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Demolition cuts into history

| Friday, Nov. 26, 2010

The last remnant of East Ohio Street's once-thriving meatpacking industry is being razed as part of the $120 million Route 28 improvement project.

Contractors began tearing down the former Millvale Industrial Park at Route 28 and 33rd Street at the border of Pittsburgh and Millvale in October. Dating to the late 19th century, the complex started as a brewery and later served as a meatpacking facility until the 1960s.

"That's really sad," said David S. Rotenstein, a former Pittsburgh resident who works as a historical consultant in Silver Spring, Md. "It's just heart-rending to see all that unique local culture destroyed."

Most of the buildings are gone, and PennDOT expects demolition to be completed by Wednesday. It's part of a larger project to remake Route 28 into a four-lane, limited access highway with no traffic signals between the North Side and Kittanning.

The project started in August and is scheduled to be finished in 2014. All buildings from the 40th Street Bridge to St. Nicholas Church will be torn down to make room for the highway.

According to an archaeological report conducted for PennDOT, buildings that housed the industrial park began as the American Brewing Co., which moved to the location in 1898. In 1900, the company built a mill house, engine room and three-story stock house, which permitted it to increase production from 1,236 barrels of beer a year to 70,000 barrels.

The brewery, a subsidiary of the Independent Brewing Co. of Pittsburgh, continued operating until 1920. A year later, it was sold to the Fried and Reineman Packing Co., which remained at the location for 40 years.

Rotenstein said Fried and Reineman was part of a substantial industry that once employed thousands. Slaughterhouses, rendering plants, tanneries and processing plants dotted East Ohio Street, Spring Garden Avenue and Herrs Island, he said.

Fried and Reineman mainly slaughtered and processed hogs, he said.

"What most people don't know is the brewers, meatpackers and tanners, they were all in the same business," Rotenstein said. "The brewers would sell their waste from the brewing process to the meat processors, who had the stockyards, who would feed that to their animals."

Rotenstein, who conducted extensive research into Pittsburgh's meatpacking industry, said German immigrants settling in the North Side in the 1830s started the business and it expanded when railroads came in the 1850s. It continued until the late 1960s with the closing of stockyards on Herrs Island and slaughterhouses in abutting neighborhoods.

Livestock was brought into the city by rail, penned on the island during the day and herded to slaughter at night across the 31st Street Bridge and either up Rialto Street to Troy Hill -- also known as Pig Hill -- or along East Ohio Street.

Fried and Reineman specialized in Fort Pitt brand hams, bacon, lard, "fine bologna" and sausages. The company sold veal and lamb, and distributed Blue Valley butter and other dairy products, according to newspaper advertisements. The Allegheny County Jail was one of its biggest customers for bologna and sausage.

The company went out of business in 1961 and the buildings since were used for warehousing space, and most recently the industrial park.

Expansion of the Heinz plant on River Avenue and Route 28 construction effectively wiped out what remained of the meatpacking industry. Rotenstein said some vaults where packers stored meat to keep it cool are visible in the hillside along Route 28, and several buildings remain in Spring Garden.

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