Urban History of the South Side

The SouthsideThe South Side got its start in 1763, when King George III of England gave John Ormsby 2,400 acres of land along the south bank of the Monongahela River. The land, which was in payment for Ormsby’s service during the French and Indian War, was divided into four boroughs: South Pittsburgh, Birmingham, East Birmingham and Ormsby, which were subsequently annexed to the City of Pittsburgh in 1872.

Ormsby’s son-in-law, Dr. Nathaniel Bedford, laid out the village of Birmingham in 1811. Named after Birmingham, England, many of Birmingham’s streets honored Bedford‚Äôs friends and family members, including: Bedford Square, named after himself; Carson Street, named after a Philadelphia sea captain friend; and Sarah, Jane, Mary, Josephine, Sidney, Wharton and Page streets, all named after family members.

South Side helped establish Pittsburgh’s reputation as the “Workshop of the World.” First, there were glass works in the early 1800s; then the immense iron and steel works in the later part of the century. The last decades of the 1800s witnessed a huge wave of immigrants who came to work the mills from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and the Slavic nations. Immigrants built their own schools and churches, where they could continue their native customs and speak their native languages.

Heavy industry is now mostly gone from the South Side, but what remains is the legacy: a vibrant neighborhood, rich in ethnic charm and Victorian homes and businesses.  Southside today is a neighborhood of approximately 10,000 people. It is home to one of the largest Victorian streets in the United States, East Carson Street, which is designated as a historic district, in its entirety. The Southside Flats and Slopes are where most of the residents reside. In recent years, Southside has become home to a large student population because of its proximity to the Monongahela River and three large universities.