Witness the revitalization of a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania neighborhood with deep German roots.
By Frances J. Folsom
“History takes time. History makes memory” – Gertrude Stein, born in 1874 in Deutschtown, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh when it was called Allegheny City.
Not all historic places are picture perfect – take, for instance, Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown neighborhood. Settled in the early 1800s as Allegheny City by Swiss, German, and Austrian immigrants the neighborhood thrived for one hundred fifty years before falling into many years of neglect.
In 1907, Allegheny City was annexed by Pittsburgh becoming first East Allegheny then Deutschtown. Over the years the neighborhood became frayed around the edges then gritty and seedy. Businesses closed, absentee landlords allowed buildings and houses to become decrepit. In 1989, Interstate-279 was built, cutting a swath through the neighborhood making it a virtual ghost town.
Since the beginning of the year 2000, re-gentrification is taking place. Organizations such as the Northside Leadership Conference, East Allegheny Community Council, Allegheny City Society, and the Mexican War Streets Society are working in assisting potential homeowners and businesspeople with purchasing and restoring properties.
Allegheny City’s first settler was Henry Rickenbach who arrived from Switzerland in 1808. Rickenbach purchased a large plot of land for farming. On a trip back to Switzerland, he told others about how cheaply land could be bought and buildings built. When Rickenbach returned to Allegheny City, he brought with him Nicholas Voeghtly and his family; within a short time, hundreds of families followed and settled here.
By 1850, there were three thousand immigrants from Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria, Hesse, Prussia, and Saxony living here.
The city’s location on the shores of the Allegheny River made it ideal for shipping and receiving goods. The immigrants started schools, breweries, factories, cotton mills, restaurants such as Max’s Allegheny Tavern (in business since 1834), Groetzinger’s tannery, the Schmittdiel Blacksmith Shop, bakeries and stores on the flats; Gums Meat Market and the Gaus and Leoffler furniture store, and Moeckel Brothers Bicycles.
Eighteen neighborhoods sprang up: Troy Hill, Spring Garden, Manchester, Allegheny West, Fairview, and the Mexican War Streets district with streets named for battles of the Mexican-American War.
Troy Hill is where, in the nineteenth century, prosperous German business people such as restaurateurs George and Eckhard Reinemann, and brewmasters John Ober, and Charles Eberhardt built their grand houses in Greek Revival, Italianate, Victorian, and Second Empire style.
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