The History of the Hill

The Hill District's history mirrors that of the City of Pittsburgh. As the city grew and became more established as an industrial core, newly settled Eastern European immigrants flocked to the hillside area overlooking the Golden Triangle, and emerging white-collar workers and commerce merchants moved out to areas such as Oakland and Shadyside. The rise of the steel mills and World War I led to an increased demand for labor as men went off to war. This demand for steel mill labor partly fueled the Great Migration of first-generation and recently freed African-Americans from the South in search of a better life. The vast majority of these newly relocated African-Americans settled in the Hill.

Remnants of the diverse cultural mosaic of the Hill District of the 1920s-1940s can still be seen in landmarks that once housed synagogues, temples, and orthodox houses of worship and in the architecture of some of the historic structures that accent the community.

If you listen closely, you can almost hear the vibrancy of the Hill's heyday. Nightspots like the Granada Theater, the Crawford Grill, the Hurricane Lounge, and the Savoy Ballroom made the Hill an exciting community. The Hill became nationally known on the burgeoning jazz circuit because it was home to legendary jazz giants Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, and Earl "Fatha" Hines. Nightlife in the Hill District attracted patrons from throughout the city to soak in the music. According to the documentary "Wylie Avenue Days," "from the 1930s to the 1950s, the Hill District emerged as one of the most prosperous and influential Black communities in America."

The Pittsburgh Courier ("America's Greatest Weekly"), once boasting a circulation of more than 250,000, was headquartered in the Hill; its chief photographer, Charles "Teenie" Harris, produced one of the richest archives of life in an American city. A who's who of Hall of Fame baseball players: Satchel Paige, Earl Hord, Josh Gibson, Jimmie Crutchfield, and Cool Papa Bell practiced and played on the fields of the Hill. Greenlee Field, the nation's only Black-owned baseball stadium, was the home of the legendary Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro League. Madame C. J. Walker opened Walker College of Beauty Culturists in the Hill District in 1909. Decades later, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson would use his childhood neighborhood as the backdrop and center of life for his Broadway plays, bringing people from across the country to drive up and down Wylie Avenue looking for Aunt Ester's house.

The Hill District's rich and storied past is what makes it the special place we celebrate today and inspires residents and community members to continue developing generation after generation!

Today, the Hill District is focused on the unique economic potential of the 1.8-square-mile neighborhood that connects the city's top economic areas, Downtown and Oakland. This locational strategic advantage comes second only to the clear-eyed vision that today's residents have articulated--Build upon the African-American Cultural Legacy while leveraging internal talent and well-rounded strategic partnerships and generating and importing best ideas and practices. All of this while exporting the Hill District's resourcefulness and resiliency for curious eyes across the globe to catch a glimpse of the Hill District's unique brand of reimagining and remaking itself--for itself. The Hill District's history is its best guide to its future, and the future is now.