child, George III, inherited Solitude, along with the rest of the family’s fortune. Four years later, on November 30, 1918, the property was transferred to the city, via the Western Pennsylvania Engineers Society, to become a park in Westinghouse’s name and under the condition the house be torn down within 6 months. Solitude was razed the following summer.

H. J. Heinz contracted pneumonia and died in May 1919. The next year, while his heirs squabbled over the property, a blaze broke out and, despite being adjacent to Engine House 16, the Greenlawn mansion suffered significant damage.  The structure was torn down shortly afterwards, and by 1923 when this last plat map was drawn, plans for what would become the residential block of Meade Place were already on record, including the transformation of the estate’s garage and servant quarters into residential apartments.

westinghouse park area - 1939

In 1939 the city stopped using drawn plat maps and turned instead to aerial photography, which although offering advantages, provides no indication of property boundaries or ownership.

Still there are changes to be observed.

Westinghouse Park generally conforms to its original configuration, but the Lang Avenue bridge over the tracks has been replaced with a narrow pedestrian walkway.

And Gordon Street has disappeared, replaced by the row of warehouses built along the tracks and Lynn Way.

Finally the transformation of the Heinz estate into a residential block doesn’t seem to have advanced much, with most of Meade Place still largely empty.

There’s a 20-year gap before the next photograph.

westinghouse park area - 1957This image from 1957 did offer evidence of change in the park. The foliage in the center is more dense, while the field along Thomas Boulevard, now wooded, was then mostly open. The old Westinghouse stable building has now served the park for over four decades.

Across the tracks in Homewood, a factory has appeared.

Westinghouse park area -1967

 

The most salient change the next time the image was taken a decade later in 1967 is that the Westinghouse stable building has been replaced by the utilitarian, cement block structure which has served park users ever since.

westinghouse park area - 1993

 

 

 

 

 

By 1993, the park and its foliage appear fairly bare. Perhaps the picture was taken in late fall.

The most significant development is the string of suburban-style home on the new Parkland Way on the north side of the tracks.

westinghouse park area - 2015

Westinghouse Park looks much more colorful in this image from 2018, only partly because its foliage is full. The introduction of color and interactive detailing make a world of difference.

And the park has changed. Now there’s a circular children’s playground near the center, and an asphalt basketball pad near the tracks.

As the neighborhoods around the park get more prosperous and new developments at Stargell Field (immediately across the tracks) and Lexington Technology Center (one block away), the 2nd Century of Westinghouse Park promises to be bright indeed.

Westinghouse Park – History Happens here