“Nine Mile Run is a small stream that flows through Pittsburgh’s East End. If you’ve ever driven through Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale, or the east side of Squirrel Hill, you’ve driven over it. Of course, you don’t need to cross a bridge to drive over Nine Mile Run because it is almost entirely underground.
Although unhealthy, this is not an unusual condition for an urban stream. At the turn of the 20th century, open water was not viewed as an asset to the community. Streams were often seen as a means to transport trash and sewage away from homes. They were also viewed as hindrances to the “progress” of city building and were more often than not, piped underground.”
From Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.
(this is exactly what happened in Montreal with Otter Lake and the Riviere Saint Pierre which were once integral to the Turcot lands)
“Perhaps the most striking opportunity noted for a large park is the valley of Nine Mile Run. Its long meadows of varying width would make ideal play fields; the stream, when it is freed from sewage, will be an attractive and interesting element in the landscape; the wooded slopes on either side give ample opportunity for enjoyment of the forest, for shaded walks and cool resting places.”
–Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. 1910
And, “It was because of its central location that the Citizens Committee for City Planning chose Nine Mile Run as the best place in the City of Pittsburgh to create a large recreational facility. Their Parks Report, published in 1923, called for the creation of an artificial lake, a golf course, a country club, a baseball field and walking trails to serve the surrounding communities. (Citizens Committee, 1923) more here.
So what happened?
Shortly after this report was published the Duquense Slag Company purchased the entire west bank of Nine Mile Run for the creation of a slag dump, known today as the “Nine Mile Run” site. (Duck Hollow Web Page, 1995). Slag Slag is a by-product formed in smelting from impurities in the metals or ores being treated. Shipped by barge from the Jones & Laughlin steel mill and shipped by rail from the mill in Rankin, the slag heaps grew to heights of 150 feet up until the late seventies. More here.
Here is part of the slag mountain before the reclamation project.
Photo: Bob Bingham
There is even a freeway that runs through.
Photo: Michael Antelman .
The Nine Mile Run project is not just about creating a nice park. It is about bringing a stream back to the surface while freeing it from the urban sewer system.
“Most of the City of Pittsburgh uses a combined sewer system, meaning that both sewage and stormwater flow through the same pipes. This system was installed in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and is actually designed to overflow during heavy rains. This means that each time we have a rain that the pipes cannot contain, sewage spews from these overflow sites directly in Nine Mile Run. This can happen from as little as a tenth of an inch of rain. If you are around one of these sites during a heavy rain, you might see a “fecal fountain”, or combined sewer overflow, pouring directly into the stream. Due to its inabilitxy to handle large amounts of water and its frequent sewage overflows, no permits for this type of sewer system have been issued since the mid-1930’s, but most of the city still utilizes this antiquated system.” More here.