Category: McKees Rocks

  • Old Hotel in McKees Rocks

    Building on Island Avenue at John Street

    Old Pa Pitt is simply guessing that this building on Island Avenue at John Street used to be a hotel, in the old-fashioned Pittsburgh sense of the term: that is, a bar with rooms for rent upstairs. The ground floor was obviously a commercial establishment of some sort, though it has been filled in and made an apartment; the location is right above the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad shops and roundhouses, making this an ideal stop for railroad men who were not virtuous enough or poor enough for the Railroad YMCA four steps away across John Street. It was built before the YMCA, probably in the 1890s. The painted billboard on the side once advertised Pittsburgh Home Savings to the traffic inbound on Island Avenue.

    Front of the building

    Whoever invented those ubiquitous front doors with the three staggered lights probably made a billion dollars and retired to the Cayman Islands.

    There are some spots in McKees Rocks where time seems to have stopped moving forward a while ago, and this building is one of them. Note the truck cab parked beside it.

    Old truck
  • Railroad YMCA, McKees Rocks

    Railroad YMCA, McKees Rocks

    The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad had its shops just down the hill from this building, so here is a railroad men’s YMCA, now turned into an office building.

    Inscription: Railroad Young Mens Christian Association


    The inscription was probably spelled out in bronze letters; when they were removed, they left legible ghosts behind.

    Cornerstone: 1905

    The cornerstone tells us that the building was put up in 1905.

    Architectural rendering of the front of the building

    Addendum: The building was under the supervision of Chief Engineer J. A. Atwood, who may have designed it. Source: Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, January 4, 1905: “At McKees Rocks, Allegheny county, the Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad Company will erect a building for the Y. M. C. A.. Bids will be received until January 15th by Chief Engineer J. A. Atwood.”

  • St. Mary’s Church, McKees Rocks

    Now the home of St. John of God Parish, this is a splendid Gothic church that many another Catholic diocese would be proud to have for its cathedral. The fact that there are literally dozens of churches equally splendid in Pittsburgh and its surroundings is something Pittsburghers simply accept, but it absolutely astonishes outsiders. This one took four years to build; it opened in 1905. The architect was Akron-based William P. Ginther.

    Camera: Olympus E-20n.

    Here we see the main entrance and the top end of the improvised wooden wheelchair ramp, which looks like a Kennywood ride—perfectly safe but rather exciting.

    Camera: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3.

    This was originally the German parish in this part of McKees Rocks. Above we see it from the parish cemetery, which is on a hilltop overlooking McKees Rocks in Kennedy Township.

    William P. Ginther also designed the adjoining rectory, which is certainly a fine place to keep one’s priests.

    Camera: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked).
    Camera: Olympus E-20n.

    Father Pitt does not know the original purpose of the building that is now the Xavier Personal Care Home. It looks like a work from the 1920s or 1930s, executed in the storybook fantasy Gothic that was popular then. Was it a convent for the sisters who taught at the parish school? Perhaps a parishioner will enlighten us. (Update: Note the comment from Shelley below, for which old Pa Pitt is very grateful, confirming that this was where the sisters lived.)

  • St. Francis de Sales Church, McKees Rocks

    This church was closed in 1993, and the building was sold after that; but right now it appears to be abandoned.  It is a tragedy to abandon such a magnificent building, especially since this Renaissance style is very rare in churches around here. But McKees Rocks had half a dozen Catholic parishes in a very small space, and more than one magnificent building among them. The parish was merged into St. John of God Parish, which worships at St. Mary’s a couple of blocks away—also a magnificent church, and one that we are happy to see still going.

    The building was opened in 1900. Father Pitt does not know the architect, and would be happy to be enlightened. It has a curious dearth of windows, perhaps to emphasize the light pouring in from the dome. Mid-nineteenth-century Catholic churches in Pittsburgh sometimes avoided windows on the ground floor because the Know-Nothings would invariably smash them, but 1900 seems far too late for fear of such Know-Nothing activity in Pittsburgh.

    Cameras: Canon PowerShot A590 (hacked) and Olympus E-20n.