Before it was the Senator John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St. in the Strip District had a much more chilling legacy
No, we’re not talking ghost stories. Well, not yet.
In the late 1800s, the building hosted The Chautauqua Lake Ice Company, which stockpiled ice harvested from New York lakes and shipped to Pittsburgh via railcar.
This ice company, which delivered ice to residents in the days before refrigeration, burned down in 1893 and continued operation as The Chautauqua Lake Ice Company.
Unfortunately, the worst was not behind the ice company. The second reconstructed building caught fire in 1898-- and this time it was more serious.
Museum Project Manager Lauren Uhl called it a “spectacular fire.” However, the building was reconstructed a third time and stood for good in the same year, 1898.
“People have refrigerators and they don’t need ice so much anymore,” Uhl said about the 1950s as she walked me through the site’s history.
The ice warehouse closed in 1952 and was sold to Adelman Lumber Company. Uhl said the building served as warehouse space until it was acquired by the Heinz History Center, which opened in 1996.
“We wanted something that reflected Pittsburgh’s industrial history,” Uhl said about what made the old ice warehouse an attractive museum space.
The building’s history is not lost in the modern museum. Uhl noted intact exposed brick, open space, metal doors, windows and beams from its original warehouse use.
“I’ve always felt in some ways that our building is our best artifact,” she said.
The 1898 fire is also remembered at the History Center through office urban legends and ghost stories.
"Our security guards here are definitely prone to spreading tall tales,” said Brady Smith, senior communications manager at the history center. “Whether they’re true or not is up to whoever is listening!"
Staff, nighttime security guards and visitors have claimed that supernatural activity happens on the fifth floor, reporting
strange sounds and apparitions interacting with exhibits.
"I’ve personally never heard [or] seen any ghosts in my four years here, for whatever that’s worth," Smith said.
Uhl agreed that she had never experienced anything supernatural at work.
“It’s a terrific building and I love working here,” she said, noting the site and the Strip District's significant role in Pittsburgh’s history.
"Ghosts or not, it’s a great place to work,” Uhl added with a laugh.
Source: Lauren Uhl, www.heinzhistorycenter.org
, Brady Smith