Community Profile: Millvale Borough
As a community along the Allegheny River that shares in the region’s steel heritage, Millvale borough was the first place where Carnegie dabbled his interest in steel when he bought part of a mill, thus beginning the borough’s original mill town legacy. Millvale was known for its innovation in steel, having mills able to press steel as thin as aluminum foil, back in the 1850s. Today, it is a resilient community that has pride in its history, but continues to move forward.
Millvale Councilman and Historian Bill Stout noted, "It’s a town that's coming back. We're seeing people come to the area to buy. And we’re seeing Millvale starting to replace its older population by a younger one, which is something you don’t see everywhere in this area.”
Indeed, NEXTpittsburgh highlighted Millvale in a recent article titled, “The Secret is Out: Millvale is the Place to Be.” Millvale has been able to attract a younger crowd with its low cost of housing and its small-town feel, while being quickly accessible to downtown and the East End of Pittsburgh. The town boasts its very active Millvale Community Library, Grist House Craft Brewery, Draai Laag Brewing Company, Esther’s Hobby Shop, and the Grand Bar (which is still owned by the same family that began it 85 years ago!), along with a host of other businesses.
Positioned at the bottom of Girty’s Run watershed, Millvale has faced serious challenges of flooding in its business district and residential areas due to upstream development. Despite this, Millvale has taken huge strides towards sustainability in a proactive way. The community has entered EcoDistrict Pivot 2.0 planning, where residents and officials have been focusing community planning on three key issues- food, water, and energy.
In the town’s early development, the mills were vital, but by the 1880's most had bankrupted themselves or were dismantled and moved to the south side of the Monongahela River. The demographics of Millvale were also undergoing changes at this time, as the community was shifting from a mostly German population in the 1800’s to increasing Slavic numbers. In the 1880's and 1890's, steel factories sent representatives to Eastern Europe to recruit workers to the mills in Millvale. By 1910, the Germans were not as dominant of a group as the Slavs.
The Slavic tradition and heritage is kept alive in Millvale’s St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church.The church holds world-renowned murals of Croatian artist Maxo Vanka. Painted in the 1930's and 1940's as Vanka’s gift to the United States, the paintings depict the struggle of Croatian migrants coming from poverty and war in their homeland, to the hardships of working in the steel mills. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
In the early 1900's, Millvale had a significant transit hub, with railroads, trains, buses, and a trolley that ran from Grant and North Avenue to the borough limits. Hickey Park was located in Millvale, a recreational destination that drew large crowds throughout the week for matches. Spectators saw world-famous boxers such as Joe Louis, Billy Conn, and Harry Klaus. The sociability of the town was undeniable; it had numerous hotels, bars, and restaurants, a few of which still remain today.