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McKeesport City History

"There is no place the I know of in the four western counties of Pennsylvania that bids more fair to become a town of eminence than that laid out by Mr. McKee at the mouth of the Youghiogheny. The local advantages are numerous. Its situation is delightful. As a place of embarkation, it is not exceeded by any. Its vicinity to the fertile locks of the Youghiogheny will assure a supply of every necessity for immigrants; from its commanding the two rivers, Monongahela and Youghiogheny, there will be no danger from want of boats. Its healthiness has baffled the attempts of every physician to settle there; they fly from it in disgust. As a situation for merchants and many kinds of mechanics, it is particularly desirable, and, taking everything in view, I cannot help thinking it will take the lead of most towns in western waters. A great deal however, will depend on the exertions of its first settlers, the encouragement given by the proprietor, attention to strangers, moderation in charges, industry in opening roads, attention to ferries, etc. These things attended to, I prophesy its rapid rise from obscurity."

This is how an early traveler wrote about McKeesport almost 250 years ago, as he was making his way through the western part of Pennsylvania. And so it began . . . .

David McKee, who was born in Scotland in 1715, came to the American colonies with his family to escape religious persecution both in Scotland and in Ireland. The McKee family came to America in search of a "church without a bishop and a state without a king." John McKee, son of David, was actually credited with the founding of this village in the new world which lay at the confluence of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers. Although the family did some farming, and made some barrels of rum on the side, their actual living was made from operating a ferry on the two rivers, and carrying travelers back and forth over the river banks. Eventually the McKee family bought a good bit of land between the rivers, and the land became known as McKee's Port (and later, simply as McKeesport.)

McKeesport has a huge historical background, going back to Revolutionary days. On many occasions, George Washington, who was later to become the land's first President, often came here to visit with his friend, Queen Aliquippa. Queen Aliquippa was a beautiful Seneca Indian who ruled over her tribe of Indian warriors from the top of the river bank overlooking the Monongahela. After the Revolutionary War, the village of McKeesport prospered and grew. The first schoolhouse was erected in 1832. The first schoolmaster was James E. Huey. Huey Street, named after Mr. Huey, still runs through the center of the city. The first steel mill was established in McKeesport in1851, and although there were growing pains, the steel business prospered and flourished. Then came the real boom.

The National Tube Company which was started in 1872, began to expand. Many years later, it became part of U.S. Steel. Men brought their families from all over the eastern part of the country. They came to McKeesport by railroad, steamboat, and wagons. According to the U.S. Census Bureau at the time, McKeesport was the fastest growing municipality in the nation. Immigrants from Europe also began to arrive at this time. There were many immigrants from Italy and Germany, but most of them came from Eastern Europe. They came from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and most of these immigrants found jobs in the National Tube Company. New streets were built, and new homes sprung up everywhere. Most of this happened at the turn of the 20th century, and continued until the mid-forties or early fifties. By 1940, the population numbered over 55,000.

Then came World War II. Older residents of McKeesport still remember the fires of the blast furnaces which could be seen for miles around-especially at night. McKeesport contributed much to the steel making efforts and eventual victory in World War II. A most notable memory is that of women going to work for the first time in the steel mills, in McKeesport.

Now the steel-making industry is gone, so the city is trying to point itself in other directions. McKeesport is centered directly between New York and Chicago, in the oldest and one of the most active trading areas in the United States. The rivers are still here, the excellent highways and rail transportation are still here, and the enthusiasm of the people still abounds. As to the rivers, McKeesport is one of the few cities in the country, with an inland location, yet because of the waterways, it has a direct connection to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. From the Youghiogheny, a boat can travel to the Monongahela, thence to the Ohio, thence to the Mississippi, thence to the Gulf of Mexico, thence to the Atlantic Ocean, and even to the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal. It is an amazing thru-way to the rest of the world . . . . .

The streets and roads in McKeesport are exceptionally good, and are excellently maintained by the McKeesport Street Department. In addition, McKeesport is a short 25 minute drive from the Pennsylvania Turnpike which crosses the entire state of Pennsylvania, and at either end, connects with the national interstate highway system. Thus, McKeesport has access to any part of the nation via this road system.

The first train passed through McKeesport on a very cold day in January 1857. With the passage of time, rail traffic increased at a tremendous pace, and today, the rails criss-cross the McKeesport land adjacent to the riverfront, and beyond. Amtrak trains pass through McKeesport on a regular basis.

Much prize land, formerly occupied by the steel mills, is available for redevelopment in McKeesport today, redevelopment in manufacturing, sales or distribution. Local government officials, under our very progressive Mayor, Mr. James R. Brewster are intensely interested in Community Development and betterment, and would provide valuable inducements for any company or industry who would establish themselves here and become part of the McKeesport scene. From McKeesport we send you greetings and wish you well . . . . . .