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Reconnecting The Other Deutschtown Neighborhood

A Divided Neighborhood Needs to Unite

Pittsburgh is like a patchwork quilt of great neighborhoods stitched together. Some neighborhoods get more publicity than others. One of the overlooked gems of Pittsburgh for me is Deutschtown. Sitting to the east of the Mexican War Streets neighborhood, I feel that it unfairly gets lumped into a generic “North Side” category by many.

In actuality, Deutschtown (“Germantown”) has played a vital part in Pittsburgh’s history that has a tendency to get wallpapered over at times. As per the excellent Deutschtown website, complete with a self-guided walking tour and history PDF, the area where Allegheny Center currently sits was the City of Allegheny. To the east of the Commons was farmland. Starting around 1850, this area became an expansion area for the City of Allegheny and home to many German (followed by Croatian) immigrants. When the City of Pittsburgh forcibly annexed the City of Allegheny in 1907, Deutschtown became a neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

But here’s what is missing from both the Deutschtown website and the walking tour file — any mention of the neighborhood east of I-279. If you were an outsider with no knowledge, you would think that Deutschtown was confined to E. North, Canal Street, East Street, and Cedar Avenue. There’s no mention at all of Teutonia Mannerchor, the private German club formed back in 1854 on Phineas Street that is committed to social fellowship and maintaining German pride in heritage. Although it is not regal by any stretch, the Bier Haus Tavern on Spring Garden Avenue is not mentioned at all in the business listing section of the website. It’s as if there was some sort of falling out or schism between the two halves of this neighborhood.

It’s not as if the “eastern” part of Deutschtown is trying to hide. There’s a giant Welcome to Deutschtown sign right at the intersection of Chestnut and East Ohio for everyone to see getting off Route 28 or the 16th Street Bridge.

Photo via Flicker of Erjk Prunczyk

Photo via Flicker of Erjk Prunczyk

The problem is that the “western” half has a useful business corridor on East Ohio Street, a plethora of interesting bars/restaurants (Max’s Allegheny Tavern, James Street Speakeasy and Gastropub, Bistro to Go, among others), and a decent housing stock. The “eastern” part has none of those things. To be polite, the housing is in a transitional state, as evidenced by some of these pictures taken recently.

Vacant lot used as a mini-trash dump in Deutschtown Photo by Kevin Creagh for TPOP

Vacant lot used as a mini-trash dump in Deutschtown
Photo by Kevin Creagh for TPOP

Some areas on the eastern parts of Suismon and Tripoli looked like they were sets from The Wire. There were quite a few boarded up buildings, vacant lots where dilapidated houses used to stand, and just general lack of upkeep on others.

Boarded up buildings, fenced off areas under repair Photo by Kevin Creagh for TPOP

Boarded up buildings, fenced off areas under repair
Photo by Kevin Creagh for TPOP

But all is not lost for Deutschtown. Far from it, especially if the City and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) can shine a little light over in this area. Here are some ways that the City, the residents, and URA can team up to reconnect this portion to their more promoted bigger brother:

1. Start to acquire and assemble complete blocks for re-development

It appears as if certain blocks have been been piece-mealed in terms of acquisition, most likely to obtain truly delapidated or condemned nuisance structures. URA and City should team up to obtain a complete block in order to install quality, affordable housing.

This portion of Deutchstown is ultra-convenient to downtown Pittsburgh, especially for lower-income workers that may work downtown. In the future, this would be a great stop on the Light Rail North, but since that isn’t happening anytime soon…

2. Ensure quality public transit from this part of Deutchstown to the City

Currently, Chestnut Street is the hub for Port Authority bus routes. The main bus is the #6 Spring Hill and it appears to run a steady hourly route. There are also two other buses (#4 Troy Hill and #7 Spring Garden) that run along Chestnut, but not with the consistency of the #6 line. Port Authority has to commit to maintaining that service.

With bike lanes and transit by bike all the rage, perhaps the City could designate a portion of Chestnut and the 16th Street Bridge as a bike lane. The 16th Street Bridge leads on to Penn Avenue, where the City could potentially extend the designated bike lane further up from its existing terminus.

3. Explore a URA-funded facade renovation program

In step one, I proposed a tear-down idea to create new and fresh housing, but this idea is the opposite side of the coin. If there is a block in this zone that seems to have houses with good bones, but the facades are struggling, perhaps the URA could run a no-interest loan or some type of grant program to the homeowners so that the facades can be repainted, wood trim replaced, or new windows installed. These minor things could make a major difference on a large enough scale.

4. Recruit more Germans to re-populate Deutchstown

No, seriously. When you have a place with a name that means Germantown, is it totally crazy to try and seek out more German immigrants to re-settle there? I know…old European countries like Germany aren’t sexy for immigration; everyone wants to get the 21st century Asian countries like China or India. Latin American immigrants are everpresent. But let’s go old school for an old school neighborhood. Let’s go get some Germans!

The City could easily cut a promo or create some splashy webpage and network with whatever sister city I’m sure Pittsburgh has in Germany to recruit potential immigrants. Companies that are already here, like Bayer and Siemens, could set up low-cost housing for their employees who come over here to staff these offices.


Deutschtown is an area worth taking a look at more in-depth and not just blowing by it at 50 mph on I-279. With a little TLC and re-investment on a multi-party approach, it can be another jewel in the crown of the City of Pittsburgh.

About Kevin Creagh (185 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

3 Comments on Reconnecting The Other Deutschtown Neighborhood

  1. Kevin — thanks so much for writing about our awesome neighborhood! It’s encouraging to see that “outsiders” see the same potential that we who’ve chosen to live here see in it. Our Community Alliance (CASGED) has worked really hard for the past 6 years to address exactly the issues you’ve identified, and we are starting to see the work pay off and all the essential elements for success come together.
    But you are right about an old schism having occurred — the highway program destroyed the middle third of Deutschtown, and in the horrible years of decay that followed, the (reasonably) sad and resentful people fought bitterly over how to lead what was left… East Deutschtown was basically left to wither on the vine.
    I hope you won’t mind one correction — It was the Swiss who settled Deutschtown — almost 100 years before the nation of Germany existed. Swiss, Bavarians, Bohemians – German-speaking people from many provinces settled here. Today we are attracting people — especially artists and young people — who like the Old World feel and great accessibility. We do need some help from the administration/URA — so… we join you in hoping they send some love this way! Thanks again for the article — several people sent me the link, so it’s getting around.

    • Kevin Creagh // April 20, 2015 at 9:29 PM // Reply

      Thank you for the kind words! And thank you for the correction about it being settled by the Swiss. They can come over too, everyone likes the Swiss!
      Of all the neighborhoods that need help in PGH, this one seems to be a potentially easy and low-cost fix. There are already good people like yourself living there willing to help, just need some assistance and funding.

      Please keep reading TPOP and sharing it with others.

  2. Deutschtown wasn’t necessarily founded by the Swiss. There was no modern day Germany at the time. There were plenty of modern day German states represented at the beginning. Austrian, Swiss (yes), Germans, Moravians, Czechs as well. All of whom spoke Deutsch. Later the Croats.

    In 1890, the population of Allegheny City was 105,287, of whom 30,216 were foreign born, and 12,022 were born in Germany. Deutschtown, also called Dutchtown, was the eastern expansion of the vital hub of Allegheny City (annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907), where the German-speaking peoples settled early in the nineteenth century.

    Mid-19th century East Ohio Street began at Allegheny City Hall (now gone), once the very heart of the North Side and, unfortunately is now an abandoned shopping mall. Then, East Ohio Street showcased grand three-story Victorian commercial buildings, becoming a bustling business district with a movie house, banks, clothing and food stores. To the north of East Ohio were livery stables, a blacksmith shop, wagon manufacturer, granary, and lumber mill.

    Until the 1850s, the Deutschtown area was largely farmland. Deutschtown, as we now know it, was developed from 1850 ? 1920 as Allegheny City spread beyond the park Commons and the land was subdivided into residential lots for the ever-growing, mostly German, and then Croatian, population. At roughly the same time, neighborhoods developed north and west of the then Allegheny Commons Park ? what is now the Central Northside and Allegheny West.

    Cedar Avenue became the residential showplace, where 9 ? 14 room stone and brick houses would have a view onto the handsome new greenspace: Allegheny Commons Park. Housing was built amongst the businesses for a wide range of incomes, with the larger homes found on Cedar Avenue, Avery Lockhart and Pressley Streets. Medium sized homes (6 ? 8 rooms) were generally located north of East Ohio, and small frame homes (4 ? 5 rooms) were mostly located in alleys and ways.

    Immigrants were a significant part of the expanding population, and it was from the concentration of Germans here that the eastern portion of Allegheny acquired the name of “Dutchtown,” a mispronunciation of Deutschtown. As the city grew, East Ohio Street became an impressive commercial street while other areas of the neighborhood accommodated both houses and industries. In 1907 Allegheny became a part of the City of Pittsburgh. Like other sections of Pittsburgh, Dutchtown experienced an influx of immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe during the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, the German character continued to predominate. Even today census statistics affirm the German, and to a less extent other European, sources of much of the population.

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