Memories of West Aliquippa

When I began photography of this project in 2015, I decided to start in the steel town where my parents were born, Aliquippa, Pa.

The part of the town that fascinated me the most was a neighborhood now called West Aliquippa. This was where my father was born.

West Aliquippa is the original Aliquippa. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad named the town for a Native American Indian personality arbitrarily chosen in 1878, as it did for many stations along its route.

Once home to an amusement park built by the railroad, Aliquippa took on a whole new life when the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp., looking to expand downriver from Pittsburgh, demolished the park and began erecting what would become the largest, integrated steel mill in the world. In the process, homes and businesses were erected in Aliquippa and the nearby town of Woodlawn to accommodate the influx of steel workers from other countries.

In 1928, Aliquippa and Woodlawn were consolidated and the Woodlawn name was dropped to match with the name of the railroad depot. The former Aliquippa became known as the neighborhood of “West Aliquippa,” which I always thought strange since it is actually located almost directly north on the Ohio River.

Almost 90 years later, the mill is now an empty lot and West Aliquippa is a shell of its former self. Virtually all of the businesses are gone and all that remains is a couple of hundred homes.

One of the first people I met when I began to explore West Aliquippa was George “Blackie” Miller.

Miller, who changed his last name from Dokmanovich years ago, was born in West Aliquippa and lived there all of his life. He has seen the town go from boom to bust along with the steel industry.

Miller owns a bar called Mahoney’s West in the town and is quite the no-nonsense character. When you first meet him he can come across as gruff and his language can be quite salty at times. But after awhile you realize that he really is a kind man that loves his town, but is really nostalgic for the old days.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down with “Blackie” in his bar, in West Aliquippa, PA. and have him tell me what it was like when then mill was operating and the town was thriving.

Listen to Blackie talk about West Aliquippa (Language not suitable for children or workplace):

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3 comments

  1. I’m from West Aliquippa, went to St. Joseph’s. Catholic school, I grew up on Beaver Avenue, I got bullied because I had a sick mother and lived in a not so prefect house. But I’m still proud to say that my hometown is West Aliquippa.

  2. My Name is Terry Johnston, Everyone knows me as TJ. as well, I’m 48 yrs young.
    Like blackie, I also grown up in West & I remember Alotta things that my friend Blackie is talking about, the grocery stores, the mill, post office, my late Grandfather, Mr. Steven W. Harvan, had a TV repair shop in West Aliquippa back in the day, I was 4 Yrs Old when he closed up shop in the early 70’s. Like everything else, shit just comes & goes. I hung out at Blackies alot, up until he closed up from an illness. His bar/building is still there and It used to be a bank, the men’s bathroom was the vault, lol. The walls are made of steel, which was probably made by J&L steel.. He was a hell of a man. Anyone who knew Blackie would tell you the same. If you had a chance to hangout with him and tilt a few back, then you know that in Blackies you always had a good time and he’d make you laugh, He was a character..
    But there is Alotta history down here in West Aliquippa, Alot of it is still here for you to view, empty buildings and such. But I loved growing up here and still live here. Like the town, I’ll probably die here.. God bless & Rock & Roll… ?

  3. My folks were born and later met again as adults in West Aliquippa. Dad was Adolph Dioda, a sculptor, and Mom was Anita Cicchini, daughter of Luigi and Argentina (DeFelice). I remember visiting Dad’s family during summers, spending time with many relatives on both sides who still lived in neighboring areas, New Sheffield, Clairton…. In West Aliquippa, I’d spend mornings with my cousin Debbie, going to the pool, and afternoons with Grandmom Alice playing 500 Rummy on the front porch while sipping ginger ale. (Grandmom did all her chores in the morning.) Grandpa Tito was a cooper, later a bartender, and bought the brewmaster’s old home at some point. That’s the only home of theirs I ever knew. It was a big old place with pocket doors and push button light switches. And a laundry chute I think we all slid down. Once. My grandparents lived downstairs and my aunt and uncle and cousins lived upstairs. Dad still had dear friends there when he started work at Tyler School of Art, in Philly. I remember him taking me in to visit someone in a nearby beer garden, it was smokey and darkish, and smelled warmly of cigars and beer. It contained a small bowling alley and a bar with a high counter. Another time we visited Dad’s friend who lived in a house with a duck outside. He warned me against it, as it chased and bit children. His kitchen floor was covered in patterned linoleum, his home was tidy and bright, and his wife was weaving a multi colored rag rug on strings stretched between two chair backs. The constant noise of the furnaces and trains, the horn blasts for shift changes, the spewing of multicolored smoke, the black glistening soil are still vivid in my memory.

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