Searching for Dream Street – Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

United States Steel Clairton Works coke plant stands in the distance as the sun rises over the Mon Valley. The Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, is one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region. Making coke is one of the dirtiest processes in making steel.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

John Fields, 53, sits on the front porch of his family home with the Clairton Works in the background. Clairton, home to the world's largest coke production facility, was founded just after the turn of the 20th century when Crucible Steel Company acquired land along the west side of the Monongahela River 13 miles south of Pittsburgh. Soon after, the Carnegie Steel Company (later U.S. Steel) built an integrated steel mill the coke production facility. Struggling for 28 years and designated a distressed municipality by Pennsylvania's Department of Community Affairs, it was removed from the distressed classification under the Financially Distressed Municipalities Act (Act 47) in 2015.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Clairton Mayor, Richard Lattanzi, walks through Lincoln Way, an abandoned 52-lot street on the edge of town. Lincoln Way was known to be a nice neighborhood back in Clairton's heyday. When the Clairton Coke Works employed 5,000 workers and ran three shifts, Clairton had three movie theaters and four car dealerships. Now the plant employs 1,300 workers and residents must drive five miles out of town to buy food since there is no longer a grocery store in town.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

A woman walks up one of the main streets in Clairton, Pa. past the old Steel City Appliances store. About three-quarters of its main street is boarded up including the laundry, the grocery store, three out of five banks, the three cinemas, and most cafes and shops. When the Clairton Coke Works employed 5,000 workers and ran three shifts, Clairton had three movie theaters and four car dealerships. Now the plant employs 1,300 workers and residents must drive five miles out of town to buy food since there is no longer a grocery store in town.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Mayor, Richard Lattanzi, speaks to residents of a neighborhood housing low-income residents and senior citizens in Clairton, Pa. When the Clairton Coke Works employed 5,000 workers and ran three shifts, Clairton had three movie theaters and four car dealerships. Now the plant employs 1,300 workers and residents must drive five miles out of town to buy food since there is no longer a grocery store in town.

Donald "Amzi" Lightner, 63, plays music in his home in Clairton, Pa.

Donald "Amzi" Lightner, 63, plays music in his home in Clairton, Pa.

Donald "Amzi" Lightner, 63, plays music in his home in Clairton, Pa.

Football practice at Clairton High School

Football practice at Clairton High School

Football practice at Clairton High School

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201609250272

Young boys hang out in the bleachers during a city league softball game as steam billows from one of the quenching towers of the Clairton Works in Clairton, Pa., The Clairton plant is the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States. The facility,11 miles upstream on the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh, produces around 4.7 million tons of coke per year. It is a major source of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and other types of toxic air pollution. Allegheny County Health Department statistics indicate school-age child asthma rates approaching 23% in Clairton.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Clairton youth football practice takes place in a field across from the United States Steel Clairton Works coke plant. The Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, is one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region. Making coke is one of the dirtiest processes in making steel.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Clairton youth football practice takes place in a field across from the United States Steel Clairton Works coke plant. The Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, is one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region. Making coke is one of the dirtiest processes in making steel.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

A lone patron watches the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball on the big screen at the Valley Hotel Bar and Grill outside of Clairton Pa. Built in 1863 and was originally called The Granger Hotel, it was positioned in between two of the largest steel mills in the area. The Valley Hotel has long been the local watering hole for mill workers after a long day, or night, of work. With the local mills running at just a fraction of full capacity, the bar has stuggled in recent years.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Pollution from the United States Steel Clairton Works coke plant rises in the background at public athletic facilities in Clairton, Pa. The Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, is one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region. Making coke is one of the dirtiest processes in making steel.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Morning shift change at the Clairton coke plant. United States Steel Clairton Works coke plant stands in the distance as the sun rises over the Mon Valley. The Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, is one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region. Making coke is one of the dirtiest processes in making steel.

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

Searching for Dream Street - Clairton

United States Steel Clairton Works coke plant stands in the distance as the sun rises over the Mon Valley. The Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States, is one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region. Making coke is one of the dirtiest processes in making steel.

Searching for Dream Street – Clairton

Photography by Pete Marovich

Clairton, a city in Allegheny County, Pa., along the Monongahela River, is home to the United States Steel Clairton Works, the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States.

With the decline of the steel industry in the 1980s, Clairton began to experience a severe decline in employment and their tax base, which caused major economic distress to the community. Pennsylvania’s Department of Community Affairs designated Clairton as a distressed city in 1988 and Clairton entered Act 47 — a state oversight program for financially-distressed municipalities.

U.S. Steel is still the largest employer in Clairton with 1,300 workers at its coke works, but at one time the operated a lager complex of blast furnaces and other facilities along the Monongahela River that employed 7,200.

In late in 2015, the city finally exited the Act 47 program and the city went from being $260,000 in the red in 2010, to being $4 million in the black.

Despite the economic progress there is still drug activity and an occasional shooting. Much of the main shopping areas are still boarded up and look like a ghost town.

One positive aspect to the community has been the legendary Clairton Bears, the high school football team.

Between 2009-14 the team racked up 66 consecutive wins with several players going on to play college football, many on scholarship.

As a result, Aliquippa’s population dropped to 11,734, according to the 2000 census. Today the population hovers just above 9,000.

Some of the old-timers still long for the good old days and talk about how things will be when the mill comes back, but most people realize those days are gone. Most of the storefronts along Franklin Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, are still boarded up, and a lot of empty lots remain between the buildings.

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