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Historic South Side

Look down Pittsburgh’s South Side streets and you find yourself in a place where Victorian architecture and today’s culture, entertainment, and dining live seamlessly together.

Yet the history of the South Side traces its roots as far back as the late 1700s. It was in 1763 that one of the first settlers of Pittsburgh, John Ormsby, was presented a land grant of approximately 3,000 acres by the king of England, George III. Ormsby had served the king during the French and Indian War, and the land he received for his distinguished military service was an area that began along the south side of the Monongahela River and extended into the region’s southern hills.

The property was divided into four boroughs, and in 1811 Ormby’s son-in-law, Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, began to plot out the land. In honor of Bedford’s birthplace in England, he named the boroughs of Birmingham and South Birmingham; he called the two remaining boroughs South Pittsburgh and Ormsby. Today these areas are known as the South Side Flats, South Side Slopes, Mount Oliver and Carrick.

Visitors to the South Side may notice many of the area’s streets are named for people. Bedford Square was named for Bedford himself, while Carson Street was named for a sea captain friend, and Jane, Sarah, Mary, Josephine, Page and Sidney were named for Bedford’s wife Jane, her sisters, and other relatives.

The South Side soon grew, and by the early 1800s, it had become renowned for its production of glass. As the century progressed, iron and steel mills thrived here, too. The mill work drew immigrants from Europe– Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Germany, and Ireland, to name a few. Here, neighborhoods were close-knit and cultural traditions were kept intact through churches and schools.

In 1872, the boroughs were annexed to the city of Pittsburgh.

Today, most of the mills are gone and the South Side has shifted from its industrial heritage, but the area’s past is still reflected in this thriving area of modern living. Rows of Victorian storefronts and freshly-painted homes look much as they did 100 years ago, with the original gargoyles, gingerbread trim, and building dates still intact as a treat to any upturned eyes.

Yet these ageless facades now welcome bustling new small businesses. They hide cool living spaces for rent like lofts and apartments. And they’re the go-to places for a gallery to peruse, live music to take in, the bistro you go to for a great bite to eat, or that place you love to linger with friends.

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