Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and partners, including the Historic Hill Institute, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP), Heinz History Center, and business owners this morning honored Market Square’s rich history by unveiling a plaque that highlights the Square’s connection to the Underground Railroad. Attendees also celebrated the beginning of the 2011 outdoor dining season in Downtown Pittsburgh. Market Square now offers extended, pedestrian-friendly outdoor dining options and four newly opened restaurants, with two additional restaurants scheduled to open in late spring and summer.
The unveiled plaque commemorates Market Square as a site for Abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity. The Big and Little Dippers are positioned on the plaque in the ground as they would have been at 8 p.m. on June 2, 1835 when the first recorded meeting of the Pittsburgh Anti-Slavery Society took place. The LED lights currently in the center of the Square also represent this constellation.
“This plaque represents a significant part of our City’s history and demonstrates how important the Square has been in shaping our City’s cultural heritage,” said Mayor Ravenstahl. “We are thankful for Pittsburgh resident, Virginia O’Connor, who shared important family history and historical data that led to the creation of this special plaque that will be seen by visitors, workers, and residents for years to come.”
Dr. Kimberly Ellis, executive director of the Historic Hill Institute, explained how Downtown and the Hill District are filled with examples of Pittsburgh’s progressive antislavery past. “The warmer weather is nearly upon us and it’s a great time to get outside and explore the magnificent history we have here in Pittsburgh through a variety of tours and amenities,” Ellis said. “In fact, Market Square is a stop on two tours we offer of Underground Railroad sites.”
In addition to the plaque, stakeholders celebrated the official kick-off of outdoor dining season in Downtown.
“With the Pirates first home season game this afternoon, and all 60 of the café tables and chairs out of storage, it’s safe to say that ‘Spring Has Sprung in Downtown Pittsburgh’,” said Rich Beynon, chairman of the board for the PDP.
Since the reopening of Market Square last fall, several new restaurants and businesses have opened their doors with the help of URA and PDP storefront improvement grants.
Winghart’s Burger and Whisky bar, one of the Square’s newest restaurants, has been enjoying strong business since opening in January.
“We’re excited to be in the center of Downtown with our new restaurant, and look forward to a great season of outdoor dining, concerts, and farmers markets,” said Zachary Winghart, Owner, Winghart’s Burger and Whiskey Bar.
According to the PDP, 15 of 18 businesses in Market Square have participated in the Paris to Pittsburgh streetscape activation program funded by Colcom Foundation. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has also restored seven storefronts in Market Square through the Mayor's Storefront Renovation program. In addition, the URA recently awarded the PDP $30,000 in Mainstreets Pittsburgh funds to further improve business district revitalization efforts in the Square.
The $5 million Market Square improvement project under Mayor Ravenstahl is the culmination of several years of public process, made possible through the leadership, vision and financial contributions of The City of Pittsburgh, URA, PDP, Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Colcom Foundation, and the Hillman Foundation.
For a list of events, activities and amenities in Market Square, visit DowntownPittsburgh.com. For more information about Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad connection go to HistoricHill.org.