“Buildings hold the memory of a community over time, so it's important to save and recycle them.” —student quote
- East Carson Street, South Side
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
- “Carson Street is remarkable for its abundant and vivid Victorian commercial architecture,” writes Walter C. Kidney, in Pittsburgh's Landmark Architecture: The Historic Buildings of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The 29 buildings featured on this website help introduce you to the “Great American Main Street.” Now we encourage you to explore East Carson Street with family members and friends. Walk the blocks, identify your favorite buildings, and add to the facts and stories that we have collected here.
- What's in a Name?
- According to an article in The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (November 1941): “The present Carson Street, East and West, is an extension of the original Carson Street in old Birmingham, the section in the neighborhood of the present 10th Street Bridge. The street was named by Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, Pittsburgh's first physician, who married an Ormsby and laid out the town of Birmingham, on the Ormsby tract, in 1811. According to a History of Allegheny County published in 1876, 'Carson Street was named after a sea-captain living in Philadelphia, with whom Dr. Bedford was acquainted' (p. 140). Moreover, it is probable that this Carson was a brother or other relative of Mary Carson, who came from Philadelphia, and whose husband, General James O'Hara, had established, with Major Isaac Craig, the first glassworks in [the Pittsburgh] region, on the south shore of the Monongahela River opposite the Point. In short, the name Carson may well be considered as ranking historically with those of the Denny's, O'Haras, Brunots, Ormsbys, and others of our pioneer families--and a study of the current directory of streets, etc., shows that all names of any real historical significance locally have already been used."
- Visit the Trinity Church burial ground on Sixth Street in downtown Pittsburgh to see where John Ormsby and Dr. Nathaniel Bedford are buried (see the photos below). This is Pittsburgh's oldest burial ground.
- Carson Street Trivia
- Kaufmann's Department Store started at 1918 East Carson Street in 1871. It soon moved to 1932 East Carson Street. There is a plaque on the Brashear Association Building at 2005 Sarah Street noting the South Side origins of the famous Pittsburgh department store (see photos below). Kaufmann's relocated in 1875 to Federal Street on the North Side, and finally settled downtown in 1879, at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street.
- The daily fare of the Carson Street passenger railway in the 1880s (5 cents) would have been beyond the means of most workers in the area, about 60 percent of whom were unskilled German, Irish, British, and French immigrant laborers (by 1880).
- Although in 1880 most South Siders worked in iron and glass factories, there were also barbers, clerks, shoemakers, bakers, grocers, merchants, cigar makers, and liquor agents--many of these workers lived on Carson Street.
- Carson was the most heavily populated street--5.67 people per house.
- Charles A. Lindbergh toured Carson Street on August 3, 1927, following his successful solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The propeller to Lindbergh’s plane, "The Spirit of St. Louis," was forged in the Cleveland, Ohio plant of Alcoa and finished by the Standard Steel Propeller Company of Pittsburgh.
- In the mid-1900s, there were four movie theaters on East Carson Street: the Liberty (in the 1200 block of East Carson Street), the Rex (1602 East Carson Street), the Royal (or Novelty) Theater (1715 East Carson Street), and the Arcade (1915 East Carson Street). A bowling alley was in the basement of the Arcade Theatre, and a bowling alley was located on the upper story of the Liberty Theatre. People remember watching a scary movie, only to be further frightened by the unexpected noise of bowling balls and falling pins. Only the Rex Theatre survives
on East Carson Street today.
- In 1929, the Arcade became the first theatre outside of downtown Pittsburgh to have sound and air-conditioning (see photo below of ticket). The building was originally the headquarters for War veterans. The Arcade Theatre burned down in 1984. The Eckerd drugstore at 1915-21 East Carson Street now stands on the site of the Arcade Theatre.
- There was a store named Dolata's that "had live chickens that you picked one out and they took it in the back and killed it and then you took it home."
- There were "5 and 10's" called Neisner Brothers, Kresge's and Autenreith's.
- There were dress shops called Friedman's and Engelman's Parisian.
- At Isaly's, you could get a skyscraper ice cream cone for 5 cents.
- Every Saturday a man would come to Carson Street and yell "Pretzels, get your fresh pretzels."
- Two days a week a man called the "huckster" would sell fresh produce from an open truck.
- One man would come every other week, driving a horse and buggy. He would yell: "Rags and old irons." Children were not fond of him because he smelled and scared everyone.
- Everyday children would go outside their homes and wipe the windows clean of all the soot from the J & L steel mill.
- When shifts would change at the J & L Steel Mill, workers would pour onto East Carson Street and quench their thirst in one of the many bars or saloons.
- "The South Side was full of Polish, Slovak, and Lithuanian people. They all had their own ethnic churches where they could speak their own language at masses."
- Senator John F. Kennedy came to Carson Street on October 10, 1960 when he was campaigning for president.
- Between 1985 and 1996, when East Carson Street was participating in the National Trust's Main Street program and was designated a "Great American Main Street," the vacancy rate dropped from 20 percent to 6 percent.
- 2006 East Carson Street is listed on the Historic American Buildings Survey (see photos below).
- The names of many former East Carson Street businesses can still be seen on building facades or entrance ways. The name of Miller's Furniture Store is still visible at 1930 East Carson Street (see photo below).
- You can see the old cobblestones and streetcar tracks on East Carson Street when work crews scrape off the asphalt to fill in potholes and repave the road surface (see the two photos below).
- "One more thing: everybody knew your name. The South Side was one big family."
- During summer weekends in 2005, a Carson Street shuttle transported a total of 7,300 people back and forth between South Side Works, the historic East Carson Street District, and Station Square (see photo).
- Since 2005, the South Side Local Development Company has sponsored a mid-winter Soup Contest in February. It’s free to the public. For details on this event and other South Side news, visit SouthSidePGH.com.
Note: Unattributed quotes are from oral history interviews between
school students and family members.