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Labor Day Strike Tour

Probably a bit late to do this as an organized ride this Labor Day---perhaps for the rest of the world's Labor Day in May?---but inspired by a StuInMcCandless Facebook post, I've created a draft tour-de-strikes map, from McKees Rocks to Homestead.

Route starts approximately at the 1909 Strike of the Pressed Steel Car Company in McKees Rocks*, runs up the ten or so historical markers of the Howling Mob Society** in the strip dedicated to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and thence to the Homestead Pump House via Frick's Clayton estate: --- suggestions, alterations, additions welcome.

* - Except I don't actually know where this was; I'm assuming that the site of the state historical marker on Rte 51 isn't it. For now I've set the start point at the big (abandoned?) factory in the Bottoms, but of course that's open to change.

** - "a collaboration of artists, activists and historians committed to unearthing stories neglected by mainstream history" ---

2012-09-02 15:55:18

A fine idea, if I do say so myself.

As I said in my Fb thread, once the GAP gap is completed, a direct trip to the Pump House along the river would allow for a level trip for many sites with a history of labor strife.

Downtown, at "B", I'd circle the Frick Bldg (up Fifth, R Grant, R Forbes, R Scrip Way, L Fifth) or (up Fifth, R Grant, R Forbes, R Smithfield). That would be easier logistically than a U-turn at the corner of Fifth & Grant, and off-hours, Grant isn't that busy for the one block we'd be on it. Henry Clay Frick, of course, had everything to do with how the 1892 Homestead steel strike went down. This building didn't exist yet (built in 1902), but Frick erected this building and oversaw his empire from it.

At "M", it would be worth pointing out the massive loss of life during the Civil War, when the Arsenal blew up. Again, unsafe working conditions.

If there isn't already an event of this nature, there should be. There's a lot of labor history in this town. It'd be a great tour, and doing it by bike would be the way to do it.

EDIT: I had to dig into the Wayback Machine to find this article on the Presston site. I haven't tried to identify any of the buildings in the photos with what's left down there on The Bottoms, but I'm pretty sure that that's where it was.

2012-09-02 18:42:22

Presenting v2.0. This version:

(a) moves off Google Maps to avoid that platform's 26-control-point (including 'via' marks) limit.

(b) adds the sites of Nate Smith's Operation Dig offices on Larimer Ave, the Thomas Armstrong statue near the Aviary, Mother Jones's visit to Homestead*, and the AFL, CIO, and SWOC landmark plaques, clarifies the Arsenal loop, and drops the Frick homestead in Pt Breeze

(c) does not have the 50+-foot drop near mile 2.5 shown on the elevation profile: that's the Shadeland Ave bridge...

Though the construction of the site is awful, it was also awfully useful. If anyone knows a better site for finding this info (especially for determining locations of the relevant events, or for finding events in a given area, which EPH is especially poor at...), please do let me know!

* - Mother Jones, visiting to organize steel workers in the 1919 strike, was arrested for 'speaking w/out a permit' in Homestead. When the judge asked who gave her a permit to speak publicly, she replied "Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams". Frances Perkins' visit 14 years later is commemorated at the same intersection.

2012-09-03 01:44:49
I knew we had a thread on this. I just wish I'd thought to dig it up a few days ago so we could have organized something.
2013-09-02 09:49:21
The Presston sign is not lost, as we talked about on some thread I don't care to dig up. It used to be prominently visible at the Rocks end of the bridge. It got moved; it's now here, about 100 feet northeast and 40 feet lower, at White Alley and O'Donovan Street.
2013-09-02 10:11:46
The thread was Wheelset of Fortune; the signs were a tag I set. I keep thinking we should do a separate longer term thread where we tag the historical markers...
2013-09-02 17:52:38
Darn, this snuck up on me/us again, and I still haven't done anything further with the idea. Boy it'd be nice to just hop on a bike and go see a couple of these things, but it's practically noon on The Day Of, so rather hard to organize anything.
2014-09-01 10:33:03
Did we have anything like this for BikeFest? Can we decide right now to make this an organized ride for 2015 BikeFest? Can we set up a trial run for sometime later this year?
2014-09-01 15:14:37
We need a tweed ride too, which I've been wanting to put together. Perhaps this would be a good place to put those two things together? Tweed/Victorian dress ride, tour the strikes, maybe go to a parade (if on Labor Day as opposed to during BikeFest)? Even tweed-lite (fake mustaches, wear a vest, pin a costume hat to a helmet)... given the potential for a hot day in August.
2014-09-01 17:19:30
Tweed sounds more like the guys oppressing the strikers than the strikers themselves.
2014-09-01 18:30:34
Something with dull colors and holes and/or patches. Take your crappiest bike. Clean some of the groat off it (less well off your hands) before you leave. Bonus for a dirt smear on the face. Eschew the helmets. Do your best to look bedraggled and gaunt.
2014-09-01 19:01:52
Hey, this could be fun! One faction of cyclists dressed in tweed, the other dressed as laborers. It would be cool to get some media involved in it, too, to say what we're all about. This could be a really good way to find out about local labor history. Maybe even stage a mini-protest at each site.
2014-09-01 20:32:41
Protest signs are most definitely mandatory... LOL I like the tweed AND/OR approach. I once skipped a tweed ride for lack of appropriate attire and goodwill was fresh out... a pair of dickies and some grease makeup smudge on the face is a nice alternative. We could even appoint a union-leader to apply the smudge. :P
2014-09-01 20:45:29
Like this?
2014-09-01 21:10:33
I hope no one is going and buying grease makeup. Getting a little grease on ourselves is something to which we are all accustomed already.
2014-09-02 10:16:44
What I need is a Howling Mob Society bike jersey.
2014-09-06 06:53:55
Another one to add to the map: The Allegheny Cotton Mill Strikes historical marker, along the river between the 6th and 7th St Bridges [StreetView] If I'm reading that marker correctly, it says: Major strikes by women cotton factory workers protesting 12-hour workdays occurred nearby in Allegheny City in 1845 & 1848. The strikes led to an 1848 state law limiting workdays to 10 hours and prohibiting children under twelve years of age from working in cotton and textile mills. It would be cool if someone could do a bit of research and find out if business owners were against the legislation because of fear that they would not be able to make a profit. I further suspect that this research has already been done, so mainly we'd need to find it. I'm also thinking that the art of storytelling and/or oration would be great to have here. That's how you got word out in the days before electrons did the work.
2014-09-07 17:21:47
This year, for a change, I'm thinking about this before Labor Day. Who in this town, who rides a bike or even if not, really knows labor history?
2015-08-18 09:24:20
@Stu, I think Jonathon S. has been developing some thoughts on this, yinz should talk.
2015-08-18 09:34:27
The Twitterverse informs me that a good source for labor info is Charles McCollester. Anyone know him? And since we already have a Tweed Ride in the works, while I don't want to gum up the workings of that ride with this project, it does assure that more of us will have the proper attire, should we decide to dress up as oppressive management.
2015-08-18 11:56:16
He doesn't have a Wikipedia page, but this turned up. Certainly a source of info. Looks like most of the libraries in the area have a paper copy. Check it out (literally) at either: Library of Congress system: F159.P657 M375 Dewey Decimal system: 974.886 McCOLLESTER
2015-08-18 16:53:16
Use the Google to find Charlie. Or try reaching him through his old job, here: If the e-mail doesn't work, you could call them and ask. I am certain they would know how to reach him. If you're looking for a few labor-related sites nearby that are marked, here are some: 1. The marker recognizing the formation of the AFL is here: 2. The marker recognizing the Great Railway Strike of 1877 is here: 3. The marker that recognizes the Allegheny Cotton Mill strikes of the 1840's is here: 4. And there's the marker near the Pump House of course regarding the Homestead Lockout of 1892. I assume most people know where this is. 5. A little further up the road (not the bike trail) is the marker for the Bost Building, headquarters of the Homestead Strikers. See here: Incidentally, the people who are now housed in the Bost Building (Rivers of Steel) would be another good resource for labor history in Pittsburgh. I'd bet they have a listing of all these markers I'm trying to recall from memory. 6. In McKees Rocks is the marker recognizing the 1909 strikes against the Pressed Steel Car Company. See here: 7. In McKees Rocks is the marker for Presston, a company town built by the Pressed Steel Car company with all the fun features these places usually had. See here: If you want to see what a company town looked like, go here. It still resembles it's original appearance. There are more I'm sure. Please post map or cue sheet if somebody turns this into a ride.
2015-08-18 18:21:04
Map and cue sheet above, in a 3 Sept 2012 post from @buffalobuffalo. Whether we do that exact route or not, whether we get additional expert help or not, let's try to actually do this ride this year. If we don't do it on Labor Day itself, we should try for as close to that as possible. Note that the Tweed Ride is soon after, and I really don't want to steal any thunder from that.
2015-08-19 07:36:35
Howzbout we just say 10 a.m., Monday 7 September, and start in the McKees Rocks Bottoms, following "version 2.0" of the route plan as mentioned above. Some "To Do"s: * Figure out parking for the starting location * Finalize the actual routing. Some tweaks may be necessary. The gap in the GAP was completed since v2.0 was made. * A summary of the sites to be visited: What happened, why did they happen, why are they relevant today. * Figure out logistics of returning to the start line, for those who left a car in McKees Rocks. Or the reverse, figuring out how to get to the start if you left a car by the Pump House. The historical marker for the Presston strike is not actually along that route. Though only a couple hundred feet askew, getting to it may be difficult for some, since it involves climbing up to the bridge to cross the tracks. So maybe we need a pre-ride scouting ride. This would also tell us how technically difficult it would be for the average rider. I would still like to pull in schoolteachers, storytellers, historians -- ideally to go on the ride with us. This should not be so difficult as to preclude anyone who doesn't regularly tangle with difficult traffic. I would like to think that most anyone can hop on a bike, ride around, and see things they might not otherwise, and this is the perfect ride to demonstrate precisely that.
2015-08-19 11:37:31
Attempting to address various points: - Can someone confirm which if any of the Howling Mob Society signs still stand? I've read some may have been removed... - Re: 9/7 at 5:21 - it's on the map already. - Re @DaveInGlenshaw, Aug 18 2015 at 6:21pm - markers 1--5 were already on the map, as was the Pressed Steel Car strike (though, as Stu noted above, this last has been moved--and moved again). Thank you, however, for the Presston reference, as well as the link to, which looks at the very least to be substantially more usable than the (as I said before) awful I've moved point A of the route to the Presston marker at Ohio and Center St. Re @StuInMcCandless most recent post this morning: - As above, I've moved the starting point slightly. The Presston marker is actually at the edge of a community park; while it doesn't look from Streetview like the park has an actual parking lot, street parking appears to be available if not plentiful. Alternate suggestion: park at Second Ave, South Fourth, or another location in town and take a bus out--the 21 Coraopolis and 24 McCoy both run from the stop at Stanwix & Penn (across from Gateway) to Helen & Ella, under the McK Rocks Bridge, about a mile from Presston Park. - Not sure which version of the route you're looking at, Stu, but v.2 linked above does use the GAP between Hot Metal and Homestead. In fact, though, I'm looking at changing the route to eliminate that, since it adds considerable distance. A quick exploration suggests that returning from East Liberty to Junction Hollow, over the Hot Metal, and down the GAP adds 3-4 miles, and saves less than 200 feet of climbing, over potential alternative routes including using Shady Ave, Beechwood, Dallas/Beechwood, or the Tranquil and Nine Mile Run trails and the High Level Bridge. Cutting down 51 instead of climbing up to Brighton Heights claims to cut that 200 feet back out. On one hand, I climb 200 feet just in the first mile of my daily commute, so maybe I'm underestimating how much that is to someone who doesn't do hills or ride regularly, especially out of a total elevation change on the order of 1200-1400 feet (some significant amount of which is phantom climb due to bridges). On the other hand, this ride is likely to be somewhere between 25-30 miles unless something significant gets cut, so while it's not the Every Neighborhoods Ride, it's not like this is going to be a beginner-friendly ride on the level of a Flock ride, either... v.3 is here: Note that there are some extra markers noted, in case someone is interested in getting extra ambitious. (What's the difference between the green and brown markers? The brown ones were added after RWGPS got rid of the option to make the green ones...)
2015-08-19 21:59:18
Oh, and regarding the Charles McCollester book--there are apparently a few library copies near me. I'll see if I can grab one tomorrow.
2015-08-19 22:07:47
Some resources that may be helpful: A google map of PA historical markers, with photos Wikipedia's list of all PA historical markers in this county, including ones that have gone missing PA's list of Labor and Industry-related Heritage Markers by county
2015-08-19 22:23:30
Top. I still plan on doing this, even if I am entirely by myself. I plan to be in McKees Rocks by 9:30, on Ohio Street by that playground. Roll at 10, following v3.0 of the map. I have no idea how long or difficult this is going to be, but I will be taking notes, probably on Twitter (@ bus15237).
2015-09-06 03:30:28
Parking suggestion: If you want to drive to close to the ride start, then bus your bike back to the car easily, I suggest parking at McKees Rocks Plaza. Ride River Ave across the tracks, then the length of Helen Street, and wend your way around to the north end of the Bottoms. Afterward, the 21 Coraopolis and 24 West Park both have Holiday service, and will get you back to the plaza.
2015-09-06 09:33:23
I told Yale about this ride. He and I may come.
2015-09-06 16:32:29
Thanks for organizing this. It was a really good thing to do on Labor Day in Pittsburgh. I learned some things and have a better sense of what was going on back then.
2015-09-07 15:24:56
For a first take, I think it went pretty well. It was a hot day, and I'm glad I brought my 2-liter water bottle backup. I ended up drinking most of it by the time I got home! I wrote up some notes after the group split up after the Howling Mob sign at Penn & 39th, and hope to type them up this evening. Yeah, two hours and change to cover just McKees Rocks, North Side, and the Strip, is plenty, and that's with experienced cyclists. My goal is to get the average joe to join in on this ride, hopefully several of same. Thanks to all who came out for this, including Colleen, who got to the Armstrong statue but had to leave before the rest of us got there.
2015-09-07 16:58:40
One of these years, I'm going to get organized and figure this out with enough lead time to actually plan something. It sure would be nice to hit some of the southern half of the original plan. In 2015, it got hot and late by the time we got to the Arsenal site, and we dispersed soon after. If we do this again, that might be a good starting point. Any interest out there?
2017-09-01 06:07:18
Yes, I would be interested. I am only doing it if it does not rain.
2017-09-01 22:13:18
Let's try for 9:30 a.m. on Monday, by the lower entrance to the park off 40th Street. Probability of rain >=40% before 2 pm cancels. Let's continue "v3.0" as described a few posts above. Depending on interest, we might back up to a couple of the nearby Strip District sites. I will be in the vicinity of the Susie Tree. Let me see if I can dig up my video of planting that tree so you can see exactly where it is, but it's clearly visible from the entrance. This tree.
2017-09-01 23:25:10
9:30 is a little early. I will try my best though.
2017-09-02 13:51:53
Try for 9:30, actually roll at 10.
2017-09-02 19:16:11
Looking at this with fresh eyes, I think I am not going to include the Homestead and East Liberty sets in this. Since we will likely have a few new/different people on this, I think it makes sense to do part of the 2015 path in reverse. Start at Arsenal Park, pick up the Howling Mob Society marker at Liberty/39th first, then roll down to Lib/28th and so through the several points in the Strip. I would love to see the ones downtown but the Labor Day Parade will be in full swing. We can probably get to the 9th St Bridge without getting close to the parade or its staging area, and then see the points on the North Side.
2017-09-03 08:16:05
@stu, Is that near Arsenal School in Lawrenceville?
2017-09-03 11:18:12
Yes, but meeting at the park, just up 40th St a bit. The Susie tree is next to the flagpole. When we roll, we will go out the 39th St side and climb to the parking lot on the park side of the Lib/39th corner. The chance of rain looks to be zero all day, with temperature around 70.
2017-09-03 12:35:27
Ok, Since buses will be running on a Sunday Schedule, The bus leaves Aspinwall at 7:56 AM and 8:41 AM. These will arrive at Butler St. past 40th St. at 8:13 AM and 8:58 AM respectively. Since buses often run late, which of these buses should I get?  
2017-09-03 13:20:25
The later one, or bring something to read.
2017-09-03 16:16:02
We had three on the ride! Thanks to Lori and Zack for joining me. I made a feeble attempt to roll video for a couple of the spots, but it did not turn out well. We were able to get downtown to look at the AFL historical marker then rolled up to Grant Street to watch the parade for about 20 minutes. That was about enough, too. But it was useful to work in some parade viewing along with the history, to tie it all together.
2017-09-04 13:40:24
It’s time to think about this again. On this go-around I want to tackle some of the central and eastern points of Map 3.0 (see above). I also want to get some external people involved — historians, labor folk who don’t feel obligated to do the parade, teachers, maybe even a few students (either HS or college) with an interest. No solid plans as of yet, though probably start at Arsenal Park (near 40th/Butler). Lightning or chance of storms cancels, but a little light rain does not, same as any parade. Plan and dress accordingly. Monday, Sept 2, get there by 9:30, tires roll at 10. Intended to be in perfect conflict with the parade to avoid traffic (because everyone will be downtown). Raisin’ the flag, who will salute?
2019-07-10 17:52:45
Regarding getting historians involved, Charlie McCollestor (co-author of the pamphlet as well as author of The Point of Pittsburgh...a history of Pgh from the labor perspective) is probably the most knowledgeable local labor historian. I'm not sure if he bikes, or if he is available, but we may be able to reach out to him along the route...
2019-08-23 13:57:16
I actually did show up for this, but as expected got no takers. I did zero promotion other than this brief mention. The Howling Mob Society marker at Liberty and 39th is gone. I’m pretty sure it was there in 2017.
2019-09-02 19:04:16
Any takers? 9:30 a.m. Monday, Arsenal Park, 40th St above Butler. We'll do Part 2 of the 2015 plan, there to Pump House.
2020-09-04 22:00:06
I've mentioned this in a couple places on Facebook and Twitter. At 7:40pm Sunday, no solid takers but there have been a few shares and retreats, so this is still a go.
2020-09-06 19:41:28
Nobody showed, but I did the ride anyway. Starting at Arsenal Park, I rode to 26th and Spring Way, via Butler and Penn. There, a Howling Mob Society marker still stands, noting the destruction of the 26th St Roundhouse. In 2015, on a similar ride, a Howling Mob marker still stood at Railroad and 23rd St but I did not see it. The signs at 21st and Smallman, and 21st and Penn, are also gone. But the one on Penn just towards downtown from 17th St is still there. The short story on those is, if a few busted storefronts, and some graffiti and looting, in 2020, bother you, you would have a hard time believing how much destruction happened here in 1877. Downtown, a brief stop at the American Federation of Labor (the AFL) marker on Sixth Avenue at Mellon Park. From there, down Sixth Ave, left on Liberty, right on Sixth St, across the Sixth/Clemente Bridge, then a hook down into Allegheny Landing park, where we find the marker for the cotton mill strikes of 1845 and 1848. Three of the sites today feature primarily women: the 1862 explosion at the Arsenal, where the ride started, at which on Sept 17 1862 (same day as the Battle of Antietam), 78 mostly women were killed in a series of gunpowder explosions. The second is this marker, one of the first labor strikes in the U.S. led by women, who finally got the state to pass a law limiting the work day to 10 hours, and 12 a minimum age for workers. The third site primarily concerning women is what is now The Pannier Company (which doesn't manufacture panniers, as best I can tell). On Oct 25 1915, a fire in this building (still standing) killed 13 of the 30 people who worked there, 12 of them women. This tragedy resulted in improvements to safety in workplaces. From there, a quick ride to the corner of Merchant St and West Ohio St, where stands the statue to Thomas A Armstrong, a printer who publicized the plight of the laborer and helping get the word out to help organize workers, in the 1870s. Last, a stop at the Council of Industrial Organizations marker by the MLKing school, on North Commons across from Allegheny Center's campus. The CIO split off from the AFL in the 1930s based on a philosophical difference on how workers should be represented. They remained split until 1955, when they joined forces to form today's AFL-CIO. I rode mostly on streets - Cedar Ave, River Ave, 31st St Bridge, Spring Way and Butler St to return to my car parked on 40th St. Someday, I'll figure out how to drum up some proper interest in this ride. The whole thing took about two hours. I left around 10, was back a bit after noon. I didn't try to pick up the McKees Rocks or Homestead extremes, or other spots around downtown or the Hill. Too much to do. But I think that this little set can whet the appetite for anyone interested in learning anything about labor history, and provide a jumping off point for anyone desiring to delve further into it.
2020-09-08 20:19:50
Doing this again in 2022! Be at Thomas Armstrong statue in West Park, near the Aviary, shortly after 9 on Monday (Sept 5). Roll at 9:30. Hit the sites on the North Side, cross 16th St Bridge, roll through the Strip, end at Arsenal Park. I figure that with stops to talk, this should wind up around noon.  
2022-09-04 11:51:23
This ended up taking less than an hour and a half! We started at 9:30, as promised, and were done by 10:45. About four miles, and the only hill was Penn Ave from 34th to 39th St. www . mapmyride . com / routes / edit / 5196686536 Started at the Armstrong statue by the Aviary. Stopped at 207 Sandusky, site of the fatal 1915 fire. Same building, different business. Down to the river trail, stopped at the marker for the 1845 cotton mill strikes. Five thousand people involved in that! Upriver to the 16th St Bridge, to Spring Way to the first of four surviving Howling Mob Society markers (of 10) commemorating the 1877 railroad strike and riot that burned everything from the edge of downtown to beyond 26th Street. Second HMS marker at 26th and Spring Way, where city rioters trapped the militia in a Pennsylvania RR roundhouse and burned the roundhouse. Third HMS marker at Penn and 34th, commemorating "Pat the Avenger", an unknown sniper and marksman on the rioters' side. Fourth HMS marker at Penn and 39th, noting that the federal arsenal refused safe haven for the militia, now in hot retreat. Ended the ride at the one remaining Allegheny Arsenal building, where almost 80 women and girls were killed during a set of explosions while preparing munitions for Union troops during the Civil War. Thanks to Justin, who braved the light drizzle all morning to join the ride. There's a lot more to the labor movement than just these few sites. Lots more stories connected with it all, and many don't have markers. We gotta do this again next year! I'd love to have a troupe of 20, maybe a couple people dressed to the nines in smart tweed suits, and a couple others dressed as sweaty laborers, having heated arguments at each site, with a few cameras rolling, and a storyteller explaining the backstory at each. Bring a few teachers, a few high school and college students, a couple media folks, maybe even some labor folks who know the details better than I do. As expected, traffic was almost non-existent, or we chose paths where traffic is normally non-existent anyway. It still amazes me how much of the city is so easily accessible by bike. Even the hill on Penn wasn't that tough, just 100 vertical feet in about a half mile, and the whole rest of the ride was close to level. Till next year!
2022-09-05 23:43:40