History restored...

Two of only four remaining Depression-era pylons have been refurbished and returned to their home in Emsworth, although in different -- hopefully safer -- locations. The pylons once flanked the Route 65 bridge over Lowries Run, where time and traffic took their toll. During the recent bridge reconstruction, the historic works of art were cleaned and restored, then placed near each entrance to the borough. Photos by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

So often the road to progress includes demolishing the past. Fortunately, though, two local works of historical and artistic value were spared that fate through the intervention of a concerned resident.

When PennDOT needed to replace the bridge over Lowries Run, two pylons -- huge granite markers dating to construction of Ohio River Boulevard in 1930 -- needed to be removed from their original setting. Thanks to the efforts of former Emsworth Council president Maria West, the monolith-like works flanking the road in Emsworth were saved from landfill when West contacted the Pennsylvania Historic Commission, which determined the pylons had significant historic value.

The commission directed PennDOT to have the pylons dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt at traffic triangles at each entrance to the borough, one located at the turn-in to Center Avenue and the other at the entrance to Atlantic Avenue, which leads to the Emsworth Locks and Dam.

Research indicates that during the Depression era, 44 pylons were built as part of Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects throughout Allegheny County. Currently, only four remain, two in Emsworth and two in Verona, located on the Allegheny River, about 12 miles east of Pittsburgh. Verona redid its pylons through a volunteer effort of the community several years ago. After contacting Verona's council, West learned how rare the pylons are and began to take steps to preserve the two located in Emsworth.

Each pylon is composed of granite veneer, stands 10 feet tall and weighs over 10 tons. They feature relief sculpture designed in art deco style by Pittsburgh artist Frank Vittor. The Center Avenue pylon displays a group of people boarding "The first Ohio River steamboat, the New Orleans, built in Pittsburgh in 1810-11 and sailed down the river on its maiden trip, Oct. 20, 1811." The pylon on the opposite side of the roadway, approximately a half-mile closer to Pittsburgh, shows a train, with the words, "The Allegheny Portage Railroad first gave canal and rail transportation from Pittsburgh to the East, March 24, 1834."

Vittor erected 12 of the 44 pylons, all of them located on major boulevards throughout the county.

The Emsworth pylons were recently illuminated as a final touch in their restoration to their original design.

West, who acknowledges the help of current council president Paul Getz and borough secretary Cathy Jones in completing the project, is pleased with the final results.

"I think they're fabulous. They turned out better than I expected. I hope that people realize that these were an artistic project, something that we would not even think about doing today."

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