If you want to give The Orbit‘s brakes a thorough wringing-out, just throw a new set of onion domes up in sky and listen for the screech of rubber on pavement.
That’s just what happened as we found ourselves off track and reconnoitering back down 3rd Avenue in Rankin. There, gleaming in the bright sunlight against a backdrop of pillow-perfect wispy cumulous formations, rose the three perfect golden domes of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church.
It should come as no surprise that Rankin hosts a traditional Eastern Orthodox church. Pretty much every old steel town has at least one–it speaks to who was immigrating over here to work the jobs in the mills. We’ve already run scene reports on churches in McKeesport, Marshall-Shadeland, Steubenville, and McKees Rocks.
Just like those places, the church stands as the tallest structure in town. While that’s not a huge feat in a borough as small as Rankin, it’s always a great payoff as the giant golden ornaments reach out and above from any vantage point: as a beacon from the local through-street (Braddock Ave.), above the rows of peaked-roof frame homes and squat brick row houses, and apparently right out of the weeds from the hillside below.
Matching cornerstones in both English and Cyrillic date St. Michael’s to 1907, which seems just about right for the peak of Russian/Ukrainian immigration to work in the mills. Rankin reached its greatest population a couple decades later in the 1930 census with around 8,000 people. Today, with only a quarter of that–the vast majority African-American–it’s hard to imagine a lot of local Russian Orthodox parishioners for St. Michael’s*.
Despite all this, though, the church–at least on the outside (it was locked tight when we visited)–is in terrific shape. The masonry work is solid, the stained-glass windows aglow, and the little front garden well-tended and in lovely full spring bloom. Oh, and you won’t miss those big golden onion domes–they’re still up there and they look spectacular.
* Source: Wikipedia entry for Rankin demographics.