In the mid-1980's, US Steel ordered the mammoth blast-furnaces of the once-proud Duquense Works cooled and closed. Towering 7 stories over PA 837 in Duquense, the blast furnaces, named Dorothy after the chief engineer's daughter, once epitomized the strength of American industry in Pennsylvania. Now their carcasses stand as a stark reminder of just how far we as a region have fallen: shuttered, rusted and collapsing under their own massive weight.
In today's Post Gazette, a poorly written column by Jerome Sherman unveils Allegheny County's brave new plan for the Mon Valley. Dorothy will be demolished. "Everybody wants them down. They're a hazard. They're not in great shape," says Dennis Davin, director of Economic Development for Allegheny County. What Sherman missed was the story behind the story. Why the hell werent these things torn down with the rest of the site in the late 1980's? Well Sherman, you piss poor reporter, here is the reason.
When the county first proposed clearing the site, angry steelworkers and historic preservationists lined up behind the blast furnaces. The furnaces, like the inclines or the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, are an integral part of Western Pennsylvania's history. Homestead Works and Bethelehem Steel Reading, both newly minted McSteeltown USA's, are examples of how history can be washed away in the name of economic progress. Currently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is working to save Bethlehem Steel's first mill in the Lehigh Valley in the name of preserving our industrial heritage.
Davin's cavalier attitude towards demolishing Dorothy evidences a complete lack of appreciation for the clear memory and honored pride of the Mon Valley. These visions define Pittsburghers, these stories were repeated to their children. Dorothy's fire and sulfer ripped through the night sky as if an abyss in the earth had ripped open, unveiling the fury of hell. Molten steel flowed from her gut like lava, fire crawling across its surface as it flowed down the channels towards the caster. The night sky was day, the day sky was night: Pittsburgh showed her scorn for the sun by creating her own, blotting out the true one with soot and ash. What awesome power, that man built a temple not to a God, but to himself. To better his own existence. Those towers, the genius of Henry Bessemer and Andrew Carnegie in physical form, is why mankind isn't crawling under bushes hunting rabbits with a club. Who we are, engineers and architects, boilermakers and visionary financiers, the proud steel workers and coal miners of Pennsylvania, is embodied in that edifice.
Scotland and Ireland prize their castles, Greece her ruins. All are accomplishments that man looks to for inspiration: brilliance is within us if we seek it, and power is ours if we harness it. How does Pittsburgh scorn her Phonenix Towers for a Wal Mart. How does America demolish the crucible in which her strength was forged. How far, really, have we fallen?