Get to the Point!

This exhibit illustrates changes in the iconic Point of Pittsburgh over the last 250 years. The Point is a parcel of land, in Downtown Pittsburgh and is named for the point of confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers forming the Ohio River.

By University of Pittsburgh Library System

The History of the Pittsburgh Point

Print of Early Pittsburgh Point (1758) by UnknownUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

The converging Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form a 225 acre, low-lying triangle of land, which slopes gently westward ending in a point.  Here the Ohio River begins its nearly 1,000-mile long journey to its junction with the Mississippi River. 

This point and its accompanying triangular land parcel have long been a significant geographical and historical landmark in North America.  They have also been the functional and symbolic heart of the City of Pittsburgh and its region. 

Engraving of Pittsburg in 18th Century (1790) by John C. McRaeUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

Indigenous Americans, European explorers, fur trappers and traders, and military leaders all recognized the strategic importance of the Ohio River as a route to the continent’s interior.

In the 1750s France and England, each with Indigenous American and colonists allies, fought for control of the point at the head of the Ohio. With England’s victory, settlers moved across the Allegheny Mountains and down the Ohio to western territories.

Plan of the lots laid out at Pittsburg and the Coal Hill (1787) by S. V. John HillsUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

The point’s role shifted from its military importance to a gateway to the west.  Pittsburgh arose on the triangle behind the point to supply westward migrants and furnish western markets.

View of the Point, downtown and rivers (1860) by Charles MagnusUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

On the sloping mudflat beside the Monongahela, merchants conducted a flourishing trade between the eastern seaports of Philadelphia and Baltimore. Boatbuilding, iron, glass, textile, and handicraft industries produced goods not economically carted over the mountains.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from Grand View Avenue (1892) by Charles GrahamUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

The Pennsylvania Railroad arrived in 1852 and over the next eighty years, manufacturers, bankers, and workers built pre-eminent iron and steel, coal mining, glass, railroad equipment, aluminum, electrical equipment, and food processing industries among others. 

The Three Rivers, Pittsburgh, Pa. (1907) by UnknownUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

Railroads and warehouses occupied the point where decades earlier the forts of European empires once stood.

The Point, featuring the new and old Point Bridges (1927) by Pittsburgh City PhotographerUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

After the Great Depression and several years of war, the point appeared run down with dismal prospects for the future. Corporate leaders partnered with Democratic Party leaders to address problems in hopes of making the city a better place to live.

View of the Point from the Manchester Bridge, featuring the flagpole in the parklet (1932) by Pittsburgh City PhotographerUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

As early as the Pittsburgh sesquicentennial, efforts to establish a park at the Point began. 

Aerial View of Pittsburgh and the Point, featuring the development of Point State Park (1960) by Harold CorsiniUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

Through a series of projects, "Renaissance I" cleared the skies of smoke, diminished the intensity of floods, constructed new infrastructure, redeveloped parts of downtown with skyscrapers, and turned the point into a state park. The Golden Triangle was born.

Aerial view of the Point and Three Rivers Stadium (1980) by Pittsburgh City PhotographerUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

While new buildings climbed towards the sky, and sporting arenas appeared, Renaissance efforts dramatically affected Hill District residents displacing hundreds of small businesses and thousands of families.

View of the Point from the West End (2013) by Chris LitherlandUniversity of Pittsburgh Library System

In the coming decades, various actors reclaimed the riverfronts for recreation; redeveloped Downtown for office, cultural, and residential uses; and refurbished the point once more to symbolize the heart of Pittsburgh and its region.

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