Before the Switchback: Historic Photos of the Mon Wharf

Riverlife is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2019. We take a look back at one of the the biggest transformations to the way we access and enjoy Pittsburgh’s waterfronts.

With the arrival of warmer weather, thousands of people will soon flock to Pittsburgh’s riverfront parks and trails. For 20 years, Pittsburgh nonprofit Riverlife has been working to improve the city’s riverfronts for everyone to enjoy. That means building new waterfront parks and trails, working with officials to ensure high-quality buildings next to the rivers and enlivening the riverfronts with activities and events.

One of the biggest transformations has taken place at Pittsburgh’s Monongahela Wharf. The Mon Wharf rests on the northern bank of the Monongahela River along the southern edge of Downtown between Pittsburgh’s Point and the Smithfield Street Bridge. For more than 100 years, the wharf has been the gritty heart of the city’s working riverfronts.

Photos courtesy Tim Killmeyer via Allegheny County Department of Public Works

In the early part of the 20th century, the wharf was a place where people walked freely for special events and daily commerce.

Local historian Tim Killmeyer has been fascinated by the transformation of the Mon Wharf over the past 150 years. In commemoration of Riverlife’s Mon Wharf switchback project, which opened last December, he reached out to Riverlife with several historic photos of the wharf that he gathered with help from the Allegheny County Department of Public Works.

The photos show the ever-changing wharf throughout several eras, including its latest chapter, the new switchback ramp built by Riverlife and the City of Pittsburgh. The new ramp gives riverfront trail users direct access to the wharf for cycling, jogging, fishing and kayaking.

With Riverlife celebrating its 20th anniversary of reclaiming, restoring and promoting Pittsburgh’s riverfronts, it’s a perfect time to take a trip down the back channels of the city’s history. Head over to Riverlife’s gallery for more fascinating photos (and don’t forget to wish Riverlife a happy anniversary!)

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