Pittsburgh Neighborhoods: History of Wilkinsburg

 A Brief History of Wilkinsburg

History of Wilkinsburg

Wilkinsburg is a borough in Allegheny County next to the city of Pittsburgh. The history of Wilkinsburg begins with its naming after John Wilkins, Jr., an Army officer who was Quartermaster General of the Army in the late 1790s and early 1800s. As of the 2010 census, Wilkinsburg’s population was 15,930 people. Wilkinsburg was founded by European immigrants, like many other communities in Pittsburgh. The area actually has a large amount of churches (even for Pittsburgh!), mostly Protestant ones at that. Pittsburgh is predominantly Catholic, so this is part of what makes Wilkinsburg unique. The Wilkinsburg Library was founded in 1899 as a branch of the Braddock Library and was one of the first Carnegie Libraries in the U.S. 101 years ago, in 1916, the world’s first commercially licensed radio station, KDKA, began broadcasting in Wilkinsburg (from a small garage at that!). A few years later, Russian immigrant and Wilkinsburger Vladimir Zworykin designed the iconoscope on most TV cameras when they were first invented.

Fast Facts About Wilkinsburg

History of Wilkinsburg

Wilkinsburg’s Community Development Center has been working hard to make changes to the area, which has seen a population decline and economic depression over the years. They are working to get new business to move to the neighborhood and spread the word about community events. WTAE-TV is currently located in Wilkinsburg on Ardmore Boulevard. Surrounding neighborhoods to Wilkinsburg include Penn Hills, Churchill, Edgewood, Point Breeze and more. The Community Development Center recently advocated for an approved liquor license referedum that legalized the sale of up to 5 liquore licenses in Wilkinsburg. Until then, the neighborhood had been a dry community since 1935.

19 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Neighborhoods: History of Wilkinsburg”

  1. Michelle Brower

    I grew up in Wilkinsburg many years ago. It has saddened me to watch it deteriorate from afar. I’m hearing good things about a revival and restoration going on now. I hope it continues!

  2. I believe that the dilapidated housing you show has been completely restored and rehabilitated with the help of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, and is now housing for low-income residents – a wonderful success story. Maybe you should change the photo.

    1. All housing in Wilkinsburg is housing for low-income residents today.
      The city built a large housing project on Wood St. in the center of the business district for low-income welfare residents.
      I grew up in Wilkinsburg from the late 40’s and left in the early 60’s.
      This was a beautiful city back then with a 90% white population, now it’s 99% black.
      The city over taxed the residents to the point many just walked away from their homes.
      Then the blacks moved in and more White’s moved out.
      Yeah, I remember in the late 40’s there was a surplus store on Wood St. near Franklin Ave. that was turned into a bowling ally. Went also to the Regal, State, or Rowland theaters. Bought my clothes at Ace’s Sports store on Penn Avs. Mom bought our food from A&P on Penn Ave. There were two Islays, one next door to the Rowland theater on Wood St., the other one was up on Penn Ave. Frick Park was the place to go for adventure and picknicks. Now, this city is a gang land with a high crime rate.
      I know some people that live in the Burgh that won’t’s even drive through this city.

  3. I’m still missing Caldwell and Graham with its brass pneumatic tube payment system at the checkout counters.

    1. Joannie Sauer

      My mom was just talking about that store. She was born and raised in Wilkinsburg.

  4. I grew up in Penn Hills, but Wilkinsburg was where we went to the movies bowling, shopping, Ice cream at Islays. Great town!

    1. i “slung” ice cream and sold shaved ham at the Isalys on Wood Street in Wilkinsburg in the 1950s. Wilkinsburg was THE “shopping center” for many adjacent communities “back in the days” – Edgewood, Forest Hills, Blackridge, Churchill among them – and yes, Penn Hills! I grew up in Edgewood and my wife Barbara was the “daughter” of STADTLANDER PHARMACIES at Eastwood Corner and on Laketon Rd in Penn Hills.

  5. Although I grew up about 100 yards from Wilkinsburg in Edgewood, Wilkinsburg was a big part of my life. Grandparents lived near the top of Center Street Hill; Saturday movies at the Regal, State, or Rowland; Cub Scout uniform from Caldwell and Grahams; first fishing rod and baseball glove from Sol’s; first camera from Wondays; singing in the boys choir at St. Stephens; pumping a bike up Robinson Hill to get to Eastwood Swimming Pool – and then back up the other side of that hill to get home; first “summe job” at Bauman Pontiac on Rebecca – and so much more. Wonderful memories!

  6. Jeannette Walton

    I grew up in Wilkinsburg, also. It was called the City of Churches, and a safe place to live. We walked everywhere, anytime, and enjoyed all the shopping on Wood Street and Penn Avenue. I believe the referendum on liquor licenses is a bad thing. It can only cause more problems than the ones that are already there. There is a need to clean up the town and make it a safe place for families again.

    1. They need to tear down the whole city and rebuild it to the original city it was back in the 30’s to the early 60’s.

  7. Penn Avenue meanders out of Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhoods and into Wilkinsburg, branching off into enclaves with tiny cultural gems like Up Beat Records, Biddle’s Escape coffee shop and the Percolate art gallery and creative library.

  8. James F Kelly

    I grew up on Hill Ave during the 70’s. From Wood St up to Elm St. was my growing up block. Behind my haus on 725 then 727 Hill, I would cut threw a small wood and end up on Singer place. Hill Ave was the line between Wilkinsburg and Homewood (ALL the kids knew where that line was. The Walkers were a very well known family that lived next to the “Old Folks Home” on Hill and Woods St. and befriended my mother (22, I was 6, sister 3). We (I) couldn’t have made it without them. They were blessed people, truly. My Gramma lived on Frankland Ave. directly across the street from St. James church. You could hear the bells from at least 6 churches on Sundays calling each other like birds. Dandy Dallar was around the corner on Wood St. I was there the day they tore down the orignal Islays and I think a fruit market. (they moved across the street, for spite I guess) I live in Cali now and they just don’t it here… They don’t know what chipped ham is! I have to explain it to professional butchers here. Unreal. If anyone wants to reminence, feel free to comment.

  9. I was born at Columbia Hospital in Wilkinsburg. We lived on a small Farm near Apollo. We made trips to Wilkinsburg to have my leg examine after I broke it. I still have the pins in my leg.

  10. My parents owned Rogers Delicatessen on S. Trenton Ave. It was great to grow up there. Does anyone remember the name of the pharmacy across from my parent’s store. Also was there pharmacies in Wilkinsburg called Sidehammers. Thank you for your help.

  11. There were three Sidehammer brothers. Charles and Jim ran the store in Regent Square at the corner of West Hutchinson and Braddock Avenue. Andy Sidehammer owned and operated the Edgewood Pharmacy on West Swissvale Ave for many years. Daughters Janice Sidehammer was in my class (EHS 1955) and passed away a couple of years ago. Mary Ann was I think in my brother Jack’s class (EHS 1959)

    1. There is a man in our church with the Sidehammer name. The church is in Ligonier. I remember the drugstore across from my parent’s store it was Hartsock’s. I remember the other stores in that block. I remember a lot of that area and miss it very much. I also remember the stores in Wilkinsburgh. I went to St. James. My parents store is a bakery.

  12. There were three Sidehammer brothers. Charles and Jim ran the store in Regent Square at the corner of West Hutchinson and Braddock Avenue. Andy Sidehammer owned and operated the Edgewood Pharmacy on West Swissvale Ave for many years. Daughters Janice Sidehammer was in my class (EHS 1955) and passed away a couple of years ago. Mary Ann was I think in my brother Jack’s class (EHS 1959). This comment is not a DUPLICATE,

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