Elizabeth author recounts river’s history
The Monongahela River is one of the smallest and most overlooked rivers in the world, but it is also one of the most important.
That was the message delivered by Arthur Parker, author of ‘The Monongahela: River of Dreams, River of Sweat,’ when he spoke about his book to the Genealogical Society of
Southwestern Pennsylvania in the Citizens Public Library in Washington, Pa.
Parker was born and grew up in the Mon Valley and now lives in Elizabeth Township. In the past he served as the Executive Vice President of the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh and also as Executive Director of the Mon Yough Chamber of Commerce. In the 1960s, he developed a personal interest in the Monongahela River, which led to the book that he began
in the late 1980s.
‘It’s not a history book. I’m not a historian,’ Parker said, ‘although it contains many historical facts. The first reason for the book was to show the impact of the Mon River on all of us here and the people throughout the country. The second reason was to spotlight the river industry and the people in it.’
Years ago, the Monongahela was the busiest river in the world, and today it remains one of the busiest. At a mere 125 miles long, Parker says, ‘the Monongahela River carries more tonnage per mile than any other river in the world,’ anyone who lives near the river can see the coal barges floating up and down it throughout the day.
‘Before I got involved in the river industry, I thought, ÔWhat an easy job these people have living on these boats. Just sitting there, riding the river and watching the scenery go by.’ But when I started working in the industry I realized that working on the river is difficult, demanding, and hazardous,’ he said. ‘The people on those boats are highly skilled in what they do.’
Parker’s book covers the Monongahela River from Fairmont, W.Va., to the Point in Pittsburgh.
It is based on his memories and five trips he took, each one covering a different part of the Mon.
Several chapters are devoted to Monongahela and Elizabeth, though he mentions several other local towns in these chapters and throughout the book.
The third part of Parker’s journey covered an area from Gray’s Landing to a stop near Monessen.
‘Here is the segment of the river where the early pioneers either settled or stopped and moved west. That is the region where very early the people began producing products needed downriver,’ Parker said, noting that Elizabeth was one of the towns in that stretch.
‘Elizabeth, (originally Elizabethtown) had the most productive steamboat-building industry in the community and in the country. They built more steamboat hulls in Elizabeth than any other place on the continent,’ he said. ‘Elizabeth was a town where they built sailing vessels. They would build the hull for sailing vessels, then they would ship out, take them down the
river, and outfit them when they got down, close to the bottom of the Mississippi. These boats then went all around the world.
‘At the time of my trip Roscoe, Clairton, McKeesport, and Duquesne were struggling economically, but Park Corp. has done wonders to bring back the economic stability of the Lower Mon Valley, and most of them have potential for improvement. Monessen has also had a marvelous transformation.’
In his book, Parker tells his readers, ‘The Mon is a river that few people know anything about. But they should.’