Far Down the River
Pittsburgh loves its blue-collar industrial history, and at the heart of that are the communities that make up the Mon Valley. Where the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers meet is the beginning of a network of proud, tight-knit communities with lots of trails and woods to explore, plenty of fishing spots and — important for any community — a wealth of beloved soft-serve ice cream stands.
photos by kristi jan hoover
This borough, about 1 square mile in size, can be found heading southeast out of Pittsburgh — far down the (Monongahela) River. Dravosburg boasts a strong community with a notable fish fry during Lent at its volunteer fire department and a Holly Jolly Christmas celebration.
The Port Vue website says it’s “where the sun always shines and the mud never dries.” The borough near the meeting of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers broke off from Lincoln Township in 1891.
Glassport’s name pays homage to its glass-making past. The borough’s curious history includes a 1963 tornado that damaged a glass company’s roof, unleashing molten glass that hardened into a 250-ton block. Though the glass industry has left the community, Glassport still has 4,900 residents in its 1.5 square miles of riverfront real estate.
Along the Youghiogheny River, you’ll find the quiet borough of Liberty, once part of Port Vue before it was “liberated” in 1912. Today, Liberty is home to South Allegheny Middle and High schools.
Distinct from the city neighborhood of the same name, Lincoln Borough encompasses 5 square miles of thickly wooded land that offers plenty of woods, parks and wildlife to discover.
The city of Clairton centers around its contribution to U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works: The Clairton coke plant, with its 10 coke-oven batteries, is the largest coke-manufacturing facility in the United States. The community also is home to the Clairton Bears high school football team, which recently made news when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted alum Tyler Boyd.
Named after Colonel Stephen Bayard’s wife, Elizabeth Borough has a history of not just making glass but building steamboats and ships. The borough, which has about 1,600 residents, has a quaint commercial district lined with small, independent businesses.
This former coal-mining and boat-building borough covers a small cut of land across the Monongahela River from Elizabeth. West Elizabeth feeds into the high-achieving West Jefferson Hills School District.
To the east of Forward Township is Elizabeth Township, a nearly 23-square-mile area with access to the Youghiogheny River Trail and all of the beautiful greenery surrounding it.
At the southern hook of Allegheny County, the quiet area that includes Forward Township touches Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The menu at Driscoll & Sons Cafe in Elizabeth Township offers an array of mainstays you might expect from a classic American restaurant, but it surprises with a selection of well-prepared seafood. Enjoy some delicious, meaty Italian wedding soup. 2101 Douglas Run Road, driscollsandsonscafe.com.
For a satisfying chili-cheese dog, visit Hoov’s Hot Dog Shop in Clarton. The quaint red-brick restaurant offers more than hot dogs; it’s also known for the kind of filling, jumbo fried-fish sandwiches Steel City residents love. 513 N. State St., 412/328-9278.
An old red-brick bank building in Elizabeth has been the home of Rockwell’s Red Lion Restaurant since 1980. The restaurant touts its seafood entrees, such as salmon with crabmeat risotto and baked scrod. 201 S. Second Ave., rockwellsredlion.com.
Traveling through Elizabeth, you can’t miss the Market Street Saloon, the huge green building that takes up the corner of Market Street and Second Avenue. The saloon is a favorite local pick to watch the Steelers play. 100 S. Second Ave., 412/384-7004.
The lounge area of Max n Odi’s in Glassport feels like a place where everybody knows your name. Even if you’re not local, you can enjoy great food and drink specials. 500 Monongahela Ave., 412/872-4247.
Annie’s Hitching Post is a hillside destination in Port Vue, where bar-goers enjoy regular DJ nights, pool, darts and general merriment. 314 Port Vue Ave., 412/896-1925.
In 2016, there aren’t many places left where you can buy model trains and the little detailed figurines that give train sets their charm. That’s why Ken’s Trains in Glassport is so special. The hobby shop has specialized in model sets since 1994. 621 Monongahela Ave., kenstrains.com.
The deceptively small storefront of Barton’s Flowers & Bake Shop in Elizabeth conceals the extensive inventory of fresh and artificial flowers, party supplies, cards and decorations. The best part is the bakery, which sells beautiful cakes, pastries and Barton’s famous thumbprints (which carry a favorable icing-to-cookie ratio). 311 S. Second St., bartonsbakeshop.com.
Claudia’s Green Acres in Forward Township carries an array of vegetables, flowers, hanging baskets and even antiques. The plant shop specializes in herbs and stocks a wide variety of tomato plants. 2020 Hayden Blvd., 412/384-3049.
Explore the wildlife preserve at Dead Man’s Hollow, a 440-acre area straddling Liberty and Lincoln boroughs. Find the sycamore tree with three trunks and see how nature has reclaimed remnants of the hollow’s industrial past. dead-mans-hollow.com.
Test your putting skills and then your courage at Family Funscape in Forward Township. The outdoor fun complex offers an 18-hole mini golf course, a ropes course and a zip line. 7350 Hutchinson Road, familyfunscape.com.
More educational than Old MacDonald’s farm, Round Hill Park & Farm in Elizabeth Township has an exhibit farm to teach visitors about how farms work. The county park also has a soccer field, spray park and trails to explore, alleghenycounty.us/parks/round-hill/about-round-hill-park.aspx.
Food Critic's Pick
I’m a sucker for a good red-sauce joint, and Ciccanti Ristorante in Clairton is one of the few restaurants in the region that scratches that itch for me. Go for the chicken Parmesan, beef brasciola and spaghetti with meatballs. If you’re lucky, the terrific lasagna or barley soup will be one of the daily specials. (1206 Route 51, ciccanti.com) — Hal B. Klein
At the height of fall foliage season, head to the Elizabeth Township Community Center for the annual Fall Festival. You’ll find all of the mainstays of a good fall fest: a pumpkin patch, sausage and kielbasa sandwiches and kids activities — plus a haunted pathway, family portrait sessions and a vendor show with plenty of baked goods and crafts. (elizabethtownshippa.com) — Lauren Davidson