Haunting images of a fallen town, 'large enough to matter, small enough to impact' (Braddock, Part 1)
Braddock, Pennsylvania – what remains of it – is a mill town by the Monongahela River, on the southeastern outskirts of Pittsburgh. Its population as of the last census was 2,912, sharply down from a peak of over 20,000 in the early- to mid-20th century.
These images of Braddock come from some remarkable photographers – Mark Knobil, Cole Young, Dan Buczynski, Kristen Taylor, Sean Marshall, Jon Dawson, John Ryan Brubaker, Devon Adams - who have graciously licensed their work for noncommercial use (move your cursor over the images for more specific credits, and click on them for the photographers' home sites).
Braddock once thrived as “A place of wealth, amenities and expansive shopping districts that lit up the night for miles to see. A place with dozens of churches, schools, theaters, furniture stores, restaurants and breweries. A place people flocked to from all around the region,” according to the community’s official website. But it has been hanging by a thread since the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s and 1980s, now a once-urban wasteland of abandonment and decay, its future uncertain at best.
David Streitfeld wrote in the New York Times:
“In an earlier era, Braddock was a famed wellspring of industrial might. The steel baron Andrew Carnegie put his first mill in the town, the foundation of an empire that helped build modern America. With the loot and guilt Mr. Carnegie piled up, he also built a library here, the first of more than 1,500 Carnegie libraries in the United States . . .
“Unlike many stricken steel towns, Braddock never lost its mill [ed. note: not all of them, anyway]. Part of the U.S. Steel system, it still employs nearly a thousand workers. But they no longer live in town, and the stores followed them to the suburbs. Eventually, only the stubborn and those without resources remained.”
As of the 2000 census, The median income for a household in the borough was $18,473. In 2008, the average house value was $6,200. The quote in today's title comes from a description on the town's edgy website.
Braddock’s story has been told in the American media, from the Times to CBS Sunday Morning, PBS, CNN and more. In fact, I had seem some of these photos a year or so ago; but my interest was rekindled last month when The Sundance Channel and IFC began running episodes of We Are All Workers Here, an exceptionally well-crafted and intimate portrayal of the community supported by Levi Strauss.
In tomorrow’s post, I will present some images and narrative suggesting what might become of this once-thriving mill town But, for now, watch and learn from the first episode of We Are All Workers Here:
Move your cursor over the images for credit information.
Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.
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