Monday, December 26, 2016

Threatened: Historic Homes in Turtle Creek

It's a common story.  Depressed urban neighborhoods are too often destroyed for the sake of what some consider "progress."  In this case, the controversial, long-awaited Mon-Fayette Expressway is planned to cut through the heart of Turtle Creek, a small, old, industrial borough. It's a rather despised rust-belt style place, if ever there was one. It's not close enough to the right side of city to be both gritty and trendy, and it's not quaint enough or rich enough to be a trendy small town. It was already partly destroyed once, in the 1960s, for an urban renewal project. Its business district was leveled. A lot of very anonymous modern architecture was erected in place of what once had been a historic little city. That was not an uncommon practice in the middle of the 20th century. Still, Turtle Creek has what remains of a 19th century residential neighborhood along Larimer Avenue. Predictably, that is the neighborhood that would be destroyed to build the expressway. That expressway, by the way, is a little redundant..

There is a debate about whether building this final leg of the MFE is a good idea or not. However, it would certainly not be a good thing for the borough of Turtle Creek to have a major highway going through the middle of town. It seems as though not too many people care about the future of Turtle Creek, though. Like many rust-belt villages with declining populations, the historic industrial character of the town is taken for granted, or unappreciated. The residents might wish to live in a modern, cul-de-sac style suburban location, in a vinyl McMansion. The old homes are neglected.  What remains of the business district is either vacant or underutilized. Walkable amenities are ignored. Given all of this, there is little to stand in the way of a project that would destroy the town and push more people out.  The question is, why aren't there more people who love their town, and are willing to fight for its existence and its history?  Is this apathy exclusive to western Pennsylvania?  

I photographed all of the houses that would be destroyed for the proposed MFE.  While the topic here is historic preservation, and the idea that these buildings should be saved, remember that the town itself is a special place, and deserves better than this. 


  1. Thanks for the article Jonathan. It's a good overview of what is happening. I am a 33 year resident of TC. There are many of us who do care and work hard at reviving TC. We have a local CDC that works in conjunction with the Mon Valley Initiative which has rehabbed many homes over the past two decades. So there are people who care, especially about the highway. The problem there is that the Turnpike Commission is not forthcoming about what's really happening. Their public meetings this year were a joke. There website is nothing more than what they "plan" on doing. They hold DAT meetings which are only open to 'certain' people. It's all so hush hush. Sorry for the diatribe but I am very concerned and very angry over this whoe so-called process. Why do we not have a say over what happens in our own community?? Dale

  2. The first house photographed is my childhood home. My parents still own it, but the years of floods and terrible tenants have taken its tool on this home. And the years of the threats of the road coming thru has discouraged any updates or improvements on this house as well as others in the neighborhood. They are only going to give fair market value for homes they plan to take for the road, and that will leave many in debt. So sad. I loved growing up in TC ! But the minute they mentioned the road over 15 years ago, people started to move and the boro started to neglect upkeep. After one of the last floods, the playground wasn't even cleaned up. They waited for rain to wash away the mud, which took so long, it started to grow weeds. Everyone lost the ambition and care for the town. I feel like that was the goal, to drive down property value to make it cheaper to buy the homes. It worked ! -Rita

  3. Great article, Jonathan! I am a third generation resident of Turtle Creek and I vividly remember the 'good old days'... I feel our town was victimized by the Tri-Boro Expressway and the subsequent rows of apartment buildings that replaced our business district ... all to make things more convenient for Westinghouse ... who then abandoned us.

    We could have been a wonderfully quaint little town reminiscent of Brookville near Cook's Forest. I love that old-town vibe with a bunch of little shops.

    Things have been difficult in 'the Valley' over the last several decades. People now talk about Braddock being on the rise ... if you call a community garden, a free store, low-income housing, a brewery/bar, an eatery, and an upscale restaurant that is taking years to complete moving up ... then I guess it is progress. I'm not knocking Braddock because I do feel things are moving in the right direction, if slowly.

    For Turtle Creek, when it comes to receiving grants or funding of any sort ... we are not 'poor' enough. Finally, last year we received a grant for a community garden and this year a little money for playground rehab. If they say our community doesn't qualify for funds because we are not as poor as Braddock ... how do you explain that Wilkins just received over a million dollars to create a 'tiny' business center and plant some flowers in Penn Center? Now they're meeting to decide where to spend the rest of the money. I would have thought that should have been determined 'before' they received the cash.

    Now, again, they are talking of spending millions to deal the final blow on Turtle Creek with the 'M-F' Expressway. You ask WHY we are not protecting our historic architecture ... I think it is because with the Turnpike Commission in such dire straits financially, people are 'in denial' ... they say it is “never going to happen.” While this has been true of many ventures in the past ... this will probably be the one in which they actually succeed, and it will be at Turtle Creek's expense. In addition to it running right through the middle of our town, we would then be exposed to both noise pollution and also hazardous residue from diesel, which could create health problems for the remaining residents. In addition, we have seen that toll roads in this area do not succeed, because people would rather travel their current route than spend the money.

    There is NO benefit to Turtle Creek with this plan (there is no access or egress to this road in our little town), only detriment and ruination. So who benefits? Monroeville and the politicians involved with the 'Convention Center' since it would create easier access to their businesses.

    I believe Turtle Creek has been used and abused ... but, as the saying goes, “You can't fight city hall!” and we have no one to stand up for our town. This neglect breaks my heart and there are others like me, who would fight if we thought there was any chance we could win.

    If I could wave a ‘magic wand’ I would find a bunch of investors or a developer who would restore as much of Turtle Creek as possible using abandoned properties and create some small businesses to bring in some revenue. Maybe ‘stepping back in time’ is the solution … not moving forward.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Let me know if I can help. I am nearby in McKeesport.

    2.'s like you are reading my many of the same thoughts. Just so you know, there are some of us who are making noise and doing some rehabs in TC. We will not give up!! Dale

  4. I grew up in TC, as we always called it, and although I've been living 20 miles East of TC for over 30 years, I always say Turtle Creek when anyone asks where I'm from. Over these many years that have passed I have often wondered how and why the "urban development" was allowed to happen, who decided it was a good idea to demolish historical downtown TC establishments without a second thought, why the homes went "downhill" as the years went by, and what was once the perfect small town to live and raise your children in became such a depressed area. I have never stopped missing TC and the way it was. I will forever miss the picture postcard town I was so very fortunate to have grown up in. My childhood home was on Church St. Ext. and when it burned down last March, it was a heartbreaking reality. I see the homes no longer being cared for, a Borough that used to enforce keeping your property cleaned up. I hope there can be a change for the better to preserve what remains of Turtle Creek. There are some areas of TC that have remained as nice as they were decades ago. I hope those who care can make a difference.