Datestone is a solid find, but where to put it?


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For 32 years, the Point Bridge spanned the Monongahela River near its juncture with the Ohio at Pittsburgh's Point.

Sometime after its demolition in 1970, a long granite datestone, engraved with the name, construction dates and location of the bridge, was unceremoniously -- but carefully -- dumped on a hillside in one of the city's western neighborhoods.

Neighborhood activist Carl Suter of Crafton Heights, who happened on it two weeks ago, thinks it deserves a better fate, perhaps as an artifact along one of the city's riverfront trails.

The bridge, designed by county architect Stanley Roush, had a relatively short life span, carrying cars, trucks and trolleys from its completion in 1927 until 1959, when it was closed due to the opening of the Fort Pitt Bridge just upriver.

But it would be 11 more years before the Point Bridge was demolished during construction of Point State Park, after years of wrangling between the county and state over who would pay for it finally was resolved.

It's hard to know for sure exactly where the datestone, which is about 10 feet long, was located on the bridge. Because everything above the deck was steel, the stone likely would have been part of one of the piers. A Post-Gazette photograph taken during demolition shows the pier on the Downtown side with something missing from the top center on the side facing the river. The stone Mr. Suter found could have been there, under the bridge deck and meant to be seen from boats and barges.

Dravo Corp. had the demolition contract and American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel had the subcontract to remove the bridges' metal for scrap, but news stories do not reveal a subcontractor for removal of the stone piers. The South Side pier of the Point Bridge still stands, as does part of the Manchester Bridge's North Side pier, now being incorporated into the parklet that will hold a bronze statue of Fred Rogers.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation had saved sculptural elements from the Manchester Bridge, which spanned the Allegheny at the Point and was demolished at the same time. But news reports indicate that for the unornamented Point Bridge, PHLF had a contract for only the artifacts found beneath it, which included a horse's jawbone and a dozen glass bottles.

Architect John Schurko and business consultant Oliver Kaufmann, brother of department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann, wanted the bridges to be saved; they envisioned a 350-room motel and an industrial museum on the Point Bridge and a public library, art gallery, restaurants and shops on the Manchester Bridge. Mr. Schurko believed the reuse, inspired by Florence's Ponte Vecchio, would not only preserve the bridges but also provide pedestrian access to Three Rivers Stadium.

Scattered around the dateÂstone on the hillside are what seem to be stone remnants from other projects, including a large capstone and a 6-foot-wide keystone with the county seal. Due to their size and weight, none is easily moved.

Mr. Suter said the property owner would be willing to donate the datestone and keystone to a public project. The datestone came with the property when he purchased it from a man who, as Mr. Suter recalled, had a sideline business as "kind of a junk picker."

It would be great, Mr. Suter said, "if somebody would give it a good home that would be visible to the whole community," meaning the city.

The timing of the find could be serendipitous; construction began earlier this month on the $2.6 million bike trail segment along the edge of the Monongahela Wharf.

"We think it's a very cool find," said planner Chuck Alcorn of Riverlife, which oversees the master plan for the city's riverfronts. Possibly the datestone "could be incorporated into the Mon Connector between Point State Park and the Mon Wharf Landing. It is currently being designed and there could be an innovative way to include the datestone."

But it would have to be properly interpreted to avoid confusion with the current bridge, he adds, and that's just one potential location. There may be others, including along the South Side riverfront, which already has a collection of industrial artifacts.

If no home for the datestone can be found along the riverfront, it will find one somewhere in the West End, perhaps on the Trolley Trail that could be developed on the bed of the streetcar tracks along Crafton Boulevard.

"We're not going to leave it lay there," Mr. Suter said.


Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590. First Published March 16, 2009 4:00 AM


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