Once a livable neighborhood, now a street of abandoned homes
April 11, 2015 12:00 AM
A fire Thursday in a vacant house on Lincoln Way in Clairton spread to two more abandoned homes, destroying all three in an area that once was a desirable neighborhood.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The abandoned and dilapidated houses of Lincoln Way in Clairton are a haunting example of how shifting economics can turn a thriving neighborhood cul-de-sac into an eerie dead-end street.
But that doesn’t make it a ghost story.
Lincoln Way winds softly up a slope just off Route 837 across from the U.S. Steel Clairton Works near the Clairton-Glassport Bridge and the Monongahela River. There are 52 pieces of property along it, though it never had more than about 40 houses.
“People say it was a very nice area. Secluded, but close to everything,” Clairton manager Howard Bednar said Friday. “In Clairton’s heyday, it was like, ‘Ooh, Lincoln Way! Wow, you’re up there.’ But over time, the people who were on that street either passed away or moved away. The last lady that I was aware of, she had to go to a nursing home.”
Today, most of the houses are gone. A fire Thursday night destroyed three more, leaving only 10 structures with leaking roofs, broken windows and rotted floors. The city has placed a “road closed” barrier at the entrance of Lincoln Way.
“It’s been vacated for at least four or five years, if not more. There’s nobody there,” Mr. Bednar said. “So you’ve got a bunch of houses that were left that people have vandalized. People have gone in and taken out the copper and anything else of value. All of the houses have to come down. There’s really no reason for anybody to be up there. The structures that are there are dangerous.”
The danger, however, has not deterred people from daring to trespass. Some have been squatters. Others have been teens fascinated at the eerie sight of forsaken homes still containing the personal belongings of former residents. The question of why everyone left makes a nice mystery.
Early this year, a writer for architecturalafterlife.com — dedicated to “urban exploration” of vacant and decaying buildings — posted a piece on Lincoln Way that included numerous photographs and a singular account of red-eyed monsters that prowled the properties at night.
“No one lives up that road, and the only reason people go up there is because some moron wrote a story that there’s ghosts up there,” Mr. Bednar said. “Other than that, it’s closed and will remain closed.”
The family of T. Ryan, 17, of South Park, has friends who lived on Lincoln Way. The teen and his friends have since explored the abandoned houses.
“It’s really amazing how everybody left something here,” he said while watching the fire burn Thursday night. “All the houses had some form of personal belongings.
“Once we came at night. We were standing in the dining room, and we were as quiet as could be. My one friend’s girlfriend was standing near a window and a piece of glass randomly came flying and hit her in the chest. I tell you, I saw it with my flashlight. Man, I did not stick around to see what was there. I went running out of there and jumped in the car.”
Clairton police Sgt. Bob Ferry calls that balderdash.
“I don’t know where people are getting these stories. People are listening to them and then they’re running with it,” said Sgt. Ferry, who has spent 13 years as a canine officer and is a longtime member of the Clairton Volunteer Fire Department. “There’s nothing abnormal about it. There are houses all throughout Clairton where people just left stuff. There are pictures and belongings. Clothes still in the closet. People just left one house for another. I don’t know why they wouldn’t go back and get their stuff, but they don’t.
“This town has a lot of good history. But as far as Lincoln Way is concerned, I don’t know why it stands out.”
But these aren’t just abandoned houses. It’s an abandoned street of houses.
“It is a unique situation where you have a whole street where there is nobody left. Except the ghost,” Mr. Bednar joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my career, where you have a whole street that over time becomes vacant. And it’s not like there were only a few homes. At one time, there were 30 to 40 homes.”
Mr. Bednar said the city hopes to raze the remaining structures, but money is an issue. And other abandoned homes in the city — ones that sit amid occupied dwellings — take precedent.
“Once we complete the paperwork, the Redevelopment Authority of Clairton will have title to all of the [Lincoln Way] lots that are delinquent in their real estate taxes,” he said. “I think there was one that somebody was still paying taxes on, but I haven’t checked that in a year.
“It would be a good potential for some developer. You’re right on 837, but you make a turn and you don’t even see the highway. You’re almost in your own little neighborhood. You’re near the Clairton-Glassport Bridge and near [Route] 51, but you don’t hear noise. The way the road turns, there’s trees, and it’s a nice little hideaway. It’s a good location.”
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1456.
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