The Hill District: History

What are the early origins of what is today known as "The Hill District?"

[The Hill District] "began as Farm Number Three, owned by a grandson of William Penn and sold two centuries ago to Gen. Adamson Tannehill, a Revolutionary War veteran, for $20 an acre." (1)

When did The Hill begin to be residential?

[In the late 1840s] "Thomas Mellon bought a tract of farmland on the slopes nearest the city. He subdivided the tract into smaller, city-sized plots, selling them at a tidy profit. This began the Hill's development as a settled community." (2) "The Hill's first residents were well-to-do." (3)

What are some of the names by which The Hill has been known?

"In the early days of Pittsburgh, The Hill District was known as [Minersville]." (4) Part of The Hill was also known as "Haiti." (5) It is common to divide The Hill into Lower, Middle and Upper. The Upper Hill has been known as Sugartop. (6)

What spurred demographic changes on The Hill?

"With the great expansion of population after the Civil War and the introduction of trolley service, residents sought new homes further from the city." (7)

What ethnic groups have called The Hill home?

"Jewish immigrants comprised the first group to replace the original settlers. Between 1870 and 1890, great numbers arrived from Europe's ghettos. After the Jews came the Italians, the Syrians, the Greeks, and the Poles. Blacks began arriving from the South between 1880 and 1890." (8)

What brought African-Americans to The Hill?

"During the years leading to World War I and after...Blacks from the South...were urged to come by industry recruiters who also promised relief from the segregation laws of their birthplace...Blacks continued to come to Pittsburgh and The Hill District through the 1960s." (9)

What kind of perceptions of The Hill led to its redevelopment?

In 1943, George E. Evans, a member of City Council, wrote that "approximately 90 per cent of the buildings in the area are sub-standard and have long outlived their usefulness, and so there would be no social loss if they were all destroyed." (10) In 1957, during the bulldozing for redevelopment, it was remarked that "The Hill...was completely worn out, like an old pair of shoes that has gone the last mile." (11)

How did redevelopment affect the Lower Hill?

"In September 1955, the federal government approved the Lower Hill Redevelopment plan, making available $17.4 million in loans and grants. Ninety-five acres were slated for clearing, with the demolition of the first of 1,300 structures to be razed set for June 1956. Redevelopment displaced over 8,000 residents; 1,239 black families, 312 white. Of these, 35% went to public housing communities, 31% to private rentals, 8% bought homes. About 90 families refused to move and ended up in substandard housing. Relocatees received little relocation compensation, with minimal benefits coming from the federal government." (12)

What was a major component of a redeveloped Lower Hill?

"Construction of the Civic Arena levelled dozens of city blocks in the heart of the community." (13)

Was redevelopment for better or for worse?

"Even were one to overlook the devastating social impact of the Lower Hill redevelopment, its success could only be judged as minor." (14)

What were the immediate results of the riots in The Hill District following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968?

"The riots began on April 5, 1968--the day after Martin Luther King was shot-- and lasted until April 12. That week of rage saw 505 fires, $620,000 in property damage, one death and 926 arrests." (15)

How has The Hill been a focus for jazz?

"During the 1930s and 1940s, Rudy Vallee and Paul Whiteman came to the community after performances at Downtown theaters and clubs to hear black musicians perform." (16) "Later, black musicians like Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Cannonball Adderly and others entertained in the Hill District at the old Hurricane Lounge or the Crawford Grill." (17) "At one time, you could walk down Centre Avenue and hear the bands playing blocks away." (18)

In what years were the Pittsburgh Crawfords Negro National League Champions?

1933, 1935, 1936. (19)

In what years were the Homestead Grays Negro National League Champions?

1937-45, 1948. (20)

What is "Crawford Square?"

"The largest residential redevelopment effort undertaken in Pittsburgh in the last 30 years, Crawford Square eventually will offer nearly 500 units. The three-phase construction plan will cost more than $55 million; the first phase, under way, will cost $19.8 million." (21)

What agencies are involved in "Crawford Square?"

"The 18.5-acre site is a teamwork development effort by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Hill District Project Area Committee and Hill District Community Development Corporation. The developer" [is McCorack Baron Management Services]. (22)

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