Ongoing History: The Highest Point in Pittsburgh

photo by Nina Marie Barbuto

Toward the end of the Hyperlocal Mapping Party last night, a guy named Devon came over to check out the Protractor Map. He just finished a shift at a demolition crew in the South Hills, and swung by Assemble on his way home, in Garfield. “I always check out what’s going on here,” he said. He took off his hardhat and leaned in close to read the street names. The physical map covers only a small section of the city, just the rivers and the streets where the protractors appear. At first glance it can be even more disorienting than the actual city (but please don’t judge the map or the city by that measure alone).

While Devon studied the map, we somehow got to talking about our favorite views in Pittsburgh. I said I really liked the view from Winebiddle and Hillcrest, where you can see Downtown, the Allegheny River, the South Side Slopes and half of the East End.

He said the best view in the whole city is from his grandmother’s house in the Hill District. “If we stood out back and looked left, we could see all the way to here,” he said, pointing to the North Side on the map. “The mall. The hospital. Everything. And if we looked right, we could see all the way to…” he thought for a moment, “basically all the way to Rankin.” Then he said, “You know what the highest point in Pittsburgh is?”

All the sudden I remembered a moment from middle school. My best friend and I were walking up Beacon, past Shady, and he said, “This is the highest point in the city. If you could walk straight, like through the air, you’d be above all the skyscrapers downtown.”

So I told Devon, “It’s in Squirrel Hill, isn’t it?”

“Nope,” he said. “You’re wrong.”

“It’s in the Hill?”

“It’s in the Hill,” he said. He looked at the map. “What’s the street the Pep Boys is on?”

“Centre,” I said.

“Do you have Centre and Neville on this map?”

I showed him Centre and Neville.

“Okay,” he said. “So if you’re standing there, and you look back, you’ll see the reservoir.”

“The water tower?”

“Yeah. The water tower,” he said. “That water tower is on the highest point in the city. Growing up in the Hill, we always heard Mt. Washington was the highest point in the city, but from the back of my grandma’s house, we looked down on Mt. Washington.”

UPDATE (May 17, 2013): For the actual answer, listen to this.

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2 Responses to Ongoing History: The Highest Point in Pittsburgh

  1. BB says:

    ah yes, I remember it well.
    I have photos from the Assemble exhibit.
    U want them?

  2. Mike erdlen says:

    The highest point pgh is the brashear reservoir in observatory hill. With an elevation or 1,370 ft it is 100 ft higher that Mt. Washington’s highest point.

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