Since society’s earliest days, people have settled along rivers. The Tigris and Euphrates, the Rhine, the Nile and the Mississippi; they were and are dotted with towns and cities formed over hundreds and thousands of years. They’re a source of food, power and (of course) water.
But this is getting a little wordy. For a more contemporary take on it, let’s look at Creedence Clearwater Revival (among others): A small chunk of the band’s discography is dedicated to the river as a place of settlement and a means of transportation.
Green River, Proud Mary. You get the idea.
In the long list of cities formed along rivers, Pittsburgh has the distinction of having three rivers. It’s those three rivers (the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela Rivers) on which Melissa Rayworth’s “A Tale of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers” was written.
I found it by chance during a writing class and hunted it down online, reading through it in minutes. It’s easy to see, in hindsight, that Rayworth was an actor before she became a journalist. The rivers almost became characters in a narrative: Things didn’t just “happen” along them; they saw them.
She writes that Pittsburgh children have been reciting the names of the rivers since the first grade—it’s not just the first grade. During my brief stint at a Pittsburgh university, several of my freshman-year classes featured the rivers in bonus questions on exams. Easy bonus points.
As a former Pittsburgher, it’s not hard to understand why Rayworth decided to write about the three rivers: In her words—although Pittsburgh is far from alone in having a few rivers—unlike her other home (New York City), Pittsburgh embraces its rivers.
She says of New York: “Mostly, you can almost forget the rivers are there, unless you’re going to leave town and you’re going to worry about traffic going across the George Washington Bridge or something.”
The rivers that surround the Golden Triangle of downtown Pittsburgh have seen their share of work and play. Mostly, Rayworth writes, the play happened in years now well behind the town, falling off when industry gained a major foothold in the Steel City.
Recently, though, she writes that nonprofit groups have been focusing their efforts on the rivers. Riverlife works to develop and maintain the rivers and riverfronts for recreational purposes, while Venture Outdoors encourages people to check out Pittsburgh’s outdoor scene.
Rayworth says she hasn’t been as involved in activity or activism as much as she’d like, due largely to the hectic nature of her journalistic career. Besides writing freelance for outlets like Pittsburgh Magazine and the Associated Press, raising two kids tightens her schedule a little more.
Still, when she’s crossing the river upon entry of downtown Pittsburgh, she can’t help but feel like a tourist.
“I think it’s so strikingly beautiful, the way this city is laid out,” Rayworth says.
I know the feeling; even a year into living in Pittsburgh, walking a mile across the city most every day, I couldn’t help but gawk.