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Homestead pays homage to steel

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 4:47 a.m.
Looking over the site of the ingot buggy monument near the intersection of West Street and Eighth Avenue in Homestead are Mon Valley Intiative Community Outreach Specialist Erica Rogers and Homestead Economic Revitalization Corp President Janet Whitney. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Looking over the site of the ingot buggy monument near the intersection of West Street and Eighth Avenue in Homestead are Mon Valley Intiative Community Outreach Specialist Erica Rogers and Homestead Economic Revitalization Corp President Janet Whitney. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

A piece of steel industry history is being restored near the intersection of West Street and Eighth Avenue in Homestead.

Homestead-area Economic Revitalization Corp. and the Mon Valley Initiative have partnered for an estimated $50,000 revamp of the ingot buggy site, located near the Homestead Grays Bridge.

It is funded by an MVI grant, Steel Valley Tax Increment Financing money, a HERC contribution, and a grant from the former Main Street Program.

The ingot buggy was dedicated in June of 1981. It's an old-style narrow-gauge model, donated to Homestead by U.S. Steel Corp.'s Homestead Works. The two ingot molds set on the car and mounted on tracks were used in the early 20th century.

MVI community outreach coordinator Erica Rogers said work needs to be done because the site has become “not a good public space.”

Homestead Works at one time produced nearly a third of all of the steel used in the United States. Ingot buggies were mechanically propelled cars, running on rails, that carried ingots from the soaking pits to the primary mill.

The new site will be handicapped accessible and feature picnic tables and benches, landscaping and an historic placard. The ingot buggy will be painted to a more historically accurate color, Rogers said.

HERC president Janet Whitney said the project will help preserve a part of Steel Valley's heritage.

“It's because it is such an important site in Homestead,” Whitney said. “It is the first thing that people see when they cross the bridge (to Homestead). It really was in need of a facelift. This is actually more than a facelift. It only began two weeks ago, and so much is already accomplished.”

Planning for the project began more than a year ago. ATI Development crews started work in early September. Renovations are expected to be complete in mid to late October.

ATI Development, owned by Mike and Rita Rigas, have done remodeling work for MVI before.

“It was a park before,” project manager David R. Freno said. “It was kind of ratty and old, and it was full of cobblestone and all broken up.”

Freno said he is proud to be part of the project because his father Robert J. Freno was employed by U.S. Steel's Irvin Works for many years before his passing.

“My dad spent his whole life down there along the river at Irvin Works,” Freno said. “It's been kind of an honor for me to do this work. We're just very proud to be part of it.”

Homestead Mayor Betty Esper said she attended a meeting about the project a year ago when the plans first were presented.

“I think they're very nice,” Esper said. “I think it will be a nice look coming off the bridge. They're going to have tables there. People can go and sit maybe even have a lunch. I think it's a better image than what was there, just the ingots and brick. I think it's going to be a nice, cozy area.”

Esper was a messenger at Homestead Works in 1951, and later was a clerk on the treating line prior to being laid off in 1986. West Homestead Mayor John J. Dindak, who was a master scheduler in the transportation department at Homestead Works for 41 years, fully supports the restoration project.

“I think it's great,” Dindak said. “It's a monument to the industry and the workers.”

“I think it would be a welcoming site to the area,” Munhall Mayor Raymond Bodnar said. “I have no problem with it, and I don't think any of our people would either. It certainly brings back the historical significance of the area.”

Bodnar said he worked on the treating line of the Homestead mill for 15 years before continuing his 40-year career with U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh.

While working in Homestead, he said he would watch the hot ingot molds be brought to a building next to the 45-inch mill, and then witness the molds being stripped, exposing the ingots. They were cooled outside of his office.

“The significance is this is the Steel Valley,” Bodnar said. “This is somewhere all of us made the steel that made the ships and so many other items during the second World War that were very essential (and) a major part of the war effort. I just feel that it's another site (where) we can welcome people into our Steel Valley area.”

Mike Solomon, a HERC founder and current board member, said the restoration project is important because many youths only know the area for the Waterfront.

“It's been a long time since we had steel mills here and a lot of the new generation is not at all familiar (with the history),” Solomon said. “What they know is the Waterfront, a great big place for going to the movies and shops and restaurants and entertainment. A lot of them cannot even envision what was there before, and what their parents or grandparents had down there. It's something that I hope they'll pay attention to because it's part of their past, part of their heritage, and you don't want to lose their heritage. It's a matter of pride, I think.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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