Observatory Hill History Tour explores neighborhoods past

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Photo by Greg Sciulli
Attendees board a trolley during the history tour in Observatory Hill on July 17. There was also an option to take a walking tour.

By Donnie Mangino

From 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 17, guests of all ages were invited to experience the first Observatory Hill History Tour. After registering at the main entrance of Riverview Presbyterian Church, patrons were given the opportunities of a walking tour along Riverview Avenue, and a trolley tour of the greater neighborhood. Hosted by Observatory Hill, Inc.—a non-profit community based organization—it was their goal to bring its guests back to the past, and to share the rich history of the Observatory Hill neighborhood.

“We want to share a little about the history, architecture, and future of the northernmost neighborhood of the Northside,” said John Canning, docent of the trolley tour and the Vice President of Allegheny City Society.

The tours brought its guests through iconic locations that were important facets to the development and history of the Observatory Hill neighborhood; such as the development of Riverview Park, the affluent owners of the homes along Judges’ Row, and the Byzantine Seminary.

The tour brought its guests back to the primordial stages of Observatory Hill and its original location in Allegheny City before its annexation by the city of Pittsburgh in 1907.

The trolley ride traveled along Perrysville Avenue, hugging the lush outskirts of Riverview Park.

“Neighborhoods go through different stages, transformations, and redevelopment,” Canning said.

Observatory Hill’s greatest barrier to development was its lack of convenient transportation. However, with the beginnings of the streetcar transportation in the mid-1890s, Observatory Hill experienced a building boom and became a “streetcar suburb”, a common moniker for communities whose developments were greatly influenced by electric trolley lines.

“At the turn of the century this neighborhood reinvented itself to a thriving middle and upper middle class community. This community is moving in a new direction in the twenty-first century” Canning said as the trolley drove through the Business District of Observatory Hill, and informed the riders of some of the potential business endeavors the neighborhood can look forward to.

“Communities are always reinventing themselves,” Canning said, and one can only look forward to the new directions the community of Observatory Hill will take as it continues to thrive through the 21st century.

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