Peculiar Pittsburgh

Why only one Pittsburgh neighborhood is divided by a river

No, that’s not Aspinwall or Fox Chapel.



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MJ Slaby

Updated, Jan 22

It’s nothing new that each Pittsburgh neighborhood has its own identity — but only one is divided by a river.

Incline reader Eric Boerer, of Lawrenceville, said he noticed “that little nub” in the northeast corner of the city on Pittsburgh maps and while driving on Freeport Road, he saw signs that said he was still in the Pittsburgh city limits. As the advocacy director of Bike Pittsburgh, Boerer added that it wasn’t until he was working on the organization’s bike map a few years ago that he realized it was Lincon-Lemington-Belmar.

The East End neighborhood is named for streets that run through it, Lincoln and Lemington avenues, and the former Belmar Racetrack, according to a Mental Floss article about Pittsburgh neighborhood names.

But Boerer wanted to know more about its boundaries — specifically, the portion north of the Allegheny River, so he turned to Peculiar Pittsburgh, where readers send in questions and The Incline staff searches for answers. (Ask us here.)

Why is the area around the Waterworks Mall part of Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, which is also across the Allegheny River?

The answer can be found in the annexation of neighborhoods and a critical utility.

Dividing lines

Unlike cities, townships and boroughs, which have defined names and boundaries, neighborhoods in Pittsburgh were more fluid, often defined by topography, said Marilyn Holt, library services manager for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania department.

Early neighborhoods were also defined by infrastructure like railroad tracks, as well as the ethnic groups living there, 90.5 WESA reported. In fact, neighborhoods were informal until the 1970s, when Pete Flaherty was mayor of Pittsburgh. Before that, power was held by city wards and their leaders, but Flaherty asked the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Alliance, an organization of neighborhood groups, to define neighborhood boundaries.

What’s now Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar includes land on the city’s eastern edge, both north and south of the Allegheny River. The northern portion includes UPMC St. Margaret hospital and the Waterworks Shopping Plaza.

“This area is commonly thought to be Fox Chapel but is, in fact, part of the city of Pittsburgh,” Holt said.

The Aspinwall Pumping Station in October 1913.

The Aspinwall Pump Station in October 1913.

Courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System

Cleaning Pittsburgh’s water

So how did Pittsburgh end up with a river dividing a neighborhood?

In short: The water supply.

In the 1800s, waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, were becoming a problem in cities such as Pittsburgh. By the end of the century, residents and city officials were pushing to create a water purification system, per PWSA. As part of that system in the early 1900s, Pittsburgh built water filtration facilities on the site of a former Heinz cabbage farm and sauerkraut factory on the northern bank of the Allegheny in the area that was then part of O’Hara Township, but is now part of Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, Holt said.

Around the same time, city boundaries were changing.

“When Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City in 1907, they were interested in annexing Millvale, Sharpsburg, Etna and Aspinwall, as well,” Nick Hartley, archivist for the City of Pittsburgh, told The Incline in an email.

While that didn’t happen, land near Aspinwall became part of the city, as Pittsburgh needed the filtration plant for the growing city, he said. The land was officially annexed from O’Hara Township for “water supply, distribution, and filtration plant purposes” in October 1908, Holt said.

The Aspinwall Pump Station (which, yes, is actually in Pittsburgh) was built from 1911 to 1914 to deliver filtered water to the North Side, per PWSA. Today, you can see the pump station on the river side of Freeport Road across from UPMC St. Margaret.

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