Stretching from the southern tip of Squirrel Hill and Greenfield to the south shore of the Monongahela, the Homestead Grays Bridge (formerly called the High Level Bridge) connects the residential and relatively affluent areas of Pittsburgh with the shopping and housing of Homestead. It is a vital part of the transportation in the region, and it hopefully will contribute to the renewal of Homestead after its population collapsed with the decline of the steel industry. Boasting odd technical achievements and period details, this bridge is a great bridge to just look at as well.
The Homestead Grays Bridge
Originally built as the Homestead High Level Bridge in the late 1930s, it carried both trolley and automotive traffic. It was built with splendid details in the railings, lamps and architecture, and it carried workers to and from the mills which littered the shores of the river. Today, the mills are gone, and the entire are is a giant strip mall complex known as the Waterfront.
Architecturally, the High Level Bridge structure appears to be steel arches. Interestingly, the arches themselves aren’t true arches, and the shape was created by a local engineer named E.M. Wichert, giving it the name Wichert Self-Adjusting Truss. Since computerized calculation was not possible at the time, calculating static forces on a bridge under load was quite difficult. Instead of working out the tedious calculations, Wichert concluded that a simpler method would be to make hinged quadrilaterals which would move independently, thus being able to calculate the stresses for each without fearing interactions between spans. The Wichert truss design was also used on the Charles Anderson Bridge in Oakland.
The Homestead Grays Bridge is 516.3 ft across in its main span and about 3000 ft long in total. It has four lanes of traffic, and it no longer services trolleys. It has 109.3 ft of vertical clearance. It was recently renovated to restore severely degraded structures in 2006, replacing the old bridge superstructure with a new, wider bridge. It also received “updated” lighting in the form of modern fabricated lamps that would visually fit in with the original time period of the bridge. Personally, those retro lamps are one of my favorite parts of this bridge.
The Homestead Grays
The current name of the High Level Bridge corresponds to the Negro League Baseball team that once played out of Homestead, comprised of steel laborers formed in 1912. The name was changed to Homestead Grays Bridge to honor the accomplishments of the extremely successful team. They won 10 pennants and 3 World Series titles before the Negro League dissolved due to the integration of Major League Baseball.
PghBridges.com: Homestead Grays Bridge
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Homestead Span Honors Baseball Team by Allison Schlesinger