Homestead history remembered

The one-story brick building isn?t particularly conspicuous, but it has prevalent ties with Pittsburgh?s past steel industry. This Saturday, the historic Pump House featured the artistic work of three CMU professors - and in the coming week, it will play host to a celebration over the rights of industrial workers who once made mass steel production a possibility.

On Saturday the Industrial Workers of the World will celebrate its 100th anniversary at the Pump House, as well as in cities like Detroit, New York, and Pittsburgh.

As production became the epicenter for the U.S. economy, labor unions played a large role in protecting the rights of the workers. Earlier unions represented only a small portion of workers in a factory, making a strike less effective. The IWW was one of the first unions to promote factory-wide membership.

?We were formed in 1905, so that makes us one of the first labor unions to promote industrial unionisms,? said Kevin Farkas, event chair for the Pittsburgh branch of the IWW. ?A lot of other unions would discriminate based upon race, industry, or sex, but the IWW has had a long history of acceptance.?

With its member demographics being an array of socialists, communists, and all-around disgruntled industrial workers, members of the IWW were commonly referred as ?Wobblies.?

?Wobblies would often stand on street corners on top of soap boxes and preach about different topics,? remarked Farkas. ?We?ll be doing a lot of that next weekend.?

The IWW became prevalent among steel workers in Homestead during the later half of the 19th century, when the town became the home of one of the largest steel production sites in the United States. The Homestead Works was a structure of steel mills owned by CMU?s founding father Andrew Carnegie.
Today, the Pump House, one of the few remnants of Homestead?s former steel boom, stands on the outskirts of the Waterfront, nestled between warehouses and the Monongahela River. A brick structure erected during the turn of the 20th century, the Pump House remains a venue for many cultural events in Pittsburgh.

The building stands on the very site of the Battle of Homestead, an intense conflict between striking unionized workers and the owners of the steel mill. What started as a protest at 3 am on July 5, 1892, soon developed into an all-day standoff.

The conflict started when Henry C. Frick, the general manager to Andrew Carnegie?s Homestead plant, began to cut wages and tried to split the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. After workers began to strike, detectives from the Pinkerton Agency were called in to respond to the striking workers.

But the Pinkertons met with heavy resistance as their barges pulled up to dock during the darkness of early morning, and they were held off by the union workers, who had pumped oil into the river in an attempt to set it on fire.

The Battle of Homestead is famous not only because of its landmark history in unionized protest, but also because it saw the use of the first form of state police, as Pennsylvania?s governor called in the state?s militia to quash the revolt. The revolt?s leaders were eventually brought to trial, but none were ever convicted.

Over 100 years after the Battle of Homestead, the land surrounding the Pump House has seen prolific change as the massive steel mills, once the heart of Pittsburgh industry, were deconstructed.

This past weekend, the Pump House hosted an event chronicling the change. Titled ?Revisiting Post-Industrial Homestead,? it featured the photography of professor Charlee Brodsky and the poetry of professors Jim Daniels and Jane McCafferty.

?When [Brodsky] started photographing Homestead, in light of the Waterfront development and everything, it really intrigued me as a writer because I?m interested in contrasts and juxtapositions,? said Daniels. ?It?s been a part of my work to try and examine the lives of working people in a way that the arts don?t always do.?

?Jim [Daniels] and I have been working together,? Brodsky said in return, ?and I have been photographing Homestead for a few decades.?

The event chronicled the change in Homestead as its steel mills were torn down to make room for the shopping center and apartment complexes.

?There?s so much history there, that it seems a real shame to see it wiped out by such a sterile environment,? Daniels remarked, ?you know, just one more shopping center.?

Retired CMU professor David Demarest, who helped open the Pump House doors that afternoon and stage the event, commented that there was little left from the original structures along the waterfront in Homestead. ?The only things that are really left are the smokestacks, of course, and the Pump House,? he said.

The event?s participants also discussed Homestead?s changes as a community. Nestled along the Monongahela River, Homestead lies just five miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh. More commonly known today by students for its shopping center ? The Waterfront, erected in 1999 ? it?s historical roots remain only in the familiar smokestacks.

Once the mills had closed, the impact was felt within the community. ?It went from the mills employing the people in the community, to the shopping center, where a lot of people who work there don?t live in Homestead,? Demarest remarked.

?When they tore the steel mills down, they created this sense of emptiness, because they were so enormous,? said Daniels. ?It was a shock to see them disappear.?