McKeesport, Pennsylvania: A Historic City at the Confluence of Rivers

McKeesport, Pennsylvania, located in Allegheny County, is a city with a rich history and a vibrant present. Situated at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, McKeesport has been a hub of activity for centuries. From its humble beginnings in the late 18th century to its growth as a major industrial center in the 20th century, McKeesport has played an important role in the development of the region.

Early History: Settlers, Rivers, and Growth

The history of McKeesport dates back to 1795 when David McKee, an immigrant from Scotland, became the first permanent white settler in the area. He established his home at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, a strategic location for trade and transportation. McKee’s son, John McKee, further developed the area by building a log cabin and establishing a ferry business. In 1795, John McKee proposed the creation of a city called McKee’s Port, which would attract new residents with affordable land plots.

In the early 19th century, McKeesport experienced rapid growth with the mining of bituminous coal in the region. The first schoolhouse was built in 1832, and the city was officially incorporated as a borough in 1842. The establishment of the first steel mill in 1851, followed by the opening of the National Tube Works in 1872, propelled McKeesport into becoming one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the United States. Immigrants from various parts of the world came to work at the steel mills, contributing to the city’s cultural diversity.

McKeesport’s Rise as a Steel Manufacturing Center

McKeesport’s importance as a steel manufacturing center grew throughout the 20th century. In 1899, the National Tube Works Company merged with twenty other pipe-making firms to form the National Tube Company. This merger was a precursor to the formation of U.S. Steel in 1901, when the National Tube Company joined forces with nine other major steel companies. This consolidation solidified McKeesport’s place in the steel industry and contributed to the city’s population growth, which reached its peak of 55,355 in 1940.

However, McKeesport faced challenges in the latter half of the 20th century. The decline of the steel industry and the shift of manufacturing jobs to other regions led to a decrease in population and economic decline. The closure of the National Tube Works in the 1980s marked the end of an era for McKeesport. The city, in collaboration with regional development agencies, has made efforts to revitalize former mill sites and attract new industries to the area.

Geography and Climate: A City by the Rivers

McKeesport is located on the Allegheny Plateau within the Western Allegheny Plateau ecoregion. The city covers a total area of 5.44 square miles, with 5.05 square miles of land and 0.40 square miles of water. The downtown area is situated to the northwest, while the southern and eastern parts of the city are primarily residential.

The city’s geography is characterized by its proximity to the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. These waterways have played a crucial role in the city’s history, providing transportation routes for trade and industry. McKeesport benefits from a humid continental climate, with hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters.

Demographics: A Diverse Community

McKeesport’s population has undergone significant changes over the years. In 2020, the city had a total population of 17,727. The city has a density of 3,510.99 people per square mile. McKeesport has a diverse mix of races and nationalities, with a history of immigration that has shaped its cultural fabric. The city hosts an annual ethnic food festival called International Village, showcasing cuisines from various countries and celebrating the community’s diversity.

Landmarks and Cultural Heritage

McKeesport boasts several landmarks that reflect its rich history and cultural heritage. The Carnegie Free Library, built in the late 19th century, is an architectural gem that serves as a hub for learning and community engagement. Renziehausen Park Rose Garden and Arboretum is a picturesque green space that offers a serene retreat for residents and visitors alike. Penn State University’s Greater Allegheny Campus provides educational opportunities for students in the region.

The city is also known for its extensive trail system, including the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, the Steel Valley Trail, and the Youghiogheny River Trail. These trails offer opportunities for outdoor recreation and connect McKeesport to neighboring communities.

Government and Law Enforcement

McKeesport operates under a home rule charter that establishes a “Strong Mayor”/Council form of government. The mayor, currently Michael Cherepko, serves as the leader of the city government. The city council, consisting of seven individuals elected at-large, acts as the legislative body. The McKeesport Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in the region, works closely with other agencies to ensure public safety.

Transportation and Infrastructure

McKeesport is well-connected to the surrounding region through various transportation options. Pennsylvania Route 148 runs through the city, providing access to neighboring communities. The city is also served by the Pittsburgh Regional Transit system, offering bus services for both intra-city and intercity travel. McKeesport has a rich transportation history, with its location on the Monongahela River once facilitating river transportation and trade.

Education and Healthcare

McKeesport is home to educational institutions that contribute to the intellectual and cultural development of the community. Penn State University’s Greater Allegheny Campus offers a range of academic programs and serves as a center for higher education in the region. UPMC McKeesport, founded in 1894, provides essential healthcare services to residents, ensuring their well-being.

Sports and Recreation

Sports and recreation play an important role in the lives of McKeesport residents. The city has produced talented athletes who have excelled in various fields. From football players like Jim Kelly and Brandon Short to baseball players like Rick Krivda and Bill Robinson, McKeesport has contributed to the world of sports. The city also has parks and recreational facilities that offer opportunities for outdoor activities and community engagement.

McKeesport: Embracing the Future while Honoring the Past

As McKeesport looks to the future, it continues to build on its rich history while embracing new opportunities. The revitalization of former industrial sites, efforts to attract new businesses, and a commitment to community development are shaping McKeesport’s transformation. The city’s diverse population, cultural heritage, and natural beauty contribute to its unique character and make it a place worth exploring and calling home.

McKeesport is a city that has weathered challenges and continues to evolve, guided by its resilient community and a vision for a vibrant future. With its strategic location, historic landmarks, and cultural richness, McKeesport remains a significant part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and a testament to the enduring spirit of its residents.

So, whether you’re drawn to its historical significance, outdoor recreational opportunities, or diverse community, McKeesport offers something for everyone. Plan a visit and discover the hidden gems of this charming city at the confluence of rivers.

8 thoughts on “McKeesport”

    1. During it peak years, McKeesport was once an important politically. Their series of debates was an attempt to gain the labor vote in a competitive races, which drew national attention.

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