When I began photography of this project in 2015, I decided to start in the steel town where my parents were born, Aliquippa, Pa.
The part of the town that fascinated me the most was a neighborhood now called West Aliquippa. This was where my father was born.
West Aliquippa is the original Aliquippa. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad named the town for a Native American Indian personality arbitrarily chosen in 1878, as it did for many stations along its route.
Once home to an amusement park built by the railroad, Aliquippa took on a whole new life when the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp., looking to expand downriver from Pittsburgh, demolished the park and began erecting what would become the largest, integrated steel mill in the world. In the process, homes and businesses were erected in Aliquippa and the nearby town of Woodlawn to accommodate the influx of steel workers from other countries.
In 1928, Aliquippa and Woodlawn were consolidated and the Woodlawn name was dropped to match with the name of the railroad depot. The former Aliquippa became known as the neighborhood of “West Aliquippa,” which I always thought strange since it is actually located almost directly north on the Ohio River.
Almost 90 years later, the mill is now an empty lot and West Aliquippa is a shell of its former self. Virtually all of the businesses are gone and all that remains is a couple of hundred homes.
One of the first people I met when I began to explore West Aliquippa was George “Blackie” Miller.
Miller, who changed his last name from Dokmanovich years ago, was born in West Aliquippa and lived there all of his life. He has seen the town go from boom to bust along with the steel industry.
Miller owns a bar called Mahoney’s West in the town and is quite the no-nonsense character. When you first meet him he can come across as gruff and his language can be quite salty at times. But after awhile you realize that he really is a kind man that loves his town, but is really nostalgic for the old days.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down with “Blackie” in his bar, in West Aliquippa, PA. and have him tell me what it was like when then mill was operating and the town was thriving.
Listen to Blackie talk about West Aliquippa (Language not suitable for children or workplace):