East Carson Street

East Carson Street Pittsburgh

The Historic Charm of East Carson Street in Pittsburgh

East Carson Street, located in the South Side of Pittsburgh, PA, is a remarkable stretch of road renowned for its vibrant Victorian commercial architecture. This street holds a rich historical significance, hosting a diverse array of buildings and establishments that reflect the evolution of the community over time.

The Birth and Evolution of East Carson Street

East Carson Street, both East and West, initially extended from the original Carson Street in old Birmingham, around the current 10th Street Bridge. The street got its name from Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, the first physician of Pittsburgh, who married an Ormsby and planned the town of Birmingham on the Ormsby tract in 1811.

East Carson Street was named after a sea captain residing in Philadelphia, who was acquainted with Dr. Bedford. This captain was likely related to Mary Carson, a Philadelphia native whose husband, General James O’Hara, established the region’s first glassworks on the south shore of the Monongahela River opposite the Point. This connection places the Carson name among the historically significant names of Pittsburgh’s pioneer families.

Architectural Heritage

According to Walter C. Kidney, a renowned architectural historian, East Carson Street is remarkable for its abundant and vivid Victorian commercial architecture. The street features 29 buildings that exemplify the “Great American Main Street,” showcasing a blend of architectural styles like Greek Revival, Second Empire, Art Deco, Italianate, and Beaux-Arts.

The Bedford School Apartments, a three-story Greek Revival schoolhouse from 1850, were retrofitted in 1997 with a dozen light-filled apartments, several with the original chalkboards still on the walls. This development was a key factor in stabilizing the neighborhood and preserving its rich architectural heritage.

Bedford Square: A Historic Landmark

Bedford Square, located at Bingham and S. 12th streets, is a relic of Nathaniel Bedford’s plan for the settlement of Birmingham, drawn up in 1811. This square, which retains its market house, is the oldest intact housing group in Pittsburgh. The tiny homes and shops on the perimeter of the square, some in wood and others in brick, preserve the general Greek Revival massing from the early nineteenth century.

Commercial Spine of the Neighborhood

East Carson Street served as the commercial spine of Bedford’s borough of Birmingham. It functioned as a feeder road to the Washington Pike and the National Road, both south of the city. The street’s great boost came with iron making. By 1860, the Clinton Furnace at its western terminus was balanced on the east by Jones and Laughlin’s American Iron Works around 25th Street.

East Carson Street Pittsburgh

A Mecca for Immigrant Steelworkers

When the South Side became a mecca for immigrant steelworkers from western and later central and eastern Europe, the Street was stamped with numerous churches and fraternal halls. The multidomed St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church is the most grandiloquent of the group, while the smaller, onion-domed former Cleaves Temple at 1005 E. Carson is the most affecting.

Vibrant Commercial Architecture

The central mile of East Carson offers one of the best collections of nineteenth-century commercial architecture in the country. Generally two to four stories in height, most of the standout storefronts are Italianate or Second Empire in style. Notable buildings include the Pittsburgh National Bank of 1902 at number 1736, a Beaux-Arts study in contrasting yellow-gray sandstone and red brick, and rare examples of Art Deco style such as Siegel’s Jewelers at number 1510 and Dotula’s Cafe at 1605 E. Carson.

East Carson Street Pittsburgh

A Hub of Economy and Culture

East Carson Street was the birthplace of the famous Kaufmann’s Department Store in 1871. It soon moved to 1932 East Carson Street before relocating to Federal Street on the North Side and finally settling downtown at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street in 1879.

In the mid-1900s, there were four movie theaters on East Carson Street: the Liberty, the Rex, the Royal (or Novelty) Theater, and the Arcade. The Rex Theatre is the only one that survives on East Carson Street today.

Modern-Day East Carson Street

Today, the Street continues to be a bustling hub of activity. With family-friendly activities, a diverse array of shops, restaurants, bars, and a rich cultural heritage, this street is an essential part of Pittsburgh’s vibrant community.

From the reminiscences of local residents, we learn of a bygone era where a man would come to Carson Street every Saturday and yell “Pretzels, get your fresh pretzels.” Twice a week, a man called the “huckster” would sell fresh produce from an open truck.

East Carson Street stands as a testament to Pittsburgh’s rich history and vibrant community. With every cobblestone, historic building, and local business, the street tells a story of the city’s past and present. As you explore its blocks, identify your favorite buildings, and immerse yourself in the facts and stories that have been collected, you’ll come to appreciate the unique charm and historical significance of this remarkable street.  A trip to the South Side always includes a walk down one of Pittsburgh’s most famous streets.

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