A Brief History of the South Side

history of the south side

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The South Side, a neighborhood located across from downtown Pittsburgh, is divided into two sub-neighborhoods, South Side Flats and South Side Slopes. The South Side has a business district along East Carson Street. The neighborhood is also home to almost 100 bars and pubs, making it a well-known neighborhood to visit for a fun night out. The South Side was originally known as the village of Birmingham, annexed to Pittsburgh in 1872. It was settled by German and Eastern European immigrants who came to Pittsburgh to work.

The South Side is a lively and historically rich neighborhood located along the Monongahela River, is known for its unique blend of residential, commercial, and entertainment offerings. With a storied past rooted in heavy industry, South Side has transformed into a thriving hub for young professionals, students, and families alike. This article delves into the various aspects that make South Side Pittsburgh a truly remarkable place to live, work, and play.

History of the South Side in Pittsburgh

Early Beginnings

Originally known as the village of Birmingham, the South Side was annexed to the city in 1872. The neighborhood was predominantly settled by German immigrants, followed by Eastern Europeans who flocked to the area in search of employment opportunities in heavy industry. Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, who played a significant role in planning the settlement, named many of the streets after his friends and family members. This resulted in a predominance of streets named after people, such as Jane, Sarah, and Carson.

The Industrial Era

For many years, the South Side of Pittsburgh was dominated by heavy industry and associated businesses. One of the most famous steel mills in the area, the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, was located in the South Side but closed its doors in the 1980s. The Pittsburgh Terminal Properties building, completed in 1906, was once the largest warehouse between New York and Chicago. Its prime location along the river, rail, and road transport networks made it an ideal facility for merchants who required temporary storage for their goods.

Transformation and Revitalization

In recent decades, the South Side has undergone a significant transformation. The decline of heavy industry paved the way for an urban renaissance, spurred by historic preservation and adaptive reuse of historic structures. The South Side has become a desirable city neighborhood, attracting a diverse mix of residents, including college students from nearby institutions like Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. The area’s thriving bar and restaurant scene has also turned South Side into a popular nightlife destination for young people in Pittsburgh.

South Side Neighborhoods

South Side Flats

South Side Flats is one of the two primary neighborhoods in the South Side of Pittsburgh. It is characterized by its urban fabric of rowhouses and a bustling business district along East Carson Street. The Flats boasts one of the largest Victorian main streets in the United States, with the entire length of East Carson Street designated as a historic district. Strict rules govern the appearance of buildings in this area, ensuring the preservation of its architectural heritage.

South Side Slopes

The South Side Slopes neighborhood is located just south of the South Side Flats. Known for its steep terrain, the Slopes features narrow streets that require specially designed fire trucks to navigate its zigzagging maze. Some areas are so steep that public staircases serve as streets, complete with street signs and houses located along them. These public steps are not uncommon in the hilly city of Pittsburgh, which has over 700 sets of steps providing access to otherwise unreachable neighborhoods.

Economy of the South Side

Business District

The business district in the South Side  is centered along East Carson Street, which runs the length of the neighborhood. The area is home to numerous small shops, restaurants, and bars that contribute to the local economy. In fact, in 2006, more than 80 bars and pubs were operating in the South Side Flats alone. The neighborhood’s shopping scene is a mix of locally-owned stores, such as Pittsburgh Jeans Co., and national retailers like American Eagle, H&M, and Nine West.

SouthSide Works

The SouthSide Works is a major mixed-use development in the South Side  that has played a crucial role in revitalizing the local economy. The project, spearheaded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, aimed to create over 6,000 jobs in the area. Today, SouthSide Works features over 10 shopping stores and more than 10 restaurants and bars. The restoration of the business district has significantly improved the South Side’s economy, with house sales increasing by $75,000 in the past 10 years and vacancy rates dropping below 10%.

Service Businesses and Office Spaces

The South Side is also home to various service businesses and reconverted office buildings. Many businesses choose to locate in the area due to its lower rents compared to Downtown Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Terminal Properties building, for instance, has been converted into the River Walk Corporate Center, housing a mix of light industrial, professional, and storage businesses.

Transportation and Connectivity

South Side Pittsburgh is well-connected by public transit, making it an attractive location for professionals working in the Central Business District (Downtown Pittsburgh). The South Tenth Street Bridge, which crosses the Monongahela River, provides easy access to Duquesne University for students living in the South Side. The Birmingham Bridge connects the neighborhood to Oakland, which is approximately two miles away. Station Square, a popular shopping and entertainment destination, is about 1.5 miles west of South Side, while the scenic neighborhood of Mt. Washington is 2.5 miles away.

Education in The South Side

The South Side is home to a growing student population, as many college students from nearby universities choose to live in the neighborhood or frequent its vibrant nightlife scene. Institutions such as Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University are all within close proximity to South Side, making it a convenient location for students and faculty alike.

Parks and Recreation

Numerous recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. The neighborhood features several parks, such as the South Side Riverfront Park, which provides green space along the Monongahela River and offers walking and biking trails, picnic areas, and fishing spots. The nearby Three Rivers Heritage Trail offers an additional 24 miles of riverfront trails, connecting South Side to other neighborhoods and attractions throughout Pittsburgh.

Nightlife and Entertainment

As mentioned earlier, the South Side is known for its vibrant nightlife scene, attracting a diverse crowd of young professionals, college students, and long-time residents. East Carson Street, in particular, is home to a multitude of bars, restaurants, and live music venues, making it a popular destination for those seeking an entertaining night out in the city.

Living in the South Side

Housing Options

There are a variety of housing options in the South Side, from historic rowhouses in the Flats to single-family homes in the Slopes. The neighborhood has seen a significant increase in housing prices over the past decade, reflecting its growing popularity among homebuyers and renters alike.

Challenges and Concerns

Despite its many attractions and amenities, the neighborhood also faces challenges. Parking can be difficult due to narrow streets and high-density buildings. Additionally, nuisance crime has been a growing issue in recent years, although city leaders have announced that crime in the South Side bar district has dropped by roughly 30 percent from the previous year, possibly due to the installation of new outdoor security cameras and an increased police patrol presence.

Pittsburgh’s South Side has come a long way since its early days as a hub for heavy industry. Today, the neighborhood stands as a shining example of urban revitalization, offering an attractive mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment options. With its rich history, vibrant economy, and diverse population, the South Side is a thriving community that continues to evolve and grow, making it a truly remarkable place to call home.

Fun Facts

history of the south side

Did you know Dr. Nathaniel Bedford planned a large part of Birmingham before it was named the South Side. He named streets after his friends and family—this is why South Siders will see Jane Street, Sarah Street and Carson Street. The South Side flats sub-neighborhood has one of the largest Victorian main streets in the United States. Some of the South Side’s streets are so steep that actual staircases serve as the street. Also, as many Pittsburghers know, the South Side has some of the tightest parking spaces in the city… and a high population of Pittsburgh parking chairs!