March 31, 2016 – Duquesne and Clairton


Rain and clouds greeted me as I arrived in the greater Pittsburgh area and drove through Braddock on my way to Duquesne. But when you are on projects like this, sometimes you just have to accept what you are presented with and make the best of it.

Considering that the first order of business is to make images of the abandoned Holy Trinity Church, the gloomy weather is probably fitting.

The Duquesne Hunky, a contact I discovered during my online research, helped out with access to the church. But I had a short window of time to make some images, so it was my first stop.

Hunky is an ethnic slur used in the United States to refer to a laborer from Central Europe. It originated in the coal regions of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where Poles and other immigrants from Central Europe (Hungarians (Magyar), Rusyns, Slovaks) came to perform hard manual labor on the mines. They were called 'hunkies' by the American public, which lumped them together into a category of Slavic immigrants, irrespective of their individual ethnic background. The use of the term as an ethnic slur has fallen into disuse, but the term hunky and the public image associated with it has historic relevance in the perception of Slavic immigrants in the United States. Wikipedia

The cornerstone for this gothic-revival style church with its 150-foot towers was laid on October 21, 1904, and dedicated on September 28, 1907. In 1955, the steeples on top of the church’s towers were removed due to safety concerns.

Holy Trinity served its congregation until the 1960’s when the building began to need major repairs. Additionally, certain reforms that were put in place by the Vatican were requiring additional renovations.

I spent about an hour poking around the decaying structure making images and trying to imagine the countless lives that found faith and solace here. It is sad that such a spectacular structure was allowed to fall into disrepair.

There is probably still hope for the building. Although all of the ornamentation and stained glass was salvaged and removed years ago, the bones of the building seem to be in decent shape. It would be great to see it restored to its former glory and possibly used for another purpose.

Under the still gloomy skies, I headed for Clairton to do a drive around and get my bearings since I had never been to the town.

Clairton is home to the Clairton Works, which is part of U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works, sits on the west bank of the Monongahela River. According to U.S. Steel, it is the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, operating ten coke oven batteries and producing approximately 4.3 million tons of coke annually. Coke, usually made from coal, has few impurities and a high carbon content and is used as a fuel in smelting iron ore in blast furnaces to make steel.

The downtown section of Clairton, as well as most of the residential neighborhoods, are located on the hillsides above the coke works.

I stopped in for a couple of slices from a small take-out pizza place called Pizza Uno before wandering around a bit. While making a few images and scoping out some ways to get the town and the mill in the same photo, I received a call from a local historian that works with the Catholic Diocese in Duquesne saying he was available to show me around and get me into the now closed St. Joseph Catholic School. So I wrapped up what I was shooting and headed back to Duquesne.

I met up with Michael Horvath, an advisor with the local diocese, back at the Holy Trinity Church and after showing me some historical documents and photos, we headed over to the former Holy Trinity Catholic School, now owned by The
House of Gospel Ministry Life Center. Unfortunately, we did not have access to get inside, so we went over to the former St. Joseph’s Catholic School. St. Joseph’s was run by the Sisters of Divine Providence and closed in June 1996.

It is always fascinating to me to explore old buildings that appear to have not been touched since they were vacated. There were still athletic trophies stacked in the corner of a room as well as old report cards and class photos of students.

Born and raised in Duquesne, Michael was quite helpful and a regular encyclopedia of knowledge about the churches and the schools. His parents were married in the old Holy Trinity Church and he was a student at the Holy Trinity School.

Tomorrow I will do some exploration of Braddock.

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