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Riding through Cement City

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June 10, 2019 | By Mark Pawelec


Last year, we took a call requesting something that was a little out of the ordinary.

The Donora Historical Society has been doing presentations for years that attract visitors from all across the globe. Walking tours, which cover topics like Eldora Park and the 1948 Smog are often part of these educational opportunities. While the tours offer visitors a chance to actually “walk through history,” not everyone is physically capable of doing so.

The caller, who was from Monongahela’s The Residence at Hilltop, an assisted living facility, wanted to know if we might consider adapting our Cement City tour for some of their residents who did not get out very often. Due to their mobility limitations, a walking tour simply would not be possible.

Without hesitation, we quickly jumped at the chance to make a change for these deserving seniors. Excitedly, we began to plan for our first Cement City driving tour!

Past experiences have taught us that these folks not only enjoy what we present, but they can also offer more content. Sometimes they teach us things because they lived during some of our community’s noteworthy historical events.

The Cement City, lauded as a solution to the housing shortage in the early part of the twentieth century, is a historic district of 80 Prairie School concrete residences built between 1916 and 1917. Celebrated inventor Thomas Edison was one of the poured-in-place concrete home movement’s greatest advocates.

Many of the homes, now more than 100 years old, are still in existence in Donora’s historic district.

The driving tour began as any other would: with a historical presentation at our museum. Since the museum is at street-level, those in wheelchairs were able to easily enter the facility.

Afterwards, we loaded the group back into the van for a drive through the Cement City. We shared the same stories we normally would while walking, but this time, the participants traveled in the comfort of an air-conditioned van. All in attendance were able to learn more about Donora in general and the Cement City in particular. But more importantly, they were able to be a part of their community again and perhaps relive past experiences.