Step Beat: When Tullymet Sylvan

View from the top of the Tullymet St. city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.

View from the top of the Tullymet Street city steps, Hazelwood

It is around this time of year that the intrepid city climber has usually packed-away his or her step-hiking boots and can but merely dream of a fast-forward to warmer temperatures, de-iced stair treads, and the re-greening of hillsides. But this particular season’s relentless run of glorious late fall weather has kept the traditionally cold, gray, and wet days at bay. There’s been nary a snow flurry, freezing rain, or frosty morn to even hint at the inevitable winter days to come. The bewildering number of perfectly blue sky days is something rarely seen around these parts.

And so it was this past weekend. We seized the opportunity to embark on an up-and-down* bicycle-based reconnaissance of the Greenfield and Hazelwood neighborhoods which led us to a happenstance trip up Tullymet Street, a most excellent set of city steps heretofore unexplored by this blogger.

Tullymet city steps, Pittsburgh, PA.

Steps as far as the eye can see. The longer stretch of the Tullymet steps, from Sylvan Ave. up to Gladstone St.

Hazelwood’s long, curving riverfront was once home to the enormous Jones & Laughlin steel mill and it is one of the many city neighborhoods that used to primarily house the industry’s huge local workforce. Like a number of its peers, there is no longer that much to walk down to anymore–the mill is gone, as is most of the commercial activity on Second Avenue.

Unlike those other neighborhoods–say, Troy Hill or Fineview or The West End–there’s also not that much to walk from up the hill. Gladstone and Sylvan are quite long streets that clearly used to contain many homes, (you can see this both in old city platte maps and evidence from the extant foundations that remain) but are now almost completely vacant. Today, there might be just one house every hundred yards up here–and half of those appear uninhabited.

Concrete house foundations with trees growing through.

Nature without man. Foundations of felled houses, seen from the Tullymet Street steps.

It’s a curious thing, as I could imagine it being quite a terrific place to live. The location is right there in the city (it’s probably three miles to downtown, as the crow flies), just around the corner from bustling Squirrel Hill, and an easy ride to Oakland. These particular streets are completely surrounded by nature, spectacularly quiet, and with lovely views all the way across the river–at least by this time of year, when the leaves have all fallen to clear the sight lines.

Oh, sure–it’s probably hard to get a pizza delivered up here and I imagine you’d get snowed-in pretty easily being the only one left on a half-mile dead-end street, but people pay top dollar for that kind of isolation in other places. Imagine the possibilities!

Street sign for Tullymet St. and Sylvan Ave., Pittsburgh, PA.

This is where Tullymet Sylvan

Whether or not you’d consider moving in, it’s well worth an afternoon visit–especially if you get another it-ain’t-winter-yet day like this one. Tullymet’s two sets of steps probably contain 250-300 actual stairs (I didn’t count), so it’s a good run any way you cut it. But numbers aside, I can’t stress enough how fantastic it was to be right there, on the edge of the center of the city, in eyeshot of the Monongahela River, in absolute tranquility; the only sounds the chirping of birds and the rustling of fallen leaves.

View of late fall trees and vines from the Tullymet St. city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Hillside view from the Tullymet St. steps

And I realized what a mistake it was to consider the post-fall colors period to be down time for a step hike. What’s left of Pittsburgh’s lush spring/summer viney overgrowth, denuded in the cold weather months, creates an eerie, otherworldly science-fiction landscape when struck against the impossibly bright blue sky and low winter sun. How fortunate are we to have these magical landscapes right here, open all year ’round.

Tullymet city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Looking down the shorter stretch of Tullymet steps, from Sylvan Ave. to Chance Way

* “Up and down” is no joke. This blogger’s fancy phone informed him that he climbed the equivalent of 131 flights of steps over the course of Saturday–this is roughly a hundred flights more than the average day.


3 thoughts on “Step Beat: When Tullymet Sylvan

  1. Hipstre says:

    I am endlessly amused by tales of Google Transplants paying $800,000 for a rowhouse in… let’s say… Lawrenceville, for instance. When they could drive three minutes away and buy two acres of land for $10,000 and build themselves a palatial walled estate 2 minutes away from Downtown in some secluded “Lost Neighborhood” part of the Hill, Polish or otherwise.


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