Pittsburgh loses another historic site with the demolition of former meatpacking plant

Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, I got a call from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Bob Bauder. Bauder was working on a story about the demolition of  buildings located along the north shore of the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. The reporter had gotten my name from a colleague who had kept a copy of a 1997 web page I had written about some historic preservation regulatory review work done along the road where the buildings known as the Millvale Industrial Park were located. Bauder wanted to get some more information on the building he had driven by many times and his story ran in the November 26, 2010, edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Millvale Industrial Park building. Former Fried and Reineman slaughterhouse located along Pennsylvania Route 28 (former East Ohio Street), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph by David S. Rotenstein, 1998.

The Millvale Industrial Park is a complex of several brick industrial buildings that once housed the Fried and Reineman Packing Company slaughterhouse and other businesses. Before it became a slaughterhouse, the building was a brewery.

Millvale Industrial Park. Google Earth.

Pittsburgh’s industrial history is among the nation’s best documented. The birthplace of America’s steel industry and the place where coal and coke turned raw minerals into aluminum, glass, and other products, Pittsburgh also had thriving meatpacking, livestock, and leather plants that fed the steelworkers and produced the leather products required to run the massive mills. The history of these processing industries is less well known and since 1996 I have written on Pittsburgh’s meat and byproducts industries. My latest article documenting the 1864 East Liberty stockyards, the model for the subsequent Chicago Union Stockyards, is at the printer and will be published in next month’s Western Pennsylvania History.

Fried and Reineman ad. Pittsburgh Post, 1924.

The 1997 Web page Bauder had has long since disappeared from the Internet but it lives on in several discussion list archives. I asked Bauder to call me back in 30 minutes so that I could get my files. When we spoke the second (and later for a third) time, I had scanned my newspaper clippings on the building and the meat industry business it housed for four decades and emailed them to him. We spoke about the meat and livestock industries in general and about the business that was done in the building being demolished. I explained to the reporter why the earlier brewer and the later butchers were part of a large network of livestock shippers and buyers; butchers; tanners; wool pullers; brewers and distillers; glue makers; and, rendering plant operators.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, map showing locations discussed in this post. Source: Bing Maps.

Herr's Island (foreground) and the hills along the Allegheny River's north shore. The Millvale Industrial Park is visible in the middle left of the frame. Photograph by David S. Rotenstein, 1998.

In 1997, I wrote about the former Fried and Reineman building:

The site did in fact house a brewery formerly known as the American Brewing Company until August 29, 1921 when the property was sold to the Fried and Reineman Packing Company by the Independent Brewing Company of Pittsburgh for $250,000 (Allegheny County Deed Book 2069:320). The Fried and Reineman Packing Company consolidated its operations at the East Ohio Street site and in 1923 sold its Spring Garden facility to Oswald and Hess, another local meatpacking company (Allegheny County Deed Book 2146:208). The Fried and Reineman Packing Company remained in business at the East Ohio Street site until its sale in 1961 to Martin Fellman et al. (Allegheny County Deed Book 3927:537). The Fried and Reineman Packing Company was one of few Pittsburgh (and, indeed, US) meatpackers who remained independent of the Chicago meat oligopoly (Armour, Swift, et al.).

… The facility was banked into the hillside for two reasons: to drive cattle into upper story slaughtering floors and to store meat. The sharp topography of the hills surrounding the project area was adapted by the many traditional butchers as cold storage for slaughtered meats. The hillsides of the Allegheny River and Spring Garden valleys are scarred with such cold storage areas, some two or three rooms deep, where meat was hung on overhead rails until its sale.

Former slaughterhouse cold room. Spring Garden Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph by David S. Rotenstein, 1997.

Former slaughterhouse cold room. Spring Garden Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph by David S. Rotenstein, 1997.

The Fried and Reineman Packing Company was one of Pittsburgh’s oldest and largest meat producers. William G. Fried and Earnest A. Reineman had been doing business together since at least the turn of the twentieth century. Both were members of families with multiple generations in the meat and byproducts industries. In 1907, Fried and Reineman, along with a minority owner, George N. Meyer, incorporated the Fried and Reineman Packing Company. The company’s original location along Butcher’s Run (Spring Garden Run) was situated among more than a dozen other slaughterhouses and tanneries which had been processing cattle, sheep, and hogs there since the 1830s.

As I wrote in 1997, Fried and Reineman in 1923 relocated all of its operations to East Ohio Street (which later became the congested Pennsylvania Route 28 corridor). Few documentary sources survive that recount the Fried and Reineman company’s history. Except for a few Pittsburgh newspaper and meat industry articles documenting the company’s labor problems, the company’s complete history remains to be written.

Millvale Industrial Park in 1924. Pittsburgh Post article on the businesses affected by a realignment of East Ohio Street.

Although the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation paid for a “cultural resources survey” in 1996 to document the former brewery and Fried and Reineman property’s history, as I wrote back in 1997, that effort left much unwritten. My 1997 Web page also was incomplete. For example, I had barely begun the research on the backwards integration by the leather tanners and I had not yet spent any time with the corporate records of the Pennsylvania Railroad, owners of Pittsburgh’s sprawling stockyards between 1864 and the last half of the twentieth century. Since 1997, I have learned that in addition to the Fried and Reineman slaughterhouse, the large East Ohio Street complex also housed the last offices of Pittsburgh’s meat industry’s leading trade publication.

After the Pennsylvania Railroad opened its first union stockyards in a farm field in East Liberty, about six miles east of downtown Pittsburgh, the stockyards company began publishing a newspaper. Like its counterparts in Chicago, the Pittsburgh Livestock Journal covered livestock auctions and other events in the stockyards. When the Pennsylvania Railroad closed the East Liberty stockyards in 1903 and relocated them to Herr’s Island in the Allegheny River, the livestock paper followed. In 1903, a new corporate entity was formed: the Market Review Publishing Company. Capitalized at $20 thousand, its initial owners included stockyards superintendent Simon O’Donnell.

The Market Review Publishing Company bought all of the Livestock Journal’s assets and moved to the Exchange Building on Herr’s Island. By 1907, ownership in the company included Samuel W. Allerton. Allerton had opened the Pennsylvania Railroad’s East Liberty stockyards back in 1864 and he was a leading proponent of founding the Chicago Union Stock Yards Company the following year. When the Pittsburgh stockyards moved to Herr’s Island, Allerton was introduced to crowds at the opening ceremony as the “father of the stock yards in Pittsburgh.”

Simon O'Donnell, c. 1901. Photo in Notable Men of Pittsburgh and Vicinity. Digital copy from Google Books.

The company remained on Herr’s Island for more than 40 years. O’Donnell died in 1909 and Allerton died in 1914 and the Pittsburgh Union Stock Yards Company bought all of the outstanding shares in the company. In 1930 the stockyards company sold the Market Review Publishing Company to William E. Bachman and Peter J. Loch. Seventeen years later, the company bought property at 1722 East Ohio Street, next to the Fried and Reineman plant in what ultimately became consolidated into the Millvale Industrial Park. The publishing company held its first board of directors meeting in the new location in January of 1949.

William E. Bachman’s granddaughter, Patricia Anfang, worked at the Market Review Company in the 1990s. In a 1998 interview I did with her, she recalled what she had been told about the stockyards:

My father and Mr. Loch, who was the son of the original owner of the company as I know it, they lived on Troy Hill and they said it was a very common thing for the kids to go down over to Herr’s Island to look at the animals that were grazing because before the cars were refrigerated, they had to let the animals out to be watered and graze and so forth. So it was almost like going to the zoo. They would go to the island and see the cows and the chickens and the pigs and so forth and it was just a very common thing to do.

By the time Anfang had grown up, the stockyards and slaughterhouses had closed. “I saw it after it had closed and shortly before they had torn it down. Probably most of it was torn down already. It was mostly just the shell of the buildings,” she recalled.

Rialto Street (Pig Hill) as seen from its intersection with Pennsylvania Route 28 (East Ohio Street). Photograph by David S. Rotenstein, 1997.

The former buildings demolished this week were located east of Rialto Street. Livestock sold at the stockyards was driven up Rialto Street in midnight drives, through the Troy Hill community and into the Spring Garden valley to several large slaughterhouses. The midnight livestock drives up Rialto Street defined the street’s cultural landscape. Anfang described Rialto Street and the neighborhood surrounding the former Fried and Reineman and Market Review buildings in our 1998 interview:

I think most of the people worked in the railroad and the, like the incline that was behind our building here in the parking lot. Those who didn’t live on the street here, lived up on the hill and Pig Hill got its name because of them driving the pigs over the hill to the stockyards which were in the Spring Garden area. So most of the people were concerned with the railroad or, I guess, the livestock areas over there, rendering plants and so forth.

I moved away from Pittsburgh in 1999. Back then, there were few physical reminders in the landscape of the once fragrant and vibrant livestock and leather industry that made its home along the north side of the Allegheny River. Since then, the Pittsburgh Wool Company building was demolished and the former tannery sites along the Allegheny River north of the sprawling Heinz plant were destroyed to make way for a city-subsidized Heinz expansion that made national news back in 1999 and 2000. And, a few former tannery and slaughterhouse buildings survive in the Spring Garden valley. Now with the demolition of the Millvale Industrial Park buildings, Pittsburgh has lost yet another link to its rich and largely unwritten industrial past.

Further Reading:

© 2010 David S. Rotenstein

19 thoughts on “Pittsburgh loses another historic site with the demolition of former meatpacking plant

  1. I’m sorry to hear about the meat packing demolition. When the NTHP Conference was in Pittsburgh I arrived a day early and had great time walking the area north of the river. The area had such a terrific feel. I loved it.

    I’d set out originally to find the old Croatian Catholic church which I had been told was the oldest Croatian Catholic church in the nation. Sadly, I found the church building locked up and during the conference learned of its uncertain future. Do you know of any positive prospects for the church building ? JJ

    • the church has been taken by the state for the widening project on rt 28. i used to live up the street from there and was in the church numerous times . very interesting art inside . the church was going to be moved but it would have been the 2nd time that was done and for that , they determined it would not have survived the move . now its up for demolition .

      • Having been a secretary for Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation for 14 years to save and convert St. Nicholas Church into an Immigrant Museum, PennDOT had offered the church to be moved to the bottom of Troy Hill Rd, across from Penn Brewery. The church was structurally sound and could have withstood the move. It was the Diocese decision not to move the church and to sell it instead.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful information about Pittsburgh’s meat packing industry. I have been searching for links to my relatives who were a part the industry – probably from about the turn of the century. Do you have a book for sale regarding your research?

  3. I grew up on East Ohio St,two houses away form Rialto Street, we called it pig alley. My grandfather was a calf skinner on the island. I was at the stockyards weekly. I loved growing up on that street, the fun times we all had. I would go over all the time to see my grandfather in the slaughter house. I am putting a dvd together for my children and grandson and I did included this the island and the street. Thanks this helped me out.

    • id like to see your video . im looking for older pics and such from the early error of the island . my grandfather and brothers worked there . and also grew up in the spring garden area

  4. thanks for this info…my dad’s grandma worked at Armors meat packing plant…which you don’t mention here but had something to do with the meat packing industry at Herr’s Island…. I believe she walked down pigs hill to work there. In fact she was killled in a hit and run accident crossing route 28, I think in the 50’s on her way to work there. My dad – born in 1926 – born and raised in Troy Hill, told me some stories about being a kid and going down to Herr’s Island….seening dead pigs floating in the river…from the slaughter house…

  5. THANK YOU for this info! Several members of my family worked in the meat packing industry back in those days. My Grandfather, Gus Leicher, was the Union Business Agent for Local 424 (Meat Cutters Union). My uncle worked there, too. My Dad and brother both worked for Armour’s. Anyone have any union hall pics? 🙂

  6. My father was a butcher at Fried & Reineman 1947-1959. Thanks for your article; I’m grateful to have the information to include in my family history.

    • Party, your Dad probably worked with my Dad or Grandfather. I have a great old F&R picture I could make a copy of!

  7. My Father also worked at Frieds, he was a union steward there also, i think i have a union booklet somewhere coomerating the anniversary of the union

  8. I was born on Troy Hill in 1929 and as kids we sat on the hillside behind Fried’s and watched them slaughtering the hogs. Great fun huh??

  9. My Father Otto Pertler was a Foreman and Butcher in the Beef Department of Oswald and Hess Company for 40 years.

    Submitted by Eleanor Pertler Deutsch

    • I am also
      Related to earnest reineman. He married Sophie I believe her last name was titzel James titzel was my great grandfather

      • Hi Ann! Maybe some day we can meet or talk? Not sure if you live in the Pittsburgh area. I live in the Pgh area.

  10. I am trying to find the name of the meat packing house on Spring Garden Ave. the son of the owner was arrested for murder. He was with a woman and from what was gathered his wallet fell along side a dresser but he thought she stole it, with alcohol involed it got out of hand and he murder her. She had two children at the time. If you have the time please email me with some of the names. I’ve been trying to find this out for awhile. Thank you.

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