Vandergrift- Western Pennyslvania’s Olmsted Planned Industrial Town

North of Walnut street is the stable well planned portion of Vandegrift. South of Walnut street Vandergrift becomes more working class and gritty. This is also the unplanned part of the community seemingly untouched by Olmsted’s plan for the town.

Early in the 20th century, Vandergrift had the largest sheet steel mill in the world. Yet this ended in a bitter labor dispute with the Apollo Iron and Steel Company in the 1890s. In an attempt to avoid future unrest, the company sought to gain tighter control over its workforce and decided to provide workers with good housing and a good urban environment to foster  loyal and productive employees. The company hired Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot to design a model industrial town resulting in a well laid out borough with curvilinear streets, well placed commercial district, tree lined streets and good park spaces. Homeownership rates among workers remained high and in general the plan worked creating a steel town where a relatively cordial relationship existed between the steel company and Vandergrift residents.

Vandergrift’s population peaked in 1930 at 11,500 but as with most western PA towns, its populational has more than halved since to 5K residents. Still Vandergrift’s urban form has remained largely in tact with mostly occupied buildings, many businesses, and better stability than most similar industrial river towns in the region. Vandergrift also excels at affordable housing, decent walkability good tree canopy, decent park and cultural amenities, and a diversity array of retail options. I’d of course love to see density increase in Vandergrift but this is an up hill battles for a Western PA industrial town. The best we can likely hope for with an improved urban environment is better bike infrastructure, more housing diversity, a supermarket, and updated streetscaping.

Click here to view my Vandergrift Album on Flickr


* Pretty good ADA infrastructure and sidewalks. Generally sidewalks exist and about 50% of the curb cuts are up to modern standards.
* Good generational diversity and decent economic but incomes are on the low side here.
* Olmsted’s curvilinear streets make be a bit disorienting but connectivity and efficiently are still good and it leads to some very good place making.
* Vandergrift has some grit but a pretty safe place to live.
* Tree canopy is pretty good, clearly much fuller in the north half of town.
* Some excellent historic commercial and great homes along Washington Ave but most residential is very working class in typology.
* Decent parks with the larger Kennedy and Franklin Parks.
* Decent cultural amenities including good food & beverage bizs, a brewery & winery, a performing arts center, a local museum.
* Good retail amenities too including a couple drug stores, a dollar general, several boutiques & gift shops,  a couple florists,  several banks, a couple homes/furniture  stores, several dessert joints and bakeries, a couple gyms, lots of churches, a local public library & post office, and several medical offices.
* Solid urban form along Vandergrift’s main biz district (Grant St) and other mixed-uses. 


* Density is so so.
* Some public transit but generally pretty limited.
* About a 45-50 minute drive to Dwtn.
* No bike infrastructure to speak of.
* Walkable schools in the Borough consist of a quality great school and small parochial school. Public high school and middle school are good but out in the suburbs.
* Some rentals and generally very affordable. Limited diversity in offering.
* For sale hsg options are all pretty limited and generally very affordable. 2-beds sell btwn 40K-125K, 3 & 4 beds sell anywhere btwn 30K-150K.
* Missing a supermarket in town.
* Some poor urban form (parking lots and industrial uses) along Lincoln Ave.
* Really no modern in-fill to speak of.
* Streetscaping is fine but dated.

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