By Bette McDevitt
The Battle of Homestead Foundation (BHF), also known as the Pumphouse Gang, has breakfast every Wednesday at Eat’n Park at the Waterfront. It’s not lost on anyone that this is the former site of the largest steel mill in the US, the Homestead Works, dismantled and hauled away in trucks. Just ask anyone there.
Breakfast conversation is lively, often leavened with laughter. In winter, we begin to think about the spring and summer programs that will be presented at the Pumphouse, just down the road from Eat’n Park .
Saving the Pumphouse was the issue that brought together the core group; labor historians, union members and activists. When the mill was dismantled, the Park Company was leveling buildings, and had the Gang not come to the table, the Pumphouse, site of the Battle of Homestead, where the workers stood their ground, and where the Pinkertons came ashore, would have met the wrecking ball, and the road might have been called Pinkerton Drive.
Now, Rivers of Steel, the organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of the area, and promoting economic development, owns and maintains the Pumphouse, and the BHF people have access to it for their programs, April through October.
If you’ve been to the Pumphouse for one of the programs, you’ve seen the steelworker portraits on the panels that cover the long windows. They were created by Bill Yund, artist and retired insulator, member of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers.
There are fifteen panels, a steelworker in soft shades of grays from each decade when the mill operated, and four river town and mill scenes in blazing color. This is what Bill said about the panels; “The idea is to salute the people who worked here and give some sense of the energy and dimension of the Steel Industry. In the portraits, photos and resources were used to create composites of workers in each approximate era. The idea is that any visitor who ever had a relative or neighbor who worked the mills might be able to find some portrait here that resembles ‘Granpap Joe,’ or ‘Uncle Stush.’ Hopefully, those who never had contact with the industry will also find a story.”
We have created note cards, replicas of these paintings and they are for sale at our events, some gift shops, and on our website.
At this time, John Haer, former union organizer and long time Merton Center member, is president of the group. There are many Merton Center members who come regularly or occasionally. People who share an interest in labor history, books, newspapers, and raising a ruckus now and then are welcome. One morning, about a dozen Scots joined us. They were here to research community building, and before they left, they said we we had what it takes.
We’re midway through the 2018 programs, but here’s what is ahead:
1.“The Pumphouse Gang and What They Do,” a video compilation by Jim Hohman,
2.“The US and Central/South America: Class Differences” ~ The Bernard Kleiman Lecture,Saturday, July 28 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm (note start time)
3.”The Connected Universe”, film, and “Mask Dance and The Nine Dances of Wisdom,” a film, Sunday, August 19 @ 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
4. Jazz at the Pump House! Laura Wiens, vocalist, and the RML band, Friday, August 24 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Bring lawn chairs.
5.“The First Lady in Red: Cornelia Bryce Pinchot and American Labor;” the story will be told by Ken and Abby Wolensky, Sunday,September 9 @ 1:30 pm,
6, “Wendell G. Freeland: A Quiet Soldier,” a film, Thursday,September 20 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
7. Vietnam: A Working Class War Saturday, September 22 @ 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, a conference at CCAC, Allegheny Campus (North Side) concluding with procession to Vietnam Veterans Memorial
8. The Ghosts of Homestead Thursday, local storytellers, October 25 @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
All programs are held at the Pumphouse, unless otherwise noted. Donations are welcome, but voluntary. More information about the events will be in the Merton Center calendar, weekly e-blasts and the BHF website, Battle of Homestead.org
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