When I was in graduate school, I spent a summer working at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. What a wonderful museum!
As the largest history museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it boasts five humungous floors of exhibit space in the former Chautauqua Lake Ice Company building in the historic Strip District of Pittsburgh.
The Museum houses several permanent exhibits, including: Glass Shattering Notions, a fabulous collection of Pennsylvania glass; Heinz 57, a history of the Heinz Company as told through soup labels, TV commercials, Heinz products, and much more; and the spectacular Points in Time exhibit, which documents the history of Western Pennsylvania through a variety of “immersion” spaces, artifacts, and photographs.
Points in Time features three important recreations – a 1790s cabin, an early 20th century steelworkers home, and a 1950s suburban dwelling. The exhibit explores the area’s rich history as a “gateway to the west,” as well as the steel industry and the region’s many ethnic groups.
Just outside the theater at the exhibit’s entrance, where visitors can watch a short orientation film, there is a mural of the point where the three rivers meet (the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela) before western settlement. As you watch, the pristine wilderness fades into the modern skyline, showing how the city has changed over time.
Pittsburgh native Mr. Rogers, the beloved children's TV star, donated a sweater to the Museum, which is also on display in Points in Time.
Since I left, the Museum has greatly expanded. When I went back to visit, I couldn’t believe how big they are now! With the addition, they occupy 200,000 square feet of space!
In 2004, the Museum opened a new Smithsonian Wing, which includes the McGuinn Gallery, a special changing exhibition space devoted to Smithsonian and other traveling exhibitions. The addition also includes a new Education Center, the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, and the Special Collections Gallery.
Currently, the History Center is hosting the Smithsonian traveling exhibit “First Ladies: Political Role & Public Image.” It will be on view through February 28, 2007. I plan to visit soon and write a special review of it.
The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum highlights the rich athletic history of the region, and is housed on two floors! With state of the art graphics and interactives, sports really come alive for the visitor.
The Special Collections Gallery is a unique twist on the old concept of an “open storage gallery.” There are conservation labs were you can watch professionals work on preserving the collection, as well as several exhibits of loosely related artifacts that present the visitor with a wide variety of artifacts from Pennsylvania’s past – ranging from a hearse to an aluminum dress!
The History Center has a café on the first floor, so come and plan to spend the day. You won’t be sorry.