Pedestrian Pittsburgh: “That Junk Is Mine”

Pittsburgh often feels inevitable. “Nearly all of the city’s important neighborhoods have strong boundaries,” Franklin Toker writes. The rivers and hills and runs mapped out the neighborhoods before any settlers did. Troy Hill is both a prime example of this and an exception to the rule. It sits on a steep hill overlooking the Allegheny River on one side and I-279 on another. So while geology separated Troy Hill from the East End, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways separated it from the North Side. That might be why the idea of being isolated carries a slight tinge of remorse in Troy Hill when it’s a badge of pride in other parts of the city. Is Squirrel Hill isolated or is it self-contained?

With the construction on Route 28, getting from the East End to Troy Hill is even more difficult than usual. We parked by the Penn Brewery and joined three neighborhood cats on an epic climb up a staircase leading through the overgrowth to Geottmann Street.

To us outsiders, Troy Hill is known for three things: its spray park, its relics and its cemetery. Geottmann lead to the spray park. A toddler stood on a patch of parched cement waving his hand in front of the “Touch and Go Activator Pole,” once, twice, three times. Finally, the entire park erupted in spraying water and the little boy giggled as the fountains drenched him. Beyond the spray park we passed a softball game and arrived at Saint Anthony’s Chapel, a.k.a Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, (First Pastor: Fr. Suitbert G. Molinger, 1868-1892), but missed the visiting hours to see the 4,200 relics inside. An inscription on the rectory read Erectum: MDCCCLXXII, Amplificatum: MDCCCXC.

We looped around to the main intersection of the neighborhood, the acute angle of Lowrie and Ley, and saw a memorial to the three fallen Pittsburgh Police Officers near a World War I memorial, a former incline house and an eight-foot Steelers blow-up doll.

Walking deeper into the neighborhood we spotted signs for a community garden that also lead toward the cemetery, where the stones mark graves dating deep into the 19th Century. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Polish Hill is visible from the cemetery and now, when I’m in Polish Hill, I see Troy Hill on what used to be an anonymous stretch of horizon. Because of its topography, Pittsburgh is two overlapping cities: the place where you stand and the place you can see from where you stand.

Returning to the center of the neighborhood, we stopped at Rialto Street, or Pig Hill. The road is currently blocked off to cars, but not to pedestrians, and halfway down the steep road we found orange and pink pigs painted right on the pavement, running uphill (the opposite direction of the former pigs that gave the hill its name: they ran to slaughter.)

We ended at the Flea For All at Troy Hill Citizens, Inc. Park, where Troy Hillers packed tables full of things founds in closets across the neighborhood. “That junk is mine,” a woman said, pointing to an array of spice racks and workout videos, and a pristine Bell & Howell eight-millimeter camera and projector. “Don’t you love flea markets?” she added.

For photos of Troy Hill, check out the Tumblr.

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