As one of Pittsburgh’s largest city neighborhoods, Lawrenceville has its roots in industry but today is being revitalized as a hot spot for shopping, dining, and art. Located less than three miles northeast of Downtown Pittsburgh, Lawrenceville borders the Allegheny River, Polish Hill, Bloomfield, the Strip District, and Stanton Heights.
The community was founded in 1814 by William Foster and named for Capt. James Lawrence, who gained fame during the War of 1812 for his last words to his crew: “Don’t give up the ship!” Lawrenceville was incorporated as a borough in 1834 and annexed into the City of Pittsburgh in 1868.
The same year Lawrenceville was founded, Mr. Foster sold 30 acres of land to the U.S. government for what would become the Allegheny Arsenal. The government chose the arsenal’s location on Butler Street because of its proximity to both river transportation and the area’s rich iron ore deposits. The arsenal served as a supply and manufacturing center for the Union Army during the Civil War.
On Sept. 17, 1862, a mysterious explosion at the arsenal rocked the city and killed 78 workers – mostly young women – in what proved to be the worst civilian disaster of the Civil War.
One of Lawrenceville’s most famous residents was founder William Foster’s son, Stephen Collins Foster. Born in Lawrenceville in 1826, he composed dozens of classic American songs such as “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races.” After his death at age 37 in New York City, Stephen Foster was buried in Lawrenceville’s historic Allegheny Cemetery, which is one of the oldest rural cemeteries in the U.S.
Following the Civil War, Lawrenceville became a center for manufacturing and industry, including the Schiffler Plant of U.S. Steel and Iron City Brewing, which was headquartered in Lawrenceville from 1866 until 2009.
Over the past decade, Lawrenceville’s main street storefronts have attracted young artists and designers. Today, Lawrenceville’s blend of tradition with modernity is a prime example of Pittsburgh’s renaissance spirit. Visitors to the Heinz History Center can learn more about the people and events that have shaped Pittsburgh’s eclectic neighborhoods as part of the long-term exhibition “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation.” Visitors can also learn more about Pittsburgh’s booming steamboat industry during the 19th century in the new “Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia” exhibit. For information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.