The Square (then called "the Diamond") was already in place in 1784. You can see it here (the big open spot in the middle) in the original plan for the City laid out by George Woods and Thomas Vickroy, surveyors from Philadelphia.
226 years ago.
Market Square existed before the American Constitution! (The Constitution we have today was not created until 1787 at the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia. Yeah, that's right, PA was a high roller.)
Market Square started out as an open area. Then the space was filled with the City's first court house and a semi-circular market structure with open stalls on both sides. Eventually they turned it into two Market Houses. After suffering fires in each building, the Market Houses were rebuilt on an even larger scale. These are the buildings some Pittsburghers may remember or have seen in photographs (Forbes Avenue runs as a tunnel beneath both buildings and there is a pedestrian bridge over Market Street - a good picture in our Galardi's Dry Cleaning posting in December).
Most people think of old Market Square as the buildings in the center but there was a huge amount of transition and activity in the properties all around them, too. Set out in 1784 as the square for the City, it was, from its very beginning, a place for everyone in Pittsburgh to mix, mingle, and conduct business and social life - the melting pot for the entire City. There were businesses owned by blacks, Irish, Germans, Italians... A hotel, a beer and soda distributor, a butcher, oyster bars that evolved into ice cream shops and lunch counters as America's tastes changed... At one point people came to Market Square for activities as diverse as buying freshly made pasta, drinking at one of the pubs, watching a prize fight, or attending a classical concert!
I am holding off on pictures here but rest assured, you will see many in the future!
We see the Square evolving right in front of our eyes today. But this is just one day, in one year, out of two hundred and twenty-six. The Square will be here long after we are gone and future generations will think the photos we take today are a charming look at a time gone by. When we share photos of the past in this blog, think about this... one day we will be the people in those pictures. When they were here, their lives were vital, they were contemporary, they were entrepreneurs in the heart of Downtown, they were taking charge of their own lives, just as we do today. All things change. With the rennovation of the center of the Square and the many buildings ajacent, today is going to be one of the points in history people look back to as significant. We remember the dates the last Market Houses were built, we look at the date the Market Houses came down, the date PPG Place was built... these are the touchstones historians and communal memory treasure. One day, history will place 2009-2011 in that category and we were here to see it and live it.
Change is hard. But Market Square's entire story is about change. It has existed and evolved since the very beginning of our City, and America's youth as a country. We are part of that today. That's pretty spectacular.
Special recognition to: Laurence Glasco, Carmen DiCiccio, John Ford, and Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation for any historical content referenced in this post. They are doing great work and I look forward to sharing more of it with you.