Exploring the Transformation of Herr’s Island To Washington’s Landing: From Industrial Hub to Vibrant Community

Herr’s Island, also known as Washington’s Landing, is a captivating island located in the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. This remarkable piece of land has undergone a remarkable transformation over the years, evolving from an industrial hub to a thriving mixed-use community. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the history of Herr’s Island, explore its journey of redevelopment, and highlight the vibrant amenities that make it a desirable place to live and visit.

Early History and Industrial Boom

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Herr’s Island has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to its early settlement by Benjamin Herr, a Swiss Mennonite. The island flourished under Herr’s care, becoming a lush village adorned with fruit trees and gardens. While factories began to spring up along the riverbanks during the industrial revolution, Herr’s Island remained a small haven amidst the emerging industrial landscape.

In the late 19th century, the lumber and oil industries set up operations on the island, marking a significant turning point. The Pittsburgh Joint Stock Yards, a pivotal component of the island’s industrial growth, were established in 1885 by James Callery, a prominent Pittsburgh tanner. These stockyards not only served as a stopping point for livestock en route from Chicago to New York but also supplied Pittsburgh’s slaughterhouses.

Rise and Fall of the Industrial Empire

Between 1903 and the 1950s, Herr’s Island became a thriving livestock terminal, ranking as the tenth largest in the United States and the second largest east of the Mississippi River. Thousands of cattle, pigs, and sheep were processed on the island, and even remnants of elephants and draft horse bones have been discovered through archaeological excavations. However, the industrial activities on the island emitted a strong and unpleasant odor that wafted for miles, earning it a notorious reputation.

The Pittsburgh Joint Stock Yards and the Pittsburgh Provision and Packing Company were the island’s principal tenants during this period. In addition to sheltering and processing animals, the island hosted livestock shows and auctions. The nearby Ravine Street, also known as “Pig Hill,” played a unique role in the livestock trade, as livestock sold at the stockyards were driven up the steep street to the slaughterhouses, providing a cultural significance to the area.

The island was also home to Walker’s Garbage Company, which served as the city’s garbage dump for several years, and Walker’s Soap Company, where animal fat and bones were processed into tallow, adding to the cacophony of offensive odors in the area.

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Rehabilitation Efforts and Redevelopment

By the 1970s, the industrial activity on Herr’s Island had greatly diminished, leaving behind a brownfield site. However, a major redevelopment effort was undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s after extensive studies on the best uses for the island. The City of Pittsburgh recognized the potential of Herr’s Island and aimed to transform it into a showcase project of urban redevelopment.

The rehabilitation of Herr’s Island, now known as Washington’s Landing, has been a remarkable success story. The island has been transformed into a vibrant mixed-use community, featuring townhomes, business parks, a marina, and recreational facilities. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Three Rivers Rowing Association have also become prominent tenants on the island.

The northern portion of Washington’s Landing boasts a beautiful park with tennis courts, a public lawn, and meticulously maintained landscapes. The island is also traversed by a section of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, offering a scenic crushed-gravel pedestrian path with stunning overlooks of the Allegheny River.

Head of the Ohio and Recreational Amenities

Since 1987, Herr’s Island has been the starting point for the annual Head of the Ohio crew race. The Three Rivers Rowing Association plays a significant role in organizing and hosting this prestigious event. The boathouses maintained by the association on the island further contribute to its vibrant rowing culture.

The island’s proximity to the river also makes it an ideal location for water-based recreation. The marina on Washington’s Landing provides docking facilities and a dry-dock building for pleasure boats. Boating enthusiasts can explore the scenic Allegheny River and enjoy the picturesque views of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline.

The Transformation of Bridges and Urban Renewal

Several bridges have played a crucial role in connecting Herr’s Island to the mainland and facilitating its transformation. The small Western Pennsylvania Railroad bridge, built in 1890 and upgraded in 1903, spanned the back channel at the southern tip of the island. The 30th Street Bridge, built in 1887, connected the island to the surrounding area and was a vital transportation link.

Unfortunately, the 30th Street Bridge suffered a fire and collapse in 1921. A temporary cable suspension bridge was erected for pedestrian traffic, but the main bridge span was not rebuilt. The bridge was eventually replaced in 1939, and the new structure no longer connected directly to East Ohio Street. It now passed over the island, with access via the River Road exit at the north end of the span.

The Redevelopment Vision and Environmental Cleanup

The redevelopment vision for Herr’s Island faced various challenges and differing opinions. In 1984, there were debates over filling the back channel and utilizing the reclaimed land for warehouse and office spaces. However, Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy championed a more innovative approach, envisioning a mixed-use development that capitalized on the river as an asset rather than an obstacle.

The environmental cleanup of Herr’s Island was a critical step in the redevelopment process. Extensive efforts were made to clear the highly polluted land, which involved extracting and disposing of over 10,000 tons of organic waste, removing buried animal carcasses, and addressing underground petroleum tanks. The cleanup was successfully completed in 1990, setting the stage for the island’s transformation.

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The Rise of Washington’s Landing

Once the land was properly cleared, the Washington’s Landing Development began to take shape. The redevelopment project, costing over $40 million, replaced the former packing plants and stockyards with stylish townhouses, well-landscaped open spaces, office buildings, and recreational amenities. The Village on Washington’s Landing, a residential development comprising nearly 100 upscale units, was completed in 1997.

The transformation of the historic Western Pennsylvania Railroad bridge over the back channel into a pedestrian walkway added to the island’s charm and connectivity. The bridge became part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a network of recreational paths that showcases the region’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

A Remarkable Transformation

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Herr’s Island, now known as Washington’s Landing, has undergone a remarkable transformation from an industrial hub to a vibrant and desirable community. The island’s rich history, industrial legacy, and subsequent redevelopment have shaped its unique character. Today, Washington’s Landing stands as a testament to the power of urban renewal and showcases the city of Pittsburgh’s commitment to creating sustainable and attractive neighborhoods.

Whether you are attracted to the island’s recreational amenities, the scenic beauty of the Allegheny River, or the charm of its well-designed townhomes, Washington’s Landing offers a unique living experience that combines history with modern comforts. Visit Washington’s Landing and discover the captivating story of Herr’s Island’s evolution into a thriving community that embraces its past while looking towards the future.