Plaza, historic marker to memorialize St. Nicholas Church in Troy Hill
June 15, 2015 12:00 AM
PennDOT contractors work along Route 28 near the former site of St. Nicholas Church.
An image of the demolished St. Nicholas Church honors the old building near a pedestrian walkway along Route 28 in Troy Hill.
A rebuilt Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the site of the demolished St. Nicholas Catholic Church along the rebuilt Route 28 is the principal feature of the new pedestrian walkway. Its dedication will be later this month.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At the site of the former St. Nicholas Church on Route 28 in Troy Hill, a marker and plaza featuring the history and heritage of the church and its Croatian neighborhood will officially open with a public ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, as part of its Route 28 restructuring, built and landscaped the site, which is between the 16th and 31st Street bridges. A walkway from the parking lot across Phineas Street from the Penn Brewery leads to the site and continues to the 31st Street Bridge.
Residents of one of the nation’s earliest Croatian settlements built the church in 1901. The St. Nicholas parish in Millvale abandoned it in 2004 and, after a lengthy legal fight with preservationists, prevailed in its request to demolish it in 2013.
“Planning for this [historical marker site] started as soon as they tore down the church,” said Jack Schmitt, a member of the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation and Preservation Pittsburgh.
The groups led the effort to save the church, and at one time the Northside Leadership Conference shepherded a plan the Croatian group initiated to create an immigrant museum on the historic property.
The Croatians who settled that part of Troy Hill called their enclave Mala Jaska after a town in Croatia. None of the houses that once lined the street remain. Before Route 28, the area was an extension of East Ohio Street, and even earlier, a canal ran parallel to the Allegheny River there.
Andy Masich, chairman of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission and director of the Heinz History Center, said the marker of cast aluminum painted in blue and gold will be “a touchstone to the past.”
“There is concern about the loss of a historic structure, which is reflected in the marker itself,” he said, “but there are many ways to preserve our heritage, through museums, libraries, archives, public programs and organizations like the Croatian Heritage Foundation.
“Though we lost the bricks and mortar, we haven’t lost the story of the parish and people who made history.”
The site was nominated by a representative of the Croatian heritage group. A commission of historians and architectural historians decides on each nomination, Mr. Masich said.
“It’s a pretty rigorous process,” he said. “This particular site was deemed worthy” of the state historical marker. “It was the first Croatian Catholic parish in America, established in 1894.”
Dan Cessna, executive of PennDOT’s District 11, said the plaza is hexagonal to represent the six-sided steeples of the church. PennDOT also built a representation of its grotto and included the cornerstone from the church.
The plaza includes interpretive history boards and large stones on which people can sit.
PennDOT spent $60,000 on the plaza, walkway and landscaping, Mr. Cessna said.
He said this project was unique for PennDOT, “an opportunity to look at the deep Croatian culture that existed there. I’m so pleased with the collaboration and all the thoughts people brought to it from Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation, Preservation Pittsburgh and Troy Hill Citizens.”
Croatia’s ambassador to the United States is expected to attend the event, along with preservation advocates and public officials.
The walk from the parking lot across from the brewery takes about 10 minutes. A cart will be available for people who need assistance.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.
Correction appended: A previous version of this story contained a fact error in a photo caption. It stated St. Nicholas Catholic Church was Serbian, instead of Croatian, which was its actual heritage.
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