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Cities Coming Back to Life

Written by  Frances J. Folsom

USADuring the Industrial Revolution in America (18th to 19th centuries) steel, railroad and beer barons built the cities of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Roanoke into capitals of industry. 

By the 1980’s the steel mills and breweries closed and the railroads disappeared. The cities fell on hard times. Today, each is on the upswing with new businesses, cultural venues, and strong tourism infrastructures.


Pittsburgh, city of steel 

As a way of preserving and educating visitors on Pittsburgh’s steel history, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area ( has developed routes for self-guided driving tours of thirty-three steel mill towns in the area. JAX FAX took one that included the 1892 Pump House and the Carrie Blast Furnace that were part of Andrew Carnegie’s mill in Homestead.  

Pittsburgh’s Strip District, once home to mills and factories, is now lined with a multitude of ethnic food shops, galleries and restaurants. Local favorites are Pamela’s ( and Kelly O’s ( for great breakfasts and Primanti’s ( for gigantic french fry stuffed sandwiches.

Other great ways to see the city’s historic and new architecture is by segway with Segway in Paradise (, from the water with Kayak Pittsburgh ( or Gateway Clipper Fleet or on one of the guided walking tours offered by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation ( 

The Three Rivers Heritage Trail along the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers is ideal for cyclists and pedestrians ( For more information, contact the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau,

Cleveland, where the river burned

Cleveland had the reputation of being dirty and downtrodden. At one time, the Cuyahoga River was the most polluted river in America. Cleveland has worked hard to rectify all the negativity associated with it. 

JAX FAX started their visit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ( Spread over seven floors, exhibits pay homage to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis and Bruce Springsteen to name a few. Next door, the Great Lakes Science Center’s NASA Glenn Visitors Gallery ( contains the Apollo Command Module, spacesuits and artifacts from John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission. 

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium ( on the Cuyahoga River is in a re-purposed 19th century powerhouse building whose smokestacks now hold tanks filled with marine species. The Ohio Lakes & Region exhibits tell how pollution and sludge from the steel mills caused the Cuyahoga to burst into flames in 1969, how the wildlife was impacted by pollution and about the Environmental Protection Agency getting involved with its clean-up. 

Cleveland’s University Circle ( boasts ten cultural and educational institutes. JAX FAX visited the Cleveland Museum of Art ( housing 30,000 works of art and the new Museum of Contemporary Art ( designed by Farshid Moussavi. 

A visit to Cleveland isn’t complete without a stop at the West Side Market ( The aromas will draw you inside this Greek Revival market building filled with stalls of freshly made sausages, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, baked goods and spices. Visit Positively Cleveland,

Milwaukee, city of beer and brats

Milwaukee is a city built from the hard work of German immigrants and beer barons. The Germans who settled here in the 19th century were butchers, bakers, merchants and brewers. They brought with them their old world cultural lifestyle establishing clubs, societies and theater groups. 

On a guided walking tour with Historic Milwaukee of the Old World Third Street Historic District (, JAX FAX saw where many of the German owned businesses started and still are: Usingers Sausages, the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewing Company buildings, Blatz Brewery & Brewhouse (now condominiums) and Ratzsch’s Restaurant in operation since 1904.  

The Milwaukee Art Museum (, designed by Santiago Calatrava, with side spans that open and glide up and down (daily at 10am, 12pm and 5pm) resembles an airplane suspended over Lake Michigan. Flanked by the Discovery World Museum ( with its teaching exhibits and the War Memorial ( (a Euro Saraaian design) housing a collection of German clocks dating back to 1658, this lakefront area is one stop shopping for museums. One of JAX FAX’s favorite things to do here is stroll the Riverwalk, studded with colorful outdoor art and upscale boutiques.  For more information, visit the Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau,


Roanoke was a major stop on the Norfolk & Western railroad line. Since the railroad’s departure, many of its 19th century buildings have been repurposed into cultural venues. 

JAX FAX’s first stop was the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau (, inside a building that was a railroad passenger station in 1905. Also here is the O. Winston Link Museum ( with Link’s black and white photographs depicting the hard working people who lived here in the heyday of the railroad. 

Three attractions within walking distance of downtown are Center in the Square (, a 19th century N&W railroad building housing a theater, aquarium and several museums, the Virginia Museum of Transportation ( with antique locomotives, and the Taubman Museum of Art ( known for its vast collection of contemporary art. 

A twenty minute drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway brings visitors to the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum ( with exhibits showing the history of the area. At their living history farm, visitors see what farm life was like in the 19th century. On the last Saturday in October (October 26, 2013) the institute hosts the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival that draws artisans from all over Virginia. 

Contact the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau,


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