Lawrenceville may never have had its name if its founder Col. William B. Foster, father of the famed folk composer, Stephen Foster, had been driven by glory, vanity and fame. It could have been called “Fosterville.” Instead, the elder Foster chose to honor Capt. James Lawrence, commander of the frigate Chesapeake in the War of 1812, whose dying words, “Don’t give up the ship!” became legendary.
These days, Lawrenceville is deemed an up-and-coming neighborhood, a hip place for the young to live in the ‘Burgh. Although, it lived through waves of development and crises, the neighborhood’s pride remains deeply anchored in its history.
Lawrenceville was founded in 1814. Back in the day, it was a place where a lot of things got their start. Andrew Carnegie began his industrial empire in Lawrenceville; the Pittsburgh Reduction Co., a predecessor of Alcoa, started there. Immigrants from all over the world planted the seeds of their American lives in Lawrenceville. They worked in the mills, went to churches and grew their social networks in the community. A great deal of tradition was centered around churches and fraternity houses maintained by the Poles, Croatians, Slovenes, Slovaks and Italians. Ethnic grocery stores carried samples of the most exquisite cuisine: kielbasa, kapusta, kruszk, halushki, gnocchi, makovnik.
In 1977, the Post-Gazette ran special series about Lawrenceville with a title “Lawrenceville Retains its Roots.” Post-Gazette photographer Paul Slantis, whom his colleagues often called “the local historian,” took photos for the series. His photos really captured how “Lawrenceville was one of several Pittsburgh neighborhood that have not lost their ethnic heritage.” Busy and lively Butler Street with small, locally owned stores; workers of the American Bridge Shiffler plant heading home at the end of the shift, the Allegheny Cemetery, the World War I Memorial at the entrance to Lawrenceville. Slantis had the talent of capturing the vibe and mood, the sense of place and perspective… all of it in his still photographs of the community.