While Pittsburgh is home to the modern library system, its archives had fallen into disarray. However, it’s not the type of disarray you might imagine. The Great St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936 didn’t destroy them; rather, maintaining, managing, and marketing 265 years of history is a massive undertaking.
Here is the link for the City of Pittsburgh Archives.
I spoke with Nick Hartley when he became Pittsburgh’s Archivist in 2016 under the Peduto Administration. My quest was to find outdated, peculiar laws still on the books. Did you know you can be fined for obscene poetry? Or for bathing in the river during certain hours? While I uncovered some odd laws, Hartley’s enthusiasm was even more striking. He had achieved every historian’s dream – being in charge of a significant collection.
At the time, his first priority was to ascertain the whereabouts of everything. Over the years, Hartley’s title evolved to Manager of the Records Management Division of the City Clerk’s Office. Concurrently, he devised a digitization plan for the archives we see today.
The Pittsburgh Archives were released through the City Clerk’s Office. Hartley also acknowledges former City of Pittsburgh clerk Brenda Pree as an early supporter. Kimberly Clark-Baskin, the current City Clerk, has also championed the project.
Coincidentally, the City of Pittsburgh released its digital archive on its 265th anniversary. Founded as a fort on November 27, 1758, Pittsburgh celebrates various incorporation dates separately, but today’s celebration of the archive release offers citizens the chance to peruse our rich history.
An interesting tidbit: the city used to employ a city photographer who documented buildings and life in Pittsburgh. The recently released archive includes around 2,000 images from the Lower Hill District before the Civic Arena’s construction. However, the larger collections includes 5,000 photos.
“I hope people take the opportunity to explore.” Hartley elaborated. “Most of this material hasn’t been easily accessible to the public.”
The archive is weighted with meeting minutes and legislative notes, showcasing Pittsburgh’s evolution through the decades. If you find Pittsburgh Zoning thrilling, the City Planning Commission meeting minutes from 1918 to 2001 are a must-read.
Grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) partially financed the digitization of the archive.
As the city prepares to consolidate some departments into the 412 Blvd. of the Allies building, it’s reassuring to know historians like Hartley are safeguarding important photos and documents from being lost in a move or time itself.