A Tribute to Blawnox

Welcome to Blawnox! Located about 9 miles up the Allegheny River from the 'point' of Downtown Pittsburgh, Blawnox is the proud home of a lot of good, hard-working people.

The old elementary school - those steps were a killer!

It is also the place where I grew up, hence this Web page. I was astounded when a Web search on Blawnox turned up little more than a few rock band agendas (they sometimes play at Moondogs Tavern -- formerly Skalskis Tavern). So I decided to create one in homage to the town of my youth.

Welcome to Blawnox


Looking up Freeport Road from the East end of town.

Blawnox is located in a bend of the Allegheny River just slightly (about a mile) upstream from the Pittsburgh city limits. The unusual name derives from the Blaw-Knox steel mill that spans the length of the borough and used to employ most of its male citizens.

My understanding is that the town was originally founded with the name Hoboken in the late 1700s. Postal regulations later required a name change because Hoboken, New Jersey had a prior claim to the name. The size of the borough was expanded to cover the whole area spanned by the Blaw-Knox mill on one side and the Allegheny County Workhouse Farm on the other side. This became the present-day Blawnox. Please email me if you have any more accurate information!

In the above picture my boyhood home is just off to the right and about 100 feet away. To the left is the East end of the Blaw-Knox Steel mill. Behind it is the beautiful Allegheny River. On both sides of the river were railroad tracks that still carry the periodic call of rail engines. (This is something I miss living in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.)

A Proud Borough of Immigrants



Looking East along Freeport Road from just West of town center

My first 18 years, and a few in my early 20's were spent in or within a few miles of Blawnox. In every sense of the word I was a 'Knox boy'. Like hundreds of other kids I walked the million steps (it seemed like it) to Blawnox Elementary School, which stood on a hill overlooking the town and the river valley.

I remember playing in the school yard in the early 1960s. From the jungle gym you could see almost the whole town and the river in the valley below. The water tower (source of the town water) stood sentry over the playground and I imagined it was a great spaceship. There was a cement wading pool in the schoolyard and during the summer they would open it up for the town kids to play.

The giant staircase from Walnut street up the wooded hill to the school is gone, but I'll never forget it. To a little kid this was a formidible challenge to be faced every day -- sometimes twice in the really early days when a kid went home for lunch. I'll never forget one time when I was about 8 years old (1962) and there was a massive attack of gypsy moths that *covered* the steps! Only the bravest souls attempted the slippery journey. (I remember sliding down most of the steps!) I don't think my Mom appreciated that one. :-)

Summer evenings with Bob Prince



View from what used to be the elementary school playground

The late 1960's were my teen years. I spent a lot of time walking along the railroad tracks and exploring the severely neglected riverfront. This was a side of town that few saw. My friends and I would sit along the riverbank and fish for catfish using canned corn as bait. On summer evenings we would take along transistor radios and we would listen to Bob Prince and the Pittsburgh Pirates. There were forgotton woods here, swamps and graveyards of heavy equipment from the mills.

Swimming in the river was a forbidden treat that we embraced gingerly. However you never wanted to touch bottom, lest you find the infamous river muck that coated the bottom and mercifully hid the decades of garbage left by the communities all along the river. The really brave/crazy among us might try swimming to 9-mile island 1/3 of the way across the river. I do not recommend this! (I actually, and foolishly, walked it once when the river was frozen during an unusually cold winter.)

The Allegheny has cleaned up tremendously since my youth. Thankfully many communities are rediscovering their riverfronts and reclaiming this natural treasure. I really hope the same happens in Blawnox!

The Workhouse Farm



The Water Tower where the School Playground Once Stood

The Blawnox of my youth was surrounded by a wonderful expanse of woods and farmland that comprised the Allegheny County Workhouse Farm. The farm was operated by Workhouse 'trustees' -- usually short-term inmates who really could be trusted to work the farm with minimal supervision. As a child I would play in the woods of the Workhouse Farm and as I became a pre-teen would camp there with my friends. Every so often a trustee would walk away -- resulting in a thrill for the neighborhood.

The Workhouse Farm closed in the mid 1960's and the workhouse itself closed in 1971. One of my close friends of the time, Jack Krouse, actually lived in the Workhouse, where his father was Assistant Warden. Jack -- if you are out there send me email!

The Workhouse Farm property was turned into the RIDC Industrial Park during the 1970's. One of the buildings built there was the University of Pittsburgh Computer Center, where I worked from 1977 to 1983. My favorite place in the Farm was the top of the giant hill that held the apple orchard, long neglected and now gone save for a few very old trees. A water tower was built there in the 1970's and the hill was so tall that only the very tip of the water tower showed. (We called it 'tit' hill.)

For years kids would gather there to party or just gaze on the valley below. On a clear day you could see for miles, and Downtown Pittsburgh was easy in the distance. Dozens of people would congregate there on the 4'th of July to see multiple fireworks displays all along the horizon. I buried my cat Rigel-4 there in 1976.

The Place I Grew Up



Hoboken Presbyterian Church on North Ave.

My family moved away from Blawnox in 1996 and I visited there soon afterward to take these pictures. It was my way of saying farewell to a place that I didn't fully appreciate until, years later, I realized what it gave me.

I'm now a man with four grown kids, a wonderful wife, a home in the mountains and a life in Central Pa. I often think back and remember the summer carnivals at Dick Groat Field, the community Halloween and Memorial Day parades, sitting on the front porch watching the traffic on Freeport Road, the train tracks and the river. I remember living in a trailor on Jackson St. that would shake like an earthquake when the tractor-trailor trucks drove past on their way out of the steel mill.

Most of all I remember the people, many of whom touched my life in ways they will never know. I would mention some names but people are funny, and after all this *is* the age of litigation. (:-)

Epilogue

When I was a kid in Blawnox I was known as a bookworm. My dream of becomming a scientist was realized through hard work and determination -- both qualities I learned from my youth. I vowed to one day pay homage to my childhood home. This web page firmly places Blawnox on the Internet!

Postscript

If you have any pictures of Blawnox - especcially in the old days - please send them to me. I want to expand this page to be a more fitting tribute to the history and people of a proud American town!

There are also Facebook pages for Blawnox and Blawnox elementary - please join us there!



This page is maintained and made available for educational use by Dr. Gerry Santoro, gms@psu.edu