You Had to Ask.Why is Rialto Street, off East Ohio Street, called Pig Hill? -- Mark Altenbaugh, North Side
Built on the former track bed of the Troy Hill Incline, Rialto Street is one of the city's steepest -- a fact which led at least one historian to surmise the street was named after a pig because "that's what you'd sweat like if you tried to climb up it."
But the truth is, if anything, less appetizing.
While there's no trace of it today -- not even on very hot afternoons -- Pittsburgh was once home to a thriving meat-packing industry concentrated on Herr's Island (now known as Washington's Landing) in the Allegheny River. Pittsburgh's meat industry was a by-product of government legislation -- perhaps one of the nation's earliest examples of pork barrel politics. Federal law required that, for every 36 hours livestock traveled in rail cars, the animals be given a day of rest. Since Pittsburgh was a natural stopping point between Chicago and New York City, and since it was less time consuming to simply butcher the meat here rather than let the animals take up a lot of space, slaughterhouses set up shop here.
Rialto Street was named Pig Hill because it connected the meat-packing houses in Spring Garden with train stations near the Allegheny River. Just about every day, the pigs would be off-loaded from trains and marshaled to the "wurst" possible fate a pig could face.
An article by David Rotenstein in the Spring 1997 issue of Pittsburgh History describes the sight: "They [the pigs] were herded up the steep face of Troy Hill near the 40th Street Bridge, and, grunting and defecating, along Rialto Street to Wicklines Lane, where they descend another quarter-mile to slaughterhouses on Spring Garden Avenue."
That spectacle, of course, can no longer be seen in the North Side today, although you can still get an idea of what it was like by watching the frat boys parade down the South Side's East Carson on a Friday night.
And in case you were worried: squirrels in Squirrel Hill die of natural causes and, for the most part, always have.
-- Chris Potter
Other Pennsylvania Inclines
Chronology of Pittsburgh Inclines
Observation Deck, with Beautiful Downtown View
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 1, 1997:
The incline builders: Forgotten engineers of Pittsburgh
History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries
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