After walking the Hot Metal Bridge, I realized that it is really three separate bridges. One of the bridges is the bike/pedestrian bridge pictured above that crosses over Second Avenue. The other two are in the background of the image above–one carries all vehicular traffic while the other carries all pedestrians and bicycles. The bridge pictured above is not structurally connected with either of the other bridges. The two bridges that span the Monongahela River were built at different times. While at this end (north) the bridges are at the same level, they are at two different elevations on the other side of the river.
The Hot Metal Bridge is one of the more locally famous and popular bridges in the city. In my experience of participating in and overhearing people’s conversations locally about Pittsburgh bridges, the Hot Metal and Smithfield Street bridges are the two that come up the most as fun to use and interesting. In the case of the Hot Metal Bridge, this is perhaps because it used to be a set of railroad bridges which have now been converted. They were built and used by the Jones & Laughlin Company to connect its sites on opposites of the river. The name of the bridge (Hot Metal) came from the fact that the trains were carrying molten metal from one factory to another. There are, or at least there were, placards along Water Street along the South Side Works that describe the history of the J&L steel company on this site and on the bridge. I don’t know if they are still up as there is currently construction going on in this area.
According to the description attached to the oldest image of the bridge on Historic Pittsburgh, the bridge was built in 1887. This image, as well as PGHbridges.com’s page for the bridge, identifies the names of the two structures as the Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge (now the vehicular bridge) and the Hot Metal Bridge (now the pedestrian bridge). The G.M. Hopkins maps tell a slightly different story. As early as 1882, the maps show a bridge at this location. That map and the 1889 map identify the bridge as the East End Bridge. All the maps from 1890 through 1923 of this site call it the Jones & Laughlins Bridge. Up until 1904, the bridge is depicted as carrying a single track, which I assume would be the bridge that is now the pedestrian bridge. Starting in 1910, the bridge is depicted with three railroad tracks, meaning the current vehicular bridge was added in that time.
It is amazing to me that as late as 1998 this part of the city was still dominated by steel mill buildings as illustrated by this photo. I suppose this means that I did not come to this part of the city then. As the South Side Works mall did not exist yet, I guess there was no reason for me to come over here. According to PGHbridges.com, the conversion of the bridges began in 1998, but the larger of the two bridges didn’t open until 2000 while the pedestrian bridge opened in 2007.
My final comment on this bridge is that there is a nice view of downtown from here, although the buildings don’t form any interesting patterns and clusters like they did in the views from the Allegheny River bridges (see 16th Street Bridge post for an example of this).