Smithfield Street Bridge and Monongahela Incline

Smithfield Street Bridge

Looking southward on the Smithfield Street Bridge from Fort Pitt Boulevard, with the Monongahela Incline beginning its descent in the background.

The House Building (and the Smithfield Street Bridge)

House Building from the Smithfield Street Bridge

The House Building (1902, architect James T. Steen) looms before us as we cross the Smithfield Street Bridge.

House Building

The Great Fire of Pittsburgh, 1845

View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh, by William C. Wall (1846)

In 1845 a catastrophic fire swept through the booming Western city of Pittsburgh. Much of the city was destroyed, including the covered wooden Monongahela bridge, where the Smithfield Street Bridge is now. William C. Wall, a local painter of some skill, saw an artistic and financial opportunity and painted small views of the destruction, which seem to have been reproduced as prints (prints of great catastrophes being very popular among some of the more morose and sentimental Victorians). The next year he created a larger painting with a view of the fire; though he obviously did not have the fire in front of him as he painted, he seems to have depicted fairly accurately the extent of the conflagration—note the area to the west of the bridge that was spared the flames, an area that included the Burke Building, which still stands today.

These three paintings hang together in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s gallery of “European and American Art ca. 1820-1860.” Finding that there seemed to be no good reproductions of them on the Internet, old Pa Pitt took these, which give a fair impression of the pictures as they appear on the wall.

Pittsburgh After the Fire from Birmingham, by William C. Wall (1845)

Pittsburgh After the Fire from Boyd’s Hill, by William C. Wall (1845)